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.