By Ron Halbrook
Fighting to the Finish
Out of step with the compromising spirit of this age, Gardner S. Hall took seriously the battle between revealed truth and speculative error. Unlike some other brethren who have wearied of battle, he did not intend for the recent false doctrines on grace and unity to go unchallenged. Neither the encroachments of age nor the pain of. terminal sickness could stop him. So long as he could preach at all, he contrasted the doctrine of Christ with the doctrines of men (Matt. 15:7-8; 2 Jn. 9).
False doctrine on grace and unity was not new to Brother Hall, nor did he take its dangers lightly. He said that the work of exposing “Ed Fudge” was much needed. Brother Hall explained, “He is in error and is leading other young men away. I didn’t know about his errors until you brought them to our attention.”(1) That remark was made in 1974; some time later I gained more insight into why Brother Hall was deeply concerned about this false doctrine. A review of some history supplies the background and context for his concern.
Premillennialism and Unity-In-Diversity
In 1915, R. H. Boll and F. W. Smith crossed swords in the Gospel Advocate over premillennial speculation, as did H. L. Olmstead and F. B. Srygley. Boll (1875-1956) and Olmstead (1883-1958) were joined in time by Stanford Chambers (1876-1969), Don Carlos Janes (18771944), E. L. Jorgenson (1866-1968), and others, as the millennial faction matured. Fighting for its sectarian life, this group repeatedly tried to justify its existence by profuse use of such terms as “grace,” “peace,” and “love,” and by use of the denominational unity-in-. diversity argument. Almost every issue of the leading millennial paper among brethren, Word and Work(2), carried such appeals and arguments. A spokesman recently summarized.
To me the millennial question was only the battleground. The real issue dividing us was the grace of God. I found many who were depending upon their correct doctrinal position for salvation, with a resulting uncertainty about their salvation.
On the other hand the premillennial brethren had a great hope. They would not come into judgment. The grace of God covered all their sin, including errors in doctrine.(3)
In his discussion, the author applied this unity-in-diversity concept of grace and fellowship (1) to “subgroups” such as “charismatics” among premillennial churches,(4) (2) to other “restoration groups” such as those which use instrumental music,(5) and (3) to “fundamental evangelical” denominations, especially those which teach immersion.(6)
Not only did advocates of premillennial doctrine make the unity-in-diversity argument, but also a number of opponents to millennial theories fell for the argument. Following the line that error in doctrine is automatically forgiven anyway, a group of sympathizers arose to plea that these false teachers be accepted in the fellowship of the saints as they were in unity with God. For instance, J. D. Tant was told by a successful furniture dealer in Chicago named Norman Davidson “that the remainder of his life was going . to be dedicated to the removing of the ‘ban’ against Brother Boll and ‘showing up’ the ‘high-handed popery’ which led to his being disfellowshipped all these years. He said all the opposition to Boll through the years had arisen out of preacher jealousy ….”(7) A major part of his effort was an article also distributed in tract form under the rubric of a Christian business man, thus offering himself as an unbiased observer.
“A Christian Business Man Writes His Brethren” was submitted to Word and Work,(8) on the one hand, and, on the other, to the Gospel Advocate,(9) Firm Foundation,(10) Apostolic Doctrine,(11) and others. After castigating brethren who regarded Boll as a “dangerous teacher” for mistreating, misquoting, and misunderstanding him,(12) Davidson said under the heading “Mistakes By All,”
I have told of mistakes which we have made. Now I would say that I sincerely feel Brother Boll has made a mistake in featuring his views as I feel he has. As a Christian brother, I have told him so ….
Further, I am sure those featuring the “Pre” views have caused trouble in several places, gone to extremes, and in some cases, have been guilty of “drawing lines.” As I have not upheld or defended mistakes made by those with whom I agree, neither do I uphold or defend those made by Brother Boll and those agreeing with him. Nevertheless, 1 see nothing in the past which should prevent us from being brethren; in all that word means, in the future.(13)
In a letter to Boll with his copy of the article, Davidson hoped that “you won’t mind” sharing some blame since “the psychology will be better to place some blame on both sides.”(14)
Davidson’s warm sympathy for premillennialists was not lost on them, that is, they welcomed the influence of such men, took advantage of it, and continued in the path of error. Editor Showalter lamented,
It is a pity that Brother Boll persists in his obstinacy to teach his false and speculative theory; and it is also a pitiful thing to see men like Brother Norman Davidson who says he does not believe the teaching of Boll’s Premillennialism himself, try to bolster up and hold up the teaching, nevertheless, by defending Brother Boll.(15)
Referring to Luke 12:51-53 (“I am come to bring ….division”) and 2 John 9-11 (“If any cometh unto you, and bringeth not this doctrine ….”), Showalter added,
As for discord there will always be discord when any part of the membership of the church of the Lord departs from
the sound teaching of the New Testament, and the cure for it is not to fellowship and unite with the false teacher but to oppose the false teacher and his false teaching. This must be done in the spirit of Christ, ‘but must not be neglected …. To do otherwise in order to be at peace with some false teacher is to betray the Master and surrender to the forces of evil.(16) Those who do not believe false teaching are obligated to oppose it.
