By Mike Willis
Last week, a personal friend of mine sent me a complimentary copy of A Journey Toward Jesus. This book is a 48-page, paperback co-authored by Edward Fudge and Bruce Edwards. It is subtitled “16 Letters on Salvation by Grace through Faith, and its implications for the People of God.” The sixteen letters are the personal correspondence of Bruce and Edward which spans the period from November 9, 1973 to April 23, 1975. My personal impression of the book is that the correspondence is conclusive proof that Bruce Edwards has accepted the positions advocated by Edward Fudge and others associated with the new unity faction.
In the beginning of the correspondence, Bruce comes across as Edward’s antagonist. In the close of the correspondence, Bruce is writing to Edward for advice on how to conduct himself now that he has accepted the new doctrines. The correspondence will demonstrate that Bruce Edwards has accepted the position that institutionalism, premillennialism, instrumental music, etc. should not be grounds for the breaking of fellowship.
It is with no small amount of sadness that I write this rather detailed review of A Journey Toward Jesus. Bruce is a former staff writer for Truth Magazine. On November 7, 1974, Cecil Willis announced the addition of Bruce to the staff of Truth Magazine and commended him very highly. I met Bruce shortly after that and was very impressed with him. Shortly thereafter, I begin to receive his bulletin which was published by the church in St. James, Missouri and named The Helper. Before too long, I begin to read articles in The Helper which were upsetting to me, so I started saving those copies. I soon began to correspond with Bruce regarding some of the things which he was writing in his bulletin, expressing disagreement with them. His letters reassured me that he had not gone soft, so I threw away my stack of his bulletins fully accepting his word. But, the tone of his writings did not change; they were very definitely leaning in the wrong direction so I began to collect the bulletins again and to correspond with Bruce further.
Those who were acquainted with the nature of the present apostasy were able to see that Bruce was gradually adopting all of the cliches and arguments which those who believe in unity-in-diversity are using. We could see the direction which Bruce was taking and were very concerned about him. The digression of Bruce is not yet complete but it has gone far enough now that he needs to be exposed as a false teacher, a propagator of the unity-in-diversity concept. To show that this is happening, I want to review the book which Bruce and Edward have jointly authored.
In the first letter which Bruce wrote, he took issue with some of the concepts taught by Edward. Edward replied with a lengthy letter in which he taught his doctrine of salvation through the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account. I have not read anything from Edward’s pen which states his position on the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ as clearly as does this letter. In Bruce’s reply, he did not oppose Edward’s comments on imputation; indeed, he was silent on the subject. After reading the book, I telephoned Bruce to ask him, among other things, if he accepted the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account. In essence, he replied, ‘No, but I come out about the same place.” (These are his words as nearly as I can reproduce them from memory.)
After receiving Edward’s reply to his second letter, Bruce wrote,
In a way I’m feeling a sense of exhilaration, a sense that I’m on the verge of putting some things in perspective that were formerly out of line, and It is very exciting and gratifying) To be sure, it is an awesome task to re-evaluate long held conceptions and beliefs, and it Is surely a slow process, but I hope that with God’s guidance, I can truly understand His will (p. 21 ).
Although Bruce was writing to me that he had not changed his convictions, he was writing to Edward that he was on the verge of giving up some long-held convictions. I cannot help wondering how a twenty-one year old boy could write about “long-held” convictions!
At other places in the correspondence, Bruce comes, across as an antagonist of Edward again. However, he resembles the fly that has been caught in the spider’s web which makes a few attempts to escape before he is killed by the spider’s poison. From that point on in the correspondence, Bruce begins to accept more and more of Edward’s points of view. It seemed significant to me that during the same period in which I was becoming upset by Bruce’s bulletin that Edward wrote him, “You have had some good material in your bulletin on the undenominational nature of the church. That is an important thing to remember” (p. 27).
