History and Background of the Institutional Controversy (2)

By Steve Wolfgang

World War II

In truth, although there were such previews of what was to come, World War 11 can be seen as a chronological line of demarcation. First, as one generation passed from the earth, another was coming to prominence. In one eighteen month period during 1940-41, as the nation prepared for war, a number of well-known older preachers (Daniel Sommer, J.D. Tant, Joe Warlick, F.B. Srygley – household names in many places in the brotherhood) passed away, and were “replaced” in positions of editorial responsibility by much younger men such as B.C. Goodpasture.(1)

Reactions to the war itself, and the discussion of the “carnal warfare” question revealed that an interesting shift of opinion had occurred between the wars as this new generation had come to prominence. As late as World War 1, David Lipscomb’s strong non-participatory stance still held sway among a strong and vocal minority in the church. Objections to Christians serving in war resulted in such incidents as the closing of Cordell Christian College by the local “defense council,” and the arrest and threatened execution of two young Christians who were shipped to, Leavenworth Prison, and lined up before a firing squad to be shot.(2) The Gospel Advocate ceased the re-publication of David Lipscomb’s old articles on “Civil Government” and no-participation in warfare only under threat from federal government either to cease and desist the publication of such anti-war propaganda or be shut down altogether.(3)

By World War II, however, shifting sentiment, the emergence of a new generation, and, to be sure, the surge of patriotic opinion following the attack on Pearl Harbor, produced a strikingly different environment. B.C. Goodpasture needed no government intervention to persuade him to close the columns of the Gospel Advocate to further discussion; by 1943 he did it voluntarily. Indeed, a close examination of some of the early criticisms of the cooperative efforts in preaching in Italy and Germany stemmed from the fact that some of the “missionaries” seemed to their critics much too quick to “apologize” for the devastation inflicted on Europe by American armed forces.(4)

The Post-World War II Era

Even before the army of GI’s returned home in 1945 to marry, continue their education, or launch careers (or all of the above), a new consciousness regarding evangelism and a seeming willingness to try whatever sounded good in spreading the gospel had overtaken many of the churches and those who preached or served as elders over them. The educational boon of the GI Bill also swelled the ranks of colleges across the country – and “Christian colleges” seemed determined not to be a whit behind the chiefest.

Spurred in most cases, no doubt, by well-intentioned impulses to spread the gospel as widely as possible, churches were inundated after the war with numerous appeals: to support cooperative works in Germany, Italy, and Japan (“overseen” by churches in Texas and Tennessee who assumed a centralizing role in such support); or the proliferation of institutions soon swelled to more than thirty);(5) and not least by the “Christian colleges, whose swelling enrollments of returning GI’s helped create a seemingly insatiable appetite for funds to sustain their growth.

That there had been some “historical precedent” for centralized support of city-wide evangelistic endeavors cannot be successfully disputed. The cooperative efforts of the Hardeman “Tabernacle Meetings” of the Twenties and Thirties were reflected in other such post-World II endeavors as the Houston Music Hall meetings, in which the Norhill church undertook to oversee funds from Houston-area churches so that Foy E. Wallace, Jr., could p reach lessons which, transcribed and later published as God’s Prophetic Word and Bulwarks of the Faith, would provide sermon material on which an entire generation of preachers would “cut their teeth.” The local preachers at Norhill at that time were Luther Blackmon and Wallace’s close friend, Roy E. Cogdill, who before long would launch his own printing company largely to be able to publish Wallace’s books as well as his paper, the Bible Banner Oater, the Gospel Guardian – in which Cogdill would later renounce the centralized arrangement of the Music Hall meeting).(6)

Cogdill, Blackmon, Guardian editor Yater Tant, and others who initially supported such efforts were forced by conviction of conscience, and, as they saw it, consistency, to withdraw their support for such collective endeavors in much the same way as men like Tolbert Fanning and Benjamin Franklin, initial supporters and defenders of nineteenth-century missionary society endeavors, eventually withdrew their support for such efforts and indeed became vocal opponents of such works.(7)

For those who began to think twice about centralized foreign evangelistic efforts “under the oversight” of a single large American church, an additional concern was the message preached (or, in the eyes of many, not preached) by the “missionaries” receiving such support. David Filbeck has ably, demonstrated that much of the opposition to the centralized missionary society of the Christian Church was due to the diluted (even modernistic) message of those so supported, and some of the same concerns – as much about message as about methods – are, I believe, reflected in some of the writing in opposition to centralized evangelistic support, where many smaller churches contributed to support preachers in the countries devastated by World War II by sending their contributions to a large, prosperous, “overseeing” church.(8)

What Were “The Issues”?

