When Quoting David Lipscomb about Women…..

December 29, 2014

In recent weeks, some within Churches of Christ have discussed the rising participation of women in worshipping assemblies. Some find this disturbing, even rebellious, while others think it encouraging. Whatever one’s perspective, sometimes we hope to find some resource without our past to guide or enlighten us.  I think this is legitimate–not so much as a “source of authority” but for a sense of historic identity.

David Lipscomb is sometimes quoted on this topic, and he is quoted on both ends of the discussion!

I fear that while one may quote Lipscomb to encourage women teachers and the another quotes Lipscomb to reject women teachers, sometimes we do an injustice to Lipscomb’s own views and Lipscomb is used to merely serve our own interests.

One recent Facebook page cited Lipscomb’s comments on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 from his 1 Corinthians commentary in the Gospel Advocate series (p. 216).

No instruction in the New Testament is more positive than this; it is positive, explicit, and universal; and however plausible may be the reasons which are urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take an active part in conducting public worship, yet the authority of the inspired apostle remains positive and his meaning cannot be misunderstood. He looks at it from every viewpoint, forbids it altogether, and shows that from every consideration it was to be regarded as improper for them to take any active part in conducting the public service.

There is no question that this represents Lipscomb’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. He opposed any audible participation by women in the assembly except singing, and particularly opposed any public leadership of the assembly through speaking. (See my understanding of this text in an 1990 paper.)

At the same time, Lipscomb was often quick to add that women should teach. When asked whether women should be permitted to teach in Sunday School, he wrote (Questions Answered, 736):

Yet women have the right to teach those who know less than themselves. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos. (Acts 18:24-26.) So I am sure that a woman may teach the Bible to old or young, male or female, at the meetinghouse, at home, at a neighbor’s house, on Sunday or Monday or any other day of the week, if they know less than she does, if she will do it in a quiet, modest, womanly way. I have seen wrongs done by them at home, in the parlor, the dining room, the kitchen. This does not mean she cannot do right in all of these places. She can do right in the Sunday school.

In an article in the Gospel Advocate (25 August 1910), Lipscomb further encouraged women teachers (pp. 968-9):

Philip’s daughters prophesied at home to Paul and his company. (Acts 21:8, 9.) Men and women are so universally addressed together as one and the same that it is rejecting the word of God to say women are not as much commanded to teach the Bible as men are. The only difference is, they are not permitted to teach at certain times and in certain manners. Women may teach and be taught at home, at the houses of strangers, as they travel through the country, at the meeting for preaching; they may take an ignorant preacher to themselves and teach him ‘the way of the Lord more accurately.’…At the Sunday school the woman does not usurp the place of a man in teaching all present. Only a few who wish to be taught or to teach attend. The woman does not teach before all who are present. She takes her class, old or young, to themselves and teaches them. I never saw it otherwise. In this course they obey the command given to teach the word of God to the people and to avoid the things prohibited to women as teachers and leaders of the men….Suppose a number of men, women, or children, or all combined, were willing to study the bible, and a woman was the best teacher they could find, and they were to meet at her house to get her help, and she was to teach them in studying the Bible; would she do wrong in helping them?…Suppose it was more convenient to meet at the meetinghouse and study the Bible at an hour not used for the regular church meetings, would this be sin? What makes it a sin to meet at the meetinghouse to study the word of God? [5]

So, while Lipscomb thought it unbiblical for a woman to publicly teach or preach in the assembly of the church with all present, he did not think it inappropriate for a woman to teach a subset of the assembly in a bible class or Sunday school at the meetinghouse, whether men, women, or children. He did not think it inappropriate for women to lead a bible study in their home, even with men present.

When one quotes Lipscomb’s views on the public assembly because they agree with them, one should also recognize that Lipscomb disagreed with them when it comes to women leading home groups and teaching mixed gender classes at the meetinghouse.

So, what was the difference for Lipscomb? At the root of Lipscomb’s analysis are several principles. The fundamental principle is that a woman’s role is a modest, submissive one, which suits her for domesticity rather than public leadership. Consequently, she should take no public roles in public institutions or movements. She may act privately, but she should not speak publicly, as this would subvert the role God intended for her in creation.

For women to enter the work of public speaking or of leadership in the affairs of this world is to cut them off from childbearing (Gospel Advocate [3 July 1913], 635).

Woman’s work in life is to bear and train children. No higher, holier, more sacred work has ever been committed to human beings. This is her chiefest work in life. If there were not a passage of scripture on the subject except to indicate this, it would forbid her engaging in any work incompatible with this. Public speaking in any of the callings of life that demand a constant strain on the mind, a constant anxiety and care in reference to the public affairs of church or state, an excitement of the ambitions for place and power, not only destroy her taste for and cause her to neglect the home and family duties, the duties of wife and mother, but such a strain on the mind destroys the ability for childbearing (Questions Answered, 739).

Lipscomb strongly objected to the increasing participation of women in any public sphere, whether it was in an activist movement like the temperance movement or in any public institution, including the church.  “Women,” Lipscomb thought, “ought not to be encouraged to make public speeches on any subject” (Gospel Advocate [13 February 1913] 155-6). This is contrary to a woman’s “nature and disposition” which is more “suited to a quiet, retiring service.” Therefore, “all public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place puts woman out of place, out of her God-given work.” The whole tenor of Scripture “condemn[s] woman’s leadership” in every place “as well as in the church on Lord’s day” and “forbids woman to take a leading public part in teaching people at any time” (Gospel Advocate [19 January 1911] 78-79).

Lipscomb opposed women speaking publicly on any subject and taking any public role in society. He thought this subverted the role God gave them in creation. So, in other words, Lipscomb’s view on 1 Corinthians 14 actually extends to society as well as to the church assembly because this is what creation teaches. Creation applies to society as well as the assembly, according to Lipscomb.

Lipscomb, of course, knew the story of Deborah and the public role a few other women took in Israel’s history, but he regarded these as the exceptions which prove the rule.

“Among the children of Israel a few women were inspired as leaders and teachers of the people, but they always came as a punishment of the people because the men were unworthy and were unfaithful…Isa. 3:12…It may be that the same principle holds good now and women are justified in teaching or leading only when the men refuse to do the work. The women taking the lead ought to be considered a reproach and reproof of the men for their deficiency” (Gospel Advocate [13 July 1913] 634-5).

Interestingly, the exception still applies. But the rule also still applies.  Consequently, Lipscomb would oppose any leadership role for women in any public sphere, including lawyers, presidents, etc., unless there were no men willing or capable of assuming those roles.

Where are we, then?

1.  Lipscomb opposes all public speaking by women, not just in the public assembly of the church.

2.  Lipscomb encourage women to teach everyone who knows less than them, including teaching men as Sunday School teachers at the meetinghouse.

