The Gospel/Doctrine Distinction
Bred in Infidelity
One would have to be totally ignorant of the Bible to deny that Jesus Christ is both the center and circumference of all that the Bible contains. There is not a single doctrine or nuance of biblical teaching that does not have Christ as its foundation. If we begin in Eden, the fall of Adam and Eve is tempered by the promise of the Seed of Woman. If one considers the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood, its meaning is found in Jesus as High Priest. Animal sacrifices, the Law, the promises to Abraham, etc., each finds its meaning as it relates to the person and work of the Messiah.
The same is true of the New Testament. Whether one studies baptism, the Lord's supper, morality, the church or the second coming, each relates directly to Jesus for its meaning and relation to our lives. His perfect life, submissive death and resurrection to David's throne provides the scarlet thread that explains God's grace and human need in progressive revelation from Genesis to Revelation. Any who misses this is condemned to a life of ritual, empty ceremony and meaningless liturgy.
It is absolutely true that we must never divorce commands and commandment-keeping from the story of the cross. Blind submission to laws, even those of God, is Pharisaical and ritualistic. Thus, our preaching and our personal faith must ever avoid the sterility that comes from Christ-less conformity to rules.
However, having said that, we must also note that there are those who, under the guise of preaching more about the cross, are guilty of the very thing of which they charge others: divorcing Christ from his commandments! A concentrated attack on the "word of the cross" and "gospel" so as to exclude the doctrines of Christ is underway. While a blanket charge toward all should be avoided, it remains true that some are guilty of redefining Bible terms so as to exclude doctrine from the gospel. Others are guilty of poor scholarship and naive assumptions which parrot cynical attacks by those who would redefine commands out of the "gospel" or "word of the cross." While seeking to avoid extremes which miss the fulness of truth, we must also avoid elements that would impose a compromise with error because of deliberate evisceration of Bible terms.
Much has been written through the years about those who would make a distinction between gospel and doctrine. Some want these terms to be mutually exclusive so that "fellowship" is never limited because of a difference about doctrine. If the term "word of the cross" is substituted for "gospel," the same scheme appears. It is a new formula for the old "unity in diversity" that has been around for years and which has compromise and fellow-ship with error at its heart.
I say that much has been written about the gospel / doctrine controversy, which is true. However, little has been written about the source of this error. It is time that we look at the parentage of this error to show that it has been bred in infidelity, nurtured by cynicism and spread by discontent.
Modernistic Infidelity Promotes This Error
Where did this idea come from that there is a distinction between the use of "gospel" and "doctrine"? It is certainly not scriptural. Gospel and doctrine are used interchangeably in the Scriptures (I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 3:16-17; and many others). The "word of the cross" is not limited only to the facts of Golgotha, but includes the story of Pentecost, the epistles, and all things needed to bring men into a right relation with God (I Corinthians 1:18; Galatians 5:11; Philippians 3:18).
However, brethren are now making this unwarranted distinction and, from it, proposing a decreased emphasis on doctrinal preaching and an increased acceptance of error as though "doctrine is of lesser importance." Again, where did this error arise?
However ancient it may be, modem references trace the supposed distinction between gospel and doctrine to a Church of England theologian and pastor, Charles Harold (C. H.) Dodd. A prolific writer, Dodd authored over 50 books, pamphlets and lectures while Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He became a tremendous influence through his printed works and, consequently, upon brethren who have researched his material. It should be pointed out that Dodd (1884-1973) did not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. He accepted German form criticism with its attendant dependence on redactors, oral tradition and misplaced documents.
"I assume the main results of source-criticism as they bear upon his part of the Gospel Record. Mark is the earliest Gospel. Matthew and Luke depend largely upon it as a source. They also depend upon a lost document, denominated `Q'..." (History and the Gospel, C. H. Dodd [London: Nesbit and Co., Ltd., 1935], p. 78).
Of inspiration, Dodd said:
"The `inspiration' of the prophets is essentially a power of insight into the situation as expressing a meaning which is God's meaning for His people" (The Bible Today, C. H. Dodd [Cambridge University Press, New York; The Macmillan Co.], p. 105).
"It is nevertheless true that mankind is a `fallen' race. The presence of evil in the human will, and of error in human thought, makes it inevitable that in the long stretches of human history the divine meaning should be more or less completely obscured" (The Authority of the Bible, C. H. Dodd [Harper Torchbook, Harper Brothers, New York, 1960], p. 10).
