“We Must Face The Facts” Reply to a Spiritual Sword Editorial

By Dick Blackford

In March of 1972I moderated for A.C. Grider in a debate with brother Alan Highers. The few times I have seen brother Highers since then have been congenial, but we do have a difference that keeps us divided. This is not a response to his complete editorial, for much of it was commendable. However, one paragraph deserves a reply. (Note: My use of the term “liberal” and “conservative” apply to the institutional issues among brethren.)

In the October, 1992 issue of the Spiritual Sword an editorial titled “We Must Face The Facts” appeared. In it, brother Higher said:

The problems of theological liberalism in our midst have not arisen because we support orphan homes or engage in church cooperation. The very suggestion that this is the case (as found occasionally in the periodicals of our anti-cooperation brethren) manifests a myopic analysis and a failure to recognize that some of the most liberal thinkers among us came from the most conservative backgrounds, including some from their midst .. .

In his footnote, brother Highers then says, “Edward Fudge, who denies eternal punishment in hell, came from the anti-cooperation movement”

FIRST, brother Highers would agree that there was nothing being taught among those of us who oppose the “Sponsoring Church” and church donations to a Board of Directors of a human institution that would cause brother Fudge to take his unscriptural position on hell (Matt. 25:46). The subjects are totally unrelated. Nor is there an attitude among us toward the Scriptures that would cause him to adopt this position. The whole point of what brother Highers said is that one may adopt a position that is totally unrelated to his background. With this we would agree.

SECOND, we do not agree that this is always the case. Unless I missed it I do not recall any of us saying theological liberalism has arisen because brother Highers and those associated with him support orphan homes or engage in church cooperation. However, one would have to ignore the obvious not to see a connection between such attitudes as “We don’t have to have authority for everything we do,” “Where There Is No Pattern,” “What the individual can do, the church can do,” etc., and the “restructuring” some are wanting today.

(1) Some want to restructure the church’s worship so as to tolerate instrumental music and/or the sounds of instruments duplicated with the voice. They feel “there is no pattern” that applies. (2) Some want to restructure the organization of the church to include female elders and “The Nashville Jubilee,” which appears on its way to becoming a “Church of Christ Convention.” They believe “there is no pattern” that would prohibit this. (3) Others want to restructure the work of the church to include the modem “Family Life Center,” social work, etc. After all, “what the individual can do, the church can do” and “there is no pattern.” There is no end to what a church can do, given these premises. (4) Still others want to restructure in the area of interpretation. The “new hermeneutic,” which essentially says “there is no pattern on how to interpret Scripture” is the fruit.

This “restructuring” began with the “Sponsoring Church” (the best known fruit of this is The Herald of Truth) and an entity separate and apart from the local church known as the “Board of Directors” (often composed of men living many miles apart and in other states) which calls itself a “home” (before and without children) and in turn oversees a “home” (two different usages of the word “home”). This is what we have said! This is what brother Highers has defended in debate (both of which originated within the past 100 years). That is a far cry from saying theological liberalism originated because someone supports orphan homes or engages in church cooperation, for one can believe in both without believing in the modern “Sponsoring Church” or the institutional “Board of Directors.” It makes one’s position sound good to imply that he is against someone who opposes homes for orphans or to churches cooperating, but I do not know anyone who holds such views. Brother Highers uses a “straw man” and a misrepresentation.

Just as we can tell when one is following the philosophy of evolution (by his actions), those wanting to restructure the church are following the philosophy they learned from those who advocated “There Is No Pattern,” “We don’t need scripture …,” etc. It is only fair to say that brother Highers will no longer defend some of the things he defended in the past because they have gotten more liberal than he is. Nor would they want him to, for he is a “neoanti” from their point of view.

