Modernism of All Sorts

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

Some of the brethren cringe every time one says anything about there being liberals or modernists in the church. These brethren seem to be unwilling to think that such could be true. Brethren become defenders of institutionalism and centralization, and then become proponents of the social gospel. Their next step toward modernism is to become an exponent of the modern-day unity movement. This prepares them to become a full-fledged modernist.

Denial of Blood Atonement

The most modernistic, even infidelish, statement I have seen in this whole controversy was received this week in a bulletin from a Church of Christ. The preacher, with his Ph. D. degree, now denies the blood atonement of Christ. Several years ago a sectarian preacher told me, "You can't persuade me that anything Jesus ever did on the cross will affect my salvation one way or the other." This blatant statement shocked me plenty, and this was from a liberalistic denominationalist.

Now one of my brethren has said the same thing in substance. Here is some of the statement, seething with infidelity, from our brother:

"Out of their reflection on the meaning of the cross, Christians built a theology. A part of that theology seems to me to reflect a legalistic spirit. I cannot believe that God cursed Christ in our stead, or that Christ paid some kind of blood price to satisfy God for the accumulated guilt of mankind. I know this is popular theology and has been for centuries. But it seems indefensible to me. If God is all-powerful, he could pay the debt any way he liked. If he is all loving, he certainly could not enjoy seeing his own Son suffer horribly to do what could obviously have been managed another way. I see, rather, an inspiring significance in the cross when I view it as a demonstration of the power of love.... This is the meaning of the cross." (Riverside Church of Christ Weekly News Bulletin, Wichita, Kansas, April 17, 1966).

When one starts to talking about the pattern of work or worship as being unimportant or legalistic, you had better watch him. He's headed out of the church and into some form of modernistic sectarianism. The apostasy of scores of men, young and old, down this well-worn path testifies to this fact.

Our preaching brother who does not believe that Christ bore the guilt of our sin on the cross just does not believe the Bible. That's the only thing wrong with him! Isaiah in the great Messianic chapter said, "Surely he hath borne our grieves, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. ... Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:4-6). To say that Christ did not pay a "blood price" for our sins is the rankest kind of infidelity, and it must be labeled as such, whether some of our brethren like the label or not.

Jesus stated that his blood was shed for the remission of our sins (Matt. 26:28). Paul declares that we have our redemption through his blood (Eph. 1: 7). John said that His blood cleanses us from all sin (I Jno. 1:7). Peter affirms that by His stripes we are healed (I Pet. 2:24), and that he bore our sins upon the tree. Any "theory" of the atonement that makes Christ's sacrificial death just a good example to us is giving the wisdom of man the place that should belong to the wisdom of God. Christ crucified is foolishness to some men (I Cor.1: 23), but to the believers in God, His sacrificial death is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God."

Brethren, we cannot sit calmly and quietly by and watch brethren preach the wildest kind of modernism. When sectarians preach such faith-destroying doctrines, we need to label it what it is: infidelity of the deepest dye. And when one who says he is a member of the Church of Christ preaches it, it's still modernism; it is still infidelity of the deepest dye. If those who preach such faith destroying doctrines, or their sympathizers, do not like such an uncomplimentary label, I cannot help it. The apostle John warned: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." If preaching such as that which we have just quoted from our brother is not the preaching of a false prophet, I freely confess that I would not recognize one if he were to come. It appears that false prophets and their cohorts are already here.

How some other brethren, who loudly declare they are not modernistic, can be so complimentary of such modernists is beyond me to understand.


For many years Unitarianism has been a synonym for the rankest sort of modernism and infidelity. Unitarianism stands opposed to what usually is called Trinitarianism. We believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as personal Beings (Matt. 28:19; Matt. 3:13-16, 2 Cor. 13:13, etc.). But Unitarianism says that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal power of God, and that Christ was just a man, though an exceedingly good man. The Bible says of Christ that the "Word was God" (Jno. 1: 1-3), and that "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16).

The Jehovah's Witnesses are also Unitarian, in that they deny that the Holy Spirit is a person, and assert also that Christ was only a man. The Jesus Only Pentecostals are also Unitarian, in that they say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are only different manifestations of the same person. But all three were present at Christ's baptism.

We have noted with keen interest the developing modernism in the Churches of Christ, and not only the developing modernism, but also the developing courage plainly to affirm and to teach publicly this modernism.

Brother Robert Meyers of Wichita, Kansas is the most vocal and above-board modernist known to me yet in the Church of Christ. In his bulletin of May 8, 1966, Brother Meyers said, "In a bulletin of Apri 24, I wrote of the Holy Spirit's being, for me, the creative energy of God as it filled a receptive human heart and empowered its possessor. Some have asked for further comment."

Brother Meyers says that the Holy Spirit is simply the "creative energy of God . . ." Others more modernistic than he go one-step further. They say that God is but some cosmic energy, and not a person. This very likely will be the next step in the developing "Theology" of our modernistic brother.

