Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 28, 1960
NUMBER 50, PAGE 1,13-14

Some Facts About Harding College - (II.)

Adlai S. Groom, Searcy, Arkansas

Bro. West's Complaint

Bro. West has complained that brethren in opposing his program have shown unwillingness to trust him. That in itself is enough to disparage trust in him, for how long does he expect to be in control of such a school? What assurance does he have that some one later would not get control and use the mechanism he has set up to advance destructive heresies? Frankly, I admit I cannot trust the training of young men to preach with any man who can advise a young man to enter an infidel hotbed to train himself to preach the gospel. According to my view, any man who can do that is either not sound in the faith or not sound in judgment, and either defect by a teacher of young men preparing to preach could result in permanent damage to the Lord's church.

The following excerpt from Bro. West's doctoral thesis will furnish further evidence to some people as to why there is some lack of trust in Bro. West's ability to set up and maintain a training center for church leaders. In discussing Bible interpretation he wrote: "Interpretation is a universal phenomenon. A traveler stands before the pyramids of Egypt in amazement and observes them in the light of his own experiences. A party of tourists behold Niagara Falls at the same time and listen collectively to an identical guide but see them individually and differently. In the mausoleum of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, is a reproduction in glass of Leonardo De Vinci's Last Supper. With groups the author has looked on this meaningful picture a number of times. It spoke to them with a personal and individual voice, translating them into another world, bringing memories of the past and dreams of the future. These phenomena characterize life in all its relationships. This is echoed in the frequently heard utterance, 'I see it this way and he sees it that way'. Two persons may sit side by side in the same auditorium and listen to one speaker under similar environment and each give a different interpretation of the speech. The same book may be read by a number of individuals and be understood similarly or dissimilarly as each one may interpret.

Interpretation of the written word began as early as it was written, especially, when the word became normative. This is true in the legal, civil, social, and religious world. Beginning with the Egyptian Book of the Dead and ending with the latest Bible of the twentieth century religious cult an enormous amount of labor has been devoted to the interpretation of the bibles of mankind, which an endless array of commentaries and thousands of theological and religious works attest. Of all the bibles of mankind the Bible of the Jews and Christians has been unrivaled in expositions. It is said that one writer (Origen) wrote six thousand words, principally in exposition of it. Another illustration of the interpretative attention the Christian Bible has received is revealed in an observation of J. G. Winer that there have been some two hundred fifty interpretations of Gal. 3:20. It should be noted that this statement was made in 1828, more than one hundred years ago. Further convincing evidence of the interpretive notice of the Bible is evident in the more than one hundred separate religious communions in Christendom representing almost the same number of interpretations, at least of certain periscopes of the Bible. No book holds the place occupied by the Christian Bible for number and variety of interpretations."

Of course, Paul had a different idea as to why we have separate religious communions, as indicated by what he wrote in II Tim. 4 and Gal. 1, not to mention Acts 20:29, 30. Bro. West in his thesis gives credit by name to one of the teachers in the Chicago Divinity School for bringing to his attention the value of the historical method of interpretation. If the above excerpt from West's thesis is a fair sample of what such leads to, then deliver me from such a man and such a method. Frankly, I do not believe any infidel has a correct method of Bible interpretation. No wonder West sees no harm in joining the American Association of Theological Schools.

Men like McGarvey, Lipscomb, Harding, and Brewer, did not rely upon a divinity degree for evidence of scholarship but attested their knowledge and ability by their works, the fruit of their labors. It would be somewhat unfair not to mention a recent commendation of the West-Benson program by a professor in the divinity school of Vanderbilt University, who is reported to have said, this school at Memphis was the greatest forward step the churches of Christ had ever taken. This Vanderbilt school is another stronghold of the Modernists, Bro. West and Bro. Benson can have whatever encouragement this commendation offers them. As for me, when one of those fellows says I have taken a step forward, I shall immediately move backward and even change my direction. Jesus said, "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you," and I am willing to leave it to the judgment of my brethren as to whether or not we should beware of that which meets with the wholesome commendation of a teacher of religion in a Modernist school. Bro. Brewer's article in the Gospel Advocate, from which quotations have previously been given in this leaflet, received commendation from many well-known men such as Hall L. Calhoun, J. Paul Slayden, J. N. Armstrong, J. W. Grant, and J. W. Shepherd. When compared with Brewer and men who went on record as agreeing with his views on such matters, many today with high-sounding divinity degrees are mere top-waters when compared to them in Bible knowledge and spiritual depth.