3.  Lipscomb thought, however, there were exceptions, as indicated by biblical history, such that in some circumstances women could lead the assembly when men were unwilling or unqualified to do so.

But there is more! The vast majority of those who do or might quote Lipscomb’s comments on 1 Corinthians 14 would be unwillling to do so regarding 1 Corinthians 11 (though some would be quite willing to do so).

Lipscomb believed that the “positive” instructions of 1 Corinthians 11 were just as “positive” as those in 1 Corinthians 14. In other words, women–in the public assembly–were required to were some kind of head-covering other than their hair.

The custom referred to must be women wearing short hair and approaching God in prayer with uncovered heads. He reasoned on the subject to show the impropriety, but adds in an authoritative manner, if any are disposed to be contentious over it, neither we nor the churches of God have any such custom (Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 169).

Lipscomb was as certain about the head-covering as he was about the silence. The two stand or fall together for him. We need to recognize both when quoting one or the other.

Further, Lipscomb’s comment on 1 Corinthians 14 stresses the word “positive.” This is an important word in Lipscomb’s hermeneutic (how he interpreted Scripture). Many regarded Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 as “positive” instructions.

O. A. Carr, “Woman’s Work…No. 3,” Christian Leader & the Way (30 May 1905) 1: “The language is plain and positive.”

J. Perry Elliott, “Queries,” Christian Leader 11 (5 January 1897) 2: “Paul’s language—plain and positive as it is…”

Henry Hawley, “Woman and Her Work,” The Way (20 August 1903) 810: “the Lord positively forbids it.”

John T. Poe, “Female Evangelists,” Firm Foundation (29 January 1901) 2: “she will preach in the face of God’s positive command not to do it.”

E. G. Sewell, “What is Woman’s Work in the Church (Again?),” Gospel Advocate (22 July 1897) 432: “This decree is like the one in Eden: it is positive.”

This language assumes a distinction between “positive” (like, “don’t eat from this tree”) from “moral” (like, “don’t commit adultery”) commands. This reflects a legal hermeneutic as this language is rooted in British jurisprudence (cf. Hobbes) and the regulative principle of later Puritanism. A “positive law”—a specific legal injunction regarding the worship assembly, for example—cannot be disregarded without dire consequences. “When God positively commands,” Harding writes, “we should meekly obey” (James A. Harding, Christian Leader & the Way [17 December 1907] 8). For example, “positive law” prescribed the five acts of worship and those who add (e.g., instrumental music) to that number sin against God’s law. Yet, “nothing in the Bible is more positively forbidden” than public speaking by women in the church. When women are permitted to speak (teach or pray) in the public assemblies, the positive injunction against such is violated and violaters fall under the same condemnation as Nadab and Abihu (Sewell, Gospel Advocate 39 (4 November 1897) 692).

This hermeneutic understands “positive” commands as timeless, absolute dictums, which are unaffected by the occasion, circumstance, and context of their articulation. Further, they are so absolute that Deborah becomes an exception (rather a trajectory that points to something more), and every theological principle or movement within Scripture is trumped by the “positive” declaration. The “positive” command is more important than any redemptive movement of Scripture toward full inclusion of women in public leadership others might see. The “positive” command trumps any theological hermeneutic because the legal hermeneutic is the basic one as one seeks to discern what the Bible requires.

If this is the case, according to Lipscomb, those who seek to obey the positive command of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 should also seek to obey the positive command of 1 Corinthians 11.

Further, if one quotes Lipscomb to support a current practice, then it is only fair (historically) that one remember that Lipscomb also opposed any public role for women in society as well as the church and required women to wear a head-covering in the assembly.

Those who use Lipscomb to support women teachers in Sunday School classes would also do well to remember that Lipscomb’s position is based on a public/private distinction, which may not reflect the views of those who use his position to further their own.

In other words, when quoting historical persons in favor of (a) or (b), the “love your neighbor” principle requires that we quote them with fairness, equity, and honesty. Sometimes it is difficult to do, but love requires it.

 


Review of Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank (Part 3)

August 22, 2014

[Michael Shank, Muscle and a Shovel: A raw, gritty, true story about finding the Truth in a world drowning in religious confusion (5th edition, 2013; Kindle version). I have cited the book with chapter number first, then the Kindle location. For example, Chapter 1, location 245 is cited as 1:245.]

[My first and second blogs in this series are here and here. I have expanded my three-blog review into a 21,000-word review, which is available here.]

Have You Not Read the Scriptures?

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  Matthew 12:7

Shank reads Scripture with the goal of getting it “right” in order to be saved. One must be baptized for the “right reason,” and one must be faithful to the “true [right] church.” We have to get it “right” because God does not accept anyone who doesn’t get it right. So, if you don’t get it absolutely and precisely “right”—in teaching and practice—then one is lost and “headed for eternal destruction.”

The Right Baptism and Right Church

What must we get right? Here is Shank’s list, at least as it appears in the book:

  • Baptism is absolutely necessary
  • Baptism for the right reason is absolutely necessary
  • Faithful to the true church of Christ
  • A right name
  • The right organization (autonomous congregationalism)
  • Right leadership (when qualified: elders, deacons, and evangelists)
  • The right “articles of worship” in the assembly
  • Weekly Lord’s Supper and only on Sunday
  • Weekly free will offerings and only on Sunday (no tithing)
  • A cappella singing
  • Teaches the biblical plan of salvation, that is, how to obey the gospel through hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized.

These are teachings and practices within churches of Christ that have a long history of discussion. I will not take the time to deal with each one in the list in this short blog, though they are important and deserve attention (and I have done some of that in the ebook). Rather, I am more concerned about what lies underneath, that is, the assumptions that shape this way of reading the Bible.

But, first, there are at least two problems with the list itself. Notice (1) what is missing from this list. When Randall seeks to identify the “true church of Christ,” there is nothing about the ministry and mission of the church but only the form and procedures of the church. The list says nothing about what the church does outside the building, how it ministers to the poor, or what the mission of the church is. That is not to say that Shank does not have opinions about these points—I would assume he does and sometimes they come out in marginal ways in the book, but his book defines the nature of what it means to talk about the church in an evangelistic tract. His purpose is polemical—to convince denominationalists that their denominations are wrong. Consequently, it is not ultimately about the fullness of the church of God and its mission in the world, but rather about specific items that, in effect, defend the teaching and practice of the “churches of Christ” (the ones with that name on their signs) in contrast to the denominations.

(2) I also have a problem with the function of this list. Is every one of these necessary in order to have a faithful church? Must one be a member of a group of Jesus-followers who practice Christianity in precise conformity to this list in order to be “faithful to the church”?

