In my experience, the minds of a great many independent Baptist preachers are filled with vain tales and folklore that are taken as “gospel.” These “old preachers’ tales” are passed on from generation to generation and are trotted out frequently in conversation and sermon to the enthusiastic acclaim of the brethren.
In fact, these “old preachers’ tales” are fundamental principles by which many preachers conduct their ministries.
Yet they fall to pieces the moment they are tested by the Word of God.
Any principle that fails the test of God’s Word is wrong-headed and heretical, no matter how popular.
Most of the following “old preachers’ tales” are geared to support and defend the popular principle that preachers should focus on the positive and avoid the negative, that a “warning ministry” is unnecessary at best. This has been the heart and soul of New Evangelicalism since the 1950s, and it has been accepted by a large number of fundamental Baptist preachers who would strongly disavow that they are New Evangelicals.
My earnest prayer, a prayer I have prayed with tears, is that fundamental Baptist preachers will stop the mindless commitment to Baptist tradition and the blind loyalty to some “hero,” and be more committed to God’s Word than tradition and more loyal to the infallible Christ than some fallible man.
We all give lip service to the commitment to the Bible as “the sole authority for faith and practice,” but how true is that commitment when it comes to our pet theories, vain folklore, and “old preachers’ tales”?
OLD PREACHERS’ TALES
- Counterfeit Currency Detection Focuses on True Currency, Not False
- I Don’t Need to Know What’s Happening
- We Should Major on the Majors
- You Attract More Bees with Honey Than Vinegar
- It’s a Local Church Matter
- Touch Not Mine Anointed
- Don’t Shoot the Wounded
- COUNTERFEIT CURRENCY DETECTION FOCUSES ON TRUE CURRENCY, NOT FALSE
I have heard this choice bit of folklore since my student days at Tennessee Temple in the mid-1970s.
It goes like this: The Secret Service trains its agents to recognize fake currency by studying the genuine article, not by examining counterfeits.
This is supposed to support the principle that preachers don’t need to study error and don’t need to train their people about error, that it is sufficient to preach the truth, that if we know the truth well, we don’t need to deal with falsehood.
While it is essential to know the truth as thoroughly as possible, and while we certainly major on learning the Word of God as the most fundamental aspect of the Christian life and ministry, this folklore is wrongheaded on two counts.
First, it misrepresents Secret Service training. The Secret Service trains its agents to recognize counterfeit currency BOTH by studying genuine currency AND by studying the methods of counterfeiting. If you are not familiar with the subtle errors of the counterfeit, you can easily overlook them.
Second, it is unscriptural. If it were sufficient to preach “positive truth” and not to study and understand false teaching and to train the people how to avoid it, the New Testament epistles would not be filled with plain warnings.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul not only preached “positive truth” about the resurrection, he warned sharply about false teachers and he stated and refuted their errors.
In Galatians, Paul not only preached the positive truths of the gospel, he plainly warned about the heretics that were perverting the gospel and he stated and refuted their errors.
Jude says the preacher’s job is not only to preach truth but also to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).
We see this across the entire canon of the New Testament.
Preachers are tasked with protecting the Lord’s flock from wolves, no matter what clothing those wolves adapt to avoid detection. The devil’s wolves are clever. Their error is subtle. It can consist in the mere redefinition of a biblical term, such as “atonement.” It can consist in a simple subtraction from a theological truth, such as the difference between “salvation is by grace,” which is the heresy that the Roman Catholic Church believes, and “salvation is by grace alone without works,” which is the truth that Paul taught. Error can consist of something as subtle as the difference between “the Father, Son, and Spirit are manifestations” and “the Father, Son, and Spirit are persons.” Error can consist in the truth that is neglected rather than the heresy that is taught, which is a fundamental problem with New Evangelicalism.
The subtlety of error necessitates that preachers have some basic understanding of it so they can educate and protect the people.
A preacher who is devoted to preaching truth and who tends to avoid warning plainly about error and tends to dislike “warning ministries” is a preacher who is not obeying God and who is not protecting the flock.
- I DON’T NEED TO KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING
I have often heard preachers say something to the effect, “I am glad that I minister in this little place, and I don’t need to know what’s happening in other places,” or, “I’m glad that I am off the beaten path, so I don’t know about and don’t need to know about what is happening elsewhere.”
