By Cecil Willis
In last week’s editorial I was explaining why I had referred to Brother Lemmons, Editor of the Firm Foundation, as being chameleon-like. He is the perfect will-of-the-wisp. Just when you think you have him pinned down so that you understand what he really believes, he writes something that sounds just the opposite.
Having read nearly everything Brother Lemmons has written for at least a decade, I thought that I understood that he was categorically opposed to congregations contributing to liberal arts colleges and to orphan homes under a board of trustees other than the elders of a local church. But watch next week for some paradoxical statements from him.
Colleges and Orphan Homes
In an editorial March 21, 1972, Brother Lemmons said: “Now a college board, or an orphan home board for that matter, is larger than the local church and it is smaller than the church universal…. We have never met anyone who would seriously attempt to justify the existence of these boards by the scriptures. . . . Unless a church can support a work that is not its own, through a board which is larger than the local congregation and smaller than ‘the church universal, then colleges are not eligible for church treasury funds. . . . This is the reason why we have opposed the operation of children’s homes under boards rather than elderships…. If it can be done tinder a board with church support, then let us apologize to the Christian church for opposition to boards. . . . Just address yourself to the task of proving by the Scriptures that boards are a scriptural arrangement through which the church can do its work. If this can be proven, all opposition to the arrangement will cease, and, as an added serendipity, we will, after we have apologized to the Christian church for a century of opposition to them, find ourselves much nearer union with them. These boards are scriptural or unscriptural; right or wrong. We ought to be able to decide which. It is not right to ignore the issue because it is the basis of much contention.’
Brother Lemmons sounds clear enough on this issue here, doesn’t he? Yet somehow he never quite gets around to naming the organizations specifically which he thinks it is unscriptural and thus sinful for churches to support, especially as it pertains to orphan homes or homes for the aged. You would think Brother Lemmons would prepare and publish a list of these institutions overseen by boards, which he professes to believe it is sinful for churches to support.
But Brother Lemmons has said a good deal more on this subject: “We have predicted before that the attempt would be made to fight this battle on the grounds of the orphan home, and try to establish a precedent for the church contributing to a competitive human institution, based upon our universal sympathy for orphan children, and that having accomplished this step, the next would be to try to put the college in the budget.” (Firm Foundation, 1964, article quoted -in full in Truth Magazine, June, 1964.) Lemmons was then replying to the tract Questions and Issues of the Day by Batsell Barret Baxter, which advocated the church support of liberal arts colleges like David Lipscomb College and Abilene Christian College, and which tract was liberally distributed by the thousands throughout the brotherhood.
Lemmons went on to charge Baxter with trying to use the emotionally laden orphan home issue as a ploy by which to get the colleges in the church budgets. Lemmons said: “This is the course taken by Brother Baxter, and those who would seek the goal of the college in the church budget. He argues the orphan home and then draws college conclusions. It would help him and others to see their error if they would argue first the college in the church budget and draw orphan home conclusions. . . . This entire college-in-the-budget question hinges upon whether the church can support a human organization ‘which is doing a good work that God wants done.’ It has been my contention from the beginning that brethren are not so much interested in church support of homes under boards, but they are interested in contending for that in order to ease into a campaign for church support of colleges. . . . Brother Baxter, and those associated with him in this movement, are violating the faith, perverting the gospel, and if division of the church throughout the nation results from this controversy, he and his associates must bear the shame and disgrace for bringing it about.”
Again, you may say, Lemmons stands plenty strong on these issues. But you see, you have so far only seen one color of the chameleon. The other color I will show you later on in this series. Nearly a decade after Baxter and the college-in the-budget brethren began their all-out crusade to get congregational support of the colleges, hundreds of thousands of dollars annually now are pouring into college coffers from congregational budgets, and Lemmons and his stalwarts are standing by relatively quiet while such goes on. They certainly have not separated themselves from Baxter and his Herald of Truth crowd, as Lemmons earlier intimated might well happen if a concerted effort should be made to secure congregational contributions for colleges. David Lipscomb College, where Baxter is Chairman of the Bible Department, publicizes widely that they are counting on “at least” $350,000 a year from congregational contributions. Meanwhile, Lemmons continues to promote Baxter and the Herald of Truth upon which he is the principal speaker, and simultaneously continues to castigate those of us who oppose & Herald of Truth and colleges in the budget as butcherers of the Lord’s Body See Firm Foundation. April 11, 1972).
In 1966 Brother Lemmons said: “. . . In recent efforts to’down anti-ism’ there has been a loosening up to the point where almost anything goes. For example, deliberate brethren will note that in a matter of a few score months we have gone ‘board crazy.’ We doubt if the number of ‘board’ arrangements for various ‘projects’ over the past 2,000 years has equaled the number such arrangements created in the past five years. Many of these are at least questionable. They are not essential for doing the Lord’s work, and they furnish fuel for the fires of sectarianism. Some brethren object, and they have a right to. A complete disregard for these objections drives a wedge, and each will blame the other for splitting the log. We are not as careful as we once were to do Bible things in Bible ways. Isn’t it time for all concerned to seriously consider the possibility of finding mutual ground, and the unity that goes with that?” (Firm Foundation, February 1, 1966).
Lemmons sounded nearly the same warning in 1968, as he editorialized: “So long as brethren insist on tapping the church treasury for the support of institutions that are not the church and not doing the work of the church we will feel constrained to reply to them. These are the very arguments made by the missionary society brethren many years ago and the college in-the-budget brethren more recently. We have no intention of letting the issue go by default… If caring for orphans is a work of the church that a benevolent society has taken over, then these brethren make their own institutions inherently wrong, just as they make the missionary society inherently wrong. Nothing then could make them right. Unless they take the position that preaching the gospel is a work of the church, while caring for orphans is not a work of the church, there is a deadly and we do mean deadly-parallel between the two.” (Firm Foundation, October 29, 1968.)
Why Brother Lemmons cannot see that the same arguments used to defend the orphan homes under boards are the very ones used to defend the sponsoring church arrangements, I do not know. It can be documented historically that church support for missionary societies, colleges, orphan homes under boards, and sponsoring churches are defended by virtually the same arguments. Brother Lemmons assays to oppose congregational support of orphan homes under boards, missionary societies and colleges, and yet wants to accept sponsoring churches. This is what he means by standing in the middle-of-the-road.
In 1967 Lemmons directly charged, as he did in the statement just quoted, that orphan homes under boards are parallel to missionary societies. Here is what he said: “We have repeated the observation many times on this page that brethren seem to be going ‘Board Crazy.’ Many brethren seem to think that most any work of the church can be set up separate and apart from the supervision of the Elders of the church under a Board of Directors and that there is nothing wrong with it. We have always maintained that the church is all sufficient to do any work that God gave the church to do. We believe that the church is its own missionary society, and we believe that the church is its own benevolent society. We continue to maintain that if a thing is the work of the church that it should be done under the Elders of the church. While there may be some slight differences between separate corporations operated under Boards of Trustees and the Missionary Society, the similarities between the two are entirely too great to ignore. ” (Firm Foundation, September 26, 1967.)
Now these statements from Lemmons all sound clear enough. In fact, he sounds like one of those whom he opprobriously labels the “anti orphan faction,” and “hobbyists.” There seems to be no uncertainty about where he stands. But then he turns around and lends his influence to those who practice what he condemns and opposes those of us who oppose what he opposes. In this article you have only seen one “hue” of the chameleon Lemmons. I will show you another color he shows on other occasions in an article to follow.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 15, pp. 3-5
February 15, 1973