By Tom M. Roberts
A great deal of the preaching of pioneer America is preserved in books and periodicals brought down to us in printed form. Through modern technology, we are blessed to have access to portions of books, articles, sermons, and debates. Among churches of Christ, the names of those preachers who lived a generation or more ago have become household names due to their extant works. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Moses Lard, T.B. Larimore, Walter Scott, and Benjamin Franklin, to name but a few, are still with us. Enormous benefit is received by those taking the time to locate, access and read the material from men of a past generation who gave themselves to a study and delivery of God’s word. Indeed, some of the best writing, most deliberate thinking, and clearest exposition of the gospel outside of inspired literature has been preserved in this fashion. At the same time, much of that literature has become our primer as we seek to avoid the mistakes of those among them who became dissatisfied with the appeal to the “old paths,” the “ancient order” (Jer. 6:16; 18:15; Prov. 22:28) and turned into denominationalism. For good or ill, they, being dead, yet speak (Heb. 11:4). It is a distinct blessing to have access to the wisdom from past generations. However, if some brethren have their way, there will be less recorded literature, not more. Objections are being raised to gospel oriented magazines and electronic recordings as though they are responsible for presumed bad attitudes among brethren. There is a certain attitude that is expressed by those who permit their sermons to be handed down to posterity. There is also a certain attitude expressed by those who refuse to have their sermons recorded.
Some Voices Are No Longer Heard
There is a great deal of regret in the realization that the articulation, the vocalization (with all the subtle nuances of speech) of past preachers is lost forever. Whether eloquent (as T.B. Larimore was reputed to be) or coarse (as “Racoon” John Smith and J.D. Tant no doubt were, at times), their tongues are no longer heard. What a thrill it would be to call into existence by electronic recording some of the distinct sermons that provided dramatic turning points in the history of American churches. The “Restoration” preaching that is retained in periodicals is fascinating reading as we look over the pioneers’ shoulders, watching them work their way out of sectarian error into the pure light of truth. Pivotal events in the history of God’s people in America are with us in print, but not with the distinct imprint which oral preaching carries. One such event that comes to mind would be the famous sermon by Alexander Campbell on “The Law,” in which he began to make the scriptural distinction between the Old and New Testaments, earth-shaking in its day and circumstances. Audio and video presentations would add a compelling (though not venerated) dimension to sermons which remain today only in printed form. How would you enjoy hearing Campbell preach that sermon today, Benjamin Franklin speak on “That Which Is Right and Cannot Be Wrong,” or listen to T.B. Larrimore lecture his “boys” in by-gone classes in Mars Hill, Alabama?
The printing press, so far beyond parchment in technology, does not equal today’s revolution in forms of communication. The pioneers, having only primitive and labor intensive forms of printing, were nevertheless dedicated to getting their message into print. One can only imagine today how long it might have taken to put into print a single sermon, using those techniques. But volumes and volumes of books, periodicals, tracts, debates, and articles remain with us today. Undoubtedly, early preachers in America knew the value of the printed page and spent considerable time, effort and money to record and distribute their preaching. They believed that truth should be preached, published and preserved. Like Paul, they were intensely interested in their “books and parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). Belief leads to proclamation: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). Both inspired and uninspired men were eager, even resolute, in their determination to pass knowledge of Scripture to succeeding generations. This is eminently scriptural: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Some Voices Will Never Be Heard
Conversely, however, some today are mightily afraid of electronic recordings. They pale at the thought of tape recorders, turning vicious at the very suggestion. In fact, the very presence of tape recorders will raise hackles among some modern preachers and bring discussions to an abrupt halt. When a request is made to tape record a study session, suspicions and misgivings are expressed as to motives! “Put up your tape recorders, folks. We don’t intend to allow anything we say to be put on tape!” It is anathema to some to record study sessions, discussions between brethren, debates and sermons. As resolute as the pioneers were to pass their knowledge on to another generation, today’s tape-shy preachers are just as resolute to keep silent.
Is it out of order to question, “Why?” Are some un- willing to put their doctrines to the test of public and permanent inquiry? Are there “change agents” who cringe from documentation of change? Jesus warned: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21). The nature of the gospel is that of spiritual light and God intended that it shine forth brightly so that men in darkness could see. There has to be some obvious conclusions one reaches when confronted with men who do not want their beliefs and teachings to be in the public domain. This is not unwarranted judging or evil surmising; examples establish precedent.
Foy E. Wallace, Jr. came to hate tape recorders. Few excelled him, we are told, in the art of preaching and polemics. It is a personal source of regret that I never heard brother Foy preach in person. As a young boy, I heard his father preach at Kilgore, Texas, and have heard later generations of Wallaces (Paul, Tom and William), but never Foy, Jr. In the early years of his prime, it took a reel- to-reel recorder to contain his longer sermons, but most people agreed that Foy’s eloquence made long sermons seem short. A recent compilation of brother Wallace’s material has been made available on CDs and is a boon to Bible students. However, after brother Wallace made his change in doctrinal position in which he aligned himself with institutionalism and liberalism, he often refused his audiences the privilege to tape his sermons. One preacher told me that Foy announced to a congregation in Denton, Texas (after seeing some recorders in the audience) that everyone was to shut off their tapes. He said (not verbatim), “If you have had as much trouble as I have had with tape recorders, you would understand. ”Yes, the older Foy did not like the tapes because they proved the change in doctrine from the younger Foy.