If we answer “Yes,” then it is rather strange that the New Testament does not have this list somewhere present within its pages as a list? If this is a prescribed list, then where is the list of prescriptions within the pages of the New Testament?

If we answer “Yes,” then are we an unfaithful church if we are missing any one of these items or fail to do them perfectly? Is this also true if a congregation does not minister to the poor, fails to speak out against injustice in the world, refuses to fully integrate, etc., etc. How perfect does a congregation need to be in order to be “faithful,” and how well must a congregation comply with this list in order to be “faithful”?

Such a list does not appear in the New Testament, and Paul, for example, does not engage congregations through his letters in ways that assume a kind of perfectionism or an assumption of prescribed list of forms that identify the true church of Christ. Instead, he calls us to transformed living, encouraging assemblies that conform to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, living together in love, and a missional orientation to the world. Paul points us to the heart of Jesus rather than to the forms of a legal code.

Consequently, Shank’s evangelistic tract reads quite differently from the New Testament itself. While Shank’s book is filled with prescribed, perfectionistic legal technical lists about how to “do church,” there are no such lists in the New Testament, and what lists there are encourage transformed living (e.g., Galatians 5:22; 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Legal Approach to Scripture

Shank, in effect, uses the Bible to discover the law codes embedded within the story and finds them even where there are no codified prescriptions in the text. Narratives are turned into legal prescriptions. This seems reasonable to Shank because his primary question is, “What does the Bible require us to do?” So, he searches for the requirements and finds them in narratives and letters in order to construct a pattern for the church. And, surprisingly (if indeed the Bible is intended to provide such a pattern), this pattern is nowhere simply and/or fully stated. It has to be pieced together like a puzzle, and we have to find the pieces scattered throughout the Bible. We must connect the dots through inference, assumptions, and expectations of what we think the Bible is supposed to tell us.

Shank expects a pattern and therefore searches till he finds one even if he has to piece it together with examples and inferences. He has to fill in the blanks with more than explicit statements. And where the pieces (specific commands) are missing, we infer their presence (by example or inference). In effect, he finds it because Randall followed an interpretative model (coupled with assumptions) that constructed the pattern for him without questioning the exegesis (interpretation) of the texts utilized and without recognizing his assumptions about how he is reading the Bible.

This is a major concern with Muscle and A Shovel. It reads the Bible with a central concern to discover something it expects to find, and the book assumes that the way to find it is to piece together scattered prescriptions (and non-explicit [even unstated] prescriptions like examples and inferences) in order to construct a pattern that is not explicitly there.

There is a better way to read the story of God in Scripture.

Here lies a fundamental difference between how Shank reads the Bible and how I read it. For Shank, the fundamental question the Bible answers is, “What does God require of me?” For me, the fundamental question is, “What is the story into which God invites me?” The former is a legal question, but the latter is a missional one. The former wants to know what is legal or illegal. The latter wants to know the divine mission and how we might participate in it.

Muscle and a Shovel misses the central story of Scripture. Shank reads the Bible with a legal concern operating at the heart of his hermeneutic. This obscures the missional nature of Scripture itself. There is little to nothing in Muscle and a Shovel that gives us much hint about the grand narrative of Scripture—a loving God who created and nurtured the world for the sake of loving fellowship, who chose Israel as a light among the nations, who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth to redeem the sin, pain, and hurt of this world, and who poured out the Holy Spirit to sanctify and empower a community that they might be dedicated to good works. As an evangelistic tract, it does not tell the story of the gospel. Rather, it converts people to a church pattern, the data for which is mined out of Scripture, abstracted from its original historical context, and then used to construct something that does not exist in Scripture, that is, a specific legal blueprint for how to do church. It converts people to a plan (a church pattern) rather than to Jesus.

When Paul called Titus to teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), that healthy teaching included an ethical life, an understanding of what God has done in Christ, the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of eternal life (Titus 2:2-3:8). It did not include the specifics of a church pattern as outlined in Shank’s book. Rather, telling the gospel story (much like Paul summarizes in Titus 3:3-8) is how one builds communities of faith who are dedicated to good works. I don’t think Muscle and A Shovel followed that pattern, that is, the book does not follow the example of Paul in teaching the great truths of the Christian faith.

The hermeneutical (how we read) shift from “shaped by a story” (regulated by the gospel story narrated in the ministry and life of Jesus, anticipated by Israel, and lived out in the early church) rather than “codified in the prescriptions” (rulebook) is a huge one for many people. The former permits contextualization while the latter is rigid replication. The latter often thrives in fear (did we get that right?) or arrogance (we got it right!) while the former stimulates incarnational, missional practice (how might we embody the story in our context?).

When we read Scripture though the lens of a legal, perfectionistic lens, we have to get it right in order to be saved. We have to be baptized for the “right reason,” and we have to be faithful to the right church. We have to get it “right” because God does not accept anyone who doesn’t get it right.

When we read Scripture through the lens of a missional God, the story unfolds as the divine pursuit of a people whom God transforms into the image of God for the sake of mission to the world. That story is more about direction than it is perfection, and God accepts and welcomes imperfect seekers.

Mercy, Not Sacrifice

When I finished reading Shank’s book, I was neither angry nor enthused. I was sad.

Over my forty-plus years of preaching and teaching I have slowly shifted from reading Scripture as a legal textbook designed to provide a specific pattern to reading Scripture as a story in we participate by imitating God. Rather than servile slaves whose obedience is rewarded and disobedience is punished based on keeping the technicalities of the law, we are God’s partners in the divine mission who are enabled by the power of God to participate in the unfolding story of God. 

The fundamental problem with Muscle and a Shovel is that it exalts sacrifice over mercy (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:7). It assumes that humanity was made for rituals (baptism, church patterns, etc.) rather than rituals made for humanity. It prioritizes “sacrifice” (ritual patterns) over “mercy” (transformation).

In other words, Muscle and a Shovel makes the same mistake that the Pharisees made. It does not understand that God desires mercy over sacrifice, that is, God embraces the heart that seeks mercy over the heart that exalts rituals—even prescribed ones!—over seeking, trusting hearts.

May God have mercy!

 

 


Review of Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank (Part 2)

August 21, 2014

[Michael Shank, Muscle and a Shovel: A raw, gritty, true story about finding the Truth in a world drowning in religious confusion (5th edition, 2013; Kindle version). I have cited the book with chapter number first, then the Kindle location. For example, Chapter 1, location 245 is cited as 1:245.]

[My first blog in this series is here. I have expanded my three-blog review into a 21,000-word review, which is available here. In my first post, I described the purpose of Shank’s book and the ways in which I appreciate its effort. However, I have some serious concerns about the book which I will now address in two posts. A full review of 21,000 words is available here.]

