By Jack H. Kirby
The issues that arose in and divided the Lord’s church in the 1950s and 60s had their beginning back in the 1930s. In 1938, brother G.C. Brewer, at the Abilene Christian College Lectures, made a statement that the church that did not have ACC in its budget had the wrong preacher. Brother Brewer had advocated church support of the colleges operated by brethren as far back as 1935. In the August 1, 1935, issue of the Gospel Advocate, he wrote that the church where he preached had put ACC in their budget for $1000 per year.
Prior to that time it was generally understood that there was no authority for the church contributing money to any human institution. Brother Brewer’s contention was immediately challenged, and brethren did not accept his suggestion.
Before 1938, little had been said about church supported orphan’s homes. There were only three or four, the oldest established in 1909. After the college question was defeated, its promoters began a new issue, the orphan home question. They argued that church support of colleges and orphan homes was directly parallel. Now they had an emotional appeal, the “poor little ragged, hungry, cold, orphan.” This was a smart move on their part. They had been defeated on the college question, but now with emotion they contended that if the church could support an orphan home they could support the college. They failed to give biblical authority for either.
In 1947, the colleges again started a drive for church support. Brother Robert M. Alexander began speaking to churches urging their support of ACC’s post-war building program. Again brethren rose up in opposition, and the attention again went to the orphan home question. Brethren generally refused to accept the “college in the budget” idea, but many were convinced that the church could support orphan’s homes. Much discussion was carried in the Gospel Advocate and the Bible Banner.
In the October 23, 1947 issue of the Gospel Advocate, brother N.B. Hardeman, president of Freed-Hardeman College, wrote:
I have always believed that a church has the right to contribute to a school or an orphanage if it so desired . . . . The right to contribute to one is the right to contribute to the other. Note the parallel: (1) The school is a human institution; it has a board of directors; it teaches secular branches in connection with the Bible. (2) An orphan home is a human institution; it has a board of directors; it teaches secular branches in connection with the Bible. The same principle that permits one must also permit the other. They must stand or fall together.
Bro. Hardeman contended that they both did the work of the church.
The fight began to rage, and emotions were high. Hardeman’s article had hit the heart of the issue and pointed up wide-spread inconsistency. Many churches were sending token support to orphan homes. It was an excellent strategy on Hardeman’s part. It took the heat off the schools, and put the light on poor little hungry, cold, orphans. When some brethren opposed church support of the homes, they were charged as being orphan haters. Institutional thinking brethren saw in this issue an opportunity to soften opposition to churches contributing to human organizations.
Brother A.B. Barrett, co-founder of ACC wrote in the Gospel Advocate, July 9, 1931 issue:
There were no “brotherhood colleges”, “church papers”, “church orphanages”, “old folk’s homes”, and the like, among apostolic congregations . . . the churches established by the apostles did not contribute to any organization other than a sister congregation. All “church” movements should be kept under the local congregation.
Foy E. Wallace, Jr., the leading opponent of this new apostacy wrote in the July 2, 1931 issue of the Gospel Advocate:
If it were “permissible” to have a Bible college as an adjunct to the church in the work of education and an orphan’s home in the work of benevolence, we quite agree that it would also be “permissible” to have a missionary society in the work of evangelization. But the question assumes the point to be proved. Nothing is “permissible” as an auxiliary of the church which is not Scriptural.
Wallace argued that there was no way the church could delegate its work to any board or human organization other than the local church.
Other Issues Arising
Other issues were arising during this time, such as congregational cooperation, church furnished entertainment, youth meetings, church dinners, etc. Following World War Il, the Broadway church in Lubbock, Texas, had become the “sponsoring church” for “missionary work” in Germany. They began in 1947 to receive funds from other churches to support brother Otis Gatewood in Germany. The Union Avenue church in Memphis, Tennessee, became the sponsoring church for the work in Japan, and the Brownfield, Texas church for the work in Italy. Thus the autonomy of the local church began to be violated.
Brother Hardeman had strongly condemned this type operation in his Nashville Tabernacle Sermons in 1928 (Vol. III, page 78). He said:
Every congregation known to the Bible is a unit within itself. The autonomy of each individual congregation is as clearly taught in the Book of God as any other one thing therein found. And there is no such thing as a blending, or forming of any kind of an alliance or relationship between one congregation and another. A cooperation is taught in the Bible. Organization other than the individual congregation is unknown to God’s book.
He clearly showed that.the “sponsoring church” arrangement was erroneous almost twenty years before it began to be popular.
Another issue that began to emerge was that of churchfurnished entertainment and recreation. More and more in the late 1940s, new ideas about local church programs were evident. One of them was that we have to do something special for the young people, or we are going to lose them. The denominations had set the pace with all kinds of social and recreational programs for their youth, so our brethren followed their lead. This idea was also attacked by brother Hardeman in his Tabernacle Sermons, and the books were widely read. He specifically condemned the practice in his 1943 series. He said:
I have failed to find anywhere in the Bible where there is a difference made in teaching or church work between a young fellow and an old one. Just where is the passage which intimates that the church should be divided according to years?
The Gospel Guardian
In the spring of 1949, the Gospel Guardian was again put into print. It had been published back in 1935 by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., but had been suspended in favor of the Bible Banner. This paper began to question the “brotherhood-wide” arrangements and “sponsoring churches. ” Church support of colleges, the national radio program sponsored by the Highland church in Abilene, Texas, called The Herald of Truth, sponsoring churches, etc. were all discussed upon its pages. The Gospel Guardian kept its columns open for the presentation of both sides of these issues, but the Firm Foundation in Austin, Texas, and the Gospel Advocate closed their pages to those they called “anti’s,” those who opposed the collective arrangements. The Gospel Advocate called for a quarantine of all preachers who would oppose these arrangements.
