Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 30, 1958

The Threat Of Modernism

In 1950, Brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Wrote These Words In Torch:

"The movement toward modernism in our own ranks the past decade is cause for a note of alarm. Among the preachers of certain schools or groups, of class or caste, the modernistic tendency is more than a trend — it is an organized development. Twenty - five years ago a fine-toothed comb could not curry a modernist out of the church of Christ; but today we can take a hayrake and bale them up. One of the first indications is a general looseness in attitude toward conformity, a non-strictness in regard to essentials. Modernism has definite and unmistakable marks."

His statements were certainly true then and the situation has steadily grown worse. We can today "take a hayrake and bale up" modernists within our ranks. The situation is not simply alarming, but it is time that we were taking stock of the situation and doing something constructive about it. Truly the church is in grave danger along this line. There is no more effective way for truth to be destroyed and the church to be led into sectarianism and infidelity than by the modernistic route. Without doubt modernism is the basic trouble involved in all the problems before the church today. It should be worth our while to study this matter.

What Is Modernism?

Difficulty is at once encountered when one tries to define this term. Perhaps each one has his own definition and these would vary greatly. Brother Frank Pack wrote as follows:

"One hears the word 'modernism' used on every hand, and yet it is rather hard to define what it is in a few words. This is due largely to the fact that modernism is not a single system of ideas, but a collection of related but varying philosophies all sharing similar basic presuppositions. One modernist may not agree with another on many points and still occupy the same point of view in matters of religion. Sometimes it is called liberalism, although this is a very ambiguous term, and the more definite and accurate term is modernism." (Gospel Advocate, June 28, 1951)

In an article in the Gospel Advocate, August 1, 1946,

Brother H. Leo Boles defined the term in these words:

"Modernism is just another name for infidelity. It is infidelity trying to parade itself in the livery of scholarship and religion. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The threadbare claims and the oft-answered arguments of such men as Celsus, Porphyry, and other ancient enemies of Christianity have been revived and revamped and dispensed to a gullible people as the 'assured results of modern scholarship' Satan and his henchmen have well learned that an outspoken infidel, like Paine or Ingersoll, is not so effective as the contemporary type which poses as 'angels of light.' Infidelity is more acceptable when presented A LA FOSDICK than when delivered A LA INGERSOLL."

Modernism, then, is not a doctrine or system of ideas that can be defined, circumscribed or pin-pointed exactly and fully. The reason is that modernism is more of an ATTITUDE. It is a trend of thinking. It is an attitude toward things divine. In varying degrees it consists in irreverence for that which is holy and sacred, and puts trust in and reliance upon human wisdom.

Modernism is found in varying degrees. In its incipiency it is hard to recognize definitely, but like cancer, as it develops and increases it can be clearly recognized. Let us bear in mind that it is not a peculiar teaching like faith only or total depravity. There is no creedal statement of it which would be accepted by all. It manifests itself in divers ways. Because it is not a clear-cut and well-defined doctrine, with its peculiar tenets, it is harder to identify and classify — especially in its early stages.

The term modernism is really a misnomer, since it indicates something modern, new and up-to-date. This is not true for there is nothing new or modern about it. Neither is it up-to-date. It is nothing more than infidelity and unbelief parading in a new dress. This attitude and trend of thinking has manifested itself in all ages. It has been the underlying spirit of denominationalism and it accounts for many of the unscriptural practices that have developed. Modernism has invaded the church of the Lord. With the Bible in one hand and the "scissors of infidelity in the other, many preachers have left their spiritual moorings and are leading thousands of unsuspecting souls to perdition. Perhaps in a larger measure than any of us realize and can know, modernism is responsible for most of the trouble in the church today.

Modernism Has Definite And Unmistakable Marks

All modernists and those with definite modernistic trends, talk and act just alike in many respects. They are hard to "pin down." They do not like to be examined or questioned closely and will weasel out of it in almost any way possible. They are studious experts at equivocation and duplicity. They make a play on words and terms, often using the same words we do but giving the words (in their mind, at least) an entirely different meaning from the ordinary and accepted meaning. They all feign to be misunderstood because they are so highly educated that ordinary mortals just cannot grasp their line of thought. They pride themselves on their scholastic attainments and what they fancy as a deep insight into the true spirit of Jesus and His teaching. They are puffed up with their own learning. However, they always make quiet a display of their seeming piety and humility. They appear to be the very essence of sweetness and goodness — at least, until they are crossed, questioned and cornered! Then, and usually not till then, do they show their true colors. They love everybody! They are so nice and polite in their preaching that they would not dare make a positive statement about anything. They will call the sectarian preachers "brother," and call on them to lead prayer at the services. They will be found attending and participating in denominational services and union meetings. On and on we could go enumerating these marks.

