By Ron Halbrook
Though the former editor has not ascended in “a chariot of fire,” the editor’s mantle has been passed on. Just as Elisha “took the mantle of Elijah” in determination to be a faithful prophet (2 Kgs. 2), Mike Willis has accepted the work so ably done for the past several years by his older brother Cecil. We can use this occasion to set before our readers something of the pap’s history (since many of us who are younger have come on the scene, and there are many new subscribers). We shall look at the course the paper has followed, and what course may be expected in the future. Our look at that history will be sympathetic. Appreciation should be expressed for previous labors, and hopeful anticipation for labors to come.
1. Early Years Set The Tone (1956-1962)
Leslie Diestelkamp came to the “Chicagoland” area in 1954 to strengthen the walls of Zion. Premillennialism, denominationalism, and modernism had racked the region, destroying the soundness and usefulness of seventeen gospel preachers in seventeen years. Shortly, the New Testament pattern of sound words was being undermined by growing pressures from another front. By the mid-1950’s, an internal movement was well under way, composed of a complex of overlapping elements: church support of human institutions (orphan-care institutions, colleges, camps, etc.), centralized church cooperation (“sponsoring” churches, the Herald of Truth, etc.), and social-gospel concepts (church supported recreation, social services, etc.). A spin-off from these issues was the question of whom the church was authorized to help in benevolence-only saints or also non-saints.
These early years are best summarized by brother Leslie Diestelkamp in his excellent new autobiography, `Here Am I, Send Me “:
Another major event in the fruitful fight for truth in that northern area was the beginning of Truth Magazine in 1956. This resulted from the friendship of Bryan Vinson, Jr. and myself, and our mutual desire to launch out more significantly to lead more sincere brethren out of the labyrinth of Institutional errors. I wanted to start a free paper but Bryan was more visionary than I, and we compromised by going his way. In this venture we were especially encouraged when we were joined by Ray Ferris, Gordon Pennock and Foy Vinson in a close-working partnership. A few others who were not preachers helped in financial ways with much support, especially Rip Littlejohn, Bill Lindoo and Herb Matthews.
Truth Magazine immediately began to have a significant impact on that area, and to some degree, far and wide. In those years I wrote the news for the magazine and many other articles, also. When I went to Africa in 1959, my son Karl began to write the news, and has done so ever since, except for a brief interval in it the early sixties.
It is quite easy to take old issues of Truth Magazine and trace the division. As long as I wrote the news (until 1959) I included news of the whole brotherhood. No lines were drawn. When I returned from Africa in 1961, no news was being included from those who were involved in sponsoring churches, support of human institutions by churches, etc. The lines were now drawn firmly (pp. 32-33).
Truth Magazine dealt forthrightly with the problems of modernism (as in various articles dealing with the meandering of Roy Key) but, as stated above, also reflected the growing struggle with institutionalism. Bryan Vinson, as editor, arranged a debate by anonymous disputants on “Church Responsibility in the Field of Benevolence,” which appeared in Vol. II (Mar.- Aug., 1958). From the beginning, both sides of any controversy have been able to express themselves in the paper. Of course, the monthly rather than weekly format limited the amount of space that could be devoted to any one matter, and the paper was not intended for controversy alone. News reports focused attention on many aspects of the Lord’s work, both in our land and in other lands; interest in foreign work has been strong from the paper’s start to the present. Articles were printed to teach the lost the fundamentals of the message of grace, though more space was devoted to edifying the saved (due, doubtless, to the makeup of the subscription list and to the editor’s intent to awaken brethren who were slipping into institutionalism). Every effort was made to publish a well balanced paper, a militant paper, an evangelistic paper. Though each man may judge the results differently, these early efforts set the paper’s tone for its future life.
