"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.X No.VII Pg.3-8,15b
July 1948

Present Day Church Problems

Cled E. Wallace

(This is the first of a series of five sermons on this theme delivered during the Lufkin Bible school in January, 1948. Brother Cled E. Wallace, co-editor of the Bible Banner, has been seriously ill but is back at home and we are hoping and praying will soon be entirely recovered. R. E. C.)


In every institution, every organization, whether it be political or social or religious, problems are bound to arise, and there is not any way to keep these problems from arising as long as there is growth and development. I am reading a text in the third chapter of 1 Timothy. Timothy was to note some things that were wanting. Among other things there were some false teachers that needed to be put in their place. But here is the charge that Paul gave Timothy, and the atmosphere of all of it shows that it was a matter of extreme importance. He said, "Timothy, I write these things unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

Now there are no problems or theories of an alarming nature in the church as long as everybody is behaving himself, conducting himself as he should. Notice what the apostle says the church is, the house of God, it is the family of God. In another figure the apostle calls it the body of Christ, and said God set the members in the body even as it pleased Him, and that each member is to function and contribute its part to the growth and to the health of the body. I believe he uses the expression "the building up of itself in love," joined to him who is the head, even Christ, and the members fitly framed together. And he says there are many members but one body. If the members can find their place of functioning in the body in a scriptural way, then everything goes smoothly and divine purposes are carried out. It is only when somebody, it may be through ignorance, it may be through misinformation, but for whatever cause, if he tries to function out of his place then problems come up-, problems arise. Sometimes we find one member is not satisfied to function where he rightfully belongs. When one member of the church decides that he can't function in the place where he belongs that in itself would create a problem. When I look into this book that Paul wrote to Timothy, this letter, I find he has a good deal to say about how elders are to conduct themselves, how old men and old women are to conduct themselves, and young men and young women. In fact, whoever you are, whether man or woman, whatever your relationship, husband or wife, son or daughter, elder, preacher, deacon, and what-not you can find some specific as well as some general instruction in the Bible about how you ought to function and about how you ought to act.

It isn't surprising that we have problems in the church. It is like a family. We have problems in the family, a father and a mother, and children, and problems are constantly arising. Because the problems come we don't propose to destroy the family or disrupt it, but these problems must be met. When a man is in business he has his problems to come up. Difficulties, and sometimes obstacles which at the time seem insufferable and some seem to be unnecessary, but there they are. In government we have our problems arise, and everywhere and in everything these problems come, and so there is nothing strange or to be decried about the fact that problems arise in the church. We can't ignore them. If a mother refused to call a doctor when her child wasn't feeling well, or apparently sick, because she is afraid that the doctor would find something wrong with it, why, that would be tragic. The quicker you recognize a problem and the more positively and righteously you deal with it, the quicker the proposition is settled.

Sometimes these problems are just growing pains, these pains that the church has, but some churches couldn't have growing pains, for obvious reasons, and therefore we would have to name it or call it something else. Coming to these problems, history repeats itself, in the rise and decline of nations, and you will find a parallel that is rather striking in the rise, the growth and the declension of the church. When a nation is young and has obstacles to overcome and meet, when this nation, for instance, has enemies that are without that threaten, and new situations constantly arising, it makes for unity and self-sacrifice. Later, when the nation grows strong and wealthy and increases in power and influence, patriotism declines, and original concepts change, and you find new problems arise, and after awhile maybe the nation will grow strong and self-sufficient and independent, and gradually moral looseness begins to creep in; idealism falls, and the first thing you know the nation begins its decline. You can read any historian on the rise and fall of a nation, the Roman Empire for instance, and get the idea. When it comes to the church, we find the church is established and it grows strong and there are periods of difficulty. In these periods, especially in religious history, we find the first century produces certain problems and later centuries others, and although these problems vary, the principles underlying them are just about the same.

