An Open Letter to Shelton Smith
By Joy Rice Martin

An Open Letter to Shelton Smith (Responding to Editor's Notes of April 9, SOTL)

By Joy Rice Martin 235 Water Mill Trace, Ringgold, GA 30736

Dr. Shelton Smith Editor, The Sword of the Lord P.O. Box 1099 Murfreesboro, TN 37133

Dear Dr. Smith:

In this issue you stated that you welcome letters to the editor, even if the authors disagree with you; I hope you will welcome this letter and read it carefully. For some time, members of the immediate Rice family have been troubled by the way you have changed the emphasis of the Sword of the Lord through your "Editor's Notes" and choices of articles, particularly in your attacks on other Bible believers who do not hold to your interpretation of fellowship and separation. The time has come when we must address these matters directly and unapologetically for three basic reasons.

First, we want to make clear that the current position of the Sword does not represent either historic fundamentalism or its founder's intention; second, we want to clarify what was our dad's (Dr. Rice's) position on separation; and finally, we desire to encourage both Christian leaders and laypeople to pursue Scriptural fellowship and harmony among Bible believers.

Just to make the record clear, I write as the youngest daughter of Dr. John R. Rice, who founded The Sword of the Lord in 1934 and served as its editor until his death in 1980. My mother and we six daughters (and ultimately our husbands) were intimately involved in the ministry of the Sword, not as spectators, but as partners in this ministry From this advantage, we had the opportunity to see historic fundamentalism first hand, not only in Dad's preaching, extensive writing, and personal conversation, but also in our involvement with hundreds of fundamental leaders: preachers, evangelists, educators, missionaries, pastor's wives and families, authors, etc. We could share some first-hand stories regarding people like Doctors H.A. Ironside, Bob Jones, Sr., Bob Shuler, William Culbertson, Harry Hager, R.G. Lee, Hyman Appelman, V. Raymond Edman, Scotchie McCall, E.J. Daniels, W.A. Criswell, Joe Henry Hankins, and many other early fundamentalists.

Dad (Dr. Rice) fellowshipped with fundamentalists from many churches, including those who were not independent Baptists. These included Bible-believing Methodist, Evangelical Free, Mission Covenant, Plymouth Brethren, Southern Baptist, Free Will Baptist, Reformed Episcopal, Presbyterian, Bible Churches, and others. He chose men from a variety of backgrounds to serve as advisors for the Sword Book Club. He held city-wide revival meetings in which churches from many Bible-believing denominations were encouraged to participate. He sought counsel and advice from Christian leaders who did not always take the same viewpoint as he did; in fact, he often sent out preview copies of his manuscripts dealing with controversial subjects, and asked for feedback from men he respected who represented differing viewpoints. All of these facts are documented in two biographies of Dr. Rice, Man Sent from God by Robert L. Sumner and The Captain of Our Team by Viola Walden.

Some of his personal friends and associates were men who disagreed with him on certain theological issues. They always agreed on the basic tenets of fundamentalism; the verbal inspiration of Scripture; the deity and virgin birth of Christ; the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; salvation by faith alone, etc. They often disagreed on minor issues, including such things as storehouse tithing, church polity, open or closed communion, the mode of baptism, etc. He was a Baptist by conviction, and faithfully supported his pastor and his church, but did not separate from others who were not independent Baptists. Dad did not see such disagreements as a threat to fundamentalism, or to his own viewpoint. Even in our frequent family theological discussions, Daddy invited - no - urged participation, even when different viewpoints were expressed.

I recall one time when Dad was preparing his manuscript for a book on the charismatic movement, and he was asking for input on a particular aspect. He turned to my husband, Dr. Roger Martin, who is a professor at Temple Baptist Seminary in Chattanooga, and said, "Roger, be bold!" Roger expressed a different viewpoint on one matter, and Dad's response was, "Well, I believe God has led me about my opinion." But after further consideration, he changed his mind, and the final manuscript reflected Roger's contribution. Each member of our family could give you personal illustrations of Dad's determination to study the Word of God, to seek counsel from others, and to respect the opinions of other godly students of the Word, even if they differed from his.

Was Dad strong in his stand against liberal doctrine? Absolutely! Anyone who wants to know can read his books and articles and see how strong was his stand for the fundamentals of the faith. He opposed the kind of ecumenical movement that joined Bible believers together with liberals who denied the doctrine of Christ and the plan of salvation. But note this - he understood well the difference between fundamentals and non-essentials, and he understood well the human tendency to major on minors and to draw lines of separation where there ought not to be lines or walls of division.

Another characteristic of historic fundamentalism that we saw in our Dad was his constant study of the Word of God. He never altered that commitment, but we did see his emphases in preaching and teaching change to meet changing needs. He was very in tune with key issues in fundamentalism, and very sensitive to the changing needs of each time period. As you study his sermons in perspective, you can see his growth and development, and you can see how he responded to new trends with further study. Sometimes that involved changing his position on something, or altering his emphasis on a particular issue.

Dad not only studied Scripture, he was always studying and learning from others. He probably scanned or read 30 magazines each month, secular as well as religious, and read widely. At any time, there might be seven or eight books he was in the process or reading. He felt a keen responsibility to be aware of theological movements of all varieties, to understand what scholars were saying, and to be aware of what issues Christians were facing in order to effectively edit the Sword and train preachers.

Dad's commitment to loving other believers was unwavering. He expressed in the words of the German poet Goethe his wish that his arms were big enough to wrap around the whole world and love them with the love of Christ. His strong stand was often misunderstood, but his love for those who disagreed with him never wavered. We family members heard his fervent prayers at breakfast for a list of more than 200 preachers and Christian leaders, some of whom had broken his heart. And what were his prayers for them? That God would bless them and use them!

Dad refused to become the pope for anyone's spiritual and theological positions. One time when he was preaching in chapel at Tennessee Temple, I watched as a young man came up to him after the service. He said to Dad, "Dr. Rice, I just don't know what to believe about this {I don't recall the specific question}. Just tell me what to believe." Dad looked him straight in the eye and said, "Young man, I'm not the pope. You study the Bible for yourself and find out what God says." He firmly believed in the right and responsibility of every believer to study Scripture for himself, and be convinced from the Word of God itself.

He believed in that so much that even when we as individual daughters and sons-in-law did not agree with him on minor interpretations, he affirmed our right and responsibility to interpret the Word of God. One specific example had to do with an issue of appropriate clothing for a particular college event. When Dad asked my sister for her interpretation of a particular verse, she stated it respectfully and clearly. Then my dad said, "You are old enough and spiritually mature enough to make your own decision about this, though it differs from my own."

Although I'm sure he hoped our interpretations would be like his and would often try to persuade us to accept them, he listened to our convictions and recognized our responsibility to interpret and apply the Word of God. The hundreds of letters we have from him are a testimony to his love and appreciation and respect for each of his daughters and sons-in-law. Is that not an illustration of the principle of giving other godly believers the responsibil-ity of understanding and applying Scripture?

After giving this background, now let me come to the main point of my response to your statements in this issue of The Sword of the Lord ("Editor's Notes," April 9, 2004). You express your opinion: "I'm not just picking on the Convention crowd. I'm just as perturbed, even more so, about our independent Baptist brethren who are drifting and straying in similar fashion...." You refer specifically to changes in the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, the World Baptist Fellowship and the General Association of Regular Baptists, and continue: "These independent groups have historically been fundamentalists and separatists. In recent years new leadership has emerged with an agenda that blurs the separation issue considerably."


You may be the "new leadership" which has "emerged with an agenda that blurs the separation issue considerably." The trends in The Sword of the Lord since you have assumed editorship have brought great sadness and disappointment to me as the daughter of Dr. John R. Rice, and as one who has been grateful for our Biblical heritage in the fundamentals of the faith. Perhaps the reason some preachers today have chosen to disassociate themselves from the label "fundamentalist" is not because they have changed from their Bible-believing heritage of the fundamentals of the faith, but because they do not want to be identified with the caricature of fundamentalism promoted by those who have added to Scripture, making issues over minor details about which godly Bible believers have differing convictions.

You have changed the principles and attitudes that were so basic to the Sword during Dr. Rice's time. Review what the masthead of the Sword says: "An Independent Christian Publication, Standing for the Verbal Inspiration of the Bible, the Deity of Christ, His Blood Atonement, Salvation by Faith, New Testament Soul Winning and the Premillennial Return of Christ; Opposing Modernism, Worldliness and Formalism."

I don't doubt your commitment to the basic words of that statement, but consider what you have added to it by your editorials and articles in recent months. You have created a new spiritual litmus test for defining fundamental-ists. You have identified "your crowd" over and over again in a manner that could suggest arrogance and spiritual superiority. Surely you don't mean to suggest that!

You have added as a test your opinion that the King James Bible is the only trustworthy translation (or perhaps the only one which is preserved in the English language.) You have indicated that the only true fundamentalist is an independent Baptist who stands with you. You have redefined the "Church" to represent simply local assemblies of believers when Scripture clearly indicates that it often refers to the whole body of Christ. You have redefined Biblical separation to mean separation from other godly people who don't separate from the people you have separated from. You have chastised fellow preachers who use innovative approaches to ministry that differ from your own - i.e. style of music, use of drama, etc. You have arbitrarily identified as "worldly" certain activities about which Bible-believing and practicing Christians have differing convictions.

What about just taking God's lists in the Bible as our hit list for worldliness? (See Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1-12.) Galatians 5 describes clearly the works of the flesh in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit in verses 17-26. In Romans 16:17 the Apostle Paul, after praising all his fellow workers, says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them." This warns against those who cause unnecessary divisions between Christians.

Please read Dr. Rice's footnote on Romans 14:l in the Rice Reference Bible: "We then are to receive and have fellowship with all saved people who may differ on minor matters but agree on the great fundamentals of the Christian faith....This Scripture, like Psalm 119:63, teaches that as far as possible we should have fellowship with all born-again Christians with whom differences are not essential ones" (p. 1225).

Specifically, you have changed the historic definition of fundamentalism to fit your personal definition. You have apparently ignored Dr. Rice's strong commitment to love and fellowship among Bible-believing Christians of many different backgrounds and diverse interpretations of non-essential teaching.

A complete statement of Dr. Rice's view of fundamentalism can be found in his book I AM A FUNDAMENTALIST which was published by the Sword of the Lord in l975, as well as in many other books and articles. Note especially two chapters "Be a Fundamentalist, But Not a Nut," and "Fundamentalists Should Love All Christ's Other Sheep." Have you chosen to ignore what Dr. Rice taught or have you deliberately decided to change the direction of SOTL and misrepresent historic fundamentalism? Surely you must be aware that your teaching is in direct opposition to Dr. Rice's in this matter.

Do you realize that you are promoting division among Bible believers and projecting an attitude of superior spirituality, which is damaging the whole body of Christ, misleading and confusing some Christians. You have taught young preachers and teachers your own brand of fundamentalism and they are perpetuating your views. You are causing believers and their churches to be divided from other godly fellowships, and distracting believers from the most important concern of Christ - to be His witnesses in a dark world, to be "Jesus with skin on" in our world, to be His arms of love embracing others and bringing them to know Jesus and to follow Him.

Instead of demonstrating a passionate "love of the brethren" that Christ taught, it seems that you have isolated yourself with what you call "my crowd." Would it not be better to reach out in honor and respect and humility, and embrace "the family of God," those who have been born again and are seeking to walk with Him? Would that not be more like Christ who taught the disciples to look beyond "their crowd" and recognize that the sovereign God, through the Holy Spirit, is at work in each of us, correcting, teaching, and conforming us to His image? Paul re-minds us in Romans 14:10-12: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ....So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."

You have a right to take whatever stand you wish to take. However, it seems to me that since you are taking a different position on fundamentalism than my dad took, you would demonstrate more integrity to Sword readers, to the Rice family, and to other believers if you simply said, "I think John R. Rice was wrong in many of his views, including his views of Bible translations, the nature of the church, secondary and tertiary separation, etc. So I am changing the direction of the Sword to represent what I believe."

I would respect you for being honest about the changes you have made. I will also tell you what I think (and the Rice family agrees with me) my dad would say to you if he were alive today. I think these would be his very words: "Shelton, why don't you just start your own magazine? If you don't like what I've done, do your own, but don't mess with mine."

I hope you will think seriously about the ramifications of this letter, which is sent with the approval and blessing of the Rice family.

Prayerfully and sincerely yours, Joy Rice Martin

Copyright 2004, Joy Rice Martin. Do not reprint without written permission of the author.