In the eleventh letter, Edward wrote these things to Bruce:
It seems to me that if the Lord would forgive people who sinned with knowledge, He would ail the more forgive those who through no fault of their own were ignorant when they sinned. Doesn’t that sound reasonable to you? You are right, of course, that Scripture presents no “rosy picture” for those who sin ignorantly. We cannot tell folks: “Just go on ignorant and you’re sure to be forgiven that way)” Anybody who did that would either be stupid to the point of being a fool or else would be the worst sort of antinomian and perverter of God’s grace. But there is a great deal of difference between acknowledging that, on the one hand, and going around saying, as so many seem to do (there is no point in calling names here, the principle Is what matters), “you cannot be saved because you do not understand ‘x’ issue the same way I do.” Especially when both are Christians, both are honestly seeking to know the will of God, and both concede that “x” issue is not something God has specifically spelled out in Scripture or attached importance to in a specific manner at all, but rather Is something men of the 19th or 20th centuries have seen to be an important bane, growing out of the cultural, economic and corporate concepts of the world around them. . . .
Why do men who agree on music, institutionalism, etc., nevertheless still disagree among themselves on women in the church, women’s apparel, movies, smoking, war, women’s covering, Sunday night communion, a multitude of “moral” issues) mixed swimming, dancing, etc.), and many other things actually involving practice, not to mention all the differences on what the Bible means in certain passages and on particular subjects (the Holy Spirit’s Indwelling, the meaning of Eph. 4:12fi, aspects of prophecy, etc., etc., etc.) I do not believe that we can say they are therefore not true believers, necessarily, though that is a possibility with any of them. If we see the point there, why do we not see it among those who have become children of God, who differ on I mental music, institutionalism, etc.? Someone may say, “But there affect the work and worship of the church” we have already talked about that. Some may say, “But these affect others necessarily, while the things you mention do not affect anyone except the individual involved.” That is true, but so what, so far as this point is concerned? It is true that they can more easily worship under the same roof and disagree on individual matters than if they disagreed on what they have do together, but the principle of understanding God’s will and being men of faith while they sometimes differ is the same . . . .
On the preacher from the Christian church in your town:
I believe your relationship with him would have to depend on the particular situation. Until recently there was no such thing as a Christian Church denomination, though it was developing for a long time, but now there officially is, and those in it use the name “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).” These are usually, though not always quite liberal on many points, is involved in the ecumenical movement, and all that. Many of them accept people for membership who have not been immersed, much less with an understanding of Acts 2:38.
On the other band, many who call themselves a “Christian church” are as much against denominationalism and those things as we are, and have no connections whatever with the Disciples. They usually refer to themselves as “the independent brotherhood of churches of Christ and Christian churches.” And even there the spectrum is about as broad as among non- instrumental churches of Christ. So it really depends on the situation.
Of course you can never either engage in or encourage anything you do not believe to be right. At the same time, if the fellow turns out to be a New Testament Christian, you at least have that in common, and a starting place from which to work toward further common biblical understanding. I would not say that such a man is a part of a denominational body, unless he is in fact a part of the existing denomination with headquarters in St. Louis. Because a man attends a congregation which uses the instrument does not make him part of a denomination–unless we conceive of our particular part of the non-instrumental wing of the restoration movement as precisely equivalent with the Body of Christ universal, and lump everybody else under the category of “denominational.” That is something neither the Bible nor the restoration pioneers would have allowed, and, although many do it today, I am not one of them.
Upon receiving the lengthy letter from which I have taken these few quotations, Bruce wrote back, “Let me say that this letter has so far been the clearest and easiest one for me to understand and study with.”
In the fifteenth letter, Bruce wrote,
As I told you the morning we ate breakfast together, I think I will soon be facing some trying situations–situations which test the foundation of my commitment to Jesus and Him alone. I just hope I have the courage not to back down — but I know that better men than I am have done just that in the face of partisan pressure. I would appreciate your help in encouraging me, whenever you see me “slipping” back into a “sectarian” mold or frame of reference.
It seems to me that this statement shows conclusively that Bruce recognizes that he has left us and is taking a new stand. He is worried about whether he will have the courage to take that stand without turning back and asks Edward’s encouragement during the trying times which lie ahead for him. By this time in the correspondence, Bruce has adopted the basic tenets of the unity-in-diversity faction.
