The Hit Dog Syndrome
By Don Martin
Having preached for over forty years, I have seen just about everything. One thing that I have seen is the hit dog syndrome. “Throw a rock into a pack of dogs and the one that howls is the hit dog,” the saying goes. I have observed the hit dog among preachers, elders, and members in general. The truth is powerful and when it finds a good, receptive heart, the guilt stirs the sinner to repentance and to cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2: 37). These people had just been told that they were guilty of murder; not just any murder, but the murder of their own Messiah (vs. 23). Yes, they cried out but their cry was not just the howl of the hit dog, in their compunction of conscience, they sincerely wanted the one who provoked their guilt to tell them how to obviate the pain they had (cp. vs. 38-42). In a similar circumstance, others were told basically the same message and they, too, cried out. However, their cry was, “And they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him...” (Acts 7: 57, 58). These hit dogs removed the source of their guilt by murdering the messenger.
Those caught up in the hit dog scenario appear foolish, often times. “You were talking about me, you had better stop,” say they, even in the absence of a name being provided. Why did they think they were the object of what was being said? Simply stated, their guilt told them that the speaker or writer had them in mind. One member where I did local work approached the business meeting one night to register a complaint and charge. “The preacher has spent 120 hours attacking me from the pulpit and I demand such stop or there will be serious consequences!” The man was proud, arrogant, and had always gotten his way, stomping on others and running over any who got in his way. His name was never called in any sermon; yet, he howled as the hit dog. Oh, he tried to explain how he knew. “Based on the references of the preacher over a period of time, the man of his sermons was married, had children, and was financially well off,” he said. The real source and means of his identity was his pride, overbearingness, and running rough shod over others. He attempted to control the preacher and the pulpit. “What do you want?” asked I in a meeting with him. “You are not to ever mention......(he had a list of subjects I had to avoid in my preaching in the future). My reply was, “I shall not allow you to control my preaching; furthermore, if you are the one, it is because you are guilty of the associated sins and you need to repent.” When I told him this, he started for me and his wife literally jumped on him to restrain him and begged me to leave. Due to his relentless behavior and divisiveness, the church finally withdrew from him, only to have the “sound church” across town take him in and defend him (they later regretted doing this because I understand he is a problem to this day).
As you can already gather from the composite presented, the hit dog is a proud, demanding person. You can determine how hard they have been hit by the decibel of their howl. Some emit noise to the point of shrieking, bellowing, and/or roaring. In their selfishness and self-centeredness, they will sacrifice anything and everything to be free of exposure and their actual or imagined denuding. They will divide a church, have a preacher fired, and cause all manner of shameless problems in an effort to cease the exposure.
The hit dog syndrome is precisely how some churches and Internet lists adopt policies that restrict the teaching and forbid certain subjects. If it is a church or Internet list that has a powerful hit dog in or on it, the demand may be, “Do not allow any more teaching pertaining to the wrongness of denominationalism, the essentiality of baptism, or teaching relative to unscriptural divorcement and marriage!? They may feel personally attacked even in the absence of their name being called because of some teaching they have done or position they have advocated. Due to the loud roar of the hit dog, there are always those who want to give in to the demands. Hence, the teaching is no longer the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20: 27).
Preachers unlike Peter, make concessions and finally the truth is emasculated (cp. 2 Pet. 1: 12, 13). Churches and Internet lists that have adopted the “good ole boy fellowship” mentality are a conducive climate in which the hit dog can howl and roar. After all, they must keep peace, even if it means sacrifice bits and pieces of the precious gospel of Jesus Christ to placate the selfish member and meet his demands.
I, for one, do not make concessions or deals with hit dogs. Let them repent and accept the gospel just as we all must. I will not see a church compromised and error by omission creep in due to the ultimatum of the hit dog. The gospel is bigger and more important than the desires of you and me, even you and I combined! Having said this and knowing it as a fact, there are not a few who still tremble when the hit dog bellows out in guilt.