Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 2, 1963
NUMBER 1, PAGE 6,10a

Religious Reverberations

James W. Adams, 3105 N. W. 35Th Place, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Inquisition Or Indulgence? Foreword

The editor of the Gospel Guardian has suggested that we write regularly on "what is going on in the religious world outside the borders of our own people — the problems, questions, happenings, personalities, etc. of the religious world in general as it clashes with the non-religious philosophies and ideologies." We have agreed to do this and shall write under the general heading, "Religious Reverberations."

Tremendous and far-reaching changes are taking place in the world. The world of religion, as always, is reflecting the seething, shifting characteristics of the age, the world about it. Modes of thought, time honored doctrines, cherished traditions, theological nomenclature, and motivating objectives are undergoing a thorough renovation. Such changes are never painless, hence we constantly hear reverberations of their impact upon our religious neighbors. Churches of the Lord are not immune to the changes in the political social, economic, and religious world about them. The reverberations of this explosion are being felt already in ever increasing intensity. Within the past decade, radical changes have taken place in the thinking, teaching and function of churches of Christ that have been set in motion by the metamorphosis which has taken place in the world about us. We, therefore, shall not in this column simply occupy the role of an eavesdropper but that of an interested contemporary whose own security might well be affected by and involved in that which is occurring.

The Initial View

As a beginning, let us have a look at our Baptist neighbors. Despite radical differences in teaching and practice, there is probably more affinity between Baptists and members of the churches of Christ than between us and members of any other religious body. Like us, Baptists have been for many generations militantly fundamental and relatively independent. Of the major denominations of the world that have been regarded as "protestant" (Baptists deny that they are protestants.) the Baptist have more successfully resisted the encroachment of modernism and ecumenicism than any other. However, there are signs that there are militant forces deeply entrenched in the Baptist fold which propose radical reformation of traditional Baptist teaching and practice. Baptists are faced with a choice that will have tremendous impact on their future. They must institute an inquisition ("heresy hunt" as the public press describes it) or they must grant indulgence to their would be reformers and their efforts at renovation of the Baptist position. We anxiously await the outcome.

The Point Of Attack

The schools of higher learning, the Theological Seminaries, have been the breeding ground for the attack on orthodox Baptist teaching and practice. By orthodox we mean the traditional Baptist position. From this source have come most of the troubles that have afflicted all religious bodies.

The fundamentalist positions of the Baptists with reference to the supernatural element of religion such as plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, the Genesis account of creation, the virgin birth of Christ, etc. have become an embarrassment to a segment of the learned doctors of the Baptist fraternity. To them it is a reflection upon the quality of their scholarship and places them in a position of inferiority to be identified with a body of people that is militantly fundamental. They regard the supernatural concepts in the realm of religion as belonging to an outmoded age of superstition and ignorance. They therefore propose a more "enlightened and scholarly" (?) approach to these matters.

Dr. Ralph Elliott, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary at Kansas City, Kansas, has written a book, "The Message of Genesis," which according to the secular press "depicts the story of the creation as symbolic rather than literal." As a result, Dr. Elliott has been fired from his position. This has sparked a controversy that has reached the top, the national convention of the Southern Baptists.

The Handling Of The Controversy

It has been most interesting to observe the handling of this controversy. We believe that the manner in which this matter has been handled is significant and presages some dark days for fundamentalism among the Baptists. On the one hand, there have been wild cries of, "Heresy!" But on the other hand, among the more learned and powerful men in the Baptist fraternity, there has been a studied calm. Their expressions are reserved and cautious. We hear from them such expressions as "academic freedom," "freedom of thought," "heresy hunt," and "revise statements of faith." The Southern Baptist Convention is to convene May 7-10 in Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs, pastor of the First Baptist Church here in Oklahoma City, is president of the convention. He is also the chairman of the Committee on Baptist Faith and Message.

This committee will present to the convention a report to be approved by the "messengers" of the Southern Baptist churches as a guide to churches in dealing with such matters as the position of Dr. Elliott and others. We are anxious to see these recommendations. All indications are that they will encourage indulgence rather than inquisition.

Another Controversy

Little has been said about another book that has come from the press among Baptists, "Life In The Son," written by Robert Shank, preacher and college professor. This book attacks the traditional Baptist teaching relative to the "impossibility of apostasy." However, recently in the state of Arkansas near Little Rock, a country Baptist preacher of the Landmark Baptists has openly avowed and preached in his church the possibility of apostasy. A majority of his church approved his teaching. The minority withdrew and sued for the property. The court ruled in favor of the minority on the ground that they represented the views of those who founded the church and that the property was dedicated to the propagation of those views, hence belonged to the minority group.

This promises to set off a general controversy among Baptists. Preachers of the Landmark group approve the action of the court. Southern Baptists of the convention variety have been critical of the court's ruling. Baptists profess to believe in the Independence and autonomy of the congregation. They teach that each church is a democracy. It is their belief that "any group of Baptists. ...have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith...." Since the majority in the Arkansas church with the preacher believe in the "possibility of apostasy," it would appear that from the standpoint of Baptist teaching the majority should hold the property.

An Observation On This Controversy

While we utterly repudiate Baptist theology on the "impossibility of apostasy" and wholeheartedly agree with the position of Mr. Shank on the question, it is our judgment that the attack being made on the doctrine is probably a result, not of a desire to be more scriptural in teaching, but of disbelief in supernatural religion. Mr. Shank himself may be, and probably is, completely sincere in attacking the doctrine on a scriptural basis, but it is our judgment that the ultimate inspiration for his thinking along this line has probably come from a source with a deep aversion to anything supernatural in religion.

The doctrine of "the impossibility of apostasy" is based on two other concepts and inseparable from them; namely, (1) inherent total depravity and (2) the miraculous conversion of the sinner by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon his soul. A modernist could not possibly accept as true either of these concepts, hence could not accept the theory of "the impossibility of apostasy." We think it altogether probable therefore that the inspiration for the attack on this cardinal principle of Baptist theology is "modernism" in Baptist ranks rather than a healthy desire to bring their teaching into harmony with Bible truth. The country preacher in Arkansas no doubt acted on the basis of what the Bible teaches and has become an unwitting accomplice of his subtle, modernistic brethren. We await with much interest general Baptist reaction. Will they institute an inquisition or will they grant indulgence? They stand at the crossroads. Will they abdicate to the modernists or will they remain militantly fundamental and Independent?

— 3105 N. W. 35th Place, Oklahoma City, Okla.