No tract did more harm to the cause of Christ in leading the apostasy over institutionalism than “Where There Is No Pattern” by A.C. Pullias. It was a lecture delivered at David Lipscomb College on April 25, 1957, while Pullias was president of that institution. The tract was published by the Gospel Advocate in 1963. This was the popular theme of the day. Thousands of copies of the tract were distributed by liberal churches, among whom was the Getwell church in Memphis where brother Highers used to preach and which publishes The Spiritual Sword. Brother Pullias eventually left the faith and died in a manmade denomination. It is the genuine feeling of many of us that he followed the consequences of his teaching, taking his philosophy a little farther.

I attended the Blakely-Highers Debate on instrumental music in Neosho, Missouri, in April, 1988. Brother Highers had to affirm a pattern in worship. But he didn’t find the pattern all in one verse. He had to use various scriptures on the subject of church worship to establish the pattern. When one does this on the work of the church he will not find churches donating to a “Board of Directors” who then decide the methods of “how” to do the work. (The “Board” is not a method. These “Directors” are a separate organization who decide or “direct” the methods. They are another “who” that decides “how.”) Nor will he find “Church hood Elders” as in the “Sponsoring Church” deciding methods for the brotherhood.

For the past 32 years I have heard conservative brethren preach that God gave us a pattern for every aspect of the church. I checked several old periodicals of institutional brethren and there were few articles on the topic of “the pattern.” There was a dearth of lectureships advertised, dealing with this subject  until about 4 years ago! Brother Robert Taylor (a frequent writer and speaker for The Spiritual Sword spoke on “Pattern Authority” on the Southwest Lectures in the late 1980’s (it was printed in In Word and Doctrine, July-September, 1991). Sounding like a conservative, he said ,”Pattern authority undergirds every fundamental facet of the Lord’s church.”

Now, as though there was a “Great Awakening,” those associated with brethren Highers, Warren, Deaver, and Elkins are acting as though they just discovered the “pat-tern” idea. It has suddenly become the theme of many lectureships and periodicals. One brother has even recently written a book, Behold, The Pattern (Goebel Music, 1991). Where were these brethren 25-30 years ago when conservative brethren were preaching this message? Many of them were traveling the circuit preaching “Where There Is No Pattern!”

Brother Highers and his associates have not been willing to accept the consequences of the “no pattern” doctrine. In the debate on instrumental music, Given O. Blakely was honest enough to admit that “worship is a right thing to do and there is no wrong way to do it.” That is true, if there is no pattern. Brother Highers pointed out that this would allow the rosary, snake-handling, etc.

If, as Robert Taylor said, “Pattern authority undergirds every facet of the Lord’s church,” then it must, by necessity, include the work and organization of the church. For some strange reason those who preach or write on the subject stop before they get to the church’s work in benevolence and evangelism. If there is such a pattern, our institutional brethren have never shown it to us. And if there is no pattern, then “there is no wrong way to do it” (sponsoring church, board of directors, missionary society, conference, convention, a “Vatican-type” council etc.). My institutional brethren are in a “catch-22” situation. They can’t have it both ways.

THIRD, brother Highers referred to us twice by the prejudicial term, “anti-cooperation brethren.” Because we believe in one kind of cooperation, direct and independent of a “Board of Directors” or a “Church hood Eldership” (Phil. 4:16-18; 2 Cor. 11:8; 1 Cor. 16:1-3), does that make us “anti-cooperation brethren”? Was Paul one of the “anti-God” brethren because he believed in only one God (Eph. 4:6). Was he one of the “anti-baptism brethren” because he believed in only one baptism (Eph. 4:5)? Was Paul one of the “anti-faith brethren” because he believed in only one faith (Eph. 4:5)? Was he one of the “anti-church brethren” because he believed in only one body (Eph. 4:4)? Brother Highers’ logic, misrepresentation, and use of a prejudicial term would force him to call Paul by these terms.

The gap between conservative and liberal brethren will not be bridged until we accept the fact that there is a pattern for the work and organization of the church and until we correctly represent (without prejudicial terms) those with whom we disagree. Yes, as the title of brother Highers’ editorial says, “We Must Face The Facts.”

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 20, p. 11-12
October 21, 1993