A Liberal Church Which Died On The Vine

By Ward Hogland 

1 want to tell you a true story about a liberal church which literally died on the vine. I suppose it shouldn’t bother me, but when I heard of men like Ira North, in the Gospel Advocate, refer to a conservative church in Florida which he claims almost died, I cannot contain myself. The liberal church I want to tell you about was called The Central Church of Christ, of Greenville, Texas. I should know because I lived there for seventeen years and was present on the day of its funeral. The way it all started was back in the early fifties. V.E. Howard was worshiping with the Walnut Street Church of that city. When the “Issues” came into full focus, he wanted the elders to send a contribution to the Boles Home in Quinlan, Texas. They refused, so in turn, he secured a key to the building and started meeting with his small group at a time other than the regular service time. The elders, not desiring to tolerate such foolishness, made it unlawful for him and his followers to enter the premises at any time other than the regular services. He, in turn, filed a law suit trying to take the building from the elders and the church. The judge ruled against V.E. and his group, thus leaving the building to the elders. It was told by some that the elders sued V.E. Howard such was not the case, he brought a suit against the elders and lost!

By the way, that trial was very interesting. The lawyer for the defense, (the elders), was a Baptist. After being drilled on the organization of the church by Herman Sargent and others, he knew more about the work of the church than most liberals. As a matter of fact, V.E. Howard had secured the services of a lawyer who was a member of a liberal congregation, but knew very little about the Bible. When the Baptist lawyer got V.E. Howard and Gayle Oler in the Witness chair, they almost wore out the seat of their trousers trying to tell him who owned Boles Home! Gayle Oler had testified, under oath, that the Firm Foundation was the largest paper in Texas. Since they had claimed that Walnut Street was out of step with the big churches in Texas, he held up an article written by Reuel Lemmons, saying that Boles Home, under a board, was unscriptural. This had great influence on the judge, since both Howard and Oler had claimed the elders were out of step with the big Texas churches.

After losing the case, Brother Howard and his group left and formed what was known as the Central Church of Christ. They built a large, fine, auditorium on Wesley Street. in Greenville. They seemed to be doing well for a short time and they began to die on the vine. Their membership dwindled smaller and smaller. Finally, about five years before I moved, they threw in the towel, sold the church building to a Holiness group and folded up! Today, that building on Wesley Street stands as a grotesque monomument to the fact that liberalism can die on the vine!

Brother Ira North, said he knew of an “Anti” church in Florida which had dwindled down to a small number. Well, Brother North, I have one better than that, I know of a liberal church that not only dwindled, it gave up the ghost and died! And by the way, they did not go out and start another church, they folded. I understand the few members who were left went to other places. Brother North implied that it was what he called the “Anti” doctrine that caused the church in Florida to become small. Brother North, what caused the liberal church in Greenville to die? Could it be there is a venom within the ranks of liberalism which will stunt and destroy their growth? Brother North said we need to come back to liberalism so we can grow numerically. Brother North, this one folded and died; how can this be?

Gentle friend, I have said all of this to teach a much needed lesson. Numbers have nothing to do with being scriptural. Jesus was very popular at one time during his ministery. He had large numbers following him. According to Brother North, in the Gospel Advocate article, this would make the Lord scriptural and right. However, a little later, many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more (Jno. 6:66). His numbers dwindled down and even his own apostles were apprehensive about following the Lord. If Brother North had been there, since he is so obsessed with Numbers, He would have said, “Now Lord, you seem to be dying on the vine, your numbers are small and that makes your doctrine false, so I will leave also.” How about that Ira? Is that the way it is? Remember your article in the Advocate implied that it is Growth and Numbers that make right.

Friends, large or small numbers have nothing to do with whether one is scriptural. One church in the Bible had a name (reputation) that it was a live wire church but the Lord said it was DEAD (See Rev. 3:1). Many factors other than being unscriptural could cause a declining membership.

I wanted Brother North to know about a liberal church which died to let him and his readers know his argument will not hold water. There is an old cleche in polemics which goes like this, “Any argument which proves too much, proves nothing.”

If what he says is true, then I couldn’t come home to the liberals because I know of one that died. Furthermore, I know of a Baptist church in Dallas where Dr. Criswell preaches, which is so large, it would make Brother North’s Madison Church look like a flea on an elephant’s back! That is, as numbers are concerned. Brother North, is Dr. Criswell’s church right because it has such a large growing membership? Please think it over the next time you are tempted to “brag” about numbers in the Advocate. The article I refer to appeared in the May 10, 1979 issue of the Gospel Advocate.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 37, p. 598
September 20, 1979