By Wallace H. Little
By the time you read this, Brother Connie Adams and Cecil Willis will be in the Philippine Islands or will have already returned from their preaching visit there. As they will report the trip details, I will not comment on them. Several weeks prior to leaving, Cecil called me and asked if I had seen a printed letter authored by the liberal Americans in the Philippines, those running or connected with the Philippine Bible College (PBC) in Baguio City. I already had a copy. Additionally, others had contacted me about it. The letter was a collective recommendation by its writers: churches and individual brethren in the United States should cease supporting Filipino preachers. This was to be done by a phasing out over a three year period. The letter is too long to comment on all points. But at Cecil’s request, I will examine the most important: its premise, problems cited and a possible reason for this letter being sent to conservative brethren here.
On page one, second paragraph, one phrase shows the foundation for the liberals’ conclusions on problems they believe are produced by American support of Filipino preachers. “. . . We have listened carefully to the sermons and comments of Filipino brethren, we have talked seriously with men who have had the same problems in other countries, we have discussed the matter with overseeing elderships (emp. mine-whl), we have studied the situation from every possible aspect, and we have spent much time in prayer to God about it . . . .” Their expression, “overseeing elderships,” is the key. To our liberal brethren, this is synonymous with “sponsoring churches” and elders running them. If we are to understand it literally, it is saying “overseeing overseerships,” “supervising supervisorships” or “eldering elderships.” Had it not been for the letter’s authors, I would not have known there were any other kind. Given their use of that expression, some of their problems with American support of Filipino preachers become understandable. On page one, paragraph three, the letter continues, “. . . We American workers have recommended support for several Filipino brethren. Nevertheless, as time has passed, a number of undesirable effects and results (emp. mine-whl) have been manifest to all, both Filipinos and Americans. There have been abuses by those who make ‘godliness a way of gain.’ On the other hand, the practice itself has produced the problem even among the many conscientious preachers and congregations who love the Lord, and want to do it right.” The letter is saying that the problems result from the system. They are partly right. Let’s look at each, as the letter lists them. I will copy each verbatim, so none will be misrepresented.
1. “The preacher feels a great allegiance to the stateside church supporting him, and the local church here is not directing his work.” What the preacher feels comes from him. That the local church is not directing his work is not the result of his feelings, but the fact that Philippine Bible College, through its power of the purse, is doing the directing “in the name of” the sponsoring church. This problem truly is the result of the system, but not the system of support; rather, of control. Destroy the unscriptural system of control and the problem will disappear.
2. “Because he receives adequate help from overseas, the local church has no incentive to give according to ability.” I have no doubt this is a problem among liberal churches there; it is among many conservative churches also . . . and here in the United States . . . and elsewhere in the world. The problem does not come from preachers being supported. Instead, it is from lack of instruction on this by the preacher and other teachers. Also, it shows a carnal attitude toward giving, emphasizing things for which money is used, rather than the real need for each Christian to give (Acts 20:35). “The practice itself” has nothing to do with it. So while it is a problem, our liberal brethren there have identified neither its cause nor cure.
3. “Because he usually receives more support than the membership, it is psychologically difficult for him to preach on sacrificial giving.” Why? The conclusion does not follow. The fact a man is well off materially is not by itself a barrier to preaching on sacrificial giving. We all know those with considerable money who do indeed give sacrificially, setting a fine example, and teaching others to do the same. And I know a number there who do likewise, including several who give more than 50 percent of their income. To a godly preacher, the possession of material blessings above his needs will stimulate him to increased giving in appreciation of what the Lord has done for him. Also, he will teach this by word and example. In contrast, reducing a carnal man’s income will do nothing to cause him to preach on sacrificial giving. His life will teach the opposite and his preaching on it will be very quiet.
4. “He is many times considered a ‘hireling’ by the community, for, even though very sincere, he may be accused of preaching an ‘American doctrine’ for money.” He may also be accused of drunkenness, adultery and false teaching, as happened to several conservative preachers in the spring of 1973 while Frank Butler, Jady Copeland and I were there. But the accusations do not make the charges true now any more than they did in ’73. Our liberal brethren ought to be very well aware of this considering they were the ones who used this technique of character assassination attempting to ruin the reputations of these conservative preachers. As to being a hireling, with the control exercised by the sponsoring church and the Philippine Bible College, this might well be true of those Filipino preachers receiving support through them. The problem surely is the result of “the practice itself” but not the practice of support; instead, the practice of institutionalism and this particular facet, the unwarranted control of the affairs of local churches by the Philippine Bible College.
5. “Because the local church has no fellowship with him in providing support, the church feels no close relationship to him, and he feels no obligation to the church in some cases.” I am glad this was qualified, “in some cases.” I would hate to have to go to the Holy Spirit and tell Him that He was wrong when He had Paul write, “Besides those things that are without, that which tcometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28); “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2, 3), particularly in view of his comment in verse 7, “Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of Christ freely?” It seems our brethren once again have shown they are smarter than God.
6. “Because he is supported well from overseas, the membership sometimes feels that he should do all the personal evangelism, teaching of classes and preaching.” Here is another instance of cause and effect being unrelated. It truly may be the congregation expects the preacher to do all these things. But the same situation exists in the United States, and being supported is not the cause of it.
7. “Because American elderships are concerned about how their help is being used, and because they do not know personally the national preacher they support, they must ask someone they know to make an evaluation of the preacher’s work. Usually, this `evaluator’ is an American worker on the field. This evaluation can cause bad feelings and estrangement between American workers and national preachers. In a recent questionnaire filled out by national workers, about 90 percent of the criticism of American workers here was over the matter of preacher support. Even though the American preacher rejects the concept of ‘bossism,’ the overall situation tries to force him into it.” This particular problem is one of the liberal’s own making. Since they function under centralized control, it is quite natural they expect Filipino brethren to submit to this also. And they are perfectly right: it is a problem for them. “Bossism” is a difficulty for them, and will continue to be so long as they operate under the sponsoring church concept. It is more than passingly interesting, the letter pointedly and with emphasis says the support should not be stopped “. . . from those who work in printing, radio, teaching in bible schools, extension training (emp. mine-whl), and related areas . . . .” This includes, naturally, the American and Filipino workers at the Philippine Bible College. Naturally!
One more point: why is this letter being sent to United States conservative churches? I cannot help the thought passing through my mind, the liberals would like to slow or stop the flow of United States money to conservative Filipino preachers, and for none of the “reasons” cited in their letter as “problems.” They might just reason within themselves: if they can convert conservative United States brethren to their new view of support of native preachers, they can pretty well stifle opposition to their institutional sins, and restore themselves to a Pope-like control over the church there. I have no proof that this is the case; but I cannot help wondering.
Most recognize there is a need for-all churches, in the Philippines and elsewhere, to accept their own responsibilities in supporting their preachers. This is independent of any problems evident among Filipino preachers supported by United States brethren, the opinions of our liberal American brethren there notwithstanding. The difficulties they cite will not be solved by cutting off support from the United States “in three years” or three decades. The solution for valid problems lies in teaching and application, in the Philippines as in the United States. Think: after generations of work by those believing in the principles of the restoration movement in the United States, gospel preachers working with small congregations or where no churches exist still require outside support. Why would we think the Philippines ought to be different?
Debate with Buchanan
Bob Buchanan, current president of the Philippine Bible College wrote Cecil Willis offering to debate him on the right of that college to exist. If it comes to pass, it will appear in Truth Magazine and the publication of the American liberals in the Philippines, The Philippine Christian. One of the stipulations was that Cecil debate the college as it now is, and do so on information he currently has available. When he and Roy Cogdill were in the Philippines in 1970, Cecil was prepared to debate Buchanan then, as the college was at that time. Why does Buchanan insist the debate be as the college is now, and on information Cecil has now? Has something changed? I doubt it. It takes money, lots of it, to run even such a school as that, and it is highly unlikely liberal brethren in the United States who support that activity would continue to do so if it did not go along with their centralized concept of operation. But I still wonder.