Gracious Speech

Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”   Colossians 4:5-6

Kindness to All

How Shank describes “denominational” leaders and churches is polarizing and disrespectful. This is a significant problem.

It sets up a not-so-subtle contrast—even if true—between “the denominations” and “the truth” that is emotional in character. The portrayal of denominational leaders as unhelpful and greedy, for example, contrasts with Randall and real truth-seekers. Denominational leaders are dismissed categorically. This plays well emotionally in some quarters, but it is an unfounded generalization.

Denominational leaders do not come off very well in this book. They are “arrogant Pastors” (8:1115), and Michael’s Baptist Pastor, in particular, is “condescending” (8:1083), “pompous” (9:1149, 28:4778), greedy (23:3694), and “lives off our donations while [he] parks his fat a__ in that fancy chair that we pay for” (8:1095). “Denominational preachers seem to love and crave the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (28:4752). They are nothing but “false teachers” (30:5063) who pervert the gospel (40:6543-45) and thus are anathema (cursed) by God. Pastors, or “denominational preachers,” are “religious experts” (24:3858), “high-paid, well educated, professional clergyman” (24:3884) who “no longer endure sound doctrine” (28:4747) and demand others “call them by a spiritual title [Reverend] with a word that’s used in the [KJV] Bible exclusively for God’s name” (28:4744). This language judges motives, sincerity, and their love for God.

As such, the narrative implies a personal, character-driven, question: Who will you believe? Would you believe Michael’s pastor who “responded in a condescending tone that conveyed an unspoken message which told me I was stupid for wasting his precious time with such a rudimentary and trivial question” (8:1084) or Randall who was “encouraging, meek, respectful, and it was evident that he really loved God” (5:853)? The narrative sets us up so that if we believe the denominational preachers, then we have chosen the “bad” character in the narrative over the hero in the story. This is nothing more than an emotional appeal based on broad generalizations and narrow experiences.

Denominational churches don’t come off well either. While I could go point-by-point with repeated misunderstandings and caricatures of denominational teachings (including Michael’s historical errors, which abound in the book–see my book review for some details), I will note only how Michael assesses the “Community Churches.” His critique is particularly harsh based on a visit to a Bible class in an unidentified community church. From this experience (and a few others) he provides a sweeping characterization of community churches. They are “no brain, no backbone, all fluff” and they stand “for almost nothing” (20:3222). Recognizing his attitude “wasn’t exactly Christian,” he regarded the community church folk as “a bunch of idiots” (21:3267). The “Community Church crowd” is “sweaty-palmed, weak-kneed, rosy-cheeked, wishy-washy, feel-good, stand-for-nothing, ineffectual, spineless, let’s-all-hold-hands-and-just-get-along garbage” (21:3293). They “accept everything except true Bible unity,” and the community he visited “needed psychiatric help” (22:3547).

The language is unkind and lacks gentleness. Michael’s rants sound more like extreme political rhetoric (whether left or right) than something that belongs in an evangelistic tract proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Scripture calls us to a different sort of engagement with people than what is reflected in these attitudes expressed by Michael (and some stated by Randall). Hear the word of God:

“Remind them…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Titus 3:1-2

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” James 3:17

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, apt to teach, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.” 2 Timothy 2:24-25

I leave it to the reader to judge whether Shank’s book reflects the values expressed by the above Scriptures.

The book does not listen well. Denominational preachers and churches are summarily dismissed as inept and ignorant. The narrative oozes with disrespect for others, and there is no extended attempt to listen to them, their views, or give them a fair hearing. Counter-arguments are rarely advanced, and nuances are overlooked. Denominational preachers and churches are caricatured rather than heard. It is insulting rather than spiritually forming.

Jesus calls us to be, like God, “kind to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:35) and to live with mercy toward others (Luke 10:37) because “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

The book’s language appeals to emotion, prejudice (towards education, ministerial profession, etc.), and class-envy.

Honest Hearts

Honesty is a key word in Michael’s story. It appears, in some form, thirty-four times. It is the undertow of the book. Honesty is the key virtue in reading the Bible correctly. And, of course, honesty is a godly virtue.

At the same time, the way honesty appears within Michael’s story is condescending and lacks humility. Since Michael was honest, and if everyone else is as honest as he was and as diligent as he was, then everyone would come to the same conclusion that he did. In other words, people are only truly honest and sufficiently diligent if they agree with Michael.

Michael sometimes recognizes that there are many honest people among the denominations. To his credit, he acknowledges that there are good, honest, and sincere people in various denominations (17:2532, 24:3804) though “blind guides” lead them (24:3861). But—and this is the significant point—they are misguided, deceived, or satisfied with their present circumstances to the extent that they will not question received traditions. In other words, denominational people (especially leaders) won’t deal honestly with the text or its context. “They won’t reason together honestly,” Michael opines, “They won’t sincerely listen” (5:815). Such judgments of motives are unkind, and Michael has no way of knowing whether they are actually true or not.

It is almost as if when one disagrees with Michael, they are insincere and dishonest. Is that really a fair characterization? Is that the standard of honesty? Is one dishonest because they disagree or thinks that a text should be interpreted differently than Michael interprets it?

Michael believes that his particular understanding of the “gospel is so simple that every person of sound mind and accountable age can understand it and obey if they choose to,” and this will happen if “honest-hearted people” read the Bible for themselves. In other words, if you are honest and your use your muscle and shovel (show due diligence), you will agree with Michael. And if you don’t agree with Michael, then you—assuming you are of “sound mind and of accountable age”—are dishonest, lazy (including apathy and other similar vices), or, more ominously, rebellious and unwilling to listen to the truth.

Randall, in fact, says: “Mr. Mike, there is no rational spiritually honest person in the world who can refute God’s plan of salvation” (that is, the way Randall construes that “plan;” 35:5782). And, Michael counsels, “if you are honest with yourself and with God you’ll flee from man-made denominations” (38:6165). “No honest individual after studying” the Bible could do otherwise (39:6375).

Listen to how Michael summarizes this point near the end of the book (39:6279)

Denominationalists refuse to accept the entirety of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. They ignore the elements that they simply don’t understand or refuse to accept.

However, when honest, sincere, good-hearted, moral, Truth-seeking people research the entirety of the Scriptures, they consistently and unanimously find God’s marvelous plan of redemption and salvation, which is [and then we have the five steps of salvation listed, JMH; my emphasis]

So, if one does not come to the same conclusion as Michael, then they lack one of the virtues listed. They are dishonest rather than “honest,” or they are insincere rather than “sincere,” or they are malevolent rather than “good-hearted,” or immoral rather than “moral,” or apathetic rather than “Truth-seeking,” or perhaps they were too lazy or apathetic to research it sufficiently. But if anyone has these moral virtues along with a due exercise of muscle and a shovel, then they will join with everyone else who has those virtues because it is consistent and unanimous in the lives of good-hearted, honest, moral and sincere people. In summary, if you don’t agree with Michael, you are either “ignorant or dishonest with God’s Word” (39:6366).

