You Can’t Have A Little Liberalism

By Lewis Willis

“Men are forever seeking to find ‘loop-holes’ in the Truth of God to justify their liberal, God-denying ways and doctrine! . . . Many large congregations in our present brotherhood are wedded to principles of liberalism, but so are many of the ‘small’ congregations. . . . Our brotherhood reeks of apostasy in doctrine. On every hand there is a slackness about Bible authority and Bible study. False teachers and preachers over the brotherhood have filled Zion with heresy, and many of them are unwilling to debate their positions or defend their doctrines. . . . Elders, preachers, professors, and members have tampered with the holy record in order to satisfy ‘radical liberalism’. . . . Greater emphasis on ‘unity’ is being heralded all the time. ‘Fellowship’ is being pushed and ‘love’ is being emphasized, yet, it is to the detriment of Truth and God’s plan for unity.

“Congregations are tolerating gross immorality, negligence, covetousness, and doctrinal heresy to keep everyone ‘happy’ and ‘united’. . . Brethren, such congregations are not drifting – they have drifted! They need to be publicly marked. . . .. A lot of the members of those churches named above do not believe or know what their preachers are doing relative to these matters. Nevertheless, it is happening and the church is being led into another great apostasy. . . .Most of us are aware of what is happening and the pressure being brought to bear on congregations and preachers who fight such heresy. . . . Our Lord and His cause are at stake. The church is going through radical change because of radical liberalism; therefore, we must become all the more militant in our stand for Truth and right. Our enemies are powerful and deep-seated. We may lose numerous battles, but with God as our helper we will win the war.”

If you followed that rather lengthily quotation, you may have concluded that it came from Gospel Guardian, Truth Magazine, Searching The Scriptures or hundreds of church bulletins across the country in the mid-1950’s or 60’s. Actually, it was written by Andrew M. Connally in the Firm Foundation (Vol. 103, No. 6 [March 25, 1986], pp. 28-30. All quotations that follow are from FF unless otherwise noted). The warning sounded by Connally does indeed sound familiar. Thirty years ago the author would have been Roy Cogdill, Yater Tant, James R. Cope or, possibly, Luther Blackmon. The object of concern would have been the liberalism being introduced into the church, and pushed to a point of division, by writers for the Firm Foundation (FF). What is this 1986 “liberalism” which is causing the FF such concern? What are they doing to stop its inroads among them?

The Problem

A movement is underway among liberal Churches of Christ (those that endorse church support of Christian colleges, benevolent societies, fellowship halls, etc.) to effectuate a unity, union or fellowship with the Independent Christian Church (ICC). Obviously, there is a major hurdle that must be crossed before fellowship can be established – whether or not it is scriptural to use mechanical instruments of music in worship. The question of the instrument has become the focal point of the fellowship effort.

In various parts of the country, meetings are being held to discuss a basis for fellowship between liberal churches of Christ and the ICC. In August, 1984, a “Restoration Summit” was conducted at Joplin, Missouri. Another forum was conducted at Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1985. Others have been held in Malibu, California and Johnson City, Tennessee. An ICC journal entitled One Body, edited by Don DeWelt of Ozark Bible College, is receiving wide distribution among the liberals and its message is being praised by a number of liberal preachers. What the liberals are hearing has them upset and they are making efforts to stop the merger with the ICC, if possible.

In these fellowship meetings, the liberals object to what is being advocated: “. . Instead of trying to determine whether instrumental music is authorized or not, they seek ways to have fellowship in spite of its use. . . . The aim of this movement is not. necessarily to persuade churches of Christ to use the instrument, but rather to persuade churches of Christ to treat the issue of instrumental music as a matter of indifference!” (Alan E. Highers, p. 6)

The reports coming from the meetings “. . . reveal that some are willing to look upon a differences between ourselves and the Christian Church, including the use of mechanical instruments of music, as ‘matters of judgment, and expedience… (Bill Jackson, p. 14). H.A. (Buster) Dobbs, referring to One Body, the ICC journal, wrote, “The major thrust of the journal is to pressure members of the church of Christ to ‘rise above’ any differences and joyfully seek out members of the Independent Christian Church and work and worship with them in spite of basic, fundamental disagreements concerning the authority of the Bible and worship of the church” (p. 13).

