By Mike Willis
(Editor’s Note: This reply is extra-ordinarily long in order that I can be as thorough as necessary. We ask our readers to keep in mind that I am responding to 17 articles from brother Harrell in dealing with this material.)
Reproduced in this issue is brother Ed Harrell’s response to my April 19th editorial entitled “When Apostasy Comes.” If you have not previously read his article, please do so. I would like to urge our readers to join me in praying for both brother Harrell and myself as we discuss issues which threaten the peace of God’s people. Here are some things I would specifically like to request that you ask the Lord to do:
1. Pray that the Lord will enable brother Harrell to refute any false doctrine which I have taught or am teaching. Help me to see myself as the Lord sees me.
2. Pray that my disposition will be kind and brotherly, so that nothing which is taught will be undermined by how I say it. Help me to “entreat him as a father” (1 Tim. 5:1), speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
3. Pray that brethren will manifest the spirit of 1 John 4:1 – to try the spirits to see if the things taught are so.
4. Pray that I might keep any desire for personal victory from my heart in order that only the truth of God can prevail.
Please join me in praying for these things.
I continue to have a high regard for brother Ed Harrell. His life has been dedicated to the cause of Christ; he has used his influence for good and God. I know of no moral blemish on his character. So far as I know, he and I are friends and brothers in Christ. My disagreement with what he has written should not be misjudged to conclude that I do not respect him. His accomplishments in the historical field have brought him national recognition. We rejoice with him in the accolades he has received.
We are delighted to provide brother Harrell space to reply to my editorial of 19 April. The editors of Christianity Magazine continue to refuse brethren space to reply to brother Harrell’s personal attacks against the character of those who reviewed the writings of Homer Hailey and the material on unity-in-diversity on divorce and remarriage. We have nothing to hide, no fear of having our material reviewed and, therefore, gladly offer him space in Guardian of Truth. Without regard for persons and personalities, we need to study and answer the question, “What saith the Scriptures?” (Rom. 4:3)
The Quotation From Brother Harrell’s Book
A goodly portion of brother Harrell’s response centers on my quotation of his material on divorce and remarriage from Quest For A Christian America under the title “Ed Harrell on Divorce and Remarriage” (Guardian of Truth, 19 April 1990, p.3). His objection to this came as a surprise to me.
I did not think that I was violating the copyright laws when I quoted three paragraphs from brother Harrell’s 256 page book, inasmuch as the copyright page itself makes provisions for “brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.” A standard reference manual is not worth having if a person cannot quote from it for documentation. Furthermore, the practice of briefly quoting other material is a standard practice in scholarly research. It also is the practice of Christianity Magazine, inasmuch as they quoted four paragraphs from Faith and the Faith, a book of sermons published by the Guardian of Truth Foundation, without written permission from the publisher (Christianity Magazine [May 1987], p. 8). There is a “fair use” clause in the copyright laws which allows the quotation of a limited amount of material from copyrighted works. The publisher of the material, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, did not take exception to the quotation. Consequently, I am not aware that my action was a violation of the copyright law, common use of copyrighted material, the practice of Christianity Magazine, or brotherly treatment toward one another.
There was no “distortion” of brother Harrell’s work, no “malicious effort to distort,” no “legal libel,” no “clear and malicious effort to deceive,” no “intent” to “deception,” and no “lying” about or “unlawful and devious representation” of brother Harrell’s convictions. The material was the documented reproduction of brother Harrell’s own words, except for the title. I never claimed the quotation presented brother Harrell’s views of Scripture, but merely gave it as a summary of the stand taken by brethren in the early days of the restoration movement, as stated by brother Harrell in his role as a competent and respected historian.
In view of brother Harrell’s objection, I admit that someone reading the title, “Ed Harrell on Divorce and Remarriage,” before reading further, could have thought the quotation would present his personal views. If a person read the quotation itself, he would have seen it is brother Harrell’s summary of history. I never thought that what was reproduced was brother Harrell’s beliefs on Scripture and was very surprised when he objected that this was his impression of the printed material. It may be that someone who only scanned the paper got the wrong impression from the title and I apologize for not so wording the title as to preclude that possibility. In view of my love and respect for brother Harrell and in deference to his objection, I ask his forgiveness for the wording of the title above the quotation. I also ask his forbearance in realizing there was never any intent to misrepresent his personal views.
