The “Buddy System”

By Tom Roberts

Among scuba divers and those who swim in the ocean, there has developed a program for safety known as the “buddy system.” When a person decides to go scuba diving, the “buddy system” demands that one always has a friend to go with him. This friend knows the equipment, stays close at hand, watches out for danger and is ready in times of trouble to lend a helping hand. In this fashion, a diver is never alone in case help is needed quickly. It is a terrifying thought to be alone in strange waters, threatened, with no one to assist. Both divers are protected by the presence of the other and, born from necessity, the “buddy system” is a good idea.

Preachers often have buddies (friends). Surely there is nothing wrong with this practice. Even Jesus loved John in a special way. Whether a preacher’s buddy is another preacher or a member of the congregation is of little importance. We all need to be around others: to talk freely of problems, to study together, to relax together, to watch out for one another. Every Christian should have a buddy who will truly watch out for the other’s welfare.

But among preachers, the buddy system can be abused (as, I suppose, it could be with other relationships). But I speak specifically about preachers, since I can be classed among this species. No one enjoys being a friend to others or having friends more than I. It is wholesome and one of life’s truly great blessings. When preachers get together, they often study, discuss their problems, encourage one another, give constructive criticism, talk about sermons, and yes, watch out for one another. I have been in studies with a number of preachers where a note of warning has been sounded toward another preacher, face to face, about an idea that does not seem to fit the “pattern of sound words.” Some of these gatherings have been rather heated. But most of the time preachers appreciate such warnings when they are given, realizing that the “wounds of a friend” are better than the praise of an enemy.

How then could this “buddy system” be abused? What is the danger that it presents?

Friends, it becomes a danger when someone “uses” the system to hide behind friendship or when friendship will be so little understood that a “buddy” will be in danger and the friend will fail to warn of it. Also it can be dangerous when a person will surround himself with “friends” who will protect him while he continues to promote dangerous doctrines while camouflaging himself by the faithfulness of the very friends who protect him. This is an abuse of the buddy system.

Back during the rise of liberalism, there were many preachers who were closest of friends. When liberal doctrines and practices began to abound, many friends who were preachers studied and discussed these issues over many hours. Admonitions against error were given to those who needed them and, when all else failed, even though friendship continued, separations had to come because different doctrines led in different directions. Eventually those who went into liberalism found new friends who would not “wound” them with the truth. A few camouflaged themselves with faithful friends while in reality changing positions. It took a long time for them to present their true colors because they claimed to be faithful, had faithful friends, but were actually heading into liberalism. And, of course, there were a few preachers who stuck their heads in the sand and would not stand for the truth because they were afraid of hurting their friends. Time solved the problem and as liberalism became more intense, it was revealed where everyone stood in spite of the abuse of the buddy system.

Today we are seeing the introduction of a “new unity movement” based on the principles of neo-Calvinism. And we are seeing an abuse of the buddy system again. Some preachers are crying that they are misunderstood and misrepresented even while they actively propagate the doctrines of Ketcherside, Garrett, Kilpatrick and others. They seek to surround themselves with faithful preachers even while teaching unsound doctrines. Eventually time will tell the tale and true colors will show. Those who are changing will enter into a new “buddy system.” In fact, Ketcherside, Garrett, Kilpatrick, etc., are already giving the pat of approval upon a number of preachers who used to be sound in the faith but who are now actively promoting neo-Calvinism. along the lines of Ensign, Mission Messenger, and Restoration Review, journals which have led the way into neo-Calvinism. But these preachers who are “buddies” with Ketcherside, et A are still trying to maintain a “buddy system” with faithful preachers. They give the appearance of soundness by the friends they keep. Personally I find few things more reprehensible than that of a person playing both sides of the field. The New Unity Movement is an insidious threat whose full danger can be seen by the Central church in Irving joining the Dallas ministerial alliance and giving full fellowship to denominations. This is the goal of the movement. When preachers teach the same principles, doctrines and errors, using the same terminology as the digressives, yet hide behind their friends who either cannot see their digression yet or are still trying to save them from error, they abuse the buddy system.

Scuba divers learn pretty quickly who they can trust in the “buddy system.” An untrustworthy “buddy” can get you killed. Preachers (and all Christians) ought to learn a lesson from this. If your “buddy” is not trustworthy, you will lend your reputation to error, be used for evil purposes and provide sanctuary for a false teacher. Jesus taught us to “go the extra mile” but He didn’t teach us to sanction error. Maybe it’s time for us to take another look at our “buddies”.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, pp. 724-725
December 6, 1984