While there was a great deal of excitement over the Herald of Truth program, it was not free from opposition. In the 1950s and 60s, critics remained in the minority, but they were vocal and intense in their objections. If it is true that the program was representative of the optimistic future direction of Churches of Christ, it was also representative to some as a departure from their proud past and a violation of their core principles. In periodicals that opposed the institutionalization of the church, the Herald of Truth was routinely cited as the example of the type of program that posed danger. In the late 1950s, the words “Herald of Truth” appeared in nearly every issue of the Gospel Guardian as the magazine tried to establish the case against it and similar initiatives.
An example of the opposition can be seen in an article by Weldon Warnock in a January 1959 Gospel Guardian article entitled, “What I Believe To Be Wrong with the Herald of Truth” (GG, Vol. 10, Num. 38, 1/29/1959, p. 600-601). He provides four reasons for his opposition:
- It is wrong because the Highland eldership is overseeing something bigger than the work of the Highland church.
- It is wrong because churches of Christ are paying the Highland church to do their radio preaching for them.
- It is wrong because there is no scriptural authority for such an arrangement.
- It is wrong because the contributing churches are surrendering their autonomy in work and funds.
While he provides 4 reasons that he believes the work is wrong, they all revolve around a single concern. In the words of Warnock, the Herald of Truth was a “brotherhood work” that violated autonomy of local groups. To do this work was to embrace denominationalism, which includes notions of centralized power, authoritarian creeds and hierarchical structure. The churches at this time were certainly walking a tightrope between distinction and pecularity on one side and respectability and acceptance on the other. Warnock and others argued that the programs and institutions under consideration inherently plunged the group into sinful practices while those associated with the Gospel Advocate stated that it only presented the potential danger of abuses. Either way, the meaning and function of the church was the chief concern and point of contention with both sides vehemently arguing for a particular vision. The claim for the non-denominational nature of the church continued to be hashed out.
The Herald of Truth encapsulated the issue for both sides:
- It was a large, national program. The bigger the program, the more impact it can have, right? It was a clear indication that Christians were thoroughly engaged and entrenched in the work of spreading the gospel. Opponents argued that the scope of the work should relate to the scope of the church. Since congregations are local and have no national headquarters, they could not approach a work on a national scale. There simply was no work of the collectivity of churches as a group.
- It broadcasted a single voice. Advocates noted that the program was an efficient way to get the message across and promoted the interests and message of the churches. Yet, others countered that no single voice has a right to speak on behalf of the church as a group. A centralized voice for the churches is akin to a creed or denominational headquarters.
- It was a cooperative program. Proponents believed that the churches could work together for a bigger impact and promote the cause of Christ. Opponents feared that cooperative programs centralized power and removed the power and self-rule of smaller churches. Again, the threat of denominationalism loomed large.
- It was a recognizable program. The program became widely recognized and associated with Churches of Christ. It promoted respectability and rivaled the programs of other religious groups. They were not to be outdone by the Baptists, Catholics or any other group. Others did not desire for the brotherhood to be recognized with a particular program. No single voice or program could or should be representative of all the churches.
While both sides framed the issue in black and white terms and argued on the basis of scriptural authority, great sociological shifts contributed to the impulses and motives of those involved in the debate. While these shifts certainly do not provide a complete explanation for the debate, they cannot be ignored as a factor, either. Changing demographics in economics and class led to changing values and priorities. For many Christians in Churches of Christ, their place had changed in the world, and they sought similar changes for the church. Of course, there was little recognition of any genuine change or the sociological factors that influenced it. Most within Churches of Christ would claim to be what they had always been.