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The Proper tone in Preaching

A Response, Written to Ron Halbrook
Name Withheld

Editor's Note: Brother Ron Halbrook emailed an article by Tom Roberts, which first appeared in Watchman in June of 1998, to many individuals this past August. His email led to an exchange on what constitutes an appropriate tone in preaching and a defense of the gospel. This is the response from the brother who took issue with Tom's article.


You may recall that I am the institutional brother who is studying the NI view. I would like to express a few observations, in love, about the e-mail you are sending out written by others. I ask that you consider this with an open mind, and take it in the spirit of sincere love it is offered.

Ron, I want you to understand very clearly that I believe in preaching against sin, including doctrinal error. I firmly believe that all the saved are in the church of Christ, and that we should not fellowship denominations. And Tom Roberts, who wrote this below, is a dear friend of mine. I have attended Judson Road, where he preaches, and enjoyed all my visits there. I have heard Tom preach, and admire him greatly. I agree with him that truth sometimes is unavoidably offensive, even when presented kindly.

I regularly read or at least scan such "brotherhood watchdog" publications as S.T.O.P., Banner of Truth, Contending for the Faith (granted, all are institutional, but fight what we ALL call liberalism in the church). And I appreciate their stance against digression. But, Ron, something bothers me about these publications, and many of the articles (like you send out) of a "watchdog" nature. What bothers me is not that they condemn sin, but the TONE of many of them and the OBSESSION with such topics as sin, death, and hell to the point that love and anything of comfort is minimized or flatly ignored.

We have a world full of hurting people. Mothers whose children have been murdered. Old folks who've just lost their husband or wife of 50-something or more years. The young widow whose husband just got killed in a car wreck. The man who just found out he's got cancer. The person whose pension was wiped out by corporate crooks. Ron, in the e-mails you are sending out, where are there any words of comfort and encouragement for these folks? Why don't you ever send out anything positive and loving?

Yes, the Bible does have "negative" things, including the very real warnings of hell. Yes, I know we have preachers in the church who wrongly want to talk about only sweetness and light, and never preach about hell and sin. BUT GOING TO THE OTHER EXTREME--ONLY TALKING ABOUT HELL, SIN, AND DEATH--IS JUST AS WRONG!!!!!!! The Bible speaks of proclaiming the WHOLE counsel of God--and that includes great words of comfort, such as John 14:27, John 10:10, Romans 8:28, Jesus's assurances of preparing a mansion for us, etc.,etc.

Do you want people to serve God only out of fear of hell--or because they love God? Will doing right out of fear of hell save us? Did not Jesus say that loving God with all our heart and mind was the greatest commandment? Ron, when all we hear from the pulpit is sin, sin, sin, and hell, hell, hell, do you think you will get people to do right out of love for God...or out of just fear of hell?

Dear brother, people of your mind-set fuss at brethren for complaining about the constant negativity. They shouldn't react that way, and I hope you won't! The "watchdogs" NEVER seem to even CONSIDER constructive criticism, but dismiss it out of hand and frankly sound like they think they are perfect. I don't think I have EVER seen a "watchdog" admit to being wrong, or apologize. That is a real turn-off, and smacks of the kind of arrogance that scripture strongly condemns. None of us must ever get the idea that we are perfect, Ron! I don't care how conservative, faithful, and sound a man is, he is not perfect! First John 1, which says we all sin, applies to the "watchdogs" who deplore liberalism like it applies to the liberals.

I believe the reason liberalism is taking over is because too many of us who are conservative have adopted such an obsession with fault-finding, and show little if any compassion. The liberals, for all their damning faults, show caring and compassion when many faithful brethren don't. In today's world, people are under stress at work, and in their finances; their children go to public schools full of drugs and ungodliness; and our country is still reeling from the event of last September. People need to hear somethng ENCOURAGING now and then, not hear EVERY SUNDAY how sinful and pathetic they are! That is what was called, in the old days, a "hobby," and that kind of preaching is NOT proclaiming the WHOLE counsel of God. Old cranks who don't want to do anything but criticize will NOT build the church--they will harm it!

Here is my point: I do not ask you to give up fighting sin and error--only to send out SOMETHING that is not NEGATIVE now and then! Ron, my brother, look at the comforting things in the Bible--Jesus sparing the woman in adultery from stoning, his forgiveness of the thief on the cross, his love for mankind in dying on the cross. The assurance that God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Do you ever talk about those things? They are in the Bible, aren't they, friend?

Again, I want you to clearly understand that I am offering this suggestion in love, and by no means do I accept the label of "liberal" although I am institutional. I am just as opposed to family life centers, church ball teams, Max Lucado and Rubel Shelly's false teachings, and fellowshipping denominations as you, dear brother. I am for, not against, preaching on sin and hell. What I am saying is: Don't have an obsessive-compulsive complex to where EVERYTHING you teach and preach is NEGATIVE. It is NOT wrong to talk about heaven, love, and forgiveness. The key in preaching the whole counsel of God is balance--talking about both heaven and hell, both sin and forgiveness, both the erring and how we can help them get back on track.

Good wishes to you! And I'm still studying the non-institutional view with an open mind, by the way.

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