Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 18, 1954
NUMBER 44, PAGE 4-5,13b

"Our Work" Or "Their Work"?


On another page in this issue is an article from Brother E. R. Harper, preacher for the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas, in which he seeks to correct what he regards as some misrepresentations this writer made of a conversation we had in Abilene a few weeks ago.

Since it really matters very little, one way or the other, and is wholly inconsequential so far as the great issue before us is concerned, we are entirely willing to accept Brother Harper's account of the exact wording of that interchange. Suffice it to say that when we repeatedly asked Brother Harper if he would defend his beliefs and convictions concerning the scripturalness of Herald of Truth in a series of articles, and have either James W. Adams, Cecil B. Douthitt, or W. Curtis Porter write on the other side of the question, and he emphatically said "NO" to each request, we thought he expressed a firm determination not to become "involved in any brotherhood wrangle" over Herald of Truth, and declared that he was "going to stay strictly out of any controversy" over the matter. We thought he gave that as the reason for his refusal to write on the subject. Since Brother Harper now declares, however, that we did not correctly quote him, and says, "Those words never came from my lips," we gladly stand corrected. And once again, and publicly, we invite him to a discussion of the issue. For a "brotherhood wrangle" we have neither the time, the temperament, the talent, nor the training. We are totally inexperienced in such things, never having been involved in even one middle-sized wrangle in a single congregation. Brother Harper's aversion to such certainly can be no greater than our own. But for a discussion of the issue — the gravest and most serious problem facing the church of our Lord within a generation — we are willing to spend whatever amount of time and effort may be necessary. We have no interest at all in an interchange of name calling and personal bickerings. The vital issues with which we have to deal are too sacred and holy for such treatment. We shall, therefore, respectfully excuse ourselves from replying in kind to all of Brother Harper's article and instead ask your earnest study of the following two theses:

  1. The concept of the "church universal" doing its work by centralizing its resources under a single agency is without scriptural authority.
  2. "Herald of Truth" is built on the concept of the "church universal" doing its work by centralizing its resources under a single agency the elders of Highland Church.

These two statements go right to the heart of our objection to Herald of Truth. They show why we have been so insistent that brethren supporting the radio cooperative write on "What Is Wrong With the Missionary Society." For we have been convinced that a clear understanding of the issue involved in the Missionary Society controversy would make it impossible to oppose the Society and at the same time support Herald of Truth.

It should hardly be necessary at this late date to say much about the first thesis. This was the battle-ground fought over by our fathers a century ago. In 1866 when W. K. Pendleton made his great speech before the Cincinnati convention he pin-pointed the whole bitter controversy by this argument:

  1. a. God has commissioned the "church universal" to preach the gospel to the world.
  2. He has not given the method or plan by which the church (in its universal sense) can act to meet its responsibility.
  3. Therefore, whatever method the church (universal) may devise is perfectly right and acceptable.

David Lipscomb saw at once the implications of Pendleton's concept. He wrote:

"The only defense that can be made of these institutions is, there must be a universal organization of the church of God with an earthly central head that overlooks and directs the operations of all the numerous local organizations or congregations. The premises that lead to this conclusion were laid down very definitely by Brother Pendleton, in his last address at the last meeting of the Cincinnati society. The logical result of these premises, we gladly note, he shrinks back from declaring. This, to our mind, is the most objectionable ground the societies could be placed upon. Brother Pendleton's use of the terms, universal church, in connection with the society organization, we think can have no other meaning." — (Gospel Advocate, 1867)

This, then, is the basic fallacy in the Missionary Society. It is a rejection of God's plan for work on the individual and congregational levels, and contemplates a still higher level of inter-congregational activity. It is not particularly important what form or shape the super-organization might take; the very idea of it is wrong. It is based on an unscriptural concept. Whether the governing body be made up of individuals selected by many congregations and from among themselves (as in the Missionary Societies), or of a body selected by one congregation, all holding membership in that one congregation (as in Herald of Truth), or whether it be the self-perpetuating hierarchy of the clergy (as in Roman Catholicism), the fundamental concept is wrong.

"Ours" Or "Theirs"?

Is it a fact that Herald of Truth is built on the idea of the "church universal" doing its work through a single agency? In other words, is Herald of Truth a "brotherhood" work, or is it peculiarly, exclusively, and specifically the work of Highland Church?

