Don't raise your voice. Don't pound the pulpit. Don't criticize the denominations. Don't ask folks to count the cost associated with Christianity. Instead, flatter them. Tell them how great they are. Tell them how wonderful everything is. Tell them the church is in better shape today than it has ever been. Accentuate the positive and de-emphasize the negative. Avoid controversy at all cost. Don't ever call into question the false teaching of a venerated brother. (I'm using the singular, but I've seen this done for more than one venerated brother.) On the contrary, attack those who have exposed the false teaching of the venerated brother by accusing them of having vile and sinful motives. Do all this and you will receive the accolades of the spiritual riffraff among us, but such behavior must surely make the Lord want to vomit (cf. Revelation 3:16).
Because I will be branded by the positive, feel-good-about-yourself advocates of the gospel of Self-Love as a "promoter of negativism," let me say that my most favorite preacher is one who has caught a lot of flack for being a "promoter of positivism." Personally, I think he has been wrongly accused, and never fail to say so when the subject comes up. His sermons are an application of the Word of God to our everyday walk of life. They have made me laugh and they have made me cry, but most importantly, they have made me better. I think some have confused a genuine personality trait (he's basically an upbeat sort of guy) with the "you-need-to-feel-good-about -yourself" gospel that I intend to critique in this article. I've said all this to make it clear to you that I don't intend to be criticizing any preacher's personality. Furthermore, I'm certainly not against what is commonly referred to as the positive aspects of the gospel of Christ. God forbid! What I am against is the careless and erroneous way in which some have divided God's Word. Frankly, I do not believe that dividing God's Word into different parts—one part advocating "Positive Christianity" and the other "Negative Christianity"—is exactly what the apostle Paul had in mind in II Timothy 2:15. In truth, God's Word is neither positive nor negative; it is, instead, both positive and negative, i.e., it's a total package! If one were to either preach the positive and de-emphasize the negative or preach the negative and de-emphasize the positive, one would not be declaring "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
Any careful student of the Bible knows that love (something most people would identify as "positive") cannot really be understood without considering the subject of sacrifice (something many people might consider to be "negative"). Likewise, salvation (another one of those "positive" subjects) must be understood within the context of repentance (considered by many to be a "negative" subject). Consequently, when it comes to the religion of Christ, what is of ultimate importance is not whether something is positive or negative, but whether it is true or false, right or wrong!
In II Timothy 4:2-5, Paul charged Timothy to:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
One simply cannot miss it! Paul did not say that God's Word must somehow be accommodated to every new concept that comes along. What he said was "Preach the word!" I have said it many times before and I will say it again: There is something very suspicious about a group of Christians who turn their sail to every wind that blows. Inevitably, such will be "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14).
Enamored with "Positive Thinking" as taught by Napoleon Hill, W. Clement Stone, Og Mandino, Norman Vincent Peale et al., some have accommodated certain scriptures to the philosophies of these men. Space does not permit me to list these scriptures, but one ought to carefully consider these brethren's so-called proof-texts. In doing so, one will learn that these proof-texts are nothing more than pretexts. The concept that "Anything the mind can conceive the mind can achieve" is simply silliness gone to seed and is absolutely untrue. For example, many in the world conceive of salvation apart from Jesus Christ, but the Bible believer knows that salvation apart from Jesus Christ is not achievable. Consequently, anything the mind can conceive, it cannot achieve; but don't expect this to be bantered about by the world because it's much too negative.
The Christian has been given "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). As a result, the Christian is called upon to out-think, out-live, and out-die the pagans round about him. The Christian's mind—a renewed, pure, prepared, spiritually sensitive, self-controlled mind—is the complete antithesis of the pagan's mind (cf. Romans 12:1,2). What is the key to all this? Simply stated, it is this: The Christian's mind does not trust in its own powers, but in the power of Almighty God (cf. Proverbs 3:5,6).
If more and more brethren begin to clamor for "Positive Christianity," then things are going it get worse. It will become increasingly difficult for preachers attempting to preach the whole counsel of God to maintain their integrity. It will be much easier to simply float along with the opinions, values, and fads of the masses. But there seems to be an indication that some are beginning to see the absolute folly of "Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). It appears that some are beginning to shelve the teachings of the modern scribes and are returning to the God-breathed Word as their source of authority.
Part of the reason for this turning back to God's Word has been the efforts of hardheaded preachers who, like the prophets of old, will not bow or bend to the totems of this world! In Ezekiel 3:8,9, the prophet, who was sent to speak God's Word to a rebellious Israel, was told by God:
Behold I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.
If this generation of the church is not to be lost, I am convinced that in part it will be to the efforts of all those hardheaded preachers among us who do not have to test the winds of public sentiment before they decide what they are going to preach. The 90's are going to be critical: Will this decade continue the malaise of the last thirty years, or will it be one in which we, as a people, meet the challenge our Lord has set before us and, as a result, deliver to the 21st Century a strong and vibrant church? If it is to be the latter,then we must thank God and generously support the efforts of hardheaded preachers who will "Preach the word!" We must be willing to lift up the hands of those hardheaded preachers who will "Be ready in season and out of season." We must be willing to defend those hardheaded preachers who will "Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."
Finally, if the church is going to be ready for the next century, then those of us who preach must be willing to be the kind of hardheaded preachers who, with God's help, will save not only ourselves, but those that hear us (cf. I Timothy 4:16).