Attacking Error vs. Attacking A Person

By Larry Ray Hafley

Recently, received a letter from a brother who was “turned off” by some articles which I had written. Here are some of his comments to me:

I believe my evaluation of your attitude to be fair (and consistent with others I know who know you well). This being said, please allow me to ask you these questions.

1) Do you have anything positive and constructive to say about anyone or anything?

2) Are you really the jerk and smart-aleck you seem to be? You remind me, in attitude toward your work, of John McEnroe-one who is talented, who has a very enjoyable and rewarding job, but one who does not enjoy what he is doing. (Or do you enjoy cutting people down all the time?)


P. S. You may use the article, but you are not free to use my name, in print.

Believe me, brethren, that is a genuine letter. I did not make it up. If I had, I would not have been quite so hard on myself! How can I possibly respond to this letter without proving that I am a “jerk and smart-aleck” who has nothing “positive and constructive to say about anyone or anything” and without appearing as though I “enjoy cutting people down all the time”? It will be difficult, but I will try. Please bear with me.

A Serious Response

Laying aside feeble and futile attempts at satirical and sarcastic humor, please allow me to kindly, yet candidly, make the following remarks for your sober reflection.

Why not simply file this letter in a trash bin? Why not smile and ignore it? Perhaps that would be the prudent course to to pursue. However, from a few similar letters and comments we have heard, the sentiments expressed in the letter are being whispered about. They must, in our judgment, be dealt with lest they slowly worm their way into the hearts of men. Jesus publicly exposed private doubts and undermining murmurs of His enemies (Matt. 9:2-8). His open response repressed the leaven of reproach and gave His deeds and doctrine a fairer hearing. Bringing such letters out into the open gives them a hearing they do not deserve, but if the word of truth ultimately is given a freer course by tending to them, then our efforts will not be in vain.

First, to those who are appalled by the militant, controversial tone of Guardian of Truth, are you also appalled by the strident, personal attack on me? I, and other authors appearing in this journal, may have (in your judgment) “come on too strong” and “overstepped the bound of ‘Christian journalism… in times past. Grant it, for the sake of argument. Do you not see that our articles and “attacks” at least have the benefit of dealing with issues of Bible teaching rather than with calling one ugly names, making false charges about his life and work and impugning his motives? What “positive and constructive” thing did he say to me? Did he “enjoy cutting” me down? Surely not.

Second, what specific errors of mine regarding the teaching of the word of God were enumerated? Will you not agree that my articles, however disgusting and distasteful they may be to you, at least attempt to grapple with specific issues of difference? In all the long, tedious and weary controversies in this paper, where do you find an article, whether dealing with Arnold Hardin, Guy Woods, Ed Fudge or Darwin Chandler, that simply discredits them personally without citing book, chapter and verse against their errors? We have never called brother Woods (or anyone else) a “jerk and smart aleck” and ignored his teaching. Can you not see the difference?

Third, errors and false doctrines do not sprout on trees or spring out of the air. They grow on people. Every false way has a human advocate. R.H. Boll was wrapped up in premillennialism. Guy N. Woods was wedded to institutionalism. Edward Fudge was welded to the new unity movement. Whether rightly or wrongly, these men and their movements were specifically cited and indicted, reproved and rebuked, exposed and opposed, “with all longsuffering and doctrine.” They were not merely castigated as “jerks and smart-alecks” or simply called. false teachers without proof. Attempts, whether successful or not, were made to deal with the doctrines they taught. Again, please note the difference between “rebuke them sharply” and “attack them personally.”

Fourth, letters like the above are the only resort of those who cannot or will not openly defend their doctrines. Their purpose and effect, whether publicly or privately espoused, is to poison your mind against us so that you will not fairly evaluate our arguments.

When the Lord worked miracles which confirmed His mission and message, His person and purpose, the enemies of truth said, “Yes, He performs miracles, but He does it by the power of the devil.” Conclusion? He is in league with Satan, so you cannot believe Him. Thus, without dealing with a simple issue or Scripture, they blinded the minds of them that believed not. Therefore, Jesus dealt decisively and directly with this subterfuge (Matt. 12:22-30).