"The Bible, we have seen, records a development in men's notions of God. . ." (Ibid., 248).
"The new thing that the prophets communicated we found to be something essentially something in themselves. Because they were the men they were, and reacted to their experiences in the way they did, they were open to certain aspects of God unopened by other men" (Ibid., 258).
"Creation, the Fall of Man, the Deluge and the Building of Babel are symbolic myths. The Last Judgment and the End of the World, if they are not in the strict sense myths, have a similar symbolic character" (The Bible Today, 112).
"It is impossible to think of Doomsday as a coming event in history. . . we are dealing with symbol" (ibid., 115).
Is it not strange that a man with such a warped view of Scripture could exert such an inordinately powerful influence upon the religious world in general and the church of Christ in particular? Yet it is from this perspective of modernistic infidelity that Dodd predicated his view of a gospel/doctrine distinction. Unable to escape the power of religion altogether, he sought to weaken the authority of the Scriptures by denying true inspiration and relegating Scripture to oral traditions of myths. And it is no less than the arrogance of worldly wisdom that suggested to Dodd that he could investigate the epistles, isolate these buried "oral traditions" and "original sayings of Jesus" from the "evolutionary doctrine" added later by Paul and others.
Dodd, and others, speak so boldly and confidently of having found the "original gospel" that one would think one could turn easily to it in the Bible. But one reads in vain for any identification of a "buried message," or "oral tradition." Is it out of reason to ask, "Where is it to be found?" How do we identify Jesus' own words with certainty beyond the written text? Are these utterances written in red in the "red letter editions"? Must we read between the lines to find an early catechism that is not recorded in Scripture? Are they identified in any significant way by recognized men of inspiration? Or do we only have Dodd's authority that he has located the original message?
Dodd has significantly admitted:
"It is true that the kerygma as we have recovered it from the Pauline epistles is fragmentary. No complete statement of it is, in the nature of the case, available. But we may restore it in outline somewhat after this fashion... ." (The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, C. H. Dodd [Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., London, 1950], 17).
But even with this weak admission before us, we must nevertheless admit that he is the modern father of a heresy that has widespread popularity. Robert C. Worly, writing of Dodd's position said:
"The significant features of Dodd's theory which have been described in their developmental sequence are:
- In the earliest church a distinct activity called preaching was practiced.
- Preaching had a particular content, the kerygma, which was the earliest missionary message of the church.
- Fragments of this earliest message are discernible in the written record, Scripture.
- Teaching is a second, distinct activity of the early church.
- The content of teaching is primarily ethical instruction and exhortation. Its form is derived from Jewish antecedents.
- The practice and content of teaching are the product of the evolutionary development of the earliest church as it awaited the second coming of Jesus"
(Preaching and Teaching in the Earliest Church, Robert C. Worley, 22-23).
This "core gospel" or "kerygma" that Dodd advocated consisted of seven facts to be believed. They were:
- The prophecies are fulfilled and the New Age is inaugurated by the Coming of Christ.
- He was born of the seed of David.
- He died according to the scriptures, to deliver us out of the present evil age.
- He was buried.
- He rose on the third day according to the scriptures.
- He is exalted at the right hand of God, as Son of God and lord of the quick and dead.
- He will come again as Judge and Saviour of men
(The Apostolic Preaching And Its Development, p. 17).
Dodd further developed a distinction between gospel and doctrine by advocating a distinction between preaching and teaching.
"The verb `to preach' frequently has for its object `the Gospel.' Indeed the connection of ideas is so close that kerysein by itself can be used as a virtual equivalent for evangelizes Thai, `to evangelize', or `to preach the gospel.' It would not be too much to say that wherever `preaching' is spoken of, it always carries with it the implication of `good tidings' proclaimed" (Ibid., 2).
The final step in this synthesis of error is that of application. Dodd, a Calvinist, made the natural step in connecting the gospel with preaching so as to produce faith (justification by faith alone). He saw doctrine as that which produced law by which a believer works for sanctification but which is not essential to salvation. Any student of Calvinism should be aware of the gospel doctrine, faith/law (works), justification/sanctification distinction which is the natural out-growth of the gospel/doctrine distinction.