I think that is an unfair account of life. It lacks humility and kindness. In other words, it loudly declares to fellow-believers in Jesus, “I know I’m right, and if you disagree with me, then there is something wrong with you! There is something wrong with your heart!”

May God have mercy!

 


Review of Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank (Part 1)

August 11, 2014

 [Michael Shank, Muscle and a Shovel: A raw, gritty, true story about finding the Truth in a world drowning in religious confusion (5th edition, 2013; Kindle version). I have cited the book with chapter number first, then the Kindle location. For example, Chapter 1, location 245 is cited as 1:245.]

[I have expanded my three-blog review into a 21,000-word review, which is available here.]

Obeying the Gospel

In 2011, Michael Shank published the story of his own conversion. He describes how he was convicted by his encounter with the word of God when an African American co-worker named Randall led him through Scripture. Previously, Michael was a church-going Baptist whose sincerity was authentic and whose life was decent and moral but less than thoroughly dedicated. In other words, Michael was “Christian” in mostly a nominal sense (4:582-596).

He was awakened from his apathetic slumbers when Randall, in the light of 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, asked, “have you obeyed the gospel of our Lord?” (3:449). Michael soon learned, through Randall’s gentle questioning, that “saying the Sinner’s Prayer is not obeying the gospel of Christ” (3:478). This set Michael on a quest, mostly under Randall’s tutelage, to “know what the gospel was and how people obeyed it” (3:484).

Searching raised many questions for Michael, which Randall addressed. They discussed baptism, how the church is organized (pastors, elders, bishops, deacons), what kind of music a church should use (instrumental?), denominationalism, Calvinism, unity, and tithing as well as other questions. Michael wanted to know the truth—he asked religious leaders, read his Bible, researched at the library, and studied with Randall.

In the end, Michael and his wife Jonetta were baptized at the Jackson Street church of Christ in Nashville, TN.

The book is an evangelistic narrative. Michael Shank came to the conclusion that though he was “saved” at the age of eight in a Baptist church and was immersed at the age of thirteen in a Baptist congregation, he had not really obeyed the gospel. He only obeyed the gospel when he was baptized on March 15, 1988 at 1:15am (38:6004).

Not only an evangelistic narrative, the book is an extended evangelistic tract. Towards the end of the book, Michael invites his readers to obey the gospel:

            “Friend, if you’ve read this book in its entirety you have been taught of God” (38:6103).

            “Someone gave you this book for a reason….Will you obey the gospel of Jesus Christ or will you reject it?” (38:6112, 6121)

Chapter Thirty-Nine, after a brief history of the Sinner’s Prayer, outlines “God’s marvelous plan of redemption and salvation, which is” (39:6278ff): hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.

Michael portrays his own conversion story as an objective search for truth in the Scriptures. His final chapter (Forty) begins with this appeal

            Please let me point out something that I hope is completely apparent. I’ve used no personal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. I’ve merely shared my story and revealed the Scriptures of God just as it happened.

            Here’s the hard part. Will you accept the simple, plain, straight-forward teaching of God’s Word (40:6502)?

Consequently, Michael encourages everyone “to get out your shovel and dig. Read the Word for yourself. See whether the things I’ve shared with you in this book are really so” (40:6560). It takes “muscle and a shovel” to discover for oneself what the Bible teaches. It takes some persistent willingness (muscle) and honesty (shovel) to dig deep enough—to work hard enough—to discover the “Truth.” “It takes a heart that is willing to dig. It takes an honest heart (Luke 8:15) that is willing to lay aside preconceived ideas” (24:3846).

What Did Michael Find When He Dug Deep?

The “Truth” Michael discovered was essentially “proper scriptural baptism,” and how this ushered him into “the true church of Christ,” which is the body of Christ (26:4246). This is the basic message of the book, that is, it is “about the gospel and the church of our Lord” (22:3562). Baptism is the moment God saves because it is the moment we reenact the gospel; it is the “split second in time” when sins are washed away (38:6075).

This is a critical discovery for Michael. Since it is the gospel that saves and baptism is the reenactment of that gospel, God saves in baptism because of what God does in baptism. Consequently, Michael emphatically states, “The argument that men and women can be saved before baptism is a lie. It originates from the father of lies who was a murderer from the beginning and in whom is no truth” (21:3453, emphasis in original).

Baptism is only biblical if the believer submits to it for the “right reason.” Specifically, Randall said, “If you get into the water of baptism thinking that your sins are forgiven before you get into the water, you’re not being baptized for the right reason. That’s not Bible baptism” (35:5677). The “right reason” is to be baptized for (in order to receive) the remission of sins in accordance with Acts 2:38 (21:3360). So, Michael reasoned, “if I got into the water thinking I had no sins, I was not baptized for the remission of sins. I wasn’t baptized like those in the Bible were baptized. It wasn’t biblical” (36:5872).

God adds the baptized to the church, the body of Christ. What group is that on the contemporary scene? What are the criteria for identifying the “church of Christ”? “The way you identify the true church of Christ today is” by what “it teaches and how it practices” (26:4247).

Randall has a rather long list and it is a particular sort of list (a summary begins at 32:5380). Here is the list—“Plain Bible teaching with no human opinions” (25:4194):

  • biblical name or descriptor (25:4136)
  • non-denominational (25:4172)
  • autonomous congregationalism (25:4180)
  • governed by elders, served by deacons, and headed by Christ (25:4180, 27:4464)
  • “five articles of worship” on the first day of every week, including the Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, giving and preaching (26:4251)
  • the Lord’s supper every first day and exclusively on Sunday (26:4281)
  • singing without instrumental accompaniment (26:4361)
  • free will offerings without the regulation of tithing (27:4349)
  • teaches the biblical plan of salvation, that is, how to obey the gospel (30:4960).

The church of Christ practices and believes only what is prescribed in the Bible. It is the New Testament church because, guided by the New Testament alone, it neither adds nor subtracts from what is prescribed there.

In essence, Muscle and a Shovel is about how to obey the gospel and what constitutes the true church of Christ. According to Shank, one must be immersed in water for the right reason (for the remission of sins) and be “faithful to the [right] church” (25:4005) in order to have eternal life.

This explains one of Randall’s earlier statements, which startled Michael, and—no doubt—astounds others. Nevertheless, it is the clear import of what Randall taught Michael.

