Open Letter

Response to "The 29th Question and Beyond..."

Maurice Barnett

 


Editor's Note: This article is a response to Bill Robinson's article which appears elsewhere in this issue. To read Bill Robinson's article, click here.


As a teenager, Bill Robinson, Jr. was baptized during a gospel meeting I conducted in California. His father and I were good friends and I had no one on whom I could depend any more than Bill Robinson, Sr. I encouraged Bill, Jr. when he decided to preach and continued with help and encouragement long afterward. I was supposed to have performed his wedding ceremony when he got married but was too ill to travel at the time. I have felt a special warmth for him and his family through the years and have been a good friend to them. Because of this close association in the past, I am especially disappointed with his article. I took it as a personal insult, publicly proclaimed. He accuses me and the other signatories of the most heinous crime, that of being a party with premeditated intent on dividing the church as well as being a group of creed makers forcing our will on the church!

Thank you, Bill, for letting me know what you now think of me. But, if you think that your accusations have contributed to an ease of tension and a solving of the current disagreements, then you need to take a long vacation and think some more. Instead of being a part of the solution, you are now a part of the problem. You present yourself as an upholder of truth and then fill your article with untruth. Then, after slandering me and the other signatories, you have the audacity to write in your closing paragraph that "we MUST do better than this" by not biting and devouring one another. Bill, you made the statement and condemned yourself. I have seldom seen a more vicious, biting and devouring attack, filled with false accusations, than what you wrote. Whoever it is you are trying to impress, it certainly isn't those who signed the Open Letter.

Bill, you have a right to disagree with what we have said but you don't have a right to judge our hearts and intentions. You have sinned. You have elevated yourself to the position of a judge that belongs only to God, and are guilty of evil surmisings. In violating the scriptures, you owe repentance toward God and an apology to everyone who signed the Open Letter.

I've heard your accusations many times before so they don't impress me. In the mid-1950's, I was preaching for the Doniphan Drive church in El Paso, Texas while the institutional controversy was raging. Because of my stand, two other churches in El Paso publicly withdrew from me; they were not aware that they couldn't do that. They accused me of being a member of the "Roy Cogdill party" that was dividing the church. During those years, every one who stood against encroaching liberalism was accused of trying to cause division. I lost support, meetings were cancelled and malicious lies were told about me. So, I learned a long time ago that when I am dealing with anyone who is defending false doctrine that I can expect any kind of personal attack and lowdown claims. Things haven't changed.

The present errors on Creation are but a symptom of the disease that abounds. We are plagued with an unscriptural unity in diversity doctrine, a repudiation of how we understand the Bible, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, love everyone and overlook error and peace at any price. The "new hermeneutic" has a real foothold among brethren and change agents have been at work for a long time. The more liberal preachers of the new hermeneutic have attacked Bible authority through the person of Christ; preach the man and not the plan! Now we are seeing an attack through science: we must interpret the Bible record through the speculations of physical nature. Time will make this even more apparent.

Shall we stop all opposition to these things for the sake of unity, peace and harmony? That has also been tried before on every error that has ever cropped up among brethren. Brethren who opposed the Missionary Society, instrumental music and the pious unimmersed were accused of trying to destroy fellowship among brethren. In 1857, Tolbert Fanning added his voice in opposition to the Missionary Society. "W.K. Pendleton, in the hope of subduing opposition, asked Fanning to suspend his judgment until some further time," Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 1, p. 209. What Pendleton wanted was for Fanning to stop opposing the society, a society that Pendleton backed to the hilt. Fanning refused. Currently, some are also wanting those who signed the Open Letter to "suspend judgment until some further time." On page 196 of the same volume, West says,

It was a futile move, and those who compromised went with the Christian Church. That's where compromise with error always leads. At one time, J.B. Briney was opposed to instrumental music in worship. He said,

The following comes from the pen of Ferrell Jenkins. It appeared in Torch of February 1989, page 22.

Ferrell follows this account with the last paragraph of his article:

I believed what Ferrell taught when I read that eleven years ago, and I believe it today. Compromise with error just encourages more widespread apostasy. So, Bill, just cut out the ad hominem nonsense and deal with the issue of the nature of Creation. You want to contribute to fellowship and unity? Then take my reply to Couchman and show me where it's Biblically wrong! That's what you should have done with your article to begin with instead of impugning motives and slandering the signers of the Open Letter.

Further, Bill, you pander to prejudice. Floyd Chappelear, on Marslist recently, said, "I believe the framers of the petition were operating out of a desire for power and not principle." That slander is equal to the accusation you make, Bill. He sinned, as you did, by judging our hearts and motives. You accuse us of making a creed like denominational creeds of the Church Councils and the Roman Catholic Church. Why, everyone in the church "knows" that such creeds are wrong and you argue that the Open Letter is just like those creeds, so therefore the Open Letter is to be condemned along with all denominational creeds! That's convenient. Appeal to prejudice and you don't have to deal with the issue. Just blacken the opposition and win the day. But, your premises are faulty. Hill Roberts, on his website, recommends your article as an example of the blessings of history. Let's see.

