"Issues, What To Do With Them"
In speaking recently with
a veteran preacher of the gospel, he and I both agreed that we (almost 100
hundreds years of combined preaching) are currently seeing more issues facing
the church than we have ever witnessed and at the same time, fewer addressing
these issues. Some of the men who dealt with issues in the past are now part of
the problem of digression, he and I also both agreed.
I marvel at how some can write voluminously and never touch on a relative issue. Some can actually preach on such subjects as, "Marriage, as God Ordained It," "God's Institution, The Local Church," and "The Lure of Worldliness" and never touch top, side, or bottom of any sensitive aspects of these heated topics. I am referring to "mental divorcement" and "second putting away doctrine;" the Guardian of Truth Foundation" and the "annual Guardian of Truth Foundation Lectures;" "bikinis," "tight fitting blue jeans," and "short shorts." Would they dare supply names regarding some teaching aberrant doctrines under the heading of these topics? Nay, verily! To do so would be beneath their dignity.
We have too many today who are purveyors of positivity and are too good to risk their spotless reputations in exposing error and challenging false teaching. Yet, when we consider the examples resident in the Bible, we find men who loved the truth and hated error, even calling it for what it was and supplying names of errorists (Rom. 12: 9).
Paul, John, James, Jude, and Peter, all prompted by the Spirit, did not mince words or draw back from dealing with current sensitive subjects that involved error (cp. I Cor. 2: 13)One big issue of the First Century was the Law of Moses, the gospel, and salvation. Some wanted to bind the Law on all for the purpose of justification; while some insisted that Gentiles coming to Christ had to keep parts, at least, of the law (Acts 15). Paul courageously refuted such teaching and confronted those who promoted this doctrine. Justification by law excludes justification by grace and the two cannot concurrently be effectual.
"6: And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work," wrote Paul in masterful decisiveness (Rom. 11).
Romans and Hebrews are treatises designed to extinguish any doctrinal influence the Ebionites might have exerted in binding the law. To those who would have select parts of the law to bind and ignore other requisites, Paul forcefully stated:
"1: Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2: Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3: For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4: Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5).
The apostle John dedicated much of his writings to the new heresy of Gnosticism. John forcefully showed that Jesus Christ had "come in the flesh" and that Christ was not imaginary but actually dwelt in a material body, contrary to both Cerinthian and Docetic Gnosticism (I John 1; 4).
Ponder the unequivocal teaching of John regarding Gnosticism that taught man could be saved and not necessarily conform to God's commands (the old "once saved, always saved" doctrine):
"3: And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4: He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5: But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6: He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (I John 2).
John and the Holy Spirit did not hesitate do denounce some contemporary religious groups.
"6: But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate....14: But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. 15: So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate" (Rev. 2).
James treated such subjects as materialism and worldliness in general and supplied remedies (Jas. 2; 4). These Spirit guided men were not ashamed to call sin, sin (cp. Gal. 5: 1-4). Consider the cogent language of James as he writes to worldly minded brethren:
"1: From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2: Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3: Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4: Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (Jas. 4).
Due to the arrival of false teachers among God's people, Jude evidently changed his intended subject from the "common salvation" to matters of how some would corrupt God's grace, deny the Lord, and use monetary gain as their main impetus (Jude 3). Examine how Jude held back nothing in describing these ungodly professing Christians in the church:
"4: For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ....8: Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities....10: But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. 11: Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. 12: These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;13: Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. 14: And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15: To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. 16: These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage" (Jude).
There were apparently many distortions of the resurrection doctrine extant in New Testament days. Rather than skirt the issue, Paul dealt with it head on. Consider his teaching:
"12: Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13: But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15: Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16: For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18: Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" (I Cor. 15). "16: But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17: And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18: Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2).
Notice and appreciate how Paul, without apology, states the issue, contrasts the false teaching associated with these issues with the truth, and dialectically presents the soul-damning consequences of error. He even named names of the proponents of some of these doctrines!
There were evidently a number of scoffers in Peter's day who denied Jesus' second coming. Peter focuses attention on them and exposes their fallacious reasoning of uniformitarianism (all presently continues as it has in the past) and sinful character. Consider his manner in so marking them:
"3: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4: And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5: For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8: But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3).
Jesus collided with the elite Pharisees of his day, those who perverted God's law. Rather than avoid the issues, he attacked them with unequaled velocity. He called them out in the most direct way when he said:
"20: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5).
Jesus publicly rebuked the leaders of the Jews when he said to them before the "multitude" and his "disciples":
"15: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves" (Matt. 23).
One serious issue of the First Century was racism. Even Peter was exposed and publicly reprimanded for his racial inconsistency:
"14: But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (Gal. 2.)
I am personally sick and tired of "Church of Christ Pulpiteers." Some are so busy promoting ecumenical agreement (unity-in-diversity) that they have lost all sight of biblical unity, assuming they ever had such a concept (cp. Eph. 4: 1-6). Those who claim that they love God and the brethren too much to risk division by dealing with issues, are engulfed in self-deception. They do not love God and do not have any real regard for God's people (cp. I John 5: 3, John 8: 32). What ever happened to the charge:
"1: I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4: And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4).
We need more preachers of the soul saving gospel and not the, "Accent the positive and eliminate the negative" mentality type. The latter have increased numbers, but not souls; they have added impetus for larger buildings, but not holy churches; and they have popularized the hand shake, but not scriptural fellowship. They have helped those living in adultery to be received with open arms and no questions asked. Yet, Jesus said:
"32: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (Matt. 5); "9: And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matt. 19).
Paul, John, James, Peter, and Jesus all issued teaching pertaining to false teachers (those who create issues) and what the response to them is to be (Rom. 16: 17; I John 4: 1; Jas. 3: 1ff., 2 Pet. 2: 1; Matt. 7: 15-20).
I personally am growing weary hearing fluff and no substance. I have sat on the edge of my pew thinking that I am about to hear a preacher really deal with what is needed, only to wonder how he managed to say nothing. No, I am not saying that one must continually and only dwell on issues, please do not misunderstand me. However, I am saying that just about every imaginable subject today contains issues. Preach on Jesus, and you have attendant and multitudinous issues. Was Jesus really God/man?; could he actually have sinned?; was he really born of a virgin?; etc. (Heb. 1; 2; Heb. 4: 15; Matt. 1: 23). If you faithfully preach on the church, you must deal with such issues as, the work of the local church, its autonomy and what autonomy is not; the work of elders; and how the local church is God's only organization through which Christians are to pool their resources and collectively preach the gospel to the lost and edify the saved (I Tim. 3: 15; Acts 14: 23, I Pet. 5: 1-4).
In case I have not been plain, allow me to clearly affirm that one cannot loyally preach the gospel and avoid issues, it is impossible! There is no room in Jesus' church for back-slapping politicians who speak out of both sides of their mouth, yet, we have those who meet the description. During the last couple years, I have dealt with a number of preachers who can and do tell it both ways, depending on their audience. Such men are not just mixed up, they are lacking moral integrity.
Issues, what are we to do with them? Preach on them, explain them, expose them, and refute them, that is what we are to do with them. Preach "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20: 27). As a member of the church, encourage all men who have dedicated their lives to, "...I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you..." (Acts 20: 20). (A similar article to read is, "Issues, Why Many Are Not Universally Resolved".)
Men who are "just too good to preach on issues," are men not fit for the Kingdom of God. They are hirelings with no real interest in the souls of men (John 10: 11-13). In closing, I leave you with the expressive words of Paul, words indicative of a strong and abiding moral compulsion:
"16: For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (I Cor. 9.)