#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?

 

My caller 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 (Nashville: Boardman & Holman, 2001), by Joey Fann of Huntsville, Alabama.  Among the grievous errors in Joey’s book is the following: “Facts are not what faith is all about” (p.43).  I showed from the scriptures just how serious that theological position is.  From the opening chapters of the Bible to the end of Revelation, there are thousands and thousands of facts—facts that serve as the very foundation of New Testament Christianity.  What did Paul have in mind when he wrote of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?  These are either facts or they are not.  If they are not facts, then Christianity has no foundation.  The apostle Peter wrote of having been present at the Lord’s transfiguration.  He affirmed; “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet.1:16).  Did the transfiguration actually happen?  Were the apostles Peter, James and John eyewitnesses?  Did they hear the voice from God that said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Pet 1:17)?  If these are all facts, then facts are what faith is all about.  If they are not facts, Christianity is a great hoax.

 

But in refuting Joey Fann’s errors, I am not attacking Joey Fann.  He may be one of the most gracious men in the great state of Alabama.  He may be as honest as any human being who lives, but that does not prevent him from teaching error—soul-condemning error.  Should I have contacted him first before refuting his false teaching on an international radio program?  Contacting Joey Fann would have done nothing to change the error he has promoted in using “The Andy Griffith Show” during Bible classes among churches of Christ or to refute the errors in his book.  My concern should be to reprove, to rebuke and to exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2).  Obviously, Joey Fann has the prerogative to teach whatever he chooses.  I have the sacred obligation to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27).  That means I cannot ignore error—whether in the denominational world or among churches of Christ.

 

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. 4:14).  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. 4:10).  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 October 12, 2002, than any other time in my long life.  The reason is very simple: My gracious and loving wife departed this life and went to be with her Lord.  I am still grieving over my loss.  During the day, I am able to handle her departure with greater ease because I can keep busy reading, writing, and recording, but even then it has been extremely difficult.  But I have an especially hard time at night when I try to sleep.  I never knew the heartaches that accompany the loss of a wife of fifty-three years.  People tell me it will get easier, but it has not done so yet.

 

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. 6:46)?  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 Ephesus.  In his farewell addresses to the elders at Ephesus, Paul said, “You know from the first day I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and many tears and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house…Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am free from the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:18-20, 26-27).  Do you suppose Paul could sleep at night after declaring the whole counsel of God?  Could he have slept or should he have been able to sleep if he had failed to declare the whole counsel of God?

 

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. 7:15, 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 Palestine?  If I remember correctly, the religious authorities in first century Judea crucified the greatest preacher who ever lived.  They did not put him to death because he was tolerant of the views of the majority.  The killed him because he was preaching the truth—truth they did not want to hear and were willing to murder to stop.  Did Jesus drive away some people because he criticized many of the false positions of the religious leaders of his day?  He did not drive away those who wanted to know the will of Almighty God, but many of the Jews were offended at what he taught.  Did their being offended keep him from preaching the truth?  You know it did not; neither should we allow it to stop us.

 

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. 4:16)?  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 America that are growing.  The liberal churches—those who oppose no one except those who stand for something—are the churches that are dying.  Over the past thirty years, most of the liberal denominations have lost millions of members.  Some of the most liberal denominations have lost a third of their membership.  Why should anyone want to be a member of a church that stands for little and condemns almost nothing?  Many of the Pentecostal churches preach grievous error.  They are growing because they stand for something—the wrong something, in many cases—but for something.  All I am pleading for is standing for absolute truth just as Jesus Christ and his apostles did.  If that drives people away—and it unquestionably does sometimes—we are not held accountable since that is the way the Lord wants us to preach.

 

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?

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

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