The proliferation of humanly-arranged institutions seeking church contributions (particularly the increasing volume of educational institutions openly soliciting money from churches) and the growing numbers of congregations assuming the right to “oversee” the work of other churches with the financial support of many more were only a part of the scenario. Combined with the upward socio-economic mobility of members of the church, many of whom experienced the shift from the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence of Depression-era poverty to the disposable income and consumerism of the post-war boom which moved the South toward parity with the nation, these factors and more provided a complex scenario fraught with possibilities for differences, disagreement, and division.

By the time a national radio (and later, television) program, the “Herald of Truth,” was added to the list of orphanages, homes for the aged and for unwed mothers, schools, colleges, publishing ventures (Gospel Press, for example) and intermittent appeals for increasing numbers of projects centralized under a few large, prosperous churches, an increasing number of brethren began to question various aspects of these endeavors. The study of “the current issues” (as they were often generically labeled) produced a tension between the boosters of the new projects and those who raised pesky questions about their scriptural validity. That tension was reflected in the increasing vehemence with which both sides pressed their positions in various “brotherhood journals.” Roy Cogdill’s Banner Publishing Company was created in large part to allow Foy E. Wallace, Jr., to continue in the Banner/Guardian his opposition to the increasingly open appeals for church support of colleges, orphanages and other parachurch enterprises which surfaced with increasing frequency in B.C. Goodpasture’s Gospel Advocate and in Texas Firrn Foundation after G.H.P. Showalter was succeeded in 1954 by Reuel Lemmons.(9)

Other papers were begun as well, often for the expressed purpose of examining these issues. The Preceptor, begun in 1951 by several brethren affiliated with Florida Christian College was followed almost a decade later by another Tampa journal, Searching the Scriptures. Halfway between the launching of these journals, and half a continent away, TRUTH Magazine was begun in the Chicago area. None of these upstart journals, however, enjoyed the extended longevity and familiarity (to say nothing of the large subscription lists) ‘ of the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation, which were joined by new journals such as the Spiritual Sword in the flight against the “antis.”(10)

The discussion of these “issues” was perhaps most vocally expressed in a series of formal debates in the half-decade beginning about. 1954. From Indianapolis (Holt-Totty, October 1954; Woods-Porter, January 1956) to Texas (Harper-Tant, Lufkin, April 1955 and Abilene, November 1955) to Alabama (Cogdill-Woods, Birmingham, November 1957; Wallace-Holt, Florence, December 1959), men who had once stood shoulder to shoulder and made common cause against all enemies did battle with each other. These debates, published and re-published for wider consumption by various brotherhood printing concerns, reflected hundreds of other unpublished public discussions and thousands of private conversations and arguments which spread to nearly every hamlet in the land where there was a church of Christ. Together with the written discussions in various “brotherhood journals,” they provided an arsenal for anyone who sought to do battle on either side.

The Arguments

In debates, sermons, and various articles in religious journals, non-institutional preachers have normally advanced the following propositions:

1. That God has revealed in Scripture certain patterns for believers to follow in executing their collective duties in congregational work and worship (Heb. 8:5).

2. That these “binding” patterns are expressed in terms of (a) “generic” or “specific” statements or commands; (b) specific accounts of action, and (c) necessary conclusions or inferences drawn from Scripture (Acts 15).(11)

3. That the “general” or more “generic” statements or commands allow differing optional or expedient ways of obeying those requirements, while specific statements or examples provide more restrictive instructions and do not authorize alternative procedures.

4. That the differences between “general and specific” can be detected, and distinguished from incidentals, or from a variety of expedient ways, by correctly following common sense hermeneutical principles.(12)

5. That the Scriptures enjoin upon Christians a broad range of individual duties, obligations and privileges which can be carried out in a variety of optional and expedient ways, that God may be glorified.

6. That, by contrast, the collective duties enjoined upon Christians in their collective congregational capacity, are fairly limited and consist of worshiping God through prayer, vocal music, proclamation of the gospel, and the first day of the week observance of the Lord’s Supper and financial collection to enable the congregation to carry out its collective responsibilities in discharging its own edificational and teaching duties, assisting needy sanits, and supporting preachers in their work of proclamation and teaching.

