Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 3, 1960
NUMBER 26, PAGE 1,12-13

Where Are The Strong Men Now?

Cecil Willis, Akron, Ohio

When one does his work well, brethren generally recognize that he is a capable man. In the past there have been men that were recognized as strong men because of their knowledge and capabilities. In the battles of bygone days they stood up to be counted on the side of truth and righteousness. But in some of those battles it was popular to stand for the truth. Therefore, it was easy to be "sound." But some of those men who were so vocal and powerful in the truth-error conflicts of the past are completely silent in the conflict of the present. Not knowing the hearts of men, it is impossible accurately to say why each one is silent. Yet it is obvious that some men are so constructed that they have difficulty standing alone. They can only stand when they feel that public sentiment stands with them. Brethren have been propagandized by certain brotherhood media till many actually believe that those who now stand for the all-sufficiency of the church and oppose institutions of human origin attempting to do the work of the church are only a handful. Of course, there is no way accurately to know whether the liberals outnumber the conservatives or not. And more important, there really is little purpose in knowing. God knows and it is unimportant whether men know or not. Those who are really strong in the sight of God do not decide their position to be taken by the statistics in the case. They do not take a stand simply because most other brethren take such a stand. Their stand is taken upon what they believe to be the truth, regardless of whether they stand with thousands, or whether they think they stand alone.

It is interesting to observe how we brand preachers as older preachers and younger preachers. The line in between is often a very fine one indeed, and often it depends on whether we are trying to extol the man or degrade him. If he says what someone wants him to say, he is a mature man, yea even a "sage." If he denies what some would have him say, he is a young upstart. Until he gets 35 he is too young to know anything. After he gets 45 he is too old to be of much service. So preacher brother, between 35 and 45 you had better really make hay.

Some of us "younger" preachers have not been on the scene very long. Some of the battles of the past we only know about through the testimony of older witnesses, through histories, and through written documents. We "younger" preachers consider ourselves fortunate to be able to borrow or otherwise secure copies of some of these verbal conflicts of yesteryear. Recently I was able to borrow a copy of the Carl Ketcherside-Rue Porter Debate. This debate discussed orphan homes and colleges, and was held at Ozark, Missouri, March 23-26, 1937. It is not my purpose here to give a resume of the debate. I only want to make a few observations concerning it. The first two nights concerned the orphan homes. The last two nights the discussion centered around the colleges. It is concerning these last two nights that we primarily wish to speak.

Who Are The "Sommerities?"

Most all of us have deplored being called "Campbellites." Yet there are few of us who have not on occasions used similar terms of stigma with which to brand a brother. Such has been the use made of the term "Sommerite." Many of us "younger" preachers previously did not know the connotation of the term, and some few of our "older" brethren would say we could never know what the term "Sommerite" meant unless we take it from them. In fact, two or three of these "older" brethren would tell you that they are the only ones who really know what a "Sommerite" is.

There was a brother by the name of Daniel Sommer who lived in Indianapolis, Indiana, from about 1894 till his death about 1940. He published the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW. He opposed gospel preachers locating with churches that had elders for any great length of time. He called this the "pastor system." He opposed the establishment of colleges for the purpose of teaching the Bible. He very definitely opposed churches contributing to these colleges. In the present controversy raging among us, brethren who favor church support of orphan homes and colleges have said that any of us who oppose such are "Sommerites." This branding makes about as much sense as that of the Baptists who would denominate every Christian a "Campbellite" because Alexander Campbell also taught baptism for the remission of sins. Someone has said "If you cannot answer a man's position, call him something you can answer." This seems to be what many today are attempting as they brand the institutional opposers as "Sommerites" or "Antis."

Brother Rue Porter today wants to be sure that he does not stand with those that are styled "Antis" or "Sommerites." He says that there are only about 100 preachers who oppose the institutions and perhaps 2% of the brethren oppose them. He very likely arrived at these figures through the means of an optimistic dream he had one night. Nevertheless, he does not want to stand with so few.

In reading the Ketcherside-Porter Debate, I was surprised to find the glowing terms with which brother Porter referred to the Sommers' and their paper. If some of us who have been called "Johnnys-Come-Lately to the Sommerite Camp" had so glowingly spoken of the paper and of brother Sommer, it would have been accepted as our confession to being "Sommerites." Brother Porter speaks of the APOSTOLIC REVIEW (then the name of Sommer's paper) as a "great and good paper." (pg. 102.) Would he so refer to it today? Would he not be afraid to do so? What would he now say concerning us if some of us were so to describe it? He says of brother Sommer: "Daniel Sommer is a grand old patriarch — the sage of Indianapolis — and I speak of him with respect and deference." (pg. 147) After describing brother Sommer's position on the college issue, brother Porter says "I now make his position mine!" Would that make a man a "Sommerite?" If today we admit to holding any position Sommer held, we are indicted as self-confessed "Sommerites." Brother Porter and brother Sommer hold the same position on the college question — so brother Porter says. But of course, I doubt that you could find any two men who do not hold the same position on some point.

Porter further says of Sommer: He "has forgotten more than either of us (i.e. himself and Ketcherside — CW) will ever know." (pg. 159) In speaking of the Sommer-Ketcherside controversy then raging, Porter says "The position one occupies is my position." (pg. 169) He says Sommer's position is his position. Do any of the brethren who stand with brother Porter today on the orphan home issue or college issue ever brand him as a "Sommerite?" He is, instead, considered one of the "Saviors of the church" from hobby-ism, and he so considers himself. Some of us "Antis" can take the same position as that taken by brother Porter on the college issue, and we are denoted as "Sommerites," but brother Porter is extolled as a "Savior of the church from hobbyism."

