Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 24, 1955
NUMBER 45, PAGE 8-10a

With Questions Still Unanswered

Wayne Smethers, Pauls Valley, Oklahoma

I have finished a careful study of an article in GG, February 10th, in which a number of so-called blunders on my part are pointed out. The reading of the article leaves me under the sincere conviction that the questions I asked were not answered, but that a great deal of space was used in replying to things that I not only had not raised, but which were changed versions of the questions that I did ask.

I trust that all of us will, upon being asked for further enlightenment about assertions that we make, not immediately jump to the conclusion that we are being "criticized." It seems to me that a man, upon making an assertion of his own convictions, would be grateful that it raise questions in the mind of his hearers, and that he the more cheerfully respond to the request for further enlightenment.

I am somewhat at a loss to know how or why my personal letter, which is quoted by Brother Douthitt, got into our discussion. It is not that I am ashamed or fearful to accept responsibility for what I said, but since the quotation was from a personal letter of transmittal of my article and was not addressed to Brother Douthitt, I am made to wonder at the motive which would lead one to publish it without the courtesy of asking the permission of the writer.

While in one sense of the word, Brother Douthitt is correct in stating that he and I are "colleagues" in opposing the Herald of Truth, I fear that our differences are much greater than our likenesses, as I shall show. Since my statement from the letter has been made public, I think it now essential that I clarify it, in justice to myself and those who may have confidence in me. Being "opposed" to something can come from many sources. Brother Douthitt apparently defines opposition as a violation of N.T. principle, while my "opposition" is purely within the realm of human judgment; I am opposed, then, on the grounds that the continuation does not seem to me (may I repeat, "to me" ?) to be the course of wisdom. That others may freely disagree I gladly grant.

Here, then, for the satisfaction of all concerned are the reasons why I, personally, am not in favor of the continuation of the Herald of Truth.

1. Much of the preaching of the program is received in areas where the church is already well established. I know that this is made necessary by the fact that it is a network program, but at the same time, while everyone concerned may enjoy the program, it is a fact that it is only one more program added to what may be several local broadcasts, and, from the standpoint of any need in that area, could not be justified.

2. If the program does reach into spiritually destitute areas, but where there is no congregation already established, we are unable to capitalize to any great extent on any conviction which might come to individual hearts. Lacking a congregation of disciples, who will immerse, nurture and strengthen these babes in Christ? Since the greater part of our country's population likely falls into this classification, I doubt the advisability of spending the money in that way.

3. The program may (I am not charging that it !has!)lead to churches avoiding their own responsibility to reach out in evangelization, because they can so easily and conveniently send money to another congregation to make its undertakings possible on a greater scale. If responsibility could be transferred so easily, it would certainly be an easy way to get to heaven, but we know that such is not the case. At the same time, I would not preclude the advisability and need in some instances, for two or more churches to share responsibility in taking care of a great expense, which is beyond the power of one alone. As a specific example, I mention the use of a local television station, which, as a means of communication, reaches far beyond the confines of one community, and through which all churches within its limits may profit. The principle of not "muzzling the ox which treadeth out the corn" would certainly grant the benefiting churches the right to help share in the expense, if they so desire.

4. At the present, I am seriously wondering whether the good accomplished by the program is equal to the harm that it is producing to the body, especially since it must be admitted by all that that particular program is by no means essential to the growth of the kingdom. I would oppose it in that sense because, "... if thy brother be grieved with thy meat. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." I realize that somewhere even this principle has a limit, but it is one that I think should be taken into consideration in the matter under consideration.

5. It makes the churches who contribute at least partially answerable for the things that are preached on the program. We assume that it would always be the truth, but if it should not be, the churches contributing to the expense of the program would be "a partaker of his deeds," to the same extent that a Christian must bear some answerability for what any organization does, to whom he belongs, regardless of whether he approves the thing itself or not.

6. I am confident, in my own mind, that the introductory phrase, "The churches of Christ salute you with the Herald of Truth," or any statement of like nature, would convey, to the sectarian mind, the idea that this program is the "official voice" of the churches of Christ, even though it were not intended as such. This, by itself, would strongly militate against its use, in my thinking.

I hope that my "opposition" to the Herald of Truth is now clear to everyone, and I make these suggestions for whatever they may be worth. I think they must surely set forth the great gulf between Brother Douthitt and me, although I would consider it a great honor to be in agreement with him on all things, could our beliefs make that possible. I must, then, gently but firmly disengage the fingers that would claim me as an ally.

Brother Douthitt states that I devoted my "entire article to finding fault with his colleague's endeavor to prove that church autonomy is surrendered and violated!' While my article was not intended to be fault-find, with the implications of that phrase, I believe that Brother Douthitt does correctly state the issue between me and him, and, so far as I know at present, the only one; viz., whether sending funds to Highland to be used in the expense of the H of T program constitutes a violation of church autonomy.

I am not aware, however, that in taking issue with some of his statements, I must set up an alternate position. Surely I have the right to disagree with a stated position, and the difference between us is one in which Brother Douthitt has taken the initiative by asserting a position. The burden of proof, then, lies upon him, and not upon me. My only purpose in answering his article at all was to raise some questions regarding his assertion that a violation of church autonomy is taking place. He is attempting to assume the very thing that must be proved, and which is the point at issue. So far as I have been able to ascertain, my questions are still unanswered, and the assertion unproved. Asking "why?" someone else does not answer questions serves no purpose, so far as the one so inquiring is concerned, but to divert attention from himself.

