Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 21, 1960
NUMBER 49, PAGE 1,11-12

Some Facts About Harding College - (I)

Adlai S. Croom, Searcy, Arkansas

Sometimes it is wrong to remain silent. For some two years I have prayerfully considered what I should do in the light of knowledge I possess regarding the promotion and organization of the so-called School of Bible and Religion now in operation at Memphis, Tennessee, as an integral part of Harding College, Searcy, Arkansas, having been superimposed upon Harding College through the activities of Bro. W. B. West and with the help and approval of Bro. George S. Benson, president of the College. A feeling of responsibility to my Lord and to His saints compels me to make known some facts.

I have no personal grievance against either Bro. West or Bro. Benson to assuage. My years of work as business manager under Bro. Benson were very satisfactory and, if Bro. West has ever done anything that could be considered an offense against me, I have no knowledge of it. This is a matter or religious conviction and I am glad that the majority of the faculty at Harding College feel as I do about it.

This idea of "an educated ministry" is nothing new. Bro. Elam, writing against it in the Gospel Advocate in the early part of the century, stated that Bro. David Lipscomb once told him that it was being considered when he was a young man. This was some one hundred years ago. More recently Bro. G. C. Brewer wrote in the Advocate against the tendency (Dec. 10, 1931 and reprinted in the G.A. in 1948.) These two well-recognized leaders used much stronger language in their denunciation than it is my purpose to employ. If I have any purely personal interest that causes me to speak out against this program, it is a sincere and sympathetic concern for the fine Christian men and women on the Harding faculty who conscientiously believe it is wrong and contrary to the spirit and teaching of the word of God. One department head so stated his views in a faculty meeting and, when attention was then called to Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8:13, the only reply was: "We are conscientious about having it, too" As I understand Paul, he held no such attitude toward his brethren.

On behalf of these faculty members and a host of Harding College supporters who agree with them, I beseech the Board of Trustees either to limit the offering of degrees by Harding College to those with academic significance only, or to make a separate corporation of the Memphis school, with a separate Board of Trustees, and a name that definitely disassociates it from Harding College. If it is worthy to survive, it should stand upon its own feet, rely for support on those who are in favor of such an institution and bear its own financial responsibilities. In this way those opposed to West's program could with a clear conscience continue their support of Harding College, a good school and one that should be kept untarnished by any device that derives its pattern from denominationalism.

The Beginning

Prior to Bro. West's coming to Harding College there was harmony between the Board and the Faculty. This condition no longer exists, as Bro. West knows. This proposal for a graduate school of religion was first brought up at a meeting of the faculty executive committee in the Fall of 1954. This was according to the usual procedure with reference to matters to come before the whole faculty for consideration. According to West it was the intention at first that the faculty consider the proposal, but, when he asked Bro. Benson whether he was ready for him (West) to bring it before the faculty, Benson replied: "No, we brought it up at the meeting of the executive committee and there was opposition, so we will not take it to the faculty but go directly to the Board". This was done at a called meeting of the Board in Memphis on Jan. 15, 1955, which several members of the Board were unable to attend. The plan approved at that meeting provided for the College to offer "graduate work in the field of Bible and religion which would lead to the B. D. degree or its equivalent and ultimately to the Th. D. degree or its equivalent."

At a regular meeting of the Board on May 30, 1956, this action taken by the meeting at Memphis was reversed. Dr. John Young, who was a steadfast opponent of West's program was not present at the next regular meeting of the Board, Nov. 23, 1956. The motion called for the offering of the B. S. L. degree as the equivalent of the B. D. degree, and also authorized the management of the College "to seek accreditation for the B. S. L. in the American Association of Theological Schools":

Those who voted for the motion were Flanoy Alexander, T. J. McReynolds, Vernon Livinggood, Houston Karnes, R. D. Fuller, G W. Kieffer, W. O. Beeman, and Dr. L. M. Graves. Those voting against it were J. A. Thompson, John E. Kirk, Jim Bill McInteer, W. D. Rhodes, Milton Peebles, Leman Johnson, and Louis Green.

In view of the action of brethren West and Benson in going ahead with this program on such a slim margin of approval of the Board and purposely without the approval of the faculty, one has grounds for conjecture as to what either of these men might do if being considered to work with a church and seven elders voted against employment and a majority of the members were also against his being employed but eight elders cast their vote in favor of his employment.

