By Cecil Willis
(EDITORS NOTE: The following article constitutes one of the brief chapters in a new book published by Biblical Research Press of Abilene, Texas. J. D. Thomas is the Editor. and I presume the owner of Biblical Research Press. The first books were received by me on October 10, 1974. So it is a brand new publication! In his Introduction, Brother Thomas said- “. . . we have asked forty-seven men to briefly state their views on what the brotherhood lacks–what they feel could be improved upon and which would give great aid to the progress of the Cause of Christ. We chose these men from among leaders all across the spectrum of brotherhood thought-from >liberal’ to >conservative’ and from >left’ to definite ‘right.’ Each of these men is influential within his own sphere and is looked upon as a leader.”
The title of the book is WHAT LACK WE YET? It is nicely printed and case bound, with an attractive jacket, and consists of 319 pages. Brother James W. Adams and I were asked to write a chapter each in the book. Though Brother Thomas makes no attempt to classify particular men, I suspect that he would classify Brother Adams and me as the most “conservative” and Adefinite >right'” of those men chosen to write chapters. Having just received the book, I must confess that I have not read it entirely, as yet. However. I suspect that many brethren would find some interesting reading in this book. I have been informed the price is $7.95. If you want a copy, we will stock some in the Bookstore. I felt readers of TRUTH MAGAZINE might want to read what Brother Adams and I had to say in this book. Brother Adams’ article will appear in a forthcoming issue. You will also find some “way-out” stuff in it, but those who want to keep informed on what is occurring among us will most likely want to read this book.- Cecil Willis
Several years ago W. W. Otey told me that during his seventy years of gospel preaching (he lived to be nearly 95), he could not remember a single year that the Lord’s church was not passing through some kind of crisis. Even the casual observer who cannot see that we have many serious problems before us today simply has his eyes closed.
We cannot speak of just one problem; we have many problems. One might begin by listing those whose modernistic views would have us to “refocus” God, the Bible, and the church. There are those who hold existentialistic views of sin, revelation, and the church. There are false teachers who pander theistic evolution, Antinomianism, “Anti-legalism,” Pentecostalism, Institutionalism, and even denominationalism. All of these are to be found within the church. There are also those who are teaching perverted doctrines on grace and fellowship. Some are materialistic, others are apathetic, and some are just downright worldly. Indeed, we have a gamut of problems.
It helps very little to enumerate the problems unless one has something to propose as a remedy. It should be evident that with so many different ramifications of error, there must be something basically wrong somewhere. Some brethren think it has been so many times stated that only a simpleton yet would believe it. Call it “trite,” “naive,” or what you will, but I must confess that I still believe our basic trouble is nonetheless a difference in outlook and attitude toward the Scripture.
More than ten years ago, Gary Freeman (well-known religious satirist who writes in Mission magazine) was living in Cleveland, Ohio, while I was living nearby in Akron. Gary once wrote an article in which he scathingly reproached some whom he called “Antis” as brethren who do nothing, but who merely object to what other brethren are doing. In an article in reply, I called attention to the fact that the church where Gary preached published in their financial statement the expenditure of the astounding sum of $25 per month for “mission work.” Their contribution then was about $1,000.00 per week. The “do-nothing” church for which I then preached was Brown Street in Akron, Ohio. Our contribution was about $700.00 per week, but we were spending $1500.00 to $2,000.00 per month in the support of gospel preachers. Evidently it became embarrassingly apparent to Brother Freeman as to which church was doing nothing, and which one was doing the criticizing.
Soon after this exchange of articles, I was conducting a meeting at nearby Berea, Ohio. Gary came to hear me preach, and afterward initiated a discussion regarding our doctrinal disagreements. As we attempted to discuss the areas wherein we disagree (such as the congregational support of human institutions, and the pooling of brotherhood resources to be spent as directed by the elders of a sponsoring church), Gary finally became rather exasperated with me, and said something like, “Brother, we have two entirely different perspectives!” I think he was exactly right, and “these two entirely different perspectives” result in the various areas of specific disagreements.
There are some of us who still believe the Bible constitutes a divinely given blueprint, and that we must not digress from the divinely given “pattern.” (Read Heb. 8:5; 1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Jno. 9; 1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 3:17; Eph. 1:22,23.) There are others who ridicule the idea of a divinely given blueprint, and who would throw out completely and reject summarily the very concept of restoring apostolic preaching and practice in this 20th century. Such persons therefore are not upset by digression from the apostolic order of worship, or by a perversion of congregational organization and autonomy by one church becoming the agent for others, or by churches functioning through human institutions.