Two Sources Of Modernism

There are at least two sources from which such an attitude springs and makes its inroad into the church. First and foremost is through what is called "higher education." The clamor of the day is for what many call "an educated ministry." They mean we need preachers who have obtained "higher education," and scholastic recognition from the big, recognized universities. Thus, we have the mad craze for degrees among preachers! We have dozens of preachers now with a Ph. D. degree which they earned in "preparing for the ministry." Of course, when some man has such a degree he wants the honor that goes along with it; hence, there are those today who are parading their station openly and all but demanding that they be called "Doctor." In earning such degrees, most of these men have been exposed to all the modernism and infidelity of the day. It has been taught to them! In many instances much of it has been absorbed and used. Evidences of its use are found on every hand today. These men have learned all about such subjects as "Biblical Criticism," "Theology" of various kinds; and a lot of other "stuff" having to do with what some man thinks or has written. They learn but precious little about what Jesus actually did and taught and what His inspired apostles have written. They know more about what some great religious thinker of the past has said or some modern "divine" has advanced pertaining to Bible matters, than they do about "the way, the truth and the life." Some have dipped their cups so deeply in the well of human wisdom that their admiration for human philosophy or the leading "thinker" of the time, crowds out their mediations upon the Sacred Oracles.

A second source from which the attitude comes is that age-old craving on the part of man to be like the world round about and fashion the religion of Jesus so as to make it pleasing and acceptable to the world. They would lead the church out of the wilderness and into a respected place in the eyes of the world. The New Testament teaching that we are to be a peculiar people, distinct and separate from the world, does not fit into their "educated" thinking.

Many Have Left Us

Many of those who were exposed to the infidelity of "higher education," have made complete and RECOGNIZED shipwreck of the faith. They have left the church for other groups where they will not feel nor have any restrictions.

Ralph Wilburn, who was the head of the Bible department at George Pepperdine College in Los Angeles for several years, is a finished product of modernism. He got his Ph. D. at one of the recognized schools specializing in "higher education" in religion. The fruition of his thinking was several years in developing, but it finally came out for all that it is. He finally left the church and joined the liberal wing of the Christian church.

For several years before his departure, Wilburn's liberal and modernistic teaching was exposed time and time again. He was defended to the very last by many preachers. Wilburn was allowed full freedom in some gospel (?) papers to air his ideas. His sympathizers talked about how badly he was mistreated and misunderstood; and about how the "Guardian angels" and the "keepers of orthodoxy" in the church were trying to ruin him! This same sort of whine goes up in all similar cases. Even after Wilburn's apostasy and the rankness of his attitude finally and fully revealed itself, his defenders felt no qualm of conscience. The same group and those of kindred spirit are upholding and defending those among us today who are walking in Wilburn's footsteps.

There have been at least a dozen more preachers who were under the same influence that Wilburn was in Chicago, who have left the church also. There are still some who are hanging on and being upheld and supported by brethren. It looks like modernism has to be full-blown into outright infidelity for most people in the church to recognize it for what it is.

Let me hasten to add just here that one does not have to attend one of these schools of "higher education" in order to be a modernist, even though that is the surest way of becoming such. All that one needs to do is to adopt the same trend of thinking; become effected with the same attitude and begin to exalt reason above revelation even in the "smaller matters of the law," and he is well on the way.

Modernism is based upon at least two things: (1) Man's high opinion of himself; his dependence upon and faith in his own wisdom and knowledge; that everything must be explained in the light of human reasoning and philosophy; and (2) man's lack of trust and faith in the infallible Word of God as the absolute standard of truth in all religious matters. This attitude and the doubtings of one may seem insignificant at first, but the infection is at work. The doubts grow bigger. Human reason takes over and little by little strips the mind of faith and respect for what God says. This position is never reached overnight nor in a few days. It takes time for it to grow and develop. If this attitude and trend of thinking is not arrested in the early stages, it will almost certainly lead to outright unbelief.

Never Met A Modernist

I have never met a man who would acknowledge that he was a modernist! Have you? They all deny it. I doubt that Ralph Wilburn, James Warren or any of the others who have departed from the faith would admit that they are such even now. They would likely affirm that they believe the Bible and all it teaches! Indeed all modernists make this claim. But Jesus said, "By their fruit ye shall know them," and we know that actions speak louder than words. Only by this means can it be established that one is a modernist — of any degree.

Another Victim Of This Disease

Most of the readers of this paper are familiar with Brother Leroy Garrett and his work during the last few years. A few years ago, Leroy was what might be called "ultra-conservative" in many respects. He was such a stickler for following the teaching of the Bible that he leaned over backwards on some points and began to magnify them out of proportion to the extent that he became well-known as a "hobbyist." But that was before Leroy "got educated!" Now it is different. It does not seem to matter about anything now. Back then Leroy thought almost no one could be saved; now he thinks nearly everyone can and will be!

Leroy has now been awarded his Ph. D. degree from Harvard. Even during the time that he was studying toward this degree, those of us who read his paper could see some radical changes taking place in his thinking. Now that he has become a "Doctor" he is even more bold in advancing his modernism. No doubt he was treated to all sorts of modernism and infidelity in coming through for this degree. It seems that he may have put up a slight struggle in trying to ward it off and keep his faith intact, but Leroy failed ingloriously. What a shame. But this should serve as another warning to us regarding the danger we face along this line.

