The Memphis Meeting And Related Matters

By Dick Blackford 

“I know when this program was first announced a few years ago, I had a great deal of misgivings about it — just the very idea of it. I could envision a great concentration of power at the hands of a single eldership . . . It’s very easy for one congregation to go astray and when such power is concentrated in one it would have influence to a great many others . . .”

The Herald of Truth (H.O.T.) has divided the brotherhood twice. The first time was over the sponsoring church concept of the organizational structure of the church. Most major apostasies have come through a corruption of the organization of the church (Catholic Church, Missionary Society, Sponsoring Church). The second time, it divided promoters of the program who endorsed the sponsoring church concept. Soft preaching on the program and doctrinal error in the Highland church was the reason the second time, as well as politics in the power structure at the top (firing of E.R. Harper, etc.). The sponsor- ing church bit the hand of those who were feeding it. Some of its most avid promoters reaped the whirlwind, espe- cially those who defended it in debate (E.R. Harper, Guy Woods, G.K. Wallace, Alan Highers).

In recent months, Garland Elkins wrote a series of 22 articles titled “One Grape At A Time” in the Yokefellow (a publication of the Memphis School Of Preaching. Knight Arnold Road congregation is the sponsoring church) in which he rehashed a meeting con- ducted on September 10, 1973 at the Getwell Church Of Christ in Memphis. The meeting was to discuss the Herald of Truth and lasted between 10-13 hours. Elkins was chairman of the meeting and preacher at Getwell.

Approximately 200 elders and preach- ers from all over the country came to discuss this “brotherhood” project.

The Pyramid Structure

Denominational projects that originate in the minds of men, such as corruptions in organizational structure, usually have one thing in common. They become so big and powerful that nobody can stop them. The pyramid structure places power at the top over which the rank and file have no control, except to disassociate themselves. In the ’70s when the hierarchy of the Presbyterian Church decided to contribute $10,000 to the Angela Davis (a communist) Defense Fund, many at the bottom of the pyramid opposed it but were powerless to stop it. Other church hierarchies have made decisions on such things as ordaining homosexual preachers and members expressed disapproval but were powerless to stop it. Those who supported the televangelists had similar problems because of the pyramid structure. The same thing happened regarding the H.O.T. and the hierarchy involved in the “sponsoring church.” Those who opposed it at the Memphis Meeting were unable to stop it. It is still going on 25 years later.

Many conservative brethren had argued that the H.O.T. was more than a program of a local church. That it had its own offices, mail permit, workshops, representatives, etc. This was ridiculed by the liberal brethren who promoted it. Some finally (perhaps unwittingly) admitted it. Consider this admission from the editor of Contending For The Faith (July 1973). “Do you recall just a few years ago, when some of us used to ponder whatever would happen to the churches of Christ if the forces of error should ever get control of the HERALD OF TRUTH?” (Why the capital letters for H.O.T. but not for churches of Christ? Why worry about this any more than one would worry about forces of error gaining control in any one of thousands of local churches?, db). I can just hear the anti-cooperationists rising up as one man to chide ‘I told you so;’ however, brethren, it no longer is ‘unthinkable’ . . . as from March 26, 1973 with the firing of E.R. Harper, NOT by the Highland elders but by the HERALD OF TRUTH RADIO AND TELEVISION COMMITTEE, . . .” (Ira Rice).

Rice’s admission showed what we had been saying for so long, that while the H.O.T. had ties to Highland it was a separate organization. Yes, as history will show and as Rice admit- ted, we told you so but you wouldn’t listen. Ironically, after noting several signs all was not well at Highland, Rice says, “You just can’t warn SOME folks because they refuse to be warned!” Say what? In the Memphis Meeting he also asked, “I want to know who is paid top salary at the Herald of Truth? Who gets the most money? . . . We’d like to know the top five men, the top five salaries” (Sec. I, 33). That answer was never given but it shows Rice regarded the H.O.T. as an entity in itself.

