The 1866 Gospel Advocate, the year its rebirth after the Civil War, is filled with notices about sharing resources with the poor and encouragement for churches both north and south to do so. Apparently, the Advocate was accused by some of controlling these resources as they came to Nashville for distribution as if the paper was a functioning benevolent society, but Lipscomb strongly rejected that libel. Rather, the Advocate was only one communication tool among others for churches to connect with each other and while the Advocate was happy to help, it was more important for one church to directly “fellowship” another church.
Lipscomb was concerned to maintain the rightful function of the church. The relief of the poor “is the true, holy, Godlike work of the church. This is the work for which the church was established, and if it fail to do the work for which it was established, it had as well dissolve its organization and cease to be.”
This work of the church, according to Lipscomb, is the ministry of Jesus Christ. It was the work Jesus did and Jesus “personifie[s] himself in his poor brethren.” If the church does not minister to the poor, then “it can never enjoy the blessings of God.”
Below is the full article entitled “Dispensing Christian Fellowship,” Gospel Advocate 8 (24 July 1866) 478-79.
We have received contributions from one church at least, for needy preachers, accompanied by the suggestion that a part of it should be applied to the relief of a brother within reach of that congregation. Now it is eminently proper that that congregation should aid that brother, but there is no sense in sending that aid to the Gospel Advocate. The Gospel Advocate, nor either of its editors, has proposed to become disbursing agents for any church. We being in constant communication with the brethren South, simply proposed to forward the contributions of those not favorably situated for doing so themselves, to those in need. There are brethren in Middle Tennessee in need, and the churches should supply their wants, but do not send the means for so doing to us. We have made no effort to post ourselves in reference to the brethren in Middle Tennessee, and are as little competent to judge of their necessities as any one that could be found. We have confidence the churches will attend to the wants of those in necessity in their midst. Except in a few well known instances we have not ourselves applied what we have sent South. Our object has been to find the members, elders of the congregations in the different desolate sections South, best suited to distribute to the needy, and have sent to them. So that it goes as true fellowship should go, as the contribution of the Churches of Christ, to the Churches of Christ in need. Our instruction has been to remember first the wants of the preacher, so as to enable him to preach as much as possible; secondly, the impoverished widow, orphan and poor of the church, and, lastly, the suffering of the world. But in all cases it must be given as the offering of Christian fellowship to the churches South for the relief of their poor widows and orphans, and those of their vicinity. We have the fullest assurance and confidence that every dollar will be faithfully and worthily distributed, and we would earnestly urge Christians to increased activity in administering to the relief of the poor. It is the true, holy, Godlike work of the church. This is the work for which the church was established, and if it fail to do the work for which it was established, it had as well dissolve its organization and cease to be. The church must be educated to the true appreciation of its proper work, and the solemn obligation that rests upon it to perform that work, or it can never enjoy the blessings of God. Jesus Christ personified himself in his poor brethren. He stands to-day personified in the gaunt and hollow face, sunken eye, and half-clad emaciated form of widowed mothers and hungry, starving children in the South. If Christians fail to relieve their wants, no matter whether we or they believe in societies or not, and no matte whether their sympathies were Northern or Southern, the stern truth will one day meet them, “Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life.”