By Steve Wolfgang
Dear Brother Bill,
It is with a sense of trepidation and not a small amount of chagrin that I compose this letter. I have refrained from doing so since your promotional session in Louisville last December. But after continuing to see, in issue after issue of the Guardian (since I am not one of those who quits reading whatever he disagrees with), journalistic pot-shots, sideswipes, and hit-and-run tactics, under cover of a strange kind of “piety,” I feel a need to register a “second-generation pulse rate.”
As one who has attended and spoken at several “unity forums,” who reads the literature of the “unity faction” in the Restoration Movement (e.g., Mission Messenger, Restoration Review, Integrity, and Mission), and who has had occasion during the course of both private study and formal schoolwork to grapple with the questions implicit in the severing- of fellowship and maintaining the existing ruptures; I can understand (although I do not condone) the inclination of some so-called “second-generation preachers” (including some of my closest friends) to be swept away with all the rhetoric. What I do not understand is how some of the older, more experienced men (including yourself) have apparently been affected as well; I would like to think that you know better. I have respected your ability since the days when you preached in Indianapolis during, my high school years-but I must confess that events of the past several months have left me perplexed, amazed, and frankly, appalled.
First, I fail to understand why you would label a man (Brother Cecil Willis), for all practical purposes, a liar when what is involved is only a memory lapse-and the lapse is yours, Brother Bill, not his (I speak with reference to the alleged “most of the night discussion” in your article, “Editor Willis’ Pleasant Task,” Gospel Guardian, December 6, 1973). I do not know all the details of how late you stayed, but I do know what I saw and heard for myself-a tired, red-eyed Bill Wallace early one morning at Cecil’s home, who, when asked, declined to feel anyone’s pulse on grounds of fatigue due to “being up late last night talking.” (I do not recall the exact words, but this was the gist of the conversation). Now Bill, it may be that your memory, and Cecil’s (and mine, for that matter), are defective, but why label a man-especially one with whom you have worked so closely in the past-a common liar over something like that? I do not agree with everything Cecil has done or does, either-and certainly he can take care of himself-but I fail to find any basis for such a slanderous charge.
While I am on the subject, I recall a comment you made shortly after one of those early “pulse-feeling” trips:”
A visit with Cecil Willis of Truth Magazine, in Marion, Indiana; was a highlight of the Indiana trip. It is always great to visit with him. He is a man of God who has the best interests of the Cause of Christ at heart, always. . we engaged in lively conversation about brotherhood affairs and his counsel is highly beneficial. (“The Pulse of the Brethren (II),” Gospel Guardian. October 9, 1969, p. 362).
What has Cecil done to change so drastically,(into an arrogant power-wielder, manipulating brethren and doing despite to the body of Christ while ascending to the titular headship of a sect, as you have recently portrayed him)?
Second, this entire business of nit-picking and introducing irrelevancies (who was where, when, and with whom; who stayed at Cecil’s home how long; who sold Bibles (or sacked groceries?) in St. Louis during which summer; etc., etc., ad infinitum et nauseam) into the discussion reflects a disappointing unwillingness to deal with issues that have been clearly, and sincerely, called to the, brethren’s attention just dump a kettle of red herrings into the water and you are off the hook, so to speak.
Additionally, the old “rubberstamp” approach’ seems to have resurfaced-just label someone’s argument ‘with an emotionally loaded term and one need not deal with the scriptural principles involved (as in “good works,” “Sommerism,” “anti,” etc.). In this case, substitute labels such as “legalism,” “spiritual , cannibalism,” “sectarianism,” “brotherhood manipulation;” etc., and you are henceforth excused from further discussion. Or, you can publicly and piously proclaim “withdrawal” from open skirmish and continue to pot-shot from behind the trees with every weekly issue. (With articles like, “On False Teachers, Centralization of Power, Works of the Flesh,” “Spiritual Manslaughter,” “Paul and Controversy” “Any Pharisees Around?” “Confused about Calvinism?” “Journalistic Ethics,” etc., etc., who do you think you’re fooling; by proclaiming a “withdrawal”?)
