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B W B -- An Analysis
By Charles Dailey
The Two Burton Barbers
The soft-spoken Burton Barber that Lois and I met at his home in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico (about 1980) was quite subdued compared to the fiery preacher that caught my attention at the Sacramento Gathering about 1951. In that year, Burton Barber definiteness was just what I needed to hear after graduating from a college that specialized in being vague. God had arranged for me to hear him and I was a different man from imbibing his points of view.
Now, in Puerto Rico, age had cooled those earlier fires. But a new willingness to listen and consider the viewpoints of others was there, too. Not that we had come to the beautiful island to discuss differences.
In his advanced years Brother Barber still had the keen mind of former times, if not the same high level of energy. His love for God and God's Word had not diminished. The focus of Burton and Opal has always been to do as much as possible in the Kingdom of God and they were both hard at it. Burton was printing charts and booklets for his world-wide literature ministry.
Lois and I are not the only ones detecting a change. Harvey Bacus of Ozark Christian College recalls a reception while passing through Puerto Rico:
Among those present were Burton and Opal Barber, who had also formerly been students of Seth Wilson in the early days of OCC in Arkansas. The Barbers greeted Seth warmly with hugs and tears. They invited him not only to speak in the church where they were ministering, but extended the invitation to return at a later date for a series of teachings.
Seth was so genuinely grateful for the meeting that night. For many years there had been an alienation and hostility between them. He told us how often he had prayed for the Barbers and how he longed for fellowship to be renewed between them. On that trip I learned the important lesson that it is never too late for love to be expressed and unity restored.
-Taking a Stand by Victor Knowles and William E. Paul. Published by College Press, page 325
Burton Willard Barber had matured in an era of independent preachers. Their independence made it difficult to work smoothly with others like themselves. Many were not team players. When two of them differed, the noise was heard across America. If they had access to the printed page, there was not only noise, but a permanent record of their differences. Some, including Burton, held that the evangelist had final authority in the congregation. When two absolute powers collided, harmony fled. Add to that a weak view of salvation by grace and a powerful need to be right in all points in order to be saved. Controversy.
Burton’s friend and admirer Fred Miller writes,
His forceful delivery and firm stands against worldliness shaped my ministry especially during my most effective years in New England when many were converted to a strong stand on holiness and the Biblical New Testament Church. Burton's preaching, more than anyone or anything else, equipped me to be an effective evangelist and snatch many from the flames. Those who thank me for their salvation can also thank BWB who was more than my mentor.
Indeed, Burton was a leader among leaders.
The COMPROMISE test
Brother Barber was opposed to compromise. Many “positions” were measured by this filter. I can still recall the stiletto ring of the word in his preaching even though 50 years have passed. A compromiser, to Burton, was one of the lowest forms of religious life. He was noted for his unbending views on whatever he had studied out. He was in no way a compromiser.
But our Lord does require that we find ways to agree with others. “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1 ff.
Some things in our relationships with others needs to bend, even if our understanding of the Word of God does not. It is a virtue to find ways to get along, and the “compromise” word just may be a hindrance to that goal. It is interesting that the word compromise is not found in Scripture. Certainly the Holy Spirit knew of the concept.
Politically Right of Right
BWB was taken up with the view that Jews of today were Kazars and not descendants of Abraham. He accepted the now-discredited Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as valid. He was taken up with an international conspiracy theory. He distributed the literature of these political writers. His friends (Fred Miller, John Van Voorhis, Franklin Faul) put him under an attack on paper and he slowly withdrew from his public espousal of this literature, but probably never did give up the idea.
If Burton lived today and had access to the Internet, he would have changed his political mind in 10 minutes. Ideas without solid foundation don’t last in the information age of the World Wide Web. Cults are learning that. But Burton lived then and had little access to the research now at our fingertips.
“Nothing Could be More a Matter of Faith”
When I saw the final part of the five-part series against the use of TV, my bones said there was trouble in them ‘thar words. My bones were right.
Those who were so inclined, interpreted Burton to mean that TV ownership was a test of whether a person was a Christian. This brought a reaction from Lee Turner, now of Key Communications in Portland, Oregon. He wrote and published Toward a New Testament Position on the Television Problem in which he argued that possession, not misuse, of TV was a Christian’s right.
[Disclaimer for those who must know: This writer has chosen to not have a TV in the house. The exclusion has ample built-in rewards. If others don’t want the rewards, that is their choice.]
Burton’s friend Fred Miller writes, “Making the ownership of TV in the fellowship a test of fellowship, was a serious mistake.”
This dispute was further compounded when Burton refused to meet with Brother Turner. It was widely interpreted as a snub. But Burton always liked to win. Perhaps he did not see how it could be done and avoided the meeting.
Why Puerto Rico?
Burton and Opal had many reasons to settle in Puerto Rico in the final effective portion of their lives. But Lois and I wondered. A quarter-of-a-century later, we are still wondering. Did the great man move to the Island of Enchantment to get away from the controversies, the politics and to savor more the joys of Christian living? Not speaking the language fluently, he could not enter into whatever disputes may have been fertile at the time.
I plan to interview Burton in about 25 years. Until then, we’ll just keep wondering.