Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 18, 1951
NUMBER 36, PAGE 2-3a

Contempt Or Realism?

James D. Bales, Searcy, Arkansas

Our beloved brother Tant reports brother Sherrod as saying: "For, as he (Sherrod) said, 'so many elderships are without vision, and without interest in preaching the gospel in foreign fields.' Thus, the very basis of the 'Lubbock Plan' is a contemptuous attitude toward the elders of the churches!" (The Gospel Guardian. Nov. 23, 1950, pp.4-5). I believe that this is an unfortunate type of reasoning. It impresses me, for the following reasons, as giving more heat than light. It can serve as a sample of what we need to be on our guard against in our reasoning.

(1) If one wanted to, he could say that the very name of the paper of which Tant is editor, shows contempt for other papers. It is THE Gospel Guardian, as if there were no other! Mind you, I am not suggesting that it need suggest contempt, or that it must be a boast. After all, my defunct quarterly was called "THE Thinking Christian." When I did most of the writing for the first issue someone wanted to know if I thought that I was the only thinking Christian. The publisher (brother Cogdill) of the Guardian has raised elsewhere—to put it mildly—the question as to whether I am a thinking Christian.

(2) If to speak realistically is to speak contemptuously, one must say that Sherrod, Tant, and many other gospel preachers have spoken contemptuously of "the elders of the churches." For Tant knows, when he stops and thinks on this particular point, that there are elderships—I do not know the percentage, of course—which are without vision and without interest in preaching the gospel to "home" fields, much less to "foreign" fields. I could show him one, for example, which feels that it is doing fine because it has its building paid for and the contribution is enough each month to take care of a light bill, which is less than $2. Of course, they have a special contribution when they have an occasional preacher. This may get as high as around $8. This one may be somewhat extreme, but there are several which are not doing much better.

As Tant himself wrote: "And along with that teaching must go a constant and determined emphasis on evangelism. It was because the churches were not reaching out to the extent of their abilities that the Society advocates were able to whip up such fervor and enthusiasm for their centralized programs in that previous apostasy." (G. G. Nov. 2, 1950, pp. 8). This is on the very page in which Tant suggests that every dollar an individual sends to Lubbock is an insult to the elders of his home congregation since it is saying that the elders do not have a program which calls for his contribution!

Again Tant said: "I rejoice, as does every Christian, in the great surge of evangelistic fervor that has swept over the disciples these past few years. All too long we have been lethargic and listless in trying to reach the unsaved in foreign lands." (Sept. 21, 1950, pp. 8, Italics by J. D. Bales.) Some congregations do not have elders even in name, some have them in name only, and some in name and reality. Some of the listless and lethargic condition has been in congregations which had elders, at least in name. Is Tant being contemptuous of elders? Did he not use even stronger terms than those which he quotes from Sherrod? Of "lethargic" Webster's Collegiate says: "Pertaining to, affected with, causing, or resembling, lethargy; morbidly drowsy; dull; heavy.—Syn. See Sleepy." Of lethargy he says: "1. Morbid drowsiness; profound sleep. 2. A state of inaction or indifference." Of "morbid" he says: "1. Not sound and healthful; diseased; hence, abnormal . . . Syn. Sick, unwholesome, unhealthy." Of "listless" Webster writes: "Having no desire or inclination; indifferent; spiritless." In other words, they were not interested. And Sherrod said that many elders were "without interest in preaching the gospel in foreign fields." Tant, in stronger terms, said something of the same thing about all of us, if you want to take his term to include everyone of us, which I doubt that he meant. "All too long we had been lethargic and listless in trying to reach the unsaved in foreign lands."

Is not Tant's severe charge all too true of many of us? Is he speaking realistically or contemptuously?

On another occasion Tant certainly spoke realistically—contemptuously, if Sherrod's attitude is one of contempt—of at least a thousand churches, which likely includes many churches with elders. "In all probability there are not less than a thousand congregations in our nation who are fully able to support a gospel preacher in some foreign field in addition to everything they are doing here in this nation. We cannot escape the conviction that many of these churches are easing their conscience and shrugging off their responsibility by sending twenty, fifty, or seventy-five dollars a month to some 'sponsoring' church somewhere, and saying, in effect, 'see ye to it'. By making a sort of token contribution to foreign work, they can feel they are having 'some part' in preaching the gospel to the world; and at the same time they are making no sacrifice, and accepting no responsibility in doing it!

"Wherever such is happening, it is a sign of a lack of missionary seal, rather than of the presence of it." (G. G. July 27, 1950, p. 8)

In other words, Tant is saying that there are at least a thousand churches which are rationalizing and not being honest with themselves and with God.

Is this contempt, or realism? Is he speaking with an emotional bias, with contempt, or according to hard, cold facts?

Brother Tant, it seems to me that you are saying that our basic problem is not what Broadway is doing, but what other churches are not doing about their responsibility. As you wrote, the Society advocates were not able to get much done in Nashville because Lipscomb was able to point to "working, evangelistic, 'missionary' churches . . ." (Nov. 2, 1950, p. 8). "It was because the churches were not reaching out to the extent of their abilities that the Society advocates were able to whip up such fervor and enthusiasm for their centralized programs in that previous apostasy." (Nov. 2, 1950, p. 8).

If I have correctly evaluated brother Tant's view of the underlying cause, he thinks that the success of the Society was a symptom of the lethargic condition of some churches, and that its lack of success in Nashville was due, in part at least, to the fact that working churches were there.

Since Tant seems to think that Broadway is leading us the way the Societies did, and since he seems to think that the lack of working churches accounts, in part, for the success of such movements, then why not devote at least as much time in frontal attacks on such lethargic churches and elderships, as on Broadway and its eldership? He is convinced that Lubbock is wrong. I certainly would not want to put a "gag" on him so that he could not speak against them. In fact, I have encouraged young preachers to take advantage of the offer of a free subscription to the Gospel Guardian which an individual contribution of a Nashville business man has made possible. (Was this contribution an insult to any elder or church?) He has spoken out against these lethargic churches in the above quotations. I hope he continues to do so. Otherwise, it will happen, as I know in some cases it has happened, that some churches will be afraid to do almost anything for fear that they will do something wrong. Point out that it is a great wrong not to do anything. Let them not feel that they are all right because they are not doing what you consider to be wrong. They are not right unless they are doing right.

(3) It will be noticed that brother Sherrod did not say that all churches were not interested in "foreign" work. He said: 'many elderships." Thus it is a bit too sweeping a charge to say that "the very basis of the `Lubbock Plan' is a contemptuous attitude toward the elders of the churches!" If it is contemptuous, it is only against many elders. Sherrod's statement is certainly not as sweeping as Tant's that: "all to long we have been lethargic and listless . . . " As to whether Sherrod's limited statement, or Tant's unlimited statement, is the more accurate survey of the situation, we shall not take a survey to decide. But surely brother Tant has drawn a hasty conclusion when he says that this portrays an attitude of contempt, on Sherrod's and Broadway's part, toward "the elders of the churches."

This article is not against everything Tant says, nor for everything Sherrod says. It attempts to show that Sherrod's statement does not express an attitude of contempt, any more than does Tant's. That is, unless one means by contempt that it is a disgraceful situation where elders persist in failing to do what they ought to do. It seems to me that Tant's summary of what he conceived to be. Sherrod's attitude was apt to arouse prejudice without assisting clear thinking in this matter. To correct this, and to try to make some churches realize that they ought to do something, are the sole purposes of this article.