H.E. Phillips: A Friend to College Students James L. Sloan
When I came to Florida College in the fall of 1961, my perspective was shaped by a decade of great doctrinal controversy and molded in a home where my father was a gospel preacher. Preaching was not in my plans; I enrolled as a business administration major. My personal faith was reasonably strong for my age and maturity, but I had no penchant for public speaking, and no confidence in the possibility of dealing with the kinds of situations and conflicts that I had seen in the church throughout my childhood. As a friend of mine said about himself, "I thought if I was cut out to be a preacher, I must have been sewn up wrong!" The influence upon my life by the administration and faculty of Florida College is not intended to be minimized by this article. Bible classes by such men as Homer Hailey, Clinton Hamilton, James R. Cope, and Melvin Curry still bear fruit in my life. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that the greatest personal and public influence upon my life and thinking was H.E. Phillips. Brother Phillips, his wife Polly and their teenage daughter Elaine were members at the Forest Hills congregation in Tampa. I had known of brother Phillips because of some preaching he had done at Palmetto, Florida, where my father was preaching. My girl friend, Glenna Coleman (who was to become my wife), had an uncle and aunt who worshiped at Forest Hills. Glenna and I decided to worship at Forest Hills while we were at FC.
Everyone who comes under the influence of Elwood and Polly Phillips speaks early and often of the warm hospitality which they "tend in their home, and have throughout the years. This was especially true and important regarding the college students. In these very vulnerable and impressionable years, the Phillipses sought to provide an environment where the values of the homes from which the students had come were upheld. As I think of them now, "a home away from home" is the phrase that seems most appropriate for the, many Sunday nights and other times I was in their home. As one who tries to do some of that work now, I marvel at the amount of time, food, and friendliness which they gave to so many, and not to just the "preacher boys," but to every one. As someone from my day said to me recently, "They made each one feel that he was a favorite."
Immaturity and naivete may be replaced by cynical disillusionment in the college age Christian when confronted with insincerity and hypocrisy. Examples of great faith, dedication and sincerity are vitally important in offsetting such. H.E. Phillips did not say, "Welcome to the real world," but rather sought to set an example of faith and consistency in living the Christian life which would instill confidence in the young Christian and cause him to see the spiritual possibilities in his or her own life. I was never disappointed in brother Phillips' example. While I was in many ways awed by his godly life, his humility kept one from being intimidated by his great strength and dedication to the cause of Christ. His preaching was powerful, and did not lack in giving attention to lessons which emphasized the necessity of living our faith before others.
The young Christian needs more than admonition, rebuke and instruction. He needs positive encouragement as well, words of cheer and hope. In my life, H.E. Phillips filled the role of supplying not only an expectation of me but the accompanying encouragement to fulfill that expectation. Expectation is a powerful force in our lives. It shapes our performance, and it can prompt our failures. The Hebrew writer was concerned about the possible apostasy of the Hebrew Christians and rebuked them for failing to grow to be able to teach others. Then he gives a great expression of hope and optimism: "Though we speak thus, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation" (Heb. 6:9). College students are unsure and insecure, though they may mask it with braggadocio and arrogance. It takes a lot of patience to see the potential in the young adult and to help him or her replace the immaturity and self-centeredness with real growth and strength. I went to college as a business major, but with a desire to serve in the kingdom of Christ. Brother Phillips did not talk to me about a professional career as a puppeteer, but rather about the opportunity to serve in the Lord's church. In my judgment, one of the most powerful influences which H.E. Phillips has exerted on the minds of young preachers is that of principle above personality - of the overwhelming importance of the cause and work which we have set our hands and hearts to do. He did not just encourage me to be a preacher, but to make a personal commitment to the Lord and his gospel. He minimized my lack of public speaking aptitude, and confessed to me that he himself had not had "natural talent" in that area. He emphasized rather spiritual qualities and deep convictions which were of greater importance. Those who heard him preach universally testify of the sincerity, earnestness, and biblical orientation which gave his preaching such great power.
College students seem to fall into two easy categories those who ask for advice and those who need to ask for advice. There is such a heavy responsibility upon those who would undertake to give direction and counsel to those who are struggling with "finding themselves." Patterns are being set and habits are begun that will be life-long tendencies at least. First of all, the college student needs to be told what God has said, not what contemporary man has decided that he has discovered. The advice needs to suit the needs and circumstances of the person. Job would chide the three friends, "Teach me, and I will hold my peace; and cause me to understand wherein I have erred. How forcible are words of uprightness! But your reproof, what doth it reprove?" Young and old have sought the advice and counsel of brother Phillips through the years because of his great knowledge of the Word of God and his ability to apply biblical principles to real life situations. I never knew him to advise young people in such a way as to promote doubt or prompt uncertainty. I valued his advice because I believed he would give the greatest priority to what was the right thing to believe or do, and because I knew that he was genuinely interested in my spiritual and eternal welfare. I always found wisdom in his responses to my problems and questions.
Soundness in the Faith
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "There is something to be said for every error, but, whatever may be said for it, the most important thing to be said about it is that it is erroneous." All men need the truth - error is devastating to any person. Obviously, the college student is in a position of being challenged intellectually, philosophically, and doctrinally. He is in danger of being led into a posture of either uncertainty or identification with some error that destroys his identify as a New Testament Christian. Young people need a compassionate spirit of commendation, encouragement, and exhortation. And they need an emphasis upon spirituality and personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. However, they also need to understand that their faith is also based on propositions that are to be believed. And that the church of Jesus Christ has doctrinal characteristics as well as moral and spiritual ones. There are many men and women throughout this land who were influenced by H.E. Phillips in their college years not only to have the kind of homes that would honor God and bless lives, and not only to have a personal faith and spirituality in devoting their lives to God, but also to have a personal courage and aggressiveness for the truth of God. I saw in him a balance in emphasis between the practical and the doctrinal that I have seen in few others.
I have tried in this article to express my personal feelings and observations of the work brother and sister Phillips have done in the lives of college students. I write these words also to serve as one of the several ways I have tried to express to them my appreciation for what they have meant to me and my family. Yet, I wanted to do something more than just honor them for their work's sake. I would hope that all of those who read of their example would be encouraged to try to exert a more diligent and helpful influence upon young adults. As Luke writes of Barnabas who had seen the effects of the preaching done at Antioch, ". . . and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord: for he was a good men, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." Thank you brother Phillips for helping me that I may help others.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 17, pp. 515-516
September 7, 1989
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