Controversial Preachers
By Kenneth E. Thomas

When you first believed in Jesus as "the Christ," repented of sin and error, confessed your faith, and were baptized into Him, you were "reconciled unto God in one body by the cross." (Romans 6:3-6; Ephesians 2:13-16) At that moment, you were numbered among the saved, as part of the "bride of Christ" (Ephesians 5:22-33; Romans 7:4). Your belief and obedience placed you in a controversial position. These actions said that you believed what Christ said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me." (John 14:6)

If you remain true to your "calling," you must live for Christ and oppose anything and everything that differs from that which He has revealed and which His word authorizes (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11; Jude 3; 2 John 9-11; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 4:1-6).

For this reason, and perhaps for others, Christ's disciples should not try to get folks into the baptismal waters prematurely. Rather, we should endeavor to be certain they understand what it means to say, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (Matthew 16:16; John 6:67-69; Acts 8:37) When folks understand what they are espousing, they will, in all likelihood, be ready and willing to stand against any and all opposition. Jesus warned His apostles of what their lot in life would be. Each prospective convert should take note of that warning:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. And you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles...And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against their parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated of all men for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved...a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!...And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:16-28)

In John's account, Jesus said "They will put you out of their synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me." (John 16:2-3)

To see, at least in part, the fulfillment of this last prophecy, all we need do is think back on Saul's relentless persecution of the early Jerusalem church. Or remember the trips he took bearing letters from the Jewish Sanhedrin to foreign cities authorizing him to seek out any who were of "the way." He was to bind them, commit them to prison, and yes, raise his voice against them as they were being put to death. Through all this, he maintained a clean conscience, thinking he was offering service to God (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; Acts 23:1; 26:9-11). See also Galatians 1:13-24 and Philippians 3:4-8.

When you made Jesus "Lord of your life," you became part of a religious minority that the world hates. Did you know that? Nonetheless, it's true. Every Jew who knows anything about his own religion rejects the "Messiah" whom you and I now serve.

The Jew believes Jesus of Nazareth was a good man, but not the Son of God, and certainly not the long-awaited Messiah. His Messiah, he believes, will come and restore Israel to its former prominence and sit on David's literal throne in Jerusalem, in Palestine.

The first-century apostles, evangelists, and other Christians believed and taught that Jesus was the crucified, buried, resurrected, and exalted Messiah. Because of their efforts, the unbelievers among the Jews hated and/or killed many of them. In the second and third chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we read about how they taught that Jesus was the Messiah and performed miracles to prove that He was working through them. It wasn't long, however, before the unbelieving Jews (especially the leaders) began to worry that this doctrine would spread. To prevent (they thought) this from happening, they tried to stem the tide brought on by the apostles' doctrine.

In the third chapter of Acts, we read Peter's second sermon in which he said, "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatsoever He says to you. And it will come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet will be utterly destroyed from among the people.' Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow, as many as have spoken have likewise foretold these days. You are the sons of the prophets and the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.' To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities." (Acts 3:22-26)

"And as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to be about five thousand." (Acts 4:1-4)

"The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them (the apostles, ket) in their midst, they asked, 'By what power or by what name have you done this?'" (Acts 4:5-7) (They were speaking of the healing of a man who had never walked but was now leaping and walking.) Peter got another opportunity to preach Jesus, assuring the Jewish rulers, "by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief comer stone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:1-12)

The rulers took note of their boldness; and besides, there stood the man whom Peter had healed by the power of Jesus. They could say nothing against it. "But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, 'What shall we do to these men? For indeed, that a notable miracle has been done by them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.' And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.' So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed." (Acts 4: 15-22)

Gospel preachers, along with other Christians, taught against idolatry and told people that there were no other gods. They taught them about the one true God who made the heavens and the earth and all things therein, including man, His offspring. Some accepted these truths, and local congregations began. Others were very resentful of such teaching and stood in opposition to it and to those who were teaching. Sometimes, they even incited riots in an effort to negate the influence of the teaching (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; Acts 17:16-31).

The Ephesian Riot

Ephesus is the place where Paul found some folks who had been baptized "into John's baptism." (Acts 19:1-3) They were unaware of the "baptism of the great commission," which Jesus instituted. When they were properly taught, Paul baptized them "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (vs. 5).

"And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." (Acts 19:8-10)

Here, using Paul's hands, God worked special miracles, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from Paul's body to the sick, and their diseases left them, and the evil spirits went out of them. Many people in Ephesus were converted to Christ. Some who had previously practiced magic brought their books and, in the sight of all, burned them. These books were valued at 50,000 pieces of silver. "So the word of God grew mightily and prevailed," Luke recorded in Acts 19:11-20.

Earlier in this same chapter we read about some Jewish exorcists who "took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, 'We adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches,' And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jew, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?' And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known both to all the Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all..." (Acts 19:13-17)

I said we would talk about the time when Paul's preaching caused a riot. Well, Luke records that "About that time, there arose no small stir about the Way." (Acts 19:23) He went on to tell how Paul's preaching was affecting the pocketbooks of some of the businessmen in Ephesus, men who made their living producing images of the goddess Artemis. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

"For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: 'Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands; so that not only this trade of ours is in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.' And when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!' And the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's traveling companions." (Acts 19:24-29)

A man named Alexander tried to engineer a defense for Paul and the others, but when the people learned that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians." (Verses 33-35)

An official quieted the crowd and defended Paul and the others. He told the rioters that if the law had been broken, they could take the matter up with the authorities. He reminded them that theirs was an unlawful assembly and they were in danger of being called into question for that day's events. Then he dismissed the assembly (Verses 35-41). After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to him, embraced them, and departed to go into Macedonia (Acts 20:1).

Still today, distinctive preaching causes uproars among those whose incomes will be affected if they are identified and their false doctrines exposed. When false teachers see that they are in danger of losing their following, you can be sure they will stand up and fight; and as they do, they will put those who are exposing them in as bad a light as they possibly can. We will be portrayed as the source of all manner of evil, and called all manner of uncomplimentary names. You can count on it my friends and brethren.

Spiritual Warfare Demands Proper Armor (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Earlier in this study, in the second paragraph on page 1, I cited 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. There, as well as in Ephesians 6:10-17, the passage used in this section, the items contained in the armor are designed to capture the minds (hearts) of men and women and get them to abandon Satan's service and enlist in the Lord's spiritual army. It is much more difficult to serve Satan than it is to serve Christ. There is a paradox here. We surrender to Jesus and become His slaves in order to be set free from the bondage in which we live as sinners (John 8:31-32; Romans 6:16-18).

Remember what Jesus said to Saul when he was in religious bondage and error as he attempted to destroy the church of Christ? Jesus told Saul, " is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 9:4-5) We learn from Scripture that false teachers, who in reality are "Satan's ministers," (2 Corinthians 11:13-14) often offer people liberty, and in the process, actually bring them into bondage.

Peter wrote of these folks, "These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, to whom the gloom of darkness is reserved forever. For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through licentiousness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For, if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning." (2 Peter 2:17-21)

We cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by either moral or doctrinal impurity, leading to spiritual bondage. We must put on the armor and do battle with Satan and his allies. We do this for the sake of our own souls and the souls of others on whom we are able to exert influence, both by living righteous lives and by wielding the "sword of the Spirit" as kindly, yet as forcefully and accurately as we possibly can.

" strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the age, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always..." (Ephesians 6:10-18a)

Not only must the faithful gospel preacher (and any faithful Christian) defend the faith when it is being attacked (Jude 3; 2 Timothy 4:1-5), he must also try to edify through teaching and to lead an aggressive offensive attack against error and its advocates. Paul called the Ephesian elders to come to him at Miletus. He then forewarned them of an impending departure from the faith that was going to occur unless they took the proper lead and warded it off. He reminded them that for three years, he had not ceased to warn them day and night with tears. Then he said, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:17-32)

A faithful gospel preacher often brings to the congregation's attention, things about which many of them are totally unaware. He does this so they will study and be well informed and able to meet potentially divisive doctrines that can take churches into apostasy. Mark my words; if there is a controversy in Podunk Hollow, in all likelihood, sooner or later it will come to your area and affect the congregation where you are a member. The old adage, "Forewarned is forearmed," is as true today as it ever was. Still, the unlearned, weak, and squeamish brethren are often heard to say, "I don't think we need that kind of preaching here. We don't have that problem; why doesn't he preach some positive things and help us learn how to live better lives?" Of course we also need that kind of preaching, and the faithful preacher will certainly not shun to "declare the whole council of God." (Acts 20:26-27)

In many cases, it appears that the songbooks need to be rewritten. We sing a good fight, but when the preacher preaches that about which we often sing:

"Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers rise,
And press the battle ere the night,
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below,
Let all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world."

