A Tennessee Church Trial

Earl Fly
Orlando, Florida

It was my unpleasant experience recently to be called to Jackson, Tennessee, to testify in a "church trial" in behalf of some faithful brethren from Spring Creek, Tennessee, who had been carried into court by a group of self-elected, unqualified elders (?), who were trying to get legal control of the church property and a permanent injunction prohibiting the faithful from using the building. These so-called elders had actually elected themselves a few months previously by casting the deciding votes for themselves, which gave them a majority vote of ten to eight. Although one of the nominated men had been proved a liar previously by Christians from another congregation and serious objections were voiced against others, yet they demanded and held an election on the spot over the protest of faithful men, in the midst of disorder, confusion and disputings, without any opportunity to consider objections. Consequently, the faithful brethren immediately withdrew from them and began meeting at a separate time. The faction lording it over the flock unsuccessfully tried to lock them out of the building, and finally went to court in an effort to take the property and permanently force the brethren out.

I testified as to what the Bible teaches about the necessity of men being qualified, showing that this necessarily demanded an examination of proposed elders and consideration of all objects. I pointed out that men must first be proved (1 Tim. 3:10), and that no man must be ordained in haste (1 Tim. 5:22-Williams Translation). I testified against political scheming and election by majority vote, and affirmed that the church is not a political institution in which men run for election, nor a democratic organization in which majority vote rules, but a kingdom ruled by God's word. I also testified that those responsible for the court action were guilty of a grievous sin in violating God's prohibition of such action (1 Cor. 6).

Brethren Franklin T. Puckett, Leslie E. Sloan, Connie W. Adams, Loyce L. Pearce and others also testified in behalf of the truth. Brethren testifying in behalf of the so-called elders were H. A. Dixon, president of Freed-Hardeman College, W.A. Bradfield and G.K. Wallace (FHC), C.C. Arquitt, Joe McCleary, Jimmy Rogers and others. They endorsed the election and gave recognition to the so-called elders. W. A. Bradfield, in trying to justify the election, testified that elders could even be appointed by drawing names out of a hat!

The lawyers for the so-called elders, advised by at least one Freed-Hardeman faculty member, sought to justify the election by affirming that each congregation is autonomous, and that no detailed procedure is revealed in the Bible for the appointment of elders. I pointed out with other witnesses that "autonomous" meant each church was independent, not controlled nor dictated to by any other church, but that this did not grant a church the right to be governed by its own laws and opinions, but that it must be governed by the Bible to remain a true church of the Lord. It was also shown that while no detailed procedure was given by which to appoint elders, yet we had to use some procedure which would allow examination of proposed elders and consideration of objections in the light of Bible teaching. The "drawing of names from a hat" or an election on the spot by close majority vote over objections would not therefore comply with Bible teaching.

It was evident that the Freed-Hardeman witnesses and some others were assisting the cause of church-support for human institutions, though this question was not involved in the trial. I doubt that these witnesses would have endorsed the sinful court action and the ungodly election of unqualified men to be elders in the midst of disorder, confusion and disputings, if this faction had been opposed to the institutionalism preached and practiced by this college, which now solicits and receives contributions from churches.

I had conducted seven meetings which were supported by the Spring Creek church and had baptized many of the members there. It was a sad and sickening thing to see them subjected to the public ordeal of a court trial and widespread newspaper reports of it. Great harm was done to the cause of Christ in this evil action.

After returning home I received word that the judge awarded the property rights to the so-called elders and made the injunction permanent prohibiting the faithful from using the building. Though this faction won the legal decision from the Baptist judge, it needs to realize that there is a judge who will someday judge righteous judgment, and that all the testimony of college men and liberal preachers will not affect it.

Brethren, we are evidently entering the same type of era through which brethren passed in yesteryear, when men with human schemes and love for human institutions took over the church buildings and locked the faithful out. If majority rule is allowed to prevail, if Bradfield's "draw names from a hat for elders" theory is accepted, if court actions are endorsed generally as the way to settle problems in the church, if money-hungry colleges continue to seek church support at the expense of endorsing factions and error, if political campaigns for the eldership gains acceptance, if men continue to cause divisions by lording it over the flock or even half of it, if liberal preachers continue to be more interested in human institutions than the welfare of God's church, then I can see no end in my lifetime to the grievous sins and great troubles to come. May God help the faithful to stand firm!

Truth Magazine, V:9, p. 1
June 1961