7. That, while some collective duties may overlap individual obligations (teaching, singing, prayer, for example), individual and collective (congregational) activity are not identical and can be easily and clearly distinguished one from the other.

8. That since collective activity, which requires a common mind, acceptance and agreement to common supervision (by elders, if qualified), and the pooling of financial resources is inherently fraught with possibilities of disagreement in matters of detail, it should be limited to those activities clearly enjoined upon Christians in acting together as a congregation, allowing room to respect the conscience of others, even of weak or untaught brethren (Romans 14).

9. That, in regard to preaching the gospel, Scripture reveals only that evangelism was accomplished by individual preachers, self-supported or remunerated by congregations (by example, directly, without the aid of some itermediary or “sponsoring” church, or “missionary society,” whether called by that name or identified as a “steering committee” or other terminology – 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:15-18).

10. That Scripture several times records that churches assisted their own needy saints, or sent funds for the temporary relief of congregations in “want,” – but that such relief was temporary, not sent from one prosperous church to another, and never for purposes of evangelism in which each congregation has equal obligations to the limit of its ability. Most conservatives have stressed the independence and autonomy of each local congregation, insisting that twentieth-century “sponsoring-church” conglomerates or other centralizing tendencies, no less than a missionary society or the Baptist associations and conventions, compromise New Testament principles regarding the nature of Christ’s church.(13)

11. That the church Jesus died to purchase is a spiritual institution with a uniquely spiritual function, and is therefore not to be remade into a hybrid welfare organization-country club responsible for alleviating social ills or for the entertainment of its members.

12. That human societies and institutions (colleges, orphanages, publishing companies, hospitals, etc.) which may be utilized as expedient means on a fee-for-service basis, am not be appended to the church and maintain their livelihood by church donations, and that all such attempts to make them parachurch or church-related institutions is foreign to the New Testament.


1. Ed Harrell, “B.C. Goodpasture: Leader of Institutional Thought, in They Being Dead Yet Speak. Florida College Annual Lectures, 1981 (Tampa: Florida College, 1981). Note Harrell’s observations that “Foy Wallace scorched heretics; Goodpasture warned them that they would lose their position in the brotherhood” (p. 250). See also J.C. Choate, The Anchor That Holds: The Life of Benton Cordell Goodpasture (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1971).

2. Sears, For Freedom, pp. 156-157.

3. Earl West, “World War I and the Decline of David Lipscomb’s Civil Government” (unpublished ms., Harding Graduate School of Religion Library, 1976, p. 11); see West, III, chapter 13. For background on Lipscomb and nineteenth century pacifism. See David Edwin Harrell, Jr., “Disciples of Christ Pacifism in Nineteenth Century Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 21:3 (September, 1962), pp. 263-274.

4. Cled Wallace, “That Rock Fight in Italy,” Gospel Guardian 1:36 (January 19,1950), pp. 1,5; Foy E. Wallace, Jr., “Going Off Half-Cocked, ” Gospel Guardian 1:44 (March 16, 1950), pp. 1,5; Roy E. Cogdill, “We Are Not Anti-Foreign Evangelism,” Gospel Guardian 1:47 (April 6, 1950), pp. 1,5. See Willis, W. W. Otey, pp. 306f.

5. Willis, W. W. Otey, p. 312. In 1949 there were 14 “Orphan Homes and Homes for the Ages” listed in G.H. P. Showalter and Leslie G. Thomas, comps., Church Directory and List of Preachers of Churches of Christ (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1949), p. 212).

6. See Cogdill-Woods Debate. A Discussion on what constitutes scriptural cooperation between churches of Christ (Lufkin, TX: Gospel Guardian Company, n.d. [1958?1, pp. 204-208, 214-215.

7. See James R. Wilburn, The Hazard of the Die: Tolbert Fanning and the Restoration Movement (Austin, TX Sweet Publishing Company, 1969, chapters 10-12, especially pp. 176-181, 187-188, 193-195; Earl West, Elder Den Franklin: Eye of the Storm (Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, 1983), pp. 158-160, 211, 222ff.; Joseph Franklin and J.A. Headington, The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (St. Louis: John Burns, Publisher, 1879), pp. 304-305.

The discussion of “historical precedent” is an interesting one which one or both sides often adduce to bolster claims, but which is ultimately meaningless since, even if uniform, what the “pioneers” did provides no validity for doctrine or practice unless one accepts an “authority of tradition” viewpoint akin to that of Roman Catholicism. In this context, it simply demonstrates that sincere, intelligent, and honorable persons can and do change their minds and actions for a variety of reasons; or, that people sometimes do contradictory things and are not always self-consistent.

