By Jere E. Frost
We gave attention earlier this year to the sad reports we were hearing about Florida College’s lectures (April issue of Gospel Truths). President C.G. “Colly” Caldwell wrote a brief statement (May issue of Gospel Truths) assuring us of what he and those closely associated with him and the school believed, including a disavowal of “unity-in-diversity.” It was a good statement as far as it went, and I commended it.
Now an eruption over “the days of creation in Genesis one” has occurred. There has been an advocacy of a non-literal interpretation of Genesis one by Hill Roberts during an earlier lectureship, and a continual and still ongoing teaching thereof in classes by Shane Scott. Both Colly Caldwell and Ferrell Jenkins, the head of the Bible department, say they personally believe that the days of Genesis one are literal days.
But their beliefs notwithstanding, they do not oppose what they believe is error at the very foundations of faith.
It is becoming clear now that the confusion is not over anything the administrators ostensibly believe, teach, or promote. The confusion is over what they do not say, and to the stand they do not make. They believe the world is round, but support those who teach it is flat.
The Ecumenical Background
This smacks of the spirit of ecumenism. Ecumenism is a denominational concept of promoting cooperation and unity among differing denominations in spite of their conflicting and contradictory beliefs.
[Ecumenism is] aimed at the unification of the Protestant churches of the world and ultimately of all Christians.
The Ecumenical Movement [is the movement] for worldwide cooperation and unity among Christian churches… (Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia).
It is the concept that Methodists (with their sprinkling) and Baptists (with their immersion), Catholics (with their pope) and Pentecostals (with their personal guidance by the Holy Spirit), and Mormons (with their extra holy books) and Unitarians (who have no authoritative book at all) should all recognize and embrace one another under one loving, all-inclusive canopy of cooperation and fellowship.
Ecumenism Invades Us
The very expression, “the ecumenical movement,” is too strong for the school or erstwhile conservative churches of Christ. “Unity-in-diversity” has a much nicer ring to it. Featured and promoted in the now defunct Christianity Magazine by its owner and co-editor, Ed Harrell, the doctrine is a modified version of the same ecumenical philosophy denominations have had for years. There is “nothing new under the sun,” except that it is comparatively new to us, not having received notoriety since the days of Carl Ketcherside. In fact, if brother Harrell had been tired or wanted to take a break during his “unity-in-diversity” series, he could have selected one of Ketcherside’s old Mission Messenger editorials on unity and have run it instead. The reader would not have detected a difference.
Just here one is reminded that it makes a difference whose ox is goring and whose ox is being gored, as to what the reaction will be. Brethren staunchly resisted E.C. Fuqua’s doctrine of sanctified adultery, but Homer Hailey’s doctrine of sanctified adultery has found considerable sympathy and acceptance.
Part of the difference is doubtless in the fact that brother Hailey had gained an uncommonly high esteem and respect in brethren’s affections all across the country. Ed Harrell made a direct appeal in his paper (Christianity Magazine) for brethren to tolerate and indulge brother Hailey and his admittedly incorrect position. He vigorously argued that this “old soldier” not be “turned out” (his terms). His appeal was strengthened by the fact that not a one of his staff of respected co-editors and writers said a single word against it — not a single word. The effect was that the whole influence of Christianity Magazine was for this positive gospel and unity-in- diversity. It was a “done deal” with many brethren. Fuqua’s doctrine and person never received this kind of support.
Carl Ketcherside also had his own paper. He was an exceedingly capable man who possessed an abundance of dignity and grace. But when he came to the campus of Florida College (when I was a student there) he was courteously received, but his doctrine was unequivocally opposed by administrators, faculty, and students. This is not a commentary on Ketcherside as being in any way short of ability or personality; again, he was a powerful and persuasive personality who was second to no one in those categories, then or now. It is rather a commentary on the spiritual fervor and fortitude to be found on that little Temple Terrace campus in the fifties.
A “Germ” of Truth Shifts the Emphasis
Ecumenists, including the “unity-of-diversity” brand among churches of Christ, emphasize that there should be unity despite differences. The “germ” of truth is that there should be unity, and indeed there are always some differences between what are considered to be sound brethren. It always has been and doubtless always will be that way.
