Stan Cox

Editorial

Honor in Controversy


Controversy exists among God's people today. This is no different than in times past, and as always is an unfortunate circumstance. Sometimes controversy erupts because men with evil motives seek to foment strife. Sometimes controversy arises out of the inevitable conflict between truth and error. Invariably there is the cry of "foul" when criticism is levied against any teaching. Sometimes the cry is valid, and sometimes it is the feeble attempt of the digressive to obfuscate, and deflect criticism of his campaign against truth. Brother Tom Roberts referred to this ungodly tactic in an article in Watchman that appeared in April of 1998. He wrote:

The present controversy surrounds the Open Letter written by brothers Harry Osborne and Dan King. A total of 67 men co-signed the letter, and at this writing another 85 brothers and sisters in Christ have formally expressed their agreement with the sentiment of the letter by having their comments and names posted to our Reader Responses to the Open Letter. The signatories and subsequent responses constitute a varied group. However, it should be noted that nowhere in the Open Letter nor in the articles published in Watchman Magazine has there ever been a call to destroy the work of the college, or a denial of the right of the college to exist. The letter is not an "outrageous attack" as characterized by Ferrell Jenkins on his Bibleworld internet site. It was not penned by individuals who are desiring the demise of the college.

It should be noted that the two authors of the letter have had past affiliations with Florida College. Both have expressed fond memories, brother King as a member of the faculty, and brother Osborne as a former student at the college. Their expressed intent in the letter and subsequent articles is not to destroy the college, but to point out error worthy of admonition, that the course of the college may be corrected. In this way, Florida College will be able to maintain a beneficial influence upon the students who walk its campus. The Open Letter was carefully worded, and is a reasoned and righteous response of concerned Christians. Many who signed the letter would consider themselves friends of the college, despite the administration's current casting of aspersion on their character and motivation. One of the Associate Editors of Watchman Magazine is Tom Roberts, a former student of the College. He co-signed the Open Letter. Our other Associate Editor, Larry Fain, has a daughter attending the college at present, and has eloquently expressed his concern for her spiritual welfare in his editorial, An FC Father Speaks Up. Personally, I have had no affiliation with the college at all. The first I knew of its existence was as a junior in High School. If I had known of the institution earlier, there is a good chance I would have attended. I have a 15 year old boy (and three smaller children), and have always considered their future attendance at the college as a potentially positive experience. You will look in vain in my writings for any systematic criticism of the college prior to this issue. No, we are not enemies of the college, but rather concerned friends.

As editor of Watchman Magazine, I have been criticized by several for printing the Open Letter. One individual wrote, "You might need to think about minding your own business instead of sticking your nose in others." Another said, "I personally believe very strongly for these tactics to be sinful, disgraceful, appalling, and worldly." A third wrote, "I am ashamed at the ridiculous behavior that is going on among a select few brethren in Christ. There are those who seem to live to stir up controversy. The reasons they do this are beyond my understanding. They seem to seek out issues to debate in order to cause separation and give themselves prominence." I have sought to reason with several of these who have written, and in two cases have been able, at least, to put the discussion back on a more dispassionate and reasoned plane. You may note in the above quotes that nothing is said about the validity of the criticism leveled at Florida College. In fact, of those who have written, critical of the publishing of the open letter, almost all have been critical of the letter not because the criticism is not valid, but simply because the criticism is leveled at all!

Brethren, surely we can all come to agreement with regard to the validity of spiritual admonition! Surely it is not necessary to enumerate all of the various passages which indicate not only the right, but the duty of Christians to admonish one another? I will supply two for your consideration:

It seems that instead of having the temerity to reject out of hand any opposition expressed to the practices seen at Florida College, it would be better to carefully examine both sides of the issue to determine the validity of the admonition. Watchman Magazine has published sufficient material to allow for a careful examination of the situation, and I for one am content to let the discerning reader decide for himself whether FC is worthy of admonition. The reader is also encouraged to visit the Gospel Anchor web site, the Florida College web site, Ferrell Jenkins' Bibleworld web site, Shane Scott's web page, and the Lord I Believe organization's web site. Too, material has been published in Gospel Truths, and Truth Magazine. Much of this is repeated material, but by all means, study carefully. The truth need not fear careful study and consideration. Various times in the midst of this controversy there have been claims that "only one side is being heard." This claim is obviously and patently false.

