Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 6, 1969
NUMBER 39, PAGE 4,5b

When Is A Church "Liberal?


Fanning Yater Tant

We are hearing a lot these days about "liberalism" in the churches of Christ — the institutional churches of Christ, that is; we have heard little or nothing as to its appearance among the conservative brethren. But when is a church "liberal," and when can such a term be justified as applied to an entire congregation, or group of congregations?

Vehemently and with an air of aggrieved innocence members of these congregations disavow liberalism and deny that they are liberal. How then can any fair person make such a charge? We ran across a quotation from William F. Buckley, Jr. the other day which pretty well states the case:

"If one sets out to show that a religious sect is corrupt, it does not suffice to point to a member of that sect who has been caught channeling money from the collection plate to his mistress. He is proved corrupt, but not, yet, the movement. Suppose, then, one approaches the delinquent's co-religionists and asks them for an expression of opinion on the behavior of their brother. If they show a marked indifference to it, if they actively defend him, if they continue to countenance or even move him up the ladder of their hierarchy, more and more one is entitled to generalize...that the organization is corrupt."

(Up From Liberalism — page 8)

Our land is filled with sad examples of the very thing Mr. Buckley was talking about. For years now faithful brethren have been pointing out to their friends many of the "far out" examples of social gospel liberalism in many churches of Christ. And over and over again they have been met with the response, "I don't approve of that; I am opposed to that; I think that is wrong," and having thus absolved themselves of all guilt in the matter, having purified their souls by a verbal note of protest, these brethren blithely and cheerily go their way, attending the church which does that which they disavow, giving their money to support that which they say is wrong, lending their time and effort and influence to build up that which they tell us they oppose! Under such circumstances we think that any fair minded person is not only "entitled to generalize" as to the basic liberalism of such a person, but by the logic of the case is compelled to do so. To say the least, one might be excused for entertaining a bit of skepticism as to the avowals and disavowals of the one who protests that he "doesn't go along" with what is being done.

In the final analysis it will be the verdict of history and time which tells us whether a church is, or is not, "liberal."And it will be the verdict of the judgment day, and that alone, which will declare the guilt or responsibility of the brother who says he "doesn't go along," but whose actions and behavior give the lie to his words. It is the consensus of all to whom we have talked about the matter that the expanding liberalism now invading many churches of Christ poses a far more destructive and dangerous threat to the very life of the church than any problem that has been faced in our generation or in our century.

And why the strange conspiracy of silence about it? Of course, Ira Rice has laid his "axe on the root" in the couple of volumes, but who takes him seriously? And what effort is being made to indoctrinate the members against the insidious forces of modernism? Furthermore, how can anyone who has stated, "We do many things for which we have no Bible authority," and "We don't have to have authority for what we are doing," expect anyone to listen when he begins to cry out against those "who would deny the inspiration of the Scriptures!?" What difference does it make whether the Scriptures are inspired or not if we are not bound by what they teach?

We begin this week a series of articles by Edward Fudge (front page) to which we call your particular attention. The series will run for several weeks, and we hope it may serve a useful purpose to help all of us to re-think and re-evaluate our "restoration heritage." As the gathering storm of classical liberalism begins to be ever more apparent, and as we will all have a "front row seat" to watch our institutional brethren as they agonize over the division which will inevitably decimate their ranks, it will help immeasurably in our own understanding and attitude if we can have insight into some of the struggles of the past.

That our institutional churches are going to divide is, we think, a foregone certainty. The virus of modernism has already been at work too long; too many compromises have already been made; too many preachers and churches have been infected. There will be no turning back. It will gather momentum slowly at first, but then more and more rapidly. And if "by reason of strength" this editor should chance to live out his four score years, he fully expects to see the cleavage among the institutional churches become as wide and as deep and as unbridgeable as that now existing between the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ — and the battle will be considerably more bitter and vitriolic than the controversy of these past twenty years over institutionalism and the social gospel.

— F. Y. T.