In the first century the outstanding characteristic was persecution and martyrdom. I marvel at the establishment of the church and what it accomplished in the first century. Why you think about the fact that Jesus Christ with just a few unknown disciples around him said, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," and he built it. When we look at that church on Pentecost, and its personnel, and see from a worldly point of view its prospects and power, and then find it increasing and developing and growing, and persecution and martyrdom instead of holding it down, seems just to have set it afire and promoted its growth and liberality and zeal and influence. Evidently God was with them for we note the growth of the church. The church won out and government applauded and adopted it so to speak, and the church became popular, then compromises set in. Changes began to be made, and such changes in organization and doctrine, and worship, led to the full development of the Roman hierarchy.

Then there was an age that we know as superstition and tyranny and utter confusion. It looked like Christianity could not survive, that its authoritative book would even be destroyed, the Bible would be burned up and destroyed and yet there came a time when the Bible emerged. Then instead of a full restoration of New Testament Christianity, instead of purity of the doctrine and worship of old, there was a period of denominational prejudice and bigotry. Men were strong for their creeds. They would fight for them, they were bold in their defense of and propagation of their doctrine. Then that was halted and we have indifference.

Indifference A Problem Today

The spirit of the age in which we live is affecting the church and that is one of our problems. We have at the present time a condition of indifference and false tolerance and every man's opinion against divine authority. Indifference is the problem today. The average man in religion is not going to defend his creed. He may belong to a denomination, and he may be zealous as a member of it, but he cares nothing about doctrine. It doesn't make any difference to him about the distinctive features of his creed, he is indifferent toward those matters. It never occurs to anybody today that somebody else might be right and we might be wrong, or that we might be right and somebody else wrong, The spirit of indifference and the spirit of false tolerance of this age is that we are all right, regardless of how wrong we are,

Lack Of Conviction Today

We are living in a period of utter lack of doctrinal or religious convictions, You can go back, for example to the history of Israel, for our admonition and for our learning, and we must keep in mind that the church is a divine institution. It was established by divine authority and it is to be maintained, on divine principles. Well, God established the nation of Israel, and he gave that nation a law: he gave that nation a religion, and when he told Moses to build the tabernacle, he said, "'See that you build it according to the pattern." 'They were to worship God strictly according to the pattern. Moses in his farewell address to Israel, said, over and over again, when you go into the land of Canaan, when you get out of this land of sacrifice, trials and troubles, they still remembered the terrible things in Egypt, when you get into the land that God has promised you will live in houses that you didn't build, you will drink water out of cisterns that you didn't dig, you will eat the fruit of vineyards that you didn't plant, you will inhabit cities that cost you no effort, your silver and your gold will multiply and your heart will be lifted up, and you will say, "My might and my power have gotten me this wealth," and you will forget. You will forget that it is God who gives you power to do these things. And Israel did forget. And we could recount with some interest the steps, the gradual steps that finally led to their complete apostasy and captivity. The history of a church can be like that. As a matter of fact, when you look at this matter of indifference and of false tolerance today in religion you can see how far indeed the church has drifted from its principles.

The Problem Of Preaching

This leads up to some specific observations as to problems. First, what problems do we have that cause the most concern? The first one that I note and pay particular attention is the preaching problem. There is no more important problem facing the church. The character of the church is determined and has always been determined by the character of its preaching. When the Holy Spirit came down for the sole purpose, apparently, of revealing the truth, to make it known; God devised a plan. Jesus Christ executed it, and the Holy Spirit revealed it; and when He came, He came down to reveal, and when the church was established it is said they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers: They continued in the apostles' doctrine and the apostles' teaching, and you know the teaching of the apostles determined the character of the church. The character of the church can't be changed unless the character of the teaching is changed, and a lot of our problems root right back to the problem of the wrong kind of preaching, I want to emphasize this matter of the importance of preaching. The world depended on its wisdom, Rome depended, upon its armed might, nations and institutions of various kinds depended on various means, but God depended for his work on what is known in the Bible as the "foolishness of preaching." "Foolishness of preaching," for in the eyes of the world it is a foolish thing to expect such a thing as preaching to accomplish such tremendous and unheard of results. It was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to do something that the wisdom of the world had not done, and could not do, and that all the armed might of all the nations had not done and could not do. He proposed by the preaching of the simple Gospel, which Paul declared to be the power of God unto salvation, to accomplish something in the way of redemption that all the combined means of the world known and unknown could not accomplish.

