Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 24, 1959
NUMBER 20, PAGE 4-5a

The Voice Of Authority


Is there any thoughtful disciple among us who has not become increasingly aware these last few years of the aura of authority and the respectful reverence with which we have surrounded the idea of "scholarship"? The articles by Brother Cogdill in review of Doctor Thomas and by Brother Ed Harrell in review of Doctor Roberts point up what we are talking about. Brethren are all too prone to accord authority to "scholarship" rather than to truth.

And sometimes that "scholarship" is a mighty thin and watered-down version of the genuine article. As witness the two doctors under review. Somehow, many brethren have confused "doctor" with "truth", and are under the impression that you can't have one without the other. This vaporous halo of authority emanating from the title "doctor" has become so powerful that some brethren seem to feel they absolutely cannot run a school (or edit a paper) without first being "doctored" by somebody. It is a bit silly, of course, not to mention being pompous and petty.

A "doctor" may be an absolute ignoramus outside his chosen field. Doctor J. W. Roberts, for example, is not an authority at all in the field of the social gospel — as witness Brother Ed Harrell's expos of his illuminating misinformation in that field. Dr. Roberts got his doctorate in Greek; that does not make him an authority on every question that might be of interest. He knows little of the social gospel, either as to its origin, development, or philosophy. His speech at the ACC lectures last spring shows him to be possessed of an equally monumental ignorance of the Restoration Movement. He sought to prove that the "sponsoring church" type of cooperative has always been an accepted apparatus among the churches opposing the Missionary Societies, and has never been seriously questioned. He refers to the excellent tract by Earl West on the subject entitled "Congregational Cooperation — A Historical Study", and dismisses it with the belittling comment: "This speaker believes that a comparison of this paper with Brother West's study will reveal a lack of accuracy in his analysis of the facts about congregational cooperation in the history of the Restoration Movement." (Unto All The World, — p. 236, footnote.)

There you have it! Doctor Roberts has a Ph. D. (in Greek); therefore he can speak with the voice of authority in ANY realm, be it the social gospel, Restoration history, the Bible, agriculture, Shakespeare, or atomic fission. He lists the two reasons why the Missionary Society was wrong as being (a) violation of congregational independence, and (b) violation of congregational autonomy. Both of which objections arise out of abuses of the Society, and are not inherent in such an organization at all.

Concerning the famous "Henderson incident" of 1910, in which the West Tennessee brethren tried to launch a "sponsoring church" cooperative, and which was killed by Lipscomb's opposition, Doctor Roberts says:

"This whole incident is a complex one, and I suggest that the interested student read the entire exchange between Brother West and Brother Brewer on the affair in the Gospel Advocate of 1953. Brother Brewer showed that what Brother Lipscomb objected to was not that it was proposed that churches cooperate through the Henderson church. His objection was that the meeting had been called not by the Henderson church to present what it could and wanted to do, but by a group of self-appointed preachers....

And it might be good for the "interested student" (including Doctor Roberts) also to read Earl West's final rejoinder to Brother Brewer's contention, which Goodpasture refused to print. Brother Brewer had relied on his "memory" of certain conversations with Lipscomb himself as they appeared in the Gospel Advocate at the time! And Brewer's memory of a rather casual conversation which had taken place forty-three years before in Doctor Roberts, judgment is to be accorded greater weight than Lipscomb's own statement of his objection, written down and printed by himself at the time! All of this is evident in West's rejoinder to Brewer (which Goodpasture refused to print), and which is included as the final chapter in the tract by West published by the Gospel Guardian Company, and entitled "Congregational Cooperation."

Let not the "doctors" among us think that a few obstreperous "Guardianites" are the only people who are aware of their silly pretentions to "authority", and are a bit fed up with this idea that a Ph. D. degree is the hall-mark of truth and soundness. There are undoubtedly thousands upon thousands of faithful Christians who never look inside the pages of this journal, indeed, who probably don't even know it exists, who are nauseated at the vain and bombastic air of superiority which the "doctors" (both genuine and synthetic — earned and honorary) parade before us. In their own view they love to consider themselves as "trained thinkers", but in the view of innumerable brethren they are but living examples of the same folly Paul spoke of when he wrote: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."

The only "authority" known to the Christian is the authority of truth — truth as it is set forth in the word of the living God. No "doctor" on earth is entitled to one iota of respect or deference in matters religious except as he speaks the truth. The same goes for college presidents, papers, editors, publishers, and all the rest. No journal, no matter how ancient and "reliable", or how new and "scholarly" or how faithful and "sound" is to be accorded any respect at all except as it publishes TRUTH. Authority lies in truth, not in titles, degrees, and reputations.

The Social Gospel

Both Doctor Thomas and Doctor Roberts have expressed themselves through the Gospel Advocate concerning the "social gospel" — and both have revealed a considerable misinformation as to what the "social gospel" is its origin, basic ideals, and development. Brother Harrell's article will, we hope, give them their first knowledge that the "social gospel" is not the simple, black-and-white product of "rank modernism" which they smugly have conceived it to be. Their own confidence in their scholarship has betrayed them into statements which would prove tremendously embarrassing to less confident (and more scholarly) writers. Particularly do we want to emphasize Brother Harrell's statement that "Almost invariably the result of the social gospel movement was a softening of the spiritual emphasis in conservative theologies." That is what we have been saying all the time. Preoccupation with youth camps, recreation centers, church dinners, benevolence institutions, educational endeavors, talent shows, will inevitably weaken the preaching on spiritual themes. The emphasis will be "this worldly" rather than "other worldly". A compromise in doctrinal teaching sometimes precedes this emphasis on social projects — and sometimes follows it! Our good doctors are both apparently completely unaware of this last named fact — a truism that even beginning students in the history of doctrine know perfectly well.

Anyhow, we sincerely hope that the Cogdill articles in review of Doctor Thomas and the Harrell article in review of Doctor Roberts will at least make some contribution toward encouraging a more honest and more objective treatment by all brethren of those fields wherein their knowledge is limited. A becoming humility is by no means incompatible with true scholarship.

— F. Y. T.