By Mike Willis
This issue of Guardian of Truth contains an article in which brother Tom Roberts reviews the public teachings of brother Bob Owen. Because brethren are sensitive about controversy in papers such as this, I thought a presentation of our editorial policy is in order.
Guardian of Truth Has A Steadfast Commitment
to the Revealed Word of God
David said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” We believe what he wrote. Our faith in God’s word involves a solid commitment to its authority (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
We believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:13 “expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words,” NIV). Rev-elation is both personal and prepositional (John 14:6; 16:13). We must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent (1 Pet. 4:11). God’s Word teaches by command, example, and implication.
Our faith in God’s Word requires us to make practical application of its truth in our lives. The gospel of Christ is God’s gracious provision for the salvation of all men (1 Tim. 2:4-6). The New Testament is God’s pattern for preaching the facts, the commands, and the promises of the gospel (Mark 16:15-16; Book of Acts). The New Testament is God’s pattern for the work, worship, and organization of the local church (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The gospel gives God’s imperative for spiritual growth and godly living (1 Pet. 1:15-16).
Our publication efforts reflect our unyielding commitment to these principles without fear, favor, apology, or compromise (Phil. 1:17). Our faith in God’s Word includes the following premise: In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; and in all things, love. That premise is taught in such passages as Ephesians 4:1-3 and Romans 14:19. We intend to be as forebearing in matters of liberty as we are staunch in matters of revelation, and to demonstrate the true love of God in all our actions. Christians are under a divine mandate to uphold all the truth of God’s word, and to expose every doctrine and trend which undermines that truth (2 Tim. 4:2). We offer no apology for our efforts to fulfill that mandate in our publications, no matter what the false doctrine or who the false teacher may be angels included (Gal. 1:8-10). Make no mistake about it: We are facing issues and trends among conservative brethren that undermine the truth of God’s Word. We will try to use the best judgment we can in dealing with these dangers, but we do intend to address them within our pages. We do not believe that vague platitudes and generalities will get the job done. When we have used our best judgment, we yet expect there will be opposition and criticism. We can never please everyone, certainly not those we expose or their sympathizers.
If Guardian of Truth, its editor, its board, and all of its staff writers died today, God’s people would still be facing such issues as: living in a society in which easy divorce and remarriage are prevalent; having within the church those who are teaching that one can divorce for any reason and remarry, “repent” of his sin of “adultery” (which is redefined to mean “divorcing”), and maintain the fellowship of God and the local church without giving up his adulterous marriage companion; a significant element who are turned off to preaching that distinguishes the Lord’s church from denominationalism; those who give little emphasis to preaching the “good news of the kingdom” because they believe this makes our preaching church-centered rather than Christ-centered; those who believe that preaching on baptism is legalistic rather than grace oriented; and a host of other loose doctrines.
Principles Governing the Operation
of the Magazine
No one recognizes the failures of this magazine more than I do. I hear about them more than you all. The editor of the Guardian of Truth makes no claim to perfection. None of the staff writers is perfect. We are not perfect as individuals, so why should any think our collective work is perfect? Our work involves making many judgment decisions. Those decisions are not always easy to make. I can assure you that important decisions about doctrinal issues have never been motivated by what will sell papers or conscious respect of persons. Anyone who disbelieves this manifests his own ignorance of what sells papers.
I have always tried to be open to the criticisms that I receive. I am willing to listen to the criticisms that others make about our work. Presently I am paying for some men to receive the magazine who are not our “fans” for the express purpose of hearing their feedback. I have traveled hundreds of miles to talk with brethren who wanted to talk about some aspect of our work with which they disagreed. I have published articles from such brethren to give them opportunity to express their criticisms.
An Open Paper
The Guardian of Truth maintains an open paper for-mat. By “open paper,” what we mean is not that every crackpot and nut will be given space to vent his spleen. We have turned down articles for publication and will continue to do so in the future. By “open paper,” we mean that we are willing to publish both sides of controversial issues. We have printed discussions on water baptism, institutionalism, divorce and remarriage, fellowship, and other issues. Some who have been refused space cry that Guardian of Truth is a closed paper, although there is not a paper published among us that has published more debates of doctrinal issues. They misunderstand what having an “open paper” means. The phrase does not mean that we are committed to publishing every-thing that anyone may choose to submit. Rather, it means that we are committed to providing space for responsible brethren to write on both sides of controversial issues.
We believe in an “open paper” on a Bible basis. Acts 17:11 states, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” 1 Peter 3:15 commands, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
The alternatives to an open paper are repulsive. If an “open paper” is not going to be published, the editor must be infallible. If he is not infallible, inevitably he will publish the wrong doctrine on some vital Bible subject and there will be no opportunity to challenge and investigate it. Every closed paper to my knowledge has inevitably become the champion of a doctrinal point of view that did harm to the church. A closed paper, like a closed pulpit, is a seed bed for false doctrine to germinate.