There is yet another exchange between Bruce and Edward which causes me great consternation. Bruce wrote to Edward as follows:
How do you present your case for non-sectarian Christianity? How do you make your points such that no one causes a stir — begins a controversy — over your teaching? These are questions I am grappling with now; at present it seems I can effectively lay a groundwork, building slowly, with the pure gospel, and yet I have some friends who think I am not going fast enough.
Yet, should I “spell it out” in “so many words” — what I believe the implications of my lessons are? That is, is it wiser to do it the way I have been, or is that a sign of weakness or cowardice? My friends are convinced that I need to press it more — immediately, and that is what they propose to do whenever possibilities arise. Is it dishonest or unethical to conceal or keep to oneself his beliefs in given situations? Can I have your thoughts on the matter? Am I acting from fear, or wisdom? (p. 44).
In the last letter of their published correspondence, Edward Fudge replied as follows:
When you deal with a passage or topic, therefore, which touches on the things you feel the brethren need to learn, work it in or bring it out, without making a big to-do over it, simply sowing seed for perceptive minds to think about at their own speed. This is far more preferable than rushing into something and “snowing” people before they are ready for it. The thing is, they will only accept what they are ready for and understand anyway, so why upset them unnecessarily by rushing things. And this is not dishonest or hypocritical; it is simply using good teaching methods such as the Lord Himself did. If your motives in this were to direct attention to some human party, or to advance your own personal interests, it would be sinful. But since your only desire is to lead them to the Lord and to help them grow In His Word and be simple Christians, it is an honorable goal and being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” to do it. Do not ever be deceitful or misleading; always be truthful; and if somebody puts you on the spot, answer truthfully with humility and grace. But do not think you have to get up and say all you know in one sermon. Jesus never did that, and the apostles did not, either.
As to whether you are being dishonest or a coward or unethical to “conceal” your convictions, that depends on what you mean by “conceal.” If you lie about matters, or pretend and intend to give someone an impression contrary to the truth, then of course that is wrong. If, on the other hand, you mean simply that you do not say everything you feel or think, publicly and at once, your present course is not only justifiable, but the only mature and sensible way to behave.
Don’t think you have to say everything you think. You don’t have to go around telling folks, “Say, I have 38 unusual and novel ideas which I want to lay on you right now!!” To do that would be foolish and childish, and could do no possible good. If you hold ideas simply to be novel and unusual, then it might be good to let people know about it. But If you hold ideas simply because you want to know and please the Lord, it is not necessary to tell everybody all you think; simply work 100 per cent toward causing them also to know and please the Lord ….
Be cautious about revealing your thoughts to other preachers. I wish now that I had not been so open with one or two myself. There is no need to stir up opposition from any who may later prove to be close minded and simply eager to bait you, then go off and spread untrue tales and misrepresentations. Thanks to God there are many, many preaching brethren who are honest and are not the way I mention, but you will gradually learn to discern the difference between the two spirits.
I have quoted extensively from this exchange in letters to make the observation that you will have to be straightforward and to the point to get a precise answer from Bruce regarding where he is standing. Bruce, apparently, has accepted the same spirit as those others who have gone out from us. They keep telling us that they are “sound” but give the word “sound” a different definition than I have when I ask the question, “Are you sound?”
Frankly, I have done all that I know that I can do to prevent Bruce from accepting the position which he has taken. Nevertheless, he has knowingly accepted the conclusions of Edward Fudge and those associated with him. Presently, he poses a threat to the faith of others whom I hold dear. My concern has turned now from Bruce to those who might be influenced by him. They need to be warned and forearmed.
My friend, Lloyd Barker, said that he was not going to waste his time with an “educated liberal.” He meant by that a liberal who is acquainted with the issues and has taken his stand with the liberals. Such a person is not ignorant of the issues; instead, he has taken a studied position. Bruce is exactly such a person. He was reared in one of the strongest churches in Akron, Ohio. He has been taught the truth by some of the best men among us. After that, he enjoyed the privilege of sitting at the feet of the qualified instructors at Florida College. Yet, he has renounced the things which he has been taught and taken his stand with Edward Fudge and his colleagues. Let him, therefore, take the consequences of having taken his position.
Truth Magazine XXI: 49, pp. 771-773
December 15, 1977