Consider this statement from Thomas B. Warren, “I know when this program was first announced a few years ago, I had a great deal of misgivings about it — just the very idea of it. I could envision a great concentration of power at the hands of a single eldership . . . It’s very easy for one congregation to go astray and when such power is concentrated in one it would have influence to a great many others . . .” (Sec. I, 40). Also, this statement from Alan Highers, “In every liberal takeover in denominationalism the means has been through gaining control of the influential institutions, . . . This, then, is what the Herald of Truth controversy really means” (Sec. III, 2). Warren recognized that the Highland elders constituted a concentration of power that was out of the ordinary. Why the alarm? Wasn’t this Highland’s work as E.R. Harper told us in the Harper-Tant Debate? Weren’t they just another local autonomous congregation? Where did brethren get the right to concentrate such power in one local eldership? Not from the Bible. Unwittingly, Warren was admitting they had become more than local elders. While Highers probably did not intend to refer to the H.O.T. as an institution, this is what he said, and he recognized it as an “influential institution,” some- thing extraordinary. Highland became a “super” church as they assumed (not assigned) oversight of a national program, a “brotherhood” project. Where did those who gave Highland such power get that right? Who had the right to make plans for the “brotherhood”? The only way elders can be over a “brotherhood” project is if they are “brotherhood” elders, something the Lord did not ordain (1 Pet. 5:2). Such authority is usurped. All who consented are partakers of their sin. There is no reason why problems in one local congregation should have caused such widespread discussion, division, and a gathering of preachers and elders from “the four corners of the earth,” except that the church had more power and influence given to them through an unscriptural combine known as “the sponsoring church.”

An Unscriptural Plea

In the Memphis Meeting, a High- land elder said: “We plead with you to allow us to continue to pray and work with this problem” (Art Haddox, Sec. I, 2). Can you imagine the elders in the local congregation where you worship traveling a thousand miles to plead with preachers and elders who have assembled from congregations all over the nation to let them continue a work overseen by your local independent, self-governing congregation and its elders? If so, you have too big an imagination. But it can be imagined if you are engaged in something unscriptural. Imagine them pleading with brethren a thousand miles away to let them continue their Bible class program!

Moving The H.O.T. To Another Eldership

Consider these statements: “It may be that before this work is able to continue . . . that it may have to be under the leadership and sponsorship of some other congregation. That may be the solution” (Alan Highers, Sec. II, 28). “I’m not trying to kill the Herald of Truth, but it ought to be moved from Highland to a good sound elder- ship . . .” “The present eldership must go or the program is dead . . . I want to see it under a strong eldership if we have to move it to Memphis or Nashville, Tennessee (AMEN, from audience, db)” (Frank Cawyer, former Highland elder, Sec. I, 14, Sec. II, 64). “I want the program saved if it means moving the oversight to a strong, knowledgeable, efficient eldership . . .” (James D. Willeford, one of the founders of the H.O.T., Sec. II, 52). “Maybe this ministry should be transferred to an eldership that is more capable of coping with the unusual pressures that come . . . You see, if there is no Highland church, there isn’t any Herald of Truth unless its first transferred” (Lynn Anderson, a Highland preacher, Sec. II, 74,75). “But if not, that the program can be . . . given to some other congregations” (Garland Elkins, Sec. II, 72).

Can a group of elders and preachers from all over the country meet a thousand miles away from your local congregation to discuss moving part of your congregation’s work? If they can, the congregation must be involved in something unscriptural because New Testament congregations were ruled by the elders “among you” (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28). What group of men has the right to come together to discuss moving part of another congregation’s work? Who gave them that right? Not the Lord.

The only way elders can be over a “brotherhood” project is





 if they are “brotherhood” elders, something the Lord did not ordain (1 Pet. 5:2).Such authority is usurped.

They assumed it. These brethren would have loved to have moved the H.O.T. since they considered it part of their work, but they had surrendered the oversight of that part of their work! This shows Highland had exclusive control. It was the work of many churches controlled by one. It was unscriptural centralized agency, as Roy Cogdill proved in the Cogdill-Woods Debate.

