Which Way the Brotherhood?

Commentary by J. Randal Matheny, editor

What has happened to Howard Publishing Company is a bellwether of the direction of a large segment of the brotherhood.

In seeking a broader market, Howard Publishing Co., reached out to evangelicals and made its success, so much so that it sold out to Simon & Schuster in 2006.

The success resulted in publishing books by major evangelical players like Rick Warren.

And today Howard Books — as it was renamed after the S&S sale — announced the impending release in May of a biography of Jerry Falwell by his wife.

The company was founded in 1969 by Alton Howard, younger brother of V.E. Howard, well known for his pioneering International Gospel Hour radio program. No one preached a better gospel sermon in his time, so it was said.

Alton died in 2006, the year of the company’s sale.

In a generation, Howard Publishing went from serving the brotherhood, to reaching out to a wider evangelical market to becoming a subsidiary of a major secular publishing house.

I do not personally know the details nor personalities of those involved, nor is it my intention to call their motives or judgments into question. I do consider the movements of the publishing house a parallel of what is happening to congregations in the U.S. and abroad.

Some preachers and churches itch to be accepted in the wider religious world, so they tone down the doctrinal preaching and the distinctive message of salvation, worship and restoration. It is the attraction to the denominations that changes their rhetoric. Let us be clear: the pull to be like the denominations — more than any declared dissatisfaction with the Biblical message preached among us — is what drives their change of tune.

So by inches they muzzle up to those churches with collared clergy, music-driven meetings and better-felt-than-told theology.

Before long the inching turns to miles and these churches give up being Christians only to sink into what they consider the larger Christian world of divisions — a factionalism whose sectarians pretend do not matter but hold to their parties’ superiority with political fervor.

Finally, they sell out to worldly ownership where the driving force is what the majority want and what will play best for a bigger share of the market.

Which leads to fawning over the big names in the religious world. And publishing their books.

It can happen in the best churches, in the strongest families.

The solution is not to give up the effort to be the New Testament church, but to intensify the movement to restore in ourselves those teachings, attitudes and practices that are lacking.

The solution is to recognize the human tendency to drift toward a wider fellowship and to plant our feet firmly within the Biblical witness to remain exactly where the Lord has established the parameters.

The solution is, as Ezra knew so long ago, centered in the Word.

“Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the Lord, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 NET).

The solution is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in all things, not only to declare, like Peter, that we are willing to suffer and die for him (Luke 22:33), but to lay down our lives for the family of God (1 John 3:16) and to accomplish, as a part of that family, the mission of God in the world (Revelation 2:10; 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 28:18-20).

The solution is not to watch which way the wind is blowing, but to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us

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7 Comments

  1. Tremendously well-said, brother. Thanks for a succinct and astute appraisal of what we face in the twenty-first century, and for your focus on God’s prescription for what ails us. I’ve enjoyed BNc since finding it some time ago, only just got around to registering a moment ago – BTW, do you know Teston and Jo Gilpatrick?
    Dave Rogers

  2. Thanks, Dave. Indeed, I do know the Gilpatricks who are working in Vitoria. I worked with Teston in different ways, such as the National Bible School. Stayed in their home a couple times while traveling to Sao Paulo, when they lived there back in the — what?– 80s. Good people. I saw Teston from a distance last month at a national lectureship, but didn’t make it over to say hello. With some 400 men there, somehow I missed him.

    Thanks again for your kind comments.

  3. swileyusa

    Hi Randal,

    My guess is that the path that led to the sale of Howard Pub had more to do with money than anything else. Either the offers were too good to turn down, or the folk in charge sought out a chance to cash in. I suppose the folk who made the decision might have rationalized that this would guarantee our materials would continue to be published and perhaps even garner a wider audience among evangelicals. It may be that Howard was in financial straits and saw this as way to keep the doors open. Who knows?

    Generally speaking – I’m painting with a broad brush here – the vision of the 1st generation, those who labored to get a thing going and the service they sought to render, does not survive the 1st generation and succeeding generations neither have the same vision nor the same commitments, and if times are hard, are far less willing to suffer for the vision. So its probably not a surprise that the inheriting generation did not follow through on the 1st generation’s vision.

