The Middle of the Road - Where Does It Lead?
More than two years ago in the Firm Foundation there appeared a number of articles from the pen of Brother Roy Lanier Sr. in which he set forth what he considered to be the "middle of the road" position on the orphan home controversy. His contention was that only those homes which are under the oversight of the elders are scriptural, and that churches which contribute to homes under a board of directors do so in violation of New Testament teaching. This of course constituted a "break" with the Gospel Advocate position which at the time was that both types of homes are scriptural and which since has been that only homes under a board are scriptural. (It was for this reason that Brother Lanier was not allowed, even though a staff writer, to express a conviction in the Advocate, and this in turn caused him to sever all connections therewith.) Brother Reuel Lemmons, the editor of the Foundation, gave his wholehearted endorsement to these articles by saying: "He presents what we believe to be the truth on the question involved." He then added: "We do not believe his argument can be answered." (Firm Foundation, Feb. 12, 1957, page 9.)
Many of us were encouraged by this new stand of the Foundation which was at least a crossing of swords with the "all out, everything goes" institutionalism contended for by the Advocate. A year later Brother Lemmons made his strongest attack against the position of the Advocate by stating that "this theory, so boldly advocated in recent months, that some separate institution, outside the framework of the church, must of necessity be provided through which the church can then do its work, can very easily destroy the church." (Emp. his.) This started things popping in Nashville and Brother Guy Woods unleashed a vicious attack against Brother Lemmons in which he said that there was a "widespread and painful feeling of astonishment, incredibility and surprise" over the statements of Brother Lemmons and called such "wholly untimely, utterly unwise, and completely untrue." Brother Lemmons then retorted with two strong editorials in reply to Brother Woods and it appeared that the "middle of the road" was not wavering or veering. In the first of these editorials he said: "We have no objection whatever to any privately owned and operated home, nor do we think for a moment that such do not have a right to exist. Brother Woods accused us of believing that 'Boles home and homes under boards should be terminated.' This is mere political palaver for the consumption of people who do not know us. We no more believe that homes under a board should be terminated than we believe that David Lipscomb College under a board should he terminated." (Emp. mine.) He further stated : "We are in perfect accord with the position of Brother Gayle Oler, Superintendent of Boles Home, when some years ago he went to considerable length to explain that that home, under a board, was a private business with services for sale. He urged, and we perfectly agree, that congregations in need of these services that are for sale should purchase (emp. his) them, just as they would PURCHASE the services of David Lipscomb College to educate a young preacher." (Emp. mine.) Again he said "There is no command in the Bible anywhere that orders the church either to build, maintain or contribute to ANY institution under heaven except the church of
Christ." He concluded by saving that he believed "that the ultimate end of the position he (Brother Woods) now occupies will allow the establishment of any and all kinds of private institutions and agencies such as colleges, societies, etc., which will look to the church treasury for support. We see no reason why we cannot have both; the church arrangements supported by the church, and the services of private homes purchased as needed." (Firm Foundation, April 29, 1958, page 2958.)
Less than five months after this in an editorial entitled "The Limits of Expediency" Brother Lemmons made some strange statements, especially in the light of his former remarks. He said: "There are doubtless occasions where the church, for good and sufficient local reasons, might make a contribution to most any private enterprise. (Emp. mine.) But to use such in instance for the establishment of a general and regular rule of practice would be tragic." Then he commented : "We heard a brother make a statement recently at a luncheon in another state that the sooner brethren 'get over this foolishness' (that the church should not make contributions out of its treasury to a college) 'the better off we will be.' Such makes us shudder. We certainly believe that expedience (emp. mine) makes it mandatory for every group of elders to consider every individual contribution to any private enterprise carefully in the light of the local and temporary circumstances involved. Expediency certainly has limits." (Emp. mine.) (Firm Foundation, Sept. 9, 1958, page 562.)
Now allow me to make an observation. Brother Lemmons has here placed contributions to private institutions such as colleges, societies, etc. in the realm of expediency. According to this church support of colleges, etc. is not unlawful, but only inexpedient! Suppose a gospel preacher should tell you that he opposed instrumental music on the grounds that it is inexpedient. Would such opposition satisfy you ? If such were true, then that would mean that it is not a going "beyond that which is written," that it is entirely in the realm of human judgment and at most you could only opine against it! It would seem from these statements that perhaps the "middle of the road" is beginning to veer to the left.
In the March 19th issue of the Gospel Advocate we have the latest development pertaining to the "middle of the road" in a statement written by H.A. Dixon, president of Freed Hardemen College, and signed by seven other preachers. It mentions Brother Lanier's articles and Brother Lemmons' endorsement of them and Brother Dixon observes that from such he and others had concluded that Brother Lemmons "was opposed to such homes as the Tennessee Orphan Home, Potter Orphan Home and others with a similar setup." He continues: "But during the recent Freed Hardeman College Lectures we had opportunity to discuss these matters with Brother Lemmons. We asked him the question: 'Do you believe it is scriptural for churches to contribute to the support of Tennessee Orphan Home which is under a board of directors?' He answered, 'Certainly I do. I prefer that a home be under an eldership, but I do not believe one under a board is unscriptural.' (Emp. mine.) We were all pleased to hear him make these statements. They were announced publicly at the lectures."
Now what shall we conclude from this? Brother Lemmons has said that the church has not been commanded to contribute to any institution under heaven except the church of Christ. Is Tennessee Orphan Home the church of Christ? This institution was even specifically mentioned by Brother Lanier in his articles as an illustration of an unscriptural arrangement. And in this same connection he asked: "If it was sinful for brethren of a century ago to activate the universal church in forming the missionary society, why is it now right to activate the universal church in forming a benevolent society?" (Firm Foundation, Feb. 26, 1957, page 133.) Now Brother Lemmons says the church can contribute to this "benevolent society"! Furthermore, he has positively stated that the orphan home under a board and David Lipscomb College under a board stand on the same footing with reference to the church. He has said he opposed neither, meaning that he did not oppose the existence of either, but he has opposed church support of both! Now he no longer opposes church support of the former and it appears that consistency would force him to cease his opposition to church support of David Lipscomb College and similar institutions according to his own statements! So it would seem that the "middle of the road" as per Brother Lemmons which at first flatly opposed church support of homes under a board has veered so far from its original course that it would even approve of the college being in the budget of the Lord's church.
These things I write with no malice toward Brother Lemmons or anyone whom I have mentioned in this paper. I do so only in order that brethren might see the "drift" which has occurred in the position of the Foundation in only two short years. I have a number of brethren whom I feel close to and whom I love dearly who have been avid followers of this journal for some time now because they have desired to "avoid the extremes." I hope they will be led to see that their "middle of the road" has gone to one of the extremes which they have desired to avoid. In closing I want to quote from Brother J. D. Tant who endured the struggles of the digression centering around the instrument and missionary society. He said: "I can remember during those years when the battle was raging all along the line, we had many preachers who would claim, 'We are not on either side, and when either group sends for us to hold a meeting, we will go.' Without an exception every one of those brethren drifted into the Christian Church and accepted all the innovations." (J. D. Tant, Texas Preacher, pages 455-456) Beware, my beloved brethren, of the middle of the road.
Truth Magazine III:9; pp. 9-11