by Floyd Chappelear
Sentry Magazine, December 2002

I have always sought to write so as to be understood. My friend James Needham, however, frequently published his stated desire to write so clearly that one cannot be misunderstood. I didn't always appreciate the wisdom of the advice but did admire its clarity. James may well have had in mind brethren who are called in the scriptures "dogs" who "bite and devour one another" (Philippians 3:2; Galatians 5:15). These are men who are anxious to misrepresent and vilify others if there is any "wiggle room" in what their targets say. (One brother once told me that he knew the quotation of mine that he was using in his sermon on "trends which point to a new apostasy" didn't say what he intended to imply that I had said but that "I know what you meant." I had apparently failed to "not be misunderstood.")

Some do seem to have a rabid disposition that requires them to speak negatively of others and write so as to bring them harm (sullying reputations in the brotherhood would be an example (Proverbs 22:1; Ecclesiastes 7:1). False workers in the first century tried to besmirch the reputation of Paul by charging him with being one thing in letters but quite another when face to face (II Corinthians 10:10). The charge was false but it was made nevertheless. They couldn't deal with his "weighty" written pronouncements but they could sully his reputation. Such should not be the case. Again, I say, servants of the Lord must not strive but be gentle to all men even as the Lord has directed (II Timothy 2:24).

Nevertheless, I now state for those who are more interested in character assassination than in truth, that I believe there are negative aspects to God's word. "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering" (II Timothy 4:2). It may be observed that two of the three are negative and only one (exhort) is of a more positive nature. I do not make the mindless mistake of some by assuming our preaching should be two thirds negative and one-third positive. (Yes, there are some who make such a contention.) In any case, they are all three to be done with longsuffering which is a characteristic often lacking in those who are most known for their negative approach to everything.

One might note, as many have done, that eight of the ten commandments are negative in style. Having so noted, the response might be, "So what?" Having established my bona fides (that I do believe that negative teaching has its place), I want to go on record as also believing that we are to preach the whole counsel of God and everything that is profitable (Acts 20:20,27). That includes an awful lot that can be declared to be of a positive nature.

Those possessing a choleric disposition vent their rage against any who seem to be more successful than they are by claiming the more successful are avoiding the negative teaching that needs to be done. That this is a false charge has never been more evident than when the faithful brethren who published Christianity Magazine were continually assaulted for the "positivism" of that journal. Now, who among us can claim with a straight face that Paul Earnhart, Sewell Hall, Ed Harrell, Dee Bowman, and Brent Lewis do not preach the whole counsel of God?

Their detractors would argue that they didn't present much of a negative nature in that journal. So what? They could use that journal as they pleased and did not have to answer to anyone. Their purpose there was different than what might be the purpose of other journals, but that doesn't make their purpose wrong. Do their detractors wax eloquent negatively every time they take the pulpit? If not, then they have no right to criticize those who chose to write differently in their venue than the detractors might write.

But Now, Negativism Has Gone to Seed

Antipas was his name, and "against everything" he may have been called, but as a faithful martyr he served the Lord and stood for much that was right. "And thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth" (Revelation 2:13). Holding fast to the name of Jesus and standing by the faith are positive attributes of a righteous life.

Those who are "against everything" today seem more to be motivated by a desire for negativism (and tearing down) rather than searching for positivism (and building up). That I might not be misunderstood, I know there are times we must root up and tear down, but that most certainly should not be the prime characteristic of our work. "See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant" ((Jeremiah 1:10). One needs to note that the last things said are "to build, and to plant." Where is the planting and building, the sowing of the seed, among those who are so bent on tearing down?

In the last few weeks, I have seen negativism become almost laughable. One brother railed against "seminars" and "lectureships" instead of having old fashioned "gospel meetings." I could not believe what I was reading. Do you suppose that they held protracted meetings in the first century rather than seminars? I would surmise that the activities of Acts 15 more closely resembled a seminar than a gospel meeting. What think ye? In fact, did you ever look up the word "seminar" in a dictionary? ("A meeting for an exchange of ideas; a conference" [AHO]) They exchanged ideas there in Jerusalem. The root of the word "seminar" is the word for "seed." Planting the seed is what they did.

Another decried "ladies' days" or gatherings of ladies and for ladies. One woman, wife of one of the more serious opposers, stood behind a lectern and opposed women standing behind a pulpit stand. It seems almost preposterous. I cannot speak for ladies in any other church, but I'm proud of the ladies at Annandale who get together once a month to busy themselves in the work of the Lord. Hundreds of cards have been sent out. Clothing and bedding have been distributed to many. Old folks have been taught and worship is taken to them. They do these things collectively on "ladies' day." Soon they will have a retreat where they can discuss the Bible together and edify one another (and eat together). Preachers do the same thing regularly when they meet at area restaurants for preachers' meetings during gospel meetings. Okay for preachers --- wrong for ladies. "Verily the legs of the lame are unequal" (Proverbs 26:7). Of greater import in that verse is the latter portion concerning a parable in the mouth of fools. (Look it up.)

What Motivates Them?

A rather negative statement can be derived from II Peter 2: 12 where it is noted that these brute beasts rail against things they do not understand. What they do not understand is the principle of church growth. I'll give some examples.

One of the most vitriolic of the negative ilk moved to a church of 120-150 a few years ago. He now pastors a flock of 30-50. (He serves as an elder.) Another moved to a group of 250-300 and has now after just a very few years has built them up to 120-130. A third admitted in his bulletin that as a result of the work he does the church is considerably smaller than when he moved there. He built them up. There is a common thread here. Their negativism tears down and then after weeding out the "weak" they never begin to multiply. One would expect that when the deadwood and chaff are gone that the work would prosper. That doesn't happen.

Brethren, if you don't know what a ladies' day might accomplish by getting your women more involved in the work of the Lord then say nothing about it. If you don't know why the word "lectureship" may be preferred (it usually refers to a meeting with lots of speakers) then don't express negative thoughts toward it. If the word "seminar" bothers you maybe you should begin to wonder why planting the seed is a noxious notion to you. In the meantime, try to build up, where before you only tore down.

Look around at the most negative preachers and note that the churches with which they labor seldom grow. When people move in swelling occurs (that happens with all of us). But where are the positive examples of these men getting out into the community to teach the lost? They don't generally exist. One of the brethren mentioned above actually told an eldership that was considering asking him to move there, "I'm not opposed to doing personal work." He didn't do any but he did labor mightily to arrange gospel meetings in other places. I once asked him, "Are there no lost souls in (the place he lived)?" He didn't understand why I even asked, but he went on to tell me that he was so interested in the lost that he wrote every church in the state and offered to come and preach a gospel meeting at no charge. I was appalled and have never sat down to talk with him since. It would be depressing.

Brethren, there is a place for the negative, but let us not focus on it so much that we deservedly are called "antis." Personally, I would prefer to be known for what I build, not for what I tear down.


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