When Bro. West seems inclined to complain about not being trusted by brethren, he should keep in mind that for years Ralph Wilburn was kept in the Bible department at George Pepperdine College while Bro. West was head of that department. Wilburn's corruption with Modernism was well-known at the time and largely was the cause of the brethren's loss of confidence in Pepperdine College. Also, it is somewhat significant that Wilburn left Pepperdine just after West came to Harding. He went to the Christian denomination school, Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma, and began preaching for Christian churches. Within a few years he left Phillips and went to The College of the Bible, Lexington, Kentucky, which was taken over by the Modernists forty years ago. Brethren at Enid told me that Wilburn gave as his reason for leaving Phillips that it was not progressive enough. This is the same man who seemingly was content to remain at Pepperdine under West for many years. How safe is any man at the head of a school that proposes to offer the training of preachers and Bible school teachers, who would tolerate having such a man in his department corrupting young people with his influence and doctrine? Whether West was unable to discharge Wilburn because of the college management, or that he thought he could in time save Wilburn from the error of his way, as he is reported to have said, either alternative will not commend him as a safe guide to young men preparing to preach. In the one instance he clung to unsound management at the risk of human souls and in the other subjected young people to a Modernist Bible teacher while he took years trying to convert him. It is very difficult to understand how a man could be greatly concerned with having a school to keep young men away from the Modernists, when he tolerated such a condition at Pepperdine, and after coming to Harding continued to advise young men to enter the divinity school of the University of Chicago, Where Wilburn got his corruption. Again, I challenge Bro. Benson to admit that he would hire and keep a director of the School of American Studies at Harding who for several years previously had a record of holding a Communist in the department of economics or political science under the excuse he hoped in time to change his views. Yet he tolerates West while he advises young men to attend a Modernist school for religious training to preach and teach. Which is worse: to allow men's souls and those whom they teach to be corrupted with infidelity or to allow prospective teachers of economics or political science to be corrupted? One is dealing with things of earth the other has to deal with heavenly things that are eternal.

Such action as West has followed seems to me to completely disqualify any man even as a teacher of religion not to mention being head of a Bible department. Either he must be unsound in faith or unsound in judgment, and either defect is dangerous to the Lord's church when involved in training men for church work.

Centralization Of Authority

The Lord avoided centralization of authority when he made each congregation independent of others as to control. History shows that the handmaid of doctrinal corruption has been centralization of control one way or another. Any means whereby a few gain control over the many provides a way for the exercise of power to pervert the truth and promote heresies. Without any formal or authoritative grant of power circumstances and conditions can be set up whereby a few men can have undue influence over the churches. The Memphis school offers just such an opportunity for West and the few men who work with him. Are we ready to grant West and Benson the right to hire and maintain teachers and set the policy of a school distinctly designed to supply teachers for our Christian schools? That does require a lot of confidence in these men and their successors whoever they may be. The roughshod method used to force this program over the Harding College faculty show the stubborn independence with which they act. When two men connive to force their point of view over that of the vast majority of members of the church who are interested in and have supported the College, including the majority of its faculty, is it not high time members of the church get into action and plead with certain members of the Board to free Harding College from entanglement with the Memphis venture and also from Bro. West as head of the College Bible department?

The Unaccredited Degree

In the current bulletins of the College reference is made to the College being fully accredited by the North Central Association, and on the same page the religious degrees of the Memphis school are given. This could lead some to think the N. C. Association accredited religious degrees. It is concerned only with degrees of purely academic nature.

In discussions about these degrees at faculty meetings it was contended by Benson and West that no one was interested in a degree as such but merely to be able to qualify for positions where such degrees were required, such as chaplains in the armed services or teachers in Bible chairs at state schools. This was their reply when Matthew 23 was called to their attention. Now, they are offering a degree that in no way can meet the requirements mentioned, above, and it would be very interesting to know just how they justify their procedure unless they expect to enter the American Association of Theological Schools in order to obtain accreditation, or else they have changed their views and do think one is justified in displaying such a sign of religious superiority. Also, students would most likely be wary of such a degree if Bro. Benson would disparage it in the same terms he used when a Board member tried to get the motion authorizing the degree separated from the provision granting the management authority to join the AATS Has he changed his views to conform to present practice, or does he still regard a degree as worthless unless accredited?

