Tolbert Fanning on Evangelists and the Lord’s Day

Brother “J. R. W.” of Kentucky tossed Tolbert Fanning a softball in the June 1858 issue of  the Gospel Advocate (pp. 170-171).  It was a subject he had constantly addressed as an editor and evangelist. It was one of the great themes of his life beginning with his time as an evangelist supported by the Nashville (TN) church from 1832 to 1836.

Question:  Are the disciples authorized to perform the service without an Evangelist?

The question contains several. What is the “service” to perform on the Lord’s Day? What is the function of an evangelist? Does the evangelist have a clerical function such that without an ordained evangelist the congregation could not “perform the service”?

Concerning the function of an evangelist, Fanning writes:

it is the duty of the Evangelist to preach the Gospel to the world, plant the taught with Christ in Baptism, congregate the converts, teach them all things in which they are to walk, to see that they keep the ordinances, ordain the Elders in the congregation, and set in order everything wanting for the perfection of the body.

In other words, the evangelist evangelizes the lost, plants the congregation, equipts members, and appoints leaders. Then an evangelist moves on to a new field and repeats the process. The evangelist should not linger and serve as a priestly mediator for the congregation. “It is not the work of the Evangelist to perform the service of the congregation.” Rather, the evangelist equips the congregation so that they might “perform the service” themselves.

When the disciples give the worship into the hand of a hired preacher, as one who works merely for the profit or place, to lord it over God’s heritage, they abandon, in fact, the religion of the Bible. The healthful soul invigorating life giving and life sustaining ordinances, have been given into the hands not entitled to them. The hired, or voluntary services of the church in the hands of preachers, enrich not them spiritually, and make the disciples poor indeed.

To hand the service over to “a hired preacher” is a form of “Popish” clericalism, according to Fanning. It destroys the faith of the congregation as they become passive receivers rather than active participants. The legitimate field for evangelists (preachers) is within the “world” rather than in the established congregation. Let the congregation do its own work, including the work of sending out evangelists to plant new congregations.

What the evangelist should do, however, is plant the congregation, equip the members, and appoint elders to lead the church. Fanning is quite insistent that evangelists appoint bishops or elders. On what authority, another querist asks? “In the Apostolic times Evangelists were consecrated by the hands of the seniors” (Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 5:14; 2 Timothy 1:16), “and Elders were set apart to the Bishop’s office by Evangelist” (1 Timothy 3; 5:22). Remember, however, that the evangelist does not settle into the congregation but is sent to other places. Consequently, it is the elders who lead the church rather than the evangelist.

But what is the “service” that members are to perform on the Lord’s Day? Fanning lists seven particulars:

1. The assemblage and Christian greetings on the Lord’s day.
2. Prayers of the Saints.
3. The teaching, reading of the Divine oracles.
4. The exhortations and confessions of the disciples.
5. The Lord’s supper.
6. The songs of praise.
7. Communicating, or putting money into the treasury, a sacrifice with which God is well pleased.

“We cannot see how it is possible,” Fanning adds, “for disciples to neglect any of these parts, and still maintain a position in the church of Christ.”

No Evangelist necessary; no clerics needed. It Is the priesthood of (male?) believers; there are no clerics, only the gathering of disciples. It is simply the gathering of Christians to greet, pray, teach, read, exhort, eat & drink, sing, and give. This is the fellowship of the saints on the Lord’s day. No preacher required; just committed, active disciples who gather to listen to each other and the word, sing their praises, share their resources, pray, and sit at the table together. Ad all that to the glory of God and the building up of the body.



16 Responses to “Tolbert Fanning on Evangelists and the Lord’s Day”

  1.   The Itinerant Mind Says:

    It sounds like a lovely system (and manifestly biblical), but its implementation would require no less a thought-revolution in our time than in theirs. The de facto clergy of the Churches of Christ is so entrenched as to require a reformation of Stone-Campbell proportions to unseat them.

  2.   Chris Says:

    Would Fanning have seen the evangelist as fundamentally an itinerant? In other words, is it correct to say that it was his responsibility to “set in order” the congregation, but it was not envisioned that he would stick around on a permanent (or even semi-permanent) basis?

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Yes, Fanning himself–as an example–was supported by the Nashville church. He spent his time traveling among communities planting and watering rather than preaching for the Nashville church. He was localized to the region, but supported to plant and equip in the region. He did not envision a evangelist staying very long at any one place (certainly not permanently), but he might come back to equip and teach more at other times.

      •   rich constant Says:

        John Mark
        didn’t Paul stay in EPHESUS for 2 years AND TRIED TO STAY on top of there progress over the years as best as he could.
        so it would seem to be, at least for him,to be extremely concerned,with their growth into sanctification ” like a father nurturing his children”?