Leroy's erstwhile friends in Dallas have withdrawn fellowship from him completely because of his modernism. About the only ones who now stand with him and use him are Carl Ketcherside and Buff Scott — and judging by some of the things I read in their papers they may have swallowed some of Leroy's modernism (his trend of thinking) without even realizing it. At least, they are going along the same line upon which Leroy started.

Sometime ago some of Leroy's friends tried on several occasions to talk with him about these matters. He was reluctant to do so. They had heard him teach things that smacked of modernism to them. Finally they did get him into a discussion and the discussion was recorded. I have listened to the tapes of the discussion. Also, a tape recording of a debate that Leroy had with one of these men. It is amazing to hear the positions that Leroy took and the positions to which he was driven. If there ever was any such thing as a modernist, Leroy Garrett is one! I wish that it could be possible for all to hear his admissions and positions from the tape. That is impossible, but I do want to give some of them here in abbreviated form. I will give some direct quotations from him as we go along.

For example Leroy said: "Man's baptism is immaterial anyway, as long as he is following his available 'light." He was being questioned about what he believed about one whose investigation of the Bible had not led him to baptism. In the same connection he also said: "A man is exempt or offered freedom from hell, or he is not condemned because he has been faithful to all the light he has." Leroy has accepted the philosophy that so long as one lives up to what he may think is right then it will be accepted by God. This is called "the principle of available light." This puts a premium on ignorance and the less one knows the better off he would be. If one has no "light" at all then he is better off than anyone.

He was asked concerning a Methodist who had been sprinkled, but had lived up to his "available light." He answered as follows: "I would have to say to that, that it would be consistent to my thinking and the character of God, that such a person might well receive clemency." This means that one may be "excused" from obeying God's command to be baptized. Yet some weeks ago, Leroy got rather indignant at me for stating in this paper that he did not believe that baptism for the remission of sins is really necessary.

Here is another sample of his reasoning: "It is inconceivable to me ... that certain sincere ones that I have known, like Martin Luther, his great struggle for truth, he didn't have all the advantages that we have. You boys do not love people enough." His point was that Martin Luther would be saved according to his conception of things.

He also said that it was inconceivable to him that Mahatma Gandhi could be lost. After all, he was a great leader and "freed India on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount." He said that he could not conceive of a man like Tolstoy, who wrote the book, WAR AND PEACE, being lost. He acknowledged that Tolstoy rejected certain parts of the New Testament as inspired, but his "available light" had led him to accept all of God's word!

He was asked if Billy Graham was a false teacher. He replied: "I really do not know if he is or not — haven't much business passing judgment. I have heard him preach many times and I heard nothing false according to my man knowledge."

Modernism has so affected Leroy's thinking that he said, "It might well be true that one who has been sprinkled may receive clemency." In fact, he went on to say, "Anybody might receive clemency, even a man who doesn't believe in Christ." Leroy gave an affirmative answer to the following question: "Do you believe an infidel whose investigation has not yet caused him to believe in Christ might go to heaven?"

As Leroy was pressed further he became more and more and more incensed and indignant. Finally he terminated his part with trying to insult and belittle the intelligence of the ones questioning him. He made such remarks as these: "You haven't studied enough need more teaching do not know enough are like little fish swimming around grabbing at something, nibble around .... You are just not capable of understanding it ... You do not love people enough ... You are too narrow, too sectarian, too clannish ... This is so obvious it makes me feel silly trying to explain it to you."

Leroy has moved from Dallas and is now teaching in some college in Jacksonville, Illinois. Let all be warned concerning Brother Garrett.

Thus we have another case of one who has made shipwreck of the faith. It is a sad story that has been oft-repeated in history and we shall see others follow the same path. If we could only help to bring him back to the simple faith in Christ and His word that he once knew, but that seems to be beyond any possibility. He is too far gone into unbelief. The sad thing is that Leroy is not the only one who has been thus infected with this malady. Some are about as far gone, but others have not advanced that far — YET! Give them time.

Let us take warning while there is time. Those who are spending precious hours in the schools of theology and religion getting "higher education," should take note of such things. This may well be your fate. "Can one take fire into his bosom and not be burned." Why take the chance? Is it necessary to go through such an ordeal in preparing to preach the gospel? While our preachers need to be educated men, let them be educated in the right thing and in the right way — in the knowledge of what is written in God's Book and the simple faith to believe all it says, just what it says and in the way it says it. One who is preparing for other fields, such as medicine and law, will encounter much of the same attitude in the schools he attends to obtain his "higher education," but it is especially in the realm of religion and closely related subjects that one is most exposed to such. And it is all useless and perhaps vain. Let us think seriously about this matter. To be robbed of one's faith is the worse thing that can happen to anyone. "Lord, increase our faith," for "faith is the victory that overcomes the world." May God help us.