Resistance to Comity
J. WILLIS HALE
THE WRITER: J. Willis Hale, at the time of writing, was Dean, Manila Bible Seminary, and was in charge of the educational phase of the Phillipine Mission. He had labored with Mr. Leslie Wolfe before his death and ministered in that field which Mr. Corey chose to treat in detail. It is noteworthy that this mission, begun by Mr. Wolfe whom Mr. Corey attacks numbered 200 churches and reported four thousand additions from 1952 to the time of writing.
Volume I -- Number 1The work of evangelism done by Leslie Wolfe in the Philippines over a period of nearly forty years stands today as a memorial to a man who believed in the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, to him who refused to set aside that commission and forsake those who had been won to Christ, to him who rejected the offer of ease, comfort and the plaudits of men who were determined to turn the Church of Christ over to the whims of denominationalism.
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The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary
In his recent book, Fifty Years of Attack And Controversy, Mr. Stephen J. Corey attempts to make it appear that Leslie Wolfe endorsed comity in the Philippines, by presenting what he calls "facsimile" of a Comity Agreement and a letter from Mr. Wolfe.1
Mr. Wolfe came to the Philippines, determined to hold to the New Testament and obey the Society's Manual, but when he was convinced that the Society officials no longer respected either the Manual or the New Testament, he chose the New Testament and Christ.
As to the "Agreement between the Presbyterian and Christian Missions", the very first thing noticeable is that the document was not signed - the names are typed in. Mrs. Carrie A. Wolfe offers the following explanation in answer to a query in regard to a Photostatic copy of this letter:A New Testament church had been established in Lilio, Laguna, which was considered Presbyterian territory. This was an active church and its members went everywhere preaching the gospel. Their teaching was quite different from that taught by the Presbyterians and they won some of their members to the simple New Testament faith. The towns around Lilio had not been entered by the Presbyterians and they proposed this plan to Mr. Borders who was living with a Presbyterian family at the time so as to keep the workers in the Church of Christ from disturbing their churches established in other sections of Laguna.In the photostatic letter, I do not find anything that indicates more than a report by an agent of the Society. Mr. Wolfe does state:
From the beginning, Mr. Wolfe was doubtful about this plan and wrote the letter to Mr. Doan under protest. He was then the secretary of the mission. When the agreement was presented, he refused to sign it and W. H. Hanna also, after talking with Mr. Wolfe and the Filipino evangelists, refused to sign the document. The matter was dropped and we went on working in the districts and today there are churches of Christ in all but two of those towns mentioned and in many other Laguna towns.
The reason this is not in any of our mission files is that it never materialized and the agreement was never signed. If they had brought this up while Mr. Wolfe was living, he could have furnished plenty of proof that the agreement was never accepted.21. That there was opposition on the part of some Filipinos,Mr. Wolfe told the writer during our war days' confinement that he hoped at that time that no such agreement would ever be entered into. He opposed the first suggestion of comity made to him, which is borne out in his reply to Mr. Corey in 1915:
2. That it lacked formal endorsement of any Filipino workers,
3. "Some of us (missionaries) approached this matter with fear and trembling,"
4. That provision was made for discontinuance of the agreement after three years.3Misrepresenting Wolfe: - The report stigmatizes Wolfe for alleged inconsistency and bad faith in the comity agreements. Mr. Wolfe nails this as follows: 'In answer to a question from Mr. Corey in 1915 (see Mr. Wolfe's letter in our August issue), I took a position on comity from which I have not deviated, which was as follows: That the mission had a right to restrict the movement of missionaries and paid Filipino workers as it saw fit, but that the Missionary Society had no right to impose any such territorial restrictions on the free churches of Christ . . . I had no part in making the Comity agreement whereby the Methodists had retired from Abra and we from the Cagayan."4It is very evident that comity became the unholy passion of the Missionary Societies from about 1914 on, as reported by Mr. Corey:It is the custom on mission fields where the Disciples of Christ function through the United Christian Missionary Society to have friendly understandings with other Protestant groups. This tends to prevent controversies or waste of funds in fields where the areas of population are ten times what any of us could occupy effectively.5Again he traces the early course of the preparation for the betrayal of the Church by the Swivel-Chair Mission Experts in these words:Consequently, the first conference was held in the mission room of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati, beginning June 30, 1914. Eleven boards were represented by sixty-five missionaries and delegates, including ten from the Christian Woman's Board of Missions. A similar meeting, convened in Panama, in February, 1916, was called the Congress of Christian Work. It resulted in the formation of the Committee on Cooperation in Latin America and our own former missionary, Samuel Guy Inman, was named executive secretary. This Committee then called a conference in Mexico City, February 17-24, 1919, to which eleven boards sent sixty-seven persons. Among the representatives of the Disciples were Mrs. Anna R. Atwater, president of the Christian Woman's Board of Missions; A. McLean, president of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, and Mr. Inman.6Further, Mr. Corey boasts of the comity arrangements entered into with the Baptist in the Belgian Congo which were arranged through missionaries Ellsworth Faris and Dr. Harry N. Biddle, the trade made with the Methodists in Paraguay and in the Philippines. Of course, he boasts of the great gains made in these deals with denominationalism, which looks to us more like High Treason against the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.7 How contrary this procedure is to that commission under which W. H. Hanna, Leslie Wolfe and others went forth to work!