  3.   rich constant Says:

    wonder what he would say about the 43 min. lesson…
    the 5 songs,
    lords supper being less than a snack.
    and the parking lot being empty in less than an hour and a half.
    i wonder…
    if we are the family of God and i don’t even make it important enough to remember my brother’s name at least…
    what does fellowship entail today?
    just by simple definition i would call that family dysfunctional!
    BOY OH BOY JOHN MARK
    always heard when i was growing up….
    belief is one of conviction not conveyance
    :-)
    we all better hope the lord doesn’t believe in just deserts!

    blessings
    bro

    •   rich constant Says:

      sorry a little ps
      instead of calling Sunday the lords day…..maybe we ought to call Sunday the LORDS HOUR!!!
      BOY OH BOY

  4.   Clark Coleman Says:

    We must be careful to emulate New Testament examples only as far as those examples existed. For example, the INITIAL appointing of elders is performed by apostles or evangelists sent by apostles (e.g. Timothy and Titus) in the NT. But there is no discussion of continuity of eldership. After twenty or so years, perhaps the elders have passed away. Does some other church then send an evangelist to appoint new elders? I don’t think this would follow any NT example, and I think that Fanning himself would say that one of the ways in which a congregation is being equipped (by its founding evangelist) is with respect to being able to handle its later affairs of this sort.

    Then we have to address the fact that the evangelists who appointed elders in NT times had apostolic authority. How much can we claim to be following their example today?

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I’m not so sure Fanning would agree that there is a difference between an evangelist sent by an apostle and an evangelist sent by a congregation. They are both sent to do the work of an evangelist, as Timothy is told to do. It appears part of his evangelistic work was “laying hands” on people, appointing elders, etc. Whatever the work of an evangelist is, is what it appears evangelists are to do, even today.

      Fanning, of course,was only interested in the planting and watering. But I imagine–I have not yet read this in him–that he would say the congregation would choose elders among themselves once it was planted and equipped by an evangelist as the congregation lived out its mission through the years.

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        I was not saying that Fanning would see a difference between an evangelist sent by an apostle or one sent by a congregation. I was just cautioning against looking at first century examples without noting all the details and asking which details are significant and which are different today. I would imagine he and I are in broad agreement on the issues.

  5.   Ray Says:

    Trying to use everything mentioned in the New Testament as a example that we are suppose to duplicate down to the minute detail is the source of much of the trouble that has plagued our fellowship through the years. We need to learn how to rightly divide the word ourselves as well as we tell our denominational friends. If you think the Jews had a hard time keeping all the rules the Rabbi’s had come up with, we have not been able to even agree on all the examples that we are suppose to follow. Lets face it this system has failed us miserably.

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Ray, no one was arguing for a particular hermeneutic or patternism. On the other hand, Fanning’s practice makes a theological point, that is, believers should be equipped to full participate in communal life. I doubt if you would disagree with that though there might be multiple ways in which that goal might be achieved.

      •   rich constant Says:

        seems john mark
        we might need a little less of the dynamic of doctrine, and a little more on the implantation of of Rom.12,which leads all of us to the true battle,not one of” bad ontological doctrine” but one that fights anyway we possibly can through eph.6:9-10.
        and fight as the lord tried to teach us eph.11-18….that leads into 19
        for the purpose that all the ambassadors of the lord may be able to speak boldly the mystery of CHRIST.

        JUST WONDERING HERE ANY YOU GUYS BEEN TO A FOOT BALL GAME
        DO YA THINK THE HOME TOWN FANS YELLING THEIR HEADS OFF HAS ANY EFFECT ON THE VISITING TO SAY NOTHING OF THE GUYS W WANT TO WIN…..

        TO ME JOHN MARK IT’S ABOUT TIME WE GET A GRIP ON THIS SIMPLE LITTLE PRINCIPLE OF LOVE ,,,NOTICE I DIDN’T EVEN BRING UP THE WORKING OF THE SPIRIT….

        HE’S ALWAYS THERE GIVING US A LITTLE NUDGE WHEN NEEDED

        JUST GOTTA LOVE THE FATHER….
        BLESSINGS THERE BIG GUY
        LV RICH

        •   rich constant Says:

          P.S.
          how does, that story on the talents work?

          ???exercise the responsibility of the fathers love and the Lord gives more ability to reciprocate that love and compassion…
          anyway something like that… sorta kind of….
          :-)
          blessings

          •   rich constant Says:

            just as a side note bro.
            EVER WATCH MONEY BALL..
            .BETCHA THE lord WISHES WE NOT ONLY WOULD SEE IT,BUT IMPLEMENT IT’S NEW PERSPECTIVES.

  6. Profile photo of Ralph Williams  Ralph Williams Says:

    Very interesting that Fanning defines “Communicating” as “…putting money into the treasury.” It seems an odd twist, as though he were trying to force one scriptural idea into another. I have heard that some insist that “fellowship” in Acts 2:42 refers to giving (thus getting most of the “5 acts of worship” into one verse). I don’t recall anyone else using “communicating” as a pseudonym for giving.

    • Profile photo of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      “Communicating” (based on the word group koinonia) was often used to refer to the sharing of resources (or the contribution) in both early restoration literature (Campbell himself does this) as well as in previous literature. So, it is not unique and predates any sense of a “five act” list.

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