By Tom Oglesby
In a recent issue (April 11, 1974 of Truth Magazine), Cecil Willis quoted and severely criticized a short article which he credits to “an Ohio brother.” Since I am the author of the article, I think it appropriate that some response by made from my hand.
When a fellow has been “written up,” his first impulse might be emotionally to treat the matter as a personal insult. That is especially so if he feels he has been treated unfairly and if the criticizing journal and writer are ones for which he has great respect. I will have to admit that when I first read Brother Willis’ editorial, I was somewhat personally indignant. But that feeling has passed and now I want to make some thoughtful and reasoned comments about this editorial as a whole.
Brother Willis has always been a good writer, but he truly waxed eloquent in his descriptive verbiage of those who are apparently delinquent in their responsibilities as viewed by him. Note some of the descriptive terminology: “. . latecomers. . cowards . . . do not want to committed. . . waving the white flag … crying crocodile tears … down-right yellow … waited until everyone lined up before … (deciding) … which side I am going to be on … gain an ignoble record … ride the fence bury your head in the sand Brother Willis is usually very clear in his writing, but in this instance, I am not quite sure which of these adjectives and terms apply to me and which apply only to other brethren who have been deficient gospel defenders in past controversies. Like the fellow who was called a “loquacious homo sapien,” I am not sure if I have been insulted or not!
Let me give you some of the background for the article which I wrote. (It probably would be good if you would turn back to the April I I issue and re-read it). Several, months ago I began corresponding with a fellow about a possible debate on instrumental music. When no agreement about an oral debate appeared feasible, I suggested a written debate with the Gospel Guardian carrying the debate for the benefit of non-instrumental brethren and another journal carrying it for those who use the instrument. This correspondence began before the first exchanges were being made between Truth Magazine and Gospel Guardian. After the exchanges began, the fellow with whom I had been corresponding questioned whether or not I would be comfortable writing in the Gospel Guardian and about the same time the incident occurred to which reference was made in my short article. It was in this context that I wrote the article quoted by Brother Willis.
Since Brother Willis did not “review” my article but simply used it as a starter for his own, I wonder what part of it he considered to be in error. Cecil, you inferred that something was wrong with the article, but you really did not tell us what it was. Exactly what statement did you disagree with? When a man is called on the carpet, he appreciates knowing what he has done wrong!
Brother Willis writes: “. . someone might get the impression that some of us connected With Truth Magazine have asked this brother to line up with Truth Magazine.” I realize that. 1 can sometimes be dense and that I am not the brightest among the preaching brethren, but I just can not see where a fellow would get such an impression regarding Truth Magazine anymore than he would regarding Gospel Guardian. Cecil, did you get the impression that the Guardian has tried to line me up on their side? Aw shucks, Cecil, aren’t you getting a little sensitive? The only impression I tried to give is that when a fellow lines up on the side of the Lord, preaches truth and condemns error, he is fulfilling his responsibility to God!
Actually, there are a few things in Brother Willis’s article that bother me a lot more than his misuse of my article. I am afraid the blanket condemnation of men who did not immediately jump into past controversies did a great disservice to a number of brethren whose honesty and sincerity would not allow them to jump into a controversy just because this preacher or that preacher was already waging the battle. Many of these men burned the midnight oil for many months so that they could determine by their own study the truth on those matters. To reproach them as cowards and to question their spiritual courage is irresponsible and unfair. No doubt there were some who held back in spite of convictions until the battle had ebbed, but I am not about to accept that as being typical of most conservative preachers.
Cecil, your article gendered several questions in my mind that I would like you to give your attention to. First of all, do you question my position on grace and fellowship? If you do, I will be glad to straighten that out with a series of articles on either or both subjects. But you do not really need that. All you have to do is check with the brethren with whom I work. I believe they know where I stand just as anyone who has heard me speak on the subjects would know. In the past year, I have before witnesses marked and branded as a troublemaker the only person recently associated with the Bedford church who has been tainted with Ketchersideism. The Bedford church in unison has with my approval and encouragement publicly marked this man. Is this the way a man straddles the fence?
Secondly, do you mean by the tenor of your article that any man who has not jumped into print one way or another on the status of Edward Fudge or the Gospel Guardian has gone soft? Have we suddenly become spiritual patsies because our names have not yet appeared in print consigning these men to the conservative scrapheap? Have we all heard both sides to the extent that we can say we have given both a fair hearing? I may be slower than most, Cecil, but please give me time to study these matters (i. e. the soundness of the men involved; not the issues of grace and fellowship themselves) without being too anxious to question my motives. God knows that I am not stalling or straddling the fence but I simply will not be forced into a position on a man’s soundness without fully satisfying myself that I have reached the truth. I am sure some of you quicker thinking brethren are frustrated at the snail’s pace at which some of us reason, but we must come to our own judgment on the matter!
I am confident that I have lined up with the truth on the matter of fellowship and grace. I just imagine that I am also lined up with Cecil Willis when it comes to those two subjects and a great many others. But the time just has not come when another man is going to make my decisions for me, nor determine the amount of time or information I am going to need to make a decision. Should that day come, I think I would just move over with the liberals or the sectarians where the financial plums are bigger and convictions are not a drag on one’s behavior.
Cecil, may I speak frankly to you as friend to friend and brother to brother? I know the personal risk I run in being so critical of you because many brethren, myself included, greatly respect your work and efforts for the truth. But your article of April 11 bordered on pomposity and gave the appearance of one who sounded the charge, and then became indignant because all did not follow immediately. As stated in my previous article, I will “. . go on doing my local work as best I can, attacking error and false doctrine wherever I see it and hope that most of my brethren will do the same.”
Truth Magazine, XVIII:35, p. 2-3
July 11, 1974