Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 2, 1964
NUMBER 47, PAGE 1,11-12a

A "Great Preacher" Settles The "Questions And Issues Of The Day"

James W. Adams


A "Great Preacher" belongs to an uncommon and exceedingly limited species. When he speaks, it is customary for "all the world" of the common herd "to keep silence before him." Dr. Batsell Barrett Baxter, "Great Preacher," according to his brethren's designation and his own acquiescence, has spoken from the pulpit of Hillsboro Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and has written a booklet on the "questions and issues of the day." It is with considerable trepidation, therefore, that this writer, an ordinary specimen of the breed, dares to lift his voice and break the awesome stillness which the "Great Preacher's" voice and pen have invoked.

In our day of a developing clergy among the churches of Christ, to question an elder or preacher is fast becoming a "mortal sin." Since this is true, "how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy," who presumes to challenge the pronouncements emanating from the sanctified wisdom of a "Great Preacher." If, as some contend, to call in question the decisions of ordinary elders is sin (regardless of the nature of those decisions), surely, to challenge a "Great Preacher" would be sacrilege. We feel, therefore, as we present this and subsequent articles in this series to the reading brethren, much as Luther must have felt as he made his way to Leipzig to meet in debate the celebrated, learned, and "vainglorious" Dr. John Eck, papal champion.

We regard it neither uncharitable nor logically unethical to refer to the subject of these articles as "Great Preacher," for he, himself, has modestly permitted an entire volume of his sermons to be published under the title. "The Great Preacher Series." Surely, it is proper to use a title to designate an individual which he, himself, publicly accepts. Hence, it is to be hoped that the perennial multitude of spuriously pious souls at large will not, as they usually do, try to offset the truth of that which we write by lodging a charge of "bad spirit" against us for so designating our erring brother, Dr. Batsell Barrett Baxter, of Nashville, Tennessee.

The Occasion Of These Articles

During November and December of 1963, Dr. Baxter presented a series of three sermons at the Hillsboro Church of Christ, 2206 Hillsboro Road, Nashville, Tennessee, dealing with "questions and issues of the day." The sermons concerned church support of institutions for the care of orphans, church co-operation in centralized-control-and-oversight arrangements, and church support of secular institutions of learning, hospitals, recreation etc. The sermons, preached as they were in the regular services of a congregation, would probably have been of little significance, except in identifying the position of the "Great Preacher" on these matters, had it not been for the fact that he and the Hillsboro church have seen fit to put these sermons in booklet form and a host of liberal enthusiasts about Nashville and throughout the country are circulating the booklet as the last word on "the questions and issues of the day." The booklet is called: "Questions and Issues of the Day in the Light of the Scriptures by Batsell Barrett Baxter." In this series of articles, we shall be quoting from it often, and shall refer to it simply as "Booklet."

Since these sermons of the "Great Preacher" have been so widely circulated, and since he assumes such rank and revealing positions with reference to church support of human institutions in them, it seems mandatory, in the thinking of this writer and many other brethren across the United States, that the "Booklet" and the "Great Preacher" be given a thorough and merciless review. Some misguided brethren would have us review Dr. Baxter's sermons and ignore the man who preached them. This would be the more pleasant and personally agreeable way to perform the task, but the "Great Preacher's" standing among "liberal" churches, his wide influence over the churches generally and the youth of the churches particularly, his widespread recognition as the "voice of the churches" by reason of his position as one of the featured speakers on the "Herald of Truth" television series, plus the implications of his militant espousal of church support of colleges and hospitals in the sermons and the "Booklet" make it impossible for us to review the material and ignore the man.

When an individual aspires to and attains positions of great power and responsibility among brethren and churches, his actions and public utterances become public business. This is not only true of Dr. Baxter but of all others who attain such publicity and influence whether they be "conservatives" or "liberal" in their attitudes. A failure to recognize this truth, on the part of the individual or the brethren generally, can he disastrous. We bear the "Great Preacher" no personal ill will. As far as we can remember, we have never met hint nor even seen him, except via television. If at times in our review we seem to deal harshly with him, it will be because we feel the interests of truth and the preservation of the apostolic purity of the churches demand it. In view of these facts, we deem it proper to introduce to our readers the man whom we review and whose teaching we challenge.

Meet The "Great Preacher"

Dr. Baxter has had practically every advantage possible in order to be in truth a "Great Preacher." His father before him, Brother Batsell Baxter, was a well known preacher and college professor, hence from earliest childhood Dr. Baxter has had intimate acquaintance with the truth and the church. He did his undergraduate college work at what are commonly called "Christian Colleges," David Lipscomb College and Abilene Christian College receiving a B.A. degree from the latter institution. He did graduate work in the University of Southern California (M.A. and PhD. degrees) and in Vanderbilt University B.D. degree). He has been associated with David Lipscomb College for almost twenty years and is presently head of its Bible Department. He has served as located preacher for a number of large, influential congregations; he has conducted meetings throughout the United States for the largest churches of Christ (numerically speaking) in the world; he has been widely used as the speaker in "city-wide" and "area-wide" campaigns; and he has been for some time a featured speaker on the "Herald of Truth" television and radio series of international scope. Brethren have sent hint to various parts of the world to visit and lecture. Then, of course, he has been invited to and accepted participation in the "Great Preacher Series" of sermonic literature.

