That Dreaded Enemy: The Tape Recorder

By Tom Roberts

Scenario 1: A noted preacher steps into the pulpit. His presence has been advertised far and near and an appreciative audience has gathered to hear this man proclaim a message. He is advanced in years, has spent many years in preaching and, when he speaks, people listen. He has been called an orator, lecturer, author, world traveler, gospel preacher, etc. Many in the audience, in anticipation of a “meaty” message, have brought a tape-recorder to preserve his words for the future.

Imagine the consternation of those who are gathered when this mighty man speaks his first words and they are, “Put up your tape recorders. I will not have any of my sermons recorded any more. If you had had as much trouble with tape recorders as I have, you wouldn’t like them either.” Or words to that effect.

Scenario 2: A group of preachers has gathered to study a subject that has been disturbing the peace and harmony of the Lord’s people for some time. Much study and preparation have gone into each presentation and, with honesty and sincerity, brethren have gathered to listen to what the other fellow has to say and to present his own view of the truth. When one of the preachers gets up to “speak his piece,” his first words are: “Turn off the tape recorders. I refuse to speak if any tape recorders are in use.”

Scenario 3: A group of members from a local church has been invited for a private Bible study in the home of one of the members. A preacher from another area has been invited by one of them to study a disturbing problem with this group and the members are anxious because this subject has divided other churches. The preacher who is to lead the study has been known to have had similar studies in other churches where division has occurred following such studies. So in order to accurately record what is being taught, plans are made to tape the study. The visiting preacher gets the attention of the group and announces: “Turn off the tape recorders. We are just here for a private study and we don’t want our `off-the-cuff remarks’ taken out of context. We will not allow tape recorders and if anyone insists, we will just dismiss the study.”

Each of the “scenarios” really happened! These are not fictional ideas and the participants are not actors. In each of the cases (and they could be multiplied), actual men made these demands of those present and all the tape recorders had to be turned off before events proceeded any farther. Scenario 1 refers to Foy E. Wallace, Jr., at Denton, Texas. Scenario 2 refers to Arnold Hardin here at West Side’s building during a study of grace and related matters. Scenario 3 has been duplicated around the country by many preachers who have been advocating the “New Unity Movement” and has happened right in our own area. It’s not at all unusual these days.

Why is it that certain people avoid those dreaded tape recorders like the plague? Because they accurately, exactly and precisely record every word that is spoken!

Foy E. Wallace has had to eat his words against institutionalism because of reprinted articles and tape-recorded sermons. Arnold Hardin and others have had their error exposed because of the accuracy of tapes. It is all there in the little strip of plastic – every syllable, every tone, every emphasis, every scripture and every phrase, with every argument intact.

Of course, the objection raised by those who fear the tape recorder is that someone will take a passage out of context; that someone will misrepresent a position that the speaker advocates. Friends, if I planned to study with someone who might take something out of context or misrepresent me, I would insist on taping the entire proceeding! Then, if someone accused me of saying or teaching something that I did not say or teach, all I would have to do is reproduce the exact text. This would expose the accuser and settle the matter at once.

The truth of the matter is that brethren are going around the country preaching unsettling doctrine. They are teaching error and want to cover as much territory as possible without having to give account for their words where they cannot be misrepresented. It is extremely easy for one to speak where no tape recorders are present, and then, when faced with one’s error, simply say, “Oh, but you misunderstood me.” Or, “That isn’t what I said.” And who can prove otherwise, since we have no method of proof other than faulty memory? If I wanted to depart from the truth, I would not allow tape recorders either! If I wanted to insert myself slyly into a group of people and teach them differently than they have been taught in the past, I would not speak in front of a tape recorder! In the words of Bruce Edwards and Edward Fudge (A Journey Toward Jesus), new ideas must be carefully presented. When Bruce Edwards asked, “How do you make your points such that no one causes a stir – begins a controversy – over your teaching?”, brother Fudge replied, among other points, ” . . . (3) as you have opportunity where the person seems receptive and open . . .” “When you deal with a passage or topic, therefore which touches on the things you feel the brethren need to learn, work it in or bring it out, without making a big to-do over it, simply sowing seed for perceptive minds to think about at their own speed . . . why upset them unnecessarily by rushing things” (pp. 44. 46).

A lot more could be said about teaching methods but space won’t permit. Suffice it to say that a preacher who refuses to be taped automatically arouses my suspicion. After all, a preacher should preach so as to be understood. He should welcome any method which encourages that. His message should be laced with scriptures and his points clear and in harmony with truth. If we disagree, let us step up to the issue and clarify our points of disagreement so that we may approach them with Bible in hand and learn the truth. After all, God has His own “tape recorder” and we will meet our own words at the Judgment where we shall give an account for every word. Charge “misrepresentation” against the brethren if you will, but you won’t charge God with it. Choose your words carefully, brother, because God won’t turn His recorder off!

Truth Magazine XXIII: 35, pp. 568-569
September 6, 1979