How Do We "Fight the Fight?"
As you may know, last month we reviewed an article by an attorney, H. John Rogers, a New Martinsville, WV Methodist. (If you are a new reader, please see the exchange with Mr. Rogers in the January issue of Watchman.) We received two critical responses to our review of Mr. Rogers. Incorporated and included below are the replies made to those who were displeased of our handling of Mr. Rogers and his material. Our critics have done us a favor by expressing themselves. Since they may speak for many today who do not believe it appropriate to"argue the Bible," especially when sarcasm and sharp rebuke are employed, we thought it good, not to defend intemperate words, but to provide material for consideration.
Frankly, the non-controversial, non-combative, non-confrontational approach to preaching is cause for alarm. Often, though certainly not always, such a spirit resides within those who are liberal minded and who have no respect for "the good fight of faith" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 1 Timothy 6:12; Jude 3). Not being sure that error condemns, and not being convinced that denominationalism is not of God, some have begun to sympathize with false teachers and apologize for those who oppose and expose them.
Some pose themselves as being too loving to engage in "mudslinging and namecalling" while they call our names and throw dirt at us. They criticise only those whom they deem to be critics. They judge us as being "judgmental." They lovingly denounce us as being unloving when we denounce evil and error. They harshly condemn us for being too harsh and condemnatory. They refer to "our traditions" (first day of the week Lord's supper, vocal music, "one true church") as being "the cause of our separation from the rest of the family of God." They rarely, though, cite and indict the human traditions of denominational churches (Christmas, Easter, perverted patterns of priesthood and pastorism).
For these, and other reasons, those who would charge, change, and challenge "the churches of Christ" must be watched. They hide behind the smokescreen of distaste for debate and disdain for doctrinal declarations. The truth is, however, that they are seeking whom they may ensnare in the web of compromise, wresting the Scriptures unto their own destruction.
(Names, and direct, personal address which would give the correspondence below a friendlier flow, have been eliminated.)
Thank you for your note and of your opinion regarding my efforts. We must all be aware of our responsibility before God and men to conduct ourselves "as it becometh the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). We must never do the right thing in the wrong way. Thank you for reminding me of that fact.
Since you have made a sincere and direct effort to critique my review of Mr. Rogers, have you also attempted to tell Mr. Rogers what you thought of his presentation?
It is strange that a false teacher may revile and ridicule the truth and the Lord's people, as Mr. Rogers certainly did, and receive nary a rebuke for his "prating against us with mailicious words" (3 John 9-11). However, let a preacher reprove and rebuke such error in the spirit of Elijah and the Lord, and he is sure to hear about it (Cf. 1 Kings 18:27; Matthew 23; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Mr. Rogers blasphemes the truth and the Lord and escapes judgment. One who teaches the truth and exposes Mr. Rogers with the sword of the spirit is rebuked. See Matthew 15:12--"the Pharisees were offended." Others were "insulted" (Luke 11:45--NASB). Some were "filled with wrath" (Luke 4:28). Who was the preacher who raised such ire? Can you tell me his name? Cf. Acts 24:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 10:10.
We should all be careful in our speech, but knowing such men as Mr. Rogers as I do from many years of experience, it was my judgment that he needed the language of Elijah and the Lord, so I gave it to him. That was my judgment. It may not be yours, but I had to do what I thought best, given the circumstances.
In 2 Timothy 4:2, the word reprove means to "convict, confute, find fault, reprehend severely." At times, such work must be done. The word rebuke in that text means to "chide, censure, severely admonish, charge sharply." ___, I confess that I may not always know when it is and when it is not appropriate to use such a tact. I can only do the best I can and hope that my prayers, along with those from folks like you, will help guide me toward the right way.
The same, of course, is true of you, too. Was your judgment of me a "sharp tongued response"? Would anyone who disagreed with your assessment of me "want to hear more of what you had to offer"? Might those who may have agreed with your opinion "been offended by your caustic manner" of criticizing me? I think not, but you used your best judgment to approach me, and someone might not agree with the manner in which you did it. Yet, you did the best you could to state your case against me. Likewise, so did I.
Now, I shall send you a number of other notes I have received from total strangers like yourself. (See Addendum at the conclusion of this letter.) I trust that you will read them with an open mind. You will note that their view of my work does not square with yours. That does not mean they are right and that you are wrong, but neither does it mean you are right and they are wrong. I will not dismiss your remarks, nor will I revel in theirs. I am not as bad as my opponents say I am, nor am I as good as my mother says I am.
In Acts 15:2, brethren had "no small dissension and disputation." Disputation is defined as "dispute, quarrel, strife." The word, "dissension" may be translated as "uproar." Though it is not pleasant, there is a time when one must "rebuke them sharply" that oppose the truth (Titus 1:13). "These things speak and exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee" (Titus 2:15).
Yes, I am aware of 2 Timothy 2:24--"the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men." In the same context, Paul directly called the names of false teachers, called their teachings "profane and vain babblings" and severely and harshly described those who resisted the Spirit (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:16-3:13; 4:2-4, 10, 14). Those things are all found in the midst of 2 Timothy 2:24. So, it is possible to be gentle and not be guilty of strife while at the same time plainly reproving and rebuking error as Paul did. If not, Paul stands convicted by his own words (2 Timothy 2:16-18; 3:8, 9: 4:2, 10, 14).
Too, when men like Mr. Rogers savagely attack the word of God and the church which he purchased with his own blood, where are those men who know how it ought to be done? If the way I answered Mr. Rogers was not right, of those who know how it should have been done, which one did it? Which one of those, like yourself, who know the right way to oppose Mr. Rogers, took up his arguments and refuted them the way you say it should be done? If what I did is not right, then, by all means, secure someone who knows a better way and let them do it. ___, this is not a direct barb aimed at you, but, generally, I have found that those who say they know how such reproof ought to be done are too busy criticizing those of us who do it to have time to do it the way they say it ought to be done.
I trust that you will know that I appreciate your having taken the time to write to me. If I judge correctly, I appreciate the purpose of your criticisms, though I may not concur with them. I note that you did not raise a single objection to any argument I made against Mr. Rogers error. Hopefully, you will receive these thoughts with my prayers and best wishes for you in every way that is right. Feel free to contact me at any time. I am always ready to hear from you. Sincerely, Larry Ray Hafley (The addendum of positive, approving statements has been erased; see the conclusion of our reply below.)
The following pasages were sent by a critic who thought they were denials of the reply to Mr. Rogers: Ecclesiastes 3:1, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven."
2 Timothy 2:24, Jude 1:22, 1 Peter 3:15-16, Colossians 4:3-6
I think, though we may never totally agree on every particular in the Roger's response, that we are reaching a mutual understanding of sorts.
I don't wish to put words in your mouth (that's not sanitary!), but perhaps we agree: (1) That whenever possible, we should employ our best judgment concerning any given situation and do what we deem best, with reverence and godly fear, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31; Hebrews 12:28; 1 Peter 4:11). (2) That there may be times when I might speak more gently than you would speak, or I might speak more harshly than you would speak, depending on any number of variables and our own best judgment (Proverbs 15:1; Matthew 10:16; Galatians 2:11-14; Titus 1:13). (3) That each individual's experience and past dealings with any particular situation might cause him to respond in a different way than would another who's experience and knowledge of the same case differs (Acts 15:36-40). (4) That, consequently, though one may have serious reservations about the wisdom or propriety of another's judgment, he remains a faithful brother (Acts 15:37, 38; 2 Timothy 4:11).
Thank you for the passages you sent for my personal meditation and application. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the tone, tenor, and teaching of each one and seek to practice it in my dealings with others, both in and out of the faith. Still, I need to do better. I do not always make the right judgments. Pray that God may grant me the wisdom and insight to do what is best, that I may know "how (I) ought to answer every man." Paul had this same challenge and asked the Ephesians to pray for him that he might speak aright (Ephesians 6:18-20). (More about that text later.)
Next, ___, let me turn my attention to the timely texts you sent and give you another perspective to consider. (No, I would never try to "answer" Scripture. Scripture cannot be "answered." Indeed, Scripture must be obeyed, not answered!)
First, Ecclesiastes 3:1--"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." Certainly, we are agreed. There is "a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build....a time of war, and a time of peace" (Eccl. 3:3, 8). My judgment in the Rogers case was that it was a time to cast down the reasoning of Mr. Rogers with the weapons of our warfare, pulling down his strongholds (fortresses) of error (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). In short, it was "a time of war." That war is designed to bring his peace (Ephesians 2:13, 14). So were Paul's wars, though, like some of mine, they may fail of that objective (Acts 19:8, 9, 23-41).
At times, as paradoxical as it sounds, "killing" must occur before healing can begin (Romans 6:3-6, 11; Colossians 3:3-5). Pruning appears destructive, but no untended rose ever smells as sweet as that which has been severely cut.
God told Jeremiah, "I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them" (Jeremiah 5:14). "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; And like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" (Jeremiah 23:29)? To Hosea, God said of his people, "I have hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth" (Hosea 6:5). In other words, it was "a time to kill." His verbal assaults were harsh and severe. His enemies said they could not bear the words of the prophets (Cf. Amos 7:12, 13). Remember, that some spoke of Jesus' "hard saying(s)," too (John 6:60).