The Right Attitude Toward Preaching

Paul took himself seriously as a preacher. He called himself a preacher. Preachers are sometimes called doctors and they are sometimes called pastors, and they are sometimes called ministers, and first one thing and then another. I don't know of anything in the world I would rather be called than simply a preacher. That is what Paul called himself, and you know he said this regarding himself, "I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself so that I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I receive from the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God."

On another occasion he said, "Brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, it is not after men, neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, it came to me by revelation of Jesus. Christ." That is where I got it, and it is a precious thing to me, even more valuable than my own life, and "though we or an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel than that which has been preached unto you, let him be anathema." If I am any judge of the teaching of the scripture, Paul had less regard for a man who would preach something else besides the gospel, than he did for any kind of misconduct that is on record, because it was so vital. When he wrote to Timothy, he said, "'Timothy give heed to thyself." Give heed to yourself. If a man gives heed to himself as a preacher, why a preacher's attitude ought to be critically looked into. What is my attitude toward the truth? You know attitudes are in the heart. They may not immediately be perceived externally, but an attitude in the heart is going to creep out where it can be observed. A man must not compromise the truth in his heart. If he does you are going to have problems spring up that even he didn't dream of as a result of his work. It will be a regular Pandora's box of evil things.

The Spirit Of Reticence

Today we note in the attitude of a good many preachers, rather it is an outgrowth of their attitude, a masked reticence compared with a generation ago. In other words, a spirit of reservation regarding the announcement and the emphasis upon some clearly revealed truths. That is not a healthy sign, and the results that we can see on that even in a generation does not present a good prospect, if it reaches the fruit that it promises to. Preaching a good many years ago was, and some preaching is now, and it all ought to be, cold and uncompromising. We can remember what happened when doors were shut against us and when opposition and persecution was just as strong as it could be, and we might have to move out and hold a meeting in the open air or build a brush arbor on somebody's land, though he might not be a member of the church. The opposition that preachers met made them strong because they were forced to defend the truth and they loved the truth. We emphasized those things that were distinctive; not denominationally distinctive, because the church is not a denomination. You can look at the church as a New Testament affair and the body of Christ, composed of all the people of God. The distinctive features of the church just as clearly distinguish it from denominationalism of every shape, as one thing can be distinguished from anything else that is different. We emphasized and underlined and underscored those distinctive characteristics, things that separated the church from the world and everything that pertained to it, even religiously. It takes a pretty high grade of courage to do that.

Preachers Need Courage

The right kind of a preacher ought to be an exceptional sort of a fellow. They need a lot of courage and ought to be able to do, if need be, like Elijah did. It looked like he was the only one left, and they were seeking his life to please King Ahab, the popular head of an apostate nation who killed a good man, through covetousness, and took his vineyard. When he rode in with his associates and his courtiers on one side, who should march in on the other side but Elijah the prophet? "Ahab, have you both killed and take possession? Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel? I have troubled Israel, but you and your father's house, in that you have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, you wont get by with it Ahab." He went on to tell him that dark calamities would come to him and his house, over his sins. In other words, the dogs would lick his blood where they licked the blood of Naboth, and you know against such opposition, even King Ahab turned white as a sheet, and faltered and feared. It was simply through the force of the truth. It took courage to do a thing like that. It took courage for Paul in Athens, alone, to meet people on the street—some of them philosophers and some of them Jews, and dispute with them. He reasoned and persuaded in the synagogues, and when he was driven out of one place he went into another and did the same thing. It took courage when Stephen stood up before those traducers of the truth and said, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, as your fathers did, so also do ye, Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute, and killed them that showed before the coming of the Righteous One, of whom ye are now become betrayers and murderers." "Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears," and he knew it would cost him his life. That wasn't a mistake on Stephen's part. It was a choice between treachery to the cause of Christ and death as a martyr, and he accepted the choice without fear or without trembling. In his triumph he said, "I see Jesus standing at the right hand of God," and he could say with full faith, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit." There was no reticence or cowardice or anything of that sort.

