Reviewing The Mirror of a Movement (IV)

Straws in the Wind

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

Three previous articles have had to do with some events of recent history, primarily as those events were depicted in William S. Banowsky's book, THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT. There are several other somewhat isolated, but nevertheless related, events that seem to be significant. In this article we intend to discuss some of these portending occurrences.

James DeForest Murch's Review

Shortly after the appearance of Brother Banowsky's book, the well-known Christian Church author and historian, James DeForest Murch, wrote a review of Banowsky's book, which review was published in the widely circulated inter-denominational religious journal, CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Murch only a few years ago, wrote a large history oi the Restoration Movement entitled CHRISTIANS ONLY, from the standpoint of a conservative Christian Church historian.

Murch's review of Bailowsky's book was reprinted in the bulletin of the Broadway church in Lubbock, where Banowsky preaches, and which is reputed to be the second largest Church of Christ in the world. It was with obvious delight that Murch's review was reprinted in the bulletin. William Young, Banowsky's co-laborer at Broadway, objected in the bulletin to a few expressions used by Murch, such as "reactionary traditions," "extremist positions," and "more progressive modes of action." But there seemed to be no objection to the general tone of Murch's review.

Murch said: "Since this fellowship of Christians has no written or uniformly accepted systematic theology, and no national church conventions or recognized extra congregational authority of any sort, Abilene has become the sounding board for Church of Christ thought." According to Murch, "Church of Christ thought" is properly reflected through Abilene Christian College. This was the premise and the thesis of Banowsky's book.

From reading Banowsky's history book, what did historian Murch conclude about "Church of Christ thought?" Here is his conclusion: "There is, however, evidence of the abandonment of some extremist positions and of the adoption of more progressive modes of action that give promise of a day when modicum of fellowship may be established with the great evangelical community in Protestantism of which the Church of Christ is really a part." To this emphatic assertion Brother Young, in his Broadway bulletin review, said not a word. In fact, a preacher who stands with a liberal church like Broadway could not deny successfully what Murch said.

Murch has now somewhat aligned himself with the Ecumenical movement in Protestantism. Not only does he see a day when the Church of Christ might be in fellowship with the Christian Church, but he also thinks the day is coming when the Church of Christ whose thought is reflected by the Abilene Lectureship may be in fellowship with "the great evangelical community in Protestantism." Some of the "reactionary traditions" and "extremist positions" are being abandoned in the Churches of Christ, Murch says. "More progressive modes of action" have taken their place.

Murch also wrote Banowsky a letter regarding his book, which letter also was reprinted in the Broadway bulletin. J. C. Rigney wrote a preface to the letter "For the Elders." In his remarks, Rigney said, "This letter, received by Brother Banowsky this week, contains some good news which should be shared by all Broadway members." Murch's letter appeared in full. Murch stated: "It is my conviction that the time is ripe for some kind of re-approachment between your ministers, educators and church leaders and these of the right wing of the 'Disciples' with which I suppose I would be classified.... As I read your book I was impressed that there is very little that divides us in our commitments and in our practices.... many of us envision a day when there will be closer fellowship with men like yourself and churches like Lubbock." (Quoted from the BROADWAY BULLETIN, June 6, 1965).

When a well-educated and representative member of the Church of Christ, like Brother Banowsky, can write a history of the church, and lead a historian in the Christian Church to think that fellowship with the Christian Church is imminent, and not only so, but that we also are about ready to fellowship "the great evangelical community in Protestantism," this is indicative of more than a subtle trend in the Churches of Christ. Banowsky's book is all the proof that one needs to recognize or to prove that such a movement on the part of the liberal churches whose thought is reflected by the Abilene Lectureship is already in full swing.

Garrett and Meyers

Leroy Garrett and Robert Meyers, both of whom have Ph. D. degrees and both of whom formerly were on the teaching staffs of colleges operated by liberal brethren, already are publicly advocating union with the Christian Church through a reciprocating fellowship. Perhaps more significant, each of them very frequently quotes in his publication letters from teachers now on the faculties of schools operated by liberal members of the church, who state agreement with Garrett's and Meyers' positions, but who state they feel it inexpedient at present publicly to announce their agreement. Several of the colleges have such men on their faculties.

Consistent with this ecumenical attitude, Leroy Garrett, an Abilene Christian College alumnus, in the last issue of his paper, RESTORATION REVIEW, said: "If ACC had an occasional Methodist teaching English, a Presbyterian teaching psychology, a Roman Catholic in government, a Jew in physics, a Greek Orthodox in foreign languages (let him teach Greek!), and a Southern Baptist and a Disciple in the Bible department, the place would be more interesting! It would also provide a better liberal education, which is what a college should be doing." (December 1965).

Instrumental Music

Some at ACC, and others among the liberals, considerably have softened their position on instrumental music in worship. Brent Lewis, a recent student at Abilene Christian College, wrote in May, 1965: "While I was attending Abilene Christian College, and majoring in music, I had occasion to talk to the then  A Cappella  director, Mr. Rollie Blondeau. One day he expressed to several others, and me in a verbal discussion, that he did not see anything wrong with instrumental music in the worship service of the church and that, to his way of thinking, it was simply an expedient. He said that he felt that the 'Church of Christ' was rather narrow-minded about this viewpoint of 'vocal music only,' and that it would be perfectly all right to have instrumental music. However, he pointed out that he did not profess this position openly, because there were too many people that would disagree. I was also told by several reliable sources that Vernon Moody (who was away getting his doctor's degree at the time I was at ACC) held the same position, which he expressed from time to time.''

"Also, there was a great amount of dissatisfaction on the music faculty in general because the administration would not yet permit them to perform classic religious works with the use of an organ or piano or orchestra. Mrs. Mina Coleman, one of the music teachers, was eagerly looking to the day when the administration would permit these works to be performed with instrumental accompaniment, in order to simply enhance the 'state of art'which should accompany the performance of standard religious work." (From May 30, 1965 bulletin of the Culver, Calif. church, where Brother Lewis preaches.)

Others have expressed equally liberal convictions regarding instrumental music in the worship. Robert Meyers said, "We can hardly see how it can be a matter of faith, since faith comes by hearing or reading and we neither hear nor read anything about the instrument in the New Testament. Any discussion of the instrument must necessarily fall in the realm of opinion . . . It is becoming increasingly clear to many in the Churches of Christ that our arguments against the instrument are for the most part not arguments at all, but quibbles.... I know of no arguments strong enough to permit disfellowship over an instrument . . . Since we find no divine law against the instrument, we refuse to consider our Christian brothers who use one as being in hopeless error.... We conclude that its use is a matter of opinion...." Meyers then adds: "I know for an absolute fact that there are men on the faculties of Church of Christ colleges who feel this way about the use of the instrument."

Leroy Garrett has said that the brethren are much more concerned about an instrument being used in the worship than the Lord is. James D. Bales, in a letter June 15, 1965, in commenting whether there are any such faculty members at Harding College, said: "There may be one who views it as a matter of opinion, but I do not know it as this one has not expressed himself to me and so far as I know has not been promulgating his opinion." Though he refuses frankly to admit that a faculty member there believes the use of instrumental music in worship is in the realm of opinion, Brother Bales seems to feel fairly sure there is such a faculty member. Otherwise, he categorically would have denied the charge.

Wayne Poucher, well-known radio political commentator, has been widely used by both Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, though he is a member and a preacher in the Church of Christ. He has appeared on many special lecture programs. Liberal churches continue to use him even after his digressive positions on instrumental music and other points have have been exposed. Not long ago Brother Poucher was featured speaker at the Ninth Annual Georgia Christian Missionary Rally (of the Christian Churches) conducted at East Point, Georgia. Brother Hiram Hutto, faithful preacher of Gainesville, Fla., wrote to the East Point Christian Church to verify Brother Poucher's appearance on their program. He received the following letter in reply:

"Thank you for your letter of March 21st. I am happy to answer your question in relation to the ninth annual Georgia Christian Missionary Rally held at East Point in March 1964. Yes, it is true that the Wayne Poucher who spoke on the program that year is the same Wayne Poucher who was with the Life line Radio Program. It is true that he is a member of the Church of Christ, but he is not as radical as many of the Church of Christ preachers are; he is willing to recognize members of the Christian Church as Christians; he doesn't consign us to hell for using the musical instrument, as do many of the Church of Christ brethren. Because Brother Poucher is willing to consider the music question a matter of opinion, he does speak in a lot of the Christian churches. ..."

