Volume L

Mike Willis

Truth Magazine begins its fiftieth year! It is hard to believe that Truth Magazine is beginning its fiftieth year of publication. The first issue of Truth Magazine was published in October 1955. With Volume XX, we adjusted our volume year to coincide with the calendar year, so actually our fiftieth year began in October 2005. Later this year, we plan a special issue to celebrate our fifty years of publishing Truth Magazine.

Born during the early years of the battle against institutionalism, especially for the purpose of battling some of the modernism showing itself in the Chicago area at that time, Truth Magazine set itself for the defense of the gospel from its inception. It was never intended to be a paper designed to reach the non-Christian, although much material has been published in our pages which is useful to non-Christians. Rather, Truth Magazine was born to discuss openly the issues troubling God’s people in that day.

The paper was edited by Bryan Vinson, Jr. from its inception in October 1955 to August 1962. In 1962, my brother Cecil Willis became editor of the magazine and continued until December 1976. For an interim of about six months, I edited the paper before being officially appointed editor beginning with the May 19, 1977 issue of the paper. In December of 2006, I will finish thirty years of editing Truth Magazine.

Through the years, I have labored to keep the magazine a balanced journal and I think anyone who will fairly assess the yearly indices will see that we have rather successfully done that. We have published special issues throughout the years which have contained many subjects, from surveys of various books of the Bible to detailed studies of various issues. With the exception of special issues, very few issues are heavily weighted with one particular subject.

Nor have we shunned to address issues which face local churches. There is a mind set present among us that appears to think that, if one will bury his head in the sand, there will not be any issues threatening the local church. The fact that one does not know the false doctrines of his generation and the men who are preaching those doctrines does not mean those issues and men are not there. I suppose churches in the first century could have taken the same stance, “We don’t want to get involved in those contentious disputes between Paul and the Judaizers. We are going to avoid controversial subjects and controversial men and just mind our own business here in Galatia.” What do you think the outcome for those churches might have been?

All that burying one’s head in the sand does for a local church is make that church vulnerable to infiltration by men who are teaching false doctrines. What usually happens is that a good eldership that is not informed about current issues begins inviting men either preaching false doctrine or upholding the hands of those who do into their local church for meetings. These polished speakers recommend others with the same mind set. When a change of preachers occurs in the local church, these elders choose a man from this same background. Without ever making a conscious decision, this church slowly becomes a part of those who are teaching loose doctrine and/or upholding the hands of those who do. Sound doctrine is replaced by so-called “positive” preaching. What is preached is not wrong, but what is not preached is truly significant. A generation grows up without having heard distinctive preaching and without the spiritual fortitude to stomach preaching like Paul had to do at Galatia in withstanding the Judaizers of his day. For these churches, those who address issues troubling the twenty-first century church are looked upon as contentious trouble makers.

Truth Magazine was born to address issues facing the church by trying to show Christians that a strong church is an informed church. A church is not strong by avoiding a discussion of instrumental music, church support of human institutions, the sponsoring church arrangement, and church support of recreation (such as the fellowship hall). Rather, a church is strong when it has taught its members the answers to the arguments used by those promoting the false doctrines and made its members aware of the false teachers spreading those false doctrines in order that they might avoid allowing them to enter into the spiritual flock among them (Rom. 16:17-18). Preaching which does not do this leaves the church vulnerable to apostasy.

My impression of what has been done in Truth Magazine is that we have not had a significant change in mission during the fifty years we have been in publication. However there has been a significant change in brethren during these fifty years. Those brethren who supported Truth Magazine in the fifties and sixties were in a life and death struggle with institutionalism. They appreciated the men in our ranks who were leading the battle against liberalism. There was a warm spirit of brotherliness among those standing together. Many of the brethren had to break away from liberal, institutional churches and start afresh. Some were meeting in houses converted into church buildings, a funeral home converted into a church building, a rented store front, etc. Some were struggling to erect a building. One church in the Indianapolis area built its basement and met in it for a number of years before it could put the main auditorium on its facility. I remember my earliest years of preaching in the Indianapolis area. We preachers would get together at least once a month for a luncheon. This kept open the lines of communication between churches and strengthened the bonds of fellowship among brethren. While I was preaching in Alexandria, Indiana, churches would rotate having a Sunday afternoon singing once a month; brethren from around the area would fill their buildings.