With this in mind, I would like to make a few suggestions for those who are seeking to find the truth in the midst of this controversy in particular. The principles, of course, would be helpful any time God's people find themselves in disagreement over any issue.

  1. Don't take at face value any cry of "Foul." Ferrell Jenkins has been quick raise this cry. On his Bibleworld web site he characterized the Open Letter as "the outragrous [sic] attacks made against FC and its teachers." Additionally, he claims that the works of the flesh are characteristic of "the spirit of some who are discussing the 'days' of Genesis 1." We presume he is not talking about himself in this assessment. In his article entitled The Creation Controversy and Florida College he claims that "Some of these brethren are not content with anything we say." And, "They have sought to create a heretic through a misunderstanding." Throughout his article he tried to characterize the criticism as a claim that FC has taught or advocated theistic evolution, when in reality the issue centers upon whether the events of Genesis chapter 1 should be understood literally as a creation week, with the universe created by the fiat of God. (Note: the word fiat, defined by Webster, "a command or act of will that creates something without or as if without further effort." emp. mine, SC)

    Hill Roberts, in his Response by Hill Roberts To The Open Letter of King, et al., -- Final Version --, chimed in with the cry of "Foul." He characterized the co-signers of the letter as "fools" by his continued use of passages which contained that term in reference to these brethren and their efforts. He characterized the letter as a "weak and ungodly attack", and claimed the "Council of 67" are guilty of "attack by propaganda", a "dishonest ruse", and do not have sufficient honor to be met in debate.

    For some, such tactics are sufficient. Some have sufficient faith in these men as to accept at face value their cry. This is unfortunate, as it leads to a blind denial of the very real problems present at the college. I have always found in Ferrell Jenkins' writings a reasoned and kind approach. I recently read his essay delivered to the 55th Anniversary Pepperdine University Bible Lectures on May 1, 1998. The title is, Please Don't Call Us "Anti". His plea for understanding in the midst of controversy is one he needs to remember himself as he deals with his critics on this issue.

    We are aware of the fact that these are serious charges made against brethren. We would not have leveled the criticism if it were not so. Cries of "Foul" ought not be sufficient to impel brethren to dismiss the charges in ignorance. We are content to allow those who want the truth to examine the charges, and the tactics of all who have written on the subject.

  2. Don't be paranoid! One man wrote in response to the open letter, asking, "Is XXXXX any part of this? I would like a yes or no. Because I know of the trouble he has caused in XXXXX and then in XXXXX. I see that some of your people (editors and such) are from different states..." His question referenced a man who signed the Open letter, but has not written publicly on the matter during these last couple of months. Others have made intimations about the "Council of 67" as if there were a secret organization that has an annual convention and dues paying members! Brethren, such evil surmising are not only inappropriate for Christians, they also indicate paranoia. Numerous times explanation has been given as to how the events of the open letter came about. This explanation is true. Sincere brethren, some of them friends of Florida College, found the expression of their concern in the open letter. They are not worthy of such calumny.

    Some have said the theory that a conspiracy led to JFK's death was untenable because of the number of individuals who would have to be involved. The greater the number, the more difficult it is to conspire. And yet, some Christians are swallowing such tripe. One writer shared this, "Your right. We need to drag this whole thing in the open to crush F.C. to a pulp. Destroy there [sic] Mighty leaders ruling F.C. and warn the parents. This has to be put to an end. People must be saved. We must quarrel and destory [sic] our own bretheren [sic] just because they have other views. "Seek and Destroy!!" "Come on Stan", Really?!? Is this necessary." Brethren, please understand that the 67 who co-signed the letter, and the multitude who have since joined in expressing their concerns are not out to "get anyone." Their concerns are genuine and sincere. They are loving and spiritually minded Christians, despite claims to the contrary.

