#2026 - ATTACKING OTHERS
I dearly love to have people write or call the International Gospel Hour. It makes me know our program is being heard. I remember a poem I taught in high school many years ago: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” What if we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of speaking on outstanding radio stations across the nation and nobody is listening? But when you write or call, we know someone is listening, even if you do not agree with what is being taught. So when I received a call from a denominational preacher who apparently was outraged at what I was preaching, I was grateful that he took the time and spent the money to call. His particular objection related to my criticism of the Promise Keepers. He has a right to object and I have a right to speak my mind. Are we not bountifully blessed that we live in a country that grants us freedom of religion and freedom of speech?
appeared to be troubled because, he said, I was attacking people. But I do not attack people; I attack
positions. For example, recently I
refuted some errors from a little book with the title, The Way Back to Mayberry: Lessons from a Simpler Time (
But in refuting
How did Paul handle religious error and immorality among the Christians in the first century? Sometimes he called names and sometimes he did not. Paul’s letters to Timothy should serve as models for preachers in every generation. Paul exhorted Timothy: “This charge I commit unto you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies that went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning the faith have made shipwreck: of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:18-20). This is some of the harshest language in Paul’s writings. Hymenaeus and Alexander had shipwrecked the faith. Paul delivered them to Satan. Was Paul attacking the men or was he attacking their behavior? If it were not honorable to mention the names of false teachers and moral reprobates, would the Holy Spirit have endorsed what Paul did?
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul urged his dear young friend and fellow worker: “shun profane and vain babblings.” Paul predicted that they would increase unto more ungodliness. “And their word will spread like gangrene: of whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the faith have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17-18). These two men’s names will live in infamy so long as the world continues, but Paul was not attacking them personally; he was warning of the dangers confronting the church and refuting the errors of these two false teachers. Paul’s approach was not only legitimate; it was absolutely necessary to prevent the church’s departure from the faith and overthrowing the faith of some.
Paul also mentions Alexander the coppersmith. He said Alexander had done him much harm, but he does not specify the nature of the harm. He does leave Alexander’s ultimate fate to God Almighty (2 Tim. ). In this same chapter, Paul mentions a man by the name of Demas. At one time Demas had been Paul’s faithful fellow worker (Col.4:14). But tragically, Demas forsook Paul, having loved this present world, and departed into Thessalonica (2 Tim. ). There were probably people in Paul’s day who accused the apostle of attacking certain people. There are some people in our day—including preachers—who make such foolish accusations against those who work to keep the church free from error and immorality. But Paul was not attacking Demas. Is there any doubt in your mind that Paul would have been the first to welcome Demas back into the fold, had Demas repented of the error he was practicing?
The apostle John—whom many of us like to call “the apostle of love”—reserved some of his harshest language for a man named Diotrephes. Diotrephes was one of those church leaders who wanted to be Lord of the flock. As one of my college professors loved to say: “He was going to rule the roost or run off all the chickens.” John wrote unto the church; but Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence among them, did not receive John and his companions. Please listen to what John writes. “Wherefore if I come, I will remember his deeds that he does, prating against us with malicious words, and not content therewith, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and forbids them who would, and casts them out of the church.” John exhorts his readers: “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He who does good is of God: but he who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 9-11).
Was John attacking Diotrephes or was he attacking his behavior? There is one thing we can know for sure: John had no intention of allowing Diotrephes to get by with his evil conduct. Even if some may have considered John’s writing unchristian and inappropriate, he had no choice if he intended to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We cannot allow false teachers like John Shelby Spong to go unanswered. When a man denies virtually all the fundamentals of the faith, we must respond to him. It does not matter how honest John Shelby Spong is, he is promoting soul-condemning error. As much as I despise the error Spong preaches, I have no ill will toward the man. I do not attach John Shelby Spong; I attack the error he promotes in his books and on television. Have you noticed how the media give so much publicity to radicals like John Shelby Spong?
