Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 20, 1958
NUMBER 45, PAGE 3a-4

Brother Lemmons Looks At The New Year


In the Firm Foundation, January 7, Brother Reuel Lemmons, the editor, wrote an article under the caption: Looking At The New Year. In this editorial he seemed to be very optimistic concerning the future of the church. He predicted that "if the events of the past year are any indication, 1958 will be a wonderful year for the Lord's people. Let us fervently hope so." With him, we would like to "fervently hope" that "1958 will be a wonderful year for the Lord's people." But we can't hope for such. Hope, as we all know, is composed of two elements: (1) desire and (2) expectation. While we desire above all things that such a prediction come true and we are willing to labor diligently to accomplish it, the "events" we have witnessed the past year indicate that it would be foolish to expect such. "If the events of the past year are any indication," then such betokens that 1958 will be as was 1957 — maybe a little more so. No doubt I am not as capable a "sign reader" as the editor of the Firm Foundation, but the "events" of the past year lead me to no such conclusion as he reaches.

Brother Lemmons Is An Unusual Writer In Some Ways.

I have never met him personally and have never had the pleasure of hearing him preach. My acquaintance with him is solely through his writings and his book of sermons. I always read his editorials — many of which are very good. He can be very effective, pointed and challenging. For the most part I enjoy and profit by his writings.

There are times, however, when his writings are disgusting to anyone of real conviction. On some things he writes in circles — one can't decide whether he is really for or against. He can say a thing and take it back at the same time as well as anyone I know. He has opposed a thing and then in the same article defended it or apologized for it. Especially has such demeanor been displayed on "present issues" and some other touchy subjects.

Yet in spite of this he appears to be a man with some conviction and courage. There has never been any question with me as to his ability. At times he lashes out at things he believes to be wrong with a certainty that makes one know he is conscientious. This has caused me to hope that he would be the man to put some firmness in the Firm Foundation — which has been lacking in such for sometime. The paper has been dubbed by some readers as the In-Firm Foundation and as the Flimsy Foundation. Whether he will do this or not remains to be seen — he has not done it yet. As long as he tries to minimize all problems before the church; play both sides or all sides; be both for and against; as long as he refuses to deal with matters as a reality; and as long as he tries to stand aloof from "current issues," considering them as "much ado about nothing," just that long his paper will fail to exercise the influence it should in settling these matters in harmony with God's word.

Reason For Optimism

"One reason for optimism is the immediate history through which we have passed, and the period of controversy from which we are emerging. Out of struggle comes strength. Periods of austerity have always been followed by periods of great expansion. From the moment it began, the church has thrived on controversy. A constant re-examination of faith and practice is essential to the purity of the New Testament Church."

Brother Lemmons herein declares that "the period of controversy" in which the church has been is all but over — from it we are now "emerging"! I wonder how he arrived at this conclusion? Is he trying to deceive his readers? Where has he been lately? If he arrived at this conclusion sitting at his desk in the Firm Foundation office, then he should get out in the "field" and take a look at matters.

This "reason for optimism" came shortly after the debate in Birmingham between Brethren Cogdill and Woods. Could it be that he thinks that debate will bring to an end the controversy? While I would agree that Brother Cogdill's effective work in that debate has and will cause Woods and those who stand with him to retreat from the field of battle as far as possible, I will not allow myself to be deceived into believing that it has or will bring to an end the controversy. The battle from now on may not be as open and honorable as it has been; that is, it may go completely underground where much of the fight against US has been all along, and with more underhanded tactics employed, but it will still go on. I have not seen the slightest indication of a let-up yet. Who has won? Has anyone surrendered? Has anyone decided to just call it quits, that it did not amount to anything anyway? Brother Lemmons is not as naive as he appears to be.