Aha, say they — differences! You admit differences! That’s diversity! And it has not destroyed unity — ergo, unity-in-diversity! So they ignore the differences and concentrate on the unity. Let us proceed slowly and carefully here.
Unity is indeed important. Jesus prayed, and then died, that we be one, and Paul pled for unity (Eph. 2:26; John 17:20, 21; 1 Cor. 1:10). But when this unity is described in Scripture, it is a unity of the Spirit, and unity of the faith (Eph. 4:3, 13). The truth that constitutes the faith is the only thing in the world that will sanctify, free, and save us (John 17:17; 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:22). Men can be united in error, and it will not save them. Truth obeyed necessarily saves one and produces a unity with God.
Thus whereas it can be said that unity is precious, it must be said that truth is supreme.
The Constant Struggle
Every man is in a constant struggle to know the truth, and to be faithful to it. The god of this world would confuse us. If unity is the goal in and of itself, then all of us should be ready to make whatever compromises the moment indicates are expedient. This kind of unity does not like debate or a spirited discussion of Scripture, for such will invariably produce some friction. It seeks to avoid the heat of the crucible where the gold is purified and separated from the dross.
But truth enthroned requires the constant study and discussion of Scripture, and a bringing to the fore those concepts that are held, or exegeses of Scripture that are made, to be subjected to the crucible of controversy as to whether or not they are correct. It is not by the vote of any tribunal or political massaging, that agreement is reached, but by a mutual appreciation of truth and those who esteem it. Certainly there is a need for much patience in this process, and in attitudes toward one another, but the emphasis is altogether on the truth, and not on the diversities — unity of the faith! That is the cry.
We are obligated to speak only “as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Do not deliver your opinion and then smile, and say, “Diversity . . . everyone has the right to his own opinion and we’ll still be united anyway.” No! We seek no unity at the expense of truth, or that enthrones opinions. We seek truth. And in the process of peaceably and courteously addressing and discussing whatever issues and concepts have arisen and challenged our unity, we must trust the truth to produce the unity we need.
In no instance are we justified in lowering the bar because we want to accommodate some prominent brother with a glaring and galling false doctrine. In no instance are we justified in moving the ancient landmarks to accommodate an ecumenical spirit.
The Seduction of Unity in Diversity
Brethren Colly Caldwell and Ferrell Jenkins are to be commended for the personal belief they have expressed as to the days of creation in Genesis one being literal days. But I fear that they have unwittingly been seduced by the unity in diversity philosophy.
I say “unwittingly” because (1) brother Colly says that neither he nor those closely associated with him at the school believe in unity-in-diversity. I do not for a moment question his integrity. This is, I am confident, the way he feels. And yet, (2) he has been and is fully aware of the error on the days of creation that was promoted at a lectureship and that is advocated in the school’s classrooms. (3) He believes it should be allowed, has made it possible, and has not said a word in repudiating it or taken a step to disallow it, notwithstanding its perverting of fundamental and basic truth, and its contrariness to his own belief. (4) This is the practice of unity-in-diversity — it may be unwittingly done, but nonetheless, that’s what it is. (5) Brother Jenkins’ speech actually called for “tolerance” for this view. His pacificism and rationale are exactly the same as Ed Harrell’s.
“Unity-in-diversity” has done its work, and I repeat the fear that we are witnessing the seduction of good men and a good school by this philosophy.
A Word of Encouragement
The political massaging of a situation and lining up of support will not meet the real needs of this or any other hour. This is not to say we should not use the best judgment of which we are capable. And we should indeed work to moderate feelings and to encourage kindness and brotherly affections and patience toward one another.
But all of that being said, the need is to break the seductive power of ecumenism and to enthrone divine truth in its proper place. And then, having enthroned it, to not speak of divine truth as a “personal” view while giving error a pass, but rather to “contend earnestly for the faith.”
Let us, with exceeding kindness toward one another personally, but with staunch convictions as to truth, address the issues at hand with the confidence that there is a truth, it can be understood and agreed upon, and that it is therein that unity can and must be found. Nothing — absolutely nothing — can take the place of truth. Unity is precious, but truth is supreme, and unity of the faith is its sublime fruit.
2455 North Courtenay Pky., Merritt Island, Florida 32953 JereFrost@aol.com