Concerning the Sentinel of Truth
Connie W. Adams
Akron, Ohio 44301
In July 1965 the first issue of a quarterly, the Sentinel of Truth, was mailed out. Charles A. Holt is the editor and J. D. Hall is financing the project. Harold Spurlock seems to be the "ace" writer. Though I have not subscribed to the paper, someone has sent me the first four issues. The paper is attractive in appearance. While some of the material has been worthy of serious consideration, much of it has been the cause of deep concern for any number of observant brethren. I would suppose that the first four issues should give readers a fair insight into the kind of material to expect in future issues of this paper.
I have resisted an urge to write something about this paper and its content ever since reading the first number. Several brethren have already reviewed some of the positions taken by brethren Holt, Hall and Spurlock. What is written here is the result of a year of pondering over the matter and is not hastily done just to "let off steam." A number of brethren with whom Brother Holt has worked the last few years have been developing an apprehension for his future. My own feelings along this line began to be aroused because of the turn taken by Brother Holt in his news column in the Gospel Guardian several years ago. There developed a tendency on his part to want to agitate little known questions. He and I had some correspondence over the matter in which I charged him with "experimenting with printer's ink." He began to berate brethren for a lack of "independent thinking." Well, none of us want to have someone take over our thinking for us.
Brother Holt seemed to take a delight in his column and in his preaching, in "throwing out" a seemingly bizarre approach on various things under the guise of getting people to "think." Well, again, none of us are opposed to brethren "thinking." But through the last few years a number of events have unfolded which have apparently embittered Brother Holt. This bitterness has exploded across the pages of the Sentinel of Truth.
Errors Advocated in It
(1) It is the contention of J. D. Hall, who finances the paper, that the truth concerning the church has been so well obscured because of faulty translations that we have completely missed out on "true Christianity." According to him sectarian-slanted translations have produced traditions and sectarian practices among the brethren. Other writers have dealt ably with his contention and have exposed it. They have shown as well that Brother Hall is not academically qualified to act as an adequate judge in such a field of study. To him the "church" never denotes an organic unit for collective activity. It is just a worship assembly. As H. E. Phillips pointed out in Searching the Scriptures, he is trying to do with the word "church" what the Jehovah's Witnesses have done with the word "hell." There is certain arrogance about any man who elevates himself above the scholarship of the world.
(2) Brother Holt has used the paper to deliver himself in his view of the eldership. The Bible teaches that elders have "rule," "oversight" and are to "tend the flock of God." Brother Holt tells us they rule only by example. And since he says that what Tolbert Fanning said on the question is just what he believes, then he believes that the word "elder" only denotes an older man in the church, and that there is no ordaining or appointing of such men. They just grow up to be elders. In his comments on this subject he has just about taken the hide off elders in general. He is not just trying to correct abuses which all of us know exist in some places in the eldership, he is after the whole concept of elders overseeing the flock and having the right to make decisions in the interest of the flock. Such an idea, to him makes elders "bosses," a "board of directors," and reduces the congregation to a bunch of "poor dumb sheep."
(3) In the January 1966 issue he takes off after the idea of baptism putting one into the right body. On page 31 he said, "A point which needs consideration is one raised by Brother Vinson, which has to do with whether baptism is designed to 'put one into the church.' It appears that many have failed to distinguish between the design of baptism and the result or consequences that follows. The ONLY design of baptism is 'for remission of sins."' The Bible teaches that the same act that gives a man remission of sins, at the same time makes him a member of the church (Acts 2:47). Paul said "For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). The body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23). A man cannot receive remission of sins without being made a member of the Lord's church.
(4) If Brother Spurlock is right in what he is saying, then the local church is nothing but a worship assembly with no work to perform and no existence after the worship assembly disperses. It has no treasury except what must be collected when a given need arises. To hear him tell it, such a notion is just tradition produced by these bad translations. Hear him:
"This means that God does not address His will and impose functional group responsibility upon 'organized churches' ('the church, as such,' whatever that is supposed to mean)!" July 1965, page 19.
"The concept that certain passages are addressed to individuals and other passages addressed to the 'church, as such' (the organized-functional-unit) is just so much nonsense and muddy water." July 1965, page 20.
The Spirit of Egotism
One thing that has struck me about the paper ever since the first issue has been the undisguised egotism of the writers. They are the "real thinkers." The rest of us are "poor dumb sheep." They are tired of "the same old ideas in the same old words, with the same old slogans, based upon the same old slogans, based upon the same old arguments." These gentlemen have graduated. They are not in the same class with the ordinary preachers anymore. In the first issue Brother Holt was fearful that "This journal may fail to find an audience that wants it or appreciates it." He said he was going to try to "revive the desperately (sic) needed spirit of individual right, obligation, and need to really study and seek for the truth on all questions." You see brethren have not been doing that at all. We have all quit thinking, really thinking, and Brother Holt and company are going to "revive" that which we have allowed to die. This spirit has been seen in every issue.
