Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 24, 1955
NUMBER 29, PAGE 4-5b

It Will Be Interesting!


They are wondering what Brother Harper will do. From eight or ten states we have received letters from gospel preachers and thoughtful elders who are wondering which course Brother Harper will follow in the forthcoming (November 28-December 1) discussion in Abilene.

Will he stick by his Lufkin contention that we have no example, no pattern, no explanation of "how" churches may cooperate in preaching the gospel; or will he adopt the more recently advanced ideas of the Gospel Advocate writers (J. W. Roberts and Roy Lanier) that we do indeed have a "pattern", an example from the New Testament of "the very type of cooperation which some will not allow" — that is, the "sponsoring church" type of cooperation? Not only does Brother Roberts undertake to prove that we have an example of this kind of cooperation, but he insists that ALL the examples of cooperative work among New Testament churches (the first and second reliefs of Judea, and the support of Paul in Corinth) were the "sponsoring church" type of activity.

Brother Roy H. Lanier argues that it is utterly impossible to have "co-operation" without some sort of "collective, or joint, action." He believes that churches do not cooperate with a church in need when they send funds to her to relieve her need. He says such sending may be "operation" but it involves no "co-operation." Here are his words:

"I deny that there is any collective or joint action in this 'pattern' presented by these brethren. It is simultaneous, individual, independent action on the part of several congregations versus collective, or joint, action. There is no co-operation about it! There is operation on the part of several independent groups, but there is no cooperation since there is no collective action." (G. A., Sept. 29, 1955)

Brethren who have read the Roberts and Lanier articles have seen at once that they are taking a different line of approach from that used by Brother Harper at Lufkin. This is apparently the strategy the Gospel Advocate has worked out, and which she plans to follow in promoting the centralized arrangements among us. And now many are wondering: Will Brother Harper abandon his Lufkin position, and switch to the Roberts-Lanier contention?

Obviously, he cannot occupy both. For if, as he so strongly argued in Lufkin, the New Testament does not reveal the "how" or "method" or "pattern", then certainly it cannot be argued at the same time that the New Testament does reveal the "how", the "method", the "pattern" — the sponsoring church pattern. Harper will have to take one course or the other. If he attempts to hold both positions, he will fail even more miserably than he did the first time. Then he was trying to defend only one unscriptural position; now he will be undertaking to defend two unscriptural positions — positions which contradict each other!

Anyhow, the Abilene debate bids fair to be one of the most interesting and significant events in the religious history of our generation. Let no one mistake or underestimate its importance. Either there will be real and obvious progress made toward achieving agreement and unity on a Bible basis, or else there will be a widening and extending of the breach which has developed. If the Abilene discussion closes with no apparent progress toward unity, it can be pretty well taken for granted that the divergence between the two positions will enlarge rather than diminish as the years go by. On the one side will be the conservative, "stick by the Bible" group, who will oppose every thing that hints at a departure from New Testament teaching: centralized cooperative arrangements such as Herald of Truth and the Lubbock plan; church contributions to colleges; institutional benevolent societies; recreational and entertainment features of church work (the social gospel), and all those streamlined, modernistic programs and projects which some are promoting so assiduously.

On the other side will be that group of brethren who are so very anxious that the "Church of Christ" shall take her place as a recognized member of the great body of non-Catholic churches, and who believe in doing "great things" for the Lord by way of world-wide programs and promotions. They will increasingly emphasize "the social gospel" with its recreational, institutional, and "this-worldly" aspects, giving great attention to youth centers, fellowship halls, community activities, fine buildings and big projects which will impress the world that "the church of Christ is the fast growing religious body on earth!" The appeal will be to "get on the band-wagon"; and a decreasing importance will be given to the fundamentals of the gospel appeal.

The Abilene debate is going to be a significant index, pointing the course which may be expected in the years ahead. Either it will indicate a closing up of the ranks, a more solid and enduring unity on "thus saith the Lord", or it will reveal that an eventual parting of the ways is almost certain to come, the "conservative" group among us determined to build "according to the pattern", and the more modernistic and liberal element determined to push ahead into new areas and new fields, minimizing the importance and necessity of Bible authority for their promotions. These eight hours of discussion at Abilene will be fateful hours indeed, pregnant with untold possibilities for good, or heavy with forebodings for the future. Let the prayers of all the faithful everywhere be with us in these hours!

— F. Y. T.