Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 7, 1957
NUMBER 43, PAGE 1,5-7

Preaching: A Critical Study (II.)

Roy E. Cogdill, Lufkin, Texas

Proposition II — What responsibility does the Church have for the truth?

On this proposition we want to examine several passages of scripture, and ascertain whether or not the church has any peculiar responsibility for or toward the truth. First let us look at I Timothy 3:5:

"These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

Thayer defines the word "stulos" here as meaning a prop or support. It suggests the idea of a column such as supports a building. The idea is that the church sustains the truth as a pillar sustains a building. Some scholars have suggested that there is an allusion here to the great columns that supported the porch of the temple in Jerusalem to which the prophets customarily fixed their messages so all who went that way might see them. The word for ground in his passage is "edraioma" which Thayer defines as "to make stable, settle firmly, a stay, prop, support." The figure here is evidently taken from architecture and the meaning evidently is that the truth is supported, held up, maintained by the church as a building is by a pillar and that the truth rests for a foundation on the church as a house or building rests on its foundation. This, of course, does not refer to the revelation of divine truth for that was a function of the apostolic office and not the work of the church as a whole. Besides the church exists upon the basis of and because of the truth being revealed. Neither does it refer to the "Catholic doctrine" that the church is the sole interpreter of the truth. Jesus thanked God that "Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." The revelation is in the Word of God and is accessible to men. But it must be studied and it can therefore be taught and needs to be. Men who do not properly evaluate it and who do not have good and honest hearts will not learn the truth from it. Jesus taught this in the parable of the sower where the soil represented the hearts of the hearers and only the seed that fell into a good and honest heart brought forth fruit. (Matt. 13.) Again Paul dealt with the same fact when he talked about "Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they might all be damned who believed not the truth." (II Thess. 2:11-12.)

Again Paul talks about those who are lost, "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." Thus Satan resisted the truth as revealed in the gospel in the days of Paul, even when the divine proof and evidence of its divinity was given in abundance in the miracles wrought to confirm it. Truth must be upheld. It must be contended for. Error has a way of getting around without being planted like weeds in a garden, but truth must be propagated and fought for and upheld. We need not speculate on why it is like that, it just is and the very facts of everyday life about us demonstrate it. Someone has said that a lie will be half way around the world while the truth is getting its boots on to start.

Hence Jude admonishes, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3.) This is the most serious obligation any Christian has. The word here is "epi-agonize." It occurs only here in the New Testament. We are to agonize for entering the straight gate but we are to epi-agonize for the faith. This is the supreme struggle. We are not to let error alone. We are to attack it with all our force and contend against it with all our strength. The Gamaliel doctrine of "Let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God," is pure heresy. Truth must be upheld and propagated. "The Faith" has been delivered to the saints. It is the saints that constitute the Church of the Lord. (I Cor. 1:2.) It is therefore the saints or the church which is responsible for contending for "The Faith." This faith has been delivered — God has revealed it and put it in our hands. It has been "once" delivered. This same expression describes the sacrifices of the Son of God. (Heb. 7:27.) The meaning of the expression is "once for all" — one time for all time to come. Truth has been revealed — completely revealed — entrusted to the saints — the church — the pillar and ground of the truth and must be upheld and propagated by the church. This is the obligation of the church toward the truth.

God intended from the beginning to use the personal element in the propagation of truth as well as in the revelation of truth. He had the truth preached and taught in order that by the "foolishness of preaching" He might save them that believe. Preaching was His plan from the beginning. If the contention of the paper under review be true, it would eliminate the necessity of preaching and teaching in the New Testament day just as much as today. All that would have been needed then was for the books of the New Testament to have been written and circulated. Think about how much sacrifice and suffering would have been saved them by preaching being eliminated from the activity of early Christians. If the scriptures "as conveyed" are the power of God unto salvation, just putting a copy in the hands of men would have been all that was necessary to carry the gospel throughout the world. The church would have needed only to reproduce enough copies of the "scriptures as conveyed" for every soul on earth to have access to it and its job would have been done according to the contention of our writer.

