Friday, January 29, 2010

The Current Issues, Foy E. Wallace, Jr.

The Current Issues, Foy E. Wallace, Jr.

It takes courage for a person to change long held views; especially when flexibility has diminished with age. There are exceptions to this rule but often we “go down with the ship” of our opinions. One such exception I witnessed is in the life of a dear departed Christian, Bill Clevenger. Bill Clevenger was a WW2 veteran who served under General Patton. He had held the Non-Institutional (NI) position most of his life. Around 1998, Bill’s health decline prompted him to move to Streetsboro where we attend church. He sought to worship with us stating “I want to worship peaceably and will not involve myself in the business aspect even though I don’t agree with some of these practices.” We welcomed Bill to our services which he attended faithfully and even led prayers. After a year or so, Bill came to our apartment for dinner after he hinted how much he would like to visit with us since he used to live in our neighborhood. We discussed freely our mutual concern for the church and had a wonderful visit. As time went by he requested that I visit him at his residence. Unfortunately circumstances repeatedly interfered, but Bill persisted and others began telling me how much Bill wanted me to visit him. Since I saw him at every service I knew something was on his mind. So a friend and I went to visit him as we were in town one evening. Bill was being called upon by Christian friends from the congregation he formerly attended, who were concerned about his worshipping with those who did not share their viewpoint. I decided it was a good time to approach him about this subject.

“Bill, have you ever heard the name of Foy E. Wallace, Jr.?” I knew based on books he had that that name would ring a bell. I asked him if he knew brother Wallace had broken from the new NI party. He had not. I went on to explain that Wallace had to make public statements orally and in print that he was not a part of this new party. Wallace, at first, was involved closely with those who would become heavily steeped in this mindset. Wallace was close friends with one of the leaders of the new party, even conducting his wedding. I told him that one of the breaking points between Wallace and NI party came over cooperative meetings. Both men fully supported these arrangements in the past by which a congregation would work with other congregations to pool resources to bring a preacher into a large venue of a major city. One of these famous cooperative gospel meetings was held in the Music Hall in Houston, TX from January 21-28, 1945. Wallace’s friend, who became a leader in the NI party, not only arranged the meeting but also arranged to have Foy E. Wallace’s sermons published in book form which became known as God’s Prophetic Word.

The Current Issues is a booklet that Foy E. Wallace, Jr. published to set the record straight of his views on this new party that went about troubling churches with their newly restrictive doctrine. Wallace points out that both parties had fellowship on cooperative meetings but the new party had changed. Wallace points out that he held the same positions that his father, Foy E. Wallace, Sr. had also held. Wallace’s main issue which the NI crowd seeks to claim his as one of their own was on Christian Colleges. Wallace was not opposed to Christian Colleges; he sent some of his children to Freed-Hardeman College. He was concerned that Christian Colleges would usurp the operation of local churches. This period of division was driven largely by personalities and much damage was done to the brotherhood. Some today are not even aware of the specifics of these issues. This book is a good reference work on this period of division from one that the new party sought to claim in their camp and his repudiation of such efforts.

Often I hear the process that gave rise to the NI party was that they drew their circle of fellowship smaller so that fewer fit in it. Then, they re-drew the circle even tighter and fewer fit. Eventually they drew it so tight that barely anyone fits into it. If they have not already done so, they will be as it is reported about two Yorkshire men conversing: "Everyone in the world is quite mad, except for me and thee. And sometimes I have my doubts about thee." Our plea is to let the New Testament be our guide, but some have a narrower viewpoint on matters than the Scriptures. As those who debated with this new party often pointed out—“It is just as much a sin to create a law where the Bible does not as it is to loosen a law that actually exists.” This is a fair description of the NI position. I admire our mutual determination to have a “Thus Saith the Lord”, but they are sometimes too restrictive where the Bible actually provides more liberty.

Bill was captivated as I explained these events to him. Bill had become practically blind, but he wanted to read this book. So, I asked the church secretary, Nina Blackford, if she would be willing to read the book into a tape recorder for Bill to hear, which she graciously did. I didn’t hear much more about the issue for some time. Then, during the summer of 2001, Bill came forward to express to our interim preacher, John Harris that he wanted it known that he had now rejected his former views and wanted to be in full unity with the congregation. Eventually our new preacher, Ralph Price, would come to work with us and become very close to Bill, even conducting his funeral in January 2006. Ralph later told me that he wanted to read the book that convinced Bill. While I had known of Bill’s change, I did not know that The Current Issues had such an impact on his thinking.

This is proof that minds, regardless of age, can be reached.

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