“Mr. Mike,” [Randall] said meekly, “from my understanding of God’s Word, if you’re a member of a denomination, whether it be Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Mormon, any church that Jesus Christ did not establish and buy with His blood, there’s no question that you’re headed toward eternal destruction” (6:941).

What I Appreciate

I value a non-denominational approach to Christianity, a high view of the independence and importance of the local congregation, the government of the congregation by wise, experienced, and godly elders, weekly communion at the table of the Lord, and an emphasis on congregational generosity rather than imposed financial programs.

I also value believer’s baptism. I appreciate how baptism is given more significance than the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Indeed, I have argued, as Michael also ultimately concludes, that baptism is the sinner’s prayer (cf. my 2004 Down in the River to Pray with Greg Taylor, p. 197).

I welcome the reports of baptisms that arise from the reading of Muscle and a Shovel, and I rejoice when anyone is immersed in obedience to God out of an authentic trust in Jesus as Redeemer.

What I most appreciate about the book is how Randall serves as a model for us.

In fact, Shank says this is one of the major reasons for publishing the book. He wanted to encourage us: “Will you become a Randall?” (40:6736). When he reviewed the notebook that he rediscovered in 2008, he knew “Randall’s attitude, approach, love, sincerity, persistence, scriptural ability, compassion, faithfulness, and desire to save the lost was a story that needed to be told” (40:6652).

One of the most encouraging aspects of the book is how everyone is called to read the Bible for themselves without a slavish dependence upon creeds, Pastors, or traditions. Everyone must pick up the shovel and dig; pick up the Bible and study it. Everyone must take responsibility for their own spiritual journey, including whether and how they read the Bible.

Another formative aspect of the story was its inter-generational and multiracial nature. Randall is African American, and Michael is Caucasian; Randall was in his mid-thirties, and Michael was twenty; Michael served in a higher capacity in the company for which they both worked. Michael was baptized at the Jackson Street church of Christ, which is, arguably, the “mother” of all African American churches of Christ. Marshall Keeble called this Nashville (TN) congregation home, and Alexander Campbell (African American), S. W. Womack, G. P. Bower, and Keeble planted it in 1896. The Jackson Street church has long honored God in many ways, especially in their support of evangelism and a passion for the lost. So, this is a beautiful testimony to how two men can study together, love each other, and embrace each other in the Lord despite their social, economic, generational, and ethnic differences. It truly embodies Colossians 3:11—what matters is a renewed image of God, not our economic, social, or ethnic status.

The relationship between Michael and Randall illustrates how one person can lead another into deeper discipleship. Michael saw the testimony of Randall’s life, and Randall loved Michael enough to speak into his life. The fruit of this relationship is the heart of the story.

In my next two blogs, I will address some of the book’s serious deficiencies.


Nashville Cherry Street Christian Church Burned (1857)

July 4, 2014

This is the report in Nashville’s Republican Banner (April 9, 1857), page 3.

Destructive Fire!

 CHURCH BURNED!–LOSS $25,000

The cry of fire was raised yesterday morning between 5 and 6 o’clock, by the discovery of flames issuing from a small Carpenter Shop in South Field, near the Depot of the Tenn. & Ala. R. R., which was entirely consumed. The shop and contents, valued at about $1200, were owned by Hartley & Atkinson, and the loss is to them a heavy one. There was a large amount of work in the shop just got out. This fire was the work of incendiaries.

About an hour after the above, and before the Engines had returned to their quarters, the alarm was again given, and flames were discovered issuing from the cupola of the Christian Church on Cherry Street. In a few moments the entire cupola and tall steeple, which were of wood, were enveloped in a flame. In the meantime the flames seemed to be making headway in the interior of the Church, and presently the roof fell in. The steeple continued to burn, until there was nothing left of it but the framework, when it fell with a crash into the Church. The falling of the walls followed immediately, and in a very short time the whole edifice was consumed.

The Christian Church was a new edifice, and one of the most convenient, and the handsomest of the kind, in the interior especially in the city. It was built at a cost of $20,000. There was no insurance, underwriters having refused, we understand, to take a risk upon it on account of the fact that attempts have been made to burn it heretofore.

It is the general and confidential opinion that it was set on fire. The only other way to account for its burning is that it caught from the fire which was discovered an hour previous. But it is believed from observations taken that the fire commenced inside. One of the watchmen informs us that he was passing there in the morning and heard a roaring inside but did not suspect the cause. We hear it reported that two men were seen emerging from the Church about daylight, in the morning, but this report is not authenticated.


In Memoriam: The Obituary of David Lipscomb (1917)

May 26, 2014

The death of David Lipscomb was front page news in Nashville, Tennessee. This article appeared in the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American (November 12, 1917, p. 1).

DAVID LIPSCOMB, NOTED PREACHER AND EDITOR, DIES

End Comes to Founder of Nashville Bible School at Age of 86 Years

by Wayne W. Burton.

Silencing an evangelist’s voice familiar in Tennessee a half century ago and stilling an editor’s pen that made a record of not one failure to contribute weekly to the press for a period of forty-five years, death came at 11 o’clock last night to David Lipscomb, founder of the Nashville Bible school, teacher, preacher and author, editor of the Gospel Advocate for a period of fifty-one years, and perhaps the most widely known representatives of the Church of Christ of his day. The end came at his home on the Nashville Bible school campus, from general infirmity and old age.

The end came not unexpected. The venerable evangelist passed his eighty-sixth milestone January 21 of this year, and during the past several months of a general decline in health thousands in many states who have long known him through his writings and through the press had been led to realize that the end was not far away. Several months ago, for a period, his death was momentarily expected. But he rallied again, and soon again was in his chair reading his Bible from two to five hours a day, which those about him say has been his practice, and perhaps not an over-estimated reading average for him over a half century. Wednesday night he suffered a relapse, attended by effects scarcely other than a continued deep sleep. From this sleep he never awoke.

Elder Lipscomb is survived by his wife, who was Miss Margaret Zellner of Maury county, and to whom he was married July 23, 1862. Their only child died in infancy. One half brother, John Lipscomb of Franklin county, and two half sisters, Mrs. L. J. Woods of Franklin county and Mrs. Ellen Gardner of Winchester, also survive him. His only full brother was William Lipscomb, well-known Christian church evangelist who died in 1908. Granville Lipscomb, another prominent minister of the same church, who died in 1909, was a half brother. The deceased was a half brother also to Horace G. Lipscomb of the Lipscomb Hardware company, who died a few years ago.

He was an uncle of A. B. Lipscomb, pastor of the Russell Street Church of Christ, and managing editor of the Gospel Advocate, and of Horace S. Lipscomb, assitant principle of the Nashville high school.