Early in the year, W. H. Hanna stated that whatever success had been attained in the Philippines had been the direct result of an aggressive evangelistic program. He quoted a letter written by F. M. Rains, financial secretary of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, written to the first missionary sent to the Philippine Islands (himself) which says:
"We want you to establish churches of Christ wherever and among whomsoever you think advisable." Hanna comments on this: This wide commission, thoroughly in harmony with the Great Commission of our Lord, was responsible in some measure for the intense evangelistic spirit which gave being to our mission work in the Islands.8
THE BEGINNING OF THE BLIGHT OF COMITY IN THE PHILIPPINES
Mr. Wolfe refers to this matter in an article quoted in the Restoration Herald just before World War II began:The beginning of the sorrows of our Philippine work was in 1914 with the arrival of a commission consisting of S. J. Corey, R. A. Doan, and W. C. Bower. The immediate result of their coming was our participation in the Manila Union Theological Seminary. Another result, ripening nine years later, was the UCMS Methodist comity agreement. I was in America during the Commission's visit in 1914. None of our missionaries at that time favored the comity agreement proposed by the commission. Such had been the stand maintained from the very beginning of the Philippine Mission. None of the missionaries of the Manila station then could enthuse over the proposal that we enter the Union Seminary.
There now lies before me a letter, dated November 2, 1914, from the pen of J. B. Daugherty, who died in 1917, of precious memory to many, from which I quote: 'The commission went in for a lot of talk about union work especially in the Seminary . . . I understood that the commission had the idea that you (Wolfe) were a stumbling block to union work in Manila and that such would stand in the way of your return. I believe their attitude was gathered from a conversation with you. I tell you this that you may know how to play the game, for I want to see you back. In a meeting of the Manila station with the commission, Corey, as I remember suggested that by holding the purse strings they could control the action of certain missionaries who stood in the way of union as they see it. I at once suggested that such power had no weight or influence with a missionary who could support himself. I may drive them to seek my scalp by the time I return, but I do not fear it. I feel that other missions in the Philippines now realize, as never before, that they have to deal with men on the field. They found they could do no 'bishop' stunt over their heads.
It was not till a decade later that Mr. Corey pulled the purse strings' on 'certain' missionaries who stood in the way of union as they see it.9
THE TRICKERY OF COMITY MAKERS
Mr. Wolfe explains some of the facts concerning the comity with the Methodists and the part that he and Saunders had in the first meeting of the group.Inserted in the report of the commission to the Orient is "Appendix No. 1-memo of the informal meeting of the Christian, United Brethren and Methodist Missions held in Manila, Feb. 2, 1923.Six months later than the above meeting, there was another meeting held in Vigan.
The brethren should know the following facts:
1. The commission reports the comity agreement proposed at this Manila meeting as being in fact a bona-fide contract entered into by the three missions named therein.
The memo itself contradicts this in so many words, to-wit: "The following INFORMAL agreement was made, WHICH IS TO BE FORWARDED TO THE MISSION BOARDS INTERESTED FOR THEIR APPROVAL."
The agreement was never referred to the mission and was never approved by the mission. NO AGREEMENT OF ANY KIND WAS EVER SIGNED BETWEEN THE MISSIONS.