These days have passed and a new spirit of isolation walking under the name of “church autonomy” has taken its place. Fewer brethren visit and support each other’s meetings. Brethren avoid much contact with each other, whether intentionally or because we have become so involved with the affairs of this life that we don’t have time to visit meetings. The spirit appears to be, “You run your church and we will run ours,” thus rationalizing a spirit of indifference and neglect toward our need to strengthen and encourage one another. There is not much feeling of brotherliness generated between the local congregations.

Struggling congregations have now established themselves in respectable buildings in their communities and don’t feel as much need for the support of their brethren in other parts of the city as they did in the fifties and sixties. As the congregations have grown in number, they have grown in social respectability. The kind of preaching that was done in the fifties and sixties to convert men and women from denominationalism and liberalism is not as welcome because it might offend denominational visitors. There is little appreciation for those men who led the battle to salvage brethren from institutionalism. (Those churches who used to call on a brother to defend their position in a debate will now not even invite him for a meeting because he is too hard in his preaching, although he is preaching the same sermons he preached in the 1950s and 1960s.) A generation has arisen who did not go through the fight over institutionalism and that generation is now in leadership positions in local congregations. Distinctive preaching is not in vogue; a softer approach toward converting the world is now in vogue—an approach which tries to convert the world without teaching them the difference between the Lord’s church and denominationalism. This mind set portends hard times ahead for the Lord’s local churches.

While these problems face us on one hand, on the other hand is a spirit of factionalism which is making every human judgment a requirement for salvation and a test of fellowship. Hobby riding has arisen among us that is creating an attitude toward brethren that is unhealthy and unwholesome. One issue web sites seem bent on dividing brethren. The tone of the discourse is venomous and unbrotherly. Those running these web sites write their voluminous material on the subject, with missionary zeal to a page in response, suddenly he is charged with preaching his opinions and should not be fellowshipped. Isolated quotations from articles, parts of sermons, and passing remarks are posted on Internet sites to leave an impression about a brother (that he is promoting a given doctrine) that is untrue. Particularly are the following being advocated: the church is the only collectivity which can preach the gospel (therefore, Florida College and Guardian of Truth Foundation are sinful organizations; however, Gospel Truths, Inc., The Preceptor Company, and Biblical Insights are not sinful organizations, for whatever arbitrary reasons one might imagine), the civil documents in a divorce determine who has the right to remarriage (the so-called “mental divorce” issue; many can join hands to oppose “mental divorce” but never address their inconsistencies about the civil divorce—the innocent must initiate the law suit, the innocent can counter sue, the innocent must win the judgment, etc.), and the partaking of the Lord’s supper on Sunday evening (the traditional arrangement of providing the Lord’s supper at the P.M. service is sinful; if one partakes all must partake). There are many other conscientious brethren with strong convictions about each of these issues who are not factional, are trying to abide within the Law of Christ and wrestle with issues of inconsistency as best they can (I count myself among them). Their mind set acknowledges the gravity of the issues which all brethren face as they apply the gospel of Christ to difficult situations and their humility acknowledges that none of us has all of the answers about how to resolve the messes in which those who have disobeyed the Lord (or been the victim of those who disobeyed) have gotten themselves into. I am not talking about these brethren. They do not make their judgments conditions of salvation and tests of fellowship. They freely express their convictions without rancor and division and invite those with whom they disagree to do the same. Such attitudes and discussions are productive of good. But, factionalism is a threat that cannot be ignored; it has torn asunder too many local churches among us already and threatens to destroy more.

These issues will continue to threaten God’s people and gospel preachers will be compelled to address them. As we begin our fiftieth year, we remain committed to the same truths as when we began in October 1955 and when I began editing in 1976. We appreciate the encouragement and support that we receive from brethren from time to time and look forward to serving for many more years, the Lord willing.

From Jan 5, 2006 Truth Magazine