Alan Highers reported the ICC side of the proposition: “They will never convince us it is wrong to use the piano . . . ” Also, “No one is going to give up the instrument” nor will anyone run home and start using the instrument” (p. 5). The FF editor, William Cline, wrote: “The bottom line of all that I have read is: they (those of the Independent Church and some of the preachers of the church of Christ) want us to adopt the position that the instrument is in the area of opinion and not doctrine; therefore, they could continue to use the mechanical instrument in worship, as we, according to ‘our opinion’ could continue not to use the instrument, and based upon that arrangement could have fellowship and unity with the Independent Christian Church” (p. 35). As Highers said, “. . they do not object if we do not wish to use the instrument; but they do not want us to object and treat it as a matter of fellowship if they do use the instrument” (p. 6). Think whatever you wish – but don’t tell us we are sinning. That’s the plan these men have.

One of the things that is so upsetting to the FF is “who” among churches of Christ is pushing the merger with the ICC. Former FF editor Reuel Lemmons, Rubel Shelly and Richard Rogers are specifically mentioned. Lemmons has said he has “little use for prescribed procedure,” and concerning worship he said, the “five-point worship system is not biblical,” and that such is a “warping of the Word” (p. 14). Shelly said, “The point of a summit like that is not to go and debate every issue to final resolution. Frankly, . . . . I don’t see coming from that the Christian Churches abandoning the use of instrumental music” (p. 5). Richard Rogers said we should “accept the unacceptable with no reservations, Romans 14:1-15:7” (p. 14).

In other words, the liberals are observing these meetings with the ICC but they do not see the question of instrumental music being resolved. The ICC will continue to use it and churches of Christ will just have to accept that. Furthermore, the churches of Christ are going to have to keep their mouths shut and not charge the ICC with sin when they use the instrument. The liberals are correct when they observe that if we can keep quiet about the instrument, we can keep quiet about every other issue over which men are divided religiously. If fellowship with the ICC is possible on this basis, then fellowship is possible with the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc., by following the same formula of silence.

The Solution

A special issue of FF which I have been quoting apparently was mailed to just about every church of Christ in the country. This mailing included faithful churches, as well as liberal ones. Normally, the FF is a 32-page paper, but the special issue was expanded to 48-pages, with the type size “noticeably smaller” than usual. This enabled them to include a total of 19 articles on this vital subject.

Also, it should be noted that Ira Y. Rice, Jr. has been using his paper, Contending For The Faith, to fight the liberalism in their ranks. In fact, every issue for the last few years that I have seen has concerned what Rice calls “liberalism” as it exists within institutional churches of Christ.

Even Dillard and Clem Thurman, editors of Gospel Minutes, have undertaken a detailed exposure of this effort to merge with the ICC. The first installment of their teaching on the subject appeared in their paper on April 11, 1986 (Vol. 35, No. 15).

The Liberal Answer To Liberalism

The sin of overlooking the introduction to instrumental music, or of just considering it a matter of opinion, must be approached. In faithful churches we have been teaching this truth for years. The FF is absolutely right in opposing the sin and I applaud the stand they have taken on this matter. In fact, it is my opinion that the special issue of FF is “right on the money” in exposing the error some liberal brethren want to practice. With almost everything that was said, most faithful brethren would agree. The shocking thing about their defense of their position is the argumentation which they used.

On Violating The Conscience Of Brethren

Alan Highers, in tracing the introduction of the instrument in the infancy of the Restoration Movement observed that they “began to be introduced among churches of Christ over the sincere protest of many conscientious brethren” (p. 1). His point was that those who are trying to merge with the ICC are pushing the merger over the sincere protest of many conscientious brethren. And, he doesn’t like it all. I know exactly how he feels. When his brethren introduced the support of human institutions, sponsoring churches and fellowship halls into the church, they did so “over the sincere protest of many conscientious brethren” who knew they had no more authority for their innovations than the Christian Church had for the instrument. But that did not matter to Highers’ brethren 40 years ago. They were determined to have their unauthorized activities, even if it resulted in a division in the church – which is precisely what happened. Furthermore, I have some news for Highers which he is not going to want to hear. He is whistling in the dark if he thinks his “protest” is going to stop the merger by some of his brethren with the ICC. With too many people, calling for authority regarding a matter is a call that goes unanswered or unheard. Highers knows this is so because he, like many of his brethren, has ignored our call for authority for their innovations for years.

