A Public Letter to Ferrell Jenkins
by Mark Mayberry
August 9, 2000
August 4, 2000
Gospel Anchor Readers,
On Wednesday, July 12, 2000, I mailed the following letter to brother Ferrell Jenkins. Thus far, I have received no answer. In his public response to the Open Letter, brother Jenkins said that the signatories of the same who have written privately to him should not expect any sort of personal reply. "Brethren, you know that we don't have time to engage each of you in a personal correspondence," he said. "Don't expect it."
Beyond his public response to the Open Letter, entitled, "The Creation Controversy and Florida College," available for viewing at BIBLEWORLD.COM, it appears that no further dialog will be forthcoming. On a variety of levels, this response was extremely disappointing. Instead of addressing the genuine concerns of many faithful brethren regarding current compromises on the days of creation, brother Jenkins' reaction was both combative and evasive. It raises more questions than answers.
Accordingly, I have decided to post my letter to Ferrell Jenkins in this public forum. It is offered as an appeal to all those brethren who have taken this fearsome step in the direction of toleration of error. In making this letter available, it is my sincere hope that good will be forthcoming.
Yours in Christ,
Wednesday, July 12, 2000
Dear Brother Jenkins,
First of all, I would like to express my deep appreciation for all the good that you have accomplished down through the years. It has been a blessing for me to sit at your feet in the classroom and in the worship assembly. I have also greatly benefited from your instruction via the printed page. I have always appreciated your thoroughness, accuracy and devotion to the cause of Christ. You have been a role model, not only for me, but also for many other gospel preachers. In ways that you may never know, you have had a profound influence in my life.
Consequently, my high appreciation of your life's work makes it all the more difficult for me to write this letter. Yet, write I must. Brother Jenkins, I am at a loss to understand your reaction to the recent controversy regarding the "Days" of Genesis 1.
When I was a student at Florida College from 1975-1979, I distinctly remember that you and others on the Bible Faculty opposed the "Gospel-Doctrine" distinction, along with the concept of "Unity-in-Diversity," as grievous and potentially destructive errors. Now, in the midst of this present controversy regarding Florida College and the Genesis account of creation, you have posted to your web site a copy of Tom Couchman's response to the Open Letter, and have commended the same as "interesting reading." Yet, amazingly, from beginning to end, Couchman's letter demonstrates an acceptance of the Gospel-Doctrine distinction as well as an endorsement of the Unity-in-Diversity doctrine. [For more details, please see Maurice Barnett's review of Couchman. A link to this article is found at the bottom of this page. MM.]
Could you please explain this apparent contradiction? If advocating a Gospel-Doctrine distinction was wrong for Ketcherside, how can it be right for Couchman? Yes, the issues today are different from those of the 1970s. However, do a change in issues justify such a radical change in policy? If we allow a Gospel-Doctrine distinction on this issue, how can we disallow it on other equally important issues? If we are willing to extend the right-hand of fellowship to those who teach error on this issue, how can we forbid it on other equally important issues?
Furthermore, the introductory remarks of your article on "The 'Days' of Genesis 1," recently posted to BIBLEWORLD.COM, contain two objectionable statements. First you said, "I worked on this while making two crossings of the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco. It seemed appropriate since this is an area where seamen have long known the importance of avoiding extremes." Secondly, you said, "I found time for another editing session on the Eurostar between Paris and London. Going under the English Channel reminded me of the depths to which some men will go to discredit those with whom they disagree."
