By Mike Willis
Controversy is unpleasant for everyone. We all long for peace. Controversy is sometimes unavoidable. Despite every effort to stay out of World War II, the United States was drawn into war by the unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In a similar way, soldiers of Christ are forced into battle by the unprovoked attacks of Satan against the doctrine of Christ. One’s only alternative is to raise the white flag of surrender or to pickup his spiritual sword, the word of God, and do battle.
This issue of Guardian of Truth contains an exchange between Tom Roberts and Don Patton on the proper understanding and use of Romans 14. At issue is whether Romans 14 is limited in application to matters of authorized liberties (matters of indifference) or can include sinful conduct and preaching that is contrary to the doctrine of Christ. Some will look at the conflict as unnecessary “preacher fighting,” and believe that some brethren “shoot from the hip” and ask questions later. I thought that knowing what went on behind the scenes of this conflict might diffuse that criticism.
In September 1994, I received a good manuscript from a younger preacher that reviewed the sermon preached by Don Patton. He felt Don’s argument reflected a growing danger and needed to be re-viewed as soon as possible whether by him or someone else. While I agreed, I also realized from past experiences that some brethren get upset when this subject is discussed and sometimes the motives of younger men are impugned. Realizing how much conflict would erupt from publishing the manuscript, l suggested to the younger man that truth would be better served if an older man reviewed the material. He agreed.
A few weeks later and without me requesting it, I received Tom Roberts’ manuscript reviewing brother Patton’s sermon. Brother Roberts had already addressed the conflict caused by brother Patton’s material in the Dallas area. Before submitting his article to me, brother Roberts already had asked several respected brethren to go over the material to give him feedback in removing anything that was unnecessarily abrasive and in honing his arguments. I also deter-mined that no personality conflicts were motivating his review of brother Patton’s material.
I asked Tom to send a pre-publication copy of his material to brother Patton to be sure that there were no misrepresentations printed. Brother Patton contacted me upon receiving brother Roberts’ material and charged that he was being misrepresented in the review.
At this point, I asked for copies of all pertinent information to judge the matter for myself. I was given a transcript of Don’s original sermon, a tape recording of a review of that sermon by Bobby Holmes, and Don’s reply to brother Holmes’ review. Later I was sent a video copy of brother Patton’s exegesis of Romans 14. Upon receipt of this material, I sent copies of all of this to Fred Pollock, president of the Guardian of Truth Foundation, and to Connie W. Adams, associate editor of Guardian of Truth, to be sure that my judgment was balanced in handling this material. Both men agreed that brother Roberts’ material needed to be printed and thought my plan of action for handling the matter was fair.
I read the complete transcript of brother Patton’s sermon at least three times. I listened to it on tape two or three more times, on one occasion with Donnie V. Rader during a meeting that I conducted in Shelbyville, TN. I listened to every tape that was sent to me more than once.
Upon completing my review of brother Patton’s material, I made some suggestions to brother Roberts and he gladly made the suggested changes.
In the meantime, Don was offered an opportunity to reply to brother Roberts’ material. My original intention was to publish brother Roberts’ article in one issue and a reply by brother Patton and a rejoinder by brother Roberts’ in the next issue. It was suggested that Don would be treated more fairly if he was given opportunity to reply in the same issue. I thought that was a reasonable request and indicated that I would do that.
I offered Don five pages to respond to brother Roberts. I meant by that five pages of typewriter copy on double-spaced lines. I was not specific enough for Don to realize that, so he submitted five pages of magazine copy. I protested its length and made one request for change. He made the suggested change and shortened his manuscript a little, but insisted on having this much space. In an effort to be as fair as possible, I conceded the point and allowed him more space than I generally have allowed in such circumstances.
His material was sent to brother Roberts and brother Roberts submitted his rejoinder. This process took from September 1994 to February 1995. Perhaps this glimpse into how I handle controversy will dispel some of the perceptions men have that we “shoot first and ask questions later.”
Despite some disagreements that both participants would have about peripheral issues, both are agreed that we have an area of serious difference in doctrinal understanding. We are disagreed on whether or not matters of sin are included in the instructions of Romans 14. This disagreement has serious doctrinal consequences and leads to significantly different conduct in fellowship. We encourage our readers to wade through this lengthy exchange and focus on the heart of the issue: Does Romans 14 teach that we should “receive” those who are practicing sin?
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 4 p. 2
February 16, 1995