When the Lord was successful in His efforts to convert the publicans and sinners, His enemies said, “See, He is a friend of sinners. He associates with them, so He must be a sinner. Remember, ‘birds of a feather flock together.”‘ Once again, they had riot answered a single argument. They discredited Jesus’ character and thereby attempted to nullify and stultify His influence and doctrine. Jesus replied logically and firmly against this effort to assassinate His character (Lk. 15).

Hence, these cheap and carnal turns and tactics are not new or unexpected. If a man believes my position is wrong, let him, if he so chooses, hold me in utter and abject personal scorn and contempt; but, then, let him answer my false teaching. It is one thing to verbally vilify a man, but it is quite another to ably answer him.

Fifth, and please excuse these personal remarks, Baptists have called me a “water salvationist” who “trusts in water to save and not the blood of Christ,” but they have not shown that my position on Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 is in error. Baptists have said, “Alexander Campbell started your church.” Well, suppose I have a church and suppose Campbell founded it., Does that prove that the Baptist Church is the New Testament church? Pentecostals have charged that I “blaspheme and deny the power of the Holy Ghost,” but they have not answered scriptural arguments which show that miracles and tongues have ceased. I expect such recriminations and accusations from the denominations, but I desire better things from my brethren who would disagree with me.

In all the negative letters I received from those who abhorred and deplored my exchange with Stanley Paher (see January 3, 1985 issue of G.O.T.), no one attempted to answer the questions I raised or the arguments I made-no not one. Again, please grant every terrible thing about my attitude and imagine the worst, assume that I am a despicable wretch, should not someone have said, “Brother Hafley here are the Scriptures and argument; that answer your questions and contentions”? (Editor’s Note: Though a few wrote judgmental letters decrying brother Hafley’s alleged “bad attitude, ” no one wrote saying, “I believe brother Paher taught the truth. ” Brother Hqfley presented the truth in such a way that error was plainly exposed (Tit. 1:11). Brother Hafley’s love for saints test they believe brother Paher’s false teaching motivated him to write. He manifested the same “zeal for thine house ” (Jn. 2.17) as Jesus manifested when He cleansed the temple. Would these critics make the same negative judgment of the Lord as they made of brother Hafley?)

Sixth, this fervent appeal to you, dear brethren, does not establish my position on any topic. To those who may approve and applaud my work, and who may like me as a fellow human being, do not be deceived by our friendship. What I have argued or contended for on any subject is not confirmed because you like me as a friend. Luther Blackmon used to say that the only fellow he “hated” worse than someone who called him a false teacher was one who called him a false teacher and then proved it! You would have to see the subtle, mischievous grin on his beloved face before you could fully appreciate what he was saying. Things often sound snide in print that would be better received in person. So, let us not take a stance on any issue or question because we either like or dislike the person or the medium in which it appears. My friends should not condemn a person or position because it or he does not “agree with what brother Hafley believes.” I do not believe my friends will do so. I believe they are loyal to the Lord, not Larry. I am persuaded that they are able to distinguish between their personal regard for me and their love for truth. I know they will side with those who disapprove of me if they see I am wrong. That is the way it ought to be.

Seventh, doctrines are more important than the men who endorse or condemn them. The issues that affect the future of the faith, the gospel, and the church of the Son of God are too important to be lost and buried in wrangling and vain jangling. Our interest and fight in the historic battles of the past were not centered on men. It was not Otey vs. Briney as a personal battle. It was the principles regarding Bible authority and the work and organization of the church in the fight over missionary societies. It was not Hardeman vs. Boswell. It was the authority of the word of God and the worship of the church in the fight over mechanical instruments of music. It was not Wallace vs. Boll. It was premillennialism and the kingdom of and kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was not Woods vs. Porter or Woods vs. Cogdill. It was the authority of Scripture and the work and organization of the church.

