By Ron Halbrook
(Editor’s Note: This series of articles was prepared by Brother Halbrook shortly after the change of editors occurred. We commend it to you as a brief history of Truth Magazine and evaluation of the work of Cecil Willis and others associated with the paper.)
Breadth and Balance
As was true during its first six years, Truth Magazine was often spoken of as being “controversial” during the editorship of Cecil Willis. No apology should be made for a willingness to engage in controversy, but, actually, a very wide range of provocative material has appeared throughout the history of Truth Magazine. Besides a steady flow of information in “News Briefs,” there have been numerous reports on the progress and problems of the Lord’s work around the world. For example, “Area Specials” have exposed to public view some of the labors and laborers in various regions of the United States: Indiana (Dec., 1962), Kentucky (Nov., 1963), the Northwest (Nov., 1965), the Nashville area (May 22, 1975), and Louisiana (Oct. 2, 1975). Sometimes a whole series of articles has been printed on a given area of the country which needs special attention or help. Not only have there been frequent reports on the work in this nation, but also on the world at large. In 1971, Cecil said that so many reports were coming in that it was impossible to publish them all. “Reports are coming in from Japan, South America, South Africa, Ireland, Nigeria, Rhodesia, Philippine Islands, Mexico, Norway, Canada, England, Vietnam, India, Australia, Italy, the Bahamas and perhaps other lands that do not readily come to mind” (Vol. XV, July 8, 1971, p. 531). For some time, news-and-history articles have appeared on specific congregations, along with the church’s meeting place pictured on the front cover.
Whole issues have been devoted to some important theme: “Return Ye Unto God” (Sept., 1958), Worldliness (Oct., 1964), Denominationalism (Oct., 1965), The Church (Oct., 1966), Conversion (Oct., 1968), Jesus Christ (May, 13, 20, 27, 1976), and others. A special issue of 50 pages was devoted to discussion of Bible Departments and Colleges, an exchange of views between Ralph Williams and James R. Cope (Sept. 16, 1971). Material has appeared which was deemed worthy of publication in book form, such as James P. Needham’s Preachers and Preaching, published in 1969. Other articles have given rise to requests for further publication, such as David E. Koltenbah’s series on “The Three Methods of Argument To Establish Divine Authority and the Three Arguments in Acts 15” which appeared in July, August, and September of 1967, and in revised form in Biblical Authority: Its Meaning and Application (Florida College Annual Lectures: 1974) (pp. 80-94). Outstanding lessons on difficult subjects have been published, such as Franklin T. Puckett’s address on “The Messiah and Racial Problems” (Vol. VII, May, 1963, p. 183). Many of the excellent tracts published by Truth Magazine first appeared as articles in the paper, including these by the editor during this period: Can We Understand the Bible Alike? What Is Conversion? What Must One Do To Be Saved? Dancing, Reviewing A Baptist Tract, The Law of Moses and The Gospel of Christ, But What About the Thief on the Cross? Scriptural Worship, Church Discipline, and other.
Perspective on modern-day events has been given by various articles on the Restoration movements of the past 200 years. The editor’s good working knowledge of Restoration history and literature, has made significant contributions in this direction. His articles on “William Wesley Otey-March 14, 1867- November 1, 1961” (Vol. VI, Dec., 1961 and Jan., 1962) were followed by the publication of W. W. Otey: Contender for the Faith in 1964, printed again in 1967. Cecil thoroughly reviewed Bill Banowsky’s Mirror of a Movement in Volumn X, from December of 1965 through the following March. His other efforts in this field include “Indiana Cooperative Efforts: A History” (Vol. XII, Nov., 1967, p. 37), “Historical Backgrounds of `Campaigns’ In the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ,” (Vol. XII, Dec., 1967, p. 51), and a series on “The Saga of Daniel Sommer” (Vol. XIV, Sept. 24, 1970-Oct. 22, 1970). The editor has encouraged and printed much material along this line.
During controversy, someone always complains not only about “controversial” articles but also about “too many articles on one subject.” During the paper’s first six years, editor Vinson dealt with the complaint, and more recently editor Willis has dealt with it. The reader might find it interesting to see the list of topics Cecil Willis asked his writing staff to deal with during a July, 1974 meeting held at Memphis, Tennessee. The list includes first principles of the gospel, evidences, instruction for teachers, book reviews, denominational doctrines, world religions, work of the Holy Spirit, law and authority, word studies, cults, premillennialism, Restoration history, current religious scene, Old Testament character studies, positive exposition of Scripture, morality, worldliness, history of innovations, personal work, and local church needs! Specific writers were assigned to deal with most all of these from time to time, though each writer was left free to write on any need he perceived. Those who speak of preacher-papers, family-papers, church-needs papers, etc., need to realize that the above subjects are vital to alien sinners, individual saints, preachers, elders, deacons, families, and churches. Over a year after the Memphis meeting, Cecil reviewed the topic index and found “more than 400 articles, written by 125 different men” on a wide variety of subjects including: 14 articles on authority, 21 on baptism, 8 on Baptist doctrine, 30 book reviews, 4 on Calvinism, 39 on Christian living, 46 on the church, 38 reports from churches, 22 on denominationalism, 5 on discipline, 31 on evangelism, 8 on evidences, 15 on faith, 7 on the family, 12 on fellowship, 8 on grace, 6 on heaven, 12 on Restoration history, 15 on the Holy Spirit, 24 on Christ, 8 on Jehovah’s Witnesses, 5 on modesty, 11 on obedience, 13 on personal work, 20 on preachers and preaching, 29 answering Bible questions, 15 on salvation, 31 expositions of passages, 16 on teaching, and 17 on Bible word studies. “If a paper can have wider diversification in one year, I hardly see how such would be possible,” he added (Vol. XIX, Dec. 18, 1975, p. 898). Truth Magazine throughout its history has aimed at breadth and balance, though men may differ in their assessment of the emphases given at different times.
“Yes, This Is A Militant Paper”
From its beginning, Truth Magazine has been a valuable forum for controversial topics. It began as a medium to uphold truth against the destructive influences of modernism, and was soon to see its duty in upholding truth against a complex of institutionalism among churches. Much of the history of the issues, debates, and division which occurred around that complex, can be found on the pages of Truth Magazine from the late 1950’s to the present. Many editorials and other articles can be found examining the whole field of this controversy. In Vol. II, Ray Ferris debated Bill Heinselman on “Church Responsibility in the Field of Benevolence” (Mar.-Aug., 1958; done anonymously). When many brethren hesitated to take a public stand, waiting to see which way the “wind” would blow, editor Willis wrote on “Those 50 % `Antis’ ” (Vol. IX, Dec., 1964, p. 50). After saying “if you believe error is taught herein, fire away at it,” Cecil continued,
These are crucial times. We had better quit being afraid that our position might align us with this one or that one. Stand for what you believe to be the truth, and speak out! Your voice is direly needed.
Quite a number of debates on institutional issues are reviewed over a period of time. When editor Willis met Clifton Inman first in Parkersburg, West Virginia, then in Dayton, Ohio, September 19, 20, 22, 23 and October 31, November 1, 3, 4, 1966, respectively, they discussed “the sponsoring church type of congregational cooperation with particular emphasis on the Herald of Truth radio and television program and institutionalism with special emphasis on orphan homes.” James Needham continued, referring to Cecil, “His preparation for these discussions was very evident. His part of the discussion was also carried on in a very fine spirit of brotherliness, and high esteem for his opponent.” Likewise, Brother Inman “pitched his part of the encounter on a very high plane” (Vol. XI, Jan., 1967, p. 77). This excellent debate was published in 1968, and is still in print. From July of 1967 through September, Truth Magazine carried a written debate on centralized cooperation between the editor and William L. Carrell (Vol. XI), and another on church support of benevolent organizations from December of 1968 through February of 1969 (Vol. XIII). The debates and reports of debates tapered off as the 1960’s neared their end, for there was less contact and less direct controversy as those who took the opposing views went their separate ways. The brethren who had taken the liberal stand on this complex of issues, where destined to enter an era of internal controversy over the control and direction of their many projects (editorial “A New Era Begins,” Vol. XVIII, November 1, 1973, pp. 3-5).
