Brother Harper, Harping on His Harp
James M. Lynch
On September 13, 14, and 15, 1971, the people in the area of Lamar, Missouri had the pleasure of hearing Brother E. R. Harper sing again the song he has been singing for the past fifteen years. The words and tune were the same, and we must say that he did his usual masterful job of castigating, maligning, misrepresenting and challenging "Anti's". He challenged them to do about everything except follow him in the pulpit to answer for themselves. (Of course, no one gets the opportunity to answer Brother Harper since, in his own words, he is "unanswerable"). Unopposed, Brother Harper is omnipotent.
This was my first opportunity to hear Brother Harper. But I have read his little book on the subject of those who refuse to support Highland and the Herald of Truth and I have reports from other areas of his three night specials, so about half way through his first speech I lost interest. I listened long enough to get the impression that he hated Anti's and loved alien sinners. His recommended policy seems to be: mark the anti's, have nothing to do with 'em, but that you should feed all the alien sinners. This seemed a little bit harsh to me. But the brush with which he began to paint the anti's left them looking pretty bad. Among other things I learned that they were opposed to orphans, widows, old folks, the sick and destitute; they are also church dividers, trouble-makers, wolves in sheep's clothing, and to every good work reprobate. Well, I decided I didn't know anyone like that -- didn't want to know anyone like that, so you can understand why I lost interest the first night.
I did take a few notes while I was there and since I disagree with some things he said, I would like to make a few observations and ask a question or two. (Of course, no one gets to question Brother Harper, since he is "unanswerable").
Brother Harper opened his speech by referring to a diagram on the blackboard which he said represented the love of Christ i.e., "he gives the sunshine and rain to all alike, he loves the sinner and the house of God alike, he loves his enemies and neighbor equally." Brother Harper's implication at this point, if he had a point, was that the principle of love made it mandatory for the church to care for all men equally with the Household of Faith. (see Gal 6: 10 & I Tim. 5:9-16). This universal principle would also authorize church support of institutions engaged in the work of serving man's physical needs. Question, Brother Harper: What Care Institutions are to be included other than Orphan Homes run by brethren? Would you include Baptist Homes, Methodist Homes, Catholic Homes? And why not Hospitals, Schools, etc., since they also serve man's physical needs, and you professed to love "All men alike". (Of course, no one really gets to question Brother Harper, since he is "unanswerable"). The truth is, if Brother Harper's "Universal Principle", or "Principle Eternal", as he has called it in other meetings, is the rule by which the bounty of the church is to be distributed, then Paul's words in Gal. 6: 10: 64as ye have opportunity . . . especially to the Household of Faith", and I Tim. 5:9, 16 where he said, "let not the church be charged" with the care of certain widows, is meaningless. But this isn't the first time liberal brethren have set aside plain Bible commands (that is why they are called liberals) in order to have their idols.
Brother Harper's "Universal Love" principle was followed by about ten minutes telling us how mean the anti's were, that they "would let a widow starve at their door before they would take a dime from the church treasury if she wasn't a member of the church." He said that the liberal churches would pay for the radio time if the anti's would preach this doctrine on the program. Well, I know of no one who, holds to such a hard and fast rule, and I haven't the right to commit my brethren to supporting Highland's preaching. But since you implied that Highland extends help to all tnen alike, I challenge you brethren to preach your universal and equal benevolent doctrine over the Herald of Truth. If you will do so, I guarantee that the sectarian organizations and the needy of Abilene will put you out of business in a very short time!
Brother Harper knows if he would admit it, that when the church writes a check for the needs of a non-member it is an exception rather than the ride. All churches, whether liberal or conservative, help as many requests as they are able. But if it is a non-member it is usually done on an individual basis. Really, what Brother Harper is so worked up about is approximately one-third of the churches of Christ will not contribute to any organization other than a church in need of funds to care for its own local responsibilities. He would love these churches as much as he loves alien sinners if they would contribute to an institution that is chartered by State Law-controlled by a Board of Directors -- and supported mainly by Childcare payments from the States, and partly by any and every means that they can think of.
Another thing that Brother Harper knows, and these institutions know, is that conservative brethren will support them on an individual basis if they will stop soliciting funds from churches. So the issue is not and never has been whether some brethren will care for an orphan, widow, or the destitute -- they will and do. They care for those who happen to be the legitimate responsibility of the church through the local church (see Acts 6:1-7). They discharge their individual responsibility to society in general by means provided by that society. So all the sad speeches by men such as Brother Harper are only designed to arouse prejudice in the minds of uninformed brethren.