Furthermore, I will be glad to reprint the quotation with whatever title he would choose to put on it, if he so desires. A note can be appended specifically saying that what is There has been no citation of the passages which discuss reproduced is what brethren did in the nineteenth century, divorce and remarriage. Perhaps we need to reproduce them not brother Harrell’s convictions on divorce and remarriage, if this public apology is not adequate.
I want to add a word here for consideration by all who read what I write or say. Should anyone ever think me to be guilty of misrepresenting or sinning against him, he will not need legal action to get me to make correction. I must give answer to a higher authority than civil law for my conduct; consequently, I want the opportunity to make right whatever sins I have committed before I stand before my Lord in judgment. I appreciate this opportunity to make this right with my brother.
Now that the question about the title over the quotation has been cleared up, we still face the ultimate question, “What saith the Scriptures?”
What Saith The Scriptures?
My editorial of 19 April presented an extended argument from the controversy with first century Judaizers to demonstrate that the book of Galatians presents a different pattern for handling doctrinal apostasy than proposed by brother Harrell. Brother Harrell made no reply to the scriptural material presented, neither accepting it nor rejecting it. Instead, he directed us to the extended series of articles in Christainity Magazine as his answer.
Brother Harrell surely must realize that we have read this series carefully and were making scriptural objection to it. Redirecting us to the initial material is no answer, none of which addresses the passages and arguments I presented.
Having gone back over brother Harrell’s series of articles, here are the Scriptures cited in his sixteen articles: Mk. 16:16; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 14:1-23; 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 1:10; 4:4-5; 5:1-12; 11:19; 2 Cor. 2:7-8; Gal. 2:9, 11-14; 5:20-21; Eph. 5:3; Phil. 2:5-8; 3:17; Col, 2:18,23; 4:7-17; 1 Thess. 5:22; 1 Tim. 4:2; 2 Tim. 2:14; 4:14; Tit. 1:10-11; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Jn. 11; Rev. 2-3.
These passaged appeared in nine of the sixteen articles leaving seven articles with no passages at all. When one sets aside the passing references to Scripture which have no direct bearing on the discussion of fellowship, he is left with one argument: the disagreement on divorce and remarriage falls into the category of things discussed in Romans 14 and is, therefore, a matter in which we can have “unity-in-diversity.”
There has been no citation of the passages which discuss divorce and remarriage. Perhaps we need to reproduce them here to remind brethren of what the Scriptures say:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery (Matt. 5:32).
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matt. 19:9).
Adultery is a sin which keeps one out of heaven and is treated as a matter for congregational disfellowship (Gal. 5:19-23; 1 Cor. 5). Consequently, this matter cannot scripturally be placed in the category of Romans 14, as brother Harrell contends. Neither those who practice remarriage following divorce for any cause nor those who preach the error, leading men to commit adultery, will be received by Christ and his disciples.
This disagreement is not a discussion of history; it is a discussion of the Bible. Citations from church history have a place in illustrating various points but cannot substitute for Bible authority. The bounds of Christian fellowship are determined by the New Testament, not social history. With or without historical illustrations, we determine our faith and practice by answering the question, “What saith the Scriptures?”
Unity in Diversity
Brother Harrell condemns my view of fellowship saying,
Brother Willis argues that brethren cannot disagree about any matter of consequence/ “faith” (not yet giving us his completed list of those matters that are of consequence) (p. 455, col. 2).
In case brother Harrell or someone else is of the opinion that I believe every brother must agree on every subject in order to have unity, I would like to remind him that I edited a book entitled Factionalism which discussed areas in which brethren may disagree. This book, available through the Guardian of Truth Bookstore, emphasizes that disagreements must be allowed in areas of opinion but in matters of “the faith” we must “all speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10). Hence, I recognize that brethren do not have to believe the same thing in matters which fall into the real m of Romans 14 – matters of indifference, opinion. I am no more obligated to give brother Harrell a list of everything contained in “the faith” than he is to give me a list of every matter of opinion, expediency, or personal conscience. We do not need men to produce an exhaustive list of things included in either category in order to understand and apply the principle involved when an issue arises.
