Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 20, 1959
NUMBER 15, PAGE 1,12b-14a

"We Be Brethren" -- A Review

Roy E. Cogdill, Nacogdoches, Texas

This series of articles will be concerned with a book which has recently been written by brother J. D. Thomas under the title, "We Be Brethren." It is with a good deal of "fear and trembling" that we undertake to review what such an eminent and learned man has had to say about anything. His qualifications are imposing from the viewpoint of the wisdom of this world and he is a man of wide recognition. Certainly I do not claim to match his scholastic attainments though I have gone to school some. However, we shall not measure his writings from the philosophical, psychological, pedagogical, or theological viewpoints, so far as the science of each is concerned, but will proceed upon the basis that —

"the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the weed, and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (I Cor. 1:25-31.)

When men write or talk about things spiritual and eternal, what they say should never be weighed from the viewpoint of their worldly attainments. If we were to that, then the most highly educated clergy would undermine the truth and human wisdom would be the {sic}-lard of truth. God says this is not so. Jesus said, thy word is truth." (John 17:17.) And again Jesus said,

"I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Luke 10:21)

We are not decrying education or the proper employment of learning or wisdom nor would we minimize its value, when employed properly. Rather we are emphasizing the fact that no Bible principle depends upon such for either its truth or an understanding of it. God's word is simple. Truth has for the most part been made known in very simple language. There are more words of one syllable in the New Testament than in any other literature on earth. The simplicity that is in Christ is amazing. The Word of God warns us over and over against letting it be corrupted by human wisdom. Witness declarations like this:

"For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (I Cor. 2:2-4.)

And again this passage:

"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Col. 2:6-11.)

Paul warned against allowing our minds to be corrupted from the simplicity of the gospel.

"For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." II Cor. 11:3-4.)

If it be considered by any then that I am presumptuous in undertaking a review of what a learned man like J. D. Thomas has written, whose attainments are:

"Professor of Bible in Abilene Christian College, where he has taught for nine years and from which he received the B. A. degree in Bible and Greek in 1934. The M. A. degree with a major in faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith". (Phil. 3:8-10.)

Church History was conferred upon him by Southern Methodist University in 1944 and he received the Ph. D. in New Testament and Early Christian Literature from the Humanities Division of the University of Chicago in 1957,"

and in addition to all these attainments educationally, he has served as

"Director of the Annual Bible Lectureship at Abilene Christian College since 1952. He holds membership in several learned Societies, is on the Editorial Board of the Restoration Quarterly, and is a staff member of Twentieth Century Christian. He is the 1958 speaker on the Far-East Fellowship in Tokyo, Japan." — Jacket of Book — "We Be Brethren";

then I ask only that the attainments of the two men be forgotten and used as no point of comparison. I do not wish to enter into any kind of a contest with brother Thomas in any sense. I do not know him personally and have no ground for any kind of personal reflection upon him or his attainments. I am concerned only with the truth of God's Word and I hope I can sincerely say with Paul,

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of any man's judgment: yea, I judge mine own self. For I know nothing by myself: yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord". (I Cor. 4:1-4.)

Educational attainments are fine if they can be forgotten in the study of God's Word and if we can lose ourselves in the simple childlike faith that should always characterize us when we approach God to know his will. Paul counted

"All things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of faith by God (Phil. 3:8-10)

These are not idle and inapplicable words from God's Book that we have cited but are pertinent to the very careful consideration of the things contained in the book under review. A good many have expressed to me in criticism of the book that it is difficult to understand and that it does not clarify any problem but further muddies the water and confuses the issues. Some have said that even in the "Glossary", in his effort to define some of the terms used, they become more confused than ever as to what he is trying to say. Well, perhaps he was expected to make it sound scholarly but even though the book is not simple enough to be read at a glance, it is our judgment that what he is saying is evident with a careful reading at least. It is probably easier to understand the Bible, however, than it is to understand what he is saying about "How to Understand the Bible". In fact, if we can find out what the Bible says, we won't have to worry about understanding it for it means what it says. Our problem is learning to respect what it says.

We shall have some things to say about the spirit in which the book is written, as judged from the book itself, the appeal it makes, the fairness with which it treats the subject and those who differ with the author, and his conclusions, as we go along in this review. We have called attention by the passages cited to the basic fundamental attitude with which the book, or any other book dealing with divine things, should be read and studied. When matters have been thoroughly considered, conclusions have been reached, and our course is set in the solution of the problems under consideration, we should be sure that with Paul,

"Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward." (II Cor. 1:12.)

This is the Christian attitude and none of us can afford any other lest we place our souls in jeopardy.

