Read the following slowly, carefully and taste every word
it is most important editor.
On February 21, 1996, William S. Banowsky, former president of
Pepperdine University, spoke on the lectureship at ACU on the
topic, "The ChristCentered Church." He divided
his topic into three parts: the mystery of Christ, the universality
of Christ, and the indwelling of Christ. Banowsky promised that
he would quote from only two sources: the Bible and former speakers
on the Abilene lectures. Presumably he quoted from the Bible as
his authority, and he quoted from former speakers at Abilene to
prove that they supported his contentions. Unfortunately, he misrepresented
The main thrust of Banowsky's speech was advocacy of fellowship
with denominationalism. He indicated that he had outgrown the
idea of "an identifiably exclusive church" for a "universally
inclusive church." He decried the attitude that we have "all
truth in perfectly restoring Christ's church" and stated
that we should confess "our selfrighteousness to our
neighbors." He charged that we have deified the letter of
the Bible and "placed paper and ink between us and God."
He contended that we should accept "other believers"
and "other sheep" who are being enlightened by Christ.
He embraced subjectivity, stating that faith is more "intuition
and feeling" than "logic and reason." He magnified
his "experience" and argued that he knew Christ lives
because he lives "within my heart."
In the course of his presentation, Banowsky quoted numerous prior
speakers at Abilene, including G. C. Brewer, C. M. Stubblefield,
and Jesse P. Sewell. The clear import of his affirmation was that
he was saying the same thing that these earlier brethren proclaimed.
Applause from the audience rang out at various intervals during
the speech. It is more than astonishing to suppose that brethren
who knew Brewer, Sewell, and others could believe that they taught
the same thing that Banowsky was advocating. In fact, the very
thought that he could quote these brethren in support of fellowship
and acceptance of denominationalism is preposterous on its face.
I first heard G. C. Brewer when I was about 16 years of age. He
had a deep, resonant voice, a dignified appearance, a ready knowledge
of the scriptures, and was, all in all, the most powerful preacher
I ever had heard. On one occasion I was invited to ride with him
from Searcy to Morrilton, Arkansas, where he was to preach one
evening. He spoke for an hour and 20 minutes on the subject, "Reformation
and Restoration." I sat mesmerized on the front row throughout
the entire presentation. He spoke without notes and had complete
command of his subject. His soninlaw, Perry Mason,
was my high school principal. I have a copy of Brewer's autobiography,
Forty Years on the Firing Line, which was personally autographed
by brother Brewer, his wife, daughter, and soninlaw.
When I learned of G.C. Brewer's last illness, I went to his hospital
bed at Searcy. I recall sitting at his bedside as he tightly gripped
me by the hand. I never saw brother Brewer again; he died a few
days later on June 9, 1956. On August 2, 1956, I went to the Brewer
home at 1925 Jackson Avenue in Memphis to visit sister Brewer.
Knowing of my sincere admiration for him, she invited me to go
upstairs to his study and to select any book of my choosing from
his library. After spending a long reflective period in the study
of this great man, respectfully sitting in his chair, placing
my feet gently under his desk, opening and perusing his books,
I finally ventured downstairs and told sister Brewer that I simply
could not find one book, but I had found two and she could choose
which one I might have. In a warm spirit of generosity toward
a young preacher not yet twenty, she insisted, "You shall
have both of them." Now, some forty years later, these books
are still treasured as part of my collection.
Jesse P. Sewell, one-time president at Abilene, is credited with
being the preserver of the school and "chief architect"
of the lectures. Born at McMinnville, Tenn., Sewell studied at
Nashville Bible School under such men as David Lipscomb and James
Harding. In the 1950s he taught Bible at Harding and lived in
an apartment on campus-good fortune for me since I attended my
last two years of high school at Harding. Brother Sewell was approximately
eighty years of age at the time, but I had the opportunity to
hear him speak. He was a gentle man, wise, deliberate in speech,
and from one of the most prominent families in restoration history.
Although I was only a high school student, I asked for an appointment
to visit brother Sewell at his apartment. To this day, I remember
his graciousness, his knowledge, and his profound grasp of restoration
history and principles.
May I say, therefore, that I have a special interest in knowing
that the teaching of these men, and others like them, is not perverted,
corrupted, or misappropriated to promote positions which they
never held, never advocated, and never believed.