The Lord’s teaching on divorce and remarriage does not fall into the category of Romans 14. When men violate what Jesus said on divorce and remarriage, they commit the sin of adultery, a work of the flesh which keeps one out of heaven (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18; Gal. 5:19-21). To call for unity in diversity on the sin of adultery makes just as much sense as calling for a unity in diversity in the realm of homosexuality, as presently is occurring in mainline Protestant denominations. This call for unity in diversity on divorce and remarriage is the position which was presented by brother Harrell in his extended series in Christianity Magazine to which I objected. What Scripture was cited which supports his conclusion? I have read and re-read brother Harrell’s material and have not yet found the Scripture. We need a scriptural defense of the position that the subject of divorce and remarriage falls into the category of Romans 14 instead of 2 John 9-11. It is not in brother Harrell’s response.
Brother Harrell objects to what he says is my position that “brethren can not disagree about any matter of consequence/’faith.'” That, of course, is brother Harrell’s wording. The New Testament teaches that we must be united in “the faith” (Jude 3; 2 Jn. 9-11), but allows diversity of conscience in areas of personal “faith” such as are discussed in Romans 14. Matters of personal “faith” can become matters of grave “consequence” depending on how they are handled. When brother Harrell chides me for not producing a list of every matter of “faith,” I assume he means “the faith, ” revealed faith. There are only three positions available for us; here they are:
1. Brethren cannot disagree about any matters of “the faith.”
2. Brethren can disagree about some matters of “the faith.”
3. Brethren can disagree about every matter of “the faith.”
Brother Harrell chides me for taking position number one, indicating that he rejects that position. That leaves him only two alternatives. If he takes the third position, he is forced to accept brethren who disagree about the deity of Christ, inspiration of the Scriptures, miracles, homosexuality, and any other thing about which the Bible speaks. I am sure that he would reject that position. That leaves him with only the second position: Brethren can disagree about some matters of consequence/” faith,” i.e. the revealed faith.
This would seem to place upon brother Harrell, not upon Mike Willis, the responsibility to tell us which “matters of revealed faith” must be understood alike and which “matters of revealed faith” permit “unity in diversity.” He should also tell us what criteria he uses to distinguish which matters of revealed faith fall into which category for use by future generations.
Frankly, I will not sit as a judge of the law of God to tell brethren that there is any commandment of God in the revealed faith which they can disobey with impunity (Jas. 4:11). I don’t believe brother Harrell intends to do this either. Why then, does he rise to defend another who unlooses what God has bound or binds what God has loosed (2 Thess. 2:4). Believing that brother Harrell wants to do and uphold God’s will, I simply urge him to reconsider the difficulties, contradictions, and confusion created by the position he has taken. Surely he will agree with me that we must continually examine our views in the light of the question, “What saith the Scriptures?”
The Divorce and Remarriage Issue
Brother Harrell states, “Mikes’s assertion on page 22 that I endorse any position on divorce and remarriage is flagrantly false.” I re-read what I said on page 22. 1 did not state that brother Harrell endorsed any position on divorce and remarriage. What I said was this:
Behind every article in the Christianity Magazine series lies the author’s promise to explain his view of unity and fellowship as it relates to modern controversies over divorce and remarriage. The thrust of the argument is that we should not allow remarriage to cause us to identify brethren as false teachers or to break fellowship. We should be tolerant of those who teach such false doctrines as the following: (a) Alien sinners should be accepted in whatever marriage they are in when they are baptized; (b) The guilty party in a divorce for fornication has the right to remarriage; (c) A person who had unscripturally divorced and remarried can repent of having committed adultery (defined to mean “breaking a marriage”) and continue living with his present mate; (d) A Christian deserted by an unbeliever has the right to remarriage; etc. (see Christianity Magazine [November 1988], p. 8, for his reference to the 5 or 6 positions on this issue). Brother Harrell’s placing of the divorce and remarriage issue in the category of Romans 14 is a call for unity-in-diversity, a doctrinal position with far-reaching consequences.