One would think that such a letter would "shake up" even some of the brethren in the liberal Churches of Christ. But apparently not. They seem to be willing to accept nearly anything or anybody now. So far as is known, Brother Poucher has never denied the positions attributed to him in the above letter, and so far as is known, the churches that use him have made no effort to inquire of him regarding the matter. At least no public statement from him regarding this matter has appeared. In fact, after this letter was widely distributed, the liberal church in Orlando, Florida went right ahead and had Brother Poucher for a meeting. His next appointment may have been with another Christian Church, for all they know.

Brother Johnny Ramsey reported through the FIRM FOUNDATION last year that he heard one brother say, "The best and only argument for A cappella music in worship is good singing." Brother Ramsey implies that this brother was a teacher in one of the schools operated by the brethren. For he goes on to say, "A few months ago another teacher in one of the colleges said, 'It would be more scriptural to sing "Abide With Me" accompanied with an organ than "Heavenly Sunlight" without it."' Brother Ramsey further states, "The speaker previously referred to in this article told me that he concurred with such an unscriptural conclusion."

Also in 1965, a preacher (an ex-"Christian" College teacher) quoted an article in his bulletin from one of his former students who are now preaching. I wrote to ask the name of the brother whom he quoted, and asked also for his address. The brother who quoted him refused to tell me his name and address. But he did state that he lived and preached in the North, and lived nearer to me than he did to him. That information did not help me much. But here is the statement which the former "Christian" College teacher quoted from his ax-student: "Any preacher or teacher who thinks he is doing Christ a service by putting his emphasis on the legitimacy of church supported children's homes, or the vocal character of early Christian hymn singing, or even the scriptural form of baptism as immersion of adult believers is a fool." The older brother added after the quote, "A hearty amen to that and a pat on the back for the courage to speak."


So you see, there seems to be plenty of basis for James DeForest Murch's statement: "There is, however, evidence of the abandonment of some extremist positions and the adoption of more progressive modes of action that give promise of a day when modicum of fellowship may be established with the great evangelical community in Protestantism of which the Church of Christ is really a part." Murch also thinks that the time is not far off when the Christian Church and men like William Banowsky and churches like the Lubbock church will be in full fellowship. And no doubt, Murch is right.

The Christian Church, so far as is known to me, has not given up one thing that made it a digressive body. But churches whose thought is reflected by the Abilene Christian College lectureship have abandoned many of the scriptural positions they once held, and exchanged them for the humanisms of Denominationalism. Is it any wonder that a Christian Church preacher like Murch would think these churches are about ready to begin fellowshipping the Christian Church? These liberal Churches of Christ have adopted nearly every digressive practice of the Christian Church, except instrumental music, and there are plenty of evidences to show that the softening up process is underway to make it possible for these Lubbock-type churches also to accept the instrument. They could not now make one single scriptural argument against instrumental music that would not similarly indict something else they are already practicing. And if they think they can, let them try their hand at it.

These somewhat unrelated coincidences are more than "straws in the wind"; they foretell a terrible storm. Who can know exactly what the future holds? I surely do not. Will these liberal brethren come to their senses, and return to the Bible? If so, they will be the first tribe of digressives that have ever done so in the Lord's church. But we pray this will happen.

And yet even in the face of all this information indicating apostasies and apostate inclinations on the part of men in important places, some of our brethren think that we are unduly excited. What do you think? Is there any reason for apprehension and excitement? There seems to be plenty of reasons for it to me. Yet some in our part of the country want to use double-talk enough that they can be recognized as the conservative leaders of an extremely liberal cause. This they will find impossible to do. They will either become more liberal, or be discarded as influential preachers, editors, and writers. They deny now this will happen. Only time can tell for sure, but my opinion is they will find it necessary to become more and more liberal, or else have their liberal cause run away and leave them.

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 6, pp. 2-5 March 1966