"Our Headlong Plunge Into Liberalism"
For several years now, our liberal brethren have been dolefully predicting that the "Antis" would bite and devour until they had destroyed themselves. Any amount of the "bite and devour" disposition is too much of it. However, we must admit that there has been, and yet is, some of that cantankerous disposition among us.
However, the liberals are far more locked in "within-their-own-ranks" controversy than are those of us whom they slanderously label "the 'anti-cooperation' faction" (R. D. Ice, Bible Herald, December 1, 1970, p. 4). Perhaps many of our readers do not have access to many of the journals published by the institutional brethren. So I thought you might be interested in their inner conflicts so that you might better see where a little bit of liberalism ultimately leads. The "little bit of liberalism" very quickly becomes too much liberalism, but by then there is no way to turn back the tide.
"The church which generally goes along with ..."
In the March, 1971 issue of Jimmy Lovell's paper named Action, Brother Lovell decried the "legalistic procedures (traditions)" which divide the liberal brethren. Somewhat naively, he referred to "the church which generally goes along with the Gospel Advocate, Firm Foundation, Christian Leader, Christian Echo, 20th Century Christian, Christian Chronicle, David Lipscomb College, Freed-Hardeman, Harding, Abilene, Pepperdine and many other publications and schools." Which church is that, Brother Lovell? I would like to see some church that can go along with that motley crew just named by Brother Lovell.
There are insoluble disagreements between those brethren to whom Brother Lovell referred as "the church which generally goes along with. . . ." For instance, the Gospel Advocate maintains that charitable institutions (such as Boles, Potter, Midwestern, etc.) must be under a board of directors and must not be under elders as they function as elders. On the other hand, the Firm Foundation stoutly contends that charitable institutions (such as Maude Carpenter, Lubbock, and Tipton) must be under elders as they function as elders, and must not be under a board separate and apart from the elders of a church. Now would somebody please explain how these widely divergent groups can be said to be "the church which generally goes along with" one another? The Gospel Advocate and the Firm Foundation are as diametrically opposed as the Baptist (who insists one must be immersed) and the Methodists (who maintains that one must not necessarily be immersed, but that sprinkling will do), and to infer that they "generally go along with" each other is as inconsistent as the Baptists and Methodists who pretend to "generally go along with" each other.
Everybody who can read knows that several of the papers named by Brother Lovell are crusading against the Christian Chronicle because of its liberalism. Several of those named by Brother Lovell affirm they are stoutly set against the church support of colleges, which is the open and admitted practice of David Lipscomb College. Yet they want to make some brethren believe they all "go along with" each other. Yet these are the very brethren who preach that the "Antis" are going to "bite and devour" one another. To imply that these brethren named by Brother Lovell "generally go along with" each other is either to admit blindness, or deliberate fabrication.
The liberal brethren are in serious trouble, and they know it. Their liberalism already has gotten out of hand. They thought they could control the situation by letting in just the accepted amounts of liberalism. But like the sea, liberalism when given the slightest opportunity to intrude, pushes its own way in. It is much like the story of the Arab who wanted to let the camel put just his head under the tent. Soon the whole camel was inside the tent, and the Arab was outside looking in. So it is with liberalism. It continues to push, more and more, its way into those churches which would admit just a little liberalism.
The 1971 ACC Lectureship
During the 1971 Abilene Christian College Lectureship an incident occurred which has the not-so-liberal-liberals stirring. I think it would be best to let some of the liberals tell you what happened. Gussie Lambert in his Lambert Book House Book News (March, 1971) said, "At the close of the evening service Wednesday, February 24, 1971, at the Abilene Christian College Lectureship, brother Reuel Lemmons introduced Dr. Robert Shank and called on him to lead the closing prayer. The prayer was not offered in the name of Christ. Dr. Shank has written two books, Life in the Son and Elect in the Son.... Dr. Shank has since left the Baptist Church and is now preaching for an independent Christian Church in Missouri.... To paraphrase the words of a former great gospel preacher - brethren we have drifted."