It may be that the editor is speaking for himself and his paper alone. Maybe he has decided to "cease firing" and stop his part in the controversy. If this is what he means, It leads me to ask: Just what part has he played in it anyway? When has the Firm Foundation really started firing? Before almost every public debate on the current issues, he has disparaged such and said that he did not think such should be held. In this way he belittled honorable controversy and those who have had a part therein; and yet he will turn around and write that "from the moment it began, the church has thrived on controversy." He meets himself coming back! If Reuel Lemmons has engaged in any "controversy" at all, it has been so indefinite and ineffective as to fail to be recognized. It would appear that in spite of his recognition of the benefits of controversy and that a "constant re-examination of faith and practice is essential to the purity of the New Testament church," there is no man more desperately afraid of such or who has tried harder to stay out of such than the uncertain editor of the Firm Foundation. I know he is a busy man, but as far as I know he has never "dignified" any of the public discussions with his presence! Is that too close to the "firing line" for him?

No man ever wrote words that were truer than those from the pen of Brother Lemmons when he said: "The church has thrived on controversy." This has always been true and always will be true. Why should we fear or flee from honorable controversy? The Firm Foundation could well serve the cause of truth if the editor would, to some degree anyway, open the pages of the paper to an honorable discussion of issues before the church. This would be far better than the one-sided treatment given "current issues" and the under-handed thrusts at those who agree with him on the benefits of controversy and in addition have the courage and conviction to get in there and fight! With him we can heartily agree that "a constant (which means "continually recurring." — Holt) re-examination of faith and practice is essential to the purity of the New Testament church." He gives lip-service to this, but that is about all.

Abuses — The Only Trouble Note This Paragraph From Our Brother:

"In the immediate past we have been through some rather grievous times. And we brought them on ourselves. Were it not for abuses, righteous principles would never be called in question. It is easy to be drunk with power. And it is easy to be envious and jealous ..."

Brother Lemmons realizes that "in the immediate past we have been through some rather grievous times." Here again he seeks to deceive himself and his readers into the fanciful (however much such may be desired!) idea that these "rather grievous times" are over.

Then he tells us that "we brought them on ourselves." How? It is very simple according to him — by "abuses of righteous principles." Of course, as this editor usually does, he deals only in vague generalities — he never cites real instances nor gives specific "abuses" of "righteous principles." With him the "rather grievous times" which are all "past," were brought about by nothing more than some people questioning "righteous principles" because of some "abuses" thereof! With this flippant attitude he sets the whole controversy aside as a fuss over "abuses" when actually nothing was basically wrong. Can it be that he really believes this? If so, why would he write in a later editorial (February 4) about his alarm "at some of the extreme and unscriptural positions taken by brethren?" He further says of one such "extreme and unscriptural" position that it "can verily easily destroy the church," and that one who accepts such has embarked "upon a course that can very well be fatal."

Is this thing which "can verily easily destroy the church" nothing more than an abuse of a righteous principle? He says that such a position is "unscriptural." Is an "unscriptural" position merely an abuse of a righteous principle? It would be interesting to have him tell us — and without his usual equivocation. The position of which Brother Lemmons spoke is the newly-espoused defense made by Brother Guy N. Woods for benevolent institutions under a board of directors. In a later article I shall deal with what Brother Lemmons says about it and also with the position itself.

Brother Lemmons says: "It is easy to be drunk with power." Here is another general insinuation that some among us are "drunk with power." Of course, he is too nice (?) to tell us who they are. Will one "drunk with power" do nothing more than simply abuse righteous principles? Frankly, I had as soon take my chances on going to heaven as a teacher of heresy as one "drunk with power." Brother Lemmons says "we will perhaps always have a few Diotrephes." Well, what does he think we should do about them? If there are those "drunk with power" among us; if there are any Diotrephes among us who are hindering or troubling the church, why does he not at least render us the assistance of identifying them for us?