The September, 1958 (Vol. II) issue was a special entitled “Return Ye Unto God,” designed for the instruction and encouragement of erring saints. This issue, later turned into a booklet which is still in print, contained Cecil Willis’ first article, “Be Thou Faithful.” “His we are; His we ever shall be if we profitably serve Him `unto death,’ ” the conclusion read. His second article was a defense of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, entitled “Holy Men Spoke From God” (Vol. III, Oct., 1958), followed by three articles of similar thrust on Isaiah during May, June, and July of 1959. Next, he had a twelve-part series on the theme of all-sufficiency, including discussion of the Savior, the Bible, and the church (Vol. IV, Dec, 1959; Jan., Feb., Mar., May, July, Sept., 1960; Vol. V, Oct., Nov., 1960; Feb., Apr., May, 1961). From the paper’s beginning in October, 1956, Bryan Vinson, Jr. edited the paper with help from Associate Editors Leslie Diestelkamp and Gordon J. Pennock (1910-1976; cf. Vol. XX, Feb. 26, 1976, p. 135). Staff Writers included James R. Cope, Ray Ferris, James Boyd, Clinton Hamilton, Bryan Vinson, Sr., John Hedge, Avon Malone, Ollie Duffield, and Foy W. Vinson. In October of 1960 (Vol. V), Editor Vinson announced that Cecil Willis was being added to that number.
II. Fifteen Years Of Diligent, Determined Labor (1962-1977)
A thirty-year old editor received the mantle of leadership in August of 1962 (Vol. VI). Gordon Pennock said, “A New Line-Up Takes the Field,” Ray Ferris spoke of “A Forward Step for Truth Magazine!”, and Bryan Vinson, Jr., announced “Cecil Willis to Edit Truth Magazine.” Cecil Willis had a statement as the new editor, as did William E. Wallace, new Associate Editor, replacing the entire old staff. The paper’s destiny had become uncertain; after some indecision, Cecil had
agreed to become editor. He later explained that the encouragement and help of William Wallace was the probable determining factor in his willingness to take the job (Vol. XIV, Nov. 6, 1969, p. 5).
The continued help of the old staff was requested and promised. Having known Brother Willis since 1951, Brother Vinson was confident of “his soundness and dedication to the truth,” “his ability and his sincerity.” Along with other articles, Brother Wallace did the “News Briefs” until April of 1963 (when Guy Roberson took it for a time). Cecil immediately began a series on “Problems In the Church” (Vol. VI, Sept., 1962, p. 242). Estimating that “99 % of our subscribers are members of the church,” he felt Truth Magazine was a good place for such study. The problems Cecil dealt with in Volume VII were Sensualism, Materialism, The Main Street Complex, and Brotherhood Elders. William Wallace supplied the editorial on the problem of Institutionalism. In April of 1964, Cecil explained, as he had from the start, that he did not edit “as an infallible brotherhood censor, asserting that no one can be heard unless he agrees with me.” He promised to continue to publish “well-written articles on controversial themes,” reserving only the right “to reply or to publish replies to such articles” (Vol. VIII, p. 148).
Subscriptions increased rapidly, largely due to the editor and his staff working hard on the matter. The subscription level has seemed to vary according to that same formula, though other factors — such as the pressures of controversy — do influence it. Before the first year ended, the paper experienced “considerably more than one hundred percent increase in subscriptions” (Vol. VII, Mar., 1963, p. 148). In June of 1963 Cecil added the subscribers to The Oracles, which had been
published on the West Coast by Luther Roberts, Thomas Campbell, and others. By April of 1964, the circulation had nearly quadrupled from the time Cecil began editing. The level was 3,000-3,500 my mid-decade, with total paid circulation topping 4,200 by October of 1970, and peaking at over 5,900 the next year. The September 7, 1972 issue noted a decline of about 500; Cecil explained it came about because pressing duties caused less attention to obtaining subscriptions (Vol. XVI, p. 678). By October 3, 1974, the mid-60’s level was hit again, followed by another loss of about 500 during the next year. The decline also parallels a very difficult period of controversy, a risk the editor took knowingly
in the interest of truth.