As you can see, this does not accuse brother Harrell of endorsing any position and remarriage. Rather, it states that he calls for unity-in-diversity on the subject of divorce and remarriage.
Brother Harrell’s defense of brother Hailey, in spite of his teaching what brother Harrell admits is a false position on divorce and remarriage and his allusion to the five or six positions on divorce and remarriage, cause me to conclude that he would take the same stance toward each of them. If he takes a different stance toward any of the five or six positions than he takes toward brother Hailey, let him tell us which they are and what Bible criteria he uses for making distinctions among them.
In re-reading his manuscript, you will notice that brother Harrell does not deny believing in a unity-in-diversity on divorce and remarriage; rather, he chides me for calling for doctrinal agreement on the subject! Brother Harrell needs to tell us, in regard to his unity-in-diversity position on divorce and remarriage, “What saith the Scriptures?” He states his view but is a long way from proving it with book, chapter, and verse.
A Proper Use of History
Brother Harrell asked me several questions regarding the proper use of history: should we change what happened in the past, should we ignore what happened in the past, should we pay no attention to what happened in the past? History has its proper place, as I said before. However, history cannot serve as a substitute for Bible authority. We cannot use history to determine the bounds and limits of Christian fellowship!
Brother Harrell referred to my request that he prepare an update on his tract on “The Emergence of the Church of Christ Denomination,” as if to imply that my objections to the sociological interpretation of history were born in the heat of the divorce and remarriage controversy. Brother Harrell will recall that I objected to his neo-orthodox, sociological interpretation of history in my book review of The Social Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ published in Truth Magazine (5 June 1975) and to which he offered a rejoinder. In that review I called attention to the infidel influences on that interpretation of history, citing Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Max Weber, and the neo-orthodox historian Richard Niebuhr. I wrote,
Dr. Harrell leans pretty heavily on the terminology of Niebuhr and his basic thesis.
My criticism of Harrell is centered on the basis that he has emphasized the social influence on the Disciples of Christ to the degree that our theological differences are largely treated as rationalizations. Dr. Harrell would admit that we have profound theological differences but would deny that these are what divided us (p. 472).
Brother Harrell’s sect-to-denomination framework for history is similar to that of Richard Niebuhr.
Brother Harrell has advanced another step beyond his history books which are filled with the sociological interpretation of history to use that philosophy of history as a means for determining the bounds and limits of Christian fellowship. To this I object, and cited the evidence in the book of Galatians to demonstrate his approach is wrong. What Scripture was used to respond to the material?
Brother Harrell did not do these things: (a) He did not deny that his approach was virtually identical to the sociological interpretation of history; (b) He did not deny the influence of neo-orthodox scholars to formulate his basic thesis. Rather, he cried, that I was guilty of “innuendo” and “sheer McCarthyism” (would the label “McCarthyism” be “innuendo”?). I will leave it to my brethren to judge whether or not I was guilty. In the meantime, we still face the question, “What saith the Scriptures?”
Brother Harrell accuses me of “presenting us with a new truth.” He did not tell us what that “new truth” which I am supposed to have presented is, but tells us it “flies in the face of the practice of brethren in both the remote and the recent past.” I suppose that he is referring to my articles which emphasize that Matthew 5:32; 19:9; etc. applies to all mankind, both alien sinners and Christians, therefore condemning as false teachers those who teach otherwise.
The reason for citing brother Harrell’s book Quest For A Christian America was to prove that this does not “fly in the face of the practice of brethren.” Brother Harrell stated, “In general, the churches were probably more diligent in enforcing their code of morality in this area than in any other.” “The generally accepted standard was: ‘There is no release then to husband or wife from the marriage contract unless the other party had been guilty of fornication.'” He related that churches practiced church discipline toward the offenders of Matthew 19:9. This is the position that I hold. And, in brother Harrell’s response, he emphatically tells us, “You knew the article you ran did not state my views on divorce and remarriage. . . ” Now, brother Harrell, who is bringing the “new truth”? These early brethren took the position just stated because they went by the rule, “What saith the Scriptures?”
