Preaching the truth results in criticism and even persecution. John the Baptizer told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife (Mark 6:17-18), and Herodias, who had left Philip for Herod, became so incensed that she eventually found a way to arrange John’s death. Many did not like Jesus when He talked about God’s concern for the Gentiles (Luke 4:25-30), when He healed on the Sabbath day (John 5:1-16), when He taught that He had the ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12), or said God was His Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:17-18). Needless to say, when Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23, they hated Him even more. Eventually, they were able to manipulate the crowd into urging the Romans to crucify Him, but they could not prevent His resurrection. Paul and many others likewise suffered persecution as a result of preaching the Word.
In the course of preaching the gospel, Jesus and His apostles were asked many questions. And they answered them! Sometimes the questions were for the purpose of obtaining information. The woman at the well asked Jesus several questions, and He answered them all (John 4). Sometimes opponents asked Him questions to trap Him or to put Him into a difficult situation, such as when the Pharisees asked Him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19:3) or when the Sadducees asked Him whose wife a woman would be in the resurrection, since she had been married to seven brothers (Matt. 22:23-33).
Jesus answered the questions designed to trap Him just as much as He did those for information. He might answer a question with a question, as He did when the chief priests and the elders asked Him by what authority He acted, and He answered, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (Matt. 21:23-27). They declined to answer, and so did Jesus.
When the woman taken in adultery was brought to Him, and the hypocritical Pharisees asked Jesus: “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” (John 8:5), He was silent—for a few moments. Then He raised Himself up and responded to them: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Now it was their turn to be silent, and they all left.
Not only did Jesus and the apostles set forth and defend their beliefs in the first century, our brethren in the 19th and 20th centuries did also. We have always been willing to defend what we believe in debate. How many times have we told others: “Truth has nothing to fear”? How often have we pleaded with others, “Come now, and let us reason together”? How often have we urged an honest discussion of the Scriptures? How many of us have echoed the sentiments of N. B. Hardeman, who said, “I can state my position on any Bible subject on a postcard and still have room to ask about the wife and children”?
Yet now it is the case that many have taken vows of silence instead of being forthright. When asked questions that could easily be answered, they refuse to speak, to correspond, to communicate in any fashion. It is kindly pointed out that this attitude is unscriptural and breaks with the tradition established by Jesus and the apostles, which faithful brethren have upheld until this postmodern 21st century.
In the October, 2008 Harvester, published by the Florida School of Preaching, Jackie Stearsman wrote a brief article in which he apparently is trying to defend the school’s silence with respect to questions asked of them. The analysis that follows does not spring from any malice on the part of this writer with that institution or anyone who is a part of it.
The fact is that I have spoken on lectureships with Gene Burgett, Brian Kenyon, and Jackie Stearsman, the latter of which recommended me to the brethren here, which may have contributed to them asking me to come work with them. In other words, there is no personal ill will whatsoever against the school, as a whole, or the instructors individually. What follows deals with an issue; it is not an ad hominem attack.
Brother Stearsman begins his article by asking if his readers have ever considered why the Lord stood silent before Pilate and Herod? He cites Matthew 27:12-14, Mark 15:4-5, and Luke 23:8-11. Many of us have studied these passages and believe there is a logical answer to the question. The questioning of Pilate and Herod were not to obtain information. They were not for the purpose of posing an “insoluble” predicament. The determination to crucify Jesus would not be altered by Him fielding questions at this point. Herod only wanted to be entertained by Jesus. His questions were pointless and basically for the sport of him and his soldiers.
Pilate actually did ask some serious questions, and although the gospel of John was not cited above, Jesus did answer a few of them, after having first remained silent (John 18:33-38). It was during this conversation that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” a passage we often quote to refute Premillennialism. After being scourged, Pilate asked further questions, and Jesus remained silent once more, and when the governor became upset with that silence, he reminded Him that He held the power of life and death over Him. Jesus spoke once again: “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). Jesus was mostly silent, but He did say some significant things.
Is it the intention of the brief article under review to equate FSOP with Jesus under trial for His life? If so, who corresponds to Pilate and Herod? Is it appropriate to cite the only time Jesus refused to answer questions (when He was on trial and about to be crucified), and then use that as a defense for being silent as a matter of course? The reader can judge for himself how accurate such a parallel might be.
The article puts forth another question: “Do you think some might label Jesus a sinner because He did not answer every question posed to Him?” Apparently, those who have wondered why FSOP refuses to answer questions about where they stand on certain issues are now accused of being so heartless and mean that they would accuse Jesus of being a sinner!
Before answering this charge, the reader should ask himself something. Suppose that a school or a college did have something to hide. Perhaps funds had been misused, or there actually was a false teacher on the staff (this is hypothetical). Could not the school respond with precisely the same argument that brother Stearsman has used to avoid scrutiny?
The Reason for Silence
Having already noticed that Jesus was not totally silent, we should look at Matthew 27:11, which precedes the text of 12-14 in the article under review:
Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the king of the Jews?” So Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”
Jesus then remained silent because He had already answered the question. His kingship, however, was not of this world. The other questions that they asked before the governor He had already addressed. He had taught the people the gospel, and He had done noteworthy miracles all throughout Judea and Galilee to prove the claims He had made. They already had all the evidence they needed, yet they still desired to destroy Him. Of what further use would anything He said be at this point? Were they about to be persuaded by what He might now say? Hah!
But how does any of this parallel FSOP’s refusal to answer questions, period? Any school of preaching or college that seeks the financial support and good will of brethren ought to be able to explain where they stand on a few doctrinal points since they ask brethren to trust their judgment in the spending of money and in providing prospective students. In fact, they should welcome the opportunity to show that they stand where the Scriptures do.