Brother W. L. Totty of Indianapolis also is quite worked up over this Abilene Christian College incident. In The Informer (March 28, 1971), Brother Totty said, "There is a disposition on the part of some of the ultra-liberalists to unite the church of Christ with denominations by compromising the truth with error. Recently, Reuel Lemmons, a Texas preacher and editor of the Firm Foundation, asked a preacher of the Christian Church to lead in prayer at the Abilene Christian College lectureship in an audience of about 6,000. Also, a teacher of the Bible in Abilene Christian College, J. W. Roberts, had an article in the March Mission which is just about as modern as one would expect to see from a denominational preacher. He undertook to prove that the Holy Spirit operates upon persons today separate and apart from the word of God.... It is lamentable that there are teachers in our Bible schools such as J. W. Roberts."
You will note that Brother Totty speaks of the "ultra-liberalists," and then immediately proceeds to criticize the action of Brother Lemmons. Keep in mind that Brother Lemmons has maintained that he is a "middle-of-the-roader." A "middle-of-the-fencer" probably would be a more appropriate description of Brother Lemmons. Since Brother Totty spoke of "ultra-liberalists," this implies that there are some liberals who are not "ultra." Specifically, it would be interesting to know which Brethren Brother Totty would call ultra-liberalists," and for which ones he would reserve the more moderate label "liberalists." Brother Totty also in 1971 has written an extensive critique of a series of articles by Brother Roy Lanier, Sr., Ace writer of the Firm Foundation. It seems that "middle-of-the-roader" Roy Lanier has taken about the same position on the Holy Spirit that the "lamentable" Abilene Christian College professor, J. W. Roberts, has taken. Now keep in mind, these are the brethren who "generally go along with" each other, and remember, these are the ones who charge that the "Antis" will hack themselves to pieces.
And A Few Words From Texas
One of my old Florida College schoolmates, Andrew M. Connally, who has since college days turned liberal (or should I say "ultraliberal"?) has been quite stringent in his criticism of Brother Lemmon for calling on the Christian Church preacher. Andy states, "We believe this violates New Testament teaching on fellowship and bidding Godspeed to teachers of false doctrine" (Springtown Church of Christ Newsletter, March 7, 1971). But Andy! Haven't you heard the liberal argument, "We do many things for which we do not have scriptural authority." Lemmons will really "fix" you with that! Andy needs to learn (and by now he already should have learned it) that the "violates New Testament teaching" argument will not do much to a liberal, even though he calls himself a "middle-of-the-roader." In fact, I thought Andy would heretofore have considered himself as a "middle-of-the-roader." If Lemmons is a middle-of-the-roader," he and I are not in the same road.
Connally continues, "For quite some time many have been concerned over what is happening at Abilene Christian College. We believe this public display gives real ground for our concern. Abilene Christian does not occupy the same biblical ground she has occupied in the past. The action of President Stevens and Trustee Lemmons proves it. Such would never have happened even a few years ago." Now would be a good place to say, "We told you so, Andy," but in his frame of mind right now, it is doubtful whether he could appreciate such a remark.
Brother Connally has a proposal to make: "Now what should be done? We believe concerned brethren everywhere should write, in a spirit of love, and let Brother Stevens and Brother Lemmons know they deplore such a situation. We love Brother Stevens and Brother Lemmons. We respect Abilene Christian College and the Firm Foundation and cannot stand to see their positions changed or their influence hurt by such action." I might also add that I loved Andrew M. Connally, but it did not help me much in turning him from error. Andy might as well expect to receive the same kind of contemptuous treatment as he reprimands Stevens, Lemmons, ACC, and the Firm Foundation as we received when we reprimanded the Highland Avenue brethren for their brotherhood "Herald of Truth," Lemmons and the Firm Foundation for their defense of the sponsoring church concept, and David Lipscomb College for its acceptance of church support. When brethren depart from the truth, Andy, letters of love will have no more effect upon them than will scriptural argument.