Political compromise has no place in God’s plan. Diplomacy cannot barter divine revelation for the sake of peace. Peace by sacrifice of principle is victory for evil, as Europe learned shortly after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned home from the betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938 to declare, “I believe it is peace for our time.” The blood of Britain and the world was the price for appeasement in 1938. “We didn’t feel then that there was anything wrong with it. ‘Appeasement’ has a gentle, conciliatory sound-like `reasonable’, `well-meaning’, ‘agreeable'”.(17) Christ is betrayed by appeasement of false teachers and the price is paid in lost souls (Ezek. 3).
Compromisers often believe that by ignoring error and defending errorists they will be won over by such a display of friendship-thus error is to be defeated without a fight. “Catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Other brethren feel sorry for the false teacher who is in the heat of battle, because they have not studied the issue sufficiently to see its danger. Or. sometimes personal friendship or family ties outweigh a person’s love for truth and loyalty to Christ (Matt. 10:3439). The tragedy is that false teaching advances under the protection of excuse-makers; they provide a handy buffer zone in battle. The sympathizers’ ranks included such men as F. L. Rowe, who used Boll as a contributing writer in the Christian Lea-der .after the Gospel Advocate dropped him in 1915; J. N. Armstrong of Harding College, who carried on voluminous correspondence with Jorgenson under a veil of secrecy so as to shield the school; and Jimmy Lovell, Action editor whom Davidson found to be “in full sympathy.”(18) Because Boll and his friends would not repent and because compromisers offered comfort rather than rebuke, the premillennial sect among professed churches of Christ persists to this day.(19)
Gardner S. Hall Tested By His Father’s Stand
Gardner S. Hall did not join the compromisers who debated against debate, criticized criticism, and defended the “sincerity” of false teachers while impugning the motives of sound brethren. But Brother Hall faced the test of Matthew 10:34-39 (“I am come to set a man at variance against his father”), because his own father aided and appeased the millennialists. Flavil Hall (1876?-1952?) never became an ardent proponent of premillennial propaganda but he warmly admired the Davidsons among brethren and warmly defended the Jorgensons. The millennialists were so sweet-spirited and Christ-like; their opponents were so harsh and unkind. From his home in Pine Apple, Alabama, Flavil Hall embraced and encouraged millennialists by means of unity-in-diversity.
Almost a year before Davidson’s tract appeared, Flavil Hall gave his consent and advice to the project. While on the road in Selma, Alabama, in a waiting room and without a dictionary-. (“I don’t do so well with one, so don’t like to be without one”), he felt compelled to write Jorgenson. Hall was more than a little upset by R. L. Whiteside’s attacks on Jorgenson in the Bible Banner-“it cannot be conceived” that Whiteside was honest in his misrepresentations. Jorgenson was right in saying that “his adversaries had fabricated” charges against “premillennial brethren” and Hall wished that he himself could take more hand in “exposing them.” But, alas, like J. W. McGarvey on instrumental music in worship, “I have whistled until I have no whistle with which to whistle ….But I cannot act wholly as if the evils did not exist.” In view of Norman Davidson’s intention “to go to much expense” in exposing “the perverseness of your adversaries,” let him be cautious and careful in wording . . . . “for the least lack of accuracy will be used with telling effect upon the unwary and to your injury.” Davidson “must” stress “That the a-millennialists are often past masters in advocating opinions and speculations” on such matters as war and Revelation 20.(20) In other words, let, premillennialism be dealt with by means of unity-indiversity. Whether through Hall’s advice or not, Davidson made his very appeal.(21)
On 11 December, 1977, I discussed with Gardner Hall by phone his father’s correspondence with Jorgenson. Brother Hall said that he appealed to his father on a number of occasions to give up the denominational unity-in-diversity plea. “My father was wrong,” he said, “but I could not get him to see it. I showed him that his argument could as well be applied to those who worship with instrumental music or to those who are not scripturally baptized, as to premillennialism.” They had some rather heated exchanges over the matter.
When we talked, Brother Hall had been reviewing Journey Toward Jesus(22) on his radio program. The concepts and arguments of the “new” unity movement were not new at all, he explained. They had an old familiar ring to him. He could not countenance them when he first heard them from his father and he did not intend to now when he was hearing them from others. Hiram Hutto later judged these radio lessons “some of the best preaching that I ever heard him do ….”(23) The broad denominational implications of unity-(n-diversity were obvious to Brother Hall. It is interesting to notice that when Leroy Garrett started his journey toward denominationalism, he and Jorgenson clasped the right hands of fellowship in proclaiming Billy Graham a gospel preacher rather than a dangerous false teacher. Graham was mildly rebuked for his error on baptism but sound brethren were severely thrashed for not recognizing him as a gospel preacher.(24)
What Will We Leave Behind?