He tells us that "it is easy to be envious and jealous." No doubt this is true, but he seems to imply that much of the controversy can be attributed to this cause. In other words, there are some among us who are envious and jealous and, therefore, have created all the controversy because of it. I certainly hold no brief for these sins and join him in denouncing them wherever found, but at the same time we should not be misled into thinking that these are the basic troubles. How can any honest man who opposes some position, be envious or jealous of the one in that position, if he (the opposer) thinks such is sinful? Are we moved by envy and jealousy in our opposition to denominationalism? They often charge that we are. Was Brother Lemmons motivated by envy and jealousy when he called the position of the Gospel Advocate, relative to the "orphan homes," "queer and ridiculous;" and "extreme and unscriptural?" I do not believe that he was.

Trivial Matters Divide Churches

Look at this from Brother Lemmons:

"In many instances, losing sight entirely of the glory of the Lord's church, a preacher, an elder, or a minority in a congregation has magnified some trivial matter into a thing that has divided the church. We have experienced a rash of divided congregations the past year. In not one single one of them to our knowledge is the reason for division doctrinal. In every instance it has been some personal matter."

In this paragraph he acknowledges that there has been what he calls a "rash of divided congregations in the past year." He charges that this "rash" has been caused by "a preacher, an elder, or a minority in the congregation" magnifying "some trivial matter into a thing that divides the church." According to him, all the troubled and divided churches have resulted simply from some "preacher, an elder (never elders), or a minority" (never a majority) in the congregation magnifying some "trivial matter." These "trivial matters" must have had some high-powered magnifying to bring about such an outbreak or "rash of divided congregations."

Brother Lemmons speaks as if he is personally acquainted with a number of these "divided congregations," and he assures us that "in not one single one of them ... is the reason for division doctrinal." Then with certainty he adds this: "In every instance it has been some personal matter." Here he employs some more vague language. Wonder what he would include in the expression "personal matter?" Just what is meant by "doctrinal division?" Does it mean a division resulting from some erroneous teaching? If so, let me ask this: Suppose the eldership or a majority in the congregation where Brother Lemmons worships, should begin advocating the use of instrumental music in the worship and the employment of the missionary society to the dividing of the church. Would our brother say that they had magnified some "trivial matter into a thing that . . . divided the church?" Would the resulting division be "doctrinal"? Would this be a church divided over a "personal matter"? Brother Lemmons, would those who opposed such things, whether the majority or minority, do so because of envy and jealousy? If they should refrain from opposition in such a case there would be no division. Would this be the proper course to pursue?

It is true that there has been a "rash of divided congregations" lately. Perhaps in some rare instances the division came about over personal matters, but the vast majority of them were divided over teaching and practice. The teaching and practice involved may seem to be a very "trivial matter" to Brother Lemmons, but to others it does not seem so.

What if the eldership where Lemmons worships should espouse the position of the Gospel Advocate relative to the orphan homes; the position which Lemmons says is "extreme and unscriptural;" what if the elders should teach it and force the practice of it upon the church, and at the same time teach that the position that Lemmons holds on the question is "unscriptural, anti-scriptural and sinful" (which is the very language some use concerning it!) refusing to give him any opportunity to be heard and branding him as a crank and trouble-maker for daring to open his mouth in objection to or in question of what they said; just what would he do in such a case? It would be very, very interesting to have this editor tell us. Would he "keep silence" and go along with them in a position that he believed to be "extreme and unscriptural"? If not, he would be left no choice but to get out — to leave such domineering and dictatorial men and go where he could at least be free to express his objections to positions he believed to be wrong. If the editor will picture himself in some situation as here described, he will begin to get some idea of the situation which prevailed in dozens of congregations that finally divided. This sort of high-handed and unscrupulous conduct has been seen all over the nation. No wonder there has been a "rash of divided congregations." Honest, sincere brethren are not going to tolerate long such ungodly conduct on the part of preacher, an eldership or the majority! God forbid that they should. Brother Lemmons is so right in saying that "it is easy to be drunk with power."

(More to follow)

— C. A. H.