2. The commission names as those present at the Manila meeting and approving the agreement (in addition to the Methodists and United Brethren), Messrs. Stipp, Higdon,
Picket, Wolfe, Swanson, Bowman and Alex. Paul, and Mr. Saunders from the Disciples Mission. The Commission says: Mr. Wolfe played an active part in the joint agreement.
Mr. Wolfe says:
The fact is that there were two sessions of the above meeting. I WAS NOT PRESENT AT THE SECOND SESSION WHEN THE ACTION RECORDED TOOK PLACE.
3. In addition to the Methodist bishop, who presided over the comity meeting, the report says that "Bowman and Alex. Paul" were present. The only purpose Mr. Paul serves, as fifth wheel Oriental secretary, according to our best information, is to keep Mr. Corey informed as to developments and to push through Mr. Corey's comity agreements in all the fields of his bishopric.
4. A. G. Saunders is singled out for special mention by the commission as an ardent comity proponent.
Mr. Saunders says:
I regarded the conference in Manila as a preliminary conference from which we were to go back and discuss the whole matter within our own conference. I had no idea we were finalizing things. I was dumbfounded later to find that they regarded it as an agreement at which we had come. I almost felt that I had been tricked.
5. The Tagalogs are condemned by the commission for having 'not faithfully complied with all the terms of those agreements'.
The Tagalogs were parties to no such agreements, and it requires a 'right type' commission to charge them with bad faith in breaking a comity contract which they had not only had no hand in contriving, but which they heartily despise.10ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING AT VIGAN, AUGUST 2, 1923, in the Swanson home. Present, Dr. Pickett in the chair, L. Wolfe, F. V. Stipp, F. H. Swanson and A. G. Saunders (Sec'y). Prayer by Dr. Pickett.The above quotation speaks very plainly of Mr. Wolfe's refusal to have a part in the betrayal of the brethren in the Cagayan and Aparri.
Decided that, in view of the agreement already reached between the Methodists and our own Mission, that we withdraw support from the Cagayan - and that we accept the responsibility of caring for the Methodist churches in Abra, and that the Aparri appropriation be re-budgeted by the Advisory committee. (3 affirmative votes - Pickett, Stipp, Swanson; 1 dissentient, L. Wolfe; 1 not voting, Saunders.)11Mr. Wolfe's is the one dissenting vote. Our files are crammed with the documents of those years revealing the herculean struggle Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe waged to save the Christian Mission (UCMS) from comity. Some of these documents are the loud wailings of the modernistic missionaries on the field that Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe were 'incompatible', 'non-cooperative', 'troublesome', 'temperamental' during the time that the Wolfes carried on their historical battle, one of the greatest in history against modernism. The Wolfes were ousted from the U.C.M.S. by recommendation of these same modernistic missionaries on the field, by subservience of the investigating committee sent from America to find excuse for the best way to hush up the infamy, and the official sanction of U.C.M.S. headquarters in St. Louis.12The protest of Mr. Saunders on the report of the Commission in regard to the Comity agreement and the Cagayan Valley churches, rightly evaluates the crime:
In regard to the comity agreement that sold free churches of Christ to the Methodists in the Cagayan Valley, Leslie Wolfe says: It is enough to make one sick at heart to know that this great valley was left to the Methodists by the U.C.M.S. in exchange for the rocky hills of Abra.13There are instances in your report where fair words hide foul facts. The following is one: 'These congregations of Disciples (in Cagayan) were not compelled by this agreement to make any sacrifice of religious convictions nor forfeit any privileges of personal faith: but were left free to co-operate with the Methodist pastors in promoting a program of Christian service.' Deftly worded! Do you honestly regard that as a fair statement of the Cagayan situation? You say they are free. How free? In the same way that a man is free if marooned on an iceberg. It is the freedom of starving men in a glutted labor market before the offer of inadequate wages they are free to take it or starve.14Dr. W. N. Lemmon, for fourteen years a medical missionary in the Philippines, wrote to S. J. Corey, Sept. 4, 1924, protesting against the utter contempt that the Survey secretary showed for the Manual and the New Testament church:The survey secretary brought us what he supposed was a working policy. It was strenuously objected to by a majority of the missionaries and Filipino leaders, and it took us the better part of four days to get on the secretary's book that 'we should have as our objectives in the Philippines the establishment of New Testament churches . . . During this conference he would lead us to believe by his statements that what you say in the Manual, on pages 35, 36 and 37, was not the real purpose of the Society; that the College of Missions was teaching otherwise; and that the Society was sending out missionaries not in harmony with the announced policy of the board of managers . . . I say also that the statement of Mr. Stipp before the conference that 'We are not here primarily to establish New Testament churches' is, in our opinion, very serious, and will, if the statement is true that 'the majority of our missionaries are with them,' result disastrously and nullify the Manual and New Testament ideals. May . . I frankly say that, if we are not to have the liberty of message to all based on New Testament union, then I feel we have finished our work as a mission?15Dr. Lemmon was right, and soon after this, he left the field.