Supporters of the program are divided on this. Brother Harper, Brother Nichols, and the Highland brethren generally have recognized that it is basically wrong, and should be stopped immediately if it is a brotherhood work. Hence, their repeated insistence that it is "Our" work. Brother Nichols declares he would fight the program to the last ditch if it were not exclusively "Highland's work." Brother Logan Buchanan, on the other hand, more realistic and objective in his appraisal of the facts in the case, seeks to defend it on the basis that the churches can work together and in concert in performing THEIR (not Highland's) work. He says, "I am interested in proving that churches can work 'in concert' and 'together' and 'have fellowship' in performing their work."

Another brother writing in defense of Herald of Truth has likened it to water from a huge number of reservoirs all being piped to the same single faucet — the faucet being Highland Church. So that while the stream of water comes from one single outlet, it is in fact the combined power of a thousand sources that makes the stream possible.

Not Highland's Work We believe that the plea that Herald of Truth is exclusively Highland's work is a bit of fiction. Consider the following:

  1. Highland Church did not originate it. It was the brain-child of James Walter Nichols and James D. Willeford.
  2. Highland Church did not select the preachers. On the contrary, Brother J. M. Patterson, one of Highland's elders wrote: "Some ask, Why did the Highland elders pick Nichols and Willeford instead of older preachers to do the speaking? The elders were on the wrong side of the table to pick. The whole idea was a 'brain child' born out of the minds of Nichols and Willeford."
  3. Highland Church does not pay for it. Their total financial contribution to the program is not enough even to pay the salary of their own elder who works for Herald of Truth! And if the TV and radio program they have outlined becomes a reality, Highland Church's contribution will be approximately one-half of one percent of the money spent.
  4. Highland Church could not stop it. They could stop their part of the support (as many other churches have done); but who is so naive as to think that would stop the work? The suite of offices occupied by Herald of Truth is considerably larger than the office space in Highland Church, is located half-way across town from the church property, and could be leased by the "Herald of Truth" just as easily as by "Highland Church." In fact, it has been a topic of discussion in Abilene that one wealthy backer of "Herald of Truth" has a time or two suggested that he might be willing to build a $50,000 office building and give it to Herald of Truth. "Herald of Truth" has its own separate listing in the Abilene Telephone Directory, and until very recently when the number was called the phone would be answered by "This is the Herald of Truth." Now they are saying "Highland Church of Christ." But saying it doesn't make it so!

The Elders' Relationship

So far as Herald of Truth is concerned, the Highland elders sustain no relationship to the Highland Church that they do not sustain to every other church supporting the program. Their relationship as directors of Herald of Truth is quite distinct from, and other than, their relationship to Highland Church as elders. What obligation or responsibility do these good brethren have to Highland Church (in respect to this work) that they do not have toward every other church sending money for the work? Can one single thing be itemized?

It is obvious, or should be, that in all their activities in behalf of Herald of Truth they are NOT functioning in the capacity of elders of Highland Church, but ARE functioning as a board of directors or trustees, rather, for the funds entrusted to them by a thousand or more congregations. What distinctive, specific, peculiar relationship do they have with Highland Church here that they do not have with every other church? We can think of none. Do they have a responsibility to Highland Church to see that the gospel is preached without error or contamination? Of course. But do they not have an identical responsibility toward every contributing church?

Do the elders of Highland Church have a responsibility toward Highland Church to see that the $600 per month this church contributes to the program is strictly accounted for? Do they not have precisely the same responsibility toward each contributing congregation?

As a matter of fact, Highland elders themselves admit and recognize this relationship. For in their solicitation for funds for the TV program they pledged that any unused monies would be returned to the contributing congregations proportionately to their contributions. What was this but a recognition that he proposed TV program was "THEIR" work, and not exclusively Highland's? In the very first program of the radio broadcast Brother J. F. Reese declared: "So long as we have the oversight that has been placed in our hands, let us leave you with the assurance that the New Testament doctrine will be our teaching."

Did God "place the oversight" of Herald of Truth in the hands of the Highland elders? Or was it Brother James Walter Nichols who placed it there? It was one or the other. Did God "place the oversight" for a few months in the hands of the College Church elders? And if the program stirs up so much unrest within Highland Church (which is by no means unanimous in its support of the program) that the elders decide to abandon the project, will God then "place the oversight" in another congregation? Clearly the Highland elders recognize that oversight of Herald of Truth is not a duty or responsibility which inheres in their status as elders in Highland Church. It was something "given" to them and "placed in their hands," and which they "accepted with humility."

We challenge Brother Harper, Brother Buchanan, Brother Nichols, or any other defender of Herald of Truth to name one particular in which Highland elders sustain a relationship to Highland Church, so far as Herald of Truth is concerned, that they do not sustain to every other church which contributes to the program! They are a board of trustees acting with equal responsibility to ALL the contributing congregations.

— F. Y. T.