Public reproof toward a fellow Baptist preacher is invariably mischaracterized as cheap gossip, slander, and carnal backbiting, regardless of how true it might be. It is called “shooting the wounded” and is always characterized as a harmful thing.
You will wait in vain for these men to characterize public reproof of prominent Baptist preachers as a positive, biblical thing that can be done from a sincere, God-led heart or for any encouragement to be given by these men to reprovers.
The most recent example of the maligning of reproof is an article by Cary Schmidt entitled “What Christians Can Learn from Piranhas” published on the Ministry127.com blog.
The following excerpt sets the tone for the whole of the blog: “God’s Word warns us repeatedly about devouring each other, but it’s too easy to fall into this trap. We often mask our slander as ‘concern’ or ‘standing for the faith’ but in the presence of Jesus, those flimsy rationalizations will be vaporized, and our true hearts will be revealed. ... This thought brought to mind the picture of a piranha--a regular fish that rabidly devours” (“What Christians Can Learn from Piranhas,” Ministry127.com, Sep. 5, 2015).
The author goes on to list the characteristics of the piranha and applies this to “critics.” For example, piranhas “school together ... in fear and insecurity” and “attack their weak and often wound each other for dominance.”
He implies that piranhas are motivated by pride, as are piranha-like critics, and he quotes Romans 12:3 and Galatians 5:26 as a warning in this context.
This is amazing both from the standpoint of natural science as well as of preaching, since the author can no more know what motivates a fish than he can know what motivates a “critic.”
I, for one, reject and despise backbiting, gossip, and carnal criticism. It is very harmful to the cause of Christ. Any time I have found myself to be guilty of this, I have repented. The churches we have planted have been hurt by it many times. I have personally been the target of it countless times. Anything that comes of deceit and false speaking and the spirit of James 3:14-16 is wrong and is not of the Spirit of God, and I renounce it most emphatically.
“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (Jas. 3:14-16).
Yet by no means is this what the author of the piranhas article really warning about. When these men speak of piranhas and shooters of the wounded and buzzard chasers, they are talking about much more than the danger of carnal gossip, and IN TRUTH THEY ARE REVEALING A SERIOUS LACK IN THEIR OWN MINISTRIES.
First, they lack a biblical foundation and spiritual wisdom in this matter.
Though they have a biblical foundation in some areas of their ministries,* in this particular matter they lack one, because Scripture shows us the example of preachers who reprove often and plainly and name names in the process. We see this in Jesus’ ministry with the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees (Mat. 16:6; 23:13-33). We see it in Paul’s ministry in the case of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15), Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17), Demas (2 Tim. 4:10), and Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:14-15). (* For example, the author of the piranhas article has a book entitled Just Friends that is helpful for preparing young people for marriage.)
They lack a biblical foundation, too, because they fail to make a distinction between godly reproof and carnal backbiting. The latter is condemned in Scripture, but the former is most forcefully commended!
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; REPROVE, REBUKE, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for REPROOF, for CORRECTION, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
“These things speak, and exhort, and REBUKE with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather REPROVE them” (Ephesians 5:11).
“But all things that are REPROVED are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light” (Ephesians 5:13).
“He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth REPROOF erreth” (Proverbs 10:17).
“Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth REPROOF is brutish” (Proverbs 12:1).
“Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth REPROOF shall die” (Proverbs 15:10).
“As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise REPROVER upon an obedient ear” (Proverbs 25:12).
“The ear that heareth the REPROOF of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Proverbs 15:31-32).
God commends reproof and correction, and if ever there were a time that calls for it among Baptist churches, it is today! Surely God is stirring preachers to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in this day, and nowhere do we find that certain preachers are out of bounds, particularly so if they have large public ministries and thus influence large numbers of people.
Two, they lack forthright honesty and (possibly) courage.
I believe that it is dishonest to hide one’s warnings behind generalities, innuendo, and strange metaphors. It is a lack of biblical candor.
Further, by this tactic, the preacher can always deny whom he is targeting. Is that not cowardly and disingenuous?
Third, they lack love.
Those who speak about spiritual dangers in vague generalities lack love for the Lord’s sheep. If there really are piranhas in our midst, we need to know exactly where and who they are!
By not being specific, the preacher creates carnal suspicion.
What if the people hear such warnings and mistake a harmless reprover who is a man of God for a hurtful piranha who is an enemy of God, and in their confusion they try to net the man of God and do him harm?
In truth, and I speak by personal experience, if a preacher warns about the music philosophy or evangelism program or some other thing that pertains to a prominent Baptist leader, he will be the one who is the target of “piranhas” in the form of that preacher’s supporters and apologists!
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