This final step should also explain the antagonism that is expressed against doctrine by the New Unity Movement people and the New Hermeneutic people among churches of Christ. Though reluctant to accept Calvinism openly, they nevertheless flirt with it by advocating a gospel doctrine distinction that mitigates against doctrine, law or works. Faith is essential to salvation; doctrine is not! When brethren today decry the emphasis on doctrinal preaching and charge that not enough gospel is being preached, they are making the typical application of Calvinism. Baptists have, for years, taught "The Man, not the Plan." Now it is being heard among churches of Christ. But it is couched in new terms and now we hear: "More gospel; less doctrine," "More `word of the cross' and less legalism," or "more Golgotha and less Pentecost." But it is all cut from the same cloth. To be sure, not all are aware of the source of this error, but it is past time to realize what is going on by some who are informed, well read, and who make this application because they have accepted the premise of Dodd.
Let us be sure to understand, therefore, that when brethren begin to advocate that the gospel is different from doctrine they are not teaching biblical ideas. Let us also understand that this concept is not limited to a debate about definitions of words, but that a major application of error is contemplated, with widespread changes in churches of Christ. Anyone who holds this unscriptural distinction is headed for fellowship with sectarians because doctrine, law and works become unimportant to fellowship with God or with the people of God. Finally, let us understand the source of this error. Though it may be bathed in an aura of scholarship and suffused with a sense of tolerance, it is as destructive as any evil Satan ever produced. It is the child of infidelity.
Nurtured by Cynicism
We revealed the source of the fallacious and confusing claim that the gospel is distinct from doctrine. We have noted that C.H. Dodd (1884-1973), Church of England professor at Cambridge, promoted this concept in his day and was widely received by his contemporaries.
Dodd - Ketcherside Connection
Sadly, Dodd's false doctrine did not stay in England. His popularity in denominational circles did not escape the notice of men among us who had an axe to grind, an agenda to keep, a cynical attitude to promote. None was more cynical of "traditional orthodoxy" or more willing to violate sound doctrine among churches of Christ than Carl Ketcherside, editor of Mission Messenger.
Carl Ketcherside was considered a radical spokesman of bizarre causes in the early 1950's. Arrested once on a college campus because of his invasive tactics among young students, Ketcherside connected with Dodd in a strange way. Originally, Ketcherside opposed "located preachers" because of his application of the gospel/doctrine distinction. He, like Dodd (perhaps because of Dodd), advocated that the "gospel" (containing seven core facts) had to be "preached" (kerysein), while "doctrine" (everything else but gospel) had to be "taught" (didaskein). In the earlier years, he drew such a rigid line of fellowship on his views that most brethren were excluded. Later, he switched and, accepting tenets of Calvinism like the imputation of Christ's righteousness, opened his arms in fellowship with nearly anyone who accepted his "gospel" definition. He made the classic distinction between gospel and doctrine as did Dodd and was led to accept a broader fellowship with those who held doctrinal differences. Let me emphasize that there is not a man living who can be consistent, accept Dodd's premise, and fail to accept doctrinal differences as unimportant to fellowship.
Ketcherside accepted the gospel/doctrine distinction with a vengeance.
"The gospel was proclaimed as fully and completely on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus as it ever has been, and nothing written later was added to it" ("Twisted Scriptures," Mission Messenger, Dec. 1972, p. 181).
"Not one apostolic letter is a part of the gospel of Christ . . . the letter to the Galatians was not a part of the gospel" (Ibid., Feb. 1973, p. 20).
Under this flag, he spent years promoting an expanded fellowship with all who accepted the deity of Christ (gospel) regardless of their doctrinal persuasions and practices. He was equally at home among Christian Churches, Pentecostals, Catholics and any group nominally accepting the deity of Christ (gospel).
A contemporary of Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, stated the classical deductive position which derives from the gospel/doctrine distinction. Speaking of Galatians 1:6-9, he said,
"This passage is abused in our day in such a manner that the effect is as much a perversion as it was with the Judaizers in Galatia. One is preaching `another gospel,' we are told, if he holds some doctrinal error, or what is presumed to be an error, such as maintaining a TV program like Herald of Truth or using an instrument in congregational singing" ("The Word Abused," Restoration Review, XVII, No. 3, p. 42).
"The gospel is thus made to embrace all of our deductions, inferences and interpretations that extend throughout the New Covenant scriptures. A brother who visits from the Christian Church is not called on for anything, nor is he even recognized as a preacher of the gospel, all because he is `wrong' on music . . ." (Ibid.).
"The implications of all this to unity and fellowship are weighty. It means that the gospel itself, not our doctrinal interpretations, is the basis of our being one in Christ and in fellowship with each other. That is, when one believes in Jesus and obeys him in baptism, he is our brother and in the fellowship . . . This is oneness and this is unity. That fellowship is strengthened and made joyful by doctrine, but it is the gospel and not doctrine that determines the fellowship" (Ibid.).
