Plainness of Speech
The teaching and preaching of the gospel is a matter that should be seriously studied and considered. I am referring to the "how" of the presentation of the saving gospel (cp. Rom. 1: 16). Many today are self-appointed authorities on "how" the word of God should be delivered, most of these people have had relatively little experience if any in full-time preaching. Some of the self-proclaimed local churches and schools that advertise themselves as preacher training entities have some notions and views about the "how" of preaching that are foreign to what we read and observe in Holy Writ, as we shall see. So much of the preaching today, even in the Lordís church, is shallow, non-descript, and oblique. The listener is often left wandering, "Just what was the speaker attempting to say?" At this point in our study, allow me to introduce one verse upon which we shall comment and from which we shall draw truths as to the "how" of the presentation.
"12: Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech" (2 Cor. 3).
There are two words in the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament that are of particular help to us in our exploration of "how." First, there is the Greek noun, parrhesia. This word is found 51 times. It is the word translated "plainness of speech" in the above sited verse. Parrhesia is a compound Greek word. "Pas," the first part, means "all" and the second part forming the compound is rhesis, meaning "speech." Hence, the rigid idea is speech that is all or speech that has completeness as its outstanding quality and characteristic. As we consider the context of "great plainness of speech," we see the contrast being between the clear way in which the gospel was and is presented with the veiled, hidden, and prolipic nature of Mosesí law, as it was mainly designed to announce the gospel, etc. (cp. vss. 13 ff., see addendum 1). The gospel is "all" in that it holds back nothing (see Acts 20: 26, 27). Hope is seen as a precipitating force for this holding nothing back and for clear language (2 Cor. 3: 12). Paulís love of truth and for those whom he taught is also seen as a reason for his plain, concise, and free of any hindrance in understanding speech (2 Cor. 7: 4).
The second word of interest is the Greek parresiazomai. Parresiazomia is used as a verb in the grammar of the New Testament and is found nine times.
Following the turning of Saul of Tarsus to the Lord, we are told: "29: And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him" (Acts ). Paul, as later known, delivered such preaching that could be styled as militant, involving disputation. As a result, some whom he taught wanted to "slay him." Hence, Paulís preaching was clear, decided, and applicable. We are told of the eloquent Apollos that, "Öand he began to speak boldly in the synagogueÖ." (Acts 18: 26). Paul solicited the prayers of the Christians at Ephesus in the following matter:
"18: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19: And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph. 6).
The recorded sermons in the New Testament are consistent with the style of delivery being bold, clear, and to-the-point, even cogent in nature. Take, for instance, Peterís recorded sermon in Acts 2: 14-40. To an audience of Jews who did not accept the Messiahship of Jesus, Peter declared Jesus, a man approved of God (Acts 2: 22, cp. 23-36). Regarding the resurrected and glorified Jesus, Peter in no unmistaken terms charged these Jews:
"23: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2: 23).
The sermon was so plain and so decidedly applied to them that we read: "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2: 37). Peterís answer to them is seen as clear and precise (cp. v. 38). Peter did not stop at this point, but we are told:
"40: And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2: 40).
May it suffice us to simply say that the totality of the recorded sermons in the New Testament are seen as bold and addressing the necessary matters, calling on the hearers to own up to responsibility and cooperate with Godís means of salvation ("save yourselves," Acts 2: 40, see such sermons as Acts 7; Acts 13: 14-43; Acts 17: 22-34; Matt. 5-7). These sermons called upon people to obey and accept as undeniable truth what was presented to them. There was different response, depending on the hearers (see Acts 17: 32-34).
If we are preaching the same gospel today, as we should be, the delivery, the "how," should be essentially the same as the original men who powerfully enunciated these Spirit provided truths. Yet, such preaching is too often not present in churches, even churches of Christ. The "mealy mouthed," "say nothing to offend," and indecisive delivery has become the norm and the expected, even what is required, in many churches. "We cannot tolerate such preaching, it will drive away some of our members," some "elders" are heard saying.
We need "plainness of speech" on a myriad of Bible subjects. When some preachers muster the courage to speak on such "hot issues" as divorce and marriage to another, about all they are heard meekly and sometimes apologetically saying is, "Two people should stay together for life." While the scriptures only provide one exception to the bound for life, for better or worse (fornication, Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9), some preachers have a number of causes for divorce and marriage to another. Even these men will not often publicly defend their teaching. More than one preacher of error has told me, "I would never teach what I do publicly, but I do upon every opportunity teach people the views that I hold." Is such, even in this circumstance of error, boldness and plainness of speech? Nay, verily!
We desperately need sermons showing the monogamous, "until death to us part" nature of marriage and also teaching that clearly points out what an adulterous marriage is. This might come as a shock to some, but not that many churches are free of adultery, a lot of this is due to the absence of plain preaching on the subject.
Some appear ashamed of Godís plan of salvation for the lost. I say this because they do not straightforwardly declare it. Belief, repentance, confession of Jesusí deity, and baptism "for the remission of sins" is what the early, Spirit led preachers taught (cp. Acts 2: 38, etc.). Some today remind us of a bland and lacking necessary details Billy Graham altar call (cp. Acts 2: 37-40).
There are local churches that have not ever in their history of existence "marked" and "withdrawn" from members who "walk disorderly" (Rom. 16: 17, 2 Thes. 3: 6). As a rule, the preachers who preach for these churches never plainly present such subjects as "church discipline." In fact, they have become expert at "dancing around such negative subjects."
Most preachers in churches of Christ present sermons on the church, but some of these sermons could also, just as delivered, be preached in most denominations. This is due to the watered-down and non-descript way the church is set forth. Listening to these men, you would never know that Jesus built his church and that there is "one body" or church and therein and only therein is salvation enjoyed (Matt. 16: 18, 19; Eph. 4: 4, 5; 1: 22, 23; 2 Tim. 2: 10).
The matter of holiness is seldom heard in so many pulpits. Holiness is consecration of life and spiritual dedication (cp. Rom. 12: 1-3). I recall one church that had as a song leader a middle aged man with piercing and tattoos, all recently acquired. When questioned about such his reply was, "I believe the piercing and tattoos help me to have a rapport with the young that you do not have!" It was not long before he was caught in fornication and social drinking (he really did have a rapport with the young people). The preacher where he was a member never got around to preaching on such, much less, plainly presenting cogent related truths.
In some twisted way, many have come to believe that unity demands the truth to be withheld. They seem to have forgotten that error can be preached by omission or failing to plainly present all the relevant facts (cp. Acts 20: 26, 27).
All have room for improvement, including your writer. However, it is high time that churches of Christ return to the kind of preaching that is seen in the First Century, the plainness of speech that results in real turning to the Lord and strong, informed churches that possess conviction and hate error! The soft peddling of "truth" today must cease to be tolerated. It may be true that a percentage of preachers today are themselves babes in Christ and cannot go beyond the "milk of the word" (I Pet. 2: 2). Churches have a right, though, to have men instructing them who have something to offer. It is no wonder that a significant number of whole churches are made up of immature and infantile people, unable to "discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5: 12-14). It has been said that in general, "A church will not rise above its preacher and leaders." I am afraid there is a lot of truth to the saying (I trust this article has been characterized by "plainness of speech".)
Addendum 1: Parrhesia originally pertained to speech. However, the literal idea of "speech" is sometimes is not primary and parrhesia sometimes contains the thought of conduct in general (cp. Acts 4: 13). Parrhesia is a good example of how the literal meaning of a Greek word can evolve to involve more than the literal idea. This evolution is not arbitrarily determined, but must be established based on how a word is used in different instances and by different writers of the New Testament.