Observations and Predictions of a Veteran Preacher

(By James P. Needham)

     Bidding Godspeed to evil deeds. In 2 John 1:9-11 "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doe-trine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. {1O} If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: {11} For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."  (Rom 1:32) "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

     While this is a difficult principle to apply for some people, these verses establish the fact that when we do, act or, say anything that gives direct or indirect sanction to evil, we become a partaker of the "evil deed." In civil law it is called "accessory after the fact." Those who harbor or protect a criminal are guilty with him/ her. I say it is hard to apply, because it is much easier to drift down stream than to swim up stream; that is to say, it is easier to go along to get along, than to take a firm and uncompromising stand for God's truth.

     If we are affiliated in any way with that which is unscriptural, we become as guilty as the persons involved in the unscriptural act. This principle may not be obvious to many people, but it is right there in the two above Spirit-guided passages. It is much easier to ignore the principle and just go along to get along than to suffer the consequences of bucking the tide and applying the principle with vigor and consistency. It is still true that some people love the praises of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43).

     During the institutional controversy of the 1940's and forward, there were numbers of people who stayed in churches that they knew were liberal, but it was much easier to remain in them than to suffer the consequences of taking a firm stand for truth. They would let one know in a minute that they were opposed to the unscriptural acts of the church were they were members, but that was as far as they would go. They would not act upon what they said they believed. They had faith without works (James 2:17). They used various excuses for staying in churches which they admitted were unscriptural. Many used that old saw that it was their duty to give and the elders' s duty to spend, and if they spent it for something unscriptural, it was the elders' fault, not theirs. I asked them, "What would you do if the elders decided to buy a piano for the worship?" They said, "I would oppose it, and leave if they persisted in doing it." My reply, "Why don't you follow the same sound logic with reference too the unscriptural practices of institutionalism which you admit are unscriptural?"

     Is it safe to tolerate and sanction some unscriptural practices, but not others?  James says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."(James 2:10). This is true because the law stands or falls as a complete unit. To disregard the law in one point because we don't happen to like it, would indicate that we would disregard any other part of it if it doesn't suit us. If we put a horse in a fenced pasture, he doesn't have to jump over every inch of the fence to be outside the pasture. If he jumps over it in just one place, he is outside; he has violated the whole fence. See that?

     In the institutional controversy there were some well-known preachers who were pressed to tell us if they believed it is scriptural for a church to contribute to a college. Oh, they said, no! We then asked, what will you do if the churches decide to contribute to the colleges? They firmly said, they would oppose it and leave if they could not stop it. Well, what do you know? Our prophecy that the churches would eventually support the colleges came true, and, did they oppose it? Well, some did, but did they leave? heavens no! They died with their influence weighing heavily in the camp of the liberals. Sad, indeed! Liberal churches contribute freely and openly to the colleges today. Florida College is the only one known to me that refuses to accept contributions from churches. In view of the way things are going today, how long will that continue?

     This is another sad day for the Lord's church. The die is cast, and there seems to be no way to stop the avalanche of apostasy that is overtaking many churches on the marriage, divorce and remarriage controversy and the consequent discussion of fellowship. The question again rises, "Who is on the Lord's side." (1 Kgs . 18:21) "... How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him."

     Can widespread division be avoided? I seriously doubt it. Church history is against it. If there is a case in church history where a reform movement failed to produce another human denomination, I an unaware of it. We have seen it happen in our own lifetime with the liberals. They started a movement to get the churches to contribute to their human institutions. A great push was made following WWII. Faithful brethren rose up in opposition to it, and tried to call the brethren back to the old paths. Did they succeed? The answer is clear. Today many of the liberal churches are having joint services with the denominations; some of them are merging with the Christian church; some are serving the Lord's supper on days other than the Lord's day, and some are contemplating moving in a mechanical instrument of music, and the end is not yet. The Christian Church is the result of brethren trying to put the missionary society in the work of the church, and the instrument of music in its worship. It resulted in a widespread controversy, but we all know that it formed another human denomination by its own admission!

     I once asked the question, "Who will lead the church into the next apostasy?" I then gave this answer, "Probably the some of those who opposed the last one." I am neither a prophet nor the son of one, but I got that one correct because of knowledge of church history.

     Today some of the very preachers who strongly opposed the institutional apostasy, are contending for unity in diversity. You believe it your way and I'll believe it mine, and everything will be just fine. We will simply agree to disagree.