The word, creed, comes from a Latin word that means to believe or I Believe. It is used variously within that meaning. It may be nothing more than one person declaring something he believes and everyone believes something. The early councils of the first several centuries from which the Church creeds came were composed of Church prelates, Bishops, convened to settle some doctrinal issue for the churches over which they had control. Most of them were convened at the orders of the ruler of the Empire and, in some instances, the Emperor told the council what decisions they would make. The Roman Catholic Creeds had the authority of the central Church government behind what was produced. These creeds were then forced on all the churches by those who had the power to do so, the civil government and the ruling Bishops.

Now, just how the Open Letter is comparable to that is beyond comprehension. The signers of the Open Letter did so voluntarily and have no power to enforce anything. This was neither like the early Church Councils nor the Roman Catholic Church.

But, we are asked, isn't the purpose of the letter to try to get everyone to believe what it sets forth? Certainly. Where is the wrong in that? Every article written by anyone on any subject has that as its purpose. Bill, you wrote an excellent series of articles several years ago reviewing Homer Hailey's book on divorce and remarriage. That was your creed on the subject (you did believe it didn't you?). Did you want everyone to take the position you set forth? Were you trying to convince them to accept your belief on the subject? Certainly, you were. Many people commended you on the series, including me. Did their commendations make it a creed to be condemned? If you had asked several people to add their signature to show their agreement when you published the articles, would that have made your articles a denominational creed to be condemned? Because you wanted as many others as possible to believe what you wrote was true, were you forcing your creed on them like the denominational Church Councils? As a matter of fact, your article we are looking at right now is your creed and you want everyone, especially the signers of the Open Letter, to accept your creed and comply with it.

On many occasions through the 1950s and 60s, members in various congregations found that they could not abide the liberal tendencies taken by the majority of that church. They could have just left to go elsewhere, and many chose that route. Others were forced out by vile ungodliness. Others, trying every way they could to correct things and maintain unity, chose to write a document detailing the errors being injected and reasoning about what the Bible said. These documents were signed by all of the members who agreed with it; some had several dozen signatures. In most instances of this happening, a meeting was held by the signatories to decide just what to say in their document. Was the document a creed? Yes. Did it come out of a meeting of those who signed it? Yes. Did these brethren want their opposition to agree with it? Yes. Did division come? Yes. But, who caused the division? Was it those who introduced the errors or those who objected to them? You tell us! Bill, were they wrong in writing those documents? You will have to say, yes. Were the brethren addressed compelled to accept the document and make a change? No, and none of them to my knowledge ever did.

The Open Letter has no power but to persuade by reasoning and the signatures were only to indicate men who agreed with what was written. Bill, how many individuals does it take, according to your definition, to make an article a creed you would condemn? If Dan King were the sole author of the Open Letter, would it be a creed like a denominational creed? Since Dan King and Harry Osborne combined did the actual writing of the article, does the fact that there were two of them make it a creed just like the Roman Catholic creeds? Tell us, Bill, just how many signatures does it take to produce a creed that you would condemn? Two, three, six, twelve, thirty or how many?

Ferrell Jenkins and Shane Scott have listed, or referred to, several influential preachers who are supposed to agree with their views on the age of the earth. Ferrell even has posted statements from Jim Needham and Jere Frost insisting that they agree with Ferrell and Shane. Tom Couchman makes mention of a whole list of such men that Steve Wolfgang has compiled, as Ferrell does also. What is that list of men for, Bill? You already know. It's to use the influence of such men so that others will think that Ferrell and Shane are not alone in their beliefs. Now, what is the material difference between what Ferrel and Shane have done and what the signatories of the Open Letter did? After more than nine attempts to resolve the issue, beginning in 1998, attempts that went nowhere, only then was it decided to write the Open Letter to force the issue into the open so it could be discussed. If there was only one signature on the Open Letter, it could have been easily ignored. But, with sixty-seven signatures, showing there were many who were concerned, it wouldn't be ignored.

But, Bill, you and all those who have carped at us about the Open Letter being a creed, have a double standard! You have one for us and another one for your buddies. They can list well-known brethren who are supposed to agree with them and it's okay. But, if the Open Letter carries a list of men who agree with it, you condemn that as a denominational creed!