The greatest manifestation of egotism I think I have ever seen by the publishers of a paper is found on the center opening of the April 1966 issue. Harold Spurlock, one of the regular writers and promoters of the paper wrote it. Hear him:
"You have now read half-way through the finest, the most readable, the most thought-provoking, and attractive publication circulated among God's people. No paper in this generation is creating more interest, exciting more Bible study, creating a need for more re-evaluation of some of the accepted views than the issues of the Sentinel of Truth which have been published thus far.... join the multitudes throughout the world who believe $3.00 for a subscription to Sentinel of Truth.... is money well invested."
This is not a matter of praise from some reader of the journal. This is what the "ace writer" said. If you don't think this is the greatest paper published, then just ask Brother Spurlock. He will tell you. Besides, he has had material in every issue and I guess he ought to know the "finest, most thought-provoking" material when he reads over what he has written. And did you get that part about "multitudes?" How many make up a "multitude?" Pshaw! I hate to question such an expert writer, but I just don't believe that Sentinel of Truth has a "multitude" of readers, to say nothing of subscribers.
The Law and the Spirit
In the first number of the paper Brother Holt said he feared there was something to the charge sometimes made that we have missed the spirit of the law in trying to line up people with the letter of the law. He went on to say that we might have driven some brethren into liberalism because of our bad attitude and ugly spirit. He thinks we should be gentle with the teachers of error. I have noticed that just about every time a brother gets ready to depart the faith and head toward modernism or some other error, that his swan song is "we have stressed the letter of the law and forsaken the spirit of it." But like others who have departed the faith, and who chide us because of what they call an ugly spirit, he then reveals what his own spirit is. He says our problem is our attitude. Let us take a look at his.
"But I am frank to say that I honestly believe a great part of preachers are simply professionals.... moving here and there as the inducements beckon. Money does talk, you know." (October, 1965, page 4.)
"Pontifical assertions and vicious and malicious attacks upon the advocates personally will not stop everybody from giving this matter the consideration it deserves. There are yet a host of brethren who intend to do their own thinking and refuse to be intimidated by the arrogance and conceit of those who utter their pontifical anathemas . . ." (October, 1965, page 54.)
" . . . A self-appointed and arrogant group of preachers and power-demanding men who are erroneously called 'elders' and bishops.... only defending their paycheck! .... Efforts of a vociferous few to keep them in ignorance and in subjection." (January, 1966, page 18.)
"In recent years I have come to realize that, generally speaking, preachers (and I mean the 'fulltime brand') are about the most suspicious, jealous, envious, backbiting, gossiping, unfair, and often-times the most vicious and malicious group among us! They are many times just plain nosy, busybodies, and meddling troublemakers in the affairs of other congregations and in other people's business. They seemingly just delight in learning all the rumors that are in circulation about any other preacher or any other congregation . . . it seems that they get some sort of fiendish pleasure out of knowing that it will injure the reputation and hurt the influence of the one about whom the rumors are being told." (January, 1966 page 29.)
Brethren, I am glad Brother Holt has now learned to show the "spirit of Christ." I would hate to have been in his way back yonder in his former days before he started the Sentinel of Truth and learned to deal kindly and gently with those he opposes. This is a high state of journalism. The "finest" in this generation according to Brother Spurlock! Yes, be gentle with Ketcherside and the liberals among us, for they have feelings, but it is all right to write all these ugly things about the very men who have fought side by side with Brother Holt in former days. This is bitterness gone to seed. Charles, if this is the "spirit of Christ" or his law, then I have been reading the wrong book.
In the first issue of the paper, Brother Holt carried an article entitled "The Officers of the Church." The heading said "by Charles A. Holt." Brother Thomas G. O'Neal wrote an article in Searching the Scriptures (February 1966) in which he pointed out that the bulk of the article was actually from the pen of E. G. Sewell and cited the source of it. He charged brother Holt with plagiarism. In the April 1966 issue of Sentinel of Truth Brother Holt really exploded about this. But when you get through all the lather, the fact remains that Brother Holt admits Sewell wrote the material. Of course, as he pointed out, all preachers use materials they have learned from others. But when a man writes a lengthy article, quoting verbatim from the pen of another and then puts his name to it that is plagiarism. Brother Holt said he did this because he thought if the article had the name of Sewell on it, the people would not have read it as quickly as they would if his name was put there, and that his real purpose (this is some of that real thinking) was to show later that this is not a "new" thing but old. This is more of the egotism of the man and his paper. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I would have come nearer giving serious attention to it with Sewell's name on it than with Brother Holt's. He also said that he meant to do the same thing with the lengthy articles that he carried in the April 1966 issue written by Tolbert Fanning. He said that "later" he was going to tell the brethren who really wrote these articles, and I believe that. But this is a sample of the high-class journalism of the "finest, most thought-provoking," etc. paper published.
