Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 11, 1983
NUMBER 38, PAGE 2,10

The Eldership - Ecumenical Or Local?

Bryan Vinson

I have before me a "Special Report Of Herald Of Truth Radio And Television Program,' published and circulated by the elders of the Highland church of Christ, Abilene, Texas. It is designed, obviously, to impress and interest those who read it with the importance and needs of this program, and thereby stimulate both individuals and congregations to contribute liberally to its support. It is interesting reading and rather enlightening in some respects. It reflects great zeal and effort, stimulated by ambitions of magnificent proportions, by these elders. They portray this program as productive of much good and as effecting many conversions by reason of the ever-enlarging audiences hearing and seeing these programs.

However, they say: "Though our efforts have hardly made a ripple in the waves of suffering humanity that must come to Christ, we have established a beachhead that cannot and will not be broken down. We can only go forward, for there is no turning back, and Christians everywhere will not turn back. As the first century saints were, before A. D. 63, able to preach the gospel to 'every creature under heaven' with only the spoken word and on foot and on horseback, so are we, 'in the twentieth century, with the most extensive network of communication systems yet devised by man, able to do likewise." When I read this I recalled an advertisement which appeared in religious periodicals from these brethren which had this to say:

You Must Go Out To The Whole World And Proclaim The Gospel To Every Creature.

A. D. 33 — The Commandment Was Made A. D. 1963 — The Time And Means To Obey

(Christian Chronicle, October 5, 1962)

When I read this appeal I wondered why the Lord gave a command 1900 years in advance of the time for it to be obeyed, and the means available for its obedience! Why did he not wait until at least near the time when it was to be obeyed to give it? But this article above cited acknowledges that the first century saints obeyed this command; did they act precipitately, in advance of the time, and in the absence of the means necessary to its accomplishment? This commission was given to the apostles and they were enjoined to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high before beginning its execution. This they did, and within their lifetime it was executed, and thus accomplished.

The Missionary Society advocates and defenders took recourse to this same commission which was delivered to the apostles as the sole or chief defense of their society. But I do not recall ever seeing anything by them indicating that the time and means for its accomplishment was reserved for the 19th century. It is a relief, though, to learn that these elders do recognize that this command was responded to by the first century Christians, and by them fulfilled. There is no proper parallel with that task imposed on them then and that which rests on God's children now; the whole world has had the gospel preached to it, and this was done within one generation. This does not gainsay the propriety and necessity of its being preached now anywhere or everywhere, abut such obligation is postured on other premises than that on which many endeavor to solely suspend it. That commission then was an ambassadorial commission. The apostles were the only ambassadors Christ has ever selected. They confirmed that word of reconciliation by signs, wonders, and miracles. This word has been widely circulated in many vernaculars and the need now is to bring people to an understanding of that word, as distinguished; from the doctrines and commandments of men.

A Very Significant Distinction Deserving Of Notice Between How The Early Churches Supported The Proclamation Of The Gospel, And The Way This Current Endeavor Functions Is This: There Was No Concentration Of Money And Power In That Effort Then, As There Is Now. In Order That We Can See This Concentration Of Power In Its Proper Light, The Following Is Cited From This Report — Under The Heading "How The Programs Are Produced":

"The responsibility of the elders of the Highland Church of Christ in directing the production of nationwide radio and television programs is great. While a preacher can humanly err in a sermon and rectify the error in a sermon the following Sunday, a scriptural error on film or tape, once made, is soon out of the elders' control and is being viewed or heard by thousands, perhaps millions, before it can be recalled and rectified. Because of this possibility, the elders painstakingly review every film — over one hundred a year — before they are released to the stations,

"On radio, for instance, the script — even though written by experienced ministers with years of preaching and study behind them — is read to or by the elders before it is recorded, as well as the continuity which will be spoken by the announcer. When both sermon and continuity are approved, the script is recorded. In the case of the 1983 radio programs, Batsell Barrett Baxter will record in Nashville and George W. Bailey and Robert W. Holton will record in Abilene, the home cities of the alternate speakers.

