Caught in the Middle

By Donald P. Ames

The Defender is the name of an eight-page monthly bulletin put out by a liberal church in Pensacola, Florida. It has involved itself in a great deal of controversy with the ultra-liberal element in the church today, and has carried some good material in that effort. However in the June, 1976 issue, Leon Cole of Florence, Ala., decided to take the “antis” to task in an article entitled “From One Extreme To Another.” I have not yet teen able to decide if he was actually as ignorant of the truth as I suppose I ought to graciously consider him, or to conclude he cared that little about what the truth actually was!

Leon Cole begins with a quote from Olan Hicks, “Boys one extreme always leads to another,” and from that finds comfort in “the often maligned `middle of the road’.” He charges that the early opposition to institutionalism led to the opposite extreme of ultra-liberalism, and that now that they are fighting the ultra-liberals, “antism” is again having a resurgence. First of all, I would like to agree with the first half of his claim. It was the early opposition to institutionalism that led to the ultra-liberalism in the church today, but not as he supposes! Ultra-liberalism got its footing in the loose and anti-scriptural positions advocated during the early fifties of “Where there is no pattern, ” etc. What other conclusion was there left for the next generation to go on and accept? Bro. Cole needs to go back and look at the very roots of the movement they are now fighting! As for the “resurgence” of the “antis,” may I politely point out to him we never disappeared. We have been busy preaching the gospel and growing rapidly in the process. However the liberals have sought to isolate themselves from those of us opposing their pet projects, and thus have closed their eyes to our existence until the fruits of their logic gave birth to a new generation of ultra-liberals. Now they are being forced to back up in alarm at what they have begun to reap, and are finding they are having to return to the arguments we have been using all along-and they do not like getting caught in the middle of their own inconsistency. No wonder they have suddenly begun to recognize we are here-they are now hearing many of our own arguments being used, and this means other pet projects they are defending are going to be questioned again. This affords them no little lack of sleep. So, to minimize this effect, many liberals today have grossly misrepresented the facts so many “middle of the roaders” will not learn too much. When will they ever learn what it was that created that mess in the first place?

But after having branded early opposition to institutionalism as “one extreme,” Leon Cole goes on to admit the opposition “began as a legitimate protest (emp. mine-DPA) to including the colleges in the budgets of the churches, questionable projects promoted by a traveling elder or preacher who often would benefit financially if it were adopted, and an effort to make the church a glorified welfare agency or to `glamorize the church’ by watering down the gospel.” This strikes me a bit odd. How can something be an “extreme” and a “legitimate protest” at the same time? Or could it be that now that they have seen the results of the Herald of Truth going into apostasy, men who clearly did abuse their roles then (funny how much better hind-sight is), and the continued rapid growth of the effort to get churches to put the colleges in the budget (yet how can one condemn one human institution and justify another going into the budget-the orphan home?), that they have now concluded those objections were right-but do not want anyone to know they are now recanting and admitting the “antis” were right after all? A thing cannot be a “legitimate protest” and an “extreme” at the same time-it may go to an extreme in objecting, but it cannot start out as both! But Leon Cole charges this “legitimate protest” began sound in its objections (though denied then) and then “degenerated into the formation of a sect.” Well, in the words of the apostle Paul, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers” (Acts 24:14).

The first charge against this “sect” is that it was “led by some preachers who sought to have the preeminence.” This I flatly deny! I could as easily charge those who sought to perpetuate the various institutions among us were those who “sought to have the preeminence,” and in this Leon Cole has already agreed. Note his own statement again. First of all, opposition “began as a legitimate protest.” Now, he charges it was “led by some preachers who sought to have the preeminence.” I wish he could decide which it was! Secondly, he admits that this “legitimate protest” was against “questionable projects promoted by a traveling elder or preacher who often would benefit financially if it were adopted”. That sounds to me like those seeking to benefit from the controversy were those who had something to gain! Certainly those gospel preachers who challenged the scripturalness of such were not benefitting financially as they were being quarantined, maligned, had meetings cancelled, lost meeting places, etc. By his own admission, the defenders of these institutions were the ones seeking to “benefit financially” and to “glamorize the church.” And now he charges those objecting with a “legitimate protest” of being so motivated. Hang your head in shame! Caught again!

He then continues to charge that “it was not long till a creed was formulated.” Now a creed is merely a conviction, but since Leon Cole charges we have accepted a creed, perhaps he would like to inform us when it was drawn up, by whom, etc. Have the churches of Christ accepted a “creed” because we believe baptism is by immersion and for the remission of sins? Was a “creed” involved when we objected to the use of instrumental music in worship to God? Yes, we have a creed, but our creed consists of following the word of God and it only (2 John 9). In that respect, apparently, this amounts to a denial the liberals have such a creed anymore. Have they ceased to follow the Bible altogether?

The “tenets” of this creed which Leon Cole has drawn up and so maliciously assigns to us consists of the following points. “One church may not help another in a cooperative work under any circumstances.” Such is an outright falsehood! That is about as logical (and honest) as the Christian Church charging we do not believe in worshipping God in song because we object to instrumental music. Could it be that Leon Cole has begun to see some of these “questionable projects promoted by a traveling elder or preacher” and “effort(s) to make the church a glorified welfare agency” are unscriptural, and this is the only way they could object to ultra-liberal practices without admitting there is a pattern? Caught in the middle again!

