A Look at the Herald of Truth
Introduction: During the latter 1940's, James Williford and James Walter Nichols began to think of ways that they could improve on the simple New Testament pattern of churches preaching the gospel. In 1947, Williford and Nichols set up a five-radio station network in Iowa and Wisconsin using the name Herald of Truth. Little did they know that their brainstorm would become famous and a major source of division among churches of Christ. The embryonic concept of the Herald of Truth was presented on a cold, windy February 3, in 1952 to the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas where two thousand had assembled to consider and effect the production of the first nation-wide broadcast of the Herald of Truth. On the following Sunday, February 10, thousands throughout the United States were excited in view of the Herald of Truth being broadcast on 31 stations of the ABC radio network. In 1954, the Herald of Truth television effort was added. From its inception, the Herald of Truth has had an annual budget of about two million dollars. In 1968, approximately 3, 000 local churches financially contributed to the Herald of Truth organization (The Herald of Truth Magazine, winter 1968). The Herald of Truth is an entity that is umbilically affixed to the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene and yet it maintains its separate status. The Herald of Truth is a legally structured organization that has its own board and treasury. We read the following on the Herald of Truth Web site:
"The H.O.T. is a ministry of Highland and is overseen by Highland's elders. It is supported by the prayers and financial support of thousands of friends and churches."
1. The Herald of Truth is of great historic interest for different reasons.
A. One reason being that along with the introduction of the Herald of Truth also evolved the idea of a corporate conglomerate. This is the case because the Herald of Truth is not simply a detached man made missionary society because it is joined to the Highland church. The Herald of Truth also clearly introduced the concept of a sponsoring church arrangement. I say this because the local eldership of the Highland Church in Abilene oversees the work of the separate Herald of Truth entity and, hence, the work of some three thousand local churches as they funnel monies into the Herald of Truth.
B. Many within Churches of Christ had clamored for some centralized, pooled effort in preaching the gospel that involved more than a local church supporting its preacher and/or assisting additional preachers in spreading the good news of the Kingdom under the oversight of its eldership. In 1849, history recorded the birth of the American Christian Missionary Society. The American Christian Missionary Society was manifestly different from the later Herald of Truth in that it was not umbelically connected to any church and did not involve the so-called sponsoring church arrangement.
a. The American Christian Missionary Society solicited and received monies from individuals and churches (as the conglomerate Herald of Truth would later do), but it did not claim to be overseen by any specific eldership. Division resulted over the introduction of a missionary society and in 1906, the federal government recognized the church of Christ and the Christian Church as two different and distinct religious organizations.
II. What is wrong with the Herald of Truth and should it be opposed to the point of division?
A. Anterior to any detailed objections to the Herald of Truth, we must be aware of the command to " prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5: 21). "Speaking as the oracles of God" necessitates only teaching and practicing that for which we have biblical authority.
B. During New Testament times, churches (collective action) were involved in preaching the gospel. In fact, the local church is, " the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3: 15). The church in Antioch "send forth" Barnabas and Saul on their first preaching trip (Acts 13: 2ff.). The church at Philippi "sent once and again" unto Paul's necessities while he preached in Thessalonica (Phili. 4: 15, 16). While Paul preached in Corinth, he was supported by multiple local churches (2 Cor. 11: 8).
C. The fact and way in which churches supported preachers is clearly established and is obviously meant to be a pattern for the Lord's church today. Notice, a church or churches sent directly to the preacher, not another church or a separate organization. Also notice not only the total absence of any separate organization such as a missionary society, but also the fact that not one time do we read of a local church serving as a receiving or sponsoring church in the matter of preaching the gospel.
D. The biblical truth of the matter is, the eldership only has oversight where they serve, not another church (I Pet. 5: 2). If ever a local church had been a sponsoring church, it would have been the church in Jerusalem, where the gospel began. Yet, that local with its elders never functioned as a sponsoring church in the effort of proclaiming the gospel. Each local church with its overseeing eldership did its own work and acted independently (see addendum).
1. The Herald of Truth is an arrangement that involves the pooling of resources that is unknown to the New Testament; this is what is wrong with the Herald of Truth. The intention of James Williford and James Nichols was no doubt good, but it lacked Bible authority just as the goal of those who implemented the American Christian Missionary Society. In fact, the very non-denominational nature and feature of sound churches of Christ is destroyed with the introduction of the sponsoring church with its elders overseeing the work of contributing local churches.
2. The Herald of Truth adversely reflects on the wisdom of God. If God had wanted churches to collectively work through a missionary society or sponsoring church arrangement, he would have effected such in the first Century. Since we are to do what we do "in the name of the Lord Jesus," there is no place for the Herald of Truth in our practice (Col. 3: 17).
3. The Herald of Truth is against the autonomy set forth in the New Testament. Autonomy involves each local church being self-governing. Indeed, each local church was self-governing (cp. I Pet. 5: 2). We never read of regional elders or of a local church being over other local churches. Such attitudes and concepts developed with Catholicism, the apostate religion. I recall receiving more than one letter from the Herald of Truth through the years that stated, "To be viewed as a faithful church of Christ, you must send monies to the Herald of Truth."