Brother Jenkins, with regards to your statement concerning the Strait of Gibraltar, since when is defending the truth against error considered extreme, unless it is by those who have departed from the truth, or by those who seek to fellowship the proponents of error? Using your Straits illustration, if you avoid the extremes, what is left? Surely you are not advising gospel preachers to chart a course in the middle of the channel/road? Johnny Ramsey and other "consiberals" among the pro-institutional crowd have tried this approach, and it simply doesn't work. Today they are fighting a rear-guard battle to stem the flood of digression that is threatening to sweep away the mainstream churches of Christ. Yet, in the 1950s, they themselves loosed this disaster upon the brotherhood through compromising on the issues of congregational cooperation, the church support of human institutions and the social gospel. That which started as a trickle is now a flood. The lesson is clear: You can't have a little liberalism. Faithfulness will not allow us to chart a course halfway between truth and error. Surely you cannot mean this. Yet, in the present context, your words open the door to such thinking, and many will respond accordingly.
Secondly, you said, "I found time for another editing session on the Eurostar between Paris and London. Going under the English Channel reminded me of the depths to which some men will go to discredit those with whom they disagree." This statement is particularly inflammatory and prejudicial. It basically cries out, "How low can they go!" Again, who is guilty of such? Since when is defending the truth against error regarded as a down and dirty personal attack?
Historically, I suppose this shift in thinking can be dated to Ed Harrell's 1988 article in Christianity Magazine wherein he castigates those who opposed Homer Hailey's erroneous teaching on marriage-divorce-and-remarriage as an unheroic attack upon an aged soldier of the cross. That article, coming from one so highly respected, has proved to be a watershed event among brethren. I never dreamed that conservative-minded brethren would become so uncertain regarding false teachers and false teaching. In many quarters today, brethren are more tolerant of false teachers than they are of those who would earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Instead of being commended for fulfilling their divine mandate, faithful brethren who support the truth and oppose error are now widely condemned as dangerous watchdogs, spiritual thought-police, creed-bound fascists, intolerant proponents of Neo-Catholicism, etc. Through your English Channel comment, I fear that you have lent your voice to such criticism. Such remarks are not helpful.
Also, I notice that on your web site, among the materials on the Days of Genesis, you have prominently included an article on "Variance, Emulations, Wrath, Strife, Seditions, Heresies." You say, "This 1982 article about some of the works of the flesh sounds as if it were written recently to deal with the spirit of some who are discussing the 'days' of Genesis 1." Are you implying that those men who signed the Open Letter are guilty of such sins? If so, please document such charges. If you did not have reference to the Open Letter, would you please post a statement to your web site indicating such. Many brethren will automatically assume that you are referring to the signatories of the Open Letter. Again, as things currently stand, unwittingly or not, your comments have given encouragement to those who would follow the pathway of tolerance and accommodation of serious doctrinal error.
When one is unable to answer the reasoned arguments that have been raised against a position, the individual who is under assault often attempts to cloud the issue, change the subject, and, on occasion, even resorts to character assassination. The charge of mean-spiritedness is often leveled by liberals against conservatives, both in the political and theological realms.
Sadly, in this present controversy, it appears that you have adopted the aforementioned tactic. The Open Letter avoided such personal accusations as you now inject into the debate. Many faithful brethren object to the teaching of Hill Roberts and Shane Scott relative to the days of Genesis 1, but this does not categorize them as carnal-minded. Many brethren are concerned over the direction that Florida College is headed, but this does not mean they are guilty of practicing the works of the flesh.
I wrote three articles in Watchman Magazine that deal with the present controversy regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1. Two of these articles were reprinted in Truth Magazine. Did you have reference to me when you said, "This 1982 article about some of the works of the flesh sounds as if it were written recently to deal with the spirit of some who are discussing the 'days' of Genesis 1"? Did you have reference to the writings of Dan King, Harry Osborne, Connie Adams, or other good and godly men? If so I wish you would specify where we are wrong. If we have sinned in our approach, you would be our friend in revealing our error. If you did not have reference to us, then you need to say so. Such broad-brush accusations tend to be interpreted quite literally by most of your reading audience.
Brother Jenkins, I plead with you to re-think your approach to the present debate. Your approach to this controversy is so different from the way you have conducted yourself in the past. It is deeply disappointing. We are not your enemies. Rather, we are friends and brethren who are concerned about where this and other compromises might lead.
As you near the end of your life's work, you hold a position of profound influence among non-institutional brethren. Many, many brethren will be swayed by where you come down on this issue. It is my hope and prayer that you will attempt to stem the tide of digression that is beginning to rise and swell.
Brother Jenkins, I have repeatedly read the transcript of your lecture on "The 'Days' of Genesis 1" that was presented during the FC Lectures on Feb. 8th, 2000. It seems obvious that you do not believe that the Genesis account must be interpreted literally, at least regarding length of the days. Furthermore, you counsel tolerance toward those who hold a non-literal interpretation of the text.
Let us not forget the lessons of history: A similar controversy erupted at the College of the Bible in 1912-1917. Uncertain sounds began emanating from the school on the issue of man's origin. When controversy first erupted, the school administration and Bible faculty stonewalled, vigorously denying any and all charges that they had compromised with Darwinianism. Yet, despite all protestation to the contrary, within a few years, the school was openly teaching evolution as a fact.
Again, in the 1980s, certain teachers at Abilene Christian University began teaching that the Genesis account of creation was a myth. Faced with intense criticism, an internal investigation ensued. However, the results were anything but satisfying. Instead of dealing forthrightly with the controversy, denials were issued, and the school in turn vehemently attacked their critics. Yet, the facts could not be refuted: ACU had accommodated the Scriptures to fit with the theory of evolution. Today, Abilene, having lost its moorings, has become an organ of the progressive wing of the institutional church.
In both cases, small accommodations with Darwinian evolution did, in time, lead to much greater compromises and concessions. Such views are, in fact, the handmaidens of digression. The College of the Bible has gone the ways of men. Abilene Christian University is at the vanguard of progressive change. Our liberal brethren are rushing headlong into complete apostasy. Are conservative brethren poised to follow the same course? Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Brother Jenkins, please, oh please, do not make the same mistake as brother James W. McGarvey, who tried to have it both ways during the instrumental music/missionary society controversy. In his later life, McGarvey deeply regretted having accommodated error, but the deed was done. He could have been a powerful voice stemming apostasy, but through tolerating error, he simultaneously discouraged the defenders of truth and encouraged the digressives.
As you well know, McGarvey personally opposed instrumental music in church worship. Yet, he tolerated its practice. Near the end of his life, he offered the following words of advice to a young preacher on how to deal with error among brethren. He said, "You are on the right road, and whatever you do, don't let anyone persuade you that you can successfully combat error by fellowshipping it and going along with it. I have tried. I believed at the start that was the only way to do it. I've never held membership in a congregation that used instrumental music. I have, however, accepted invitations to preach without distinctions between churches that used it and churches that didn't. I've gone along with their papers and magazines and things of that sort. During all these years I have taught the truth as the New Testament teaches it to every young preacher who passed through the College of the Bible. Yet, I do not know of more than six of them who are preaching the truth today. It won't work."
Accommodation with error can never promote true Christian unity (Ephesians 4:1-6). Rather, it promotes compromise, corrupting and corroding those who attempt to fellowship error (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 11:1-4). Such an approach leads to a loss of fellowship with God because it makes us joint participants with sin and error (2 John 9-11). Yet, despite the clear warnings of history and the plain teaching of Scripture, many today would adopt this approach on a variety of issues confronting the church. It did not work yesterday, and it will not work today. Error will not go away. It cannot be ignored. Error must be opposed for the truth's sake (John 8:31-32; 17:17), and also because our hope of salvation hangs in the balance (John 12:48 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-15).
Brother Jenkins, please accept these words in the spirit of love in which they were written. I have sought to follow Paul's admonition in 1st Timothy 1:5, which says, "Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father." This has been my only goal. I remain your friend and devoted former student. I shall never forget the many ways in which you have helped me.
Respectfully in Him,
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