The Spirit Of Christ

The preacher needs to take an attitude test. You know a sweet spirit is a fine thing if it is the right kind of a spirit. We ought to be like the Lord, the spirit of Christ, but you know Christ could be gentle on occasions, and he could be stern and unyielding on occasions. Every once in awhile I pick up a paper and find somebody telling us how we ought to imitate the spirit of Christ, and I read usually about a paragraph and a half and I find that the writer is condemning Christ and the apostles. Condemning the very things that they did. I read an article awhile back, and I guess you did, a pretty good friend of ours, and he intimated that he thought we'd take after him and get his tag for what he was saying, but he chose to run that tremendous risk and all. The first thing I thought of when I read it was that I'd just write a little squib and say, You're perfectly safe, minnows are safe, we're out after whales, we're not going to bother you. What is the spirit of Christ? You know the spirit of Christ is absolutely intolerant of error, and you can't tolerate some error and be intolerant of others; you must either accept all of it or reject all of it. That puts it up to our ability to detect and understand the truth, but when you know what the truth is, and when you understand what error is, no truth can be compromised, nor can any error be consistently accepted. Preachers used to do the kind of preaching that would put people to talking, and put them to arguing. I recall when I was in Temple a good many years ago, that the telephone rang, Foy called me from Lometa. Foy and I always were pretty close, and he said, "Cled, you had better get on out here. Why," he said, "we've got this thing bottom side up and upside down, hind part backwards," and he said, "'this whole town is afire." I said I had better go out, and I went out, and of all the crowds you ever saw, and of all the preaching you ever heard, we just baptized about 110 or 115 during that meeting, and restored about all the backsliders in the country, and practically ruined every denominational church in that country. And you know the preachers were going up and down the streets, and some of them were even heckling him in his services. They were having the hottest time you nearly ever saw. An argument took place on the corner of the street, and there was one noted old infidel there. He didn't believe in anything, and he was sitting there listening to them, and really was enjoying the argument. One fellow, all excited, said, "That fellow got up there last night and told that crowd that there wasn't but one church." This old infidel said, "Well, if that young fellow stays around here long, there won't be but one." You know soft preaching never would have done that. The church grew in opposing error. Courage on the part of preachers does not mean that there are not proprieties that we must observe. There is courtesy and all that, but there is not any courtesy in all the world that I know of that would keep me or hold me back legitimately from preaching the truth of the gospel on any proper occasion, and a man that will withhold the truth, any truth, for fear of the sensibilities of somebody in his audience, because of some pressure, social, financial or otherwise, is not worthy of the gospel of Christ. Now these are just some principles that I think ought to be brought out and talked about.

Neutrality In Preaching

There is a spirit of neutrality in preaching. You know sometimes an issue will come up that is loaded. Any capable preacher knows the Bible ought to be able to see an issue. All right, here is an issue that comes up, but the issue is loaded. I know it is right, I know that is what the Bible teaches, I know that is where I ought to take my stand, but I know that if I do it will just cost me some popularity, it will cost me some friendships, it may cost me position, it may, cost me in painful ways, and so I'll just wait. My sympathies are with the ones that make the fight, but I don't want to get hurt. Some don't believe the false doctrine but throw their influence on the other side and do injustice even to their own convictions, what little they have by complimenting the fellow that holds to those things. We have men today, prominent men with big names and indeed fine characters in many ways, that never take a stand on any issue until they see which way the wind blows. They'll come out right if the pressure goes the right way, and they might not come out wrong if it went the other way, but they just wouldn't come out at all. You know courage is one of the requirements of preaching, and understand this preaching question is one of the most important issues.

