By Aubrey Belue, Jr.
Elsewhere in Truth Magazine, Brother Willis clarifies a statement made earlier in the magazine concerning the Oakdale church in Tuscaloosa. As one of the Tuscaloosa brethren, I have an immediate interest in what he has to say. From where I stand, it more than takes care of any damage-real or imagined-the former reference to the Tuscaloosa church might have caused.
I also have an interest in Truth Magazine, both the commodity and the publication, and have asked to be allowed to make this statement. This may be hard for those of my brethren who see “conspiracy” and “party-building” in most of what Brother Willis does to swallow, but the statement is totally independent and unsolicited-he has not asked for it, and was not aware that I wanted to make it.
Brother Willis has been “knocked” more than praised-I myself have been critical of his editorial judgment. It is very easy for us who are onlookers to see flaws-or things we think are flaws-in the activity of those who are at work. I am sure that he has expected some of this, and I am glad to see that it has not deterred him from doing his duty as he saw it.
Of course, the larger context of the Tuscaloosa comment involves the discussion of current questions occurring in this magazine and the Gospel Guardian. As one who was greatly helped by the journalistic dialogues of the 1950’s (in the Gospel Advocate, Firm Foundation, Gospel Guardian, Truth Magazine, Preceptor, etc.) to arrive at the position I now hold relative to the then current issues, I appreciate the good that comes from such things-and believe that we will see good come from the discussion of matters before us now.
Then, some brethren sought to make the issues a discussion of personalities rather than issues of doctrine and some are doing that now. Then, fearful and overcautious brethren fretted over the heat and fervor generated, and even questioned the value of religious papers-and some are doing that now. Then, some brethren turned their back on the principles of fairness and candor by which they had formerly lived-and it may well be that brethren will do that now. Then, most brethren sat comfortably “in the bleachers” and allowed just a few to carry the burden of the conflict and endure the heartache and “brickbats”-and that is certainly happening now! But, then, because some dedicated brethren continued to press the issues, and pursued their task to its end, many individuals and churches escaped that apostasy. Now, unless committed brethren will press these issues to a Scriptural resolution, many brethren and congregations today will not be so fortunate.
What needs to be said-and done-now has to do with the proper response we should make to those who give of themselves to provide magazines like Truth Magazine and the Gospel Guardian. Brother Willis I have known for years, and our encounters have ever been congenial and profitable (at least for me). Brother Wallace’s name has been before me for about as long, though I do not know him personally, and I have appreciated and profited from his work. Brother Fudge is younger than I, and relatively unknown to me, though I have read some of his writing. These are men in positions of responsibility and trust, and men who owe much to the brethren-not because we deserve it, but because they function as’ public teachers of God’s word. They cannot afford to speak with an uncertain voice, nor confuse issues with personalities. They should speak plainly, to the point, and on the issues before us.
None has ever been forced to do much guessing where Brother Willis is concerned–he has been plain and to the point, perhaps too much so for the comfort of some. You never have to wonder at what he opposes, and who he thinks is wrong. In the past, I have felt the same about Brother Wallace, to whom I am indebted for the strong stand and capable teaching he did during the institutional controversy. In fact, my previous familiarity with Brother Wallace’s work has ill-prepared me for his present course, so far as I am familiar with it. I am truly shocked that he sees’ so much “sectism” and “party spirit” in Brother Willis’ plainness now.
Brother Willis has never sought to align me with. “his” group; I know of no other preacher he has so approached and such an accusation; in the absence of worthwhile evidence, is at best irresponsible, and at worst reprehensible. It so happens that I agree with his efforts to maintain the doctrine and practice of the New Testament, and so long as he continues thus, I will agree with him-not because I am in “his party,” but because he and I stand- together on Scriptural truth. I want also to agree with Brethren Wallace and Fudge, and to be able to support their work-and I will, when I am able to (1) Understand their teaching; and (2) Compare it favorably with God’s word.
Up to now, if all the statements and implications I have read from Brethren Wallace and Fudge concerning Brother Willis’ sectarianism, mercenary spirit, etc., were granted, they still have not met their responsibility to their readers. It is right for them to be asked to plainly state their position toward specific errors, and only proper that they tell us what they will teach us to do concerning both the error and those who hold the error. If it is the “party spirit” that makes a man want to know plainly where those who put themselves up as teachers stand on troublesome issues, and what they will be teaching in papers asking for the support of the brethren-then I have “party spirit,” and had it long before I ever knew Cecil Willis! If the “unifying spirit” is characterized by lengthy but marginally profitable articles which do little to clear the air, and by characterization of one’s opposers in preference to plain declarations which would speedily resolve issues, then I consciously disavow it, and hope I never catch it!
I feel sure that the message Brethren Wallace and Fudge are trying to convey is not the message that is coming across to many concerned brethren. Brother N. B. Hardeman used to observe that any doctrinal position which could not be adequately expressed on a postal card was likely an unscriptural one (or words to that effect), and the thought is worth considering. The more dust that is thrown, the less credible the innate soundness of those throwing it becomes. At any rate, I know I am voicing the attitude of large numbers of brethren when I ask that we be told by Brother Fudge whether he refuses to countenance the use of instrumental music, the implementation of organizations other than local elderships through which to do the work of local churches, etc.-or not; whether he regards them as equally threatening the salvation of others when they practice such as is his own if he does; and how he advises dealing with such sins and their adherents. And, if Brother Fudge will not declare himself on such matters without evasion, I hope that Brother Wallace will show us how he is able to lump Brother Fudge’s teaching and practice with that of men like Brother James Adams, whose teaching and practice of long standing so obviously contrasts with the other.
Personally, I appreciate Brother Willis for his efforts-for his own plain speaking, for his willingness to expose, himself to the sometimes malicious and sometimes uninformed criticism and opposition of some brethren to pose these questions and press these issues, and for the influence for good he has been and is being as editor of Truth Magazine. It will be unfortunate indeed if sincere brethren allow themselves to be misled by issue-diverting do-gooders, if such there are (and time will tell), into ignoring the true ground of difference.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:6, p. 3-4
December 6, 1973