By Dub McClish
In February 1998, as part of an evangelistic effort, three other brethren and I spent two weeks above the Arctic Circle in Murmansk, Russia. Every departure from our flat was an adventure because of the ever-present snow and ice. On one excursion, walking on a downward-sloping sidewalk (by necessity, not by choice), I slipped on the ice. That slippery slope sent me sliding several feet—and I didn’t slide upward. I came to rest only after I crashed into some brethren below, wiping some of them out in my descent. Once one takes a step onto an ice-covered slope, he will find it very hard to keep his feet. When he loses his feet, he will slide until something interrupts his descent.
Sliding Down the Doctrinal Slope
For some years now, it has been obvious that brother Barry Grider, preacher for the Forest Hill (FH) congregation in Memphis, Tennessee, has been on a doctrinal “slippery slope.” Unlike my experience noted above, anyone who ventures upon such a doctrinal “slope” does so by choice, not by necessity. While I am unable to discern when he first ventured openly on to the slope, he likely did so in his mind sometime before taking that first step. (Some of his classmates at Memphis School of Preaching [MSOP] confess to having seen some indicators of his tendency toward this slope many years ago.) My first hint of brother Grider’s “slippery slope” convictions was in 2003. He refused to reword some comments in his article for The Gospel Journal (TGJ) (which I edited at the time) that could have been considered compromising. Ken Ratcliff, TGJ board member, felt so strongly opposed to the Grider wording that he felt we should run a disclaimer, which he worded, in the next issue.
We saw further evidence of brother Grider’s slippage as some speakers, previously strangers to the MSOP Lectures, began appearing at his recommendation. In mid-2005 came the Thompson/Apologetics Press/Dave Miller drama in which brother Grider made himself a major player. The Grider descent has become increasingly evident in more recent events. Related to the Miller/Apologetics Press affair, the board of TGJ elected to change editors, and in mid-2005, appointed brother Grider as a co-editor of the reborn Gospel Journal. The “kinder, gentler” board doubtless knew he would guide it in a “kinder, gentler” direction (despite the earlier objection of Ken Ratcliff to Grider’s convictions, as noted above). Soon after he became a co-editor, an issue of the paper contained numerous statements calling for “balance” and castigating the despicable imbalance of “certain” unnamed brethren.
Brother Grider made a major slip down the slope on February 10, 2009. He wrote a compromising article, titled, “I Got Used to It,” published an even more compromising article by Tyler Young, and then reproduced the silly denominational ditty abut enlarging one’s fellowship circle—all in the same issue of the FH News. Various brethren called attention to the massive implications of his material (e.g., see my article, “Is This What They Mean by Balance?” Contending for the Faith, April 2009).
By late 2009, pressure had become so great on the FH elders and MSOP (to a large degree because of the continual slips of brother Grider down the compromise slope) that the FH elders felt the need to respond. They could have a heart-to-heart talk with their slipping preacher and tell him they would tolerate no more of his “slips,” or they could do something about those pesky brethren who kept reminding them they were supporting a compromiser. They chose the latter and simply announced on page 4 of the December 1, 2009, FH News that they had marked brother David Brown and me for “sowing discord” and “telling outright lies” regarding the FH elders, brother Grider, and MSOP. (The FH elders have scrupulously ignored the pleas of both the Spring elders and of David and me for specifics of their charges).
This marking provided a temptation to brother Grider to slip a little further down the slope, which he did in his editorial comments on the “marking” (his keyboard must have been smoking when he finished his verbal tarring and feathering of those marked). But he was not through. He slipped a little further in his December 22, 2009, article in FH News, titled, “Let Them Alone.” This time he likened brother Brown and me to the Pharisees described in Matthew 15, and again named our offenses (in very general terms, of course). (For someone admonishing others to let us alone, brother Grider surely seems to give us an abundance of attention.)
Brother Grider took another tumble down the slope on July 12, 2011, when he reprinted, without comment, an article by a brother named Rob Hatchett. The article itself is a disgrace because of the unapologetic “social gospel-community church” approach it takes to making the church “relevant” to those in their 20s. It turns out that Hatchett is a full-fledged change agent with membership in the ultra-liberal Clear Creek Church of Christ in Hixson, Tennessee. Printing the article with implied endorsement was a big slip in itself, but that was not enough. On July 17, brother Grider prefaced his evening sermon with a defense of the article (see my article, “’Next Time’ Has Arrived,” CFTF, August 2011).