David Edwin Harrell, Jr., in his 1973 book The Social Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ 1865-1900, speaks of these two perspectives as being “diverging attitudes” (p. 16), and showed how these divergent attitudes resulted in brethren moving “slowly apart” (p. 32). The famous Disciples of Christ historian, Dr. A. T. Degroot, candidly stated that the “pattern concept” was that which led to division. In a 1940 book, The Grounds of Divisions Among the Disciples of Christ, Degroot stated in his Christ, Degroot stated in his Introduction:
“It is the purpose of the present work to trace the genesis and exodus of the divisions which have come to pass in the Restoration movement…. Having made our investigations in advance of the writing of this Introduction, we are ready o set forth our thesis, namely: that the principle of restoring a fixed pattern of a primitive Christian church is divisive and not unitive” (p. 8).
The premise, as stated by Degroot and as repeated by many other historians, led brethren down ever more divergent paths. One was steadfastly holding to a first century pattern; the other group could not care less for a restoration of the New Testament church in the 20th century. As I heard one very liberal preacher put it: “Our trouble is, we are trying to preach a horse and buggy religion, but we are in the jet age!” Every brother who has contributed one little bit toward obliterating the “follow the pattern” attitude must share in the blame of the whole sordid mess about us today. The brother who 25 years ago was out preaching his gospel of “God told us to do it, but did not tell us how in order to try to justify something which he could not find taught in Scripture must accept his share of blame for the prevalent ultra-liberalism, which some of these preachers today pretend to abhor. The younger generation have just carried what he taught them a little further than he was willing to carry it. Consequently, they are consistent but wrong; he is both inconsistent and wrong.
The Silence of Scripture
Many of our differences could be compressed into Adifferent perspectives” about the nature of God’s silence. The liberals have maintained that things not specifically condemned are matters of liberty. Those with a Biblical perspective have maintained that those things not authorized (either by generic or specific authority) are hereby prohibited. Louis Cochran, also a Disciples of Christ historian, accurately portrayed this divergence of perspectives when he said:
“Did the silence of the Scripture bind them to abstain, or loose them to perform? One group of men held that where there is no prohibition there was no transgression. Another group saw things differently. Where there was no clear command to act there was no justification for action, and any step in that direction was a violation of God’s word.” Captives of the Word, pp. 159, 160).
A.W. Fortune, yet another Disciples of Christ historian, also correctly pin-pointed the basic disagreement between liberals and conservatives a century ago. It as correctly represents our basic disagreements today as it did a hundred years ago.
“There were two different interpretations of the church which inevitably came into conflict. There were those who believed the church should move on with the world and adapt the spirit of the New Testament to conditions that were ever changing. They held that, when not forbidden by the New Testament, they were free to adapt their program to changing needs. On the other hand, there were those who believed the pattern of the church was fixed for all time, and the fact that certain things were not sanctioned was sufficient ground for rejecting them. The men on both sides were equally honest, but they had a different approach to these issues that were raised@ (The Disciples in Kentucky, ( pp. 364-365).
Go back and read again all the “no-pattern” and “no prohibition” arguments brethren have advanced the last 25 or 35 years, and it will help wonderfully to understand why brethren are in such a quagmire today.
Apostolic Examples and Necessary Inferences
Much theological manipulation has been parlayed before the brethren for more than a quarter of a century to try to avert the necessity of abiding by apostolic procedure in benevolent work, and to avoid sending “wages” directly (i.e., not through a sponsoring church) unto gospel preachers. We have seen these brethren cut out the heart of the argument made for years that we must give command, example, or necessary inference for all we preach or practice.
Older liberal brethren only have wanted to avoid following certain apostolic examples that pertained to benevolence and evangelism. But the “now generation,” which has been fed throughout their lives upon the diet of the denial of apostolic examples and necessary inferences, are ready to discard the entire concept of following apostolic examples, in spite of Paul’s explicit order that we follow his example (Phil. 4:9), and many now totally reject as essential any inferential truths.
As recently as in the latest Firm Foundation to arrive at my home (December 18, 1973 issue), we find a brother advocating complete rejection of examples and necessary inferences. The Firm Foundation writer (Michael Hall of Columbus, Ohio) said:
“This writer suggests (until a better and more Biblical answer is suggested) that. . . >matters of faith’ are those areas wherein there is a direct, explicit command that’s binding upon all people at all times! And thus, >matters of opinion’ are all those areas which are deducted from inferences and examples and those areas of private judgment of men concerning Bible subjects and themes. . . . >Matters of faith’ are distinguished from >matters of opinion’ in that the former are direct, expressly stated commands and the latter aren’t!” It would be interesting to hear this brother tell us why one should partake of the Lord’s Supper only upon the first day of the week, and why one should not use mechanical instruments of music in worship. Our Firm Foundation writer just shot himself out of the saddle, whether he recognizes that he did so, or not.
The urgent need today is to recognize the New Testament as the divinely given pattern for work and worship, to recognize the prohibitory nature of God’s silence, and to require apostolic authority (command, or example, or necessary inference) for all we teach and practice. When we determine to do these three things, we will be on the way toward eradicating the sickening mess which digression has brought into the churches.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:51, p. 3-5
October 31, 1974