While I was there on military assignment, in February 1967, Ken Wilkie who was then president of that school, defended it, speaking for an hour at the Phil-American lectureship held in the building of the Clark Air Base church of Christ. His speech was taped, and a copy brought to me later that evening. In the presence of my wife, Tom Hansen and his wife, we noted his major points. We have testified to the accuracy of our information. Wilkie described what the Philippine Bible College was, and who would know better than its president? I have been accused repeatedly of misrepresenting that school, of getting my information concerning it from inaccurate sources. If so, those who know it best do not know what it is. All the information I have on the Philippine Bible College came from Ken Wilkie and its other defenders and supporters! The following summarizes the points Wilkie made in his speech:
1. The Philippine Bible College is an example of New Testament cooperative evangelism.
2. The Philippine Bible College is not an unscriptural organization.
3. Mt. 28:19,20; Mk. 16:15,16 and 2 Tim. 2:2 justify the Philippine Bible College.
4. The Phillipine Bible College is an expedient way for the church to do its work in the Philippines.
5. To prove the Philippine Bible College wrong, critics must produce a better way of training Filipino preachers.
6. The Philippine Bible College was originally under the oversight of the elders of the Southwest, Los Angeles church;
now under those of the Inglewood church. These were and are Scriptural arrangements.
7. In their work in the Philippine Bible College, the American “missionaries” are under the oversight of the Inglewood elders; this is Scriptural.
8. In other capacities, the “missionaries” are under the oversight of the elders of their sponsoring churches; this is Scriptural.
9. The Philippine Bible College is the church at work in the Philippines.
10. Students at the PBC pay tuition; this is Scriptural.
11. Some Philippine Bible College students work off part of their expenses; this is Scriptural.
12. The individual “missionaries” at the Philippine Bible College are sponsored by various United States churches; this is Scriptural.
13. Churches and individuals sponsor students at the Philippine Bible College; this is Scriptural.
14: Churches provide money to build and maintain the facilities (considered separately from support of “missionaries” and students); this is Scriptural.
15. Since the Philippine Bible College is sponsored by a church in the United States, it is Scriptural for it to be under the oversight of the elders of that church.
16. Since no coercion is used to obtain funds for the Philippine Bible College, there is no loss of congregational autonomy by churches supporting it through its sponsoring church.
This speech was made in a situation where no one would contend with Wilkie on his claims, which was fortunate for him. Not one will stand the test of Scripture. I am persuaded that he and the others were well aware of this. Since 1967, the Americans at that school have been challenged repeatedly to debate.,pne, many or all of these points. They have steadfastly refused. This is what the Philippine Bible College was in 1967; I have doubts anything significant has changed since. If Wilkie, Buchanan and company were unwilling to debate them at that time and since, why is Buchanan wanting to do so now? (Not that I am objecting; this is the answer to years of prayers.) I can see only one reason: the pressure,from their own men is getting so strong that they believe they have more to lose by continuing their refusal than by appearing to be willing to debate. I am suspicious of any conditions laid on by Buchanan. Lurking in the back of my mind is the thought: if enough restrictions are placed against Willis, forcing him to decline due to unfairness, then Buchanan will be able to say to those pressing him, “Well, I tried; but the anti’s didn’t really want to debate anyway.” These tactics have been used by the liberals there on other occasions.
Connie Adams and Cecil Willis are highly respected among conservative brethren in the Philippines. I rejoice that they are returning this spring, and pray both for their success in Christ’s service there, and their safe return to their loved ones afterward. I anticipate God being glorified through their efforts, and look forward with pleasure to reading their reports when they return.
Truth Magazine XIX: 33, pp. 522-525
June 26 1975