The Latest Slip Down the Slope
Brother Grider doesn’t seem to be able to find a place to stop his slide (the great risk of venturing on to any slippery slope). He took another step on it in the August 9, 2011, FH News, by publishing an article by brother Cecil May, Jr., titled, “Gentleness.” There are admittedly some good thoughts in the article (because they are Scriptural), and it is not my intent to detract from them or lessen their impact. It basically urges kindness and gentleness in dealing with one another, particularly with brethren who go astray. However, Biblical illiterates might readily infer from this article that gentleness is the exclusive Scriptural demeanor one may employ in dealing with those who are in error, whether doctrinal or moral. One might even get the impression that brother May has never read the strident words of our Lord in Matthew 15:1–14 and Matthew 23. Did brother May forget Paul’s “gentleness” with Elymas (Acts 13:8–11)? A host of passages flood the mind involving not only Paul, but James, Peter, Jude, and John in which their words describing and/or dealing with those in error could hardly be termed “gentle” (e.g., Rom. 16:16–18; 1 Cor. 5:1–5; 2 Cor. 13:1–2, 10; Gal. 1:6–7; 2:11–14; 2 The. 3:10–15; 1 Tim. 1:19–20; Tit. 1:10–14; Jam. 4:4; 2 Pet. 2:1–22; 1 John 2:18–23; 3 John 9–10; Jude 4–19; et al.).
Reading brother May’s article took me back to 1984 and the “Restoration Summit” (later renamed “Unity Forum I”), jointly planned by some of our liberal brethren and men in the Independent Christian Church. It was a by-invitation-only affair, and a major criterion for being one of the 50 who were invited was that one must have an “irenic spirit.”
I find it interesting that an article by brother May, Dean of Faulkner University’s College of Biblical Studies, would appear in the FH News. It has not been that many years ago since brethren Curtis Cates and Garland Elkins were expressing earnest criticism of brother May’s fellowship practices, and rightly so. He has a history of embracing those in his fellowship whom the MSOP faculty would not embrace in days of yore (e.g., Alonzo Welch, long-time supporter and defender of Chuck Lucas of Crossroads infamy). Since coming to Faulkner, he has placed such notables on the lectureship as Buster “All-of Life-Is-Worship” Dobbs, Jim “stay-in-your-adulterous-marriage” McGuiggan, and Paul “Change Agent” Faulkner (no relation to the Faulkner for whom the school is named, incidentally).
Clearly, brother May has not changed his approach to fellowship, so now for brother Grider to extend the olive branch to him is but another indication that our Memphis brethren (led by brother Grider) have changed theirs. (Come to think of it, maybe the planners of the MSOP Lectures have been taking notes on brother May’s approach to fellowship, given various speakers they have invited in recent years. Should this be the case, it is only fitting that the FH News carries his article.) It will doubtless not be long before brother May will be appearing on MSOP Lectures and brother Grider (or other MSOP faculty) speaking at Faulkner.
Inconsistency, Thou Art a Rhinestone
It appears that brother Grider is using the Cecil May article to state his own idea of the way brethren should treat one another, especially those who have gone astray. Expressing one’s convictions through the words of another is altogether legitimate, but let us test the sincerity of his “gentleness” approach, especially to fallen brethren. Surely, brother Brown and I would qualify as “fallen brethren,” according to him and the FH elders. After all, the elders opined that we had sufficiently misbehaved that we deserved being marked as unfit for fellowship by the faithful.
One might expect that both the elders and brother Grider (given their spiritual maturity and Biblical knowledge) would have approached brother Brown and me, laying their grievances and our sins gently and kindly before us, urging us to repent. After all, Paul said that a “factious man” (“heretick,” KJV) (one of their accusations) deserved a “first and second admonition” before being refused fellowship (Tit. 3:10). Instead of following this Scriptural mandate, they gave us not even one admonition—gentle or otherwise.
