By Larry Ray Hafley
My purpose is not to exacerbate a situation nor to excoriate an individual but to make some observations on the recent meeting in Nashville. The discussions were frank, forthright and frightening. Each participant spoke for himself. No one was muzzled or put on a leash. Thus, everyone spoke his convictions in an open, direct manner. Brethren Warpula and Ramsey assured us that nothing we could say would stop them from loving us. (What a comfort that was!) So, the sessions were plain and pointed.
But they were also frightening. Johnny Ramsey and Stafford North spoke against church support of colleges, but Calvin Warpula, Bill Swetmon and Richard Rogers argued for “a new hermeneutics,” for a new way of establishing Bible authority. Reuel Lemmons said direct commands, approved apostolic examples and necessary inferences as a way to establish Bible authority could not be found before 1800 A.D. Swetmon argued that since there was no complete New Testament before the fourth century, there could not have been a New Testament pattern for the work, worship and organization of the church as we know it. Hence, we cannot bring in our “man-made” conclusions, reasonings and inferences in establishing a Bible pattern, plan or blueprint to guide the church in its activities.
Swetmon, Rogers, Warpula and others contended that Christ, not formerly unavailable New Testament documents, is our authority. They recommended that we content ourselves with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and look to Jesus as our pattern and not to Acts or the epistles, which, they affirmed, were not accessible to the church in the first three centuries. If the implications and insinuations in that line of thinking do not scare you, then you are impervious to a spiritual “Boo!”
While this is not the place for a detailed study of hermeneutics and the issues raised above, remember that the New Testament was available in the first century. Paul’s ways were ordered and ordained, appointed and approved everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 11:2; 16:1). The “word of the truth of the gospel” was preached “in all the world” in the first century (Col. 1:5,6; Rom. 10: 18; Tit. 2:11). The faith was once for all delivered (Jude 3). It was in “earthen vessels” for a time, and then in them and their writings (2 Thess. 2:15). The mold, the pattern, “the form of sound words” was committed to men who taught it and to letters (2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2; Rev. 1: 11). The things the apostles wrote were “the commandments of the Lord,” the voice of God (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Jn. 4:6). Peter said disciples possessed and were established in “the present truth” and that he wrote so they could have it after he was gone (2 Pet. 1:3, 12-21).
We need, therefore, to preach fervently and frequently on the inspiration and authority of the holy Scriptures. We must be urgent and insistent that we not go beyond what is written, that we not transgress the doctrine of Christ (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Jn. 9; 1 Pet. 4:11).
In Nashville, the liberals argued that 2 John 9 was a reference to the doctrine about Christ and his person, not the doctrine that Christ taught. (Compare the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the doctrine of the Pharisees – Matt. 16:12; Rev. 12,: 15. Was that a reference to the doctrine about the Pharisees and the Nicolaitans, or was it a reference to their doctrine or teaching?) All we need do, they contended, is to be right about the deity of Christ and not worry about a “pattern theology.” They need to tell us how one arrives at truth regarding the deity of Christ. Is it through the word of God? Is there a pattern of truth concerning the nature and character of the person of Christ? If so, how may we know it?
Sectarians make the same lame appeal to 2 John 9 when they cannot defend their doctrines by the Bible. If we accept their terms, if we allow them to re-define truth, there win be no stopping place short of Rome, unless it be Boston and Crossroads.
Brother Calvin Warpula is an outstanding speaker. He is clear, impassioned, articulate, even eloquent, but he is a liberal of the deepest dye. I like him and he loves me, but we are on opposite sides of the fence of truth.
Calvin related a touching story about a dead man whose family wanted him to be buried in a “church cemetery.” Since the man was not of the same faith of that church’s cemetery, he was buried outside the fence. (I suppose you could say the man had a dead faith.) The family was saddened, crushed, because their loved one was excluded from the fellowship of the dead. The excluding “pastor” was so touched by their sorrow that he rebuilt the fence around the dead man’s grave, thus including him in the corps of corpses. When the dead man’s family saw the pastor’s change of heart, they were glad and thankful. What a benevolent, loving pastor! He tore down his disbarring, exclusive fence and included the deceased in the dormitory of the dead. Conclusion? We “antis” should remove our fences to include those from whom we are separated. If we have the love we should have, our hardened hearts will melt and we can remove our barriers to fellowship and include our liberal brethren.
This sounds good. It is a touching, tender story, but it does not appeal to Scripture. It is an emotional argument. So, we ask brother Warpula if he should remove his anti-instrumental music fence to include the Christian Church? Should he remove his anti-sprinkling fence to include Methodists and other sprinkler systems? Should he remove the fence of baptism for the remission of sins in order to include Baptists? Should he remove his elders in every church fence to include the Boston-Crossroads funeral procession?
Or should there be a fence? If so, what are its limits? Does it exclude anyone? What if the corpse had died as an atheistic drunk? Would the pastor have chunked his body on the coal pile? Should he tear down his fence altogether? Calvin still loves me, but we need to discuss the authority and limits for fences before we bury one another in denominational grave yards.
Personally, I felt a twinge of sorrow for Johnny Ramsey and Roy Lanier, Jr. They represented the liberal view and stood (ashamedly, it seemed to me) identified with Reuel Lemmons, Richard Rogers, Bill Swetmon and Calvin Warpula. Brethren Lanier and Ramsey rather lamely attempted to strike a biblical pose toward the work, worship and organization of the church. They oppose the church’s involvement in recreation and entertainment. They oppose church support of colleges, and you could almost feel them cringe at the rank modernism of Swetmon and Rogers, but they stood on the same stage with them. Their influence is with the liberal crowd and their tents are pitched in liberal camps.
For example, brother Lanier, after teaching principles that would condemn benevolent societies supported by the churches, nevertheless felt the need to throw a sop to the old liberal argument of Guy N. Woods (in loco parentis) and attempted to justify his stance with the liberal crowd.
Poor brother Ramsey. For over twenty years I have heard that Johnny Ramsey “is about to forsake the liberals and start preaching the truth” on the work and organization of the church. I first heard such rumblings in 1967. His closest friends cannot understand his reasons for using his life and influence in liberal circles. They love him and wish he would openly disavow his ties and preach the truth. So, once again the word was out in Nashville, “Brother Ramsey appears ready to leave liberalism.” Well, it did not happen. But brother Ramsey does not have to leave. All he needs to do is to preach what he says he believes. If he does, he will not have to leave, he will be escorted out.
Brother Ramsey seemed horribly out of place. He looked uncomfortable. Perhaps I am getting soft in my old age, but I nearly felt sorry for him once or twice. But just when I was ready to extend him the right hand of sympathyship, I would come to myself and realize that he is to blame for his condition. He is to blame for his position. He is older, wiser and more knowledgeable than am I. Somehow, though, I did not get the idea that he would advise me to leave where I am and join him.
It was said that reports of the Nashville meeting would be watched by the liberals and the tone and tenor of our writings about it might determine whether there would be other such meetings. That is a “cop out,” pure and simple.
Strangely, the liberals urged us not to judge their works and institutions by (what is to them) an imaginary Bible blueprint or pattern, but they feel constrained to judge our motives, our attitudes, and our love. They tell us not to be judgmental as they judge us to be judgmental! So, we cannot evaluate their doctrines by the Bible, but they can judge our hearts when we judge their doctrines by the Scriptures. Hmmmm.
It will be much easier for liberals to sit and comfort themselves in the belief of how harsh, caustic and abrasive those antis are than it will be for them to openly and honestly confront the issues that are raised.
Our differences will not be resolved by sweet smiles and hugs. Issues will not be settled by verbal avowals of love. “Only’ ” as Marshall Patton so ably and eloquently appealed, “in the crucible of controversy” will truth be seen by good and honest hearts. Our appeal is to truth, not to positions, papers, labels or institutions. If what I believe is not the truth, let me be smitten by the word of truth. I may cry out for mercy. I may resort to demeaning your attitude and accuse you of a lack of love. I may squall and squirm and resent you, but do not be deterred. Preach the truth; press it upon me – cry aloud and spare not. Meet me, face me, confront me on every hand and side with book, chapter and verse. As long as I am willing to study and to consider our differences in light of the Scriptures, stay after me with God’s eternal truth.
When the history of the Lord’s church in the twentieth century is written, the views of the liberals as expressed in Nashville cannot be ignored. They will serve to show the advance of a monstrous departure from the ancient landmarks. The gulf between brethren is a chasm, a Grand Canyon in magnitude, with respect to the authority of the Bible. Their arguments, as a careful study of their speeches will clearly show, reflect a lack of respect for the form of sound words, a complete and utter rejection of a New Testament pattern for the work, worship and organization of the church.
If the Nashville speeches are any indication, the liberalism that engulfs some churches of Christ is beyond belief, description, and, sadly, perhaps beyond hope. The evolution of liberalism, which began with feint, subtle, almost imperceptible wiggles, is now advancing in quantum leaps and intergalactic bounds. And the end is not yet in sight. The unthinkable has occurred in the past forty years, but the half has not been told. The worst, I fear, is yet to come.
What do we do? Panic? Resignation? Despair? No, brethren, but with Christians in all ages, we simply content ourselves with godly living, loving service, plain preaching and patience of hope. We take heed to ourselves and unto the doctrine, for in so doing we shall both save ourselves and them that hear us (1 Tim. 4:16). There is no grand army to marshal, no carnal weapon to employ, no political power to exert. There is simply a need for gentle piety, for sharp rebuke and humble penitent hearts to serve God day by day, “considering thyself left thou also be tempted.” Institutional forces are not necessary. Powerful, moneyed men, per se, are not needed. Live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Pray for truth and for its advocates. Study to be approved unto God. Mind your own business. Raise your children within the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Be temperate, gracious, prayerful. Be sweet to everyone, but check to see that you have a sharpened two-edged sword to wield, just in case things get ugly (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, pp. 49-51
January 19, 1989