(Since the above was written the prophecy has come true. Brother Meyers has since said, " . . . I do not believe in a devil that is a person. Nor a God who is a person.")

Further Brother Meyers says, once we learn to speak of the Holy Spirit as "a divine influx of energy," "We need no longer puzzle ourselves about our inability to visualize the Holy Spirit as some 'person' who can move about and even assume form . . ." Finally he says, "Is the Holy Spirit a person? My personal conviction says No. But let this not be construed as lack of faith in the reality and power of that Spirit. I have not the least doubt that the Holy Spirit of God, the mind and attitude of God, the indwelling energy and creative potency of God, is at work in the world and may make its habitation in our hearts. This seems a glorious thought to me. I feel no sense of loss in giving up my childhood attempts to imagine some ghostly shape which somehow occupied a third throne in heaven with the celestial Trio . . ."

Well, by his statement that it be so, Brother Meyers has now done away with the Person of the Holy Spirit. Let him use his same magical ipse dixit on the Son of God now, and the Unitarian Church will take him in. Then let him depersonalize God like he has now depersonalized the Holy Spirit, and the Humanist Society will be glad to admit him. Depersonalize God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and you have only man left. It is with this presupposition that the Atheists attempt to make God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, Religion, etc., all the product of man.

Some men seem now about ready to set themselves forth as God (2 Thess. 2:4) and to create God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit in their own image (Gen. 1:26, 27), or at least, to their own liking.

No Patternism

After several years of virtual brainwashing on "there is no pattern," brethren in several areas have now taken upon the cliché, and are making use of it to the fullest. Brother A. C. Pullias, President of David Lipscomb College, published a booklet several years ago entitled, "Where There Is No Pattern." It is hoped that those who have sown the seed of this "No Patternism" are now ready to gather in their harvest.

We have brethren that are fairly conservative on some things that are advocating that there is no pattern as to how churches may work together, that there is no pattern as to how to do benevolent work, and that there is no pattern as to how preachers are to be supported. They have just gone the first few yards down the long, tortuous, and devastating road of "No Patternism." They have some rather difficult crooks and turns yet to negotiate. But unfortunately, once you have started down the road of "No Patternism," it is difficult to right your course.

Brother Mack Langford, "new minister at the Collingwood, New Jersey congregation of saints in the Church of Christ," has proceeded further down the road of "No Patternism" than some of his cohorts and contemporaries. But where he is now enables him to show where you have yet to go, if you are one of the "No Pattern Advocates," or to enable you to see where your preacher is headed if he is one of the now popular "No Pattern" preachers. Brother Langford says:

"Recent scholarship, German and American, has stated over and over that we know little about the first century Church, and there is no such thing as a final pattern for worship, polity and missions, yet we in the Church of Christ continue to insist that the New Testament is a blueprint which must be exactly reproduced. We think, or so it seems, that to recapture the way the early Church did something is to recover the true faith. But this breeds a new legalism that would confine God's grace and stifle freedom and openness.

"How in the world can a man unburden his heart to the Lord and become open to love if he forever must be looking about, checking his posture and his words lest he step out of range of the hearing or favor of his deity, because he has deviated from the formula? It is time we have done with such neurotic compulsiveness." (Quoted from RIVERSIDE CHURCH OF CHRIST WEEKLY NEWS BULLETIN, Wichita, Kansas, April 3, 1966.)

You see, Brother Langford thinks there not only is no pattern for "missions" (which is the position of all our church supported orphan home, and sponsoring church defenders), but that there also is no pattern for worship or polity. According to him, we can worship any way we please, and organize the church in any fashion that pleases us. This is the logical path of "No Patternism," brethren. The only difference between Brother Langford and our institutional defenders is that Langford is more consistent. He is ready to junk not only the pattern for "missions," but also the pattern for church organization and worship as well.

Brother Langford has committed himself to a premise that is identical to that commitment of the Christian Church nearly one hundred years ago. There is no logical reason he now can give to stay in the Church of Christ, rather than to join the Christian Church. And if he does like about a score of earlier "No Pattern Advocates," he will end up in the most liberal wing Christian Church.

But those mumble and lack-courage brethren that want to travel along in the trails of bolder "No Pattern Advocates," like the Christian Church and now Brother Mack Langford, had better begin to stir up their courage. For they must also advocate his "No Pattern" doctrine in church organization and worship, as well as in "missions" or the work of the church, if they are going to be consistent. They have but two alternatives; to maintain their consistency and go the full route with Langford, Meyers, and others like them, or to maintain their inconsistency by maintaining there is no pattern as to how the work of the church is to be done, but remaining dogmatic that the pattern of worship or congregational polity must be maintained. It will be interesting to see which alternative they will choose.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15), and continue to "build ALL things according to the pattern" (Heb. 8: 5).

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 12, pp. 2-4 September 1966