Brother Douthitt states that my second big blunder "consists in his claim that contributing churches retain control over their funds, when it is the contributors who decide whether to make a contribution and how much." He states that I offered no proof of this claim. Why should I have to? Circumstances and facts speak for themselves. It is his job to prove that, when nothing more than an exchange of funds takes place, under the conditions stipulated, that this constitutes a violation of church autonomy. I patiently await a detailed analysis and explanation of this matter.

He takes exception to the statement by the Highland elders that they "have never delegated any authority" to anyone and makes it appear that either I or they must be wrong. Quite the contrary. We are both correct. They have never given the congregation here any "authority," and I am equally certain that the congregation here has never given them any. I fail to see where the question of "authority" even enters into the discussion.

I am asked, "Now will Brother Smethers tell us that the contributors to the Society do not surrender their autonomy, but 'retain control over their funds'?" No, I wouldn't tell anybody that the contributors to the Society do not do that, but I would tell them that it will take more than financial gifts to constitute a violation of church autonomy. Are you suggesting that financial resources are the only relationship between a society made .up of member churches?

Under so-called blunder No. 3 exception is taken to my statement that "The reason for sending in no way justifies nor changes the principles and mechanics of what is done." My statement was taken completely out of context, which was a concern solely with whether the mere exchange of funds violates church autonomy. Brother Douthitt asserts that it does, and I pointed out that, if that were true, then we can draw no other conclusion than that church autonomy was violated by the funds being sent to the churches of Judea. An illustration is valid only so long as it is faithful to the thing being illustrated, so the matters of hypocritical alms-giving and a man buying tobacco with money from the church have no application here whatever. My point still stands unchallenged and the fact that this is characterized as the "biggest blunder of all" leads me to the conclusion that the force of the argument hit home!!

His statement that churches today are "sending money for the purpose of making another church the sole authority in a brotherhood charity project to which all the churches are related equally" contains FOUR assertions which are without justification or proof, and which are contrary to fact!!!

To Brother Douthitt's following statement, may I add a most hearty "Amen!": "Every church has a work which is strictly its own, and to which it bears a relationship that no other church bears. In case of famine . . . . a church might need the financial assistance of other churches to provide funds for its own work." Very true. And so long as the Highland elders continue to direct the program under its present arrangement it is their work. Now, it is true that that work is made possible in its scope by the assistance of brethren, but that same thing would be true of a congregation which must call for financial help to rebuild a wrecked building. It is their work (he concedes), but it is still made possible by the financial help of loving brethren and the work does not become the brethren's just because they send money to it. Brother Douthitt claims as much himself.

I concur also with his statement: "There is also another kind of church work: a work to which all churches in the brotherhood bear the same relationship." This is exactly true of churches, which are members of a missionary society, but, Brother Douthitt, you surely are not suggesting that churches sending money to Highland is an example of that!!! How many congregations bear the same relationship to the Herald of Truth that Highland does? Name one.

Under so-called blunder No. 4 it is said, "Brother Smethers claims that a church does not surrender its autonomy, if it voluntarily turns its funds over to another. He contends a church must be forced .... to give up its funds . . . . in order to constitute a surrender of autonomy."

I did not necessarily say that a group which donated funds did not surrender their autonomy; what I was saying was that it takes more than this simple act to constitute a violation of autonomy. The illustration of the brother borrowing money, which I gave in my first article, sets forth the principle with which I was concerned, and those questions never received an answer of any kind. The only attempt to deal with them was by conjuring up an "illustration" which did not touch the real questions under consideration.

It is asserted, "The relinquishing of control must (his emphasis — W.S.) be voluntary, in order to constitute a surrender of autonomy." What about the Jews under Roman rule during the time of Christ? Did they have their autonomy? Did they surrender "voluntarily"? By your statement, since they had been forcibly overcome, they still had their autonomy!!!

I think these remarks give sufficient answers to so-called blunders Nos. 4 and 5, and raise some more questions to be answered.

Brother Douthitt grants that the H of T is not the sole authority for conducting all the radio and television programs all over the world. Very well. I ask, then, in return, "Why argue against it as though it were?" Nearly every objection raised contains the words "sole authority," "brotherhood project," or some similar phrase. If it is to be condemned, let us at least do it on legitimate grounds.

In closing there is one other matter from Brother Douthitt's article to which I wish to humbly call attention for the benefit of any and all brethren who might be concerned in this or any other discussion.

The hope was expressed that I am "not the pouting type that gets angry at every brother who tries to show him the error of his way, and that he will not droop his lip, or hide, his face in his elbow and go about whining" and that I would "accord" the same privilege to criticize my article and "not get mad." I do most gladly accord anyone that privilege, and, while I am not certain that this entire description was being directed at me alone, I cannot help but wonder that any breath of suggestion or question should be raised to the contrary, especially since it is admitted that Brother Douthitt and I are complete strangers, and in the face of a complete lack of evidence that I would so act. Granting that others may have done so, is that any reason to suggest that I would?

Such words could only prejudice the impartial reader to my disadvantage, or that of others in like situations, and to the spiritual detriment of the one who utters them. May we remember that those who live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit love one another and are to be "not easily provoked; thinketh no evil . . . . Believeth all things, hopeth all things . . . ." (1 Cor. 13:5-7.) Under these principles I see how we can, in justice and love, do nothing else than to expect love and courtesy at the hands of brethren, until evidence proves otherwise.

I constantly make it a matter of prayer to the Father, that, thought my argument may wax hot in words against a viewpoint, my passions toward the opponent preserve the calmness and spirit of the mind of the Master at all times. I trust that others will do so as well.