Though Ketcherside and Garrett were not respected, generally, among brethren, either conservative or liberal, others within the "mainstream" of liberal churches were reading, accepting and nurturing the expanded fellowship that "gospel" or "word of the cross" preaching permitted.
Dodd - Ketcherside - Liberal Connection
Larry West, in an article in World Radio News (Nov-Dec, 1993, p. 2) came down clearly on the side of compromise. Commenting on the heritage that he grew up in (and evidently now rejects), he said,
"The problem came, however, with what the emphasis led to. With our craving to restore the `pattern,' many have in the process de-emphasized the `power' (Romans 1:16)."
Lest there be any doubt about his meaning, he added, \
"Restoring `the pattern of the New Testament church' shifted the cry away from the cross of Christ and onto the church of Christ. It got off the resurrected Saviour and on the saved. Over the years, then, our movement became centered largely on correcting religious error rather than on the proclaiming of a Saviour."
Why would he teach such a thing? How could he come to such a conclusion? First of all, there must be a redefinition of terms as Dodd and others advocated.
"There is a distinctive difference between the Gospel and the rest of the Bible. All the Bible (not just the New Testament) points to the Gospel (that's why the Bible is generically called `good news'), but there is a definite distinction between the specific Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:3-4) and the other points of New Testament doctrine (or teachings)."
The practical effects and application of this error can be seen in the recent event in Florence, Alabama, where the Magnolia church of Christ had a joint "Celebration of Worship" with a Methodist church. "How," you might ask, "could anyone justify this kind of digression?" Let the "gospel" preacher explain. Joe Van Dyke of the Magnolia church said:
"We're not here together tonight to say that we agree on everything there is to discuss. We're here to say that there's something greater that we share in common than any-thing that would divide us." "The greater things including the message of salvation, the death of Jesus on the cross, the resurrection and the commandments to love the Lord God with all our might and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The lesser things include doctrine." (Quotes from The Voice, local church bulletin edited by Larry Fain, Vol. 22, No. 12, December, 1993, in an article, "A Sad Historic Event" by Gary Patton.)
Lest there be a misunderstanding that some of these events are happening in out-of-the-way places, we are reminded that the gospel/doctrine distinction is now assuming the robe of scholarship since it is emanating from "the Holy Hill," Abilene, Texas. In The Cruciform Church, C. Leonard Allen (ACU Press, Abilene, TX, 1990), quotes from C. H. Dodd as he takes up the cause for getting the church back to the cross (thus, a "cruciform" church). His premise is that we have left the "word of the cross" out of our preaching as we have evolved to preach doctrine more than gospel. He said,
"In view of the displacement of the cross in the Stone/Campbell movement, I answer that what was left was a distorted and anemic gospel. The gospel of grace became a gospel of duty, law and perfect obedience. Covenant, we might say, became contract" (p. 122).
"As the cross was diminished in our movement, God's gracious and deeply personal covenant, mediated by a stunning display of suffering love, increasingly became a bare contract" (p. 123).
Not surprisingly, he footnotes C. H. Dodd's The Parables of the Kingdom, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, and The Johannine Epistles. It is not surprising since he occupies the same basic error as Dodd on the gospel/doctrine distinction. Although his "core gospel" definition differs from Dodd (as does every other person who attempts to define a non-biblical position), he seeks to build a case study on his definition of the "core gospel." His conclusion is that we are guilty today of a kind of "doctrine idolatry" (p. 87). Such a "doctrine idolater" forgets that
"Doctrines do not save us; we are saved by Christ. Doctrines do not cleanse us from our sins; it is the efficacious blood of Christ. . . . We are not baptized into [doctrines], but into Christ. We do not hope in them, trust in them, glory in them, but in Christ Jesus our Lord" (quoting Charles L. Loos, teacher with Campbell at Bethany College, p. 89).
Please let it register that, in the thinking of many brethren, it is "Christ or doctrine," or "Christ versus doctrine." Depending on how far the new definition of "gospel" extends, doctrines that insist on vocal music, baptism for remission of sins, local church autonomy, etc. are "doctrinal idolatry."