There has never been any occasion when I refused to meet with anyone to talk about our doctrinal or personal differences. What right do I have to ask others to listen to me, if I refuse to hear what they say? If there have been personal offences occur between brethren, the Scriptures command that they sit down together and work out those differences (Matt. 5:23-34; 18:15-17). I cannot understand how God-fearing brethren can refuse to sit down with one another and study about their differences or to work out personal offences.
Broad Brushed Indictments
An effort is made to avoid indicting all men in broad-brush condemnations. Writers sometimes make the mistake of writing specifically about a situation but not naming the person under review. In so doing, he sometimes leaves many people under a shadow of suspicion. For example, a per-son may write, “A certain preacher in Florida who is well known among the brethren is teaching that the Lord’s law on divorce and remarriage is no longer binding.” The writer has one particular person in mind whose picture he is trying to paint without calling his name. However, such a statement leaves most preachers in Florida under suspicion of teaching false doctrine on divorce and remarriage.
One way to avoid this error is to concentrate on the doctrine rather than the person. An article would be better worded if it said, “One popular doctrine being taught among brethren is the teaching that the Lord’s law on divorce and remarriage is no longer binding.” When a particular matter is under review, the best policy appears to be to name the brother under review and to quote directly from his material to provide irrefutable documentation that this is the position being asserted and to which reply is made. “Brother Jones, writing in [a specified journal] on a [specified date], wrote as follows. . . .” with the direct quotation given there-after with complete documentation. This inevitably involves naming the proponent of error and citing the references. This kind of assertion and negation is common to every form of learning and is recognized as honorable. We recognize that referring to a specific brother by name causes some to be repulsed, even when it is done in an honorable manner. These same people are repulsed by referring to denominations by name in the pulpit.
Steps Taken Before Controversial
Articles Are Published
Many efforts behind the scenes occur to avoid printing rash material. Sometimes we have been criticized as “shooting from the hip.” I cannot plead guilty to this. Here is the procedure followed when controversial material is received. (1) I ask for a copy of the material being reviewed in order to judge for myself whether or not the person has been correctly represented. (2) I go over the material with the author to remove, as much as can be detected, anything that is unnecessarily offensive. (3) Especially controversial material is frequently distributed to numerous brethren to get input before it is printed. Included in the men to whom such material is frequently distributed are: Fred Pollock, Connie W. Adams, Weldon E. Warnock, Ron Halbrook, and several others. (4) The material is sent to the person who is being reviewed before it is printed to see if he believes that he has been misrepresented. (5) This has led to long phone calls, exchanges of letters, and other efforts to resolve differences before going to print. Sometimes brethren meet in distant cities and spend time together to try to resolve their differences, or at least be sure that they have not been misrepresented, before going into print. (6) The person reviewed is given opportunity to respond (usually in the same issue) if he chooses to do so and will write in an honorable manner.
Despite the best of our efforts to be as careful as possible, there have been times when we have failed to live up to these standards. When we become aware of these failures, I have always believed that Christian principles demand that a public apology be made any time we have misrepresented another, whether or not it was intentional. I cannot remember any significantly controversial article with reference to which this procedure was not been followed in the last 15 years.
We make no apology for seeking counsel. The Scriptures teach us to seek out counsel. “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Prov. 15:22). “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 24:6).
In order to take counsel, there is necessary the sharing of information. That might include sending someone a copy of an article or a letter, discussing it with him in phone conversations, and such like things in order to get good advice that takes into consideration all of the facts. To avoid everything being filtered through one’s own prejudices, sometimes a letter or article must be made available to the one from whom he is seeking counsel. Some evil surmising brethren charge that there is a “pipeline” or “network” of malicious brethren at work executing some kind of sinister plot. That simply is not true. I have no malice toward others and deny that I have ever plotted harm against any individual.
We are exercising the most careful judgment to deal with serious Bible issues in an honorable way. All of the steps that were mentioned above have been followed in brother Tom Roberts’ review of several sermons preached around the country by Bob Owen on the subject of Romans 14. Brother Roberts is an honorable man, a seasoned veteran of gospel preaching, who deserves to be heard. Brother Owen was provided a copy of brother Roberts’ material but chose not to make reply to it. There is no personal axe to grind between these two brethren, for they have a long history of personal friendship. They have different views on Romans 14 which are discussed in brother Roberts’ review of brother Owen’s sermons. Please give his review your prayerful consideration.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 6 p. 2
March 20, 1997