By Lewis Willis
Many years ago, a controversy raged in the Lord’s church over church treasury support of human institutions, such as colleges. Faithful brethren contended in those days that there were many other practices, some quite unexpected, that would ultimately be introduced into the practice of those liberal congregations which supported the institutions. Gospel preachers rightly said that the same argument being made in those days to justify church sup- port of human institutions would be used to justify a host of other things as well.
Before long, the controversy moved from church support of institutions to church involvement in recreation through building of gymnasiums, fellowship halls, etc. Brethren used to say that the liberal agenda would be rejected if brethren could only see how far these apostates were willing to go in their departure from the truth. Those who made that statement proved themselves wrong as prophets.
We continue to see and hear one heresy after another, and there is no significant opposition to be found. Some writers are making strong statements about what is happening, but they are powerless to stop the digression because they are not willing to return to the truth themselves. It is difficult for an apostate to halt an apostasy!
Among the apostates trying to stop further digression are H.A. (Buster) Dobbs, editor of the Firm Foundation, and Alan E. Highers, editor of The Spiritual Sword. Dobbs and Highers regularly attack “liberals,” apparently without realizing they are one of those beasts themselves. They praise fellow-liberals when they exclude “anti-institutional people” (that’s us, folks) from a listing of those who are God’s people (FF, 11/97, 2, and, SS, 10/97, 47). According to these heretics, we are not even Christians! We do what the Bible authorizes us to do, but that no longer makes one a Christian, according to Dobbs and Highers. Still, they are terribly upset over the direction their fellow-liberal brethren are going. They regularly oppose men within “the institutional fellowship” such as Max Lucado, Car- roll Osburn, and Rubel Shelly. Dobbs, Highers, and these other birds-of-the-feather liberals, are now at war among themselves, and Dobbs and Highers are losing the battle! What’s the battle about?
They are locked in controversy over whether or not they will accept the Christian Church and its mechanical instrument of music into their fellowship. Lucado, Osburn, and Shelley say “Yes,” while Dobbs and Highers say “No.”
Before a gathering of thousands of liberals in Nashville, called Jubilee ’97, Shelly read a letter from Victor Knowles, of the Christian Church, apologizing for the division over the introduction of the instrument into the worship of the church which occurred over 90 years ago. Knowles apolo- gized for that, asking liberal brethren to accept his apology and to accept one another as they work together “in the kingdom of God.” (You see, according to these men, the Christian Church is in the kingdom, but those of us who insist on doing things as authorized in the Scriptures are not.) When Shelly read the Knowles statement, it was re- ceived “with a mixture of tears and applause.”
Shelly then added a statement of his own, “I sincerely express my own regret and sorrow over the divisions that have existed between us. I ask forgiveness for my contri- butions to them. And I ask all of us to move beyond the rancor and alienation of generations now dead” (From the bulletin where Shelly preaches).
This apology to the Christian Church by Shelly has liberals like Dobbs and Highers in an uproar. They see themselves being lead to the use or acceptance of instru- mental music and into fellowship as a denomination with the Christian Church denomination. Dobbs and Highers will not likely follow this course but they, in time, will be listed with a few radicals who are no longer regarded as Christians, just as they now view those of us who are “anti-institutional.” They want to eat of the liberal pie, but not all of it. They want a morsel here or there, while they curse the rest of the apostate dinner!
In the current issue of Wineskins, (Sept.-Oct., 1997), edited by Shelly, he has begun to lay the foundation for the acceptance of the instrument in worship. If they do not use the instrument themselves, they will fellowship those who do use it. Shelly has begun discrediting the truth about worship, calling it our “tradition” instead of the teaching of God’s word. He says “the acts of worship” are not “good theology.” Shelly tells us, “It is more precise to say that worship is always an attitude of reverence before God that is exhibited by appropriate actions” (my emphasis, LW). His point is, as long as your attitude is right, and you (or he) regards what you do as appropriate, God will accept your worship. Don’t bother him with the limitations on worship imposed by the Bible (John 4:24; Eph. 5:19), that’s nothing but tradition.
Interestingly, an article in the same issue of Wineskins, by Larry Bridgesmith, instructs on how to make worship more meaningful (8). Bridgesmith tells about a young man struggling for meaning in worship following the suicide of his brother. The worship of the church was not inspiring, failed to meet him in his loss, and his pain was not soothed. He was approached by “a church shepherd” who learned that nothing seemed to make sense anymore; God was nowhere near in the young man’s confusion; the church assembly offered no connection with eternity and the answers offered there. The young man was angry as he explained how meaningless worship had become.
Finally, the shepherd asked him where he felt closest to God. He replied, “In my duck blind.” He was then told to go there, talk to God about his loss, anger, and confusion, and “then listen for his response.” Early on Sunday morning, he headed for his duck blind (never mind that God commands that we assemble: Heb. 10:25; Acts 20:7). Throughout the entire day he questioned, accused, and confronted God. He shouted, argued, and cried out. But, he heard no voice, nor saw he a vision. “He sought an encounter with God with all his heart, head and spirit. His plea was simply, ‘If you are there God, if you care about me, show me.’”
Exhausted and emotionally drained after spending the Lord’s Day in this fashion, he headed home. But, as he came to the top of a hill, he noticed a beautiful sunset in his rear-view mirror. He stopped and got out to see it more clearly. When he stepped out he noticed a huge stag deer standing between him and God’s glorious sunset. The deer looked at him briefly and bounded away. The young man fell to his knees “and worshiped.” “The God he thought was not listening came near in ways his heart was pre- pared to encounter. At that moment, Matt’s emotional and spiritual healing began. His questions were answered, his accusations not responded to. But God came near and his presence was unmistakable,” according to Bridgesmith.
Does the Bible describe such nonsense as this? Absolutely not! But these liberals are now going to replace “the acts of worship” set forth in the Scriptures with an acceptable attitude and with what they regard as appropriate action. No wonder Buster Dobbs and Alan Highers get upset with this kind of junk. However, they’ll get a lot further trying to call people away from such apostasy, if they will return themselves from the apostasy into which they have fallen, and repent! Is this all of the liberal pack- age? Probably not. Why can’t these brethren see you can’t have “just a little liberalism”?