He further tells us that all the truth we have today anyway is what we buy from Kress. According to him such institutions as Kress are the repositories of truth today instead of the church. Apparently he thinks the American Bible Society and the Gideon Society are much more effective agencies for propagating the truth than the Church of the Lord. They make it their business to place copies of the scriptures in the hands of the people and are effective agencies for the distribution of the scriptures so we can just join these societies and preach the truth through them and forget about that being the obligation of the church. Since every man can read and understand the scriptures for himself and they need no teaching either publicly or privately according to our friend, all that can be done or needs to be done in the interest of saving others is to circulate them. Any agency for the printing and circulating of the scriptures therefore would be the "pillar and ground of the truth" and not the church unless it should go into the printing business and engage in the circulation of copies of the scriptures. Hear our friend again:

"They have come down to us today, entirely through secular and apostate agencies, the church of our Lord having not one thing to do with it since the original 'falling away.' The scriptures have been preserved, copied, translated, printed and promulgated by these agencies."

Of course he contends, remember, that copies, translations, etc., are not the "gospel" for the gospel consists of the "scriptures as conveyed" unto men. That is, the word in the inspired language used by the Holy Spirit through human agents to make known the will of God in the beginning. This we do not have and human copies and translations would be subject to error, therefore we do not have what he says is the gospel.

History evidences that when the church apostatized the "written word" so far as general circulation and access to it was concerned was also lost to the world. For 1200 years it was withheld by Rome from the people, chained to the pulpit, and access to it denied to the people. It was not until the spirit of liberty began again to stir in the hearts of the people that the scriptures were restored to the people. Our friend would make the "truth the pillar and ground of the church." But God did not say it that way.

It is true that God has revealed the truth so that it can be understood, so men can study it for themselves and put their faith in God and not in man, but it is also true man's ability to understand what God has said has not eliminated from God's plan in any age the necessity of propagating the truth by teaching, reproving, exhortation, admonition, rebuking and all the other elements that go to make up what we call preaching. God used the means of teaching — person to person — publicly as well — in addition to the scrolls of the prophets in the Old Testament day. Prophets were raised up to cry out unto the people in every age. They were preachers or teachers. John the Baptist came preaching and Jesus came teaching and preaching. During His ministry He commissioned the twelve and the seventy to teach and preach to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then he commissioned the gospel to be preached and taught to "every creature under heaven," "unto all nations" and promised to continue to bless such work until the "end of the age." If the Gospel of God is not to be preached and taught today, we live in an age forgotten of God like no other has ever been. Let not our friend say he believes in teaching for the same logic by which he eliminates preaching from God's plan also eliminates teaching — let every man read and understand it for himself. Let our ability to understand the scriptures for ourselves be accepted realistically is his plea and we shall hold him to it. Teaching by such logic is just as unnecessary and needless as preaching. They go hand in hand as far as their purpose is concerned.

God has in His plan always approached the hearts of men through both the avenue of seeing and hearing. Such is still true. Men can still read with their own eyes and hear with their own ears. Paul argues that no longer is it true that "eye cannot see and ear cannot hear" for truth has been revealed. (I Cor. 2:9-10.) Our brother contends that men cannot and need not to hear today that they might learn. Let them read the scriptures — that is all they need. Hear him again:

"Thus we see that the scriptures are the only essential to the salvation of souls, unless it is true that men cannot understand the scriptures for themselves so as to believe, obey and receive salvation."

and again:

"if it is true that men can understand the Bible, then we must accept it in practice and principle."

Thus he reasons out the need for teaching or proclaiming the truth to anyone. Just give him a Bible. If this does not eliminate the necessity of teaching both within and without the church just as much as it eliminates preaching, both publicly and privately, why wouldn't it? We shall not let him have the one without the other. Yet he inconsistently contends that Christians should teach their unsaved friends and save them, personally and privately. He also believes, he says, in teaching in the church by the elders. Are they inspired men? Why should they teach anyone? Cannot others read the same scriptures that they read and understand just as readily as they? Let "us accept it in principle and practice" and eliminate teaching privately done both in and out of the church or yield the contention as honesty demands.