The Necessity Of Authority

Thomas Warren was called upon to write extensively in the special issue of FF. He wrote a number of excellent articles. The only surprise in them was the source from whence they came. He has been defending and practicing things for years for which there is no Bible authority, but he is regarded as qualified to teach on the necessity for authority in the current battle over instrumental music. The arguments he made were scriptural. He wrote on “The Chain Of Authority” (p. 10), in which he shows how authority comes from God and ultimately resides in the inspired and infallible Scriptures. He observed that “the only belief or act (in religion) which is pleasing to him (God, LW) is one which is authorized by his word.” This was one of the things that brethren tried to get Tom Warren to see 40 years ago.

How The New Testament Authorizes

He also wrote about “how” the New Testament authorizes a practice. In a series of 54 questions which Warren has asked ICC preacher Don DeWelt, they both agreed “the Bible authorizes by: (1) direct statement (such as declarative statements, imperative statements, hortatory statements, interrogative statements, et al.), (2) implication, and (3) accounts of approved action ” (p. 22). I was surprised to learn that Warren still believes the Scriptures authorize with a command, approved example or necessary inference. Perhaps the N.T. authorizes in this way regarding the Christian Church but it authorizes in other ways for institutional churches of Christ.

“Options” Must Also Be Authorized

Warren also affirmed “the Bible teaches that: (1) matters of ‘faith’ include both (a) matters of obligation and (b) matters of option (since even optional matters must be authorized by the Bible)” (p. 8). On this basis, he concluded that “whatever is not authorized by the Bible is forbidden to men.” Therefore, he taught that the use of instrumental music was forbidden because it is unauthorized. Amen! Now, if we could just get Warren to apply his teaching to his own practice, we might be able to remedy the split that he and his brethren caused in the church over institutionalism. He and others argued years ago that orphans homes were nothing more than methods, means or options and those things did not need biblical authority – they resided in the realm of judgment or opinion. If ICC options have to have authority, so do the options of liberal churches of Christ.

Generic And Specific Authority

Buster Dobbs wrote an excellent article proving and illustrating the difference between generic and specific authority. I wasn’t aware that these brethren recognized this Truth. And, even if they recognize it, they do not practice it. Dobbs talked about gopher wood excluding any other kind of wood and that “singing” excludes instrumental music. Any faithful preacher could make the same argument. I believe Dobbs could recognize the specificity of “And if any man hunger, let him eat at home” (1 Cor. 11:34), if he did not enjoy having fellowship halls in church buildings so much. He makes the same mistake with “the law of inclusion and exclusion” (p. 3), which the Christian Church preacher makes. In his efforts to correct the doctrinal error of the ICC, I wish he had used his principles and applied them to his own liberalism.

Brother Dobbs needs to apply the same Truth about specific authority to another of his own practices. Keep in mind that specific authority excludes everything except that which is specified. In 1 Peter 5:2 the Scripture says, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof. . . . ” This passage prohibits elders overseeing anything or anyone other than the church of which they are elders. Sponsoring churches like Highland in Abilene stand condemned because they have violated the specific authority of 1 Peter 5:2. We can only wish that Brother Dobbs had the courage to tell the Highland elders this. He doesn’t hesitate to tell the Christian Church they violate specific authority with the instrument. Is he silent about specific authority regarding sponsoring elderships because lifting his voice on this issue would “gore his own sacred cow”? Those in error surely do have difficulty being consistent!

Individual vs. Congregational Responsibility

I wonder if these brethren have forgotten some of the arguments they made when the differences between us were being debated. When we discussed James 1:27 and Galatians 6: 10 with them, they would not acknowledge the difference between individual and congregational benevolence. Several expressions became prominent in the thinking of brethren as the liberals treated us to the argument: “Whatever the individual can do, the church can do, and vice versa. ” They were forced to this position to avoid recognizing the biblical distinction between individual and congregational responsibility (1 Tim. 5:16). But, alas, in the FF “Special,” we learn that there is, after all, a distinction between these two areas of duty. Andrew Connally reproves some of his brethren who tolerate “doctrinal heresy,” saying such “is to further the error and to shun both individual responsibility and congregational responsibility” (0. 28). 1 cannot recall Connally, or any of his brethren, reproving liberal brethren who taught the error about individual vs. congregational responsibility in our controversy with them. I wonder why they were silent back them!