"After the work of the three speakers is done their tapes are sent to a sound engineer who places the sermon, continuity and appropriate hymns in proper sequence. A master tape is made, and copies go out to the radio stations. A film for television is more intricate and complicated, requiring even closer surveillance on the part of the elders since a greater number of persons are involved. Again a script is prepared and sent to the elders for approval, corrections or changes. After, the script goes to the executive producer of the film company, who plots all camera angles, design sets, obtains necessary props and proceeds with casting. At this point the producer may again confer with the elders since, in his technical and professional judgment, slight changes may be necessary in order to carry forward the scenes more dramatically and forcefully..... After all scenes are taken, the film is sent to the laboratory for processing and then returned to the production company for editing, an intricate and time-consuming process. Then an "answer print" is made and sent to the elders at Highland for their final approval. Even at this stage it may be rejected, for it must adhere strictly to scripture, be free of errors or possible misinterpretations and, of course, technical errors."

Having read this, I was fully convinced of the truth of the opening statement to the effect that the responsibility of these elders is great, indeed! What skill they must possess, technical skill in the production of radio tapes and television films, and even be versed in stage design, props and the whole field of the drama. They must be versed in the most effective and forceful histrionics! But this is inconsequential compared with that which they must know about the word of God. They set as a board of censors on gospel preachers, and gravely function as men of surpassing powers of discernment in detecting error before it is taught. The reason given for this extreme precaution, employed in this very close surveillance of what is taught, is that an ordinary preacher speaking to a local audience can correct an error in teaching the following Sunday, whereas with this program such cannot be so readily rectified. What an easy task the elders addressed by Paul (Acts 20:28), and by Peter (1 Pet. 5:1-4), had in comparison with these Highland brethren! They had only the necessity of stopping the mouths of unruly talkers in their own midst. In the qualifications prescribed by the Holy Spirit, which those selected to be elders of a congregation must possess, is one that he is to hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers. This was necessary before being selected in order that they might be able to do that which herein is prescribed. But do these elders think they possess this knowledge and ability to such an eminent degree, above the preachers whose sermons they scrutinize and edit? If they were not elders, would they feel competent to thus act, or does this recognized ability identify itself with their position? Notwithstanding the acknowledged fact these preachers have years of experience behind them of studying and preaching, these elders pass on what they preach before taped, then after it is taped or filmed, and, finally, after it is edited by the film producer.

These elders, in order that they properly discharge their grave responsibility of censorship, must be superior to the preachers in their knowledge of the Word of God. They either are endowed with superior intellects which enable them to excel in discovering truth, or through greater preparation and education they have attained it. I doubt they themselves think either of these is true. This leaves but one alternative in explanation of this superiority. It must have been conferred by official position. But whatever capabilities that are essential to being and functioning as elders are set forth as conditional qualifications, and therefore exist before their appointment. This being true, there are no abilities conferred in the appointment. But just how superior are these powers of discernment, which enable them to detect errors in doctrine resident in the sermons of these preachers? Their assumption of such powers rests on the realization that preachers can "humanly err in a sermon." This is true, but cannot these elders also err? Are they infallible? Presumably they are because of the finality of their judgment! It took many centuries before the Papacy reached the point where it claims infallibility when speaking ex cathedra. The Catholic hierarchy place their imprimatur on material to be printed, and when thus, they say "let is be printed," then it may. When these elders say, "let it be broadcast by radio and/or television," then it may, but not before!

Another aspect of this appalling situation is in the fact that one of the preachers lives in Nashville, a thousand miles from Abilene, and a member of a congregation in Nashville, submits in advance to the Abilene elders a script for their approval, correction, or change as the case may be. If such a practice had New Testament sanction, then to comport with the local limitations of elders functioning, he should submit his script to the elders of the congregation where he is a member. However, they do have the "right" as elders to contribute to this Herald of Truth Missionary Society over which presides the elders of Highland in Abilene. This is the extent of their prerogative in the matter.

There is no contemplated detrenchment in this colossal program; they are enthralled by the magnitude and majesty of their eminent position, and if unthinking and credulous brethren will but yield to the intoxicating enthusiasm of these brethren and send them more and more money, there will be experienced and realized an ever expanding dream of grandiosity. But while they are imbued with such deep concern for the sermons reviewed to "strictly adhere to scripture," it would be most gratifying if a corresponding concern was generated in regard to whether their entire procedure and operation adhered strictly to the scriptures.

— Box 764, Longview, Texas