Liberals Lament Lost Identity

By Lewis Willis

A sad awakening has occurred among those brethren who left us 40-plus years ago so that they could have church-supported benevolent institutions, unscriptural congregational cooperation which produced sponsoring-churches and sponsoring-elderships for programs like Herald of Truth, and activities such as fellowship halls and church dinners. It is increasingly apparent that many of the same brethren who promoted these unauthorized practices are distressed over the direction their efforts have taken them. I heard several years ago that “the student always goes further than the teacher.” That was the warning issued to these brethren years ago. They were told that they could fight the war that would introduce these unscriptural practices, but that they would be left behind by the next generation that would go even further into apostasy. These advocates of liberalism, without repentance or apology, have learned, but have not admitted, that those warnings they heard were justified.

For the last 8-10, years several indications. of concern over what is happening in liberal churches have surfaced. This article will mention three specific statements from those brethren, with an accompanying word of caution concerning us.

1. In 1986, the Firm Foundation, a liberal paper that led the fight for institutionalism, printed a special issue, mailing it to churches across the nation. It was a 48-page study of “the fellowship question.” They identified the problem they were addressing. They were trying to stop a movement to fellowship the Christian Church, accept instrumental music and women preachers/elders, and to oppose those who would deny the inerrancy of the Scripture (Firm Foundation, Alan E. Highers, Vol. 103, No. 6, March, 1986, pp. 1,5-7). To thwart this effort, they argued: (1) Authority was necessary before the church can act, (2) The New Testament is that authority, (3) The N.T. authorizes practice with commands, approved examples, and necessary inferences, (4) The authorization may be either specific or generic, and (5) They wrote of the law of inclusion/exclusion. Ironically, this was the same argumentation they had rejected as invalid years earlier, when they insisted on introducing unauthorized activities which they wanted into the church. Back then they argued, “We do many things for which we have no authority” and they issued tracts on “Where there is no pattern.” Now, they suddenly have decided that we need authority for our practices after all.

2. A front-page article in another liberal paper, Christian Chronicle (Vol. 46, No. 1, January, 1989), lamented what was happening to urban churches. The article described “survival-based competition” driving churches to add pro-grams and facilities to assure their own growth. An Oklahoma City preacher said, “A grandparent church knows it can’t survive financially without young people, so they have to try to do what’s necessary to get them.” The problem was, they borrowed money to provide facilities for Day Care, Christian Schools, gymnasiums, swimming pools, and about anything else the membership wanted. Unfortunately, when a new congregation started, they offered “better” facilities than the other, so the young members left, leaving the older brethren overwhelmed with debt. That would be a problem, wouldn’t it?

Again, we have noticed that practically every issue of Firm Foundation for the last two years has been fighting a battle over the “new hermeneutic” among liberal brethren. Primarily the advocates who reject New Testament authority, seeking a new way of interpreting the Scriptures, are the professors of Bible in the so-called Christian colleges. These professors are repeatedly accused of not believing in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. Administrators are challenged to dismiss these “heretics,” only to discover they defend and support what the professors are teaching.

3. The editor of the current issue of The Spiritual Sword (Vol. 26, No. 1, October, 1994) is again bemoaning what has happened to liberal churches. The theme of the issue is “Who Are We?” Alan Highers, the editor, describes their “loss of spiritual identity.” He said”… it is not uncommon to hear about members leaving the church and uniting with a denomination . . . their action represents a lack of understanding about the nature and identity of the church. We are reaping the harvest of twenty-five years of non-distinctive preaching. Many of our young people no longer know the difference between the church of the New Testament and the ecclesiastical kingdoms of men.”

What has caused this to happen? Highers said these members have not been taught at all. “They have never heard the old arguments relating to Bible authority, speaking where the Bible speaks, and remaining silent where the Bible is silent. They have grown up in `socialized’ churches where the youth program was strong, but the teaching program was weak.” ” Do you suppose these younger members are able to see the inconsistency of opposing human missionary societies, while endorsing human benevolent societies? Or, possibly they do not agree that you can support, from the treasury, a benevolent society, but it is sinful to support a missionary society. The reason they do not know the difference between liberal churches and denominations is because there is no difference. When a church decides to act without authority (Col. 3:17), it becomes a denomination! That is precisely what Highers and his liberal brethren persuaded churches to do when they abandoned N.T. authority on institutions and cooperation. Now, they have created a monster of modernism, and they are afraid of it. It is devouring them, and they cannot stop it.

Highers condemned his own brethren, quoting from the Baptist Messenger, “We have raised a generation of sissy preachers. Nobody … is preaching that the Word of God is the Word of God and that Hell is hot. God has not called us to be ambassadors of good will; he has called us to be ambassadors of God’s will.” Thus, he sadly concludes, “Churches of Christ are facing an identity crisis as we near the end of the twentieth century.” I would suggest that their movement is not facing an identity crisis, but it is facing the fact that they are the fathers of yet another exodus into denominationalism. Their only hope is to come back where we all used to stand; where conservative churches of Christ have remained through these years following the division the liberals manufactured and directed. It is sad to see their liberal baby bite them!

4. Within conservative churches there is a need to be alert! We read too many articles giving the latest quotations from a host of denominational authors, with little Scripture basis, if any at all. These pleasing little platitudes that describe how to feel good and get along better with our peers are replacing plain-old-Bible-teaching. If these sectarian authors have such an outstanding grasp of the truth, why are they still in denominationalism? Sermon topics are now advertised with catchy titles that amuse, or offer self-help philosophies, instead of being based in the terminology of the Scriptures. Have these men discovered a pattern of words which is better than Scriptures? Or, are they mimicking the same errors that institutional preachers made? Before it is too late, preaching brethren, let’s examine our sermons and determine if the emphasis is on a “thus saith the Lord” or on the wisdom of men. We are eyewitnesses of what human wisdom produces, and we must not allow history to repeat itself among us!

Let us never forget that God’s people were once destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6); that they were sent into captivity for lack of knowledge (Isa. 5:13). Amos prophesied that a famine of hearing the word of the Lord was coming (Amos 8:11). Let us not be guilty of helping the Devil in his destructive work (1 Pet. 5:8). We must never become a people who love it when preachers “prophesy falsely,” speaking smooth things that deceive and tickle our ears (Jer. 5:31; Isa. 30:10; 2 Tim. 4:2-4). If your preacher is more impressed with modem writers than he is with God’s word (and you can easily tell), send him a direct message to “preach the word,” and accept nothing less.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 5 p. 10-11
March 2, 1995