No Party

By David Edwin Harrell, Jr.,

Integrity, as most of us know, is a small, literate and generally good-humored magazine edited by Hoy Ledbetter in the interest of the liberated “party” in Church of Christ. In September, 1978, the magazine noted the publication of the booklet A Journey Toward Jesus as follows: “For a free copy of an interesting booklet, A Journey Toward Jesus, consisting of extended correspondence between Bruce Edwards arid Edward Fudge (formerly staff writers for Truth and. Gospel Guardian, but no longer tied to any party), send your personal request . . .” (p. 34).

I confess that there were several things about that announcement that struck me as curious. First, I was once again astonished by the prejudicial, condescending, self-righteous tone that usually characterizes such broad minded pronouncements. In the same issue of Integrity, Carl Ketcherside, the chief guru of liberated Church of Christers and a wonderfully humane human being, displays the same fine sense of moral superiority in an article entitled: “Freedom from Sectarianism.” He eloquently thanks God that he is not bitter, bigoted, factious, and petty as other men are. In his words: “Ever since God delivered me by His grace from the party spirit, 1 have been under the conviction that His people have not all been gathered into any one group. I was not only set free from a sect, but from the spirit which creates and condones all sects . . . I was driven to the Lord Jesus. I belong only to Him” (p. 42).

Granted that there are some theological questions at stake in such assertions. I have no objections to a man saying that he was wrong but learned better. I do that regularly. But such changes do not necessarily mean that I was formerly mean, vicious and ignorant and have now become virtuous, enlightened and brilliant. Change might mean exactly the opposite; in most cases one’s changes of mind probably do not signal any such dramatic personality reversals. In short, I find the smug arrogance of liberalism more and more offensive. I have been a political liberal for years but I have come to be embarrassed by the intolerance of many political liberals. I think the tenets of religious liberalism are wrong, but I understand where they come from, and I can discuss them with respect and reason. Generally most positions make some sense if one grants a few assumptions. But I find it increasingly difficult to abide the patronizing liberal who begins every pontifical assertion: “I used to be an ignorant, bigoted Church of Christ sectarian but since reaching my present state of advanced enlightenment I now ‘know that I ‘am supremely right in my present beliefs.” That reminds me of a fellow who once prayed: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11).

Second, and more to the point, the assertion that Ed Fudge and Bruce Edwards were formerly “tied” to “parties” because of their associations with Truth Magazine and the Gospel Guadian is blatantly misleading. I think it is simply”false. I believe that both Ed and Bruce understood the plea for undenominational Christianity. I think they both ‘opposed “partyism” and would not have joined faction. In my opinion, that is the case with most of the people who read those journals. In many ways, conservative journals represent the restoration movement at its most unstructured level. They are more independent, less uniform and exercise relatively little power over churches. I like that, and I think that most conservatives have a good perspective on the importance of institutions. If Ed and Bruce did not understand undenominational Christianity, shame on them: A lot of us do.

Even more misleading is the implication that these two young men are now associated with more liberal spirits (Integrity, that is) and are no longer aligned with any party. Of course, whether or not one belongs to a party is largely a matter of attitude. It is not wrong to listen to Paul or Apollos or Cephas; it is wrong to form a party around them, (1 Cor. 1:10-15). While partyism in the restoration stream is clearest to me among the mainline institutional Churches of Christ, the followers of Carl Ketcherside and readers of Integrity are not far behind. They hold a strongly corporate view of “the restoration movement” and have none of the doctrinal reservations about institutions which restrict the possibilities for denominational growth among conservatives.

There are, no doubt, both conservatives and liberals in Churches of Christ who have “party” loyalties. But lnlegritv, and I suppose Ed Fudge and Bruce Edwards, are alienated from conservative Christians not because they have been liberated from party ties. Nor is it a matter of the advanced enlightenment of all liberals. Our differences are doctrinal and temperamental. I shall let the Lord decide whose mind is most enlightened and shall be content with the results.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 10, p. 162
March 8, 1979