Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 28, 1951

Marks Of A Modernist

Rufus Clifford, Old Hickory, Tennessee

There are modernists among us who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but who reject many things in which Jesus believed. Jesus believed, for example, that Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name; for he quoted from both the sixth and fifty-third chapters of this book, ascribing both to Isaiah. (John 12:38, 41) But modernists believe in the "Deutero-Isaiah" theory, that is that Isaiah wrote only the first thirty-nine chapters, and that some other author is responsible for the remainder of the book.

If you call a modernist's attention to John 12:38, he will reply, "Oh, that is just a literary reference." By "literary reference' he means that Jesus condescended to accept the prevailing ignorance of his day; the Jews thought Isaiah wrote it, and Jesus adapted himself to their limited understanding of the matter. This is the same explanation offered in reference to Jesus' mention of the story of Jonah. (Matt. 12:40) The Modernist says Jesus simply used that illustration because the Jews were familiar with it, and his use of it does not mean that believed it! I have a letter from an outstanding young preacher who attended George Pepperdine College. He tells of a sermon outline that was given him by one of the preacher students in one of brother Ralph Wilburn's classes. The sermon outline referred to Jonah. Here is an excerpt from the letter that tells what happened, "Brother Wilburn did not quite understand how he intended to use it (Christ's mention of the story of Jonah), and asked if the student mean to use the narrative as relating an actual occurrence, or simply as Christ's reference to the story because he knew the people believed it actually happened. The young preacher replied that he did not mean to imply that the story referred to an actual happening. Brother Wilburn said, 'I see,' and then said such use of the story would harmonize with the rest of the outline. He said not one word against such a use of a Bible record, but simply passed on to a discussion of the other outlines."

Reason Instead Of Faith

Closely connected with the above point, the modernist substitutes reason for faith. He will not accept a book of the Bible without judging it by the standards of men. One brother said in my presence, "I would not accept as genuine the book of Genesis on the ground that Jesus quoted from it and said that Moses was the writer." He said that Jesus reference "could be just a literary reference.' He was willing to put more trust in the wisdom of men than in the Son of God! He attached more importance to modern scholarship than he did to the word of Jesus. Paul predicates faith on the power of God, which means revelation, and not on the wisdom of man, but this brother reversed it. His faith (what little he had) was resting on the wisdom of man and not in the power of God.

Another characteristic of the modernist is his attitude toward the question of inspiration. Since I am only pointing out these marks, and not arguing them, an illustration or two will suffice here. A preacher came to my home in Old Hickory to ask me for a statement as to his "soundness' in the gospel. The elders where he preached had decided that he "needed a change." He thought that if he had a statement from me, perhaps the elders, all of whom are good friends of mine, might decide they still needed him. In telling him why I could not conscientiously give him the statement he desired, I read him a letter from one of the members of the church where he preached. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

"Well, our preacher mentioned that when God finally told Balaam that he could go to King Balak, it was probably just Balaam's own conscience that told him to go, and not God himself."

I asked the brother if he had preached such from the pulpit. He said, "Yes, I preached that. Of course you know that God did not speak through that ass. That was just Balaam's conscience speaking to him." On another occasion, this same preacher objected to the idea of verbal inspiration on the ground that we do not have the original manuscripts, but only copies of them, and that our copies contain errors. After referring him to Matthew 10:19-20, Acts 2:1-4, 1 Corinthians 2:13, and other passages, as clear proof of inspiration, the brother said I had misunderstood him, that he really did believe in verbal inspiration! This preaching brother was a former student of brother Ralph Wilburn, concerning whom another fine preacher who sat in his classes said, "Verbal inspiration was certainly not taught by brother Wilburn."

Attitude Toward False Teachers

You can recognize the modernist in the church by his attitude toward sectarianism and false teachers, and his attitude toward his brethren who oppose false teachers. The modernist defended Wasson, but spoke in the harsh—men who reverence the word of God." They will call on them to lead in prayer, call them "Brother," and defend them in the presence of members of the church. They are "sweet-spirited" toward sectarians, but will speak in the bitterest terms of faithful men who preach the gospel and defend the church against such false teachers. They will defend those modernists among us who have had the courage to be logical about their modernism and join the denominations, but will denounce faithful brethren who expose them and their false charges against the churches of Christ.

One modernistic brother was talking with me about an article by brother H. Leo Boles (Gospel Advocate, July 26, 1945), in which brother Boles defended the church against the charges made by Woodrow W. Wasson, who left us to join the liberal wing of the Christian Church. The modernist defended Wasson, but spoke in the harshest terms of brother Boles. This same preacher, who now preaches for one of the churches in Chicago, spoke something like this in reference to the fight loyal brethren had made on premillennialism, "Oh, I'm not a premillennialist; but they have made a martyr out of brother R. H. Boll. And if I had to choose between Wallace, Hardeman, Boles, and brother R. H. Boll, I would take brother Boll every time!' He referred to R. H. Boll as "brother" throughout the conversation, but did not use that word in reference to the other men he named.

Other illustrations could be given of these "pious brethren" who have not a word usually to say against false teachers, but who are filled with bitterness against faithful men who expose the false teachers and defend the church against their attacks. We think the following words of Moses E. Lard fit some of these modernists exactly:

"They have an enormous fondness for sects and sectarians, and scowl on no one so indignantly as on the brother who dares to speak against them. With them sectarians are all Christians, and it is a favorite saying among them that 'we are as sectarian as any other people.' They seldom speak of their brethren except to disparage them, and never of 'the other' parties of the day except to laud them. In plain English, these men see nothing good in the great brotherhood to whom they are an offense, nor anything bad in the sects with whom their infinities really are.'