Man would not need to do anything beyond the printing and circulating of the scriptures. Just send a copy of the scriptures to the unsaved of the earth and if they are not saved it is because they will not believe it and all the teaching, exhortation, and admonition anyone might make wouldn't do any good. He can learn the truth by himself, believe it without any help and I would not be surprised if such thinking does not lead the proponents of this theory to conclude that he can also baptize himself. They logically would be forced to such a conclusion. There is no more necessity for "going and baptizing" in God's plan than for "going and teaching."

Then such thinking would lead logically to some other conclusions which we do not believe our friends are prepared to accept. Why not buy their children school books and leave them free to learn by themselves without any teacher to guide them. One could follow such a course and educate himself and there are many texts simple and capable of being understood. So why not do away with teaching entirely.

If Christians should and can teach their friends personally and privately in order to save them, how many can be taught at a time? Could you gather a whole group together, as many as would come, and teach them all at one time, or would you have to do it one at a time? If you could teach a whole crowd as you do your next door neighbor, what would be the difference in that and what we call preaching today?

Also we must consider that if help to understand the word of God and to accept it is not justifiable in the saving of those who are lost, why would help to understand it and obey it be needful or justifiable in the church in behalf of those who are saved? If a man outside of the church can read and understand the word of God by himself and accept salvation, as the writer contends and therefore it is not necessary to help him do so, cannot a man within the church, already saved, read the scriptures and even more readily understand them? If the need of human agency in helping the one does not exist and has not been provided for in God's plan, why would such a need and provision exist in behalf of the other? One should be even more capable of reading and accepting the truth for himself after becoming a Christian than before. So we shall not allow our brother to eliminate one without striking out the other also for the same identical reasons. Therefore why did not the "pastors and teachers" that God has provided within the church, that the writer says he believes should be supported, likewise pass away with the "gifts" of the New Testament age and why are they not entirely unneeded now? If the propagating of the gospel without the church is eliminated and the teaching of the will of the Lord within the church is eliminated, there is nothing left for the church to do but assemble and worship on the Lord's day. Is he ready to accept these conclusions? We insist that he must or yield his position.

Let us look at another proposition. If, as the paper concedes, one can teach his neighbor and help to save him by personal help and influence, could he not win others also? If he can do this capably, would not he help to save more if he put in more time? Would it be wrong for him to devote his entire time to it in order to save as many as possible? If it is contended that one must work for a living, then what about the individual who already has a living made or provided? Could he give his entire time to such work in helping to save others or is it necessary to work whether you need a living or not? Suppose by inheritance, good fortune such as striking oil on his property, or by the beneficence of a friend or someone else a living is provided for him and his family, would it be acceptable for him then to devote his full time to teaching others and helping to save them? Is one obligated to work at some profession or trade when he does not need to earn a living? Is it wrong for a living to be supplied in order to enable one to spend his time in the service of the Lord?

On the other hand, since a copy of the scriptures is all that is "essential to the salvation" of any soul, when that has been provided, according to our friend, the obligation is fulfilled and so all of us can spend our time making all the money we know how to make and just give the money to the Gideon society or some other such agency and our job would be done. Such reasoning leads to making the Christian life and service to the Lord a ridiculous absurdity.

Hear the writer again:

"The church, then has not one iota of truth except that which it buys from Kress or some other source just as accessible to all men."

This borders on blasphemy against the Church of God and the writer should penitently seek God's forgiveness for such a statement. Since all the religious bodies on earth has just as much access to such sources as does the Church of God, then all the sectarian, denominational bodies on earth have just as much truth as does the Church of the Lord. There is not therefore, according to this, any distinctive plea or position which the Church for which Christ died occupies or holds. Nothing to separate it and set it apart as far as truth is concerned from every other human religious organization on earth. He is simply denying that the church is the "pillar and ground of the truth" in any sense.

No one with any judgment would deny that God has used many agencies, many of which are even anti-Christian, for the preservation of His word. But anyone who knows anything about Christianity ought to know that the Church of Christ today stands alone in its contention for the truth. The Church of Christ stands arrayed against all denominational institutions in "contending for the faith." It is the Church of the Lord and it alone that has come to the defense of the truth when it was attacked, maligned, blasphemed and assailed. If, as our friend contends, all others have just as much access to the truth as does the Church of the Lord, and they can understand it as readily without any assistance, why do they not believe it and stand upon it? Why have members of the Church of Christ alone accepted the truth upon so many issues? Or does our brother believe that we do not stand upon the truth? Does he believe that Churches of Christ occupy a distinctive position or has he given up all of his faith in the New Testament position? Why do Churches of Christ alone "contend for the faith once delivered" if Kress is the "sole repository" of the truth instead of "faithful men"?

Then we would like to ask the writer of this paper under review why he has written such a paper in an effort to propagate his theory. This is a glaring inconsistency in his attitude. Why not just let the written scriptures establish his theory? His contention that truth does not need to be propagated or taught today makes his effort to teach his theory inconsistent unless he admits that it is not taught and revealed in the scriptures or would not be understood without his help. It appears that he needs to accept his own reasoning, "If it is true that men can understand the Bible, then we must accept it in practice and principle." But he has not accepted this in practice for he has labored to establish, teach, help others to understand his theory while he argues that such is not needed to know the truth for "the scriptures are the only essential to the salvation of souls" unless as he says "it is true that men cannot understand the scriptures for themselves." Our brother why do you teach your theory? Is it not taught in the scriptures? Are they not all that is necessary, that is, if men can understand them for themselves? "These things are written that ye might believe" indeed! Then why try to teach them by what you write? Paul said in Ephesians, chapter three, that by reading what he wrote men could "perceive his understanding of the mystery of Christ." Did Paul teach your theory? Cannot men understand what he wrote without your help? You go back on your own contention. You expect to convince someone of the truth of your "foolish and hurtful" theory by what you write and say. Why do you try to improve on John and Paul and other inspired writers?

We would like to ask the writer also how he would go about presenting evidence to an unbelieving mind of the divine origin of the Bible or would he go to the trouble of trying to do so? Would he confine himself to just reading the scriptures? Would he give any external evidence such as its influence, history, its living vitality, etc.? Would he rely upon additional comment, illustration, or exhortation in trying to save a neighbor or friend? Or would he just give them a Bible and tell them to figure it out for themselves? How does he propose to bring his children up in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord"? Will he teach, admonish and exhort them? Reason with them concerning their duty? Or will he just read the scriptures to them or more consistently still just let them read the scriptures for themselves?

In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus taught the parable of the Householder. In this parable "the Kingdom of Heaven" is undeniably the church. Here the church is pictured as going out into the "market place" for the purpose of "hiring laborers into the vineyard." Here is a picture of the function of the church. It is not a picture of an individual and his activity. Jesus did not put it on an individual basis. We would not deny that individual disciples are to make other disciples in the Lord's plan but neither can it be denied that there is an agency which the church, as such, has in the great work of reaching the souls of men out in the world and bringing them into the kingdom of God. The church is on a quest for souls andhas no other means of reaching them except the gospel. It would be interesting to hear an exegesis of this parable from the writer of "Words and Attitudes." We would like for him to tell us how the Kingdom of Heaven can be like the householder going out to hire laborers into the vineyard of the Lord. It is, of course, by teaching the truth that men are brought into the Lord's service and that is the mission of the "Kingdom of Heaven."

If the contention of the paper is correct, then the Church of the Lord had a mission and did a work in the New Testament day that it does not have and cannot do now. Witness the work of the Thessalonian Church, "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad."

The church at Philippi had fellowship with Paul in the "furtherance of the gospel" from the first day by supporting him as he carried it to the world but there is no way the church can have fellowship in such work now, according to the paper under review, for there is no apostle, evangelist, or any other today to be supported in such work. Our friend tells us that only elders can be supported now and his work is within the local church. So the church cannot send anyone into virgin territory where the church is not known, or established, to spread the gospel. Besides, such work as was done by these churches in the New Testament day is needless anyway, and would be a waste of time and money according to the theory under study. For all that is needed is just to send Bibles. How utterly ridiculous!

(To be continued next week.)