Personal References And Personalities

By way of further general consideration, let us say that in personal references to brother Thomas and direct reference to his book in the quotations made from it, we are pursuing only the customary course in such a review and there should not be and cannot be righteously construed, by anything that shall be said, any spirit of enmity or personal malice. As has been stated, there is no personal acquaintance between us, there has never been any personal association, we have not exchanged communications, and there is, therefore, no possible grounds for any personal feeling of any sort. So, reserve such judgment as you might be tempted to render concerning the spirit manifested for God to make, for He alone can judge the hearts and attitudes of men. We shall write plainly and positively and without any apology for that is the only way we know how to write. But we shall be as fair and honest in dealing with the matter under review as we know how to be knowing our heart, if we do, there is no interest in anything but the truth of God and the welfare of the Kingdom of God among men. We ask in your consideration of this review that you give us credit for such an attitude until you are endowed with the ability to judge motives and attitudes. If we seem to manifest any spirit or attitude of severity or intolerance, please let it be charged to a disposition to be intolerant toward what we believe to be error and not toward men.

Citations Not Given

Much of the material in "We Be Brethren" is in response to my book, "Walking By Faith" which was published in 1957, and which is now well into its second edition. Brother Thomas quotes rather copiously from it — directly — paragraph after paragraph, and refers to it many times indirectly and yet does not acknowledge even the existence of the book, either by name or by author. Neither does he acknowledge any other author or the source of any other quotation or the direct object of reference made. He customarily attributes to all of us who oppose his position everything that he has read from any one. This, of course, is unfair. Each man, either preacher or author, is responsible for his own statements and arguments. Because men are in general agreement on some point does not necessarily mean that they shall be held responsible for what each one shall say. Brethren make arguments in debating Baptists sometimes that many do not believe to be true though they are in complete agreement and sympathy with the thing contended for in the discussion.

It would have been good if Brother Thomas had forthrightly given the source of his quotations and the positions and statements that he seeks to refute so that brethren could know what he is quoting from, get the book or paper, read it and see the context of the quotation, weigh the full comment made or argument given. He undertakes to explain in his introduction why he did not do it in this manner,

"The book was deliberately planned to omit the normal scholarly practice of making definite reference to persons quoted, because of the nature of the materials under consideration and to avoid the possibility of any personality involvements that might interfere with clear based purely upon prejudice;" (Intro. page VII.)

The quotation is not clear in its last sentence due evidently to a printer's error. But let it be understood definitely that as far as we are concerned there are and will be no "personality involvements" beyond simple personal reference and definite citation for the purpose of identification. There would have been none if he had dealt forthrightly in his quotations. He admits that his book does not follow "normal scholarly practice" and we do not believe that his reasons given are definite enough or sufficient to justify the "abnormal and unscholarly" method of quoting excerpts from a book in an effort to reply without giving even the name of the book, or the author, or the page of the reference so that it can be checked. We are not suggesting that he has intentionally misrepresented anything, but we do say that it would have been only fair to those who read his book for him to have acknowledged the source of the material to which he attempted to reply so that they might secure a copy, read and study it for themselves, in connection with Brother Thomas' book and thus carefully weigh the argument made on both sides of the issue. There is entirely too much one-sided discussion behind an "iron curtain" now and it is no advantage to truth. He may have followed such a course because of a sensitive desire to be kind to some author or to avoid unpleasantness of some sort that might arise, but it is not an example of complete fairness to his readers and the students of his book who are fair minded and want to carefully hear and weigh both sides fully and fairly, studying the issues involved, in order to determine the course they should take for themselves rather than be a "blind follower of the blind".

Analysis Of Contents And Positions

To give our readers some brief idea of the contents of the book as a whole we summarize the positions taken by Brother Thomas in this book and state in connection some things that we will set forth in review thereof.

1. Brother Thomas diagnoses our present difficulties in the church as due to a difference in our "method of interpretation". We differ radically on this point and will undertake to show that our differences are fundamentally due to a difference in attitude toward the Word of God and divine authority.

2. Brother Thomas purports to deduce and discover the solution to the problem of how to determine when the scriptures authorize and do not authorize a practice by his "wavy line chart" which he calls a "Standard Diagram of Authority" and also by what he calls "The Pattern Principle" for examples. We shall show that he has not set forth a single thing that is new but that he rests his case actually on the same ground that has been used through the years to justify practices that cannot be found in the scriptures either in precept, example, or inference.

3. Brother Thomas defensively based his whole theory and its application on what he calls "excluded specifics" and "Optional expedients" and he applies these by his appeal to common sense which means his own arbitrary judgment and wisdom as we shall see. We shall show that he needs to produce authority in some form, generic or specific, for what he is trying to justify, either in precept, example, or inference and that in this he utterly fails.

