Lipscomb on the Poor IV

The bloody stress of the Civil War strained relationships between northern and southern members of the Stone-Campbell Movement to a breaking point. While sectional attitudes created tension as well as the diverse response to participation in the war, the gut-wrenching reality–as Lipscomb saw it–was that northern brethren were more interested in high-salaried preachers, worldly buildings and higher education than they were in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked among their southern brothers and sisters. This, perhaps more than most other strifes, created a gap between north and south in the postbellum era.

Lipscomb penned a brief but pointed article on “fellowship” which charged northern churches with indifference toward the suffering of the south. More than indifference, it charged that they had a preference for their own self-interests rather than “fellowship” with the south.

For Lipscomb, “fellowship” in this context was more than shared beliefs, it was benevolent action. It was not about agreed opinions or common “tenets of religion,” but a “mutual, kindly feeling and love one member of the body of Christ” has for another. While the north fretted about the potential loss of “fellowship” with the south, Lipscomb asked: “Now, brethren, what Christian fellowship really exists throughout the Churches of Christ?” What fellowship exists when southern disciples go hungry and starve? Where there is no “Christian beneficence,” there is no fellowship.

Based on his perceptions of how northern disciples had responded to his earlier pleas for help, he “naturally conclude[s] you have not much fellowship for us, when we are too poor to be of service to you.”

The text of the article is copied from Bobby Valentine’s contribution to Hans Rollmann’s Restoration Movement Lipscomb webpage. The article appears under the title “Fellowship” in the Gospel Advocate 8 (22 May 1866) 335-336.

Fellowship in ancient days referred not to an agreement in theories or tenets of religion, but to the mutual, kindly feeling and love one member of the body of Christ had for another. They exhibited their fellowship by aiding and helping one another with their substance and by deeds of good service to those in need. There seems to be a fear that the fellowship, so-called, of brethren North and South will be interrupted. Now, brethren, what Christian fellowship really exists throughout the Churches of Christ? An agreement in certain articles of faith and theories of religion? I doubt not that the demons and spirits of the wicked in hell have just as much fellowship as this. If we wish to have fellowship one with another, we must be willing to impart of our subsistence to aid those that are in suffering and need. Our brother writes that he has heard his children cry for bread, when he was not able to satisfy their hunger with bread. Another, “I with my family, have set down to our meals (?) with only potatoes and syrup (sorghum molasses) to eat.” These were worthy preaching brethren that wrote these things, not for publication, but in reply to questions propounded them as to their ability to devote their time to preaching. Now what benefit is it to these men, and thousands of others in their condition, to say we have fellowship for them, but never impart of our substance to relieve the hunger and nakedness of their families and themselves? The heartless selfishness of the age has corrupted and perverted the spirit of Christian beneficence so that professed Christians, we fear, give more with a view of attaining some ulterior selfish end than from a pure spirit of Christian fellowship. But all of our professions of love to God, all of our gifts by the thousand and tens of thousands for schools, meeting-houses, and such like, notwithstanding they may acquire for us great names with men, in the sight [p. 336] of God are but empty, hypocritical pretences, so long as we see our brethren have need and fail to relieve their necessities. If our brethren North wish to form and cement the bonds of lasting fellowship between themselves and their brethren South, the true, scriptural, effectual way is open and inviting. We appealed to you for relief for Bro. Smith, of Ga., a man of unexceptionable character in every respect, a man who has given thirty-six years of his life, almost at his own charges, to the cause of Christ, who, in his old age, with a large family of orphaned grand-children upon his hands, is impoverished by no wrong or imprudence of his. Our appeal was almost wholly in vain. We naturally conclude you have not much fellowship for us, when we are too poor to be of service to you. Bro. Smith’s necessities will, to some extent, at least, be supplied by our churches in Tennessee. We will subject the feelings of no more of our brethren to the unpleasant publicity to which we subjected his. But if any wish to exhibit true fellowship to their suffering brethren, we will give the names of such as need, on application.



4 Responses to “Lipscomb on the Poor IV”

  1.   Dwayne Phillips Says:

    Perhaps you can shed some light on a version of history that I have frequently heard. Here is the history:

    This situation eventually led to the Southern Church of Christ non-instrumental/Northern Christian Church instrumental split. The rich brothers in the north were buying pianos and organs while the poor brothers in the south starved. The poor brothers in the south damned the instruments because they felt that the rich brothers loved the instruments more than they loved the poor brothers.

    Have you heard this history?
    I would appreciate any information you could share on it.

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Dwayne,

      I’ve heard various versions of that rationale. I don’t think the instrumental discussion can be reduced to that alone but it may have played a contributing role as part of a larger sociological context for the division, that is, rich/poor and urban/rural. But I don’t think the ability to buy instruments was the real issue as some instruments are not that expensive. The expensive organs of northern churches became a target as an expression of the sociological differences. The instruments became symbols of indifference to the poor as did large, expensive church buildings.

      However, I think opposition to the instruments was not primarily driven by sociology. The first paper to oppose them as an agenda was Benjamin Franklin’s American Christian Review and he was from Indiana. The argument is fundamentally hermeneutical (as seen by McGarvey and Lard as well).

      Nevertheless, even Franklin (and McGarvey’s opposition in the Millennial Harbinger as well as Lard’s in Lard’s Quarterly as well) recognized some social dimensions to the discussion as large, rich, urban churches were more likely to use the instrument than small, poor, rural churches.

      It is complex. The social setting had an impact but the argument itself was hermeneutical.

  2.   Norris DeBerry Says:

    Thank you for sharing this information and thoughts in regards to the poor or less-fortunate. The “established church” today doesn’t want to touch this subject. If you are a full-time minister, start preaching “kingdom” and fellowshipping the poor and marginal of society and see what happens. There is a strong possibility that you will be asked to change your lessons and quit associating with “those people.” You may have to find other employment. It appears that we need more bold voices like Lipscomb today.

  3.   eirenetheou Says:

    When DL writes of “the heartless selfishness of the age,” he could be — and, as a true prophet, he is — addressing not only his own time but also our time. “The poor are always with us,” as Jesus and the Holiness Code of Leviticus knew, and their presence is always a challenge to our “priorities.” We always “have better things to do with our money” and with our time (which is the more precious commodity). We had far rather spend our substance on monuments to our importance in this world than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick.

    May God have mercy.

    d

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