Voices from the Past
Cled E. Wallace
Much is being said about the right kind of preaching and writing. Charges of "hard" and "soft" are being bandied back and forth. With as plain a book as the New Testament in hand and with its abundant supply of examples of the very best preaching and writing, it ought not to be a difficult thing to determine the kind of both that should be done. A direct appeal to the New Testament, its preachers, and its writers ought to settle any question that arises in such a connections. Men who say the most about "the right method of approach," "constructive articles" etc., betray the fact that a lot of their ideas come from modern psychology, materialistic philosophy, and sectarian sources, rather than from Jesus and the apostles. It is futile to do a lot of talking about the method of approach, when you never approach. It would improve some preachers and writers if they could forget about the method and go ahead and approach. The main idea is getting there anyhow. I shall resort to the rather simple strategy of pointing some scripture texts at some of the approaching methodists among us who never approach, or do so in such timid manner, they are useless after they arrive. They might as well have stayed at home.
Now, John the Baptizer was a fairly acceptable preacher considering the time and circumstances of his activities. "There came a man sent from God whose name was John." He was an austere man, simple in his tastes and habits. He was neither clothed in purple and fine linen, nor did he fare sumptuously every day. "Now John himself had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey." He preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins and seemed to encounter no difficulty in approaching his subject. He got there a lot quicker than he would have, had he worn a scissor-tail coat and been called Dr. John. Preachers thus handicapped, seldom get there at all, for they are too busy talking about the method of approach.
John was not particularly worried, according to the record, about offending people. He demanded of all that they repent or burn. There were some "honorable men" in John's audience who were highly connected and proud of their standing. They condescended to submit to John's baptism but John perceived that their motives were unrelated to the personal repentance he was preaching. He made a personal attack on them, called them "Ye offspring of vipers" and demanded of them "fruit worthy of repentance." A questionnaire might have disclosed the fact that a goodly number of very nice people did not savor John's "attacks on honorable men." That did not bother John any. He wasn't preaching to please the people, but to please God by blasting sin and sinners and leading them to repentance.
He even had an invitation to preach to king Herod. This intrepid man of God then said the wrong thing at the psychological moment and got his head chopped off. He told Herod that he was living with his brother Philip's wife and that it was not lawful for him to have her. What would a modern perfumed and manicured preacher think of that method of approach? John was a constructive preacher! That word sounds familiar doesn't it? He razed the mountains, filled the valleys, and straightened the crooked and made "the rough ways smooth." By his preaching, he built a highway in all the wilderness for the Lord. The "constructive" preaching described by the baby-talk of modern methodists among us would not have leveled any mountains, filled any valleys, nor constructed a highway for royalty. Softly spoken platitudes in religion, mainly designed to be inoffensive, generally true as they may be, are not constructive of what the Lord wants built up! When a sinner, even a dressed up sinner, who belongs to "a respectable church," hears a real constructive preacher, he does not feel like he had visited a beauty parlor.
Jesus is by common consent the greatest of all teachers and preachers. He astonished the men of his time and all succeeding time with the sermon on the mount. In it he exalted humility, purity of heart, meekness, and mercy. He pronounced blessings on peacemakers and those who could rejoice under persecution for righteousness' sake without compromising or surrendering their loyalty. While holding forth true standards of holiness, he condemns divorce, hypocritical praying, fasting and almsgiving to be seen of men, the love of and selfish use of money, all hate and thirst for vengeance, harsh and hypocritical judgments on others, and voiced a stern warning against "false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves." He was pointed in his definitions. A wise man is one who hears his words and does them. All others are foolish and will suffer a great fall.
There is no compromise with or winking at sin, either personal or doctrinal, in the sermon on the mount. It is famous for the scope of its teaching and condemns as much as it applauds. Jesus was an iconoclast. He demolished the false that he might construct the true. Our present methodists of approach, who admit that they are the very sugar of the earth, are too squeamish to chop down the thorns of error. They expect their scanty scattering of "constructive" seed to choke out the thorns. "Preach the gospel and let others alone." Jesus didn't do it that way! Some of them are strong on letting others alone and preach very little gospel.