In yet another example of how far this gospel/ doctrine error has extended into mainstream thinking is Bill Love's, The Core Gospel. Another book from ACU Press, it purports to be an analysis of four generations of preachers (from Stone/Campbell to the present). Somewhat arrogantly, Love defines gospel in a way that suits his purpose, not the biblical definition. Though different from Dodd or Ketcherside in some aspects of definition, it differs not at all in application. But, having arbitrarily substituted his definition "rule," Love measures these preachers of yesteryear and finds them wanting. Naturally, since they did not have the advantage of knowing they were going to be measured by Love's "rule of gospel" they did not include enough "gospel" to suit Love. Consequently, men like Stone and Campbell, Moses Lard, and T. W. Brents, fail to pass muster. Likewise, men of the stature of T. B. Larimore, Benjamin Franklin, J. W. McGarvey, J. D. Tant and Foy E. Wallace, among others, failed Love's test. Again and again, the "core gospel" so reminiscent of C. H. Dodd, limited in scope to the "death, burial and resurrection of Christ," is applied retroactively to recorded sermons to show how deficient all these men were in "gospel preaching." All these great giants of the past, according to Love, did not preach enough "gospel." Would to God that I could measure something. How many people did Larimore and Franklin and Campbell convert to Christ compared to Love, Allen, Ketcherside and cohorts? Where are the waters being stirred in baptism by Love and Allen compared to the scores of thousands who came to Christ under restoration preaching? J.D. Tant alone, with all his "doctrine idolatry," probably led more to Christ than all these combined. Where are the people who are coming out of denominationalism to Christ under the preaching of Love and Allen as they did under restoration preaching? Are not the churches under Love's and Allen's influence of soft preaching and the New Hermeneutic returning to denominationalism? For sure, no one can accuse them of "doctrine idolatry." What would Love and Allen do in the face of the onslaught of premillennialism? Foy E. Wallace met them and defeated them with the gospel that portrays Christ on the throne of David. Would Love's and Allen's "gospel" stem the tide of digression on premillennialism, or on any other point of "doctrine"? I think not.
As someone has said, "Let your opponent define the terms of your disagreement and he will whip you every time." Even so, let latter day "scholars" wrest the meaning of "gospel" and "word of the cross" to exclude "sound doctrine," and you can be chided for "anemic preaching" and "doctrine idolatry." What is amazing is that they are so successful with this subterfuge.
Dodd - Ketcherside - Liberal - Conservative Connection
Recent articles from brethren much closer to home reveal how deeply engrained this error has become and how prevalent a part of our thinking it has become. Though it is quite evident that not everyone is aware of the source of this error nor how deeply it has been accepted by the New Unity Movement or the New Hermeneutic crowd, it is nevertheless being used by brethren who ought to know better. It is not essential to know the history of an error to oppose it. But it is without excuse to allow someone in error to define biblical terms in an un-biblical way and to use that error to criticize sound brethren.
It has already been related that Leonard Allen in The Cruciform Church made the charge against T. W. Brents and Alexander Campbell (et al) that they began a drift away from the emphasis on the cross to an emphasis on the church by their attempts to "restore the ancient order of things." They imply that the drift away from the cross became a stampede in later generations. This charge is based upon the faulty definition of the gospel being distinct from doctrine.
Though one should avoid crying "wolf " at the drop of a phrase or cited quotation, it seems that we have a right to be alarmed when brethren expose true cynicism toward doctrinal preaching. It is being repeated again and again that doctrinal preaching is not gospel preaching. Even among the advocates (maybe even especially from the advocates) of "positive Christianity," the most negative reactions arise to doctrinal soundness. If there is a need to balance our preaching so as to encompass the "whole counsel of God," let us not allow cynicism to be our teacher.
Spread By Discontent
The popularity of the Unity in Diversity Movement, the New Unity Movement and/or the New Hermeneutic concept so enhanced by the gospel/doctrine (or "word of the cross") error could not gain a foothold in churches of Christ without a spirit of discontent that is so evident today. Some people absolutely hate doctrine! Their severest criticism is reserved for those who are labeled "brotherhood watchdogs" or "keepers of orthodoxy." They are tired of "the old paths." They are not to be bound by rules, regulations, commands, law, or traditions of the past (whether apostolic or not). Faithful obedience is opposed as "salvation by works" and "Pharisaical legalism." They have yet to learn this truth: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3).
From dissatisfaction with the eldership, to vocal music, "five-finger salvation," the Lord's supper on Sunday only, scriptural baptism, congregational autonomy, male leadership, plain preaching, to every aspect that is a distinctive mark of New Testament Christianity, there are those who despise such, call it "doctrine idolatry," goose-stepping conformity, and are dedicated to change. Like ancient Israel, we have lifted up our eyes to the (denomi)nations around us and envy them for their women preachers, choirs, gymnasiums, ball teams, positive-only preaching, youth churches, institutions, big numbers and community acceptance.