As Moses E. Lard said in 1865, "The spirit of innovation is a peculiar spirit. While coming in it is the meekest and gentlest of spirits; only it is marvelously firm and persistent. But when, going out, no term but fiendish will describe it. It comes in humming the sweetest notes of Zion; it goes out amid the ruin it works, howling like an exorcised demon. At first it is supple as a willow twig; you can bend it, mould it, shape it, to anything; only it will have its way. But when once it has fully got it way, then mark how it keeps its footing. It now calls for reason, argument, or Scripture; but no more has it an ear for reason, argument or Scripture than has the image of Baal. Argue with the spirit of innovation indeed! I would as soon be caught cracking syllogisms over the head of the man of sin. Never. Rebuke it in the name of the Lord; if it go not out--expel it. This only will cure it." (Lard's Quarterly: April, 1865, pp. 260-262) And the spirit of innovation has not changed, Andy. We have tried reasonable and scriptural arguments against it. Now lets see how you come out as you "in a spirit of love" try your hand at reasoning with the spirit of innovation.
Brother Connally sounds a warning: "Brethren, we believe there is cause for real concern over what is happening in our brotherhood. The only thing that can possibly stop our headlong plunge into Liberalism and Sectarianism (my emphasis, CW) is for all of us to stand up and be as bold as those who do that which is wrong." I am afraid, Andy my friend, you are standing up to be counted about twenty years too late. You have permitted yourself to be counted with ACC and the Firm Foundation for twenty years. You stood up to be counted, but you stood up on the wrong side. I strongly suspect you now are going to receive from your more liberal brethren the same kind of treatment you have given to us. They will shut their eyes and stop their ears to anything you have to say as you attempt to rebuke the spirit of innovation. You should have expelled it twenty years ago ... while it was just a seedling. After twenty years of growth amidst and about you, it has so entwined itself that now you cannot expel it without uprooting and destroying yourselves.
Brother Connally lives in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas. He seems greatly upset about what is going on at A CC. But apparently not many of his fellow-liberals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area share his concern, for the two colleges heretofore operated in Dallas and Fort Worth has very recently been merged with Abilene Christian College. Whatever has hold of ACC apparently also has hold of Dallas and Fort Worth, Brother Connally's concern not withstanding. The probability is that Andy is destined to find out that he is not going to like the way his liberal brethren are going to treat him. Indeed, he shall find out that he does not like to be treated the way they have been treating us.
My friend implores, "We encourage you to write today to help our brethren know that our brotherhood will not tolerate such action from brethren, no matter how beloved or esteemed." Lemmons already has said that those who think he will kowtow to brotherhood pressures just do not know him very well. Andy signed his article expressing his alarm, "Yours for Greater Concern, Andrew M. Connally." Greater than whom Andy? While you stalked ever deeper into the quagmire of liberalism, hundreds of brethren have been warning with the great concern you just now are mustering. Had you brethren listened a little to some of the warnings sounded for the last three or four decades, you would not be so panicky now.
Don't forget! These are the brethren whom Jimmy Lovell calls "the church which generally goes along with the Gospel Advocate, Firm FoundationChristian Chronicle, David Lipscomb...Abilene... and many other publications and schools." The only thing that holds them together is their agreement upon liberalism; they just want varying amounts of it. These are the same brethren who have said hundreds of times that the "Antis" will involve themselves with controversies within their own ranks so as to destroy themselves. Perhaps it might be the time for some of the liberal brethren to take a good hard look at where liberalism has led them.
Meanwhile, Brother Reuel Lemmons says he is all the time "feeling more comfortable in the middle of the road" (Firm Foundation, January 26, 1971). I suppose a man could feel comfortable in the eye of a tornado if he did not know where he was!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 27, pp. 3-7