    Looking at overall trends…

    If you follow a family in the Bible, you rarely see faithfulness in the 3rd generation, often not even in the 2nd. [I’m continuing to paint w/ a broad brush here]

    In the 1st generation you have conviction. “This is true and I will die for this truth.”

    In the 2nd generation you have belief. “Well, I believe its true, tho I wouldn’t die for it”

    In the 3rd generation you have opinions. “Well, it just an opinion, nothing to get excited about.”

    In the 3rd generation there will either be apostasy or revival.

    If you look at the RM you’ll see the same thing, by the time we get to the 3rd generation in the post-civil war era, we see the classic liberal (aka Modernism) vs fundamentalist divide. That generation saw three- quarters of the movement surrender to the culture and become the DoC [The Ind. Christian Church technically broke off from them, not us and sought a mid-point]. But the result of that was a smaller, militant church, that knew what they believed and why they believed it, and tested in the fires of controversy, they had become a people of conviction. These folk took their faith with them when depression – war – dust bowl -etc moved them out of the hills and hollars and they become one of the fastest growing churches in the country. From around 1500 to 13,000 congregations. In the ’60’s tho, as a second generation took over, the growth began to decline as a less militant and more passive generation came along that wanted to liked and to fit in. “Cool” is defined by the culture and more than anything else they [we] wanted to be cool. The vision, convictions, and willingness to suffer for them, was declining, and now, we find ourselves coming into a 3rd generation situation where everything is a matter of opinion.

    If the past is any indicator, we’re going to either see a revival or apostasy. Where before it was the cultural modernism (classic liberalism) vs fundamentalism that polarized us. Now its probably going to be the cultural post-modernism [or whatever replaces it – I don’t think po-mo can stand up under its own weight – it too inherently hypocritical] vs Fundamentalism.

    I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but it looks to me that our kids are going to see much, if not the majority, of the cofC surrender to culture and the pressure to blend into the status quo. But the result will be a smaller church again tested in the fires, and while many / most will go off into apostasy chasing the god of the age, a few will be left behind – more militant and still worshiping the God of the ages.

    Yours in the Great Hope,
    Scott P. Wiley

  4. Scott, great comments.

    As for Howard Publishing, we used to have a song book from them called “Songs of Faith and Praise”. I was startled to find one day, while searching the net, that Howard Publishing was also producing a companion book to this song book for instrumental accompaniment. That told me then that they were looking for a much broader customer base than the Lord’s church. I was very saddened at that.

  5. Still_Searching

    I’m confused. Can someone tell me what the “brotherhood” means here? Is it the same thing as the “kingdom of God” and the “body of Christ” and the “family of God” and the “elect” and the “disciples”? Or is it a distinct subset of these? And if it’s a subset, please tell me how does one become part of it?

    Thanks.
    Still_Searching

  6. wisemanb

    What I read about the sale of Howard Publishing had to do more with the death of Alton Howard more than anything else. It’s kind of a shame that the family didn’t have the desire to keep the business going independently, but then it’s also a shame that we might try to read into a situation ulterior motives.

    In Him,
    Barry Wiseman

  7. Stan

    If readers go to the link in the mian article of this section where it states “Alton died in 2006”, (the link is at “2006”) one can read of Alton Howard’s influence on the Monroe, West Monroe and even the entire north Louisiana area. This is seen in the statements of civic leaders of that area. The White’s Ferry Road congregation, along with the Howard family’s influence, has a rich history of reaching out to the unsaved and also to helping the hurting through disaster relief ministries, and they continue to actively engage in these ministries.

    By working with a worldwide publishing company, Howard Publishing can have even more opportunities to be a positive Christian influence on the world. Members of Churches of Christ can move into our little corner and have little (or no) influence on the world around us, or we can seek ways to have a broader influence for good in the world.

    The Howard family loves the Lord and His church. John Howard is a shepherd of the WFR congregation. It seems to be an effort to judge motives to question the Howards’ decision to place their company in a position to make spiritually nourishing publications to more people.

    My wife and I personally admire and appreciate the Howard family and their influence and have been blessed by their freindship.

    Stan & Lisa Cook, Gadsden, Alabama

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