Our preaching is a little bit like another thing I have observed, I am expecting in this capacity at least a few times during this series to say the wrong thing at the psychological moment, and now is when I am going to say one. I picked up the Gospel Advocate and the Firm Foundation after I had this speech pretty well mapped out, and I knew when I made it that I wouldn't deliver it like I fixed it. But anyway, I picked up a paper, and they had a lectureship at George Pepperdine College. I looked over the subjects of that lectureship and they had another lectureship at David Lipscomb College and I looked over the subjects of that lectureship. Well, what was wrong? On first glance, why, if a man wasn't a little critical, he possibly wouldn't notice anything. A good friend of mine was doing all the lecturing over at George Pepperdine. Do you know what he lectured on? He spent the whole time, and he was the big shot in the lectureship, about all he talked about and all he preached about in it was courtship—like anybody didn't know how to court without some preacher telling him—courtship, marriage, and then the home, how husbands and wives ought to get along together. I know husbands and wives ought to get along together, and I know that they have to learn how to get along together. If you take a dozen people and bring them together, or a hundred people, or two, hundred people, we know that you have to give diligence to keep the unity of the spirit, and if a good man marries a good woman, why, if he's got a head of his own, which he sometimes has, and if she's got a head of her own, which she always has, they have to learn how to get along. Well, what is wrong with that kind of a program? I'll tell you in just a minute. Over at David Lipscomb College they had a lectureship and the whole program, every feature of it, was on the personal godliness of a Christian. One lecture was on jealousy, and another lecture was on envy, and another lecture was on honesty, and all that. Well, what's wrong with that? Well, I'll tell you exactly what's wrong with it. In the first place, as good a preacher as that fellow is at George Pepperdine, and as good friend of mine as he is, there's at least five bishops in the Methodist church that can out lecture him all to smash on every one of his subjects, and do it more eloquently and in a more scholarly way. You know it used to be, a way back when Sam Jones and Billy Sunday and those big union revivalists were coming in, and they were staying off of everybody's doctrine, but they were preaching on dancing and preaching on whiskey drinking, and preaching on card playing, and preaching on popular sins and all, of course, most of what they said about those things was true, but they were not preaching the gospel. You know what they were doing? We were not encouraging horse racing, nor divorce, nor gambling, nor drinking or anything like that, but I'll tell you what we were doing, we were preaching the gospel and making Christians out of folks, and somehow or other they just acted pretty well in those regards without featuring those as major things. It is the church's business to preach the gospel, and when the church confines its program to a kind of social gospel it will grow weak. I don't care how much morality you preach, I don't care how much you preach against marriage and divorce, and against sobriety and honesty and all of that, of course there is some of that in the Bible, a lot of it, and it ought to be preached, but when you feature those things, and lectureship after lectureship gives the whole time and absolutely puts no emphasis whatever on those distinctive principles of the gospel that the church was established and grew on, as long as it grew, disaster is bound to result. That is 'the way the digressives did years ago. They quit preaching the gospel and began preaching morality, and a sweet spirited proposition, and about eleven times out of nine when a man begins to emphasize the sweet spirited part of it, why, it is cowardice on his part, and he just mistakes the spirit he has. You know the gospel is all that will save people. It is the power of God unto salvation. The last time I delivered a lecture at a college lectureship by invitation, I'm just a little bit ashamed to tell you what I spoke about. I acted pretty nice when I was up there. I have always sort of felt that they put me on that theme to keep me off of something else, and I promised my wife before I went up there that I wouldn't be a bull in a china closet or anything of that sort if I could help it. Think about assigning a preacher the subject of discussing the Business Life of a Christian. What does a preacher know about business? Some brethren could do a little lecturing on that no doubt but they should assign me a subject that I knew something about. The head of a college one time, and I told the folks at home once that I was a little bit more important than some of them thought I was, but the president of a school, a good friend of mine, came all the way to Austin one time just to see me and discuss some of the problems that were bothering him. He was possibly disappointed because I didn't know as much about them as he had hoped I would, if that was really his purpose, to get some information. One time they sent me a program for a lectureship, and it had one subject, I think it was stewardship or something like that, and it was divided into sixteen or eighteen different heads, and each lecturer was supposed to take one of those sub-heads and make a speech out of it. Why, they just spread the thing out so thin, and what was there to all of it? Not much of anything. I heard some of them, and when I was asked about my reaction to it, I said, "The subject that you have given, that you have divided into sixteen sub-heads, might form the basis of one pretty good lecture if you'd get somebody that could handle it." The idea of taking one little part of a character that is not doctrinal or distinctive and divide that into a whole series of lectures and just have a lot of little pep talks around.