It was in 1952 that we first heard of a new departure, the aforementioned Herald of Truth. The first broadcast was on February 10, 1952. One thousand churches were urged to send funds to the Highland church to support the radio broadcasts. It had originated in Iowa with two young preachers, James Walter Nichols and James Willeford. After starting it, they began to seek out a church to take the oversight and, finally, the Highland church agreed to sponsor it. Little was said in opposition to the program until Glen L. Wallace, preacher for the College church in Abilene, asked some very pertinent questions about its scripturalness in the Gospel Guardian, December 17, 1953 issue. Wallace questioned the size of the budget, the amount of overhead, the sectarian name, the human organizational arrangement, and the “world-wide brotherhood activity” feature. He stated that he had always preached that an organization larger than a local church is larger than a New Testament church, and is, therefore, not a New Testament church.
Brother Wallace’s article was the beginning of a storm of opposition to the Herald of Truth. It then became a part of the raging discussion of congregational cooperation occasioned by the sponsoring arrangements of Broadway, Union Avenue, Brownfield, and the other sponsoring churches.
During this time there was a constant undercurrent with reference to orphan homes and the Herald of Truth. Churches began to divide as a result of brethren forcing the support of these things into the treasury of the local church.
Yellow Tag Of Quarantine
In the Decemeber 9, 1954, issue of the Gospel Advocate, one writer suggested that certain opposers to brotherwise projects be quarantined. The statement was given space on the editorial page. Here are his words:
I trust you will not consider me presumptuous if I suggest that perhaps the writers for the Gospel Advocate might wisely spearhead a movement to quarantine those preachers who today are sowing seeds of discord among the brotherhood and to thus prevent further division.
The preachers referred to were the opposers of church support of colleges, orphan homes, Herald of Truth, and other human institutions and arrangements supported by local churches. This along with another significant event that happened almost at the same time, started the forcing out of brethren from churches where they had worked, in some cases for a lifetime.
On October 17, 1954, brother G.H.P. Showalter died. He had been editor of the Firm Foundation for over forty years. He was a fair man, and allowed both sides to be heard in his paper. Soon after his death, brother Reuel Lemmons became its editor, and strong positions favoring human institutions began to appear. These two events marked the beginning of many church divisions. Brethren were forced to leave buildings and congregations that they had helped build, and were forced to start over from scratch. This was the pattern all over the country. Preachers were being “fired,” and gospel meetings of these preachers were being cancelled. When the problem arose in a church, someone who was trying to promote the orphan home, college, or sponsoring church into the budget would repeat some misrepresentation of some preacher or members in the area or in the congregation. This is what many used to win support for their positions instead of scripture.
Debates soon began to be conducted between brethren over these issues. One of the first was between brethren Charles Holt, W.L. Totty, and Sterl A. Watson. It was in Indianapolis in October, 1954. Perhaps the largest from standpoint of attendance were the two debates involving Yater Tant and E.R. Harper. Tant was the editor of the Gospel Guardian and Harper was the preacher for the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas. These debates were held in Lufkin, Texas in April, 1955, and in Abilene, Texas, in November of that year. One thousand preachers were in attendance, and the crowds numbered upwards of 1700 people.
Another debate was between Cecil Douthitt and Thomas. W. Warren. It was conducted in Houston in October, 1956. Douthitt raised a question in his first speech that set up an obstacle that Warren could never surmount. It was “Where shall we stop in the sponsoring church arrangement?” Just how many sponsoring churches shall we have? Shall we stop at the diocesean level, or go to the national or international level? Warren would never answer this.
Support Of Colleges
In 1958 the college question was re-opened in an attempt to get the colleges in the church budgets. Brother J.D. Thomas, Professor of Bible at ACC, wrote a book called We Be Brethren, in which he contended that churches can scripturally make contributions to “Christian schools.” With the majority of the churches swept up in the rush to originate and support human organizations, and with the exodus of the conservative element from most churches, the colleges generally achieved their goal. Churches all over the country are now supporting the colleges from their treasuries.
Our Situation Today
By the mid-1960s, division in the church was practically a total reality. Those who were contending for Bible authority in all things generally had to leave their home congregations in order to worship God in all good conscience. The others who favored the institutional approach generally kept the buildings, and moved more and more into liberalism and the social gospel. It is not unusual at all now, in fact it is the rule, to see fellowship halls, kitchens, game rooms, etc. in buildings owned by these churches.
These are heading more and more toward total denominationalism. Churches and preachers are joining ministerial alliances with denominations. These are exchanging pulpits on Sundays and other days with denominational preachers. One preacher even spoke to the Methodist church in his home town on how to build up their membership. History alone will record just how far these will go in the path of denominationalism, but every indication shows that they are travelling the same path those traveled in the last century who eventually became the digressive Christian Church.
Admonition To Conservative Brethren
While we must always be on guard that we do not practice or advocate anything that is not,,authorized by God’s word; yet we must realize that we are not just to be against departures, but are to advocate and practice active, positive New Testament Christianity. We must not degenerate into a faction of fanatics always opposing and never advocating. We must never let negative thinking rule our minds and lives to the extent that we do nothing positive for God. We should utilize all the resources at our disposal to promote the cause of Christ to a lost and dying world.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 36, pp. 585-587
September 11, 1980