Joint Elders’ Meetings

In discussing a campaign in the Hurst-Bedford (Texas) area in which Lynn Anderson was to speak, Ed Sanders of Harding College said, “I have been asked by the elders of the four congregations that were involved in this campaign to act as director of the campaign . . . And we asked Lynn to come . . . and the elders of the four congregations that were interested in the campaign met in the conference room of the Pipe Line Road church in Hurst with Lynn, . . . It was the consensus of those elders that here was a man who was safe to use for this particular job” (Sec. II, 68, 69). As most Christians will remember from the Jule Miller filmstrips, the formation of the Roman Catholic Church began by an elder from each congregation meeting together as a unit from which decisions were made. This was the seed, a corruption in the organization of the church. In principle it would make no difference whether one or all the elders from several congregations met, the seed for the beginning of an unscriptural organization is there. Given time, as in the case of the Catholic Church and the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), and one will have no trouble seeing where the apostasy began.

Great Swelling Words For A Human Institution

One of the men at the Memphis Meeting said it “. . . was one of the most important gatherings of brethren which has been conducted in this generation” (i, Introduction). He went on to say “brother Baxter (Batsell Barrett Baxter, db) said earlier that today might determine whether or not the Herald Of Truth program would live or die. But you know brethren, really the survival of the church is involved in this too” (AMEN. That’s right . . . from audience) (Sec. I, 32). If no one learned the truth that the “sponsoring church” is an unscriptural institution, then the meeting was not that important regardless of how much self-importance its participants may have claimed. But, imagine it! The survival of the church depends upon a project that originated in the minds of men and had its beginning on February 3, 1952! That is grandstanding at its worst. How about if the church where I labor has a meeting of influential preachers and elders from all over the nation to determine whether part of the work of your home congregation lives or dies? The only way such meetings could take place or that we could begin to think the survival of the church depends on the outcome of such meetings is if the churches are involved in some unscriptural organization. These statements demonstrate how the “sponsoring church” destroys the autonomy of both the contributing churches and the “sponsoring church” as well — a denominational concept. It is what happens in an unscriptural pyramid. Who would make such a wild statement that the survival of the church was dependent on a meeting that originated in the minds of men to discuss a project that originated in the minds of men? Garland Elkins, chairman of the meeting, present co-editor of Yokefellow and dean of public relations at Memphis School of Preaching.

What The Scriptures Teach

The scriptures teach that elders are to “tend the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet.5:2). They are to “take heed . . . to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers . . . I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you . . .” (Acts 20:28, 29). Which flock was that? It was the local flock at Ephesus. Those elders were over the evangelism, edification, discipline, resources, etc., of the flock “among you.” What part of any of that can they delegate to another eldership? None, and remain self-governing and independent. The congregations represented by men in the Memphis Meeting could not control what was being done with their money. They had surrendered their oversight, much to their surprise. They could not move the Herald of Truth to another eldership nor could they stop it. But consider this statement: “. . .If I believe any part of the Bible, I believe the part . . . that teaches a congregation is autonomous” (Ed Sanders, Sec. II, 72). These brethren honor autonomy with their lips but their practice is far from it.

Was Jerusalem a “Sponsoring Church?”

We have been told that what Highland and other “sponsoring churches” are doing is no different than when brethren sent to Jerusalem when they were in want (1 Cor.16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8, 9). First, Jerusalem was a destitute church. They became that way through no fault of their own. (Did Highland become destitute through no fault of their own? No, they were one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in America.) The only situation in the Bible in which one church donated funds to another was when it became destitute through circumstances beyond its control. This does not describe Highland, Sycamore in Cookeville, Knight Arnold Road in Memphis, nor any other “sponsoring church” today. Second, Jerusalem was the target of the need (it was for needy saints in that congregation) and not a funnel which filtered funds back to various parts of the country. Third, Jerusalem did not launch a massive campaign to solicit funds from churches at large as does Highland, Sycamore, or Knight Arnold Road. Fourth, Jerusalem’s want was in benevolence. Highland’s, Sycamore’s and Knight Arnold’s want is not. They may “want,” but they are not “in want.” Fifth, Jerusalem’s need was peculiarly theirs. Sponsoring churches’ wants of today are no more theirs exclusively than any other congregation’s. God has not assigned national or world obligations to one congregation alone. All congregations have equal duty to evangelize according to their ability, but no congregation has the right to assume and oversee the evangelistic work of several churches. Sixth, Jerusalem’s case is in the Bible. These others are not.