Excuses For Outlawing Tape Recorders
Given the fact that tapes of lessons provide a fair, open and complete record of statements for all concerned, why would anyone object to their use? It has been alleged by those wary of recordings that (1) tape recordings will be misused, (2) that impure motives stimulate the use of recorders, or that (3) tape recorders are out of place. We have heard:
1. Tape Recordings will be misused:
“The format of our ‘school’ (class, discussion group, etc.) is to encourage free speech and the speakers will be inhibited if everything they say is recorded.”
“I have been lied about in the past and I don’t want my material copied since some will use it to spread more lies.”
“There is no telling where this will end up or who will hear it.”
2. Impure motives stimulate the use of recorders:
“I don’t know what use you intend to make of my material.”
“I may be misrepresented.”
“You have an ulterior motive in wishing to tape this discussion.”
“You just want to smear my reputation.”
“You just want to transcribe the tape and spread it around for others to have copies.”
“Something I say may be taken out of context.”
3. Tape Recorders are out of place:
“This discussion is just between brethren. Why do you need to record it?”
“Let’s keep this off the record.”
“Don’t you have anything better to do than to sit around listening to tapes?”
“This meeting is private and we want to be able to ‘think out loud’ without fearing that our comments will be spread around.”
Reasons Why Tape Recordings Are Profitable
More compelling evidence of past statements can scarce be found than the author’s own voice. Unbiased and impartial, one’s own voice will present the best evidence of what one intended to say. Tape recorders or video tapes provide us with a valuable tool to record, disseminate and recall (for future use) the fruit of our labors. Why would any preacher, sure that he has preached the truth of God’s word, hesitate even one moment to have his voice recorded? If truth be told, why not spread it as far, as wide, as timeless and unchanging as technology permits? Why keep secret that which teaches the truth? Why cringe from shouting truth from the housetops? Again, we have scriptural precedent.
Of Jesus ministry, he said, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing” (John 18:20).
To his disciples, Jesus taught, “For no one does any- thing in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world” (John 7:4). Again, “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33).
Do False Brethren Change the Situation?
“But,” it is complained, “Some brethren are unscrupulous and I am afraid to have them tape what I say.”
Then, brother, explain to me about Jesus and his crit- ics, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. Oh, yes, those dreadful scribes. They recorded things! All these groups lied about Jesus’ character (Matt. 10:25), misquoted him (John 19:3), slandered him (Matt. 11:19) and used every dirty trick in the books to deceive the people about Jesus. His answer was to speak in public and to tell his disciples to do the same. If unscrupulous miscreants’ false deeds justify secrecy, why did Jesus speak openly?
Folks, isn’t it obvious that when one confronts an un- scrupulous liar, a dishonest libeler, one given to slander and defamation of character (imagine the worst-case scenario, if you will) that the best protection of personal integrity is a taped recording of what actually transpired? (We don’t have inspiration like Jesus did, to “tape record” his message. But tape recorders will suffice for modern purposes!) Is a man dishonest? Tape your speech. Will he misrepresent you? Tape your discussion. Will he take your words out of context? Tape what you say, fully. Will he malign and vilify your motives? Present the evidence in your own words. What does truth have to fear? Richard Nixon stated, unequivocally, “I am not a crook.” His own words, recorded in the Oval Office, convicted him. Had he been telling the truth, his own words would have vindicated him.
“But who knows where this will go and where it will end up?”
Who cares, if you are teaching the truth? When the Holy Spirit caused the Bible to be written, who knew where it would go or where it would end up? Jesus intended it to “go into all the world” and to teach “every creature” (Matt. 28:18-20). Yes, our prayer should be, and properly is, that the truth will circle the globe and go into every land. If you are engaged in a discussion where you state your convictions and teach the truth, why would you hesitate to wish that any or all could hear what you say? Countless thousands have been converted by tracts. Other thousands have been taught by video tapes and film strips (such as Jules Miller’s). Where I preach, audio tapes are made of every sermon and class I teach and are routinely mailed to those in the U.S. and abroad, upon request. Unlike the Masonic Lodge, we don’t try to hide what we teach. Unlike some brethren, we are willing to record what we believe and spread it at every opportunity.
Please note that the subject under consideration which is recommended for public and permanent proclamation is a discussion of truth. It is recognized that some matters do not fall into the category of doctrine and are outside the parameters of this study. Some congregations may tape their business meetings and the internal business affairs of a congregation should remain their own, to be used at their discretion. Sometimes tape recordings are used as letters between friends and private correspondence of a personal and private nature should be respected as well. However, when doctrinal and biblical matters are discussed between brethren, sound, scriptural evidence demands that secrecy and privacy be abandoned. Acts 15 is an excellent example of Bible study within a congregation that was made public. The very private sin of David with Bathsheba was forever emblazoned in Scripture for all the world to see. The sins of Corinth are public knowledge, wherever Bibles are read. The letters to the seven churches of Asia were opened to all the world, for all ages. Doctrinal matters, brethren, are in the public domain. No subject is taboo; no theme is forbidden; no field of study is restricted to.