Mr. Rogers has often attacked the word of God and the Lord's church. He has ridiculed and sarcastically "prated against (brethren) with malicious words" (3 John 9-11). Thus, when his latest salvo was fired against the word of truth, it was forwarded to me with the request that I answer him, for he was one like those of whom Paul spoke, "Whose mouth...must be stopped" lest he subvert "whole (families)" (Titus 1:11). With that background, I attempted to fight a good fight with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). (Obviously, likening the word of God to a sword is, in itself, a very militant and aggressive figure. One does not play "patty-cake" with a sword!)
Second, 2 Timothy 2:24--"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient." Here I insert my comments on this text from my first reply to you: Yes, I am aware of 2 Timothy 2:24--"the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men." In the same context, Paul directly called the names of false teachers, called their teachings "profane and vain babblings" and severely and harshly described those who resisted the Spirit (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:16-3:13; 4:2-4, 10, 14). Those things are all found in the midst of 2 Timothy 2:24. So, it is possible to be gentle and not be guilty of strife while at the same time plainly reproving and rebuking error as Paul did. If not, Paul stands convicted by his own words (2 Timothy 2:16-18; 3:8, 9: 4:2, 10, 14).
In other words, ___, Paul, as the context clearly shows, either violated his statement in verse 24, or it is possible to call the name of a false teacher, cite his specific error and plainly and directly reprove and rebuke it without disobeying the injunction of verses 24-26 (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:16-4:16). I believe I did that with respect to Mr. Rogers. Evidently, you do not so believe. God will judge. However, my thought is, whether I was able to do it or not, that one may speak plainly, yet not be in violation of the passage. Paul's strong words proves it can be done, or else he seriously condemned himself in the context of 2 Timothy 2:16-4:16.
Third, Jude 22--"And of some having compassion, making a difference." Let us also cite a portion of the very next verse: "And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire" (v. 23). How does one snatch one of the fire? Does he do it carefully and gingerly? No, he grabs and snatches whatever he can get hold of and quickly, perhaps even violently, drags the victim to safety.
Again, though, let us observe Jude's own words as a gauge of what it means to refer to the enemies of the gospel with compassion. Did Jude lack the compassion he advocated when he portrayed opponents as having "crept in unawares" (v. 4)? Did Jude show this compassion when he called them "filthy dreamers" and "brute beasts" (vv. 8, 10). Surely, ___, you know that I did not use such words to describe Mr. Rogers, though I believe I certainly could have. Yet, if I am to be condemned for showing a lack of compassion because of the strong words I used, what of Jude? Was Jude showing compassion toward the enemies of the cross when he unfavorably compared them to the mercenary, money-grubbing ways of Cain, Balaam, and Korah (v. 11)? Was Jude showing the compassion he enjoins upon us when he derided and denigrated their character with several demeaning comparisons in verses 12 and 13? Was he showing this compassion when he called them names ("murmurers" and "mockers") in verses 16 and 18?
___, where in the whole letter of Jude would you go to find "compassion" shown toward those in error? Which verse shows the compassion you believe is required to be shown toward those who undermine the truth? My answer to that would be, "the whole epistle!" It is all a letter of love and compassion, but given your response to me and my reply to Mr. Rogers, I fail to see how you can accept any part of the Jude's letter, except verse 22.
May we not safely assume that the letter of Jude did not show the nature of all Jude's writings? He indicates that he had not intended to write as he did, but that circumstances made it necessary (v. 3). Again, in view of Ecclesiastes 3 ("a time for every purpose"), the same may be true of some of our writing today. And so it was with respect to Mr. Rogers. Jude wrote as he did because the circumstance demanded it, he said. Likewise.
Fourth, 1 Peter 3:15, 16--"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." Again, I agree with you. The passage must be obeyed!
Now, did Peter obey it when he wrote 2 Peter chapter 2? Did Peter defend the truth "with meekness" when he wrote that chapter? It is of the same general nature and character of Jude's letter. Peter, like Jude, was harsh, severe and condemnatory (2 Pet. 2:1-3). He demeaned their nature and character in the most uncomplimentary fashion by comparing them to shameful and shameless sinners of the past (2:1, 13, 15). He said they were "natural brute beasts" who were not fit to live but only to be taken and destroyed (v. 12). Imagine what would have been your reaction, ___, if I had used such words and terms to describe Mr. Rogers? I did not use such strong, harsh language against Mr. Rogers as Peter used. Perhaps, rather than apologizing for what I said, I ought to ask God to forgive me for not being hard enough on him! That is, of course, if Jude and Peter are any indication, maybe I was too soft on Mr. Rogers. At least, I never compared Mr. Rogers to a dog eating vomit or to an old sow "wallowing" in the muck and mire of a filthy hog pen as Peter did those of whom he spoke (v. 22). Again, may God forgive me my failure in this regard.
Fifth, and finally, Colossians 4:3-6--"Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Certainly, the apostles' words must be adhered to. It will take tact, wisdom, and sound judgment to know when and how to speak. Before proceeding, observe that our words must be seasoned with salt. Now, salt is a taste enhancer and a preservative. Salt may lighten the tart taste of some foods and enliven the taste of others (Cf. potatoes, tomatoes, melons). Too, depending on where it is applied, salt may sting, too.