It is appropriate to review briefly some illustrations of brother Grider’s concept of kindness and gentleness toward the wayward. In the edition of the FH News in which the FH elders “marked” brother Brown and me (December 1, 2009), brother Grider addressed our being marked. The reader may judge the kindness and gentleness of his spirit:
On page four of this bulletin you will read where our elders have publicly marked brethren David P. Brown and H.W. (Dub) McClish. These two brethren in recent years together have been on a vendetta attacking faithful brethren throughout the Lord’s church through their venomous articles…. These brethren would have us believe they are protectors of truth when in fact they have no respect for truth whatsoever…. They cannot love the church for which Jesus died and behave as they do. They are rude and crude. They are hateful and haughty. Furthermore, to be so preoccupied with the affairs of others is not normal. In reality, they behave like spoiled children who don’t get their way…. The fact is, however, no one pays them much attention nor should they. The two have been isolated and marked, as they should be….
Three weeks later, the kind and gentle Barry Grider compared “certain brethren” (whom could he have had in mind, hmmm?) to the anti-Christ Pharisees:
Yes, sometimes certain brethren have to be marked because they engage in lies, innuendo, evil surmisings, and divisive conduct. Do you get down in the dirt and wallow in it with them? No! We must follow the admonition of the Lord, who said of the Pharisees, “LET THEM ALONE: They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Mat. 15:14).
I must say that, if the foregoing constitutes “gentleness” and “kindness,” may I not be in earshot if he ever decides to be harsh and unkind. From the statements above, one might suspect that brother Grider was doing a homework assignment for a class on “How To Demonize Unappreciated Brethren”—taught by brother Frank Chesser. Perhaps publication of the May article is a signal that brother Grider has come to a better understanding of the noble trait of gentleness.
What we see in the publication of the May article is a prime example of brother Grider’s preaching to others (perhaps particularly to his perceived enemies) that which he is unable or unwilling to practice. To put it another way, he practices his gentleness very selectively. He can be gentle and kind to (yea, can endorse) a brother who tinkers with the Divine arrangement of the eldership or of marriage (Dave Miller), one who chooses sports activities over the church (Tyler Young), or even one who urges “relevancy” above Gospel to attract young adults (Rob Hatchett), but he can’t come up with a civil word for those who dare call his fellowship compromises to his attention.
We have seen samples of brother Grider’s inconsistency between his profession and practice regarding gentleness. It would seem that at least some of his fellow-instructors at MSOP share in the same profession and selective practice of gentility. In a 2006 public forum brother Keith Mosher, Dean of Academics, described those who dared criticize MSOP’s defense of brother Dave Miller and his errors as “…people [who] are as vile a group—and I do mean vile—as I have ever read after in my life” and “…brethren [who] are lying to you.” I have difficulty seeing the gentility in these terms.
Brother Bobby Liddell, MSOP Director, wrote an excellent article on “Longsuffering” in the December 2009 issue of Yokefellow. In describing the opposite of this Biblical trait, he wrote:
Haughty, egotistical men are not longsuffering, but sin in their anger and haste to accuse, and unwillingness to forgive. Such men destroy their own brethren (cf. Acts 9:4) by sowing discord and dividing congregations through malicious words and evil surmising, all the while claiming they are the only faithful ones, and assuring their deceived followers that they are ever on guard for the latest supposed heresy and heretics. Their attitudes are so disagreeable and so distasteful (to those who refuse to be gullible enough to follow them blindly) that they end up meeting with a handful in their own homes, or if they do stay with a church for any length of time, they decimate the congregation by their disagreeable hypocrisy and arrogance….
Hateful, self-serving men will not patiently endure with others, nor will they be slow to anger. They will not extend mercy, but will seek opportunity to advance themselves, or to avenge themselves, at the cost of others and the church. They ruin peace and rob men of hope.
He proceeded to call such behavior “devilish.”
I don’t know (for sure) the identity of those he described, but it seems certain that they were brethren who, in his mind, had fallen from grace and were unworthy of fellowship. I learn from brother Liddell’s words just how to practice longsuffering (a first cousin to gentleness): (1) Countenance with kindness and longsuffering false teachers whom one finds it convenient to defend and endorse, and (2) vilify and verbally pummel brethren one perceives to be brotherhood menaces. One might say that brother Liddell was a bit short on longsuffering in his description of those he deems to be his sinful brethren. While I heartily commend all that brother Liddell stated (assuming it is accurately applied), I am amazed that he failed to see his self-contradiction: By his unlongsuffering (shortsuffering?) description of certain brethren, he hanged himself on his own “longsuffering” gallows.