     A brother recently described the situation where he worships. He said, "We have some people here who are institutional, some who are non-institutional, and some who are liberal on the marriage question, and some who are conservative on it. We have agreed that we won't do anything that violates anybody's conscience, and we won't try to covert each other." I am safe in saying that we could get along with the devil with such a philosophy. This is true unity in diversity. It is a philosophy that says each person makes up his own truth; whatever he believes is his truth, and nobody has the right to criticize him or try to change him.

     We have always contended that we can see the Bible alike, but this philosophy says we can't. It is like the old saw that says one can prove anything by the Bible which is a slander against the world of God.

     If these concepts are correct, what about Paul's admonition to the Corinthians. He said, (1 Cor 1:10) "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Some of the unity in diversity brethren are now saying that this passage is limited by the context, and should not be given a universal application.

     Fifty-two years of preaching the gospel. Today, May 8, 2000, is my 73 birthday. This means that I have been trying to preach the gospel 52 years. I made my first attempt to preach on my 21 birthday in 1948. It was before my home congregation where my father was an elder: he taught the adult men's class and my mother taught the adult women's class. All my immediate family was present, plus several of my extended family; uncles and aunts, cousins, etc. plus people who had known me all my life. I had studied for the lesson for 2 weeks, and it lasted about 20 minutes! My knees talked to each other, one said," I will let you by this time, if you will let me by next time!" I had been married 8 months, had just returned from military service in Europe, and had finally decided what to do with my life with the help and encouragement of my young bride, but don't hold that against her!

     I was greatly encouraged by those folks who had known me all my life, and I am positive that I didn't do as good a job as they said I did, but I enjoyed hearing what they said! Bobby Witherington, who now preaches at Seffner (Tampa area), was present along with his family. He is 8 years my junior, so he would have been about 13 years old. Bobby said that while his family was eating lunch that day, his grandmother said, "Jim Needham will never make a preacher." I have said many times, "She was probably right, but I am still working on it." I guess if I have not succeeded by now, there is little hope for me! At that time in Bobby's life he had never entertained any idea of being a preacher. However, he has become one of the leading preachers of our time. He is like a flesh and blood brother to me and my siblings, and we love him and his wife dearly. Sue's home was only a few miles from ours though we didn't know her until she married Bobby. I preached once or twice a month at my home congregation that summer and entered Freed-Hardeman College that September where I studied at the feet of great men: N. B. Hardeman (called "the prince of preachers"), L.L. Briggance, James Cope, Clinton Hamilton, Frank VanDyke, W. Claud Hall, and others.

     I dropped out of school in the 8th grade because the war had taken all the young men out of the community and farm help had become scarce. My father had a huge crop in the fields that had to be harvested, so I dropped out of school and worked on the farm. By the time we were finished I was so far behind that I did not return to school (bad judgment). I entered the army in the summer of 1945, and was in Germany for 2 years.

     Thus, when I entered college I had to do my high school and college work at the same time. I graduated in 3 years, and preached almost every Sunday at various appointments. My wife also took mostly Bible classes under James Cope and Clinton Hamilton. Though she did take a home economics course under Magdalene Downey Ragsdale.

     After finishing college and in the intervening years I have been located in W. Tennessee, Kentucky 3 times, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida 2 times. I have held meetings in most of the 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. I have had two stints of oversees work. I spent 30 days in the Philippine Islands in 1972, and about that long in Iran in 1977.

     I have had a full and enjoyable life as a preacher of the gospel, though it has not always been a bed of roses. I have been fussed at, cussed at, shoved over pews, sued in the civil courts, had my house shot through at 3 AM, the buttons torn off my coat, and fired 3 times for preaching the truth which brethren didn't like. I have been used and abused, loved, encouraged, and appreciated. If I had it all to do over I would change very little.

     I've been privileged personally to know some of the great preachers of the generation that preceded my own; men who blazed the trail and held the line against the false doctrines that tried to invade the kingdom of God. Men like N. B. Hardeman, C. R. Nichol, Foy E. Wallace, jr., Roy E. Cogdill, W. W. Otey, Luther Blackmon, and many more. We owe a great debt of gratitude to these brave men. I have known many great men of my own generation who stood in the breech when liberal forces tried to turn the church into a glorified Red Cross society, and saddle upon it the support of human organizations. I have counted as my close friends some of the finest of gospel preachers and brethren who love the Cause of Christ enough to die for it if need be. I have been richly blessed.