The issues at stake which affected the future of truth and righteousness were more important than the men who espoused them. Otey, Briney, Hardeman, Wallace, Boll, Boswell, Porter and Cogdill have gone the way of all the earth, but the vital principles and issues remain to confront the faultless faith, the glorious gospel and the changeless church of our Lord and Savior. And so it is, my brethren, with current issues, doctrines and positions. The men are nothing but future food for worms who will rot in forgotten graves, but the issues of truth and error, of righteousness and unrighteousness, will continue to afflict the house of God for good or ill. Duty demands and eternity commands that we contend earnestly for the faith, for the truth, and not over persons or magazines that perish with using.

Make no mistake about it. The questions, doctrines and issues that challenge us today are fraught and loaded with eternal consequence. The fight over the missionary societies and mechanical instruments of music was dismissed by some as a fuss over “methods” of preaching and worship. The premillennial fight was shrugged off as a mere question over “unfulfilled prophecies,” whose truth could not be determined by uninspired men anyway. The institutional fight was condemned as a “preacher fuss” over “how” to care for orphans. How wrong they all were! And how wrong we will be if we carelessly refuse to consider the rudiments and elements of Calvinism that cancerously pervade and permeate vital organs of the nature of sin and forgiveness as taught by the new unity movement.

Some said that Roy Cogdill led away brethren and opposed the Herald of Truth because he was not chosen as its spokesman! Some say that Willis, Halbrook and company want to “control the brotherhood” via Guardian of Truth, so they use nefarious and sinister methods to destroy those who oppose them. Others have referred to this paper as “the Gospel Advocate” among conservatives which seeks to quarantine and silence all who stand in the way of its power-hungry political machinations. Our objective has been, is, and must remain to sound forth Christ’s word. This means both the positive and the negative, and in the most effective manner possible. Those who teach error must feel the sword of the Spirit. Let us as soldiers not be concerned with the feelings of teachers of error to the point of sheathing the sword, or worse, disparaging those who wield it faithfully.

Frankly, brethren, it is an insult against your faith and good sense when men insinuate that you could be controlled by a paper. Those who so charge must not have a high regard for your faith and your ability to think for yourselves. We, however, labor under no such illusions, or delusions. You are not led by men but by the Holy Spirit of God through His Word.

It is not a question of “who” is right-whether Otey or Briney, whether Hardeman or Boswell, whether Wallace or Boll, whether Woods or Porter or Cogdill, whether, Halbrook or Fudge — “who” is right is not the issue. The question is, “What is right?” What does the word of God teach-that is the issue in any controversy. Do not ever forget that.

Eighth, like most normal, sensitive people, I was hurt and embarrassed by the letter which spawned this article. I should not, perhaps, allow one the satisfaction of knowing that his remarks, however well intentioned they may or may not have been, bothered me. 1, of course, view the remarks as totally unfounded in fact and wholly untrue, and, like the little boy stifling and choking back tears, I would like to say, “Didn’t hurt a bit.” But it did. Knowing that, I trust that you will be generous with me if my remarks in your opinion, tend to be self-serving. They are not so intended. Lash and lacerate me or anyone else who strays from the truth. “Cry aloud and spare not.” I hope I will not hold or harbor a grudge against the one who wrote. Please pray for me to that end. Pray that I will not be animated or motivated by bitterness and revenge.

Ninth, please try as impartially as you can to weigh what I have said on the scales of truth and love. Whatever I write you may feel free to attach my name to, if it represents what I have said. Tell the truth on me and you may use this article “in print.”

Tenth, and last of all, letters like the above will not intimidate our efforts. We shall continue to speak the truth in love, both “in season and out of season.” We shall not be deterred or detained in our determination to see the elimination and extermination of “every false way. “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Tit. 2:15). Our mouths will not be stilled nor our cause stopped by those who prate “against us with malicious words.” If we are wrong, smite us “hip and thigh,” cite book, chapter and verse; put your index finger on the passage, for that is the only correction we will accept. We are “set for the defense of the gospel” and will not surrender one iota of the faith to the taunting tirades of those who oppose themselves. We will give “place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 17, pp. 528-520
September 5, 1985