Ed Harrell on Homer Hailey and Fellowship
This scriptural ground held by brethren in the first century and again in the nineteenth century is the ground denied by brother Hailey and defended by those who responded to him in recent months (J.T. Smith, Connie Adams, Ron Halbrook, Harry Osborne, Lee Stewart, and Tim Stevens). Brother Harrell informs us that his reason for coming to brother Hailey’s defense was “not a personal interest in Homer Hailey” (although his original article said: “This, then, is my personal defense of Homer Hailey as a man who has earned the respect and esteem of the Christians of our time”), but to attack a position on fellowship which was being presented in the criticisms of brother Hailey. Brother Harrell is disturbed over a “new view on fellowship” which is “simplistic” and which “undermines the whole concept of restoring New Testament Christianity. It was that concern, not a personal interest in Homer Hailey, that moved me to write on this subject.”
This statement confirms again that we face an even larger issue than divorce and remarriage; it is also an issue of fellowship. In short, brother Harrell affirms a view of unity in diversity that is broad enough to embrace the preaching and practice of five or six major positions on divorce and remarriage which he agrees contradict the truth (Christianity Magazine, November 1988). This goes far beyond the limited diversity allowed in Scripture involving personal scruples, individual abilities, and growth in understanding (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 12; Heb. 5:11-14).
Brother Harrell places the divorce and remarriage issue in the same category as pacifism and the covering issue, suggesting that my view of fellowship would require congregations to divide over these issues. That is not a true assessment of my position – neither what I believe nor the logical consequences of the position I hold. Both of these issues
fall into the category of Romans 14, that is, a person is not guilty of sin whether or not he is a pacifist or wears or does not wear a covering. Truthfully, this comparison is fatal to brother Harrell’s views. If the divorce and remarriage issue is in the same category as the covering, brother Harrell would be forced to conclude that the woman who does not wear a covering (from the point of view of those who believe women must wear the covering in the assembly of the saints) is in the same spiritual condition as an adulterer! Let him go through the good churches of Alabama and tell those Godfearing, conscientious women who choose not to wear a covering that they are in the same condition as the woman who divorces her mate for some cause other than fornication and then remarries. Let him tell those conscientious brethren who believe women should wear a covering that they should be preaching that those women who do not wear a covering are in the same spiritual condition as the person in an adulterous marriage. We will see how much unity that promotes!
Brother Harrell would not be in the present predicament if he had written a defense and exposition of What saith the Scriptures rather than a defense of someone whom he admits has departed from the Scriptures on divorce and remarriage. We are not to think of men above that which is written (1 Cor. 4:6).
Profound Ignorance of the Institutional Division
Brother Harrell said, “brother Willis’ arguments reflect a profound ignorance of the real basis of the institutional division. His notion of fellowship undermines the whole concept of restoring New Testament Christianity.” I may be “profoundly ignorant,” so I will just lay all my ignorance on the table to state my view of why brethren divided over institutionalism in the 1950s so that brother Harrell can correct me. Here are the reasons for which brethren divided, as I understand them:
1. Some churches began to participate in the support of human institutions from the church treasury, including such institutions as orphan homes, colleges, unwed mothers homes, etc. There was no scriptural authority for the church to support any human institution; in the absence of scriptural authority, this was a departure from the revealed faith (2 Jn. 9-11), an assault on the all-sufficiency of the church (Eph. 3:10-11).
2. Some churches began perverting the organization of the church by the sponsoring church arrangement (1 Tim. 3:18; Acts 14:23; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). This unscriptural organization was a violation of the Scriptures.
3. Some churches began to participate in a variety of social activities, beginning with church support of recreational activities, building fellowship halls, etc. This has continued to develop into the building of family life centers and involvement in other programs of work associated with the social gospel. The involvement of the church in works not authorized in the Scriptures was sinful.
The question in the 1950s-1960s was, “What saith the Scriptures?” The division was not over some being rich and others poor; some being educated and others being uneducated. Division came because some went by the rule, “What saith the Scriptures?” and others went by the rule of emotion, tradition, and the pronouncement of prominent people. I never participated in and refuse to be party to making class distinctions in the church or explaining obedience and disobedience on such a basis alone. I do not believe that the underlying causes were social and the issues mentioned above were the mere focal points for discussion. Such explanations have the effect of releasing man from personal responsibility for their sins. (Note brother Harrell’s statement in the May 1990 issue of Christianity Magazine which states that the division over institutionalism was caused by “history, not men”; he said, “it is frivolous to imagine that we cause such divisions or that we can heal them.”)