Mr. Wolfe and Comity in the Philippines was summed up with the words:A. G. Saunders, working side by side with Leslie Wolfe as a fellow missionary for twelve years, says: 'Brother Wolfe has one great fault-he will not agree to any comity plan that involves receiving the unimmersed. He is opposed to open membership.16Another friend of Mr. Wolfe wrote as follows:I am glad you are upholding Leslie Wolfe of Manila, against the disloyal missionaries there. During my term of service in the Philippine schools, I visited Brother Wolfe and inspected his work several times (1914-1920), and can say that he would be incompatible to work with only because the other person was not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the inspired apostles. With this personal touch, I shall know whether the U.C.M.S. and its commissioners to the Orient keep faith with the brotherhood by the way in which Bro. Wolfe is treated.17
"IN PROSPERITY THE DESTROYER SHALL COME"-Job
The word 'destroyer' is not unkind. For those insisting on a new order here admitted that it would vitiate the New Testament Church plan that the Philippine Mission had thus far followed so successfully.
The 1914 commission proposed a comity agreement. All the missionaries in the picture below opposed it. The commission's chairman, however, by constant agitation and the appointment of liberal missionaries, after nine years, got the plan approved.
He threatened to 'pull the purse strings' on missionaries opposing our cooperation in the Manila Union Seminary. It was an order that had to be obeyed. New Testament Christianity's defeat in the Philippines or a bitter conflict within the mission was inevitable.
"IN THE DEFENSE OF THE GOSPEL"
But the makers of the proposed new missions order were not wise enough to make haste slowly. A few of the old defenders were still about, and helping hands were ready to reach across from the other side of the Pacific. We are positively of the belief that the Lord took a hand in the matter.
While the achievements of a full decade since the struggle of 1925 are indeed heartening, the work is still menaced from enemies within as well as from without. Missionaries, Filipino brethren, and our supporters all must be admonished still to 'Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong'. Yet, we were never more thrilled than we are today at the possibilities before this Philippine mission. The future is as bright as the promise of God.18
Thus it can be seen that Leslie Wolfe left behind him abundant evidence concerning his opposition to the comity agreements. As the first decade of his labors as an independent missionary were heartening, surely the last eighteen years have added additional honor to these heroes who have stood for the faith. May his watchword continue to be the watchword of all who profess the name of Jesus Christ: "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong".
1. Stephen J. Corey, Fifty Years of Attack and Controversy, pp. 109-111.
2. Letter written by Mrs. Carrie A. Wolfe, January 26, 1951.
3. Stephen J. Corey, op. cit., p. 110.
4. Leslie Wolfe, The Touchstone, Sept. 1926, p.6.
5. Stephen J. Corey, op. cit., p.112.
6. Ibid., p.57.
7. Ibid., p. 222.
8. W. H. Hanna, World Call, Feb.1923, p.53.
9. Leslie Wolfe, Restoration Herald, September, 1941, p.4, quoted by Mark G. Maxey, History of the Philippine Mission, note 33.
10. The Touchstone, October, 1926, p.7.
11. Robert E. and Eleanor Wolfe Hanson, History of the Philippine Mission
Churches of Christ, Mimeographed edition, p.3. Philippine Mission Churches of Christ, Box 2774, Manila Philippines. Printed edition, Standard Publishing Company.
12. Robert E. and Eleanor Wolfe Hanson, op. cit., p.4.
13. The Touchstone, July 1926, p.8.
14. A. G. Saunders, The Touchstone, November, 1926, p.6.
15. Dr. Lemmon, The Touchstone, June, 1926, p.1.
16. A. G. Saunders, The Touchstone, April, 1926, p.2.
17. Orvllle T. Rodman, Touchstone, April, 1926.
18. Leslle Wolfe, Manila Christian, September, 1938.
Scanned: Michael Riggs
Proofread: Shelley Wozniak