A Movement in the Bushes
In an apparent attempt to cast reflection upon Brother Thomas O'Neal and present him as a young, inexperienced, trigger-happy hunter, who is a "novice-preaching upstart who goes around with his six-guns slung low upon each hip" and who is a "gun-slinging bounty-hunter," Brother Spurlock wrote a little ditty called "I Saw a Movement in the Bushesand I Thought" in the April 1966 issue. This is more of the newfound "spirit of Christ" being shown. I suspect that Brother Spurlock is acting on a hunch or second-hand information when he so characterizes Brother O'Neal. I have known Tom O'Neal a good while, and though he is a fairly young preacher, he is far from being a novice and inexperienced. No man among us, young or old, has been tested more severely than he, nor has one shown any more character and worth to the kingdom of God. I doubt that Brother Holt, Spurlock or anyone else has ever been under any stronger fire and constant pressure than Tom O'Neal endured during the four years he preached in Walker County Alabama and opposed the errors of Gus Nichols. I was there in three meetings during that time and know what I am talking about. It was my pleasure to work closely with him in Orlando, Florida after that. He is a faithful, conscientious and fair-minded man who is as little bothered by bitterness when under fire, as anybody I have ever known. Brother Holt, when you sign your name to someone else's material, whether you like the term or not, the word is "plagiarism." I don't care if you did mean to "bring it back" later, Brother O'Neal told the truth about the matter and all the ugly names you and Spurlock can call him won't change that fact.
There is one thing about it. When Brother O'Neal moves, it is not in the bushes, but out in the open where everyone can understand what he says and what he means. If brethren Holt, Hall, Spurlock, et al, would get out of the bushes into the open meadow and express themselves plainly and clearly, then they wouldn't have to worry about somebody shooting at them in the bushes. What are they doing in the bushes anyhow? They have whimpered that we just don't understand them. Well, before they go to print, they need to learn how to express themselves in plain language so all can know what they mean. It comes with poor grace from men who publish the "finest, most readable, most thought-provoking" journal of this generation to have to take refuge behind the same cover taken by modernists and other apostates, "you just don't really understand what we mean." You would think that 'real thinkers" could develop the power of clear expression.
Motives of the Writer
If anyone gets the idea that I take delight in writing these things, he is dead wrong. I have appreciated the efforts of Charles Holt in the past as much as anyone. I have profited a great deal from his writing, preaching and debating. Then why say all this? Brethren need to be warned against this paper and its influence. Let brethren begin to apply what these men are saying and there will be no "true Christianity" left. The tendency of such teaching as they are doing is toward anarchy. It will encourage lawlessness in the church, rebellion against any kind of oversight by elders, it will make cynics of those who seriously become involved in this error and turn their hearts away from the truth. Bitterness has destroyed many good men and many congregations.
From letters published. in Sentinel of Truth sent in by readers, it appears that some are being taken in by this fad. These need to be warned. Let these brethren call us "pontifical" or whatever they like. Their claim is that we ought to have freedom of expression. I believe as much. But if these brethren have freedom to sow their heresy from Dan to Beersheba then I claim the right of free expression to oppose it. From the tirades brought on by some of the reviews and other opposition to the Sentinel of Truth, it becomes fairly evident that this freedom is a one-way street with these brethren. Let them say what they want even if it tears up the church of God, and that is freedom of expression. But let one of us oppose it and we are "pontifical," "arrogant," and have "venomous pens." Such is the conceit of the principal writers for this paper.
If one soul who has been partly deceived by this paper can be awakened to a realization of what it is saying and where it is headed, and what the consequences will be for his own soul if he follows it, then I am willing to bear whatever epithets these men can hurl. In the meantime, I want Brother Holt to know that I still love him, thank him for the influence for good he has had on me in years past, and that I pray for him that he might overcome the bitterness of spirit which has led him this far, and repent and return to his former place of great effectiveness in the kingdom of Christ.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 12, pp. 10-14 September 1966