The editorial “I Just Don’t Like the Way You Say It” reflects the pressures and difficulties of this period of controversy (Vol. XV, June 10, 1971, p. 483). A brother had written a letter saying that while he approved the truth taught by Cecil, he did not “always approve the way he says things”. This brother acknowledged his debt of gratitude to men like Cecil who “are in the forefront of the battle against liberalism without reservation.” Cecil commented that no one “preaching method” was essential to the progress of truth, “but we must agree upon the truth taught, for a lie cannot be substituted for truth which is in Christ. Let us all use whatever capability and dispositions God has given us to teach the truth as effectively as we can.” That was still his plea near the end of his work as editor: “Incidentally, if you think the paper should be improved, we invite you to submit your improved articles” (Vol. XIX, Dec. 18, 1975, p. 898). In “Truth Magazine and Controversy,” Connie Adams summarized the spirit of the paper from its inception when he said,
Yes, this is a militant paper. We mean to keep it so. The Devil has not called off the battle yet. There are still surging issues which need to be discussed. Brotherly reserve and restraint ought to be employed, but no quarter should be asked or given in the conflict between truth and error. If we are found in error, then let brethren get out their typewriters and point it out. We can take it (Vol. XVII, Nov. 23, 1973, pp. 60-61 ).
Spirit and Stamina Severely Tested Again
Few perceived how appropriate Brother Adam’s words were in November of 1973. Another controversy already was breaking out into the open. Once again, the spirit and stamina of Truth Magazine’s Editor, Associate Editors, and Staff Writers were to be severely tested. This time the complex of issues related to grace, unity, and fellowship, and the immediate consequences related to whether we should receive or reject baptized believers who were involved in missionary societies, instrumental music, premillennialism, institutionalism, centralization, social-gospel practices, and such like. Ultimately, the consequences related to our reception or rejection of so-called “Christians among the sects”-i.e., people in the human denominations.
This problem had been on the horizon for several years. In the combined issue of Truth Magazine for June and July of 1962, Leslie Diestelkamp wrote on “The Ketcherside Unity Plea” (Vol. VI, p. 194). “Toleration is his theme, and he begs for such, not only with regard to men but with regard to principles. The actual crux of his appeal is not only that we be patient with men in error, but that we be tolerant with the error they advocate and practice.” Recognizing Ketcherside’s power to “cause many”-especially “many younger men”-“to wander into denominationalism and destruction,” Brother Diestelkamp appealed to those who were even then being “swallowed up in this new movement to reevaluate their attitude and re-consider the contrast between the word of God and the new and fair words of Brother Ketcherside.” In his article on “The Ketcherside `Unity’ Movement” in November, 1964, Elvis Bozarth identified the January, 1957 issue of Mission Messenger as the turning point in Ketcherside’s thrust. Observing that very few articles had appeared on Ketcherside’s “unity” movement, Brother Bozarth summarized its meaning in these words: “It was conceived in compromise, born through capitulation, perpetuated by submission, and the result is surrender. This movement, like all threats to pure Christianity, must be stopped.” A few other early articles began to appear by Roy Cogdill, who said Karl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett had swung from being “nothingarian” to “anythingarian” (“What Does `Fellowship’ Include?”, XIV, Nov. 13, 1969, p. 20), by Cecil Willis (“Those ‘In Depth’ Studies Again,” XIV, May 14, 1970, p. 417; “A Paradoxical Fellowship,” XIV, Mar. 23, 1972, p. 307), and by Connie Adams (“The Fading Fear and the Spirit of St. Louis, I,” XIV, May 14, 1970, p. 419; “Old Song, New Singers,” XVII, Feb. 1, 1973, pp. 202-203).
