Putting Things in Order

An anonymous pastor

The old saying “easier said than done” comes to mind as I think upon what the apostle Paul’s admonition must have sounded like to Titus (1:5). After appointing spiritual leadership in the churches, Titus was to go about his work of “setting in order” (the term refers to the setting of a broken bone) through the only method that will work in such a crooked situation as the Cretan churches were in: healthy teaching (“sound doctrine,” 2:1).

I am a young (in my thirties) pastor of a small, independent Baptist church. My name is not Titus, but it may as well have been. The church that I now pastor had been planted twenty years earlier as an independent Fundamental work. After a brief stay to get the church going, the founding pastor turned the church over to a young graduate of a well respected Fundamental college. During this new man’s ministry of over a decade, the church began to slide in its music standards.

Soon, they were fellowshipping with non- Fundamentalist ministries. There was a conspicuous absence of teaching on personal and ecclesiastical separation in the church. As in many churches that have begun to walk through this same By-path Meadow, the people still considered themselves to be strong Fundamentalists. However, when I first arrived here, I learned that many people in the community believed that our church was just another of the many Southern Baptist churches in our area.

I knew it would be a hard row to hoe, but I was convinced that the Lord wanted me here. I was right—on both counts. Immediately after I was elected as pastor, one family (who had joined the church the morning of the election in order to vote against me) left due to my position on the textual issue. Within a few weeks, I began to address the problems with the special music. I encountered great resistance, which I had anticipated, to the changes back to conservative music after a nearly fifteen- year absence. Soon, another family left, commenting that I was a “legalist.” It was not long before I had to take two stands on ecclesiastical separation. Then a wealthy man in the congregation (who had been one of my strongest supporters up to that point) approached me about becoming a deacon. One problem—he was divorced and remarried. They were gone within a few weeks after I made it clear that he could not be a deacon.

What I did not anticipate was the resistance to my “style” of preaching. We are located in an old country town which has been largely influenced by the Charismatics over the years. Many of our people wanted loud, entertaining, emotional preaching. I preached lineupon- line, precept-upon-precept, expository sermons. The preaching was the very thing that the Lord had used in my former ministry to change people and draw others to our church. Listening to my sermons is not like staring at a blank television screen but neither is it like watching a prime-time television sitcom (short, humorous segments; plenty of illustrative commercial breaks; and never more than thirty minutes in length). I told my flock, “You will have to ‘gird up the loins of your mind’ as I preach.” I had the Corinthian problem on my hands: I was feeding them meat and they cried for milk. To add fuel to the fire were some young men whom I inherited who came to our church from a nearby college to minister every weekend. Though they attended the same college that I had attended, they “silently” resisted the conservative philosophy and direction in which I had taken the ministry of the church. Their lack of support only helped to spark what would follow.

I will never forget it as long as I live. It is the kind of thing that I had only heard about but had never experienced myself. I had been at the church four months. The chairman of the deacons (my main supporter) came to me one Friday morning to let me know that a man in the church (whom we assumed would leave the church) had come to him. This man had changed his mind about leaving, commenting to this deacon, “I’m not going down without a fight.” This man then produced a list of ten families that he had contacted who were supposedly planning on leaving. To top that all off, there had been a secret deacons’ meeting to discuss this man’s concerns and what was going to be done about all the people leaving because of this new young pastor. A deacon uprising and a church split seemed inevitable.

I felt my heart drop. In the midst of this conversation, I went from anger to downright despair. Then the Lord gave me an answer: “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). Ironically, just five days earlier, the Lord had led me to preach on Matthew 18 (how to handle a trespass between brothers). With a soft answer, I met with all of the deacons that night. Things were made right. There were many other things that occurred over the weeks and months that followed which I will not share, but they were nothing short of miraculous in many instances.

Out of about ninety people that I started with, we lost forty. This did not occur all at once, but, by God’s grace, those who would “not endure sound doctrine” left one family at a time over the period of about one year. We have now almost completely rebounded to the original number that we started with. The new folks have not all come at once either—here a little and there a little.

Why do I share this with you? I remember thinking in the great darkness of my trial, “Lord, is there really something wrong with my preaching?” “Will you allow those who stand for the Fundamental cause to be obliterated?” I am a young Fundamentalist. Our battles are different than any generation before us, yet the war remains the same. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:4). I give the Lord all the glory for our survival. The epistle to Titus still works. The healthy teaching that caused so many to leave was actually the glue that held the rest together. A soft answer to your foes combined with healthy teaching will do the job. Fight your battles from your pulpit every week by preaching the Word. And when you must correct problems in private, have a meek and gentle spirit about you.

Dear young Fundamental brother, if the Lord ever calls upon you to do the work of a Titus, you will have to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority,” yet nevertheless, “Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)