An unaccredited degree according to present standards is a counterfeit and will not be considered ethically commendable either for the holder of one or the school that grants it. To maintain this venture at Memphis either we must stoop to offer a bogus degree or seek membership in the AATS. It is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, it seems to me; and just when has it become right to choose any kind of evil? My Bible says "Abstain from every form of evil." If it is right to establish such a school and maintain it, we should not be confronted with choosing such an alternative. Matthew 23 should convince any one that any kind of religious distinction used by a Christian is wrong. If a B. D. is right, why is not a D. D., one being an earned degree; the other honorary? Bro. McGarvey says regarding Mt. 23, that the D. D. today corresponds with the title Rabbi mentioned by the Lord in Matthew 23.

The Transfer To Memphis

On May 21, 1957, Bro. Benson consented to allow the faculty to express themselves by vote on this matter of offering the equivalent of a B. D. degree (the B. S. L.) and seeking accreditation through membership in the American Association of Theological Schools, but he was careful to point out that it would not in any way affect what was to be done inasmuch as the Board had already approved it. The vote was 29 against it and 24 for it Bro. Benson had taken several minutes to speak on behalf of his program after calling Bro. Ganus to serve as chairman while he spoke. After the substantial majority vote against the program had been recorded, he stated that he would not, of course, be in favor of anything to which so many faculty members objected, and then said, "If forty per cent of this faculty opposed a matter, I would not be in favor of going along with it."

On June 29, 1957, fewer than six weeks after the above statement to the faculty, announcement appeared in the Arkansas Gazette and Commercial Appeal of Memphis that "Harding College at Searcy, Arkansas, today announced plans for a graduate school and academy here" — the report coming out of Memphis. The report emphasized the Graduate School of Bible and Religion and represented Benson as saying that Memphis was chosen for the graduate school because of the large number of churches in that area.

The reason assigned here for going ahead in spite of Benson's assurances to the faculty on May 21st was that by removing this work to Memphis the Harding College faculty would have nothing to do with it because as it was now in Memphis. The flimsiness of such subterfuge is almost too naive for notice. The work in Memphis has been represented as an integral part of Harding College, and, if that is true, it derives its control and guidance from the charter and by-laws of Harding College. It would be just as logical to contend that the Board of Trustees does not have anything to do with the school at Memphis, since the Board derives its duties and privileges from the same documents as give the faculty its rights. Brethren will have no difficulty in observing that West with Benson's consent and backing has usurped rights specifically given the faculty in the charter and by-laws. It would be interesting to hear a man with a Ph. D. degree explain the Christian principle whereby he considers himself justified in so treating his fellow faculty members. West is also well aware of the clear provisions of the school's by-laws and its charter. On August 29, 1959, nineteen young men received degrees at Memphis without prior recommendation of the Harding College faculty — another bold disregard of the by-laws by West and Benson and permitted by a Board that should demand observance of these enactments.

Time To Act

Delayed action at the time instrumental music was introduced in the churches proved to be disastrous and after it was too late brethren realized that they should have acted much earlier in opposing openly this innovation. Cancers are never cured by being allowed to run their course. Neither will men who are ambitious to have their way over the protests of the vast majority of the leaders of the church today and contrary to the views of our great leaders of the past, who had to deal with just such efforts to thrust upon the churches a pattern for the development of a clergy which in time will take over the work God designed for the elders to perform. Some of the supporters of this program have predicted that the time soon would come when a man without a degree would not be wanted by any church. If preachers without this theological training are to fall into disrepute, what about the elders? Would they not fail to qualify as watchmen over the flocks committed to their care in the matter of men who "arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them?"

Some months ago Bro. Benson proudly announced in chapel that Bro. Goodpasture, Bro. Batsell Baxter, Bro. Paul Southern, and Bro. Reuel Lemmons had agreed to serve the School of Bible and religion as a curriculum committee. This committee had one meeting (Bro. Lemmons did not attend). After that meeting not a word has been heard, that I can determine, about this committee. Is it just probable that these men failed to go along with the program as designed by West and Benson? If they did disagree with these two men, what do brethren think as to the soundness of the judgments of the two groups? And why would West and Benson persist in pushing a program that such men cannot support?

When faced with undeniable facts, sometimes men resort to efforts to discredit the source. I hope that does not happen in reference to the facts I have herein presented but should it occur, I here and now offer to furnish the proof in an open meeting on the Harding campus during the regular school session. It will not be "done in a corner." I again challenge Bro. West to defend his course in a public discussion in Searcy as to its being in harmony with the spirit and teaching of the New Testament. This would offer a twofold advantage to Bro. West: an opportunity to vindicate his action and also to demonstrate the superiority of a doctor of theology degree to enable one to handle night the word of truth.