The church is facing a problem today that can only be met by men who love the truth, who have an attitude toward it like Paul had toward it, and who will preach it and urge its principles in the right sort of a spirit regardless of consequences. You know it is not the preacher's business to get his color from the church. You know preaching is so important that a man ought to mold sentiment and arouse conviction by the power of his preaching. Not merely by his personality, but by the power of the truth that is in what he says. So Paul said to Timothy, "Preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." The time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine. Don't let that affect you. They will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts. That will possibly leave you out, and maybe it will minimize your audiences, but you be faithful as an evangelist. Fulfill your ministry, preach the word. That is what we need today.

Doctrinal And Practical Preaching

Another distinction that is sometimes made, and our brethren didn't make it till a few years ago, but they are making it now; the distinction between doctrinal and practical preaching. I believe they call it the difference between doctrinal and spiritual preaching. Something of that sort, doctrinal and practical. You know there is not anything that is not practical in Christianity; honesty, morality or anything else that is put on the right basis. But it grows out of the soil of doctrinal truth. I had been preaching a good while before I ever heard some cultured sister say, I don't like doctrinal preaching, or some brother say, "Well, you know the kind of preaching that stirs folks up and makes them mad, why that is not the kind that will do any good." I heard that just awhile back. You know you can do some preaching that will make folks mad that is the wrong kind. I remember one time over here at Mansfield in a meeting that I was just preaching away on the principles of the gospel, and the wife of one of the members of the church was a devout Presbyterian, and very conscientious, and she went out one service and said to one of the sisters, "That man makes me absolutely so mad I could kill him." The sister said: "He hasn''t called any names has he?" She said, "No, but he doesn't have to, everybody knows who he is talking about." Well, what was the matter with her? Why it was hurting her. I didn't teach that Presbyterians teach so and so and it was a lie, I might have under certain conditions, but I didn't preach it, but I just told what he New Testament told about the church, what it taught about baptism, its action and its design, and what it taught on the covenants and what it taught about worship and all. Well, what was the result? She surrendered and was baptized.

This preaching problem is one of the big problems. I don't want to try to say all of it tonight, my time is up, but I have one thing that I clipped gives a little trend. I expect many of you saw it, and I'm not sure that I haven't seen it somewhere before, but it just struck me as particularly forcible at this time and under these circumstances. "Old Parson Stubbs, he used to preach at 'robin's school house and at beach; A preacher of the olden brand, with scriptures verses right at hand. With half the Bible learned by rote, right in his head where he could quote. I'm sure the bells of heaven rang when he prayed and when he sang; he raised a loud reproving din against all fashion breed of sin; he spoke aloud, some say he raved about the need of getting saved. He held revivals now and then where women, kids and grown up men, with tear-streams coursing down their face, sought pardon and redeeming grace. He thundered forth the truth, the word, in tones that were distinctly heard; and he had one message meant for all, t'was seek redemption from the fall. The parson died in '93, his life's song was Abide With Me. His last words were, it is his way, Goodbye, I'm going home today. A man now preacheth in his place, who scoffs the very sound of grace. He has AM's and PhDs and other marks of high degree; He lectures on the planet Mars, the glory of the moon and stars; The beauty of the mountain range; and other topics vague and strange. His lectures might be very good if they were ever understood, but they don't put a man on pins and make him sorry for his sins. They never stir a wicked gent up to the point where he'll repent. I wonder what this man will sing when slipping off to meet the king, and if like Parson Stubbs he'll say, Goodbye, I'm going home today."

You know Paul told Timothy, you take heed to yourself and you take freed to your doctrine for in so doing you'll save (both yourself and them that hear thee. Any motive that a man has in preaching that is not connected with saving himself and those that hear him, with due regard to the fact that God is the author of it is unworthy. If he feels that way about it, human opinionism against divine authority will have no influence on him whatsoever in any form or fashion or from any source.