The passing of men like Gardner S. Hall, Sr. is a great loss for us, a great gain for them. Well did Paul say that he was “in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ,” yet seeing the work which needed to be done here (Phil. 1:23-24). When such men leave us, we miss their counsel (Prov. 11:15; 24:6). Yet where they have taught and encouraged us in the truth, we still have their counsel. What they have left behind enriches us still, if we keep it in mind.
The life and work of Gardner Hall reflect a healthy blend or balance of inner piety, sincerity, and purity with warm love for truth and hatred of error. Personal purity and devout living are not to be separated from doctrinal purity and militant opposition to error on every hand. In fact, these are simply different elements of the same faith, “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:1-3, 14). Whether these imprints of Divine truth have come to us directly from Brother Hall or by reading about him, they should become more deeply imprinted in our hearts each day. And, then, some day we too can leave behind the same lessons: (1) the need to adorn as well as to preach the doctrine of Christ; (2) the privilege of blessing the unborn: (3) the plea to sin not against children; (4) the importance of prayer; and, (5) the imperative of fighting to the finish.
Truth Magazine XXII: 33, pp. 539-542
August 24, 1978
2. R. H. Boll became editor of Word and Work after Stanford Chambers brought it to Louisville, Ky., from New Orleans in 1915. After Boll’s death in 1956, E.L. Jorgenson and J.R. Clark (d. 1968) shared the editorship until about 1964 when Gordon R. Linscott took the job. Since January of 1976, Robert Heid has been editor. The paper is still published in Louisville, in connection with Portland Christian School and Portland Ave. Church of Christ, though actually printed by Heid Printing Co.
3. H.E. Schreiner, “Of Love and Labels and the Thousand-year Reign,” Mission Magazine 9 (Apr. 1976):5-8. This is the Schreiner who debated Robert C. Welch on premillennialism 5-9 November, 1956 in Louisville, Ky.; see The Welch-Schreiner Debate, 5th edition (New Albany, Ind.: Faith and Facts Press, 1972).
4. In 1934, Boll defended Virgil E. Smith and O.S. Boyer, who reported that the baptism and other miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit accompanied their preaching in Brazil. Though Boll disavowed the doctrine of these brethren, he claimed “a love that will not let them go” (July, 1934 Word and Work). Beginning in the mid-1960s, Pres. LaVerne Houtz at Southeastern Christian College (Winchester, Ky.) Led the school toward open acceptance and promotion of the charismatic movement. Finally, in 1970, President Houtz and ten of the fifteen faculty members where asked to resign by the Board. The church have not disfellowshippped the charismatic. By the mid-1970s, they and their opponents had forged an uneasy peace of unity-in-diversity, accepting one another without endorsing each other’s doctrine on the Holy Spirit.
5. The premillennial Highland church in Louisville, Ky., used the well-known Christian Church preacher S.S. Lappin for a tent meeting on their lawn 13-29 July, 1941. Lappis was premillennial; he and Jorgenson agreed in principal that they could exchange pulpits though it might be inexpedient (S.S. Lappin letter to Don Carlos Janes, 13 Nov., 1941). Men of mature years and young preachers alike say that preaching against instrumental music in worship has virtually disappeared from premillennial pulpits (personal interviews with LaVerne Houtz and Paul Kitzmiller, son of long-time Word and Work staff writer Carl Kitzmiller, 13-14 Apr., 1976).
8. Davidson sent Boll a copy, plus one for Jorgenson. “I hope you may approve my article,” Davidson began (Norman Davidson letter to R.H. Boll, undated: cf. Gospel Advocate LXXXIX (31 July, 1947), which refers to Davidson’s tract being mailed and which dates the letter October or November of 1946 when taken with another remark in the letter).The trusted advisors may have approved the article but did not print it. It was certainly to their advantage to let the opposition fight among themselves, without getting involved.
9. Rather than print the article, owner and publisher Leon McQuiddy allowed Davidson to send his material in tract form to the Advocate mailing list; Editor B.C. Goodpasture commented in the 31 July, 1947 issue and began a review on 7 August (p. 577).
10. The article was printed 22 July, 1947 (vol. 64, pp. 8-13) with comments by Editor G.H.P. Showalter, followed by additional comment in the 29 July issue (pp. 8-13) which included an advance printing of James A. Allen’s review (see next note).
12. Davison “shuddered” to see among Boll’s opponents “rapid doctrines of intolerance, bigotry, discord, bitterness, and strife” supplanting “love” and Peace.” He wrote under the heading “Boll Falsely Accused,” “I would say that good men just misunderstood each other.” A Christian Business Man Writes His Brethren (Chicago, Ill.” 225 N. Michigan Ave., ), pp. 9-11.
17. Barrie Pitt (British military expert), “The Climate of Appeasement” Britain 1935/1939″ in History of the Second World War, Part 1, ed. Pitt (England and U.S.A.” Marshall Cavendich Ltd., 1972), p.iv.
19. For further study on the origin and nature of the premillennial movement among churches of Christ, see Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Gospel for Today: An Extended Edition of the Certified Gospel (Nashville Tenn.” Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Publ., 1967), pp. 392-494.