Brother Harrell, these are my “simplistic notions” that reflect my “profound ignorance” of the institutional division. Wherein do you disagree? Perhaps, you believe that churches should divide for sociological reasons, but I cannot concur. I shall not be party to showing respect of persons (Jas. 2:1-12) or dividing on the basis of sociological differences; I can only separate from my brother on the basis of sin. Please take your Bible and correct my simplistic notions and profound ignorance! Please do not belittle me! I will listen attentively and examine carefully every Bible verse you cite, for I want to go to heaven when I die. “What saith the Scriptures?”
The Editorial Policy of Christianity Magazine
Brother Harrell wrote, “with regard to a discussion, I am always open to ‘fair’ and ‘brotherly’ discussion.” We are delighted to see this attitude. However, he is not convinced that I am capable of “fair” and “brotherly” discussion. I am willing to let my brethren make that judgment. However, in order to promote such discussion, let brother Harrell join me in finding some mutually acceptable capable brother whom he believes to be “fair” and “brotherly” so that the discussion can begin. We are ready to publish it, even if Christianity Magazine continues to close its pages to allow an opposite point of view to be read by its audience.
Christianity Magazine has its own editors to determine what its publishing policies should be. I have neither the right nor the desire to dictate to them what policies they should have. However, I am reminded of the proverb of Solomon: “Even a child is known by his doings, whether it be right” (Prov. 20:11). If Christianity Magazine chooses to close its door to printing both sides of a position, continues to promote one side of a controversial subject, and makes personal attacks against brethren without allowing them space to reply, we will know Christianity Magazine by its doings.
Brother Harrell wrote about his “Pet Peeves” against talk radio recently, in which article he made these comments:
Effective conversation has to be two-way. Nothing exasperates me more than a hit-and-run debater. I frequently have friendly arguments with one of my colleagues. Every quarrel begins in my office and ends in hers. When she gets cornered, she begins retreating. I follow.
I will listen to anything you have to say. I will even be respectful and pleasant as long as you are honest, but I want my turn when you are finished. And I expect you to listen. If the two of us are logical, and address differences one at a time, we may be able to help one another (Christianity Magazine [April 1990], p. 32).
I agree with brother Harrell. I too find myself in a similar position. I frequently find myself in friendly argument with one of my colleagues. They usually begin in some other paper, such as Christianity Magazine, and end in Guardian of Truth. When someone replies to their position, they retreat behind their closed door policies. I am willing to listen to what my brethren have to say; I try to be respectful and pleasant. But when they are finished, I want to have my say and I expect them to listen. Surely, my good brother, who writes about his “pet peeves” can understand that the rest of us feel the same way as he does.
What he said was true in his article on “Pet Peeves” as he concluded:
I urge you to constantly check your motives when you engage in conversation and controversy. Our purpose is not to win, but to be right.
If I talk, but won’t listen, there is a good chance that I am afraid that I cannot defend my views.
To this we say a hearty “Amen”! I am confident that upon reflection brother Harrell will understand why some of us are disappointed in Christianity Magazine’s assault on the personal character of brethren, presentation of only one point of view on a controversial subject, and refusal to allow the other side to make reply. How these brethren choose to operate their paper is their business, but “even a child is known by his doings.” We plead for these brethren to open their pages to fair and honorable discussion as we test all things by the rule, “What saith the Scriptures?”