A report of open controversy and an evaluation appeared in the issue for April 6, 1972, with Ray Ferris’ article “The Ketcherside Discussion in Tampa-Was It Wise?” Brother Ferris pointed out that Ketcherside’s “extremely liberal views” were gaining ground in the Tampa area and that he was seeking to establish his viewer among “some of the young people on the Florida College Campus.” For the next two weeks, Brother Ferris evaluated “Karl Ketcherside’s Strange View of Fellowship.” Recognition of this problem had been growing. Consequently, James W. Adams began a lengthy series with “The Birth of a Movement” in the March 22, 1973, issue (Vol. XVII, p. 309). Cecil appended.an “Editor’s Note” saying that 1,000 extra copies of each article in the series was being printed for wider distribution.
In “Theological Liberalism: Is There Any?”, on March 15, 1973, editor Willis expressed the opinion that “the Gospel Guardian editor”-then William Wallace -should have expressed reservation or disagreement with the Randall Mark Trainer article in the April 20, 1972, Guardian, which denied any “Theological Liberalism at Abilene Christian College.” A period of prolonged and trying controversy with the Guardian staff of that period was sparked by Cecil’s editorial plea, “Tell Us It Is Not So” (Vol. XVII, Apr. 26, 1973, pp. 387-389). Leroy Garrett had reported in the September, 1972, Restoration Review that his recent discussion with editor Wallace showed “he is reexamining his own position of fellowship,” “he finds it too difficult to live with his present position,” and “he is moving in our direction.” After waiting seven months for Wallace to refute or comment upon that report, Cecil called for him to “clarify the matter.” He added that Gordon Wilson and Edward Fudge needed to make their positions clear: “each one has left me a little hazy about where he stands on the Garrett-Ketcherside Fellowship issue.” Wallace then briefly said Garrett’s report was inaccurate, but did not explain what actually had been said; the Guardian’s editor began to treat the whole problem as one of personalities, papers, and preachers, rather than a doctrinal matter. While he genuinely wanted to be disassociated from the Ketcherside-Garrett stance, he was also determined to back his Associate Editor Fudge to the hilt. The disclaimers eventually published by Wilson and Fudge were ambiguous, or said nothing about the specific doctrines of Ketcherside which were the points of danger.
Next, Truth Magazine’s editor responded to Wallace’s March 15 editorial “Turning. Off Second Generation Preachers” with “Turning Off `Which’ Second Generation Preachers” (Vol. XVII, June 14, 1973, pp. 499-502). In the same issue, four Florida College students published an article lamenting the, Guardian’s “drift toward softer, more compromising themes” (Bruce Edwards, Jr., Patrick A. Jones, Jon Quinn, Mark Venable, “An Open Letter to the Gospel Guardian”). Wallace had refused to print it. In the same issue, James W. Adams continued his series including this revelation, made for the first time in print: “Brother Edward Fudge associate editor of the Gospel Guardian, was probably the first person to introduce, in a favorable way, the views of W. Karl Ketcherside to the student preachers at Florida College” (pp. 505-507). Adams was involved in subsequent controversy with Fudge, as the latter maneuvered to minimize the effects of charges on his doctrinal. compromise but without repudiating the positions he had taken (cf. “How Successful Is Ketchersidean Subversion?”, XVII, Sept. 20, 1973, pp. 707711). The September 20 issue carried Ron Halbrook’s “Introduction in Personal Form to the Reader,” giving the background to the five-part series “An Appeal in Love to Edward Fudge: Clarify Please” (Sept. 27-Oct. 25). Cecil felt the value of this series was that it “provided the documentation to prove what many of us already knew to be the erroneous positions of Edward Fudge, but which documentation we did not have readily accessible” (Vol. XVIX, Nov. 7, 1974, p. 8). As a result, Fudge did eventually modify his teaching on instrumental music, so as to admit it may be considered “sinful,” but he refused to modify his position on the instrument or anything else in relation to fellowship.