The questionnaire sent out by the West Columbia, Texas church has no likeness to the Open Letter. I thought, myself, that the questionnaire was extremely poor judgment. Some of the questions had to do with expedients, some were ambiguous, and with others I had doctrinal disagreement. I would not have signed it if one had been sent to me. Of course, there was never any danger of that. The questionnaire was sent to those preachers who were scheduled for or being considered for gospel meetings at West Columbia. Was it a creed? In the general meaning of creed, yes it was. Floyd Chappelear, on the Marslist posting before mentioned, and in an attempt to smear the open letter, said, "The framers (of the Open Letter, MB) were part of that group that prepared the questionairre (sic) creed." That's completely false! (And Bill, Floyd's vicious slander isn't a bit worse than yours) Neither Harry Osborne nor Dan King, who framed the Open Letter, had anything whatever to do on any level with the questionnaire. And, anyone who had anything to do with the questionnaire had nothing to do with the writing of the Open Letter. No one needed to write an open letter about the questionnaire because there was such an immediate surge of criticism from all over the country, from hundreds of brethren, that the questionnaire was finally withdrawn, as you also noted. Tell us, Bill, did you approve of that kind of pressure being brought to bear on an autonomous local church to get it to line up with the creed of all those who criticized it? If you did approve of it, then you are showing another double standard.

There is a difference between a local church setting the boundaries of whom they will have for meetings and the Open Letter. The questionnaire carried the signatures of the elders of that congregation who had the authority to protect the flock; they were the ones who initiated the document to begin with. As much as I disagreed with the document and the judgment in using it, I will defend any eldership's right, even responsibility, to protect the local church from teachers that they consider would cause harm or confusion. There isn't a congregation in this world who does not do the same thing; they just don't put it into a document. There are preachers who won't be allowed into the pulpit here in Phoenix and I make no apologies for that. Where Bill works, they certainly wouldn't allow those who teach error on marriage and divorce to preach, would they? I know of many churches that have written letters to preachers questioning their views on some things before having them for a meeting; I've received a couple of those myself. And, churches certainly ought to find out where a man stands before engaging him in full time work or sending support. Is a statement of their beliefs contained in such a letter? Yes, it is. Do they have a right to do that? Yes, they do, and they had better do it now in light of present conditions over the country. There is a popular saying that has made the rounds in recent years: "If you haven't talked with a particular preacher within the past six months, you don't know where he stands on anything."

Now, Bill, you say that those who made up the questionnaire withdrew it but didn't repent of making it up in the first place, that they would reinstate it if there were no opposition. Bill, are you trying to force your creed on them, or just passing judgment? Well, I don't know if they repented or not but, whether they did or not, it doesn't prove the Open Letter is just like the questionnaire. And, the fact is, if FC never had Hill Roberts back for a lecture, and if they fired Shane Scott, it wouldn't mean that there was going to be repentance on their part and that they would stop defending what they currently believe.

Bill, if the subject at issue at FC were instrumental music in worship rather than creation, would you object, after other attempts had failed, to an open letter being written voicing your objection? If you wouldn't object to that, how would other people signing that letter change anything? Or, what if it was premillennialism, or baptism for the remission of sins? Bill, if it were instrumental music, premillennialism or baptism for the remission of sins that was the issue instead of creation, you would have to condemn an open letter objecting to those doctrines, a letter containng several agreeing signatures, as a denominational creed! You would have to say that to be consistent. But, the real problem that you have with the Open Letter is that you don't agree with the doctrinal stand taken in that letter.

Bill, you claim that the how of creation cannot be determined and that the Open Letter proceeded to say how it was done and so the Open Letter is a denominational creed being forced on the churches. Yet, the only position taken in the Open Letter was that God created it all by his miraculous divine power in six twenty-four hour consecutive days. My, isn't that terrible that we should believe such a thing? You say,

Bill, you missed it, badly. Your argument is a non-sequitor; the conclusion doesn't follow. You say that if we allow any differences on how long the earth has been in existence, then "of necessity" we must allow differences on the days of creation. Hardly. You are assuming that either the day/age or gap between days theories can be true; that is assuming what has to be proven. But, when you get back to the beginning, you have six twenty-four hour consecutive days of God's creative miracle. That much, the Bible does say. Now, just how long it's been since creation occurred, the Bible does not say, though it will not allow for billions of years since creation. Secondly, you are arguing backwards. You argue from what opinions people have about how long since creation to determine how long the days of creation were in Genesis one! So, are we now to determine what the Bible teaches by how many varying opinions are held on it? But, let's reword your sentence: "...if we allow for some differences among brethren to exist regarding just what songs and how many to sing on Sunday morning then we must of necessity allow some room for differences in one's interpretation of Ephesians 5:19, allowing for instrumental music, because our differences over what songs and how many stem from that interpretation." The conclusion doesn't follow from the premises does it, Bill? But, that makes just as much sense as the way you used the argument.

