By Tom Oglesby
On December 1-3 of 1988, a large group of brethren came together for the purpose of discussing the issues that have divided the Lord’s church for the past thirty or forty years. Several brethren on both (all would be a better word) sides of the controversy participated as speakers and moderators. This article is not intended as a review of each speech or a commentary on the varied views expressed during the course of the discussion. However, I would like to state my general impressions of the meetings and of the potential results.
In contrast to the bitterness frequently manifested in the early years of this conflict, the general spirit displayed during this discussion was cordial and amiable. There was a continual affirmation of the need to love one another, which is certainly true, and generally a determined effort was made to avoid malicious labels. Accommodative labels are necessary and useful, especially in a discussion of differences; however, labels that are inaccurate and mean spirited are wrong and counter productive. I have no problem with a brother calling me an “anti” so long as he correctly identifies what I am “against. ” On the other hand, to call me an “orphan-hater” is both inaccurate and mean spirited.
The suggestion was made repeatedly that if we just loved each other more, we could solve our differences as if the division resulted simply from a lack of love and brotherly kindness. Certainly in any schism and in the heat of controversy, brethren on both sides may exhibit bitterness, malice and even hatred. This is regrettable and absolutely wrong regardless of which side is guilty. However, any careful listener to this and other discussions on these issues knows that our differences are much deeper than that and are growing even deeper. This good spirit that prevailed might cause some to think that we are drawing closer together. Nothing could be further from the truth! If some of the speakers are representative of the “liberal” mainstream, and I believe that they are, the gap between us is a vast and uncrossable chasm. There were times when the thought occurred to me that we were not even playing in the same ball park let alone on the same team. In fairness to some, let me state that not all brethren on the other side espoused such blatant modernism; if fact, some clearly repudiated the ultra liberalism which characterized several of the presentations.
During this discussion, it occurred to me that I was actually listening to real, genuine “Church of Christ” preachers rather than “gospel” preachers. Their concept of the church, biblical authority and evangelism is as denominational and unscriptural as any proclaimed by the sectarians over the years. I thought that my tolerance level for shock had been reached long ago; however, this rank modernism coming from the mainstream of liberal churches shocked me much more than I could have anticipated. When brethren deny that the Bible is a pattern in any respect, declare that commands, examples and necessary inferences are old hat, proclaim the need for a new system of hermeneutics to reach the modern world, and declare that the church can do anything that is not specifically prohibited, we have a denomination in spirit if not in name.
In view of all this, the pertinent questions are: Are such meetings worthwhile and should this one have taken place? I must confess that my initial reaction when it was announced ranged from opposition on the grounds of expediency to abject indifference. After the fact however, I am convinced that such meetings if properly conducted do accomplish good particularly in the following ways:
1. They stimulate our study and thinking. If the callous proclamation of rank modernism and the courageous defense of truth by able brethren does not stir your spirit, you are surely sitting upon the scrapheap of apathy and indifference.
2. They reinforce our understanding of and dependence on the Scriptures. The only alternative to submission to Bible authority is dependence on subjective feelings and tastes. It is obvious that some of our brethren have opted for such and innovations have multiplied as a result. In contrast, faithful and able men declared that there is no substitute for a “thus saith the Lord” and properly identified such a standard is the only basis for acceptable unity.
3. They define the tremendous differences among our institutional brethren and perhaps will salvage among them those who still love the truth. It is difficult for me to imagine Johnny Ramsey and Roy Lanier yoked together with Mac Lynn and Bill Swetmon. Johnny especially appeared to feel much more comfortable with his “anti” brethren than -with the modernists who dominated the institutional platform.
4. Perhaps, meetings like this can deter us from repeating the mistakes of the past. If seeing the potential for apostasy will cause faithful preachers to redouble efforts to instill and maintain in ourselves and in our brethren that confidence in and love for the truth of God’s word that is so essential to our relationship with God, then such meetings are worth’ much more than the effort and time put into them.
To those faithful brethren who organized and participated in this discussion, I commend and salute your efforts and your spirited and capable defense of the gospel. There may be more that we can do in seeking unity under the sovereignty of God’s word, but surely we can do no less than allow the truth its opportunity to permeate the minds and hearts of our estranged brethren. Our love for them and the truth is too great to quit the battle now and timidly accept the loss of their souls.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 2, p. 48
January 19, 1989