By Cecil Willis
In this series of articles, I have been attempting to show why I referred to Brother Reuel Lemmons, Editor of the Firm Foundation, as being like a Chameleon. Some have criticized me and said that I was being too hard on Brother Lemmons. Brother Lemmons is a man of considerable influence, and I think that much that he teaches and promotes is detrimental to the pristine gospel. Jimmy Lovell, Editor of Action, recently said that Reuel Lemmons is “in my thinking, the most powerful voice in our brotherhood.” (Action, Nov.-Dec., 1972). Lovell added, “I honestly believe that Reuel Lemmons is the most influential person of this generation.” Of course, I have no way of knowing whether Jimmie Lovells opinion of Reuel Lemmons is accurate or not. But unquestionably, Lemmons is a man of considerable influence among brethren. It is for this reason that what he says needs careful examination.
To me, Lemmons has been the most enigmatic man of this generation. Quite frankly, I have never quite understood the man. He seems completely oblivious to his most obvious inconsistencies, which inconsistencies it seems everyone (including his liberal brethren) most clearly see. But Lemmons seems unaware that anything he says contradicts anything else he has said. Certainly men have a right to change when they become convinced they are in error, but Lemmons is not aware of any disparity in his teaching and practice.
Some brethren may still be unaware of the serious disagreement between the Gospel Advocate (which B. C. Goodpasture edits from Nashville, Tennessee) and the Firm Foundation (which Reuel Lemmons edits from Austin, Texas). Both of these are religious journals with a liberal bias. They represent the strongest printed media at the disposal of the liberal (but now sometimes called “mainstream”) element in the church. Each of these publications has a circulation well in excess of 20,000. However, they have some serious and deeply ingrained doctrinal disagreements, but which disagreements they usually try to keep disguised. It is very, very seldom that one of these papers will take an overt swipe at anything said in the other.
Yet the Gospel Advocate (whose influence is mainly East of the Mississippi River) and the Firm Foundation (whose influence is mainly West of the Mississippi River) have serious doctrinal disagreements. For example, the Gospel Advocate openly advocates congregational contributions to liberal arts colleges operated by members of the church, which contributions the Firm Foundation teaches to be sinful. On the other hand, the Firm Foundation teaches that benevolent institutions must be under the oversight of the elders of a local church and therefore must not be under the direction of a Board of Trustees separate and apart from the elders of a local church. But the Gospel Advocate teaches that orphan homes must be overseen by a Board of Trustees separate and apart from the eldership, and must not be overseen by elders “as elders.” Surprisingly, these two papers and brethren who share their widely divergent sentiments get along quite well, and unitedly oppose those of us whom they have labeled “factionists” and “hobbyists,” while we oppose church supported colleges and orphan homes under Boards, as well as sponsoring church arrangements whether in evangelism or benevolence.
Last Summer Brother Lemmons wrote about the trip to the Philippines made by Brother Cogdill and me in 1910. He entitled his article about our trip “Butcher Shop.” I replied to his article in Truth Magazine in two articles entitled “Lemmons Butchers the Truth.” William H. Lewis was preaching last Summer at McMinnville, Tennessee. Keep in mind that Tennessee is Gospel Advocate country. Oh brother, is it! ! !
Shortly after the appearance of my reply to Lemmons article, Brother Lewis wrote me: “I read your Editorial in the July t 3, 197 2 issue of Truth Magazine under the subject Lemmons Butchers the Truth. I have some information from his pen I thought you might like to use. I have been dealing with the institutional issue on my radio program here in McMinnville for some time now. Someone sent me the Editorial Butcher Shop by Brother Lemmons, with the statement that I needed the lesson contained therein. That gave me the opportunity to present Brother Lemmons review of Brother Baxters The College in the Budget tract. A local- citizen wrote Brother Lemmons and asked him his position on the church support of colleges and orphan homes. Enclosed is a letter that was given me by Mr. H. B. Roney of this city. I see nothing wrong with you reviewing this letter in Truth Magazine as Brother Lemmons said with regard to this matter. I will appreciate your letting this be known in the community.
Brother H. B. Roney is the President of the City Bank and Trust Company in McMinnville, Tennessee. When Brother Lewis reported that Reuel Lemmons was opposed to the church support of orphan homes under boards and opposed to the church support of colleges like David Lipscomb College of Nashville, apparently Brother Roney just could not believe that Brother Lewis was telling the truth in his representation of Reuel Lemmons. Consequently, Brother Roney wrote Lemmons to ask where he stood on these issues. Brother Roney said: “I would like to ask your stand on the church supporting orphan homes and colleges. Youre being quoted as being against 4 these practices here in this area. . . .” And to oppose church support of colleges and institutional orphan homes in Middle Tennessee (is not popular, to say the least. The preponderance of the Middle Tennessee brethren, influenced by the Gospel Advocate, favor church support of both institutional orphan homes and colleges.