The preacher who
wrote criticizing me for attacking certain people expressed wonder that I could
sleep at night. I will admit publicly
that I have had more trouble sleeping since
But the preaching I have done for almost sixty years has not kept me awake, except when I should have done better in the pulpit than I did. I have grieved privately when I had not spent enough time preparing for a lesson and did not deliver the lesson with the love and compassion I should have. But the gospel I preach and the error I refute do not keep me awake at night. With God’s gracious help, I work seven days a week trying to learn what I ought to know and to apply the truth of God’s word to my life and to the lives of those who hear me—whether in the pulpits where I am privileged to speak or on radio.
When I stand in the pulpit or sit in my recording studio and preach that men and women must believe in Christ, repent of their alien sins, confess the name of Christ before men and be baptized for the remission of their sins, I know I am on solid ground—not because that is what churches of Christ have preached since the day of Pentecost—but because that is precisely what the scriptures teach. How could a preacher sleep when he denies these great truths of the Bible? When a preacher like Max Lucado tells men all they have to do is call God “Father,” how can they sleep at night? And how can Calvinist preachers sleep when they teach salvation by grace alone through faith alone? Have they never investigated the passages that demand that we do the will of God? Jesus asked his own disciples: “Why call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say unto you” (Lk. )? After Peter had listed the Christian graces—virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love—he said: “For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he who lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Preaching these great truths does not interfere with my sleep. But how does a preacher sleep when he knows these verses and yet continues to preach salvation by grace alone through faith alone? When Peter urged his readers to give diligence to add the Christian graces, was that a mere suggestion or is it an absolute requirement? If a Christian does not add these graces, he is barren and unfruitful. Can a Christian go to heaven if he has been barren and unfruitful? Peter demands: “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall.” If we fail to do them, have we not already fallen? Can a Calvinist preacher sleep at night when he has ignored or denied the thrust of these verses? If he does sleep at night, is it because of or in spite of what he has preached?
As a fallible
human being, I am sure I have failed to preach what was needed at the time it
was needed and in the way it was needed.
But my aim—if I know my own heart—is to imitate the
apostle Paul in his preaching at
My denominational critic says that my criticizing other Christians drives people away from the church. Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that he is correct. What does that prove? Does that mean I am not to oppose the false teachings of the religious liberals or Calvinist theologians or cultic groups? If I fail to condemn false doctrine, I am not following the Lord Jesus Christ or his faithful apostles. In his great Sermon on the Mount, our Lord warned: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves…Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them” (Mt. , 20). If Jesus Christ is my example in preaching, should I not expose and oppose false teachers—whether among churches of Christ or elsewhere?
Do you suppose
the preaching of Jesus always appealed to the devoutly religious leaders in
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of the harshest letters in the New Testament. He asked: “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect in the flesh” (Gal. 3:1-3)? The Greek word translated “foolish” in verses one and three means stupid or without sense. Does that kind of preaching win friends and influence people? Do you suppose Paul drove away some of the Galatians by his harsh criticisms of the behavior of his fellow-Christians? Paul knew his preaching offended some of the Galatians. He asked them: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth” (Gal. )? It is a sad commentary on sinful humanity that preaching the truth does make some enemies, but all serious Bible students know it does.
I wonder if my
denominational critic has bothered to examine the churches in
I would prefer not to have to oppose religious error and immoral conduct. I would love to take most of the time about the love of God as manifest through Jesus Christ. I would love to spend all of my preaching time telling men and women how to become and remain faithful Christians. But I must adapt my preaching to the needs of the day. And remember that John said: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world (John 4:1). Can I ignore those false prophets—men and women who pervert the scriptures and confuse those who are striving to learn what God wants them to know? I cannot and sleep at night.
The most unusual statement my denominational critic made was this:” He said he was going to the radio station on which he heard our program and buy our time so that we could not preach on that station any more. If he has tried to do that, he has failed. Does it bother you that some people are so intolerant they do not want those who believe and teach ideas they do not like to have the freedom to do it? Would it not be more honorable to refute in public discussion the errors he thinks I am preaching?
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