8. David Filbeck, The First Fifty Years: A Brief History of the Direct-Support Missionary Movement (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 36-59. While the objections of some of the opponents of centralized missionary work among churches of Christ did not center around traditional “modernism,” the heavy emphasis on the social gospel aspects of much “mission work” was a definite factor. See the articles cited in note 23 above, as well as Otis Gatewood, Preaching in the Footsteps of Hitler (Nashville: Williams Printing company, 1960), pp. 72-75. Though defending his “relief works” in Germany, Gatewood acknowledged that “Problems arose as a result of such work, it is true. Some wanted to be baptized only to get food and clothing.” Furthermore, “all this [distribution of food and clothing] took much time that could have been spent teaching the Bible” (pp. 70, 72).

9. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Fanning Yater Tant, and Roy E. Cogdill, mimeographed letter, March 21, 1949; Foy E. Wallace, Jr., “The New Gospel Guardian,” Fanning Yater Tant, “Policy of the Gospel Guardian,” and Roy E. Cogdill, “Publisher’s Statement,” Bible Banner 12:3 (April 1949), 1-2.

10. Harrell reports that “by the early 1950’s the Advocate’s circulation had grown to over 20,000; during the centennial drive of 1954 and 1955, the number of subscribers rose to an inflated figure of over 100,000; by the time of Goodpasture’s death in 1977, the circulation had stabilized at just over 30,000.” Furthermore, he observes: “The Gospel Advocate was the most powerful single center of influence among the churches of Christ of the 1950s. Goodpasture formed strong alliances with other institutions, particularly David Lipscomb College. He was the outspoken friend of all the institutions supported by churches; . . . in return the leaders of those institutions promoted the Advocate” (“B.C. Goodpasture,” in Florida College Annual Lectures, 198 1, pp. 243, 249).

11. See David Koltenbah, “The Three Methods of Argument to Establish Divine Authority and the Three Arguments in Acts 15 (Parts I-III)” TRUTH Magazine 11:10-12 (July, August, September, 1967), pp. 234ff., 255ff., 275ff.; “The Apostles’ Appeal to Scriptural Authority,” in Biblical Authority., It’s Meaning and Application: Florida College Annual Lectures, 1974 (Fairmount, IN: Cogdill Foundation, 1974), pp. 80-94. A M.A. thesis by Milo, Hadwin at Abilene Christian College which assails the idea that apostolic examples provide any basis of New Testament authority was published as The Role of New Testament Examples as Related to Biblical Authority (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1974). A conclusion, subtly stated on p. 53, is that there is no way to authorize observance of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week from the New Testament evidence (cf. pp. 39, 53). For alternate viewpoints, see Thomas B. Warren, When Is An Example Binding? (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian of Christ: Why Are We at an Impasse?” Restoration Quarterly 30 (First Quarter 1988), pp. 17-42.

12. See Roy E. Cogdill, Walking By Faith (Lufkin: Gospel Guardian Company, 1957; 6th Ed., 1967), especially pp. 13-28; Earl West, “Learning a Lesson from History (no. 1-3),” Gospel Guardian 1:40, 41, 42 (February 16, 23 and March 2, 1950); and “Congregational Cooperation,” Gospel Guardian 13:18 (September 7, 1961, pp. 273ff. [reprint)). For contrasting views, see Athens Clay Pullias, “Where There Is No Pattern,” Lipscomb Spring Lectures: Volume I (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 19″, pp. 90-102 (see Cecil N. Wright a lecture in the same volume [pp. 103-11.2], “Principles of New Testament congregational Cooperation,” a summary of his series in the 1951 Gospel Advocate).

13. See Robert F. Turner, “Cooperation of Churches, in The Arlington Meeting (Orlando, FL: Cogdill Foundation, n.d. 11969]), pp. 252ff. This work is probably the most extensive and best discussion of the institutional “issues.” See also Gaston D. Cogdell and Robert F. Turner, The Cogdell- Turner Discussion (Fairmount, IN: Guardian of Truth Foundation, 1983). On congregational independence, perhaps the clearest statement is Turner, “Restoration of Congregational Independence,” in The Restoration Heritage in America. A Biblical Appeal for Today. Florida College Annual Lectures, 1976 (Marion, IN: Cogdill Foundation, 1976), pp. 213-229.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 8, pp. 240-243
April 20, 1989