4. The Herald of Truth and all sponsoring church practices involve a violation of the local church independence taught in the New Testament. It is argued, "The Herald of Truth does not attempt to control other churches." However, if such were true, the Herald of Truth still places local churches in an alliance that is incongruous to biblical independence. Again, each local church is seen as not only autonomously performing its work, but also functioning independently of other local churches (Acts 14-20).
5. The Herald of Truth involves a bad example of the exercise of responsibility. Regarding individuals and churches, God teaches responsibility and discretion. We are not to involve ourselves in financial matters beyond our abilities (cf. Rom. 13: 8). Notwithstanding, the Herald of Truth obligates itself to extreme financial debts and then begs for other churches to bail them out to avoid financial failure. A given local church that has the means to support one preacher should not obligate itself to support hundreds. Yet, according to the elders of the Highland Church, this is precisely what they are doing and then insisting that other churches effect this work for them. Hence, there is a dual action mentality involved: We will do your work and you can do our work!
6. Also involved in the inefficiency of the operation of the Herald of Truth is the waste and lack of management. In order to activate such a gigantic entity as the Herald of Truth, there must be special financial provision. For instance, in 1967 5.7 percent of the total contributions went for what the organization called "overhead." That same year, an additional 8.14 percent was spent for "fund-raising" (Herald of Truth Magazine, winter 1968). This means that a total of almost 14 percent of the proceeds to the Herald of Truth was not even directly involved in preaching the gospel. The total contributions to the Herald of Truth was comparatively down in 1967 ($1, 307, 119. 85). Even so, this is a large amount of money being used totally for foreign matters to the gospel and to overall support an entity that finds no authority in the scriptures. In view of the enormity of the number of preachers and projects being supported out of the treasury of the Herald of Truth, there is no way twenty elders (1967) can oversee such an undertaking.
7. The Herald of Truth constitutes a centralization of power. As we have seen, the elders of the Highland Church of Christ claim oversight of the work done by the Herald of Truth. Not only are they, then, purporting to oversee the Highland church, but also the multi million dollar organization known as the Herald of Truth, involving many preachers, locations, and particular targeted works. The elders of Highland sign all checks. In 1967 the Herald of Truth did the work of 3, 000 local churches of Christ. It was they who decided where the money would be sent, which preachers to support, and other recipients of their financial capability. Possessing such authority, the Highland Church and the Herald of Truth soon became greatly influential. Some historians who followed trends and developments within churches of Christ (I have been one) soon learned to watch what was happening in Abilene and they could predict what would start being seen throughout the "brotherhood."
8. The Herald of Truth serves as a missionary society. Many preachers within churches of Christ oppose such a missionary society as the American Christian Missionary Society. They claim, rightly so, that such an organization doing the work God has assigned to the local church is without authority. Yet, what is the Herald of Truth? As a matter of convenience, the Highland elders will often attempt to suggest that, "The H.O.T. is a ministry of Highland and is overseen by Highland's elders. It is supported by the prayers and financial support of thousands of friends and churches." They play down, in such instances, the separate and detached nature of the Herald of Truth.
III. As we have stated, the Herald of Truth is actually a corporate conglomerate.
A. It is a combination of the sponsoring church arrangement as well as a missionary society. If not, why not?
B. The fact that Highland claims the Herald of Truth as a "ministry of Highland" and overseen by the Highland's elders makes Highland a sponsoring church, but the fact that the Herald of Truth has its own treasury, board, and charter and receives monies sent to it from thousands of churches, makes it a missionary society. However, both the sponsoring church and missionary society are without biblical authority.
Conclusion: Instead of one enormous organization functioning to perform the collective work involving thousands of local churches, God's plan is each local church doing the work that God has assigned to it and that work being overseen by the elders of that church. Such is not only what we see taught in the scriptures, but it also averts power struggles and widespread contamination when moral or doctrinal issues develop within the influential entity. separately, autonomously, and independently from other local churches. The fact of each eldership being limited to where they serve is also a clear vestige of God's wisdom. When will God's people learn to be content with God's order?
Addendum: It is admitted that a local church and also churches are seen contributing to a local church and churches in the matter of benevolence for needy saints (Acts 11: 27-30, I Cor. 16: 1, 2, etc.). Some attempt to find authority for churches sending to a church in the matter of preaching based on this example in the realm of benevolence. In the first place, benevolence while authorized when there is a need, is not a permanent, constant, and on going work of the local church as is preaching the gospel. As a rule, it is a one-time act and then it ceases. Therefore, there is not the opportunity for centralization of power and political manipulation as would be the case with the constant work of spreading the gospel. It must also be remembered that the Holy Spirit provided a pattern regarding preaching the gospel. Besides, the examples of benevolence do not involve a separate organization such as a relief society or the Herald of Truth. There is also no proof that the Jerusalem church acted as a sponsoring church or that the eldership of the Jerusalem church took control of the benevolence endeavor relative to other churches, assuming that " brethren that dwelt in Judaea" identifies other churches (the receiving churches may have also had elders just as the church in Jerusalem).