The Issues Forty Years Ago

By Cecil Willis

Truth Magazine was born in October 1956. Hence it now is forty years old. It merged with the influential Gospel Guardian in 1981 to become Guardian of Truth. Truth Magazine was founded by Bryan Vinson, Jr., Leslie Diestelkamp, Gordon Pennock, Ray Ferris, and Foy Vinson primarily to serve the needs of the Mid-Western states, but more specifically to meet some challenges in the greater Chicago area. My first article appeared in Volume 2 (September 1958). Afterward I edited the paper for fifteen years, 1962-1977.

My first feeble efforts to preach occurred in April 1948. As a boy preacher, I was encouraged and nurtured primarily by William Thompson, Luther Blackmon, Roy Cogdill, Oscar Smith, Sr., and Cled E. Wallace. Some mighty conflicts then had been raging for several decades, and it is the purpose of this article to relate some of the things transpiring when Truth Magazine was born.


Blatant modernism, radiating from the University of Chicago, was rampant in the Chicago area when Truth Magazine was conceived. When I use the term “modernism,” I am not speaking of the liberalism characteristic of our pro-institutional brethren. Rather I speak of the kind of modernism sometimes referred to as “classical modernism.” I refer to the kind of modernism that attacks the in-errancy of the Bible and that disparages the person and work of Jesus Christ. Some younger folks today may not even be aware of the initial stages of this controversy over modernism. This invasion of modernism was of such consequence that within a few months more a dozen gospel preachers in the Chicago area defected and left the church completely.

James Arthur Warren was among the leaders of this group of modernistic preachers (Roy Key was another) who denied the verbal inspiration of Scripture and challenged the virgin birth of Christ. The attack on verbal inspiration paraded under the guise of anti-legalism. Warren stated: “The legalist regards the New Testament as a book containing a certain number (of necessity a large number) of direct commands, binding examples, etc., all of which are equally important and obedience to which is necessary for salvation” (The Heresy of Legalism 2). This early modernism sounds nearly identical to what is called by contemporary modernists “The New Hermeneutic.”

Brother Warren went on to say that a verbally inspired Book would be “a literary monster which dictates even to God what he must do.” Warren also denied the essentiality of baptism and partaking of the Lord’s supper. In speaking of the effects of this modernism, Leslie Diestelkamp wrote: “Modernism has taken the `backbone’ out of our religion. . . . Sweet, soothing messages, pro-found, pious speeches and philosophical sermonettes are too common today. Too many supposed gospel sermons would fit in any denominational pulpit” (Truth Magazine, Nov. 1956, p. 10). Wonder what Diestelkamp would think of the pablum being spooned out today?

Diestelkamp further affirmed: “Simple gospel obedience never did make one a member of a denomination, nor did submission to the creeds of men ever make one a child of God. Shame and reproach are brought to the cause of Christ when gospel preachers contend that the church of which they are members is a denomination among the denominations.” Some of our sociology majors need to listen to brother Diestelkamp. It reminds one of Image magazine’s recent entire issue being devoted to the need for churches of Christ to reapproach denominationalism.


From about 1915-1945 perhaps the major issue confronting churches of Christ was premillennialism. Premillennialism affirmed that after the second coming of Christ, and before the final judgment, there would be a reign of Christ on earth for an age of 1,000 years. R.H. Boll, a one-time front page editor of the Gospel Advocate, was the popularizer of this doctrine among churches of Christ.

In the Fall of 1953 I moved to Indianapolis to work with the Irvington church. Premillennialists at that time claimed to represent about 400 congregations. They asserted that about thirty churches in the greater Louisville area were of the premillennial persuasion. Southern Indiana had many congregations that had been influenced by Boll, Stanford Chambers, E.L. Jorgenson, or Don Carlos Janes. Their strength was primarily in the states of Kentucky and Louisiana. They then published at least two journals, and operated a Bible College at Winchester, Kentucky.

It is not amiss to state that in the 1930s and 1940s the fight against premillennialism was on the front burner. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Roy E. Cogdill, Cled E. Wallace, C.R. Nichol, R.L. Whiteside and others preached on premillennialism in nearly every gospel meeting. The great 1945 Houston meeting in the spacious Music Hall was devoted nearly entirely to premillennialism. These sermons by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. were later published in book form, God’s Prophetic Word, and this book is still the best source on the subject. My grandmother told me about attending each service in that Houston meeting. Wallace preached at least an hour and a half every service, and one night preached two hours and forty-five minutes. The auditorium seated 2500-3000, and was filled by the end of the week.

Today there is not much left of the premillennial movement among the churches of Christ. Today they number just 76 congregations, with 46 of these in Kentucky, and about twenty in Louisiana. Their total membership is some-where around 10,000-12,000. These brethren found that they had so much in common with denominationalism, nearly all of whom are millennialists, that many of them have entered the great ecumenical movement of denominationalism. They preach very little gospel now.

Truth Magazine also was founded to contribute to the fight against premillennialism, as many early articles clearly stated. Gordon Pennock wrote several articles on the subject, including some on the Throne of David. Leslie Diestelkamp wrote on “Premillennialism and Fellowship” (February, 1957, p. 14). In this article he stated:

1. I cannot fellowship those who insist that I must believe premillennial theories. . . . 2. I cannot fellow-ship those who teach that Christ will reign, after his second coming over the earth for 1,000 years. . . . 3. I cannot fellowship those who deny that the church is in-deed the kingdom prophesied in Daniel 2:44. . . . 4. I cannot fellowship those who teach that Jesus failed to accomplish what he came to do.


Perhaps the most immediate reason for the founding of Truth Magazine was to provide a forum to give the sponsoring church type of cooperation and church contributions to human institutions a thorough discussion. Isn’t it strange that this was also the primary reason for the founding of the Gospel Advocate in 1855?

Beginning about 1938 a major push was made to put the Bible colleges in the church budgets. Well-known preacher, G. C. Brewer, said at the 1938 Abilene Christian College Lectureship that the church that did not have ACC in its budget just had the wrong preacher. This set off a heated and prolonged paper debate. N.B. Hardeman, President of Freed-Hardeman College at Henderson, Tennessee, jumped into the college-in-the-budget fray in 1947 when he alleged that church supported orphan homes and church supported colleges stood or fell together. The same arguments that defended one would justify the other, he asserted. One of my first memories as a high school boy who was trying to fill weekly preaching appointments was the conflict caused by ACC’s effort to raise $3,000,000, with an appeal for congregations to send them their fifth Sunday contributions.

When Truth Magazine was founded, these were some of the issues before the minds of the brethren. In the second issue of Truth Magazine, Founding Editor Bryan Vinson, Jr. spoke of the intention for the paper. “We need a paper allowing both sides of every issue to be heard. BUT only heard in the spirit of brotherly love  free from all bitterness.” He said these issues would be discussed in the proper manner, or they would not be discussed at all. He specifically named premillennialism, modernism, and immorality. But institutionalism also was discussed from the very beginning of Truth Magazine. This journal has stoodfor truth, and against error of all kinds for forty years. Her objectives have not changed. The front lines of battle change from time to time, but it is still truth and error in conflict; Christ and Satan locked in battle. And the battle must rage on so long as Satan stays in business. Remember, a sword (Eph. 6:17) is not a weapon of spiritual pacificism; it is a weapon of war. Use it!

Guardian of Truth XLI: 1 p. 1
January 2, 1997