By Kyle Pope
0ver ten years ago now, a beloved young friend of mine faced
an early trial in his work as a gospel preacher. An elder of the church for which he was preaching, in a very
tactless manner, criticized the brother for failing to offer lessons which he
My friend’s feelings were hurt and relationships were strained. As the years have rolled on I have
often thought about what the elder said to the brother and I believe that I
have come to understand what he was trying to address, however calloused it may
have been done.
live in a world that is, and has always been a very religious place. The problem is not the lack of religion
but the pervasiveness of false religion.
Most faiths, including those who do not focus on Jesus Christ, differ
more in peripheral matters than in morality, lifestyle and attitude
issues. While these similarities
can often serve as a starting point in our discussions with people, many
pulpits come to the point that what is taught differs little from one faith to
another. The easiest thing for any
preacher to do is to boil down a lesson to the “lowest common
denominator” of those matters that are generally accepted in religious
matters. A preacher doesn’t
set out to “water down” a lesson. It is more subtle than that. He simply fails to offer teaching that distinguishes gospel
preaching from all other things that are taught in the religious world.
Bible teaches a faith that is distinctive. Jesus wanted all who believe in Him to be one (John
17:21). Paul taught, through the
Holy Spirit, that there is “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5). Paul taught the same things
“everywhere in every church” (I Corinthians 4:17). New Testament preachers were always
willing to show exactly how the truth of the gospel was distinct from the
errors of their own age, whether it concerned the resurrection (Acts 17:30-32;
23:6-10), morality (I Corinthians 5-7), circumcision (Galatians 2:11-21) or the
nature of Christ (I John 4:1-3).
If we are to stand up for the faith “once for all delivered to
the saints” (Jude 3), we must be willing to do exactly the same
Christians are old enough to remember times in which almost every sermon
addressed the plan of salvation, baptism by immersion, non-instrumental singing
in worship or church organization.
While it might be that some brethren in those years could have done a
better job of trying to declare the “whole counsel of God” (Acts
20:27), our generation faces another danger. As we try to teach all of God’s word, if we do not
consciously and deliberately strive to uphold exactly how God’s word is
distinct from the religious world, we may communicate something we do not
intend to, namely, unity with error.
this mean that every sermon should be argumentative, critical or
aggressive? Must we come across as
“hard to get along with” or judgmental? No. But neither
should we be afraid to simply, boldly and lovingly state exactly when something
is wrong and when it is right.
can say that in my own life this distinctiveness has had a profound effect on
my own faith. As a child I
worshiped with noninstitutional congregations. In later adolescence and early adulthood, my wife and I,
married and worshiped among brethren who held very liberal attitudes towards
God’s word. On one
wonderful occasion I had the opportunity to attend a gospel meeting and
afterwards sit at a dinner table with two faithful gospel preachers, my uncle
Wayne Partain and brother Paul Earnhart.
They weren’t discussing anything all that profound, they were
just talking about their work and the work of brethren they knew. These brethren weren’t talking
about human organizations, institutions, psychology or projects conceived in
the mind of man. They spoke of
obedience to the “Gospel,” the “Truth,” and
I’ve never shared this with these humble men, but I was struck by
the fact that they talked about what New Testament Christians talked
about. Their concerns were like
those of the apostles or disciples of the first century. That was a turning point in my life.
When those who seek to uphold this
distinctiveness make it sound as if we are calling people to be “like
us,” it sounds like an arrogant party spirit. If we make it sound as if there is no distinction, we
surrender the singular character of the faith which the Bible teaches. We must strive to show people that what
all of us should be is simply (and distinctly) what God wants us to be.