4. Brother Thomas labors to prescribe the means by which we can determine that an example is binding and exclusive. We shall show that no example is binding in his view except when he determines that it should be. He is the authority and he arbitrarily determines the case and announcs his decision. Too many of us are not willing for him to decide the issue for us. We do not trust in his wisdom. We believe he is under obligation to produce something in the Word of God which at least includes what he wants us to practice. We do not want to depend on him to go through the New Testament and pick out for us the examples that the Lord intended for us to follow and mark for us those He did not intend for us to follow. He might have to separate the commandments of God to be obeyed and the facts of the Bible to be believed in the same way.

5. Brother Thomas professes in the book a superior understanding of the problems we face and a clear conception of the contentions made by those of us who disagree with him. We shall show that he neither understands the nature of the issues before the church nor the contentions and arguments offered by those of us who differ with him. At least if he understands, he has not correctly represented the issues or the arguments made concerning them.

6. Brother Thomas fails to see the difference between what the Bible teaches as individual Christian duties and the work of the church. We shall show that he relies on the old fallacy that whatever the Christian individual can do the church can do and that this is one of his basic misconceptions of Bible teaching.

7. Brother Thomas undertakes to hang the label of "legalism" on those who differ with him while he struggles to liberate himself from being classified as a "liberalist" or "modernist" in attitude. Here as in the pattern of how to establish authority and when is an example binding, he makes his own rules and formulates his own definitions and arbitrarily applies for all these self made rules to the facts at hand. This phase of the book will be explored and it will be interesting to note "some of the terms of liberalism and modernism" as they occur.

8. Brother Thomas makes an eloquent plea for the absence of strife and undertakes a plea for unity. We propose to show that he does not live up to his plea in either direction in the book.

9. Brother Thomas professes to find the solution to all of the problems of the government and function of the congregation and it shall be our purpose to show that he either does not understand or is not willing to respect New Testament teaching concerning either.

10. Brother Thomas undertakes to apply his own pattern to justify his own conception of the problem he calls "Institutionalism" but we shall show, abundantly I think, that his "wavy line" wavers according to his own preferences and solves nothing unless he is allowed to designate where it belongs.

11. He reaches conclusions as follows:

(1) The congregations can pool their resources in an intercongregational treasury and place such a treasury or fund under the eldership of one congregation, or other organization, without perverting the function of God's organization.

(2) The money contributed into the treasury of the Lord's church can be used at the discretion of the elders for any work which they deem to be good.

(3) The churches of Christ can build human benevolent societies through which to do their work of benevolence instead of doing it through the congregational organization God has given.

(4) The only thing wrong with the Missionary Society is that it controls the churches and infringes upon their autonomy.

(5) Schools in which the Bible is taught along with secular subjects are truly the "work of the Lord" and "an expedient for spreading the cause of Christ", and should therefore be supported by the churches of Christ.

(6) That "fellowship" as it is used in the Bible includes eating, drinking, and other social activity by the church and can therefore legitimately be provided for by the church out of its funds. That the church can become the center of social activity and can provide facilities not only for its social functions but for recreation and entertainment as well and thus by bringing worldliness into the church we can attract the world.

(7) The church can conduct any kind of a legitimate business under the supervision of its elders for profit such as a grocery store, oil business, etc., as long as the church does not do so on purpose, that is, if such a business is given to it, to begin with, and in the judgment of the elders it would be more profitable to run it than to sell it.

These are the extremes to which the author of this book goes. We shall show the fallacy of every conclusion reached and their destructiveness to the church of the Lord. It can be said for brother Thomas that he does not draw any line against anything but swallows it all. I have never seen a more consistent attitude in the acceptance of the consequences of a position than he displays. He accepts all of the consequences that all of the brethren who agree with him in the premises will eventually have to accept or give up their contention. There is no half-way stopping place or compromising position. When once the gate is down, the whole flood tide of innovations will come sweeping in again as in the days of "digression". Bro. Thomas makes no attempt to shut the gate against just a part of these new departures that are plaguing the church but which constitute the same old problem. He accepts all that the Gospel Advocate and the Firm Foundation and the most radical among the "Institutional" brethren advocate. His position is liberal enough to suit the most liberal among them. He disagrees with many of them in arguments made and positions taken in his effort to justify his conclusions but he reaches the same conclusions they reach, one way or another.

We have tried to ascertain whether or not the administration of Abilene Christian College and the head of the "Bible department" of the school will go all of the way with this very featured teacher of theirs. The administration of the school used to deny that they favored placing the school in the budget of the churches. Will they still deny it and yet allow this to be taught to their students ? They have neither directly endorsed or denied any position he has taken though the book has been in print for some time. They cannot, however, avoid responsibility for what he teaches. He is a teacher of Bible in the school, a part of the "Bible Department". He is employed and paid by the school administration. As long as they tolerate such teaching and support it they are necessarily responsible for it and cannot evade such responsibility.

(Installment II will follow)