In a June 8, 1972 letter to Brother Roney, Brother Lemmons said: “I thank you so much for your letter of June 5 inquiring of my stand on orphan homes and colleges. There are brethren all over the brotherhood who like to get on radio programs or in pulpits and talk gnawingly about what I believe and practice. They butcher editorials of mine and quote sections out of them that do not represent me at all and their malicious meanness cannot be touched in the way it should be handled by anyone who is a Christian. The man who is quoting me as being against churches supporting orphan homes and colleges, either does not know what he is talking about or is a malicious liar, one of two. There isnt a man living in the brotherhood, including the man on the radio program you mentioned, (who) has done more for orphan homes or colleges than I have. I presently serve on the board of two of our Christian colleges; Abilene Christian College and Pepperdine College. Ads bearing my name in support of Christian colleges appear in every paper in our brotherhood and be knows it. I have raised money for a number of orphan homes and am the personal friend of most of the superintendents, and have supported in every way I know, the church caring for orphans. Any man who quotes me, as being opposed to orphan homes knows he is lying. He could not possibly misunderstand my stand that much. And, I want to insist that you show this letter to the Brother Lewis you mention as preaching over WBMG. If he is sincere, he will apologize for his misrepresentation and will cease to do it. It is absolutely contrary to my belief and to all my writings to quote me as being opposed to colleges or orphan homes. I will appreciate your letting this be known in the community. Yours in the Faith, (Signed) Reuel Lemmons.”
Armed with this categorical statement, Brother Roney then proceeded to make it appear that William Lewis had lied about Lemmons position in opposition to churches supporting colleges and orphan homes. When William Lewis sent me photocopies of the correspondence, I could hardly believe my eyes. Had I misunderstood everything Lemmons had said in a decade of editorials? I admit I have become a little unsure that I ever know what Lemmons really intended to say in his articles. But this letter was explicit. “The man who is quoting me as being against churches supporting orphan homes and colleges, either does not know what he is talking about or is a malicious liar, one of the two.” I did not see how that sentence in Lemmons letter could be misunderstood. It contradicted everything Lemmons ostensibly has stood for regarding church support of colleges and orphan homes under boards.
But McMinnville is Middle Tennessee; it certainly isnt West Texas. So it appears that chameleon Lemmons blends in perfectly with the theological grasses of Middle Tennessee. Bill Lewis is blatantly called a liar, called upon to apologize, and made of ill repute in the city because he supposedly lied about Reuel Lemmons.
When Lewis sent me the correspondence, I replied to Lewis: “Either he did not state in that letter what he believes, or else he did not state in the Firm Foundation what he believes, or else I cannot understand a thing in the world that Reuel Lemmons says.” Being baffled by Lemmons statement, and I am sure Lewis was somewhat chagrined at what appeared to be unqualified documented proof that Lewis lied in representing Lemmons position, I therefore wrote Brother Lemmons for further comment about his statement.
In my letter of July 29th, 1972, 1 told Brother Lemmons: “Recently I was sent a quotation from a letter you wrote to H. B. Roney June 8, 1972 in which you are quoted as saying: The man who is quoting me as being against churches supporting orphan homes and colleges, either does not know what he is talking about or is a malicious liar, one of the two.Did you say what it appears you said in that letter? From everything I have read from you, I have gotten the definite impression that you oppose the church support of orphan homes under boards separate and apart from the elders of a church, and that you also oppose the church support of colleges. Sometimes a fellow does not make himself very clear in a letter, and this sentence does not appear to agree with what I understand your position to be on church supported orphan homes under boards and the church support of colleges. I would appreciate any clarification that you feel is needed to correctly represent your position on these two issues. I thought you and I were in agreement in our opposition to church contributions to orphan homes under boards and to the church support of colleges. If I have misunderstood your position, I would like to know of the misunderstanding. On the other hand, if I have correctly understood your position, I cannot understand your statement made to Brother Roney. Brotherly, (Signed) Cecil Willis.”
Brother Lemmons explanation of the statement did not appreciably help the situation. He offered more than one explanation, none of which sufficed. In a letter to me dated August 7th, Brother Lemmons said: “After receiving your letter, I have gone back and reread both the Roney letter and my reply to him and I can clearly understand how what I wrote him would appear contradictory to other things I have said or written in the frame of reference that you brethren are used to. You will note that in my reply to him, I replied only to his inquiry concerning my stand on orphan homes and colleges. You undoubtedly have a copy of the letter that I wrote him and you will note the entire second paragraph relates to my own personal stand concerning orphan homes and colleges. . . .” Now what explanation is that? I wonder whose stand Brother Lemmons thought the brother was interested in when he addressed his letter to Reuel Lemmons. Of course, the statement was an expression of Lemmons personal position. But what does that explanation explain?