A church is in “want” when it lacks the means of self-maintenance, not when it assumes national or world obligations beyond its ability. When a church, through no fault of its own, became dependent, other churches acted independently in their effort to restore that church to an independent status, that there might be equality (not equal in funds and members but equal in freedom from want). This is the only condition under which one church received funds from another. Can you imagine preachers and elders from Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth calling a meeting to discuss moving part of Jerusalem’s work to another eldership? Can you imagine them saying that such a meeting might determine the survival of the church? If congregations were truly independent, even if one entire eldership becomes corrupt it need not affect any other congregation in the world.

“Non-cooperation Brethren”

Elkins says, “The non-cooperation brethren cannot rightfully rejoice that we are now having to oppose liberalism within the ranks of the Lord’s people . . .” Then referring to a discussion of Ketchersidism which took place in Truth Magazine and The Gospel Guardian, he said, “Obviously, cooperation did not produce liberalism or compromise among them for neither group advocates cooperation” (iv, Introduction). Rice said, “I can just hear the anti-cooperationists rising up as one man to say ‘I told you so.’” Because we believe in only one kind of cooperation (direct and independent, Phil. 4:15-18), Elkins calls us “non-cooperation brethren” and says we do not “advocate cooperation.” Both Elkins and Rice are old enough to know they are wilfully misrepresenting us. Since both believe in only one kind of music (vocal) should they be called “non-music brethren” or “anti-music brethren”? Since they believe in only one baptism, should they be called “non- baptism brethren” or “anti-baptismists”? Should we accuse them of not “advocating baptism”? Since they believe in only one God, should they be called “non-God brethren” or “anti-Godists” or of not “advocating God”? To refer to us as “non-cooperation” brethren is a misrepresentation. It is unfair and prejudicial. We do believe in cooperation and couldn’t have said it better than W.E. Brightwell, David Lipscomb, J.C. McQuiddy, F.B. Syrgley, and others.

W.E. Brightwell:

I submit this proposition. Any individual Christian, or group of individuals, smaller than a local congregation, or any group of individuals or churches larger than a local church, or any individual church itself that begins thinking in terms of what the whole brotherhood should do, and goes or sends somebody to the churches to see that they do it, and acts as an agent or agency through which the brotherhood does it, thereby constitutes itself full-grown, blow-in-the-bottle, fourteen-karat missionary society of the deepest dye! There is no way on earth to whitewash it. There is no city of refuge where he may hide from God’s displeasure. To call it something else, or to leave it because it is similar to a missionary society, but because it violates the same fundamental principle the society violates — namely, the initiative and autonomy of the local congregation (Gospel Advocate, Dec. 20, 1934).

David Lipscomb (objecting to an attempt to establish a sponsoring church at Henderson, TN in 1910):

Now what was that but the organization of a society in the elders of this church? The church elders at Henderson constitute a board to collect and pay out the money and control the evangelist for the brethren of West Tennessee . . . All meetings of churches or officers of churches to combine more power than a single church possesses are wrong . . . But for one or more to direct what and how all the churches shall work, or to take charge of their men and money and use it, is to assume the authority God has given to each church. . .

J.C. McQuiddy:

. . . there is no scriptural authority for one church controlling and directing the funds of other churches. . .