Elder Lipscomb, until only a few years ago, led an unusually active life. As early as the spring of 1909, however, he suffered a severe attack from colds, followed by a general breakdown. From this time the decline was gradual, hastened by some two or three paralytic strokes. Often on Sundays, however, as long as strength permitted, he preached somewhere in the city, usually at the Bible school chapel or Third and College church, though he did so sitting in a chair. Soon his waning powers limited his strength of voice to sermons of fifteen to twenty minutes, and for a year or more past he made no pulpit effort, being confined to his home. On the first day of each week, however, though not strong enough to meet with the congregation, he observed the communion service with his family at home, as he taught the church should observe the institution each Sunday, emulating the practice of the New Testament churches.

Founds Churches; Active in Missionary Work

Aside from the Bible School, Elder Lipscomb was one of the founders of the Gospel Advocate, and of the Fanning Orphan school, and mainly through his pioneer efforts were established nearly one-half of the thirty-odd congregations of the Christian church of this city. A complete list from his early work to the present shows fifty-odd congregations through his own efforts. Most of these were in Middle Tennessee. For many years he had been a moving spirit in the work of the Nashville Christian church congregations toward sustaining several missionaries and certain publication work in and around Tokio [sic], Japan, and other points in the foreign missionary field.

In the 50s, when he came to Nashville, there were only three congregations of the Disciples in Davidson county, one being on Church street at the present site of the Vendome theater; another at the Fanning Orphan school, then Franklin college, and another at Owen’s chapel. In South Nashville Elder Lipscomb preached, first to an audience of five, resulting in the establishment of the Third and College church, of which he was the senior Elder to the time of his death. He preached in the army barracks in North Nashville, resulting in the establishment of the Eighth Avenue church. He started the work that resulted in the establishment of the Woodland street congregation, in the late 70s; also that of Foster street, that of old Line street an that of Reid avenue. He was one of the few of the old guard remaining who remembered the preaching of Alexander Campbell, in the building at the present site of the Vendome theater, and that of President James A. Garfield, in later years, at the same place. From this building the congregation moved to the present Vine Street church. In his early work Elder Lipscomb was associated with Elder F. M. Carmack, father of Senator E. W. Carmack; J. W. McGarvey and other distinguished leaders in the work of reformation as inaugurated by the Campbells, Barton W. Stone, and others.

Was Profound Writer; Plea for Christian Unity

Widely known in many states, Elder Lipscomb’s prominence and influence was attained, not through official position in the church, the Disciples having no general church organization, and hence no official church position with further power and authority than that of the elder and deacon of the local congregation. Elder Lipscomb, in fact, especially emphasized this doctrine, of the organic independence of several congregations, urging congregational organizations with elders and deacons after the pattern of the New Testament congregations, but urging against general or denominational organizations with power to write creeds of church government or for overhead control of the congregation, separating the congregations into denominations. He urged a strict adherence to the practice and worship, as well to form of organization, of the New Testament churches, opposing instrumental music in connection with the worship. This was his plea of Christian unity, and on this point, as well as on other tenets of the Disciples, he was regarded throughout the north and the south, for some years, as perhaps the strongest authority, or at least had written more along these controverted points than any other living man.

Sketch of Life of Elder Lipscomb

David Lipscomb was born in Franklin county, Tennessee, January 21, 1831, and was a son of Granville Lipscomb, who had removed to Tennessee from Virginia in 1826. In young Lipscomb’s early life the family removed to Illinois, but returned to Franklin county a year or two later. The father held strong convictions against slavery, adn upon going to Illinois freed his own slaves at his own expense. Young Lipscomb attended school a while in Virginia, going to and from the state a number of times on horseback.

In 1846 he entered Franklin college under the presidency of Tolbert Fanning, for whom the Fanning Orphan school was named. He graduated in 1849. He then entered farming and business life, going to Georgia for awhile, where he managed a large plantation. He returned to Franklin county and later to Nashville.

During the war of the sixties he emphasized his view against the right of Christians to go to war, and in behalf of those who adhered to the belief, he negotiated with Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy, and the federal government, obtaining relief on such grounds from army service as had been granted to Quakers.

In 1866 Elder Lipscomb, associated with Tolbert Fanning, revived the publication of the Gospel Advocate, which had been established ten years before, but suspended during the war. In 1870 Elder E. G. Sewell became associate editor, so remaining to this day. Elder Lipscomb has contributed freely to other religious journals, including the Christian Leader of Cincinnati, and is author of a  number of volumes. Among the volumes are his commentaries on acts of the Apostles, John’s Gospel and the epistles of Jude, Peter and John, in separate volumes, “Queries and Answers” and “Salvation From Sin,” the last two being compiled from his writings by J. W. Shepherd, and his “Civil Government–Its Origin, Mission and Destiny and the Christian’s Religion to It.”

A quarter of a century ago, associated with James A. Harding, E. A. Elam, William Anderson and others, Elder Lipscomb founded the Nashville Bible, his purpose in view being to establish an educational institution in which the Bible, along with the other literary branches, should be used as a textbook and a daily study by every pupil. To this he donated the greater part, of all that he had, including a site of sixty acres, and in the school he taught for twenty years, refusing any monetary consideration whatever. The establishment of other similar schools followed, carrying out the Bible textbook idea, one at Bowling Green, Ky., one at Odessa, Mo., another at Berry, Ala., and several others in Texas, Oklahoma and Canada. How well this feature succeeded, from a literary point of viewpoint is attested to by the fact that all the state educational institutions now give the pupil full credit on this feature, as well as others, of the Bible school work.

Early Life and “Call” to Ministry

Until well along in manhood Elder Lipscomb had not entered the ministry, nor had he seriously thought of doing so. But the story runs this way: There were few preachers and fewer churches. An eminent evangelist of the day well known to Lipscomb and one of the most popular pulpit orators of the south had labored extensively with the Tennessee congregations. This evangelist adopted views extremely radical, however, according to the Brotherhood, losing his doctrinal bearings and making “shipwreck of the faith.” The result under the existing conditions was widespread confusion and general discouragement among the congregations. Lipscomb had greatly admired the brilliant but erratic preacher, but now needly recognized the need of the congregations for teaching and encouragement. If the treasure was committed to “earthen vessels,” he reasoned, now was the time to defend it. This realization of such duties devolving upon him, he accepted as his “call” to preach to them and rally them to more effective work. From the work he never retired. Had the evangelist not made this misstep, Elder Lipscomb said, I might never have preached–a score of others might not. And thus in every apparent calamity he reasoned that some good may somehow result, overbalancing its ill effects.