Third, and by far the most bothersome aspect of the controversy, is the apparently pervasive nature of the false teaching being done. What you presented in Louisville as being “Ed Fudge’s positions” seems to have been, at least partially accepted and endorsed as your own. You use the same quotations, interpret key passages (such as Romans 4, 1 John 1, etc.) in the same manner (as in “Confused about Calvinism?”, February 7, 1974; “On Friendly Terms with God,” March 14, 1974; “What is Walking in the Light?”, April 18, 1974; and others), and otherwise seemingly sympathize with Ed’s positions or protect him (why, who knows?) by attempting to classify his view on Calvinistic or Reformation positions (such as the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to the believer) as no more important than the means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or things practiced privately by individual Christians which do not affect corporate congregational activity, or the means by which God saves men (as in “On False Teachers . . .,” June 13, 1974, and “How Sound are You?”, May 2, 1974). Ignoring for the time being the moot question of whether men such as Burns, Sommer, and Whiteside have been quoted or referred to entirely within context, I am left with the same question I asked Brother Fudge at Lawrenceville, Georgia, in August, 1972; (the answer to which question introduced me to Edward’s “meek and quiet spirit”): “If you accept a person’s premises and use the same scriptures, arguments and quotations to bolster the position, how can you avoid arriving at the same conclusions?” The point is not (as some would like to think) a smear campaign to indict by unfavorable association but similarity of teaching.
It is saddening to me to contemplate the possibility that Bill Wallace has been affected by the rhetoric being flung around today with reference to fellowship, but I don’t think I’m the only one who smells the smoke! As I recall, the only response you made to Cecil’s quotation (“Tell Us It Is Not So,” Truth Magazine, April 26, 1973) of Leroy Garrett’s report that you were “reexamining” your position on fellowship, finding your former position “too difficult to live with” (“Mini-Meeting Trail: Texas Style,” Restoration Review, September, 1972) was to label Leroy as a source “ordinarily considered) unreliable or prejudicial in journalistic reporting” (“We Are Under Attack-(I),” Gospel Guardian, July 19, 1973). Now of course I do not agree with Leroy Garrett on most issues, I suppose, but I see no reason why he should lie about such an occurrence. While he may not be doctrinally “sound,” he is a personable gentleman, at least in my experiences in being around him, and I see no reason to question his veracity. It seems somewhat strange to me that everyone with whom your memory conflicts is out of step–Cecil Willis, Leroy Garrett, Jim Cope, James Adams, Roy Cogdill (as in “Why?”, Gospel Guardian, December 13, 1973)-except Bill Wallace! “Why,” indeed, Brother Bill?
I find it difficult to believe that someone as seasoned and historically well-informed as Bill Wallace cannot see the source and implications of the shopworn Calvinistic concepts which are being utilized to attempt to justify a wider fellowship. But I suppose if everyone could see the implications and end products of his actions, there would be no digressions. Failure or inability to look ahead, to stop digression the only place it can be stopped-in the very beginning-of such is the very stuff of digression.
Can we not discuss the issues, Brother Bill, calmly and fairly, even if others may choose not to do so? Or must we, as you expressed yourself to me several months ago, “fuss for awhile” and then merely attempt to ignore problems and issues by dismissing them as prideful “preacher squabbles”? I pray not. If the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to the believer is correct and scriptural; if it is, in fact, virtually if not altogether impossible for a Christian to fall “out of the state of grace,” or to cease to “walk in the light;” if we have, in time past, 2 John 9; then let us come out openly and squarely deal with those issues and attendant ones, instead of implicating by innuendo and insinuation (the tactics of false teachers in every age). Certainly, if any issues bear open investigation, these do! May God help us to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and the strength of His might to stand upon His truth!
I would be interested to have you respond to this Aopen letter” in any way you see fit, even if you choose not to print it in the Guardian (as I suspect you will not). I have contemplated writing it for a good while (it was not composed hastily) and finally just read “too much” in the Guardian. But I would appreciate a response, if only a letter.
Also, you mentioned several issues ago that you had recently been studying some material pertaining to the church in the first half of the twentieth century. Since I am doing the same kind of thing (1900-1940) for my Ph.D dissertation at Vanderbilt, I would be interested to hear any observations you might care to make, or to know of any interesting material you may have come across.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:43, p. 8-9
September 5, 1974