In connection with Paul's prayer in this great text of Colossians 4, note a companion or corollary in Ephesians 6:18-20. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." Without either contradicting or disallowing Colossians 4, observe that Paul asks for prayer that he may open his "mouth boldly...that...I may speak boldly as I ought to speak."
Speaking boldly, ___, as you did to me in judging my remarks regarding Mr. Rogers, does not mean that you are necessarily in violation of having your words "seasoned with salt." One may speak directly and plainly, as you spoke to me, and not be in violation of Colossians 4:3-6.
Also we see that Paul spoke of knowing "how ye ought to answer every man." That is a key point. How we "ought to answer," as Jude shows, may vary from person to person and from situation to situation (Jude 3, 22, 23--In this connection, see 1 Timothy 5:1, 2.) I determined, due to the nature, of the circumstance, that "how I ought to answer" Mr. Rogers' railings and revilings was the manner in which I did answer them. Whether right or wrong, that was my decision. As explained above, and in my first letter to you, I do not see that I violated any passage you have cited. (Of course, that does not mean that I did not violate them. I do not think I did, but I may have. "I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet am I not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4--NASB). You, on the other hand, may think I did violate them, but that does not mean I did (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
"How" the Lord answered the Pharisees varied from time to time, from case to case (Matthew 12:1-45; 21:12-46; 22:15-40; 23:2-39; Luke 15). Upon occasion, "how" he answered his opponents "offended," silenced, shamed, insulted, and angered them (Matthew 15:12; Lk. 4:28; 6:11; 11:45; 13:17). Shall we say that those extremely negative and hostile reactions to the Lord's words are proof that he did not have the right spirit or possess the proper attitude? Who will say, "Yes, the reactions of his audiences shows that Jesus did not use words of grace, seasoned with salt "? I will not, and I do not think you will, either, ___.
(1) Though Stephen's face was like that "of an angel," his withering words stirred men to kill him (Acts 6:15; 7:54-60). (2) Though Paul said he had been among the Thessalonians as "gentle...as a nurse which cherisheth her children," yet he said he had been "bold...to speak...the gospel...with much contention" (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 7). Though his presence and preaching in Thessalonica instigated civil unrest, and started a riot, Paul said, "behaved" himself among them in a holy, just, unblameable fashion (Acts 17:2-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:10). Thus, one's strong preaching may result in strife and mob action, but it does not prove that his speech was not "with grace, seasoned with salt." (3) Though "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" is our behavioral pattern, still his stinging words caused men to "take counsel" against him to kill him (2 Corinthians 10:1). Shall we say that because people thought he spoke "against them" and because they reacted with violent rage against him because of his words that this proves that Jesus did not use "gracious words" "seasoned with salt" (Luke 4:22, 28, 32)? Shall we indict Jesus for not having and showing "the spirit of Christ"?!
Sarcasm, ridicule, and humor at the expense of one's opponent has its place. Jesus used it (Matthew 23:24-28). Elijah used it (1 Kings 18:27). Such language is not always to be employed. Neither Jesus nor the holy apostles and prophets used it all the time. It is a matter of judgment, requiring wit, tact, wisdom, and discretion. One may misuse and abuse such a privilege. One may use it with bitter motives and for hateful purposes. God knows, and he will judge.
Often what is seen as inappropriate speech is a simple, plain setting forth of one's case. Consider Paul's rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. Some folks are "turned off" by any semblance of controversy. All forms of scriptural rebuke are abhorrent to them.
Others have been taken captive by false and worldly concepts of love. Hence, all reproof and disagreement is seen as "unloving" and "hateful." However, "whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth." Is the Lord guilty of unloving, hateful acts toward us? No, his love is demonstrated when he disciplines, corrects, and instructs us in the way that is right and away from the way that is wrong. The parent who loves his child chastens him. "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently" (Proverbs 13:24--NASB). Likewise, preachers and teachers who love their students manifest that love when they reprove and rebuke and correct and instruct them. They "hate" those whom they will not chasten with the rod of truth and righteousness when the situation demands it.
"Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech" (2 Cor. 3:12). Some of our opponents, like Mr. Rogers, utilize craftiness, handling the word of God deceitfully. The result is that they blind the minds of them which believe not. Therefore, having "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth," we should approach men with the truth, not as hucksters and peddlers who present a watered down, perverted and polluted substance, but "as of sincerity," so we should speak in the sight of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2-4). God helping us, that is our aim and intent and shall be, by his grace, unto the end.
Thank you for your patience with this long letter. Having read it with all diligence, do not hesitate to respond to it with all candor. Sincerely, your brother, Larry
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