It is common that such preachers are not interested in warning information such as that provided in O Timothy magazine, Friday Church News Notes, Berean Call, or The Fundamentalist Digest.
As a result, these preachers tend to be ignorant of many things about which they should be informed, and their flocks are uneducated in many important matters. Thus, they are susceptible to being led astray in ignorance of things such as New Evangelicalism, Christian hedonism, cultural liberalism, contemporary worship, charismaticism, new Reformedism, even secular evolution, theistic evolution, and the new atheism.
I had a conversation recently with an older independent Baptist missionary who expressed surprise when I informed him of the history of compromise in the Baptist Bible Fellowship, Tennessee Temple, Southwide Baptist Fellowship, and other independent Baptist institutions and “camps” going back to the 1990s. He had only a very vague idea about these things, yet if the preacher is not properly informed, he and his people are not prepared to face the compromise that has corrupted so many preachers, churches, schools, missions, and “camps.”
We need to be informed, not for the sake of gossip, but for the sake of wisdom and protection.
In the internet generation, people in any part of the world have access to every sort of compromise and error, even in rural parts of America and Canada and in towns and villages in South America, Africa, and South Asia.
The corrupting principles of New Evangelicalism, for instance, have spread throughout the world. There is no place you can go where you can avoid its influence. The same is true for contemporary worship, Reformed theology, theistic evolution, charismaticism, Chuck Swindoll-type “grace,” heresies about repentance, textual criticism and the modern Bible versions, etc.
Preachers need to be well educated today as never before, so they can protect themselves, their families, their friends, and their flocks.
- WE SHOULD MAJOR ON THE MAJORS
Another “old preachers’ tale” is that “we should major on the majors,” which usually means that so-called “minor” issues should be avoided or extremely downplayed.
Like all of the “old preachers’ tales,” there is an essence of truth here. It is true that the Bible majors on some things more than others. It is true that there are “fundamental” doctrines and less “fundamental” ones. If the Bible deals with something one time, like hair (1 Corinthians 11:1-17), the preacher would not be wise to major on it.
But this is not to say that the issue of hair is of no consequence and can therefore be avoided in the pursuit of focusing on the “majors.”
The less major things in God’s Word are there for a reason and are not things that can be neglected.
The preacher is tasked with teaching his people to “observe all things whatsoever I have taught you” (Matthew 28:20).
The preacher is tasked with keeping the truth “without spot,” which refers to the small things as well as the large (1 Timothy 6:13-14).
The preacher is tasked with proclaiming the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
The preacher is tasked with teaching apostolic truth “in all things” (1 Corinthians 11:2).
The preacher is tasked not to omit either the weightier matters of the law, nor the lesser matters (Matthew 23:23).
Further, it is a little leaven that leavens the whole lump,” both in regard to sin (1 Co. 5:6) and doctrine (Gal. 5:9), so the wise preacher will deal with all leaven.
The preacher must deal with whatever error might harm his people, regardless of how “minor.”
- YOU ATTRACT MORE BEES WITH HONEY THAN VINEGAR
Another “old preachers’ tale” is “you attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”
Again, the objective of this tale is to support a more positive approach to the ministry and to defend a neglect of warning. This principle has been at the heart of New Evangelicalism since the 1950s.
While it is true that you attract more bees with honey than vinegar, people aren’t bees and the ministry isn’t bee keeping.
The Bible is literally filled with the “vinegar” of reproof and warning.
The preacher is specifically and solemnly tasked by God with reproving and rebuking and warning about sin and error (2 Timothy 4:1-2; Titus 1:13; 2:15).
The Lord Jesus didn’t treat the churches only to honey, to say the least. He said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
God knows more about human psychology than man knows, and God prescribes the rod and reproof even in child training (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15). God’s ways are not man’s.
- IT’S A LOCAL CHURCH MATTER
Another “old preachers’ tale” is the idea that it is wrong to expose error when it is perpetrated by a pastor of another church. Those who expose the error are charged with interfering with “the autonomy of the local church.”
This folktale falls apart when we consider the fact that many pastors today have far-reaching influence beyond their own congregations. They publish newsletters, sermons, books, training materials, and music; they broadcast their services online. They maintain blogs; they use Facebook and Twitter and maybe even TikTok. They host large conferences and welcome the members of other churches to attend even without a permission slip from their own pastors.