Statements as strong (or stronger) could be cited from practically all of the MSOP faculty that demonstrate their ability to employ what some might describe as rather “ungentle” terminology, all the while urging a gentle and longsuffering demeanor. It takes a certain degree of brass to preach something openly on one hand while repudiating it just as openly on the other.
I would have all—including brother Grider—who read these words to know that I am not his enemy on any personal level whatsoever. I am also not the enemy of the FH elders, the FH church, or MSOP. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply wrong. Rush Limbaugh stated early in the Obama presidency, “I hope he fails.” By this he meant that he hoped the president failed in implementing his disastrous ideological policies and agenda. This desire sprang not from personal hatred or partisanship, but from loyalty to the Constitution and love of country. In the same vein, I say of brother Grider, “I hope he fails.” Again, I express this desire not because of any personal animus toward him, but because of his ideology and agenda. His ideology and agenda are spiritually dangerous and deadly. My desire that he fail springs from love of the Lord, His Truth, and His church.
Only the imperceptive or the my-school-right-or-wrong folks will deny that the unblemished reputation the Forest Hill church (and previously the Knight Arnold church) and MSOP enjoyed among faithful brethren for decades has suffered in recent years. Some alumni were disappointed when the elders brought brother Grider to the FH pulpit almost ten years ago, concerned about the depth of his commitment to the old paths. Their concerns began to be justified six or seven years ago as subtle, but palpable changes began to occur in the types of some of the speakers on the MSOP lectures—some of whom I know first-hand were brother Grider’s choices. Then brother Grider took a leading part in FH’s and MSOP’s defense of Dave Miller in 2005. In the intervening years he has written and/or published a number of articles in the FH News that are bellwethers of the acceleration of a new direction for this storied congregation and its MSOP appendage.
From an outsider looking in, the major factor responsible for the directional changes in the FH church and the MSOP centers on one man: brother Barry Grider. Brethren have long observed that congregations reflect the personality and convictions of their respective preachers when they have been there a few years. I fully realize that he could not have had the unfortunate influence he has had without being allowed to do so by a complicit eldership and MSOP faculty. One thing that may have contributed to such complicity has been the passing of some of the “old guard” elders, tried and true, and the appointment of other men, who may or may not have had the strong convictions of their predecessors.
I am unable to believe that MSOP faculty members have not had anxious discussions among themselves about emphases and FH News articles from across the driveway, some of which have been the antithesis of what these men have openly proclaimed for decades. But rather than “rock the boat” by evincing any sign of disunity, they have gradually swallowed more and increasingly worse tasting doses of drift. As brother Grider wrote, “They Got Used to It.” Another factor that might be in play is that any admission of opposition to what has occurred and is occurring would equal an admission that some of us outside observers have been/are right.
Nor can I believe that the MSOP faculty and the FH elders have not heard voices of concern from more than a few MSOP alumni (especially since July 12 and the publication of the Hatchett article in the FH News) expressing concern over their alma mater and its host congregation. Most of those men were taught to resist and expose the very things brother Grider has been promoting, especially over the last two or three years.
As sad as it is to contemplate, it may be with this situation as many of us have long stated concerning the “Christian Universities”: All of the concerns expressed by letter, telephone, or in person to the administration will make little or no difference to alter their course. They will not do any serious self-evaluation or alteration unless/until they are “hit in the pocketbook.” It is lamentable that concern over money can sometimes move brethren to do what is right when concern over Truth should have done so long before.
The great FH church might be compared to a great ship with the MSOP as a major part of its cargo. The owners of the ship have turned it over to a captain who is steering it to the left. If its course is not soon changed, it may strike some reefs that will let ever more doctrinal error flood its hold. If the ship goes down, Brother Grider will not only likely go down with it, but he will also (perhaps more than any other) be the one who sank it.
To revert to my “slippery slope” analogy, brother Grider has stepped out on this treacherous doctrinal slope strictly by choice (unlike my necessarily stepping on the ice-covered slope in Russia). As when I took my slide in that frozen land I didn’t slide upward, likewise, with each step brother Grider has taken, he has slid downhill. He can get off that slippery slope any time he chooses to do so, and I pray that he will so choose—and soon.
[Note: I wrote this MS for and it was published in the September 2011 edition of Contending for the Faith, ed. David P. Brown.]