Jesus aroused powerful opposition among "honorable men," met them face to face in hot exchanges, answered their captious questions, directed parables against them, withered them into defeated silence by his repartee, warned his disciples and the people against their teaching, and when it was called to his attention that they had become offended at him, he said: "Let them alone, they are blind guides." He called their worship "vain worship" and their teaching "the doctrine and commandments of men." He charged them with making void the word of God because of their traditions.
The last days in the temple area were hectic. He charged them with turning the house of God into a den of robbers. He did justice to his subject in highly descriptive language. He attacked some of these "honorable men," chief shepherds of the flock, as "whited sepulchers" "serpents," "offspring of vipers" "sons of hell" and told them they could not escape the judgment of hell. He called them fools and blind, gnat-strainers and camel-swallowers, and charged them with all the righteous blood shed on earth from the days of Abel. He said other nice things like this to them. What do you think of his method of approach? Anyhow, he approached!
Yet, when some of us make a comparatively mild attack on the false doctrines of our time, long-faced mourners over the departed journalistic glory of Zion wail like children in the market-places, that we are utterly void of the spirit of Christ! What a pity that Jesus could not have made a pilgrimage to New Jersey and learned something about the sweet freshness of a right approach! (see editorial comment below) He did not even have the softening benefits of a brotherhood survey! Some of the loudest talkers about the spirit of Christ, know least about it. He was not doctrinally tolerant. "He that believeth not shall be damned." Wouldn't it be better to preach "a positive gospel," make heaven so inviting that nobody would want to go anywhere else? Jesus preached some hell-fire
We have the example of Jesus and apostolic precept for preaching the truth and exposing error. "Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:2-4). Itching ears can be tickled with questionnaires followed up by "higher journalistic standards" diluted to the formula of the proper method of approach. Such methods may please the sects and spoil the brethren. The right kind of preaching ought to convert some of the sects, agitate all of them, and put fight in the brethren. "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3).
If a man wants to be the right kind of preacher and writer, he should form the acquaintance of Paul and watch him approach. He might also make a side-study of Stephen with profit. Paul expressed a high degree of aversion for "some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." He pronounced an anathema on all who preached any other gospel than that which he received from the Lord and made known to the people.
There isn't anything in Paul's record to show that he would be pleased with a man today, who for some twenty years was "lost" to loyal contenders for the faith, found the fellowship of digressives more satisfactory than that of "the alleged loyal church," and gained sudden prominence among loyal churches by making a survey to find out what kind of preaching and writing the brethren wanted. "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10-11).
Paul's preaching drew fire. Honorably connected men "contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed." Paul met the challenge boldly. "Seeing ye thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." Instead of criticizing Paul's methods of approach, "the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." They did not rebuke Paul by saying, "Peace, brother, peace!" Paul was charged with madness, teaching unlawful customs, being the ringleader of a sect, turning the world upside down, and being a pestilent fellow. If he lived today, he would not be sending out questionnaires and making surveys to feel the pulse of the brotherhood. A study of Paul ought to toughen up some tender-feet among us who tread about over gospel principles about like a barefooted boy in a grass-burr patch. "Preach the word. Be urgent."
Note: I edited this article slightly for reprint here. Shortly before this article was originally written, a brother in New Jersey had published the results of a survey claiming that many brethren wanted to hear a better method of approach in preaching. They wanted to hear a more positive message presented in a more constructive way. That sentiment produced some softer journalistic efforts and unity meetings with Christian Church preachers on a compromise basis. The same disposition helped pave the way for institutionalism and liberalism 10-20 years later.
Today, we have brethren who desire to "accentuate-the-positive" to the exclusion of anything negative. Their attitude and resulting actions have paved the way for error to enter in among brethren. It is high time we realized that we are not in an academic debate over various philosophical points--we are at WAR (2 Tim. 2:3). We are in a battle between truth and error, the outcome of which will determine the salvation of souls (Eph. 6:10-18; cf. 1 Pet. 5:8). Let us not be shy about calling sin exactly what it is--sin. Let us advance truth and expose error, even among brethren (Gal. 2:11-14).
Steven F. Deaton
e-mail this feature editor at SFDeaton@compuserve.com
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