  3. Don't allow Florida College, or any other humanly devised institution to become a "sacred cow." In this controversy, I have appreciated the statement of brother Colly Caldwell when he said, "As I have said on many occasions, we all need to be open to listen to concerns from our brethren and be certain our course is true to the Word of God." (June 30, 2000 letter to the co-signers of the Open Letter). This sentiment was expressed very strongly by brother James Cope when he assumed the presidency of Florida College in 1949. He wrote a letter to Fanning Yater Tant that was published in the Gospel Guardian magazine in June of that year. He wrote, "We purpose to profit by the constructive criticism of loyal brethren without counting them our enemies when they disagree with us in matters of judgment. We deserve their rebukes should we err in matters of faith." Further, he wrote, "We do not propose to sell principle for popularity even if it means the closing of our doors never to open again." We appreciate that sentiment, and pray that it is embraced not only by the administration and faculty of the college, but also by the students, alumni and friends of that institution. When criticism is levied, it should not be rejected out of hand. If it is valid, as brother Cope said, the rebuke is deserved.

    Some have been vehement in their cry that Florida College is not the church. With this sentiment we agree totally. It is a human institution, and one that has done a great deal of good for many people. But, it is not above criticism. The most disheartening aspect of this entire controversy for me has been the number of individuals who have written to criticize me simply for having the audacity to criticize FC. Several have even agreed that error was indeed tolerated, and have offered privately their own criticism of the college. But, because it is "the best that we have", they have been unwilling to accept the validity of any public criticism. One writer went so far to say, "Your attempts to warn are simply and plainly destructive to FC. They will go liberal in the future...if word continues to spread, and matters are continually blown up, to where they need to get money from other places." Imagine, if the criticism does not stop, we are going to be the one's responsible for FC "going liberal." This sounds very familiar. The same claim was made regarding the criticism of Homer Hailey in his teaching of error. It was those who publicly criticized Hailey who "forced" him to write his book on the subject. Such logic(?) is indicative of those who have elevated the objects of their affection to the "sacred cow" status mentioned above.

  4. Don't promote or tolerate error in an attempt to support the college. Of those who have written to criticize us, many are in agreement that Shane Scott has promoted error in his teaching at the college. One went so far as to say, "Errors have been made at FC and Shane is wrong in his beliefs...your website and articles regarding this, flame the fire and spread national rumors...they do not help..." If errors have been made, then do something about it! It is so disheartening to hear brethren, who have a long heritage of support for truth, casting their lots for those who have promoted error, and against those who expose it.

    Brother Ferrell Jenkins has yet to explain how he could in good conscience post to his Web page an article by Tom Couchman which teaches error, and promote it as "interesting reading." Surely brother Jenkins' does not agree with the distinction Couchman makes between "gospel/doctrine"? Is the fact that the article is critical of the Open Letter sufficient reason to post it, without a refutation of the error it espouses? It is on the basis of that error that the criticism, after all, is levied. Does brother Jenkins' get comfort from the support this false teaching gives to the practice at Florida College? At the top of his Bibleworld site he introduces the entirety of the site by writing, "This material is made available for study purposes. Read, reflect, accept, reject, according to the Word of God." Perhaps he believes this is sufficient to cover him in the promotion of Couchman's material.

    This attitude is similar to that expressed by Shane Scott in his class on Genesis. Since four different positions are taught, and the students are not compelled to accept a particular one, then his actions are excusable. How far do we go with promoting error as viable alternatives to truth? Will the students at Florida College one day have multiple positions on the Divorce and Remarriage controversy given on a test, with a student instructed to choose one and defend it? The two are immanently parallel. We are told by brother Jenkins in his speech last February that brethren disagree, and we should be tolerant of one another. Many advocate the same with regard to our differences on the Divorce and Remarriage issue. If this is necessary for academia, then I certainly will have to consider carefully putting my child in such an environment.

Conclusion

Examine the evidence. The Open Letter is an expression of concern. It is carefully worded, and carries a reasonable tone. Every accusation made is accompanied by corroborating quotes and evidence. Much more material has been published in the last month, in response and rejoinder. All we are asking is for each Christian to examine all of the material. If Florida College deserves rebuke, raise your voice to help effect change for the better. You need not do it my way, or in conjunction with any of the efforts that have been joined as of this date. I will not judge you if you choose to go about it in another way. If your desire is not to be affiliated with the Open Letter, that is fine. But, if error has been advocated and tolerated, if brethren have taught false doctrine, then the rebuke, as brother Cope said, is deserved!


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