It is anathema to the New Unity Movement of our generation to be separate as God's people (II Corinthians 6:17), to speak of the one church (Ephesians 4:4; 1:22-23); to preach that anyone is lost without complete gospel obedience (Matthew 28:18-20), to insist on the Lord's supper only on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), to insist on the "old hermeneutic" of commands, examples and inferences. Though theirs is a magnanimous spirit and love and acceptance to those in sectarian error, the most stringent condemnation is poured out against any brother seeking to "walk in the old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16).
However, there is a dilemma among those who seek to change the church of Christ into a modern denomination. We have always been a "people of the book." We have always appealed to "book, chapter and verse" preaching. For centuries, we have blazoned to the sectarians that "we speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent." The dilemma is that if they boldly denounce this past dependence on the whole gospel as unworkable, they will lose credibility among many who yet repeat this, even as a slogan if nothing else.
Change the Definitions
Consequently, a method has been devised whereby they can yet speak of their love of the "gospel" and change their direction even while boasting of a love for Christ. A New Hermeneutic has been defined that retains all of the platitudes of soundness without impeding progress into denominationalism. Its methodology is quite simple: use the same terminology but just change the meaning! Simple but profound. As Paul warned Timothy, this has "a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof: from such turn away" (II Timothy 3:5).
A form of godliness? How else could we describe those who claim to love the "gospel" but exclude the "doctrine of Christ" (II John 9); who claim to love and cherish Christ but disparage the epistles; who preach "the word of the cross" so long as it doesn't condemn error; who love the church of Christ but do not want to exclude the Methodists and Episcopalians or other sectarian bodies; who weep copious tears about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ but who reject the application to scriptural baptism?
Yes, use the words, but change the meaning. This provides a cloak of religiosity under which to hide a departure from the faith. Consequently, false teachers cry long and loud about their love of the "gospel," "the word of the cross," "the church of Christ," "fellowship," and "brotherhood." But they don't mean the same things that the inspired writers meant when they used the same terminology.
And it is working. Sadly, it is working. Those of us who object to this deceitful use of biblical terminology are criticized as "watchdogs," "keepers of orthodoxy," and loveless clones of "doctrinal idolatry." We are charged with being the "troublers of Israel" (I Kings 18:17) for asking for book, chapter and verse as proof text. We are accused of destroying fellowship by exposing those who teach error that will cause souls to be lost.
Even those who stand with us in fellowship are often confused by these false charges and feigned words. Perhaps the best of motives are misled by unwitting acceptance of this New Hermeneutic. Subtle doubts are permitted to arise about those who "cry aloud and spare not." Perhaps they don't have as much love as others. Perhaps they love the plan and not the Man. Perhaps they put too much emphasis on doctrinal matters. Perhaps they really do extol the church above Christ. Not only T.W. Brents and Alexander Campbell, but now preachers of our generation (we are told) have forgotten what it is to "preach Christ." They love controversy more than Christ, doctrine more than grace, a fuss more than fellowship. Sound familiar?
It matters little how much we know our own heart and how much we balance our preaching and writing to include the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). It no longer counts that our emphasis is upon the whole truth for the complete man of God, guided by Paul's counsel to Timothy: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16:17). No, the rules have been changed. Definitions no longer mean what they did. We have a New Hermeneutic.
Without a doubt, there are doctrines around today that have been bred by infidelity, nurtured by cynicism and spread by discontent. Be very sure that you understand the direction of the "new gospel." It does not lead to a deeper love of Christ nor does it preach the true gospel of Christ. It is eternally elastic toward error but woefully critical of truth. As Jesus warned, these "gag at a gnat but swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:24). They are capable of sitting and worshipping with Methodists but incapable of telling them that they are lost. They can worship among brethren who are lost and going to hell in adulterous marriages but who refuse to raise the word of warning as a true watchman should (Ezekiel 3:17ff). They allow brethren to preach blatant error on divorce and encourage them by using them in publications and gospel meetings while never confronting their sin. If that is love or gospel, please spare me. How much more should we be like Paul who, to men facing the Judgment like ourselves, said, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32)? He could do that because he could say: "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). This is gospel preaching. This is "word of the cross" preaching. May it never vanish from the earth!