Reply to Brother Highers

By Dick Blackford

When I told brother Highers if he chose to respond I felt sure Guardian of Truth would print it, but I had no idea he would write 13 pages. It should be a matter of record and stark contrast that his article is being printed, whereas, such is unheard of in their papers (Gospel Advocate, Spiritual Sword, Firm Foundation, etc.). Since the Advocate editor placed a “Yellow Tag Of Quarantine” on conservative brethren in 1953, exchange in their journals has been stifled while they continue to honor the quarantine. Others have tried to preach the funeral of conservative churches. In 1971, Tom Warren said in the Advocate that “anti-ism” was a “dead issue” and he proclaimed its “demise.” Still others have said we would split and splinter among ourselves and “die on the vine.” There are a number of us who didn’t attend the funeral. If I didn’t know better I would think it was wishful thinking. But like Haman’s gallows, the fate that was prophesied against us has come back to haunt them as we see a number of institutional churches splitting and splintering, including the one which publishes the paper edited by brother Highers and for which he formerly preached.

The Pattern

I did not state that other factors are never involved when a brother becomes theologically liberal or that all of them depart for the same reason. I did state that there is a connection between the “no pattern theory” and present attempts to restructure the church. Brother Highers ‘ fourth reason for theological liberalism was “the presence of some among us who are seeking a ‘renewal’ and ‘restructure’ of the church.” I contend that brother Highers is among the leaders in “restructure” by promoting the “sponsoring church” concept which perverts God’s limitations on the oversight of elders (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28). When local elders start making plans for the whole brotherhood, even with consent, they become more than local elders and have gone beyond the scriptures and corrupted the organization of the church. Also, the entity which is separate and apart from any local church known as a “Board of Directors” is a part of the restructure. These are innovations of mere men having their origin in this century. Others want more restructure, including changes in worship and doctrine. Brethren such as Highers, Warren, Deaver, Taylor, and Elkins are having a time putting the brakes on.

I did not accuse him or his associates of rejecting pattern authority altogether. I have frequently made the point that they can see a pattern everywhere except when it comes to the work of the church. There, everything becomes vague and fuzzy and they claim to see no pattern. Just as they go to various scriptures throughout the New Testament to establish patterns in the plan of salvation and the worship, they can do the same with evangelism and benevolence.

A.C. Pullias rightly said, “When God has spoken on any subject . . . what he has said is definitely in the realm of faith.” Then to “prove” there is no pattern for the church’s work in benevolence he used only one verse, addressed to an individual (Jas. 1:27  this verse says absolutely nothing about congregational cooperation) and totally ignored all God spoke dealing with congregational action in benevolence. All the passages in Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, were omitted. Then brother Highers wants to know why I didn’t quote from it! Brother Pullias certainly did deny there is a pattern in benevolence. He just ignored everything the Bible says about congregational action, making it appear God had not spoken on the subject so it can’t be in the realm of faith.

Going a step farther, to become a Presbyterian Pullias had to handle other subjects the same way (worship, organization, etc.). That is necessarily inferred. There are a number of verses he had to ignore and he already had experience. Hear brother Highers: “I am shocked at the manner in which the title of this tract has been distorted to convey an impression that is wholly different to what the tract plainly teaches.” And I am shocked that brother Highers cannot see that Pullias “proved” there is no pattern by ignoring the verses that deal with the subject. What would Alan say to the person who singles out Acts 8:22 (“Repent and pray”), ignoring all other scriptures dealing with salvation, and denies there is a pattern for the salvation of alien sinners? Would he defend that person like he defends this tract? The logic is the same in both cases.

He quoted a few good statements from it, which makes the way Pullias mishandled the scriptures even more disarming. One can do the same with Billy Graham’s writing. This is why I said no tract did more harm. Few have enjoyed such wide circulation. Brother Highers thinks it “preposterous” to suggest Pullias left the church as a result of what he taught. I have just shown that to become a Presbyterian Pullias would have had to handle the scriptures in the same way he did in the tract. Brother Highers may not want to see that, but it’s there.

Likewise, the claim not to see a connection between a “Fellowship Halls,” youth camps, trips to Opryland, etc. where people come together to feed and exercise their bodies and a “Family Life Center” where they come together to do the same thing is hard to swallow. There is only one spiritual meal which the church is authorized to practice and that is the Lord’s supper. The scriptures tell us nothing about a church sponsored meal of any other kind. Some have tried to make it a spiritual meal by calling it “fellowship.” But those who want “Family Life Centers” do the same. Brethren associated with brother Highers have tried to put the brakes on when it comes to “Family Life Centers.” Brother Highers may not want to see that, but it’s there. The “restructure” on this began with the “Fellowship Halls” brother Highers eats in.

Continuing the same parallel, why can one not see that the “Sponsoring Church” and church support of orphan homes under a “Board of Directors” has led to church supported hospitals, unwed mothers homes, and colleges? At one time brother Highers opposed church support of colleges, but now nearly everyone of them accepts funds from churches. Where was brother Highers’ voice and pen when colleges gradually slipped their hand into the church’s pocket? He may not want to see it, but it’s there.

Previously, I stated: “I checked several old periodicals of institutional brethren and there were few articles on `the pattern.” Brother Highers confirmed my observations. Well over 500 articles have been printed in the 25 year history of The Spiritual Sword. He found three which affirm the New Testament is a pattern. That is few! How many of those tell us there is a pattern for the evangelistic and benevolent work of the church and what that pattern is? Not one! He also found an article from the Gospel Advocate where brother McCord said God laid out a blueprint. Did it tell us the pattern for the work of the church? No, and brother Highers won’t tell us there is a pattern for the evangelistic and benevolent work of the church or what it is. During those years when many of brother Highers’ brethren were preaching “there is no pattern” in the work of the church it was rather difficult to proclaim at the same time from the other side of their mouths that the New Testament is the all-sufficient pattern for congregational action in evangelism and benevolence! Brother Highers’ research did not cite an article that does. No Not One! The record will bear out that Alan is simply wrong about this. And even if he should find one or fifteen that would still show the scarcity of such articles over the past 30 years, until four or five years ago. Since then, there has been a definite increase. The neglect of this subject may have more to do with recent apostasies than many realize or will admit. One of the Spiritual Sword’s frequent writers and speakers has admitted this neglect:

Our preachers need to dust off those sermons of yesteryear that are not used much nowadays and teach with renewed fervor about the authority of the Scriptures and their application to the church’s work (Gary Workman, “Will Jesus Cleanse The Temple Again?”, The Sower, Sept./Oct., 1993).

What I said is neither untruthful, inaccurate or unfair, as he accuses. He can gather up the scriptures for a pattern in the worship, but those who want restructure “can’t see it,” and history repeats itself. It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Brother Highers passes judgment on those who want to restructure the worship, but he restructures the work and organization. Yet he

Brother Highers puts words in my mouth when he says I accuse him of rejecting the whole New Testament as a pattern. I have never said that about him or his brethren. I have pointed out that their view of” no pattern” in the work of the church is one step away from “there is no pattern in the worship” (See my article, “The Disciple of Christ (Christian Church) The Rotting Corpse of `No Pattemism,”‘ Guardian of Truth, Vol. 35, No. 22). It is a step in the wrong direction and it gives ground to those who want to restructure the worship on the same basis. The reason he says they do not accept the consequences of this doctrine is “we do not believe it!” Then why circulate thousands of tracts by Pullias and Woods which taught there was no pattern in cooperation? That’s not something I dreamed, brother Highers. The Getwell church helped circulate those tracts. He says “they have not researched what some of us have written in order to represent us accurately.” Then show is where you have written what the pattern is for the work of the church.

Again, “We do not agree with brother Blackford as to what the pattern is in the work of the church, but that does not mean we reject the New Testament as a pattern.” Does the pattern include hospitals, colleges, unwed mothers homes, etc.? He switches horses here since I never accused him of rejecting the New Testament. In fact, I said he affirmed a pattern in worship in his debate with Blakely. Besides no pattern in the work, other downward steps are no pattern in the worship, organization, plan of salvation, doctrine, morality, who the Savior is, etc. It soon becomes a matter of degree. His statement that we do not agree on what the pattern is, does not state the case correctly. It is not that we don’t agree on what it is. It is that they don’t even believe there is one.

He acknowledges that “Some may have taught that we do not need authority for what we do, but that has never been generally characteristic of us … ” Maybe so, but we have heard it in studies and correspondence with institutional brethren often enough that it is obvious some feel the need to say it. It is usually followed by the same question asked by the Christian Church, “Where do you get authority for lights, seats, restrooms, etc.?”


The brotherly thing for brother Highers to have done would be to give me credit for being honest in how I said I was using the term or show I used it to mean he rejected verbal inspiration, etc. Instead, he said my explanation was “somehow supposed to cleanse and sanctify …” I wonder if he read the October, ’85 editorial in The Spiritual Sword. In it Tom Warren says:

Liberalism, in the sense in which we are using the term here, can take either one of two forms: (1) it can hold that no one is under obligation to have Biblical authority for what he does in religion or (2) it can take the form of holding that while one must, to be pleasing to God, have biblical authority for what he does in religion, one may hold that some belief/ practice is authorized by the Bible when such is not actually the case.

He then says he is using the second definition (the same one I used and I did as brother Warren in explaining what I meant by the term). Did brother Highers correct brother Warren? Was Warren’s statement “somehow supposed to “cleanse and sanctify,” brother Highers? Was it “no explanation at all” and “unconscionable”? I am sure he will tell him that “it takes more than neat little distinctions to overcome the fact that it arouses prejudice, ill will, and preconceived notions.” If “liberal” means “theological liberal,” why did brother Highers preface it with “theological” twice in his article? Isn’t that being redundant? In the October ’83 Spiritual Sword Roy Deaver said:

Those who introduced instrumental music and the Missionary society into the worship and work of the church “split the log” in so doing. This is “liberalism.”

At that time they were still trying to show that the society and instrument were authorized in the scriptures, so they weren’t “liberal” according to brother Highers. But he needs to correct brother Deaver. He also needs to correct Garland Elkins for his “cleansing and sanctifying statement” in his article “The New Anti-ism” (SS, Oct.’85). Notice something else brother Deaver said:

… the real issue was not “instrumental music” at all. Rather, as someone has well expressed the matter: “This was just the horse upon which the real issue rode out.” The real issue is involved in the question: what is the proper attitude toward the Bible? Is the Bible the inspired, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient word of the living God? Can we do anything and everything not specifically and directly condemned in the word of God? Or, must we do only that which the Bible authorizes? This is the starting point in the study of instrumental music in Christian worship. This is the starting point in our discussions with others. The answer to this question involves the basic differences between the church of Christ and the Christian churches. And, in fact, the answer to this question sets out the difference between the church of Christ and the rest of the religious world (Roy Deaver, “The Symbol At Midway,” Spiritual Sword, Vol. 10, No. 1).

By substituting the Board of Directors and the sponsoring church for instrumental music, and institutional brethren for the Christian Church, we could make a similar statement regarding our differences with brethren who do not believe the scriptures sufficiently furnish a pattern for the work of the church. Institutionalism is a degree of liberalism. And let me say again in case brother Highers missed it, I did not accuse him of denying the inspiration of the Bible, etc. Robert Taylor said instrumental music opened the floodgate to later errors among the Disciples of Christ (Spiritual Sword, Vol. 16, No. 2). Likewise, saying there is no pattern in the work of the church opens the floodgate for others to say the same about the worship, organization, etc. The “fellowship hall” opened another floodgate. The “Board of Directors,” “sponsoring church,” and “fellowship halls” are the horses that “no-pattemism” rides out on. Jesus was amazed at how the Pharisees and Sadducees could be so perceptive in predicting the weather by the color of the sky but could not discern the signs of the times (Matt. 16:2, 3). And I am amazed at how brother Highers’ brethren can be so perceptive in seeing what led to liberalism in the Disciples of Christ but cannot see it among themselves.

Brother Highers mentioned Edward Fudge. Let it be remembered that brother Fudge found a comfortable home among institutional brethren. But notice what brother Highers says. He says “anti-cooperation brethren” manifest a myopic analysis and a failure to recognize that some of the most liberal thinkers among us came from the most conservative backgrounds, including some from their midst.

Here he has a footnote which says, “Edward Fudge, who denies eternal punishment in hell, came from the anti-cooperation movement.” Whoa, brother Highers! When and where did Ed Fudge deny verbal inspiration, inerrancy of the scriptures, etc.? Fudge is as wrong about hell as the Baptist on Acts 2:38 whom brother Highers will not call liberal, but he hasn’t denied the inspiration of the Bible. In fact, he tried to prove his position by the scriptures just as the Baptist does, yet Alan says Fudge is one of the “most liberal thinkers among us.” It appears that Alan’s tirade about the term liberal has really been “much ado about nothing” and he applies rules to others from which he is exempt. What was it he said about Matthew 7:3 and Romans 2:21? Meanwhile, let the reader decide if brother Highers has shot himself in the foot.

“Anties, Anti-ism, Anti-brethren,

Anti-cooperation, Anti-orphan home”

It seems unreal he could say all he did about “liberal” and turn around and do the very thing he condemned. Yet he wants me to read Matthew 7:3 and Romans 2:21. He says “anti” is not necessarily prejudicial. Then why do brother Highers’ brethren get so upset when those to their left refer to them as “neo-anties”? See Elkins’ “The New Anti-ism” (SS, Oct. ’85) and Deaver’s “When A Brother Accuses Me of Practicing Anti-ism” (Oct. ’86). This is probably the longest article ever to appear in the Spiritual Sword.

The term certainly carries prejudicial implications when it states a falsehood, such as the term brother Highers used  “anti-cooperation.” I observed that because we believe in only one kind of cooperation that does not make us “anti-cooperation” any more than Paul’s believing in one God made him “anti-God.” Nor was he “anti-baptism,” “anti-faith,” or “anti-church” because he believed in only one in each case. And what did brother Highers say? He said “Brother Blackford goes on at length about this.” He then says we must consider context. Let’s see. In the context at Athens with their many gods (Acts 17) would it have been appropriate to refer to Paul as “anti-God”? Early Christians were sometimes called atheists because they rejected many gods. In that context would these terms misrepresent them, brother Highers?

He says he has “never taken offense when Christian church preachers have called me `anti-instrument.”‘ Never, brother Highers? Responding to a tract which referred to “Anti Musical Instrumental Factionists,” he said:

This scurrilous epithet is applied to those who refuse to use mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship. It comes to me in a blasphemous little tract entitled, “Why I Didn’t Leave The Christian Church And Join The A.M.I.F.” … Of course A.M.I.F. is an abbreviation for that opprobrious language (Alan E. Highers, The Vindicator, March, 1957, p. 14).

Scurrilous means “indecent or abusive language; coarse; vulgar, foul mouthed” (Webster New World Dict., p. 1282). Opprobrious means “abusive, disgraceful” (Webster, p. 998). Even if he no longer thinks it “scurrilous, opprobrious, or blasphemous” he doesn’t have a parallel. What if they called him “anti-music,” when he believes in only one kind (vocal)? He says “anti” means “against.” It would be false to say he is “against music.” Then “Anti-brethren” means “against brethren.” The point is, they have defined it to mean more than “against.” They have given it a “theological” definition. Warren and Elkins say “anti-ism” refers to those who “forbid what the Bible authorizes” (SS, Oct. ’85). Warren says,

When I use the term “anti” in a religious context, I refer to a person who opposes . . . what the Bible actually does allow (See 1 Tim. 4:1-5).

I have heard brother Highers (in person) quote 1 Timothy 4:1-5 about the “doctrine of devils” and apply it to conservative brethren. Deaver says, “Anti-ism is the practice of making a law which God did not make” (SS, Jan. 86). These quotes show you brethren mean more than “against,” brother Highers, and you should not pretend otherwise. Since you coined this derogatory theological term, “anti-ism,” I suppose you can write your own definition. Further, you use the same term “anti” to include those opposed to located preachers, Bible classes, colleges, women teachers, and multiple containers in communion  views which we reject. Yet you complained when you thought I used the term “liberal” to mean you reject verbal inspiration, etc. (an accusation to which I plead not guilty).

He says “there has to be a better way to disagree.” I agree. One thing we don’t need to do is stop having discussions. The “Dallas Meeting” was reported favorably by both groups. Another thing would be to reopen the pages of the Gospel Advocate and open the pages of the Spiritual Sword to opposing views as we have to brother Highers. Brother Highers chided the publishers of One Body, an Independent Christian Church publication, for not doing so (SS, April, 1988).

Finally, he asks me to consider my own advice when I said:

The gap between conservative and liberal brethren will not be bridged until we accept the fact that there is a pattern for the work and organization of the church and until we correctly represent (without prejudicial terms) those with whom we disagree.

Throughout my preaching life I can honestly say I have made a conscious and sincere effort not to violate Matthew 7:1-5 and Romans 2:21, knowing that teachers “shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1). Both the readers and the Lord can decide whether I misrepresent brother Highers and made out that he was “theologically liberal” (denying verbal inspiration, etc.). I went out of my way to be fair in pointing out what I meant by the term. He would not think of impugning the motives of brethren Warren, Elkins, and Deaver when they identified what they meant by using this and other terms. Why can he not be as charitable to me? Yet he labored to make me say he rejected the whole New Testament as authority. If brother Highers’ manner of reasoning is prevalent, is it difficult to see why division remains?

I can only hope that this exchange will contribute to a better understanding. If so, it will have been worth it. I am open to further communication with my brethren from whom we are divided. The judgment may come before we are ready.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 21, p. 20-23
November 4, 1993