Porter And The College Question

Brother Ketcherside labors hard to show that the colleges are church colleges. He attempts to show they are church colleges by showing that churches support them, which is a valid approach, I presume. And here brother Porter gets real strong. He says "I want you to understand first of all, and am saying it plainly, I DO NOT BELIEVE, and the brethren with whom I stand DO NOT believe THAT THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS HAS ANY BUSINESS AS the establishment of schools for the purpose of teaching secular things.... The church, as such, is not in that kind of business." (pp. 101, 102 — his emphasis) "The church, as such...." Hmmmm! I have been told recently one shouldn't use that expression. But now I have it on good authority! Too, I am made to wonder just who these brethren are "with whom I stand." I wonder if those brethren with whom Porter then stood are the same brethren with whom Porter now stands. I wish he had named some of those brethren with whom he was then standing that thought the churches ought not to contribute to the schools. I wonder if he would have listed B. C. Goodpasture, W. L. Totty, Sterl Watson, Willard Collins, Ira North, Otis Gatewood, Athens Clay Pullias, Norvel Young, as brethren with whom he then stood??? Or did Porter not then stand with these brethren just named? So far as I know, these all now think it is perfectly all right for churches to support the schools. And does brother Porter now stand with the brethren with whom he then stood? Or did these brethren just named not then stand where they now stand??? Perish the thought!

Brother Porter says "There are a few men who favor schools and colleges to such a degree as to be radical. Some men take radical positions as to schools....". (pg. 102) These radical men are the ones, Porter says, who believe churches can contribute to schools. Porter further says "no man living or dead ever heard me say that it was right, to take money out of the treasury of the Lord for that purpose, (pg. 102) i.e., to give to colleges. "And, except for a very few of those who are extreme and radical, not one of us has ever been known to offer an argument to show that the Church should build them. We never affirm such a thing." (pg. 104) Now brother Porter, who are these "extreme and radical" men? Are they the men with whom you now stand?

Porter further declares "I told you plainly....that I opposed the thing he calls robbing the treasury....I am as bitterly opposed to such a thing as he is." (pp. 170, 171) This is pretty plain language, and I like to hear it. Then Porter charges: "Some churches without proper instructions have possibly done such things." Any church that gives to a college has not had proper instructions, brother Porter says, and I agree.

Then And Now

All of these statements are from brother Rue Porter, editor of the CHRISTIAN WORKER, spoken in 1937. Today when some of us voice these same sentiments, we are called "Sommerites," "Hobbyists," "Legalists," "Antis," "Church-Splitters," "Dogmatists," and a lot of other uncomplimentary things. And brother Porter would be among the first to brand us thusly.

But the thing that interests me today is where has brother Porter's strong language on these things gone to? I read his paper for a good while. And the only time I ever observed him getting worked up (like he did in the Ketcherside Debate) was when he came to write about the "Antis." I talked with him in Birmingham (at the Cogdill-Woods Debate), and he told me he believes today the same thing he believed in 1937. Well, if he does, why doesn't he come out in his paper and blast today these things like he once did? Brother Porter is permitting his influence to go to the side of the church supported colleges and the GOSPEL ADVOCATE which endorses, promotes, and soon will be defending such. Yet he still says these men who endorse church support of colleges are "extreme" and "radical," and that none of those with whom he stands endorses "the church, as such," contributing to a college. Further he says that every church that does contribute has not been properly taught.

Many of these erroneous practices possibly could be stopped in their tracks if men like Rue Porter, and many older men of strength, would now fire away at these innovations as they once did. However, we may already have waited too long for anyone, except the Lord, to stop them. But why is 1960 so different from 1937? In 1937, strong, influential and numerous brethren were blasting the schools right where they needed to be hit. These were the heydays of J. D. Tant, Foy E. Wallace, Cled Wallace, R. L. Whiteside and C. R. Nichol. There were enough strong men on the side of truth then that it was popular to oppose church support of schools. So many of the brethren who today have either changed their position (which they vehemently deny) or had their backbone to dissolve on them, were then fiercely tearing into the church support of colleges.

I ask, "Where are these strong men now?" G. K. Wallace, even Guy N. Woods, Rue Porter, and others who then fought the church support of schools so strongly — What are they doing about the matter now? Surely none would deny that we are now in greater danger of this becoming a common practice than in 1937-47. Surely there is as much need for the help of these strong men now as then. So why do they not preach now as they did then? You cannot get a word out of them on these matters now. Who has recently heard or read where G. K. Wallace or Rue Porter has borne down on church support of colleges?

I wrote brother Guy N. Woods June 29, 1959, and asked: "Since you have been so prominently injected into this controversy, I think it only right that you should state whether you believe it to be right or wrong for churches to make contributions to colleges. Of course you have already said it was wrong. But do you yet believe it is sinful for churches to contribute to colleges?" Thus far he has refused to answer the letter. Suppose I had written to ask "What can we do about these detestable "Antis" in our city?" Do you think I would have heard from him in a year and a half? Yea, verily!

These "strong" men are lying low now. They have aligned themselves with a group of "extreme," "radical" men who endorse church support of colleges. They are preaching for a group of churches "without proper instructions" who contribute to colleges. They can see the way the wheels are turning. They know where they are heading. They know sooner or later they are going to be thrown off the bandwagon "on the march," or else they are going to endorse church support of colleges. They already know which they will do when the proper time comes — that is, when the necessary time comes. Meanwhile they have learned that the less one now says against church support of colleges, the less one will have to take back or explain away when the big boys decide "Now is the time; everything is in readiness. Let's come out of hiding on this matter. Let's now do what we have wanted to do in a big way for twenty years! Churches, send us your money! We are strong enough now to run over anyone that gets in our way!" So these "strong" men of yore are now demonstrating themselves to be masters of the ingenious art of fence straddling while they meekly keep their mouths shut.