"His banner over us is love,
Our sword the word of God;
We tread the road the saints above
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith they like a whirlwind's breath,
Swept on o'er every field
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield."

"On every hand the foe we find
Drawn up in dread array;
Let tents of ease be left behind,
And onward to the fray.
Salvation's helmet on each head,
With truth all girt about,
The earth shall tremble neath our tread,
And echo with our shout." (Sacred Selections, pg 231 John H. Yates)

Let's look at a few of the foes we face in our present generation. We aren't doing too well in our battles to stem the popular tide of both moral and doctrinal error. Let me remind you; we are in the midst of a great apostasy from the faith once delivered. We must fight the enemy without-such things as Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Atheism and God alone knows how many other "isms." To be frank, we aren't doing very well. Many of the "isms" are growing much faster, and their proponents are working much harder than are the members of the body of Christ.

"The Battle Within..."

  1. The one-covenant doctrine.
  2. The A.D. 70 doctrine.
  3. The deity-of-Christ issue.
  4. Marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Guilty and innocent free to marry.
  5. Church support of human institutions.
  6. The social gospel.
  7. Immodesty.
  8. Social drinking.
  9. All positive and no negative preaching.
  10. Theistic evolution.
  11. Head covering, an issue in some places.
  12. The professional "clergy."
  13. Non-literal creation days. Earth is 13.5 billion years old.
  14. Worldliness in many forms.
  15. Fellowship doctrinal error using Romans 14.
  16. Joint participation with denominations.
  17. Denial of a literal hell.
  18. The Bible is just a love letter, not a pattern.
  19. Appointing unqualified elders and deacons.
  20. Youth recreational and social activities as church work.
  21. Sponsoring elderships.
  22. So-called all-purpose rooms for entertainment as church work.
  23. World-this and world-that under "sponsoring eldership."
  24. No Lord's Day evening communion.
  25. Forbidding women to speak during Bible class.
  26. Using women to serve communion and usher.
  27. Applauding the sermon.
  28. Perfectionism. Can know all and do all.
  29. Jesus was just a man, an "ordinary guy."
  30. Jesus died, "Body, Soul, and Spirit."
  31. No Bible classes and no class literature.
  32. Church support of Bible colleges.
  33. Using "Brother" as a title for gospel preachers.
  34. Calling men "Church-of-Christ preachers."
  35. Saying the Lord's church is a denomination.
  36. Speaking of "a congregation of the church of Christ."
  37. More and more "gospel preachers" advocating the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship assemblies of churches of Christ.

It's high time that some brethren stand up and be counted for Christ and His truth before it's too late for them and for the congregations of which they are members.

Jesus, Paul, John the Immerser, Stephen, Peter, Timothy, and many other preachers would not be acceptable to many members of the body of Christ. They named the sins and the sinners and called on them to repent and comply with the Lord's will. Can we do any less and still claim to be faithful congregations of the Lord's people or faithful individual Christians? The answer is, "no, we cannot." Controversy followed Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others. If we are doing our jobs properly, it will follow us as well. See 2 Timothy 3:12.

Brother Thomas has quoted many Scriptures in this lengthy article. Please take the time to read the entire thing. Much of what he describes, I've seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. Brethren, the members in the pews seem to have grown weary of distinctive, pointed, straight preaching about the sins of the world and warning of those who have departed from the truth. Unfortunately, people today are demanding the positive approach--preaching Christ's love, mercy, and longsuffering, with little emphasis on our differences with brethren and the religions of men.

During a gospel meeting in Oregon about ten years ago, an older man who had been preaching for about 50 years made the following observation: "Keith, lessons like this are no longer the norm but the exceptions. Preachers like us are becoming fewer in number. If God's people don't wake up soon, we will no longer be tolerated or received by the majority." At the time, I thought the brother might be speaking too hastily, but now ten years later, I think his assessment was correct. Sadly, many churches and Christians have lost their appetites for distinctive, pointed, truthful preaching.

What should preachers do? Should we cave in to demands to water down, tone down, and avoid talking about the differences among us? That may be an option for some, but with God's help, I intend to stick to preaching His plain, powerful "whole counsel." I don't wish to be controversial, but to be faithful to our Lord! (KMG)