One broad statement was made by Brother Harper that I doubt his own associates - will stand by him on "There is not one exclusive binding example concerning any of Christ's commands. No proof of the statement was offered, just Brother Harper's pontifical pronouncement. I wonder if my brethren are so blind, or prejudiced, that they cannot see the ultimate consequences of such a position? If such was true, anything the church had to do, or wanted to do, could be done in any way at any time. All church, and individual, action would he dictated only by, the likes, and wisdom of fallible men, or by Brother Harper's "Law of Expediency" or "Principle Eternal", whatever that is. Let us examine the results in a few areas: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." No example of how this was accomplished is binding according to Brother Harper, so the Christian Church has authority to start their Missionary Society. In fact this same kind of reasoning gave birth to the "Sponsoring Church arrangement." Brethren rejected the examples of how churches accomplished this task in New Testament times and combined the work of hundred's of churches under the oversight of a single eldership. If one eldership has the authority to oversee a part of the work of hundreds of churches, by the same reasoning they can oversee all the work of all the churches, and local church responsibility is successfully by-passed.
Let us try the "no binding example" theory on a few commands that brethren are a little more concerned about --- "Do this in memory of me", so, communion at any time, any where. "Upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread." No binding examples say Brother Harper, so the assembly of the church for worship may be on any day of the week. "Let each one of you lay by him in store upon the first day of the week." Adventists and other sectarian organizations have long said that this isn't the only way churches could raise money, and if Brother Harper is right we can indeed have pie suppers, raffles, junk sales, business enterprises, and what have you. I know it is ridiculous - but it is the necessary conclusion of the "no binding example" theory. Actually, Brother Harper accepts and follows some "exclusive binding examples." But he just wants to be able to pick and choose the ones that fit his need at the moment. He rejects those that condemn his hobbies.
In spite of his denial that there was any "exclusive binding examples" he attempted to find a parallel to the Herald of Truth arrangement in the example of churches helping the Jerusalem church in Rom. 15:26. Of course he failed to find a parallel in this example to the Highland and Herald of Truth situation. Let us compare the facts in both cases: The Jerusalem contribution was for the "poor saints which are at Jerusalem." Contributions to the Herald of Truth are not for anyone at Highland, poor or otherwise. The Jerusalem contribution was to "supply their want (need)" (2 Cor. 9:12). Are there any at Highland so poor that they are "in want"? The Jerusalem contribution was a matter of "debt" - Rom. 15:27. If contributions to Highland is a matter of "debt" then churches do not have a -choice, they must pay their "debt." The contribution to Jerusalem was "that there may be equality" - 2 Cor. 8:14. With every contribution that Highland receives the situation becomes more un-equal. Highland has a yearly budget of well over $100,000 a year ($132,500 in 1959), and she is receiving funds from churches that can hardly support their preachers--what is equal about it? The funds sent to Jerusalem were to he used in work that was the scriptural responsibility of the Jerusalem church--supplying the needs, of their local members. Funds sent to Highland are for plying the needs of their local members. Funds sent to Highland are for "World Wide Evangelism through Herald of Truth." The Jerusalem case was a benevolent responsibility, the Herald of Truth case is the result of an eldership refusing to recognize the limits the New Testament places on the authority, of elder8hips. (Acts 20:28)
One last observation and we will let Brother Harper go. One gets tired, of hearing his harping the same old monologue Brother Harper has used some of the expressions so many times they have become clichés. His twisted arguments and half truths have been answered and exposed by so many brethren, so many times; we are surprised that anyone will take them if I knew how, I would bring us together-, we were together twenty years ago", so said Brother Harper. The last is true anyway. We were together twenty years ago. But twenty years ago no local elderships were trying to poke their fingers into the treasuries of other local congregations; there was no World Wide preaching agency being forced into churches over the objection of members; no planned program of intimidation and coercion by ridicule, misrepresentation, labeling, and every other unchristian means possible to force brethren to go along with an unscriptural arrangement. Twenty years ago the brotherhood of Christ was not twisted, pulled, pried, and torn between the choice of loyalty to scriptural precedent and cooperation with an ambitious Texas church.
Brother Harper knows how to bring us together again -- just help us remove those practices that were not around twenty years ago and the job is done. Orphans haven't divided us; widows, old folks, the destitute havent divided us, nor have radio and television divided us; Unscriptural arrangements like the Herald of Truth and other organizations have divided us -- And Brother Harper is their advocate.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 17, pp. 10-13