When this happens, that pastor’s ministry ceases to be merely a local church affair. It becomes a public affair.
Private ministry must be judged privately, but public ministry should and must be judged publicly. It should be judged in the same forum where it occurs. Otherwise it is impossible to correct the error and help those who are in danger of being led astray.
Further, though I have heard this particularly “old preachers’ tale” many times, I have never seen anyone who can support it from Scripture. In fact, I have never seen anyone even try to support it.
Where does the Scripture limit the scope of a preacher’s reproof and warning?
The preacher is instructed to preach the word, “reprove, rebuke, exhort,” to “speak, exhort, and rebuke with all authority,” and “to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15; Jude 3). Where does the Bible say that this ministry can only be performed by a pastor of a church and only to his own congregation?
The inconsistent thing is that those who make the accusation that “the autonomy of the local church” is being undermined when some prominent leader is reproved, express no such concern about that leader’s influence beyond his own congregation and his undermining of the autonomy of other churches.
- TOUCH NOT MINE ANOINTED
A major “old preachers’ tale” is “touch not mine anointed,” which is used to place preachers, especially prominent ones, above reproof and correction.
It is based on a misapplication of 1 Samuel 24:10, where David said, “Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD’S anointed.” See also 1 Samuel 26:11, 23.
The context has to do with killing an anointed king of Israel.
The late Jack Hyles, who continues to have a vast influence on many independent Baptist preachers, acted like a king and put himself above reproof and discipline.
But even an Israelite king was not above reproof. Neither David nor Samuel lifted their hand against King Saul, but they both reproved him (1 Sa. 13:13-14; 15:17-23). And when David was king, the prophet Nathan did not draw back from reproving him (2 Sa. 12:7-12), and we could give many other examples.
Even kings could be reproved by God’s Word, and so can pastors.
“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).
“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; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20).
- DON’T SHOOT THE WOUNDED
I have frequently heard the accusation that preachers who give warnings about Christian leaders, especially about prominent Baptist leaders, are guilty of “shooting their own wounded.”
For example, I received the following e-mail that charged me with doing this in regard to an exhortation I published about Clarence Sexton’s Friendship Conferences.
“I am deeply upset at the private letter you posted on your website to Dr. Sexton. Thanks for shooting your own and not calling Pastor Sexton personally to get all of the facts.”
The fact is that I sent that letter to Dr. Sexton via his own website months before I published it, and I received no reply. I found out later that he says that he doesn’t use e-mail, and that is his business, but he could have dictated a reply to one of his many co-workers or secretaries.
Another example of the accusation of “shooting the wounded” is contained in the following e-mail that I received a few years ago:
“I grew up in Murfreesboro, TN and was and am still associated with the Sword of the Lord and the Bill Rice Ranch. I hated it then and still do when a Christian brother bashes another Christian brother over things instead of preaching and trying to win souls to Christ. It is said that the Christian Army is the only army that stabs its wounded and kills off its own. I have to say it is very true.”
I would observe in passing that the Sword of the Lord has long been guilty of promoting “old preachers’ tales” such as “don’t shoot the wounded.”
What does “shooting their own wounded” mean?
If it means that Christians sometimes fail to be patient with the weak, we can all probably say that we have been guilty. If it means that Christians sometimes are too quick to criticize a fellow believer instead of trying to help him, it happens too often, and it is wrong.
If, on the other hand, “shooting the wounded” means that it is unacceptable for a preacher to warn about influential men who are teaching error or walking in compromise and therefore negatively influencing God’s people, this is an unscriptural folklore.
In my public warnings, I have never injured a wounded person and I have never shot anyone in any sense whatsoever. To charge me with doing so is to confuse biblical warning, reproof, and correction with harmful personal assault.
I was in the army, and I have studied the military, and I understand the military, and what I am doing has absolutely nothing to do with shooting one’s own wounded.
The leaders that I warn about are not wounded! They are willfully and steadfastly committed to error or compromise in spite of having been warned, and they are harming others.
By the way, they don’t mind “shooting” back! And usually they do so in a “halfcocked” manner without making the effort even to know who the reprover is and exactly what he is saying.