Then Brother Lemmons offered this explanation: “. . . I will try to send you a copy of my letter to Roney and you will see through the entire letter that I made reference only to my own personal stand in favor of orphan homes and colleges which is consistent (sic) with all that I have said or written and makes no reference at all to church support from their treasuries of either one.” Now that explanation is just not the truth. Both the inquiry and the answer had to do with church support of colleges and orphan homes, and did not pertain only to Lemmonsprivate stand about whether such organizations had a right to exist or not. Note again Roneys inquiry: “I would like to ask your stand on the church supporting orphan homes and colleges. Youre being quoted as being against these practices in this area. . . .” Furthermore, Lemmons explicitly stated in his response that he was talking about congregational support of these institutions. Listen again: “The man who is quoting me as being against churches supporting orphan homes and colleges, either does not know what he is talking about or is a malicious liar, one of the two.” At no time in this discussion was the point at issue whether it was right for an individual to support a private college or an orphan home. The question and the answer had to do with church support.
Then Brother Lemmons tried a third explanation. It is worse still. Lemmons explained to me: “I did not understand his letter to refer to church treasury support of either, but rather to general church backing of christian education and work connected with caring for orphans.” I do not know why he did not understand Roneys question to refer to “church treasury support.” Roney asked, “I would like to ask your stand on the church supporting orphan homes and colleges”
Brother Lemmons said he understood Roneys question to pertain “to general church backing of Christian education and work connected with caring for orphans.” By “general church backing,” if Brother Lemmons does not refer to congregational treasury support, he must be referring to the church universal acting distributively, which would refer in that context to individual action by Christians rather than to collective (or congregational) action. But that explanation will not work either. If Brother Lemmons had in mind the church universal, look where this position leaves him. He said: “The man who is quoting me as being against churches (note the plurality-CW) supporting orphan homes and colleges. Does Brother Lemmons believe in a plurality of universal churches? This would be rank denominationalism.
Concluding the Matter
So far as I was able to tell, Brother Lemmons never offered any explanation that did not involve him in more difficulties than it resolved. One wonders if Brother Lemmons would have written the same kind of answer to me, or to Glenn Wallace, or to Roy Lanier, Sr. Very conveniently, the answer given fitted the milieu of Middle Tennessee like a glove.
However, Brother Lemmons in his letter to me went on record again as follows: “I have always opposed churches supporting from their treasury, the operation of fine arts colleges. I would not oppose a church contributing to orphan children in a home under a board (note the fine distinction, “to orphan children”-CW), but I do oppose the existence of the board itself. It is the existence of the board and not the home that I consider to be without scriptural foundation. Checking back far enough into my writings on the subject, you will find that I have repeatedly said I am for all the homes but I am against a board arrangement.”
That last statement about being “for all the homes” but “against a board arrangement” is but another instance of Lemmons confusing theological gobbledygook. Why doesnt he just come right out and state that he thinks it is sinful for congregations to contribute to homes overseen by boards (like Boles, Mid-Western, Potter, Tennessee Orphan Home, Childhaven, Schults-Lewis, etc.)? By stating he is “for all the homes,” some may never learn that he thinks it is sinful for congregations to donate to the “homes” under boards, as most of these “homes” East of the Mississippi River have been operated. By doing a little double-talk, he may cause some to be unaware of the serious disagreement among liberal brethren.
Lemmons can be plenty difficult to understand. That is why so many brethren (both liberal and conservative) think of him as being either knowingly inconsistent, or exceedingly naive. And this obliqueness is the reason why I said he had chameleon-like traits. He blends in quite well with his surroundings, or else disguises his position in theological double-talk until it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to tell where he really stands on an issue. Charitably, his friend Jimmie Lovell states that he has the unique quality of being “equally strong on both sides of a question.” While I do not know if Reuel Lemmons is the most influential brother in the brotherhood, I feel quite sure that he is the most paradoxical one.
To conclude this incident, it appears to me that H. B. Roney and Reuel Lemmons now should apologize to Bill Lewis for calling Lewis a liar, when it is now an established fact that Lewis did correctly represent Lemmons position and Lemmons now appears in the unenviable position of misrepresenting himself. What was it that someone said about Lemmons being the only man he knew who could sit in his own lap?
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 16, pp. 3-7
February 22, 1973