The Problem Posed By The Preacher's "Greatness"

All of the accomplishments and honors of Dr. Baxter noted above, and we grudge him not a single one of them, lend great prestige to and ready acceptance (on the part of thousands) of all he teaches. The brethren, like ancient Israel, have come to trust implicitly "in the multitude of their mighty men." (Hos. 10:13) We may expect, therefore, an immediate and far-reaching impetus to be given to the always present but impatiently dormant ambition to put so-called "Christian Colleges" in the budgets of churches. Many believe that the "Great Preacher's" declaration of views presages an all-out offensive on the part of "liberals" to attain this long-desired objective. The lurking lion has thus far been held at bay only by the fear that "the time has not been right." Inexpediency created by "brotherhood" aversion to the practice has been the only deterrent. As evidence of this, note the following statement made by the "Great Preacher" in one of his sermons at Hillsboro Church. This quotation is not found in the "Booklet," but has been taken directly from tape recording. Not everything the good Doctor said in his sermon did he see fit to include in his "Booklet." He said:

"This is a crucial matter, and because we haven't talked on it, haven't had the courage perhaps to talk on it enough, an opposite view has been sold widely and has hurt in the training of our young people."

The "Great Preacher" admits that fear, not conviction, has kept in abeyance those who would press for church support of colleges. Now, however, he and his fellow-liberals feel they have been successful in using the "orphan home" issue as a "scape-goat" to carry their opposers into isolation in what they choose to stigmatize as the wilderness of "Anti-ism." Hence, they feel the "fulness of time has come" for them to force the colleges into the treasuries of the churches.

Of course, there are still a few obstacles for them to surmount. Reuel Lemmons and the Firm Foundation have been, until very recently, sitting on a mesquite pole fence down in Texas, alternately glowering and smiling, but keeping their fence-straddling position intact. Now, however, with the publication and circulation of the Baxter Booklet, they have momentarily jumped down and joined the fray. Brother Lemmons has written two editorials in the February 18th and 25th issues of the Firm Foundation labeling church support of orphan homes under institutional boards and so-called "Christian colleges" as matters of faith and indicting the practice as "anti-scriptural." Brother Lemmons avers that he and others propose to oppose the matter and charges that, if a nation-wide division of the church results, Baxter and his associates "must bear the shame and disgrace for bringing it about." This writer and others travelled to the Abilene Christian Colleges lectures on the strength of a statement made by Lemmons in Denver, Colorado to the effect that, in his speech at the lectures, he would throw away his prepared manuscript and "blow the lid off" with an all-out attack on the practice of churches from their treasuries supporting orphan homes under institutional boards and "Christian colleges." Lemmons neither threw away his manuscript nor attacked the practice in question, so it may be that he and the Firm Foundation are back on the fence.

Then there is Roy H. Lanier Sr. raising his hackles and polishing his almost forgotten pen and voice in his Gospel Advocate imposed exile out at the lonely foot of Pike's Peak. He is most anxious for the Firm Foundation to get its "hound dog missiles" off the ground against Nashville's "atomic bombers" before they split the church wide open.

Then, lest we forget, there is always Foy E. Wallace, ancient foe of the colleges in the budgets of churches, wandering around down in the hinterland "not crazy enough for the antis and not loose enough for the liberals" (Brother Wallace's own words as reported to us by one who heard him express himself) with what he ridiculously calls "the great body of the church" — whoever that is and whatever it is.

Too, here and there, especially in the Southwest, we hear other voices faintly protesting. The "hill" out at A.C.C. during the lectures was supercharged with excitement over the Baxter Booklet. We wonder why all the excitement was created over a David Lipscomb College professor expressing himself thus and publishing his views? Six years ago, Dr. J. D. Thomas, professor of Bible, Abilene Christian College, expressed identical views and published them in a book called, "We Be Brethren." If we are not misinformed, this book has been used as a text in classes on hermeneutics in A.C.C. In the book, Dr. Thomas justifies the support of institutional orphan homes under boards and "Christian colleges" from the treasuries of churches by his "wavy line" principle of Biblical interpretation. He regards both as "optional expedients," hence scriptural. We wonder why Lemmons, a member of the board of directors of Abilene Christian College, did not do a single thing about the Thomas book, yet feels called of God to do battle unto death the Baxter Booklet?

Whatever may be the answer to some of our questions, it is certain that the time is here for the so-called "middle-of-the-roaders" who imagine they represent the "great body of the church" to draw the line of battle and utter once again that magnificent cry of old, "They shall not pass!" Nashville has thrown down the gauntlet and she has strong support even in the official family of A.C.C. It is fight or surrender. We await with bated breath a revelation of the extent to which the "middle-of-the-road" is prepared to stand upon its stated convictions. The question of the hour is: Is there, or is there not a middle of the road? We entertain little doubt with reference to the outcome, but we view with interest and some amusement the developments.

— 3105 N. W. 35th Place, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma