As a followup to my last post of a letter received by my grandfather in 1970 from the Herald of Truth, I thought I might mention some thoughts on the program. It certainly played a prominent role in defining the goals and ambitions for many members and churches within Churches of Christ in the 1950s and 60s. It also had critics, but I will attempt to state how it generated such widespread excitement and participation first before considering what the critics had to say.
The Herald of Truth was a national broadcast, starting out on the radio on Feb. 10, 1952 and transmitting to 31 stations affiliated with the American Broadcasting Company. In 1954, it would extend to television. As the program entered into the 1960s, it could be heard on 238 radio stations and 50 TV programs. By the 1970s, the program continued to expand to 468 radio stations and 152 television stations. The goal was to be a national broadcast and reach as many people as possible.
The ministry was sponsored by the 5th and Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX. While that congregation spearheaded the work, other congregations and individuals from around the nation supplied financial support.
As I have been looking into the history of Churches of Christ, particularly in the 20th century, it seems to me that Herald of Truth encapsulates the excitement of many of the churches during this time. There was a strong post-war effort to right the wrongs of WWII. Churches of Christ responded with a renewed focus on the work of the church. Education, benevolence and evangelism all took center stage. Cooperation was a key word for the efforts in order to have bigger programs that had a bigger impact. The Herald of Truth represented a big effort with big goals requiring big financial support. There was an effort to evangelize the nation as a cooperating and functioning group. Of course, that was the very point under dispute, and it is open to interpretation and nuanced views.
In the Gospel Advocate in the 1950s, you will notice many impassioned please for support for the Herald of Truth. Each plea usually hits upon at least one of the following key points: this is an opportunity to evangelize the nation, fulfill the church’s obligation, address the moral decay of the nation, and rival the efforts of the denominations on behalf of the Lord’s people. In fact, the same formula can be found throughout the pages of the Advocate for numerous efforts. The churches were expanding and building. They were making a name for themselves. They were rivaling the denominations with a message of New Testament Christianity. They were a force to be reckoned with. The efforts were bigger, required collective financial support, and attempted to change the world as a respectable entity.
There is also an assumption which I find intriguing in the Herald of Truth and requires much more unpacking in my thoughts. There is an assumption that a single message could represent the Churches of Christ. It leads me to consider the criteria and claims of being undenominational, the possibility of understanding truth alike, and the mechanisms of power. As a further point to consider, in the 1970s there was a substantial dispute over the direction and message of the program, causing many churches to withdraw their support. The disagreements over the Herald of Truth reflected the growing divide and diverging attitude within Churches of Christ. Within the Stone-Campbell movement, history was repeating itself.
To close out, I’ll note that many of my facts and figures were taken from the following places on the internet: