Preachers Without Fear

“Shocking! Absolutely shocking! I just can’t get over it!” That was the reaction of one who had just read parts of the 1971 Agenda for the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. He had in mind such things as the Board of Home Missions’ proposal that the Christian Reformed Church officially participate in Project Equality; the report of the delegates to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod’s North American Conference on Race, held in Chicago, March 2-5, 1971, and the radical proposals adopted by that conference; the Youth Evangelism Report of the Board of Home Missions and its far-reaching dangerous proposals; the overture of Classis Hamilton requesting Synod to reconsider our stand on dancing.

Well, I had read most of this, too. I am just as disturbed as he, although not shocked anymore. After reading the Agenda, I am thoroughly convinced that unless we have some men of God at Synod who will speak without fear, the Christian Reformed Church could take some giant steps farther in the wrong direction.

“Flabby professionals” – That which is found in the Agenda for Synod is indicative of the direction in which our denomination has been going. It is my conviction that part of the fault lies with preachers who have failed to speak the Word of God without fear.

A few days ago a talented elder of one of our churches in Holland, Michigan, a keen observer in the church, said to this writer: “Many of our ministers have become flabby professionals, rather than fearless proclaimers of God’s infallible Word.” He went on to say that some of our ministers arc just plain scared to speak up when they should. I wish I could have replied: “Brother, you are wrong!” I could not. What we need today is to listen to and live by what God had to say to Ezekiel as He commissioned him to the prophetic office.

Ezekiel versus the “good Joes” – The faithful prophet was told to fear no man. As you know, God called Ezekiel to declare His Word to an apostate people. The covenant people were in Babylon due to their hardheartedness. They didn’t like conservative, narrow-minded preachers like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea, They much preferred the nice guys, the “good Joes,” the easy going liberals, the false prophets, After all, these men had said that there was nothing to worry about. Everything was all right in the church; all would be okay—even though the people were trying to live with one foot in the world and one fool in the church.

Now Ezekiel was called to preach God’s Word to them—the word of warning, the call to repentance, The Lord said to him: “Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day, for they are impudent children and stiff-hearted, I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God” ( Ezek. 2:3, 4).

Will there be unfavorable reaction? Indeed! The people will have a way of letting the prophet know that they do not like his old-fashioned ideas. Some will tell him so—perhaps calling him a prophet of doom. Others will have plenty of ways to let him know that they don’t care for him. They will be just plain mean. So the Lord prepares His prophet for this adverse reaction. Here is what He says: “And thou, soil of man, be not afraid of them, neither of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezek. 2:6).

Fear no man! – The meaning for us is quite clear, isn’t it? We must fear no man! Speak the Word of God without fear! Of course, if we say all we should say, if we speak out boldly against every form of sin, against the liberal views being embraced and espoused today, there will be adverse reaction. Much of it! Some arc going to hate us and speak unkindly to and about us. They will shun us and wish they had a more liberal minister.

But look—the Lord says: “Be not afraid of them neither be afraid of their words.” Don’t fear that liberal who accuses you of being so negative. Don’t fear that well-educated man who accuses you of “Biblicism.” Don’t fear the relativist who says you are too dogmatic. Don’t fear the ecumenist who shouts: “You are divisive.” Don’t fear the peace-at-any-price men who accuse you of being too legalistic. Keep still all no issue for fear of what certain people may say or do! Be ready to suffer the consequences.

Jan Overduin is right when he says: “Prophetic preaching is characterized by absolute obedience to God. Our own likes and tastes and fancies (all that is ‘in our line’) may never prevail over the received Word of Jehovah” (The Adventures of a Deserter, p. 11).

Overduin describes Jonah as a pampered prophet who refused to accept a difficult assignment. He says, “. . . what we may take ill of Jonah is the fact that in the execution of his office he is ready to take assignments by which he can gain prestige and win honor, but refuses to be at the disposal of his sender under all circumstances and for whatever task. In other words, Jonah is not a false prophet who thinks up a message of his own in order to bring himself into the good graces of his hearers, but he is a true prophet who behaves like a donkey that runs a good pace when a tasty tidbit is hanging in front of its mouth, hut lies down when a heavy burden is loaded on its back—only after administering a good drubbing can you get the animal to move again, then don’t ask how” (p. 10).

Also at Classis and Synod – Does this apply to our duty other than preaching to our own congregation? Do you doubt that it docs? Certainly always, as Cod’s office hearers, we must speak God’s Word without fear. We must also bring the light of His Word to bear on every issue on the floor of Classis and Synod—whether that has to do with purity of doctrine, liturgical forms, the nature and authority of Scripture, education, missions, youth evangelism, racism and poverty, or any other aspect of the Christian faith and life.

It is this writer’s conviction that we have often kept guilty silence out of fear! We have been afraid especially of the words of our colleagues, “dismayed at their looks.” We have been afraid that some will shun us at Intel Nos, at the Ministers’ Institute, on the golf course, or at the howling alley. We have been afraid that they will call us radical, extremists, troublemakers, negativists, legalists, old fashioned conservatives—and what not.

This unwarranted fear of our colleagues and others is bound to have disastrous results. It has already. Have not the liberals won many victories because conservatives failed to speak boldly the Word of God? This will continue—unless God’s faithful servants will “be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks.”

“What’s the use?” – God’s prophets must speak without fear even though others might not listen. Perhaps you are already thinking, “What’s the use? They will not listen anyway. Why go through all that heartache and trouble?”

Did you notice what the Lord said to Ezekiel about this? He said: “I do send thee unto them, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord. and they, whether they will he;tr, or whether they will forhear, for they are a rebellious house, yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them” (Ezek. 2:4, 5). The Lord even warned Ezekiel that Israel would not listen because of the hardness of their hearts. Nonetheless the prophet must, in the strength of the Lord, declare His Word. God went on to say: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (3:17).

John Calvin commenting on this says: “We may, therefore, indulge both hopes and wishes, but if it should turn out otherwise than we anticipated, yet we ought to leave the results in the hands of God and to proceed even to the goal in the discharge of our duty.”

Andrew W. Blackwood says: “It is our duty to go to them with the message from the Lord whether they hear or refuse to hear. The preacher’s task is to proclaim the message faithfully with all the skill at his command. Neither success nor failure can alter his responsibility” (Ezekiel: Prophecy of Hope, p. 51). Certainly this is true for us whether we are functioning as God’s officebearer in the pulpit, among our parishioners, or on the floor of Classis or Synod. Right?

If we do not speak – God even warns us that if we do not speak as we should He will hold us accountable: “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him no warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 3:18,19). If we speak out to the best of our ability, each with the talents the Lord has entrusted to us, in the Lord’s strength—and then, in spite of our efforts, the church and our institutions go the wrong way, we shall he clear before God! If, for fear of the adverse reaction of certain people, we keep silent, the Lord will indeed hold us accountable!

Let us, then, resolve to be like the apostles Peter and John, who had been imprisoned because they spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, were threatened by the angry chief priests and elders, yet declared: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” And they prayed: “Lord, behold their threatening and grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:19, 20, 29). To such the Lord will give His blessing. “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

May God grant that we may be preachers without fear!

John G. Kruis is pastor of the Neikerk Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan.