Speaking the Truth in Love

By James W. Adams

“Speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

It is evident, even to a casual reader of our text, that the increase of the body of Christ numerically by persons being saved and added to it by the Lord, as well as the spiritual perfection of those thus saved and added, are to be accomplished instrumentally through “speaking the truth in love.” It is quite as evident that the “truth” thus referred to is “the gospel” (Eph. 1:13). It is also clear that this “truth” or “gospel” included the ethical behavior of Christians as well as a revelation of the acts of God in redemption, hence is to be equated with the “doctrine of Christ” (Tit. 2:10). Therefore, all efforts to make arbitrary distinctions between gospel and doctrine are purely gratuitous and have no foundation in the Scriptures. This is manifest from the amount of ethical instruction contained in the letter to the Ephesians (chapters 4,5,6).

The text also reveals that it is not enough to “speak the truth,” as important as that is, but that it must be spoken “in love.” We dare not disregard either aspect of this inspired edict. The expression “the truth” has to do with the content of our teaching. The expression “in love” has to do with motive and manner.

I have been asked to write on this topic in an issue of the Guardian of Truth dedicated to an examination of the teaching and practice of my long-time friend, co-worker in days gone by, and brother in the Lord, Charles A. Holt. I do so reluctantly, for I have long ago given up any hope of effecting a change in our brother’s teaching and practice. I have for almost twenty-five years deplored, dealt with (in the “pulpit” and the “press” and face to face conversations) brother Holt’s vagaries along with those of others who have been aligned with him, but to no avail. I have for a long time now only dealt with the views and practices of these brethren where their influence seems to be creating, or has the possibility of creating, strife and division among brethren and churches. In my judgment, they are more of a sometimes troublesome nuisance rather than a real threat to the churches and the truth.

I am convinced that their views relative to the Lord’s ekk1esia (“church”) contain within their bosom the germ of their own demise. Someone has correctly (when properly defined) noted: “No movement in history has ever succeeded until it has become institutionalized.” This is but to say that no movement which does not result in an organic manifestation of some sort is ephemeral. It is nebulous. It clouds the atmosphere for a moment and disappears as suddenly as and as certainly as it appears. Holt’s errors are not new, as is the case with most false doctrine. Others have held similar views in days past. They were tested and discarded because they are neither rational nor scriptural. Holt’s, Jennings’, and the views of others of like nature will suffer the same fate.

“Speaking In Love”

“Love” in this text is from the Greek agape. To practice this grace, one must always seek the highest good of its object. What is the object in our text, It is the truth? If so, we should speak the truth so as to promote its highest interests. Is it Christ? If so, we must speak the truth always in a manner that pleases him and best promotes his purposes. Is it the person being taught? If so, we must teach the truth so as to promote his highest good. I am persuaded that we must do all three. We must speak the truth in love of Christ, the truth, and the persons whom we address, and we must speak the truth in a manner calculated to promote the highest interests of all three.

One of the chief complaints of brother Holt and his colleagues is that they are never understood and always misrepresented. This charge challenges the intelligence and sincerity of all those who disagree with the published concepts of these brethren and dare to publish their protestations. It is a charge that is arrogant, sinfully judgmental, and palpably false. If one desires for others to speak in love concerning him and his views, he is obligated thus to speak himself. It is a fact easily documented that brother Holt presents his views invariably with scathing denunciations of churches, his brethren generally, and particularly, elders and other preachers. He deliberately magnifies abuses, espouses moot and questionable exegeses of Scripture, scornfully denounces what he calls “traditional Church of Christ positions,” attributes base monetary motivation to preachers who are fully supported by the churches in their work, and scornfully ridicules the professed undenominational status of “churches of Christ.” My files abound with documentation of such. It would take a master magician to equate his approach to these matters with “speaking the truth in love.”

I have no difficulty with brother Holt and those who travel his road doctrinally, so long as they hold their views as personal convictions and do not press them to the disruption and division of the churches. It is the sad truth however that they have never learned the difference between “express” and “press.” The mere expression of their convictions (assuming them to be honestly held) is not the problem. It is the agitation of their views, their pressing for their acceptance, their sense of mission and evangelistic fervor with regard to their propagation, and the consequent strife, division, and broken fellowship which they engender. I have had the sad expreience of following brother Holt where he has labored and propagated his views. The strife, heartache, open division, and totally “unChristlike” dispositions of his supporters and converts to his views which I found in these places are of themselves sufficient evidence of the error of his concepts and the manner of their promulgation. In a word, the attitudes of his converts to his position are the best commentary on the character of his position. J. C. Hare perceptively observes: “To form a correct judgment concerning the tendency of any doctrine we should look rather at the forms it bears in the disciples, than in the teacher, for he only made it, they are made by it.”

Some General Observations

It probably was only a male chauvinist who said, “A woman never believes she loses an argument, because she always knows she is misunderstood.” Brother Holt seemingly believes he is victorious in every confrontation over his views, because he knows he is, as before noted, never understood and always misrepresented.

Brother Holt has an iconoclastic fixation. He is forever tilting at spiritual windmills which he mistakes for giant aberrations from Divine truth. Sad to say, like Cervantes’ ” Don Quixote, ” he has a lot of good ” Sancho Panzas ” who do not see things as he does, but who loyally try to protect him from his indiscretions. They excuse his activities on the ground that “he is saying a lot of things that need to be said” (they do not specify). In the words of an old proverb, we answer, “He buys honey too dearly who licks it from thorns.”

That our brother possesses many fine qualities, much ability, and preaches needed truth on many subjects is not denied. However, I agree with Charming who wrote: “The consistency of great error with great virtue, is one of the lessons of universal history. But error is not made harmless by such associations. False theories though held by the greatest and best of men, and though not thoroughly believed, have wrought much evil.” It remains true, as Thoreau wrote: “No imposition is too great for the credulity of men.” Therefore, we cannot safely tolerate the pressing of erroneous concepts and practices, however innocuous they may seem at the time, for the most insignificant aberrations have in time become the occasion of great evil.

Our brother has overshot Jerusalem and landed in Babylon doctrinally. If he practices his teaching, his movement will either die or become an organic monster. Movements launched on a plea for the freedom of absolute individualism and repudiation of all organization, as is Holt’s invariably cease to be individual and become organically autocratic and tyrannical the moment they are soundly established. Yet, as Franklin P. Jones said relative to matters political, “There’s nothing wrong with extremists that trying to reason with them won’t aggravate.” Hence, I close pessimistically relative to any hope that what we say will affect for good him who is the object of our remarks.


What I have written are solely my sentiments. Others who write in this issue are not expected necessarily to endorse all said, nor should they be held accountable, but I want it said, and I will defend it if necessary. Furthermore, though I know not what others will say in this issue, I wish to be held accountable for only that which I personally say.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 19, pp. 578, 606-607
October 4, 1990