Debating Is Worthwhile Again

They are ready to debate the ICC. Dobbs issued a challenge to Don DeWelt to debate the question of instrumental music (p. 4). Several years ago most of these brethren, having gotten what they wanted, and having produced a division in the church over their innovations, seemed to decide that debating was no longer useful. Suddenly, it has come back in style among them. But, folks, I hope they can be spared the embarrassment which will come to them when a Christian Church preacher uses their own arguments against them, noting the difference between their teaching and their practice. I could not wish that on anyone. And I know I would not like to see a Christian Church preacher gain a victory for error by pointing out the inconsistencies of our liberal brethren. This will happen if the Christian Church preacher who accepts their challenge knows anything at all about the teaching and the unauthorized practices of liberal churches of Christ.

Name Calling And Neo-Anti-ism

Dobbs (p. 7), Warren (p. 21) and Cline (p. 37) all take exception to the unkind things being said about them. They do not like to be called “right wing radicals, trouble-makers, stupid, wild-eyed extremists, rascals, legalists, knuckleheads, axe men, and witch hunters.” These epithets are upsetting to the liberals. They seem to have forgotten the wonderful, kind and loving things they had to say about conservative brethren when we objected to their innovations, such as “orphan haters, Sommerites, legalists, etc.” Today, they cannot understand why some of their brethren are “outraged” simply because they demand book, chapter and verse for their practice. We were equally perplexed years ago when we asked them for book, chapter and verse and they became so outraged that they started calling us names. To those who plan to merge with the ICC, the Firm Foundation men are nothing but Antis – perish the thought! Neo-Anti-ism, Firm Foundation style!

A Coming Division

Its seems rather obvious that a major division among our liberal brethren is now in the process of occurring. It also appears that Image, edited by Reuel Lemmons, will lead the way for the ultra-liberals. The Firm Foundation seems set to try to hold the line against the unity movement. Exactly where the Gospel Advocate will stand is still unclear. Ira Rice (Contending For The Faith, Nov. 1985, p. 3) recorded an exchange which F. Furman Kearley, the new editor of the Advocate had at the Joplin, MO “summit” in which Kearley agreed that the way to get Christian Church preachers into the pulpits of churches of Christ was to bring them through the classrooms to which they would be invited to speak. This exchange has been widely reported, and the battle lines appear to be drawn.

Apostasy never stops. The FF is making an effort to stop it but their efforts are doomed to failure. Those men who led the way in introducing the college in the budget, sponsoring churches, etc., have served their purpose and they will now be put on the shelf exactly as they were told would happen in the debates of the 1950’s. This warning was issued to Thomas Warren by Cecil Douthitt in a debate in the mid-fifties. Roy Cogdill told Guy N. Woods it would happen in their debates. It is interesting that Kearley replaced Guy N. Woods as editor of the Advocate. Years ago these brethren were told what would happen if they succeeded in “opening the gates” to get unscriptural practices into the church. They have been successful in laughing off the warnings until now. With pianos and organs ready to be delivered to their church buildings, it suddenly has lost its humor. Ira Rice, in his paper mentioned above, has reported that the Burke Road church in Houston has concluded the instrument is not a biblical issue and has begun to use it in some of their activities (Contending For The Faith, p. 15). All that this proves is that you cannot have just a little bit of liberalism in the church. The mission of this article is to prove the validity of that statement.

Liberalism Against Itself

In an article by Roy Deaver (pp. 15-19), Deaver tried to point out a basic truth to the Christian Church. What he had to say is the same thing we “old-timer Antis” have been telling liberal churches of Christ. Here is what he said, “In kindness and love and deep concern we say to our erring brethren in. the Independent Christian Churches: ‘You brethren are the ones who split the church. You split the church by changing your attitude toward Bible authority. Some of you believe and teach that whatever is not explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures is allowed to be practiced. Some of you have even concluded (and now believe and teach) that it is not necessary for us to have Bible authority. Your change of attitude toward Bible authority allowed you to introduce mechanical instrumental music into worship. . . “‘ (p. 19).

