Report From Korea: Burton Coffman's "Mission"
Brother Burton Coffman is presently touring the Far East Command as a representative of the Chief of Chaplains. The purpose of his trip is to conduct "missions" at ten different Air Force Bases in Japan and Korea. The church at Kokura invited Brother Coffman to preach for us on Sunday, October 4, 1953, and he consented to do so.
Previous to Brother Coffman's visit to Kokura I had never heard him speak. I had read of his work, and considered him to be a sound, faithful preacher of the word of God. I do not know how Brother Coffman preaches in the States, but to say that we were greatly disappointed in his preaching at Kokura is putting it mildly. In fact he did not preach, even though we invited him to do so. He made a short talk in which he encouraged us to cooperate with the Chaplain in the Chaplain's work. He mentioned that we should minimize the differences between ourselves and the Chaplain and cooperate with him on "common ground." It just happens that the local Chaplain is a Methodist who preaches and practices all the unscriptural doctrines peculiar to the Methodist Church in the States. We also have a Catholic Chaplain, and on occasion a Jewish Chaplain. Brother Coffman did not specify whether we should cooperate with all the Chaplains or just the Methodist Chaplain.
That evening we drove to Ashiya Air Base to attend the "mission." As we entered the Base Chapel, recorded organ music was being played. At the appointed time, the Chaplain (a Disciples of Christ preacher) read a scripture, led prayer, and officiated at the Lord's Supper for those who desired to partake. Following the Lord's Supper, the "mission" was officially opened. Several songs were sung, accompanied by the piano. Then Brother Coffman mounted the pulpit and brought the lesson of the evening, based on the seven sayings of Christ on the cross. Near the end of the sermon, Brother Coffman casually mentioned baptism. Then the invitation song was sung, accompanied by the piano.
After the services my wife and I asked Brother Coffman why he did not request the Chaplain to dispense with the instrument during the "mission." Brother Coffman replied in substance: "This is not my service. I do not object to the instrument. In fact I'm glad they have it." This fits in with what he had said that afternoon at Kokura, which substantially was: "I can worship where the instrument is used. When instrumental music is used, only two people are sinning — the one who plays the instrument and the one who authorized its use. I have been preaching baccalaureate sermons all over the South for the past 25 years, so the use of instrumental music does not bother me." Brother Coffman stated he did not care to discuss the matter further, and then left us.
We also attended the second night of the "mission." Brother Coffman's message was based on the prodigal son. It was a very touching message, and as far as I could tell, he never wavered one iota from the truth. But his sermon was the typical "Chaplain" message, designed to touch people, but containing nothing which would point out to a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or anybody else that sectarianism was wrong. He did mention near the end of his sermon that people should be baptized. But his casual mention of it was in such a way that denominational people who were sprinkled or immersed for unscriptural reasons would have no knowledge that such was wrong, and would have no desire to be scripturally baptized.
There are a few small groups of loyal Christians in Japan and Korea who are earnestly trying to uphold New Testament Christianity. We meet each Lord's Day to worship the Lord and study his word. We do not in any way cooperate with or render encouragement to the Chaplains. We cannot do so with clear consciences. Chaplain services are conducted by denominational preachers who preach and practice unscriptural doctrines. They use instrumental music, practice sprinkling, teach and practice infant baptism, omit (generally) the Lord's Supper, and do all the other things common to sectarian churches in the States. We are trying to point out to weak members the dangers of the Chaplain service. And then along comes Brother Coffman, who not only encourages them to attend the Chaplain services, but enters wholeheartedly into their unscriptural services.
If a person can worship God acceptably in a Chapel service, then he can worship acceptably in any Methodist, Baptist, Holiness, or any other denominational service. In that case we should just abandon our "where the Bible speaks we speak" plea, and go whole-hog into this cooperation business. But this we cannot do. God's word says, "In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men." (Matthew 15:9) In order to please God we must live and teach the truth as found in God's word, and this we cannot do by cooperating in the Chaplain service or with any other service where God's word is cast aside in favor of the traditions and doctrines of men.
Roland Johnson Capt., US Army
5th Service Group APO 8, c/o PM
San Francisco, California