In 1953, Bro. Benson drew up a set of bylaws for the College and got the Board to adopt them. Art. V, Sec. 3, of these bylaws provides among other duties of the faculty that "subject to approval of the Board of Trustees, the faculty shall prescribe the nature of degrees to be offered." Even though Bro. Benson himself was the author of these bylaws he denied his faculty the right thereunder to "prescribe the nature of degrees" he and West were proposing. Moreover, the Charter of the College states that, when the Board passes bylaws, rules and regulations for the management and operation of the College, "such bylaws. rules and regulations shall be binding upon all officers deans, members of the faculty, teachers and students". Bro. Benson obviously violated the bylaws of his own designing and the fundamental law of the College, its charter, when he bypassed his faculty in the action referred to above. The Board permitted him to act thus and supported him even though his recommendation to it was in violation of the school's charter. In view of this, should not the Board of the College rescind this action, and thus preserve the sanctity of the charter' This would be paying proper respect to the principle of constitutional government. Legally the Board has the power to ignore the bylaws in this way and act independently of the faculty's right to prescribe as stated in the bylaws if we accept the opinion of a Little Rock law firm which Bro. Benson consulted. It seems it is not therefore, a legal question as to whether the action should be allowed to stand but a matter of how Christians should deal one with another.

The American Association Of Theological Schools

The motion approved by a one-vote margin at the Board meeting November 23, 1956, was as follows: "Mr. Fuller moved that the Board go on record as approving the Bachelor of Sacred Literature degree and authorizing the College administration to seek accreditation for the said degree through The American Association of Theological Schools".

This association is made up of the various denominational theological seminaries, divinity schools, or schools of religion, according as they have chosen to designate them. Naturally, they are appropriate for those who regard it proper to have a clergy as distinguished from the laity, and doubtless most of them if not all could trace their origin to this denominational concept. As long as we regard such distinction as unscriptural, it seems rather inconsistent to set up the machinery whereby designations of a religious nature are to be granted one above another. When Jesus condemned such practices in Matthew 23, he gave as the fundamental reason for such distinctions as "to be seen of men" and the reason why they were wrong as "ye are all brethren". This latter expression simply means that nothing is to be displayed as a distinction to rank one religiously above another. That evidence of belonging to a superior group has its attraction to the flesh, there is not the slightest doubt and immature young men can be drawn into a course of that nature very easily. Those desiring such degrees have access to schools maintained by those who approve them.

The purpose of the AATS as stated in its certificate of incorporation is "to provide facilities for its members to confer concerning matters of common interest to theological schools, to consider any problems that may arise as to the relations of such institutions to one another or to other educational institutions or to government authorities, to recommend standards of theological education and maintain a list of member institutions accredited on the basis of such standards, and, in general, without limitation to the foregoing, to promote the improvement of education for the ministry in such ways as it may deem appropriate, except that the corporation is not authorized to conduct any school or classes of instruction". In its Bulletin 21, June, 1954, the following statement is made: "The inclusion of an institution in this list is based upon academic criteria without reference to doctrinal position or ecclesiastical affiliation, and upon evidence that the institution has the necessary facilities and standards to prepare students for a successful ministry. It believes that this evidence is most plainly to be found in the extent to which graduates of these institutions do in actual practice render a successful ministry". And again, "The Association believes, however, that certain factors in the life and work of particular institutions are with entire propriety to be regarded as making for or against the effectiveness of that institution in preparing its students for a successful ministry."

In view of these plain statements as to the basis on which Harding College would be able to maintain its accreditation, does it take a Solomon to understand just what kind of training our Young preachers would necessarily have to get in order for their work as preachers to satisfy this association that they "in actual practice render a successful ministry"? Or, when West and Benson in view of these facts are willing to enter this denominational organization and work diligently as well as craftily to get the Board to authorize it, does any one have a doubt that the young men will be so trained as to meet the requirements to keep the accreditation? Why seek to get in if you do not intend to stay in? Judge men by their deeds, first of all, and not "by their smooth and fair speech".

While striving to convince members of the Harding faculty that there should be no objection to membership in this association. Bro. West insisted that there would be no sort of interference with Harding College conducting its preacher training program just as we saw proper. In the first place the very existence of this Association contradicts what Bro. West declares, and in the second place it has shown recently that it does interfere. In December, 1958, there appeared a United Press dispatch headed: "Southern Baptist Gets Accreditation Threat". This seminary was established in 1859 and in number of students ranks second in the world. Yet because it saw fit to discharge a number of teachers not considered best for the work it was doing, this association has threatened to cast them out and even advised that the president resign, according to this U. P. report. Of all institutions it seems to me that a religious school should have the right to discharge at any time as many undesirable teachers as seems best to enhance and safeguard the work it is supposed to do. If an institution the size of Southern Baptist and as well known as it is can be attacked and threatened, what chance would Harding College have in the matter of discharging undesirable teachers? Facts such as these are of more value than the opinion of one or two men.