One wonders if brother Deaver remembers the lecture of Athens Clay Pullias, President of David Lipscomb College, which he delivered in 1957, and which was printed in 1971 as a tract entitled, “Where There Is No Pattern?” Pullias made a Christian Church argument in that tract to try to justify practices of liberal churches of Christ. His argument was that there is no pattern (authority) so we are at liberty to do as we see fit in regard to treasury support of institutions such as the college. I wonder if the FF still sells that tract?

Brother Deaver would help us all if he would respond to his own appeal which we will just issue to him. “In kindness and love and deep concern we say to our erring brethren in liberal churches of Christ: ‘You brethren are the ones who split the church. You split the church by changing your attitude toward Bible authority. Some of you believe and teach that whatever is not explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures is allowed to be practiced. Some of you have even concluded (and now believe and teach) that it is not necessary for us to have Bible authority. Your change in attitude toward Bible authority allowed you to introduce sponsoring elderships, church support of human institutions (colleges, hospitals, orphan homes, missionary societies, etc.) and fellowship halls into the activities of the church.”‘ Why do I fear brother Deaver will no sooner respond to our appeal than the Christian Church and his “liberal brethren” will respond to his?

Divisive Issues Must Be Settled

Alan Highers was absolutely right when he applied to their present controversy the words of John B. Cowden who said, “. . we proceed on the hypothesis that there can be no unity until our divisive differences are settled, and settled fight” (p. 5). To ignore the division over instrumental music does not settle the issue. That which results from such an approach is a “union” and must never be called “unity.” Roy Deaver identifies such a merger as “. . . a coalition of people who are willing to ‘go along to get along.’ It is an exercise in compromise!” (p. 18) The FF correctly identifies the course God’s people must follow with regard to sin. There can be no fellowship with such (Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 2 Jn. 9). This is precisely the position faithful brethren have held through the years.

Is It Time To Talk Again?

Our liberal brethren have seen the results of the course they started to follow back in1he 1940’s. They contended then that authority for everything we do is not required. Faithful brethren argued as best they knew how that this course has problems. It appears institutional brethren have realized this. Buster Dobbs wrote, “When we do not place a premium on Bible teaching, and demand a thus saith the Lord for every religious practice, we sow the wind and will reap the whirlwind. . . ” (p. 4). To abandon New Testament authority is to create a “Frankenstein Monster” which will ultimately rise up to destroy us.

To prevent this happening, the FF proposed a debate on the subject of instrumental music so that the issue might be settled. It is time for them to discuss this issue. Likewise, it is time for these brethren to talk with conservative brethren about our differences. Dobbs proposed a written debate (p. 4), to be carried in the FF and an ICC journal. The editor of Guardian of Truth accepts Dobbs’ terms and we propose a written debate on our differences with our liberal brethren. We will accept what you have taught on the subject of authority: its necessity; how it is established; generic and specific authority; the law of inclusion and exclusion; and individual vs. congregational responsibility. With this as a basis, perhaps we can settle our differences in spite of the many years that have past. Unity is vitally important -indeed, essential – among the people of God. To this, we and the FF agree. Have we not a basis upon which ‘we can pursue a reconciliation?


I commend the FF for the stand they have taken in opposition to mechanical instrumental music. Their words calling their brethren back to the Bible to prevent further apostasy are valuable and courageous. They were needed by us all. However, in calling people back to the authority of God’s Word, why stop with the instrument? Why not come all the way back to God’s Word and eliminate the apostasies that have the endorsement of the Firm Foundation? For that we shall pray. To that end we are ready to commit ourselves to a resolution of our differences. To the men who are responsible for publishing the Firm Foundation we ask, when can we expect to hear from you? How long must the cause of our Lord be subjected to the shame of this division between us? Surely men of wisdom who love the Lord and respect His Word can determine the applications of the principles of truth so ably presented in the special issued of Firm Foundation, March, 1986. Brethren, we are ready to try.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 13, pp. 387-388, 406-408
July 3, 1986