Terry Hightower’s Three True – False Questions
It may be that brother Stearsman’s article was in response to the “Open Letter” (dated August 25, 2008) that brother Terry Hightower sent to the school. Certainly, as a former student and instructor, with close ties to Jackie Stearsman and Gene Burgett, no one would accuse him of having anything but the best interest of FSOP in mind. Now it would be cumbersome if he had sent the director and the board 100 questions or even 50. Such would be a time-consuming chore to answer, but brother Hightower only sent three, and they are not difficult to answer. They are True – False questions and are listed below.
1. T or F: We at the Florida School of Preaching hold and support the scripturalness of Elder Reevaluation and Reaffirmation as taught and practiced by Dave Miller, Director of Apologetics Press (Montgomery AL), and the Brown Trail eldership (Hurst TX).
2. T or F: We at the Florida School of Preaching hold and support the scripturalness of “mental intent” in regard to commitment in marriage with its subsequent implications for divorce and remarriage as taught and practiced by Dave Miller, Director of Apologetics Press (Montgomery, AL) and the Brown Trail eldership (Hurst TX).
3. T or F: Along with Dave Miller, Director of Apologetics Press (Montgomery AL), we at the Florida School of Preaching hold and support the scripturalness of fellowshipping false teachers [like Mac Deaver (Denton TX)] who teach the Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit and/or the present-day Baptism of the Spirit.
All three of these could have been answered false, which is the way sound brethren would answer them. So why would brother Stearsman write an article, misapplying the silence of Jesus at portions of His trial, instead of just answering these questions?
However, there is more. In the same issue of The Harvester, an article by Wayne Jackson also appears; in fact, it is the lead article. “Church Controversies” was originally published by ChristianCourier.com on July 8, 2008. Before mentioning its contents, however, we affirm that the article, for all of its good points, is too vague to be of value. Jesus did not have any trouble identifying the Nicolaitans by name, saying that He hated their deeds and their doctrine (Rev. 2:6, 15). He also mentioned that there were false apostles (Rev. 2: 2) and a false prophetess named Jezebel (Rev. 2:20). Paul listed individuals (1 Tim. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14). When specific names are not given, then usually their false teaching is singled out and examined. In the instance of Revelation 2:6, the recipients of the letter obviously knew who the false apostles were whom they had tested.
Brother Jackson, however, speaks of “little people” who make “big issues” out of “non-issues.” Unfortunately, he provides no examples so that anyone would know who he means by “little people.” And what does he regard as a “non-issue”? Since this article appears in the same Harvester as the one previously reviewed, the reader finds himself wondering, “Does brother Jackson think that the elder reevaluation/reaffirmation practice is a non-issue?” Would he refuse to answer the three True – False questions?
He goes on to state that some brethren are “chronic complainers” and “perpetually factious,” which is true, and we have all known some who, as the expression used to go, were “born in the kickative mood and the objective case.”
We can also agree that internal “personal problems…should not be broadcast throughout the brotherhood,” and his reasons for saying so are valid. He does not address, however, the situation of one congregation withdrawing from another—or from the elders of another congregation—which then places all the other brethren in the geographical area in a difficult situation. All brethren can do in such a situation is investigate the matter to decide whether the withdrawal was necessary and valid or not. Likewise, if a trouble-maker leaves one church for another, brethren cannot just plead ignorance.
Brother Jackson provides five guiding principles for brethren to use in dealing with church controversies, which would be fine, if he had just stated the tenets he thought were helpful, but he peppers these good ideas with blanket condemnations of certain anonymous brethren. One may be reminded of those times when elders have come to a preacher and said, “We’ve had some complaints about you.” When asked, “From whom?” the answer invariably is, “Well, that doesn’t matter.” Other preachers have fallen victim to the “they say” mentality. The Bill of Rights does not, in some instances, apply to the accused in the church; some apparently believe in trial by innuendo.
Some of the accusations brother Jackson levies at others (without mentioning specifics) are that a few brethren “are masters at taking words and phrases and twisting them to form an indictment alien to the meaning included by the original writer or authors.” It would be nice to have an example of such master word twisting; surely brethren would profit in seeing how someone does such a thing.
Who are the “long-distant critics” who desire to hand down “dictums to be bound upon other churches”? Would it be possible to identify the “small mob of Christians scattered around the country” who are issuing ultimatums to which “all churches are expected to yield”? Who are the “misdirected, lathered-up radicals” who are threatening to impose disfellowship on others? Should not these ill-tempered brethren be exposed? They sound dangerous enough that they need to be named; this is no time for vagueness to prevail.
Who are these “rabble rousers” who enjoy fanning “the flames of local church problems,” who have “dirty laundry” of their own? And why do they think they can monitor “the nationwide church”? If we have “self-deputized” cowboys who are “constantly caught up in the frenzy of a new fight,” shouldn’t they be marked and rejected as divisive (Titus 3:10)? Brother Jackson closes his article with this sentence: “Jesus pronounced a blessing upon the peacemakers, not upon the strife-causers.” Amen. But how is someone supposed to make peace when one party refuses to talk?
Jesus said that if you have something against a brother, go to him and talk to him about it (Matt. 18:15-17). Issues, conflicts, and problems between brethren need to be resolved, and everyone has the obligation to do what it takes to bring about peace. In some cases people have asked brethren, as Terry Hightower did, why they fellowship those teaching false doctrines. The reply is silence.
Our Lord also said that, if you know that your brother has something against you, the first thing you should do (before worshipping God) is to first seek reconciliation with your brother. Many of us have something against those who fellowship error and have made it known. It is not Scriptural to prefer silence to resolution.