Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 26, 1955

Modernism In Gospel Advocate Literature (No. 5)

Robert C. Welch, Louisville, Kentucky

Modernism is a term which has many shades and degrees of meaning. It has its counterparts in previous years. It is connected with neo-orthodoxy, with liberalism of the past century, with rationalism, with the school of higher criticism. It is opposed, the modernists say, to fundamentalism, legalism, and Pharisaism. They use them as terms of ridicule and reproach, when the last two especially are wholly incorrect. Modernism ranges all the way from the theory of thought inspiration, as opposed to verbal inspiration of the scriptures, to a disbelief in anything supernatural in the production of the Bible and the development of the scheme of human redemption. As yet, nothing has been presented to indicate that the writers of the Gospel Advocate literature disbelieve the record of the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ or any of the miracles of the Bible. They have been shown, however, to believe and teach that the Bible is the product of human wisdom and feeling rather than the product of inspiration like that described by Christ to his apostles: "Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate beforehand how to answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom ... " (Luke 21:14, 15.)

Modernism in the Advocate literature in lessons on the New Testament will be considered in this article. The former ones dealt with the modernism in lessons on the Minor Prophets. Our brethren have written more commentaries on the New Testament, hence, they are more often quoted than other writers in the Adult Quarterly on the New Testament lessons. For some reason it seems that there is not as much plagiarism in the New Testament lessons as in those on the Old Testament. Maybe it is because the Advocate writer has more resources from which to draw his comment, or that he has done more fundamental studying when he comes to the New Testament. Maybe, in the New Testament, he does not feel the necessity of copying what denominational modernists have said, as if it were his own deep thinking. Nevertheless, modernism is to be found in his writing on this part of the Bible also.

Mind Reading Vs. Inspiration

In the Adult Quarterly, summer, 1954, published by the Gospel Advocate, there is a lesson on Ananias and Sapphira. It has a very good dissertation on the impure motives of the couple. The commentator, however, bogs down in the quagmire of modernism when he comes to tell how the apostle knew their motives. He is not ready to openly avow that Peter's knowledge of their motives was a result of his ability as a character reader; but he does express doubt that it had been revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit. Notice how delicately he handles the question:

"In a heart-searching examination, Peter revealed to the public gaze the awful guilt of this wicked couple. The Holy Spirit evidently revealed to the apostle the motives which influenced them."

The type of expression as is found in the latter sentence has the following significance: it could have been known some other way, but it seems that he must have learned it from the Holy Spirit. Now, why should there be any question about how Peter could know what in their hearts? Does the writer think that Peter possibly a mind reader of purely human attainments?

One might just as well say that Peter's power to heal the sick and lame evidently came from the Holy Spirit. There is no doubt about it, he did tell them by inspiration what their trouble was. If not, how do we know that Peter was correct in the analysis of the motives? If you say that it is recorded as truth in the Acts, then let it be understood that you have no more proof that the writer of the book of Acts is inspired than you have that Peter was inspired as he revealed the terrible sin of Ananias. Oh, but you say that this is a very infinitesimal point to use in making an accusation that a publishing house is teaching modernism. At first glance it may seem so but it really is important. Besides, that is only one of many just like it and worse. Watch the Gospel Advocate begin to deny the miracles of the New Testament.

Did Ananias Die Of Shock?

How did Ananias die? do you think he died by a supernatural power from God? or was the sin so revealing that his old heart just could not take it, so that he died from shock? perhaps a brain hemorrhage? If Driver, Cadman, or Garrison and R. C. Cave had said that it could have been shock it would have been expected, and men like McGarvey would have said that this is the kind of thing to expect of destructive critics, rationalists, liberalists, or modernists. These men were liberalists of the past century, the last two belonging to the Christian Church digression. Of course, the "Old Reliable" would not have such material as that in her literature! Why, they even write up such modernists, sometime, and carry articles opposing modernism! BUT IT IS THERE, in the Adult Quarterly, summer, 1954, in the lesson Ananias. Yes, they are beginning to drain the Bible of its miracles, and leave it to the human element only, such as shock. Hear this masterful insinuation:

"Punishment upon Ananias was sudden and immediate: When he heard the words of Peter, he 'fell down and gave up the ghost,' i.e., he 'breathed out his life' The exact cause of his death does not appear. Whether it came as a shock because of his exposure, or whether by a direct stroke from God, we cannot know."

The Bible says that, "great fear came upon all that heard it." If "the Gospel Advocate had been in all the homes" of the Christians in that day there would have been no fear. Their fears would have been allayed, they would have been taught that it was only a case of a bad heart or a weakened blood vessel in the brain. Also, Peter knew before it happened that the same thing was going to happen to Sapphira. He told her that the young men who carried out her husband were waiting for her.

It happened, I guess, according to the Gospel Advocate, that Peter had given them a cardiograph and high blood pressure test, and knew that she was likely to go when the shock of her husband's sudden death came. That kind of theory is just as pernicious as any to be found in modernism. But we need to have one further statement to show the trend of this lesson of modernism:

"Whatever the method by which death was produced it is certain that it was the intention of the Holy Spirit for us to know that it was a punishment inflicted on Ananias for his deception, dishonesty, and hypocrisy."

Here, again, the Advocate does not know whether it was miraculous or whether it was a stroke of human fate. The commentator thinks it might have all the features of a Shakespearean tragedy; where, in the course of human events, he wrought out his own physical death. Or perhaps the Advocate scholar reads the comics and listens to the "crime does not pay" stories on radio and TV, in between his lessons. In them, the pitifully weak "law" cannot catch the criminals, but they drive over the Cliff, to meet their fate. If the old steadfast Advocate is going to leave the miraculous and weave into the story such human elements, why does it not go all the way? Why does it not become fanciful in its theory and say that Ananias staggered and fell, hitting his head on the bag of coin, causing a brain concussion?

Some things supposedly never change; then, some do. Take the Gospel Advocate adult quarterly for instance. At least we find in the quarterly an "evolutionary" development of this "non-miraculous" theory. In the winter quarter, 1950, the same scripture text was studied. The commentator said then: "It was a 'sudden stroke of the divine will'." THEN, it was a stroke of divine will.

NOW, it might have been only shock. What will the Advocate say it is tomorrow?

This is the kind of thing McGarvey, Franklin, Lipscomb and Srygley had to deal with less than a century ago when the society men were also turning liberalist. It was not merely obscure men in unheard of places who espoused the liberalism of that period. They were preachers of renown, the great school men of that day, editors of some of the bigger papers. Surely, we will not and cannot let the same thing happen again.