Wresting the Word of the Pioneers
1. Banowsky argues for a form of spiritual agnosticism. "Nothing
is more compelling," he says, Than the honest humility that
often admits, 'I just don't know.'" In this context, he quotes
from Jesse P. Sewell in the 1920 lectures:
Ours is a plea for progress. The importance of our plea does not
consist in the particular truth we now practice, but rather in
our attitude toward all truth. If we ever allow ourselves to become
satisfied, our usefulness will be ended. Our minds must ever be
Notice that brother Sewell does not reject the "particular
truth we now practice," but he says we must ever be open
"toward all truth in Christ." (For some reason, brother
Banowsky omitted the expression "in Christ," but it
appears in the original speech by Sewell). Further, in summarizing
the plea of churches of Christ, Sewell went on to say:
It is a plea for Christian union, that is, for such union with
Christ and such conformity to his teaching as will bring all believers
into fellowship and cooperation. It is not a plea for the union
of denominations or the establishment of an ecclesiastical trust
In the same speech, brother Sewell spoke of "the sin of denominational
division." He said: "Our plea is a plea for the restoration
of the original doctrine, faith, spirit and practice of the New
Testament church." Brother Sewell apparently believed in
an identifiably exclusive church. He made it clear "we are
not a denomination." "Christian liberty," he declared,
"is not license to do as one pleases or to follow the authority
2. Referring to the 1926 lectureship, Banowsky says that C. M.
Stubblefield supported Sewell's openness by citing the slogan:
"We claim to be Christians only, but we do not claim to be
the only Christians. " This expression, used by several of
the pioneer preachers, is wrested from its context. By saying
we are not the "only Christians," these pioneers were
not advocating recognition of denominationalism. Rather, they
were arguing the very thing Banowsky and others deny; namely,
that any Christians in denominations should get out of them and
be "Christians only." Stubblefield said:
While we believe that many identified with the denominations have
become Christians, they have taken on much that is neither Christianity
nor anything akin to it.... We strive to induce such people to
cease being more than Christians, and to be Christians only.
Stubblefield went further, saying: "A chief item in our plea,
then is for a complete destruction of denominationalism from the
earth." Brother Banowsky does not mention this fact in his
claim for "openness." Yet he knew that both Sewell and
Stubblefield contended against denominationalism because he wrote
a book in 1965 about the history of the Abilene lectures in which
he conceded that Stubble field stated, "The arms of
fellowship could not be openly extended to denominational believers"
(The Mirror of a Movement, p. 209). One wonders why he
did not share this information in his Abilene speech in 1996.
3. In his discussion of "how we should treat other believers,"
Banowsky quotes from Ernest Beam in the 1935 lectures to this
effect: "Whether we like it or not, whoever accepts Christ
as Lord and gives evidence he is anxious to obey him is your brother
in Christ." Unfortunately for brother Banowsky's point, however,
Beam was not discussing treatment of "other believers."
He was talking about differences among those who are members of
churches of Christ (as he makes plain in the very first sentence
of the preceding paragraph). Furthermore, in the same speech,
brother Beam stated:
Certain it is the same Paul who forbade them to be PaulineChristians
and AppollosianChristians and CephasiteChristians
would likewise forbid that there be BaptistChristians, MethodistChristians,
But that is the very thing Banowsky was defending in his speech
at ACU. Beam certainly did not support it. He further said: "Sin
and division is frightfully hurtful. It is terrible. It is infidel
made and infidel making." Why did brother Banowsky not share
these insights with his audience in 1996?
4. Brother Banowsky is not always careful in quoting the pioneers.
Sometimes he paraphrases, yet attributes his paraphrase to the
original source! For example, in his Abilene speech, he quotes
M. C. Kurfees as follows:
We use the name [church of Christ] nowadays to mean only those
Christians who believe and worship exactly as we do. We should
not exclude other children of God who may make some mistakes in
worshipping or working.
Was Kurfees speaking about denominations? One certainly might
think so, given Banowsky's usage of his words. But here is what
Kurfees actually said in 1920:
In the present divided state of the church and under the influence
of parlance growing out of a denominational environment, it is
difficult to avoid being sectarian or denominational in our speech;
and hence there is a growing tendency today to sectarianize even
the term 'church of Christ.' This is invariably the case when
it is used, as it frequently is nowadays, to mean merely those
people of God who do not work through missionary societies and
do not use instrumental music in the worship, and to exclude other
children of God who make the mistake of working and worshiping
in the said ways.
What have we here? Kurfees was speaking of members of the church
who had gone into error. It is quite revealing to read what Banowsky
said Kurfees said, then to read what Kurfees actually said.
Banowsky next referred to E. W. McMillan, saying, he "constantly
urged us not to exclude others." He quoted from a 1934 speech
in which brother McMillan said, according to Banowsky: "Let
us know that we, too, are susceptible to all of the errors religious
thinkers have ever made." McMillan actually said, "Let
us know that we are susceptible to all the errors religious thinkers
have made from the death of John the apostle to the close of the
Reformation period." Of course, he is right; we are not infallible,
and therefore can fall into the same errors that others have taught
unless we heed the scriptures. But where does this urge us "not
to exclude others"? In the same speech, brother McMillan
said, "Doctrinally, baptism. is a burial in water, without
which no responsible alien has promise of pardon." Was this
exclusive of those who were not buried in water? McMillan also
warned of the "ultraliberal extreme" which "extends
its arms beyond the limits of truth and sacrifices eternal principles."
Could he have described more accurately what Banowsky and others
are attempting to promote within the church?
5. Of G. C. Brewer, Banowsky speaks in the highest terms. He was
"the quintessential preacher's preacher" who could "quote
virtually the entire New Testament from memory." He quotes
several statements from Brewer in which he condemned a sectarian
spirit within the church. It was a lifelong pursuit of brother
Brewer to purge denominational concepts and sectarian attitudes
from the thinking of members of the church. But let no one suppose
that this weakened his resolve or diluted his devotion to the
idea of undenominational Christianity. Brewer was no compromiser.
He was committed to the restoration plea. Regarding those in the
church who introduced missionary societies and instrumental music,
Brewer stated in his 1934 Abilene lecture:
We unhesitatingly charge that our brethren who call themselves
Progressives have surrendered our plea, departed from our motto
and brought reproach upon the cause of our Master. They have introduced
things into the worship for which there is no Scriptural sanction
and have formed organizations to usurp the functions of the church.
He said to "use the instrument is a clear surrender of our
plea; a departure; a digression." He charged that "the
advocates of the instrument have resorted to every possible artifice
and exhausted the whole catalogue of fallacies in an effort to
justify their course." After discussing the conventions,
creeds, and human authorities of digression and denominationalism,
Brewer concluded by saying that "as much as we deplore division
we are forced to work apart from all who will not abide within
the doctrine of Christ." Now, that was Brewer!
It comes as a surprise, therefore, at the end of Banowsky's Abilene
speech, to hear him say: "I come tonight, in the spirit of
G. C. Brewer, to affirm the Church of Christ. " I knew G.
C. Brewer; and, brother Banowsky, I can tell you, you are no G.
Summary and Conclusion
It is disappointing to see the words of the pioneer preachers
wrested from their context, misappropriated by modern thinkers,
and twisted to teach things they never taught and never believed.
That such could be accomplished from the platform at ACU is doubly
The men quoted by Banowsky at Abilene did not teach what he taught
from the lectureship podium. Some of them (e.g., Ernest Beam and
E. W. McMillan) may have relaxed their convictions in later years,
but even their speeches at Abilene do not support the Banowsky
agenda. Far from teaching denominational recognition and fellowship,
the pioneer preachers called people to come out of denominationalism
and to be Christians only. They spoke of the sin of denominational
division and sectarian names. No amount of gloss can make them
(Editor's comment: We owe a debt of gratitude to brother Highers
for his research and for his brilliant essay, which will set the
record straight. The Banowsky misrepresentations in the Abilene
Christian University lecture hall needed to be examined and
corrected, and there is no more capable scholar to do this than
the honorable Alan Highers. We take our hats off to him. It is,
on the other hand, alarming that a great university would allow
the Banowsky speech to be applauded and uncorrected. William E.
Young must repudiate both the Banowsky and Henderson speeches
at the 1996 ACU lectureship, or be hung with endorsing them-Dobbs.)
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