Willing to Make Correction?
The Gospel Guardian had little to say on the doctrinal problems of Wilson and Fudge, but shifted emphasis to personal charges aside from doctrinal import as in Wallace’s editorial “The Political Mr. Willis.” Cecil reproduced Wallace’s editorial and discussed it in “Reviewing My Friend, William E. Wallace” (Vol. XVIII, Dec. 13, 1973). Denying that personal interests were involved, Cecil appealed for concentration on Fudge’s “Calvinistic doctrine on grace and his latitudinarianism on fellowship” which had brought “wreck and ruin” to many young preachers. Professions to superior piety and supreme peaceableness by those promoting error or protecting errorists, were unmasked in Willis’ “Some Disappointing Incidents.” As it turned out, a faulty report was involved in his mentioning that Doyle Banta cracked that an airplane should crash through Cecil’s house (XVIII, May 9, 1974, pp. 419-423). When Cecil asked for and finally got a denial of the remark from Brother Banta, he acknowledged his mistake and apologized for the inadvertent misrepresentation, expressing regret that those who could clear up the origin of the story played mum (XIX, Apr. 3, 1975, pp. 323-325). Though the doctrinal errors Cecil continued to emphasize were not being corrected, some brethren took pleasure in highlighting this mistake, concerning which every effort was made to provide correction.
But, another thread of testing and sorrow wove its way into the controversy. The June 3, 1971, issue (Vol. XV, p. 467) explained that Lindy McDaniel’s Pitching for the Master would henceforth be published by Cogdill Foundation. The relationship of the papers and the men behind them was to be unexpectedly strained by disagreement over the grace-unity discussions. Lengthy discussions with Lindy, orally and in writing, convinced Cecil Willis and Roy Cogdill that he was for the second time enamored of the looser views on grace which were currently being debated. Lindy no longer felt identified with the position taken by Truth Magazine, and the Cogdill Foundation did not intend to risk supporting error. In an article entitled ” `In’ and `Out’ of Grace” in May of 1974, Cecil announced that by mutual agreement the Foundation would no longer publish Pitching for the Master (Vol. XVIII, May 23, 1974, pp. 451-455). Cecil’s “Lindy McDaniel and Our `Doctrinal’ Differences” in August 8 issue, was followed by Lindy’s “Answering Cecil’s Charges” on September 19. In that same issue, the editor summarized the problem: Lindy believed that a person using instrumental music or involved in institutionalism “as a result of ignorance or from the weakness of the flesh continues to stand in the grace of God, even though he has neither repented of nor confessed the sin.” The editor promised to document “Lindy’s vacillation on this question.” It was some time before this was done, as he waited to see what Lindy’s disposition might be and as he agonized over writing as accurately and fairly as possible. With full knowledge that dealing with Lindy had been and would be most unpopular, and only after counselling over the manuscript with many brethren, Cecil presented the full documentation in four parts between April 10 and May 1, 1975 (Vol. XIX). Lindy never accepted the offer to reply in full as he might think necessary.
Fortunately, the Ketcherside satellites lost the use of the Gospel Guardian as a launching pad when it changed ownership. The paper moved back toward its former soundness under the editorship of Eugene Britnell (Nov. 1, 1974-Sept. 1, 1975), and has continued on that basis under James W. Adams (Sept. 15, 1975-present). This does not mean, though, that the dangerous influence of these errorists has disappeared. As Leslie Diestelkamp had warned over a decade ago, “many younger men” have had their faith disturbed by the spread of this error and many have even wandered “into denominationalism and destruction.” In recent months, the Christians-in-all-the-sects slogan — “Christians only, but not only Christians” — has been used in advertising “gospel” meetings. Churches have been and are being divided by those pressing this pernicious approach to “grace and unity.” As Connie Adams said, “Yes, this is a militant paper. We mean to keep it so. The Devil has not called off the battle yet.”
(To be continued.)
Truth Magazine XXII: 4, pp. 70-73
January 26, 1978