The fact that Genesis was written before Darwin has absolutely nothing to do with understanding the Genesis record. And, just who is it that's trying to inject modern "science" into Genesis 1? Not the Open Letter, but Hill Roberts and Shane Scott are. Darwinian evolution can in no way be harmonized with Genesis one, regardless of when Darwin wrote. Even the doctrine of Uniformity that underlies Darwinian evolution is specifically opposed in the Bible, II Peter 3:3-7. And, Peter wrote that before Darwin.

Moses wrote Genesis for the Jewish nation of his own time but not just for them. It is a book for all people of all time in all cultures and it gives the same information to all of them. It identifies the one true God who created all things and is so used throughout the Bible. We cannot believe in God relative to our salvation unless we believe in the God who created all things; Genesis tells us what that means (see my review of Tom Couchman). Second, it established the genealogical lineage of the Jewish nation and consequently that of the Messiah that is likewise important for us now, Matthew 1, Luke 3, John 5:45-47. Third, it is the basis of the only rules of marriage that are acceptable to God. Fourth, it is the basis of our understanding the roles of men and women in the Lord's work today as it is the order of authority in marriage, I Timothy 12:12-15, Ephesians 5:22-33, I Corinthians 11:8-11. Fifth, it furnishes basic instruction on what salvation by faith and grace means for us today, Romans 3-4. Sixth, it warns us of the consequences of disobedience to God as it does of the blessings that come from obeying Him by Faith, Matthew 24:37-44, Hebrews 11. Seventh, we know the flood of Noah was global from Genesis and confirmed by inspiration in II Peter 3:5-7. Genesis thus presents a lesson on godly living. Eighth, the days of creation with the seventh day of God's rest furnished the basis for the six days of work followed by the Sabbath for the Jews, Exodus 20:9-11, and whereby we know what Genesis 1 is saying. Genesis may have been written before Darwin, but it is to be understood long after Darwin in the same way as it was before Darwin.

One of the well-known hermeneutic rules is that a term is used in its basic literal meaning unless there is some necessary reason in the context or parallel passage requiring that we understand it figuratively. The literal twenty-four hour day fits Genesis one very well. Second, the Jews were told they would work for six twenty-four hour consecutive days, just like God did and then rest on the seventh, just like God did. The language of Exodus 20:9-11 is too simple and clear to understand it otherwise. Third, The language in Genesis one is stated several different ways so that it clearly identifies that a twenty-four hour time period is intended. The first day involved light and dark, evening and morning, night and day. The same fact is stated three ways so that the meaning of day is clearly established. Compare the KJV and ASV of Daniel 8:14 for "evening and morning." Fourth, when the Hebrew word for day, yom, is connected with an ordinal number, as in Genesis 1 and throughout the Old Testament, it refers to an ordinary 24-hour day. In fact, the Jews had no names for the days of the week except for the Sabbath; the days were numbered, just like Genesis 1. Fifth, the next one, just as in Exodus 20, follows each day immediately. And, there are other reasons why there could have been no long gaps between the days. Check other articles at this website for that information

Bill, you are very intense about the Open Letter being addressed to Florida College and faculty. Yes, FC isn't the church, but we have a right to question what they do for several reasons. You say,

You don't tell us whether it is the universal church or local churches that you are referring to. Ferrell Jenkins says, "individual Christians who believe that for which the school stands should provide the financial and moral undergirding necessary" Florida College Lectures, 1976. If Florida College could get every Christian in the world to individually send support to the school, they would do it; they would get the universal church supporting it! At that, there is no telling how many hundreds of Christians are doing just what Ferrell says they should do. The base of support reaches into every part of the United States. And, Florida College is answerable to every one of them. No one said that local churches supported Florida or that it is a part of the work of the local churches. So, tell us, Bill, what local church signed the Open Letter?

The very clear fact is that the influence of Florida College reaches out to every congregation in every state. It's very obvious that many brethren are so enraptured by Florida College that they will allow no criticism of the school for any reason. I know this to be so. Second, hundreds of young people from churches all over the country, including Phoenix, go to school there with minds that easily accept what they are taught and what they see. They are primed for that because this is "our" school operated by Christians. Many of them decide to be preachers and spread out into the churches and influence many people, not to mention the hundreds, even thousands, of graduates who don't preach but also have an influence. I have had several personal experiences with this. Every college erected by brethren has had a powerful influence on the churches everywhere and that makes the school as much a potential for evil as for good. When error is taught, then we know it won't be long before the influence will be at our doorstep and we will have to deal with it. Many divisions and apostasies in churches have occurred because of error originating in schools brethren have built. That makes it our business, Bill. We have a right and a responsibility to question any person or organization that affects the work of local churches.

Bill, you say we ought not bite and devour one another. I agree. But, your use of Galatians 5:15 is faulty. If that passage is warning us not to put up a fight in defense of truth, then we can never stand for anything. If we don't oppose errors and innovations then the errors and innovations will consume us. We will never stop the inroads of error and apostasy by sticking our heads in the sand and pretending they don't exist.


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