Seeking Sound, Strong Men
An editor must be an edit, but a paper can do much more good if several strong men labor with an editor. “Two are better than one . . . . and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12). “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 24:6). Editor Willis has repeatedly depended upon sound, strong men to increase the effectiveness of Truth Magazine. James P. Needham began writing articles on “Preachers and Preaching” in February of 1959, and was added as an Assistant Editor in October of 1963 (Vol. VIII, p. 7). His popular column “What’s Your Question?” began to appear in the November 20, 1969, issue (Vol. XIV, p. 35). When William Wallace cordially resigned to begin work with the Gospel Guardian, he and Cecil expressed their mutual respect and love in the faith (Vol. XII, May, 1968, inside front cover-169). By that spring of 1968, Assistant Editors included Connie W. Adams, O. C. Birdwell, Luther Blackmon,: James P. Needham, and Earl Robertson. Soon to be added were James W. Adams, Roy E. Cogdill, and Ferrell Jenkins. When Brother Jenkins joined the staff in January of 1969; he concentrated his writing in the field of evidences and archaeology.
The December 3, 1970, issue carried an announcement that Brother Needham had resigned to edit Torch Magazine (Vol. XV, p. 69). Two strong additions were made shortly, one a young man, Larry Hafley (Vol. XV, Feb. 11, 1971, p. 210), the other Irvin Himmel (Apr. 1, 1971, p. 323). From 1960 through 1970, Brother Himmel was publisher and editor of Apostolic Doctrine, a paper devoted largely to the first principles of the gospel; he has ably concentrated on that area for Truth Magazine. When Connie Adams resigned to edit Searching the Scriptures in 1973, Cecil observed, “In recent years; Truth Magazine has lost three Assistant Editors in order that they might become editors of other papers” (Vol. XVII, May 31, 1973, p. 467-469). Wallace had eventually become editor of the Gospel Guardian, and James Adams was later to leave Truth Magazine to serve at that same post (no official announcement made, but he no longer appears in masthead list of Associate Editors beginning in Vol. XX, Jan. 22, 1976, p. 52). Four writers leaving and becoming editors of other journals within a few yeas, is eloquent testimony to the abilities of met selected for the Truth Magazine staff during those years:
The May, 1969, issue stated that Truth Magazine would change from a monthly to a weekly paper (Vol. XIII, p. 175). For 13 years it had been “published by Truth Magazine Incorporated, a non-profit religious publication organization.” In becoming a weekly, it would be published by “the Roy E. Cogdill Foundation (formerly named the Gospel Guardian Foundation),” “also a non-profit religious publishing corporation” (Vol. XIII, Sept. 1969, p. 265). Volume XIV, number 1 (Nov. 6, 1969) was the first weekly issue, with articles by the two additional Associate Editors, Roy Cogdill and James Adams. From Cecil’s view, “the deciding factor” in going to a weekly format was the promised help of Roy E. Cogdill and James W. Adams. He had earlier observed that “the limitations of a monthly publication will not permit us to print all of the good material that comes in” (Vol. X, Jan., 1966, p. 93). The weekly format would also allow “the intent and content of the paper . . . to be broadened” to reach an audience of alien sinners as well as brethren (Vol. XV, Apr. 1, 1971, p. 323). Further enlargement came in November of 1973 with the use of 8 = by 11 inch pages, adding “about 44 % more reading material each week” (Vol. XVIII, Nov. 1, 1973, pp. 3-5). Cecil explained that attention would continue to be given to “the liberal Ketcherside `Fellowship’ position,” “worldliness,” and “other issues . . . . Some brethren say they get tired of controversy. So do I!!! But the only alternative is capitulation, and the consequence of that is damnation …. The wisdom from above will be invoked that all the good within our power may be done, and that no harm at all to any righteous cause will result.”
Another important step was taken when editor Willis announced `The New Series of Bible Class Literature” (Vol. XIV, Nov. 27, 1969, p. 50). Because he pointed out the modernism in some of the literature brethren used (such as that put out by R. B. Sweet Co.), Brother Sweet wrote asking if he might be allowed to reply. Cecil welcomed him to do so (Apr. 23, 1970, p. 369), and he did (May 7, 1970, p. 400). Cecil’s presentation of documentation ended the brief discussion. The improved literature was ready in July of 1973 (Vol. XVII, July 12, 1973, pp. 547-550). “Walking With God” was a revision of the old “Journeys Through the Bible,” and a great number of brethren-many connected. with Truth Magazine –worked to produce the all new “Truth In Live” series. (To Be Continued).
Truth Magazine XXII: 3, pp. 54-56
January 19, 1978