Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 29, 1957
NUMBER 17, PAGE 1,13

Controversy And Preaching

Charles A. Holt, Florence, Ala.

We live in a day when the religious world looks with disdain upon controversy and debate. The spirit of this age is for peace — peace at any price! A truce has been ride with sin and error, and most religious groups have seemingly made a tacit agreement to "let each other alone." They have agreed to disagree. Most of the sects no longer contend for any peculiar doctrine. The people rho belong to them do not know what their church teaches nor why such is taught. No longer do men of any real conviction fill their pulpits. They now have union meetings" and everybody agrees that everybody is right regardless of what he believes or practices. It seems that in a large and alarming degree this same spirit now characterizes the church of the Lord.

Controversy Is Needful And Right

The writer of this paper makes no apology for engaging in controversy with sin and error wherever it may le found. Debating is still as much the need of the age as it ever was. We think that such is both right and honorable. Indeed it would seem to me that one can neither be right nor honorable who is not willing to 'earnestly contend" for that which he believes to be the truth — if he really does BELIEVE anything positively o be the truth! In this day of softness and lack of conviction, it is a rare thing to see one defend his religious position in honorable debate. We believe that we should `debate thy cause with thy neighbor." (Prov. 25:9). The New Testament teaches that we should "earnestly contend 'or the faith." (Jude 3); that we should "prove all things told fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21); and as did Paul, Jesus and all Spirit-guided preachers, defend the Faith. (Phil. 1:7,17). Stephen was a man who was "full of he Holy Ghost," but he was a "disputer" and met the enemies of truth in public debate. (Acts 6:9-10). No doubt he would not be appreciated as a preacher in our day, for he would be considered as a trouble maker — even by most of the brethren! Paul, the great apostle, was constantly in some sort of dispute or debate. (Acts 9:29; 19:9.)

It is very interesting to read of Paul's labors in the Lord's cause as revealed in the book of Acts and in his epistles. He was far from being a popular preacher. Almost everywhere he went he caused a "riot or a revival." He and his company were accused of "turning the world upside down." (Acts 17:6.) He was hailed before the governor and charged with being a "pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: who also hath gone about to profane the temple." (Acts 24:5-6.) Think about these charges. There was some truth in the first three. These accusations against Paul sound about like some that are hurled at some brethren today.

Paul was a fighter — a great warrior, and he commanded all Christians to be the same. (1 Tim. 6:12.) He aroused violent opposition — even on the part of many within the church! This many times resulted in his being severely persecuted. He "stirred" up the people. He refused to let them alone in their ignorance, sin and error. He was literally hated by enemies of truth both without and within the church. This great preacher was no popular preacher even with many of his own brethren.

This man even disputed with those within the church who taught error. He met the heresy of Judaism, which would have eventually corrupted the gospel, with all the force at his command. The mere fact that those advocating this pernicious doctrine were members of the church did not deter him at all. (Acts 15:2, 7.) He knew that error is of the devil even in the church! Error is no more acceptable to God when held by His people than when held by others. It will damn just as surely in the one case as in the other. To keep the churches pure in doctrine and life was a tremendous task demanding constant attention. The care of all the churches he truly felt (2 Cor. 11:28.) He thought that what the churches were doing was his business! He knew the end and disastrous results of dangerous trends and even the slightest departures from the faith. He gave place to such not even for an hour. (Gal. 2:5) He knew that there can be no compromise with error and to allow it to go unchecked even in the slightest form would mean eventual ruin. No doubt he was considered narrow; a bigot; a "watchdog of orthodoxy;" an extremist; a crank; by all means a hobby-rider; and one who was a trouble-maker and church- splitter! He was probably accused of making a lot of noise and fuss about nothing! But we know differently.

No Coward Nor Time-Server

When issues or problems confronted the church, Paul was not one to sit by and try to keep from being involved. He was not the least concerned with how his stand on such matters might affect his popularity or "curtail his influence." He was not afraid that he would be "fired" by some church if he preached his convictions and took a positive stand for or against some question of dispute. He was a man of conviction. He was not swayed by the mass movements of his day nor by what even the most "prominent" members of the church thought about things. He did not yield to the pressure exerted against him to silence his opposition to error! He was not concerned with his financial well-being; nor how well he might or might not be supported in this way. He was never a "fence-straddler" on any question and no one had to guess about where he stood on any issue. His one and only, his all-consuming desire was to know obey and teach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that he might be saved and that in so doing he might save others. Think of what might have been the result if Paul had not been who he was and where he was.