F.B. Srygley:

The agency system of collecting funds from many churches, even if it is done under some eldership, is without authority, . . . The greatest objection to the whole scheme is that it is not in the New Testament” (Gospel Advocate, November 1, 1934). Similar quotes from men who preached in the 1930s (before the H.O.T. was invented) could be produced from such men as E.R. Harper, Foy Wallace, Jr., F.B. Shepherd, H. Leo Boles, etc.

A variety of factors may be involved that lead to liberalism. However, there is a connection between the “no pattern” theory that many promoters of institutionalism were preaching in 1950s and 1960s and present attempts to restructure the church. The Getwell church (where brother Elkins used to preach) helped circulate the tract by A.C. Pullias titled “Where There Is No Pattern.” Saying, “there is no pattern” in the work of the church is a step away from saying there is no pattern in the worship of the church. This was the path followed by the Christian Church and is also the path being followed by many institutional brethren.

Preaching Funerals

In a recent article, Alan Highers tried to preach the funeral of churches who oppose the liberalism of “sponsoring churches” and church supported benevolent institutions and other forms of liberalism practiced by brother Highers and his associates. After discussing the prejudicial proposition A.C. Grider debated in the 1960s he said, “The influence of the movement failed. It has never been able to exert a significant presence since that time, and most members of the church today are not even aware that such a movement exists.” This was reminiscent of a similar attempt to preach our funeral by Thomas Warren in 1971. It is wishful thinking rather than fact. While no one is doing all that should be done to spread the gospel, conservative churches exist in all 50 states and in at least 40 foreign countries. In most areas where debates have been conducted conservative churches are stronger. When brethren are allowed to hear both sides of an issue and truth is given an equal opportunity with error, truth shines brightest. This may then be reason some church members are not aware that there are brethren standing for the truth against institutionalism. They are kept in the dark and not allowed to be exposed to the truth. This seems to be the reason institutional brethren have never been willing to defend their practices in Memphis.

Highers also preaches the funeral of those who have moved farther to the left than he is. “Image Magazine is no more . . . It is interesting to note that most of the left-wing papers . . . in the brotherhood have fallen by the wayside. Wineskins stands practically alone . . . There are just not enough ‘hard-core’ liberals in the church to support two magazines . . .” (Spiritual Sword, Oct. 1997, 47).

Brother Highers must enjoy preaching funerals for he comes close to preaching the funeral of the middle-of- the-road movement that he is part of. “Brethren we are in the fight of our lives for the truth of the gospel, yet many well-meaning and well intentioned brethren are asleep at the battle-stations” (Sec. III, 1). Speaking of the Nashville Jubilee he says, “Why do substantial publications such as the Gospel Advocate (the “Old Reliable,” db) and Christian Chronic1e never utter a word of criticism regarding this program . . . Where is the watchman now upon the wall of Zion . . . My deepest concern is not that these false teachings are being promulgated . . . but rather it is in the fact that there is scarcely a word of opposition being heard (emphasis mine, db) throughout our great brotherhood from those in positions of power, influence, and responsibility!

. . . There ought to be a groundswell of horrified opposition sounding forth from pulpits, church bulletins, brotherhood journals, and even by Bible professors on every college campus. Where is the outrage? Where are the voices crying in the wilderness? ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?’ (Lam. 1:12)” (SS, Oct. 1997). That doesn’t sound too good for brethren who favor institutionalism. They have lost most of their colleges, journals, and big sponsoring churches to liberalism. One of their number, a recent speaker at an appreciation dinner at the Memphis School of Preaching, said, “Well, here it goes again! I can remember about 35 or 40 years ago, when almost every week we heard of a new congregation being established. What a turnaround! Now, almost every week I hear of another congregation going out of business” (Guss Eoff, Magnolia Messenger, Jan/Feb. 1998).

The sad truth is there are people all over the world who have never heard of either of our “movements” (as brother Highers calls them). The Tennessee Orphan Home (1909) and the Herald of Truth (1952) both had their beginning in this century — over 1900 years away from the New Testament. If these brethren would give up their innovations, we could be united again and we could preach the gospel to a lost world in a way that it hasn’t been preached in a long time.