The Lord Jesus Christ taught His people to beware of false prophets (Mat. 7:15). When a preacher obeys this command, is he “shooting the wounded”? Of course not, but those he warns about and those who are sympathetic to them will charge him with doing so.
In 1 and 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul names the names of false teachers and compromisers 10 times in his warnings (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17; 3:8; 4:10, 14).
All of the men that Paul warned about claimed to be Christians, and it is likely that they felt that Paul was being unfair and mean-spirited in singling them out.
When Paul warned Timothy that Demas had abandoned him because he loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10), Paul was not shooting at a wounded man. Demas had been a minister of the gospel, a co-worker with Paul, but he made a willful choice to cast his lot toward the world. He had no excuse, and he was influencing others. Doubtless he had been warned, but he remained steadfast in his compromise. Note that Paul didn’t say that Demas had left Christianity; he had only left Paul. This probably means that Demas was compromising his ministry with the world after the fashion of the doctrine of Balaam (Rev. 2:14) and the teaching of Jezebel (Rev. 2:20). It appears that he was one of the early proponents of an “emerging church,” arguing that Paul’s Christianity was too strict, too separatistic, too ineffective, and that we need to adapt ourselves to the world “a bit” to reach people.
The Lord has commanded the assemblies to exercise discipline toward unrepentant church members who are committed to sin and error (1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3:10, 11). Is that shooting the wounded? It is oftentimes considered to be so by those who are the objects of the discipline and by those who are sympathetic to them; but proper church discipline, though severe, is not destructive. It has the three-fold goal of glorifying the holy Christ in His church, purifying the congregation, and bringing the sinner to repentance.
The Lord has instructed us to separate from those who are saved but are walking in disobedience (2 Thess. 3:6). Is that shooting the wounded?
It often happens that those who are disobedient mistake biblical correction for persecution and confuse biblical reproof with personal assault.
Paul rebuked sin in the churches in letters that were anything but private. His epistles to the individual churches, as well as those to Timothy and Titus, were distributed among all the churches (Colossians 4:16). Therefore, when Paul told of how that Demas had left him, having loved this present world, it was a public matter. When he rebuked the believers at Corinth for their sin and compromise and error, it was a public matter. When he warned of Alexander the Coppersmith, it was a public warning.
Some matters are private and they should be dealt with privately, but other matters are public and should be dealt with publicly.
If a man has a public ministry that influences others, that ministry should be critiqued publicly, and that is not “shooting the wounded.”
Evangelist Chuck Cofty was a a highly decorated United States Marine officer who survived shocking battlefield experiences. Since he understood these matters, both from the side of the physical and the spiritual, I asked him to reply to this issue. Following is his reply:
“Dear Brother Cloud: To my knowledge you have not struck anyone violently or injured them by striking. He no doubt is referring to the many truths that appear in your writings as well as the writings of others concerning contemporary theology that you quote. Some, perhaps even this man, are so timid that when truth is revealed they find it difficult to accept and wind up tolerating error or ignorance for fear of offending someone. When men are named, places identified and error revealed, it is upsetting to those that are ‘moderate’ in their position. Brother Cloud, it is true that marines never leave their dead on the field of battle and will on occasion render aid to a wounded enemy. This however is situational and conditional as we will not allow such aid to encumber us, slow us down, deter us from our mission or jeopardize our success. Our desire to serve our dear Lord must be the same.”
Pastor Wilbert Unger of Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, observes:
“Was our Lord shooting the first century churches in Revelation 2 and 3 when He walked in their midst and exposed their sins and failures, and commanded them to repent? The kindest and most biblical thing a faithful servant of God can do is expose unscriptural conduct to lead to repentance, lest God step in and judge severely and chasten in a most severe manner. I think the worst chastening that we Independent Baptists could receive from the hand of God is if He would just leave us alone and let us go on in our compromise. We are so bent on exalting man and lightly esteeming the Word of God. One day, we will be like Samson when it is said, ‘he wist not that the Lord had departed from him’ (Judges 16:20). May God be gracious and wake us up to listen to the rebuke of those who see the error in our faith and practice. No man is above rebuke. May we come to see the love and grace in those who would be so kind as to rebuke us.”
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