Exposed His Brethren

On one occasion Paul rebuked Peter to the face and this he did publicly. (Gal. 2:11-14.) He did not have the silly idea that he ought to go talk it over with Peter personally first. It was not a personal matter, but had to do with the "truth of the gospel." Defending and upholding the "truth of the gospel" is not a "private matter," and the Scriptures nowhere require us to "go talk the matter over privately first" with a false teacher — either in or out of the church. Did Paul have the right spirit when he did what he did and in the way he did it? Many today would say he did not and Paul would never be allowed in many pulpits of our day. No doubt the grounds for refusal would be something like this: 'He is too mean and he fights all the time!"

An Example For Our Day

May God help us to awaken to the truth that the way and manner of Paul and the other apostles, is the way and manner in which and by which the gospel is to be preached and defended in our day. It has Heaven's approval. Over and over again Paul taught Timothy, Titus and all Christians to follow his example. The apostles were inspired — Spirit-guided — in both WHAT and HOW they were to preach. They were inspired in the MATTER and MANNER. If we can depend on the WHAT they preached as proper for our age, then we may likewise depend upon their HOW or MANNER. (Matt. 10:19-20.) There is no place for compromise with error. Error will destroy souls. We should LOVE THE TRUTH AND HATE ERROR. To do so as we should will drive out of our ranks the soft, compromising, popularity-seeking spirit which is so prevalent today. Such a spirit is very prevalent all over the nation. Within many of the churches there has grown up a spirit and attitude of pacifism — making no honorable fight against sin and error without, and nearly none against such within the church. The idea seems to be to get along with every body and be popular. The church has grown numerically to a respectable place among the religious groups. The craze of the day is to be PROGRESSIVE — ON THE MARCH! It is right to make the RIGHT kind of progress and to be "on the march" if we are marching "on to war." But with big programs of a worldly sort, bigger and more expensive buildings, recreational and entertainment facilities and other things of like kind, we are seeking to keep in step with the "nations" around us, and if the present strides are maintained we shall soon be not one whit behind the chiefest of the sects in these respects. The churches no longer FIGHT! They do not consider themselves at "war" with anything or anyone. The gospel has been toned down by our preachers to suit the sensitive ears of our generation. "Sound doctrine" as Paul, Stephen, Philip, Timothy and other New Testament preachers delivered it, is out of place today!

The Situation Is Alarming

During the David Lipscomb College Lectureship in 1956, a group of elders made up a panel to discuss the preacher and his work. They set forth the qualifications of a preacher as they saw them! Not a one of them appealed to the New Testament for an example of the type of preacher or preaching needed today. In fact, these elders would not allow that type where they are. These elders (?) gave such advice as this: Preachers should not condemn the sects; should not call names; should not offend anyone ever; should show love; speak with a faint smile upon their faces; have good working wives; be good mixers; be neat at all times; never attend business meetings; listen to the elders as to what to preach; and by all means he must not "attack other churches" by preaching against The Herald of Truth, orphan homes and church support of colleges! To do this last is the "unpardonable sin" in the mind of many brethren today! Such ideas represent the sentiments of the college. Future preachers are being trained there. What can we expect from them if they fall in with such opinions?

Time For A Revival

It is time for a revival among churches of Christ — a real revival of plain preaching of the word. The church needs to be thus "converted" that she may be saved from digression and apostasy. Give some Pauls, Peters, Johns, Timothys — men of courage and conviction, who will preach the truth without fear or favor in the way and manner that Heaven approves and that will really show people the difference between truth and error. Give us preachers who are not time-servers and job-hunters; preachers who are not puppets in the hands of so-called elders who have been exalted above measure; who will even rebuke elders when they sin! (1 Tim. 5:19-21.) Give us preachers who will arouse and stir up the church and the world with God's truth! And may the Lord give us elders who demand this type and kind of preaching; who measure preachers by God's word rather than by modern standards; and elders who realize their place and responsibility!

May God help us to awaken to our true spiritual condition and the dangers we face!