Brother Harrell made several personal attacks against me, which I regret. I was confident that we could disagree without being disagreeable, especially after the editors of Christianity Magazine have made such concerted effort to keep this kind of articles out of their own paper. Brother Harrell seems to have one standard for writing in Christianity Magazine and another for writing in Guardian of Truth. The editors of Christianity Magazine have studiously avoided allowing in their paper the very kind of controversy which brother Harrell wrote for publication in Guardian of Truth. While bemoaning that I besmirched his good name, brother Harrell made these personal charges against me: “distorting quotation,” “malicious,” “libel,” “malicious effort to deceive,” “deception,” “to lie about my beliefs,” ” McCarthyisms,” a dishonest use of history (“historical insight is convincing to you in direct proportion to whether it supports or contradicts your prejudices”), “profound ignorance,” “simplistic notions,” and questioning whether or not I am “capable” of “fair and brotherly discussion.” Were these comments written about some other writer for Guardian of Truth, I would have sent the article back to brother Harrell, refusing to publish it. Because of my personal involvement I am publishing his charges, lest he cry “foul.” However, I take personal offense to these statements.
But, I am not interested in a defense of Mike Willis. I am a poor bag of bones which shall occupy a space on earth for a few brief years in the span of eternity. Even if everything brother Harrell says about me is true, we still are faced with the divorce and remarriage problem in America and the false teaching being done by some among us. We still are faced with whether or not this issue falls into the category of Romans 14 (as brother Harrell believes) or 2 John 9-11 (as I believe). Let us not allow this discussion to degenerate into a personal examination of Mike Willis. Rather, let us open our Bibles and study the question, “What saith the Scriptures?”
However, I am concerned about a trend which I see in brother Harrell’s writing – a trend to attack the man rather than discuss the issue. Leaving the unkind things which he said about me aside, I remind my brethren of the article which appeared in reply to the arguments presented by J.T. Smith, Connie Adams, Ron Halbrook, Harry Osborne, Lee Stewart and Tim Stevens (November 1988). Here is a list of the things he wrote about these good brethren: “personal attack on Homer Hailey,” “unheroic assault on an 85-year old warrior,” “personal attacks,” “attacks on him,” “presume to cast Homer Hailey out of the brotherhood.” These good brethren deserved better treatment from brother Harrell than this; they made no “personal attack” on Homer Hailey; they merely replied to the public teaching which he had done – and even brother Harrell believes this is proper conduct. Are we asking too much to expect brother Harrell to publicly retract his accusations against these good and godly men? This matter of being capable of “fair” and “brotherly” discussion is a two-way street!
If brother Harrell has become convinced that a brotherly discussion is possible, I purpose a written discussion of this proposition:
The Bible requires that we abide in the doctrine of Christ rather than allowing unity-in-diversity to be practiced on such issues as the amenability of alien sinners to God’s marriage law and similar matters of “the faith” (Jude 3; 2 Jn. 9-11).
If this wording does not accurately represent our area of disagreement, I am willign to work with brother Harrell to make it more precise and accurate. I propose that this written discussion be published simultaneously in Christianity Magazine and Guardian of Truth.
I reiterate the issue which is at stake in this discussion of unity: Shall we determine the bounds of fellowship by an appeal to the inspired Scripture or by an appeal to uninspired history? My contention is that we must be guided by the Scripture alone to determine the bounds and limits of Christian fellowship. My reply to brother Harrell can be summed up with these words, “What saith the Scriptures?”
(Note: The article included below was inserted into the body of the original magazine layout.)
Yes, we publish Both Sides. One of our sister journals explains her refusal to publish both sides of controversial issues by the statement that she does not want to furnish a medium for teaching error “error” naturally being any position contrary to the editor of that journal.
Well, we just have to confess we aren’t that infallible. There is the bare possibility that the editor of the Gospel Guardian just conceivably might be wrong on a point here and there. Any how, when honest and sincere brethren differ from us, and we have attacked their teaching on the pages of this paper, we think it only fair to let them have a hearing. And that’s our policy in all these controversial matters.
As for being afraid to “publish error” – well, we have a pretty good precedent for publishing a bit of error now and then. The inspired writers even published some of Satan’s speeches! We believe that truth contrasted with error has nothing to fear.
This journal continues the great tradition of gospel journalism as exemplified in Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb, and Austin McGary. We have nothing but disdain for the cowardly course of permitting only one side of controversial questions to be heard – the curse of Communism and Catholicism! (Gospel Guardian [20 Oct. 1960], p. 384)
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 15, pp. 457-460, 466-469
August 2, 1990