Concerning the effort of West and Benson to have Harding College join this denominational accrediting association, Bro. Jesse P. Sewell comments as follows: "The very fact of membership would be to them the acceptance of the principle on which they exist and work, that is, 'All of us together constitute the church, or kingdom, and so regardless of our different theologies we are in Christ and all work together.' If we are ready to accept the idea that we are one of the denominations and thus entangle ourselves with organized denominationalism, there is no better way than this to do it."

In 1957 a campaign was promoted in Arkansas for funds to finance this plan. It was called the Bible Expansion Program, and a leaflet entitled "Current Plans" was issued to aid the solicitors in this campaign. In this leaflet was the statement, "The Board has also authorized the College to seek proper accreditation for B.S.L." Ask West and Benson why this part-truth was given the Arkansas brethren while asking them for their money to finance this "Bible Expansion Program." Why did they not tell the whole truth by using the language in the Board's action, namely that the Board authorized the College to seek accreditation in The American Association of Theological Schools? Was there any deception on the part of West and Benson in thus concealing the bare fact by a sort of vague reference to the accrediting agency?

In September, 1958, I received a letter from an elder of one of the Arkansas churches saying he had definite evidence that Bro. West had stated publicly that the Memphis school "would not seek to be accredited by any sectarian authority". What does West mean by "sectarian authority"? That sounds like another "proper accrediting" bypass. Moreover, a few weeks later I received a letter from Bro. Benson saying, "We are making no effort to join the Association. We are waiting to see how we get along with the degree that is unaccredited and also study further the possibilities of any unsatisfactory results from membership." West says we will not join. Benson says we are waiting. Both can back up their words with convincing deeds if they will ask the Board to rescind its action of approving such membership. Ask them to prove the sincerity of their denial of intention to join this association.

In the Gospel Advocate of Dec. 10, 1931, appeared an article by Bro. G. C. Brewer, entitled: "Degrees and Professional Preachers". It was reprinted in the G. A. in 1948. Bro. Brewer refers to many of the great leaders of the church in the past by name as men who deplored the kind of program envisaged by West and supported by Benson. Among these are the names of: Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Phillip Fall, D. S. Burnet, Tolbert Fanning, J. W. McGarvey, Robert Milligan, James A. Harding, T. B. Larimore, David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell and others. Of them he wrote: "None of these men, who were all college graduates and excellent scholars, ever boasted of his scholarship or wrote or printed degrees to his name, or ever scorned or discouraged the uneducated man who attempted to preach the gospel. None of these men themselves took a seminary course or had a divinity degree." Another statement by Bro. Brewer in this timely article is worth our serious consideration. While our fathers would not attend such schools, even in their day, it is a thousand fold worse to attend them now than it was then; for in that day they did train their students to meet the assaults of infidels and atheists. They gave a good course in Christian Evidences and taught them respect and reverence for the word of God. But now these schools are spawning beds of infidelity. They repudiate the inspiration of the Bible and the divinity of Christ, the vicarious atonement and the resurrection of the Lord from the tomb. And yet we, who want our preachers to speak as do the oracles of God, to contend for the simplicity of New Testament Christianity, to regard the Bible as final in all things, to speak where it speaks and to be silent where it is silent, send our young men to these infidel divinity schools for preparation for that sort of work. Of all the inconsistencies and absurdities that we have ever been guilty of, this is the worst."

I surmise most of my brethren who preach or serve as elders will agree with Brother Brewer's statement above. However, it is a known fact that for years (at least up to the summer of 1957) Bro. West has been instrumental in getting a number of young men to enter the divinity school of the University of Chicago and has so advised others who did not take his advice. West got his theological training in this school and the Southern California University, a school like the University of Chicago in this respect, both being dominated by Modernists. Referring to this particular school, Brother Brewer wrote that it was "a university that is pagan in all its departments and that has announced that it will not give a doctor's degree from its divinity school to any man who believes in the deity of Christ". Yet West advises young men to go there to prepare themselves to preach and teach the Bible in our Christian schools.

Is Brother Benson Consistent?

I hereby challenge Bro. Benson to admit that he would tolerate a man as Director of the Harding College School of American Studies if such director continued to advise for years young men to enter for graduate work in economics and political science a university where the teachers were communists. And why not, if he is willing to allow West to advise young men to prepare themselves as teachers of Christianity by entering the Divinity School of the University of Chicago? Or, which is worse, to safeguard men's souls and religious views or to safeguard their economic and political beliefs? Bro. Benson has steadfastly supported Brother West and against the majority of his faculty in the face of such influence among our young men, many of whom, as any one ought to know, are more daring than the wisdom of years would permit. To advise a young man to enter such a divinity school to get their point of view makes about as much sense as to advise one to enter a tornado to get the feel of the wind. (To be concluded next week.)