The second “tenet” is “Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 are limited to individuals and benevolence by the church is to saints only . . . .According to the teachings of this sect, if a family where the parents are members of the church are destitute the church could not contribute from its treasury to that family if there were children too young to be members unless the parents would refuse to let the children eat.” Again, purely a false statement-designed to arouse prejudice! I flatly deny anyone so teaches and call on Leon Cole to prove it or admit to (1) misrepresentation or (2) ignorance whereof he wrote! It is true we object to the church taking money from the treasury to care for non-saints, but there is a vast difference in this and aiding needy saints while forbidding them to do what God has commanded them to do (1 Tim. 5:8), and Leon Cole knows such to be so! I defy him to name anyone who would let children go hungry if the church had to relieve needy Christians who were their parents! But that does not authorize the church to become another Salvation Army, and again Leon Cole found himself caught in the middle. He believes benevolence is limited too! Note again his statement that we were raising a “legitimate protest” to “an effort to make the church a glorified welfare agency.” Now perhaps he would like to tell us how he can object to one without any standard of authority and not accept the other? Yes, that “middle of the road” is a dangerous place when one decides to call for authority!

But he then charges Gal. 6:10 is to the church because in v. 11 Paul mentioned his letter which was addressed to the “church” (Gal. 1:1-2). But, in v. 12 he goes on to talk about circumcision-I wonder if that was done to churches or individuals? I wonder if churches or individuals were baptized (Gal. 3:27). I wonder if Paul was part of the church here (6:10-“we”)? And then, since 1 Thess. 1:1 was addressed to the “church,” was Paul talking about churches in 1 Thess. 4:9-12-or individuals? Consistency, thou art a jewel! As for James 1:27, he knows better than to touch that with a ten-foot pole! Leon Cole has a problem. He objects to the church becoming a “glorified welfare agency,” yet wants to take a passage that is addressed to individuals and commit the church to “all men.” Caught in the middle!

The third “tenet” (such a short creed!) is “church property is sacramental and eating on the premises is forbidden, some even declare weddings and funerals should be excluded from the church building.” My, my, something happened here. A “creed” has been accepted by a “sect,” and yet “some” question weddings and funerals in the building. If a creed had been accepted (in the sense he implies), why are brethren still studying the issue and examining the authority that is associated with it? Could it be there is still an area brethren are questioning and requestioning, and not a “creed” at all? Could it be maybe the liberals are questioning their “creed” a church must support these benevolent societies being under elders or a board-but must be supported? Could it be the “creed” of “the college in every budget” is still being studied by them? Thank God brethren are willing to raise “legitimate protests” to abuses and unscriptural activities — and may we continue to examine, question and seek the full truth on all issues!

But how does he justify “eating on the premises”? “If we cannot eat on church premises neither could food be eliminated on church premises.” My my, such great scriptural authority! May I suggest he again read 1 Cor.11l and Paul’s criticism — not: “wait and eat a meal later” but “eat at home.” I suppose in John 2, the Jews should have reasoned, “If you cannot buy on these premises, neither can you sacrifice on them.” If you enter a building that says “no smoking,” and you have filled your lungs with the stink and fumes of this poisonous weed, then you could not exhale at all while in there? If you cannot buy clothes in a church building, can you wear them? Such silly reasoning is hardly worth answering. Food is eaten, digested and eliminated much later. Elimination is not something pre-planned and scheduled nor does the elimination of such convert the building into “fellowship halls” for which thousands of dollars of the Lord’s money are spent! Such places as rest rooms are necessary to public gathers because of this time lapse, especially where the public will be gathered for a prolonged period of time and includes in it babies, small kids-and perhaps yourself if you should get diarrhea, etc. An assembly of a prolonged nature could hardly be held in “decency and order” without such, as recognized by many state laws now. And whether we returned to “out-houses” as he accuses us of needing to do, or maintain an “in-house;” such is needful for an assembly-and a silly quibble if ever one was raised. Certainly the same logic that would iustify an “out-house” would also justify indoor facilities as well!

The issue is: Where has God authorized us to convert a building built .with His funds as part of our efforts to worship Him and teach others the gospel of Christ into a “fellowship hall” and place of entertainment? And, if we can so convert it, what limits would one place upon it? I heard one preacher seek to justify the Boy Scouts being sponsored by the church as “good for the morals of the kids,” but objected to Weight Watchers (“good for caring for the body that we might further serve him”?) as not being “religious” in nature. Surely he knows the difference between modern-day “fellowship halls” and the place authorized for the assembling of the saints, built and maintained by the money contributed to further the work of the Lord! But, as he admits, some today have sought to “glamorize the church” with many unscriptural schemes: sponsoring the Boy Scouts, socials, baby and wedding showers, Halloween parties, slumber parties, etc. Yes, “legitimate protests” were raised and still ask, “Where is the authority?” Caught in the middle again!

Swinging to the other side of his own self-declared “extremes,” he goes on to say, “From the extreme of antism developed an attitude not to be against anything,” and that is what is really upsetting the liberals today! His problem is how to draw the line against a full-scale apostasy they introduced, without being forced to consistently go back all the way and accept the full truth. It is a losing battle. They tried it in the last century and lost, and time will show the same thing will be true of the present apostasy. Too late have these liberals begun to wake up and object of where they are going, while seeking to hang on the ‘groundwork they themselves laid at the same time. No wonder they are so grossly misrepresenting the truth — it’s rough getting caught in the middle!

Truth Magazine XXI: 22, pp. 347-349
June 2, 1977