Story of His First Sermon

A trace of Elder Lipscomb’s optimism and perseverance of later years might be observed in a story told of his first sermon. The place was a schoolhouse near McMinnville. The appointment had been made; the time came; the young preacher had his text ready. He had his sermon ready–he thought. In the audience was an elderly evangelist, Elder Stroud: thrilled with feelings of anxiety for the young man as great as the parent feels for son or daughter at the graudation address. The young preacher found the text, and read it.  It didn’t connect, however, with the prepared sermon. It would not do to stop, so there was nothing to do but keep on reading. The chapter was finished, and still nothing led to the sermon. The young preacher then said, “Brother Stroud, will you please preach the sermon today.” Elder Stroud arose to the pulpit. He was discouraged. He tried, but the sting of disappointment and sympathy for the young preacher was having its effect. It was too much; the speaker was overcome, and as confused as young Lipscomb had been, he left the pulpit, calling on the third man to finish the day’s sermon. En route home from the church Elder Stroud and young Lipscomb had ridden some miles before approaching the delicate subject.  The former, still discouraged at Lipscomb’s failure–not thinking of his own–sympathetically said, “Brother Lipscomb, don’t be discouraged at today’s results.”

“I’ll try not to be,” the young preacher replied, “but I must confess that it is a little discouraging to see one become so confused and have to leave the pulpit who has been preaching as long as you have.”

First Acquaintance with E. G. Sewell

It was early in the 50’s that the two men first met each other, who were destined to labor in such fellowship, in a common cause, for so many years to come, down to an old age for both–David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell. They were about the same age–Elder Sewell a few months older. Elder Sewell had commenced preaching; Elder Lipscomb had not. Their first acquaintance was formed at a business meeting of a country congregation, near McMinnville, the meeting having been called to discuss some plans for the ensuring year. Elder Sewell had been attending school at Burrett college. Later, when he entered Franklin college, the two became further acquainted, both stopping often with William Lipscomb, one of the pillars of the college. Within a few years the two were associate editors on the Advocate, associates in the evangelistic field and co-laborers together in a new history of church development in Nashville and throughout Middle Tennessee.

Highly Charitable; Lipscomb, the Man

A single trait in Elder Lipscomb’s character that left upon every associate its indelible impression was his man-to-man attitude and personal frankness. As in manner he was composed and sedate, his conversation was earnest, direct and business-like. He was little inclined to the humorous; his conversation directed along other lines of sober and earnest thought. His straight-forward attitude of openhearted frankness begat the confidence that every word came from the heart. The man’s judgment he addressed; never his self-pride. Though ever ready to commend for a good dead done he did so on the ground that the doer of the act appreciated more its real worth than the more compliment paid. He never sought to praise unduly or magnify another’s virtues. He was too true to the man himself for that; too full of that sane, sober, openhearted frankness of man-to-man friendship.

Another trait in Elder Lipscomb’s character which along would have ranked him among men was his gentle firmness and indomitable courage of convictions. In preaching or writing upon any subject, or in any course he saw to be right, he was absolutely immovable at the hand of criticism or the wave of popular sentiment, while against the tidal wave of criticism, solitary and alone, if need be, he moved on, unswerving and undisturbed. He was cool, though aggressive. Though aggressive he was considerate and kind, and though considerate he was uncompromising. He was plain and direct without harshness, yet charitable and gentle without weakness. While liberal and kind-hearted–even tenderhearted, yet he sought not to allow the more even tenor of his way to restrain him from the advocacy of the right or from combatting error from the course he saw to be good.

Another trait of Elder Lipscomb in a marked degree, strong and contagious to those coming in contact with him, was his optimism. He was persevering and untiring, and in the face of discouraging consequences or even failure maintained an attitude of cheerful indifference. At apparent failure of any task undertaken he yet maintained aspirations of hope, or either took courage in the fact that his full duty was done in the undertaking.

Elder Lipscomb was among the men who are truly charitable. He delighted in helping the worthy needy and poor, standing ever ready to contribute of his means or his personal service. His largest single donation was that of sixty acres as a home for the Bible school. He contributed freely also to the Fanning Orphan School, and to church missionary work, home and foreign.

Elder Lipscomb was not oratorical, but impressivo and clear. The former he never sought to be; the latter needed not the effort. His bearing in the pulpit was as gentle and considerate as it was frank and unreserved, and as natural as the sunshine. His diction was clear and his motive to clearly establish his position with the arguments at hand. Further than this he relied on the merits of his cause and the honesty and intelligence of the mind addressed. For those who came in contact with him it appeared as but natural to say that he was among all men the most tolerant. To those who differed from him whether in private conversation or public controversy, he was ever charitable and never unpleasantly combative. Years ago, with denominations of other religious views, he engaged in many public oral religious debates and it was ever said of him by those who differed from him that he was ever kind and considerate. “See how much you can find to agree on,” he said, “and not how widely you can differ.” He possessed absolutely not a semblance of that blustering, bull-dozing, dominating, domineering air of driving or forcing an opinion on others.

Another characteristic highly marked in the  man was his unpretentious manner of doing things. He was bold, but retiring and unassuming. In his daily walk and manner there was never the least discernible effort on his part to appear striking or spectacular, and not the least indication of any susceptibility to praise or flatter in any form. In his entire nature was absolutely not a trace of anything that could have been interpreted as a desire for “vain glory.”

To him the realization of a good deed done was more than the more praises of men. Others he treated as on the same plane; flattery he knew not the use of, nor appeared he in the least susceptible to it. He sought no notoriety and never tried to inflate his undertakings by advertising. He cared not for front page position; he rather shrunk from publicity. Even previous publication of his biographical sketches did violence to his feelings.

Elder Lipscomb never despised the day of small things. He never counted the day lost that accomplished a good deed, whether toward the strong and the wealthy or the man of lowly station. In all his work, religious, editorial and otherwise, his paramount purpose was the upbuilding of the church and the furtherance of the gospel which he maintained as the only promised “power of God unto salvation,” and more to him than all else was the welfare of the cause for which eh gave his greatest labors. He loved to associate with the poor, and much, if not the greater part, of his preaching was to small audiences in destitute places. He preferred the quiet, unassuming walk, and his life was free and far from ostentation in any form. There was no desire for the outward show, no attempt at pomp, nod display, no form of ostentation in the life of David Lipscomb.

The funeral of Elder Lipscomb will be held from the South College Street Church of Christ this afternoon at 3:30 o’clock. The services will be conducted by Elders C. A. Moore, E. G. Sewell, J. C. McQuiddy and E. A. Elam.

The following nephews and friends will serve as pallbearers: David C. Lipscomb, Horace S. Lipscomb, H. Leo Boles, John E. Dunn, Sam H. Hall of Atlanta and John T. Lewis of Birmingham. Internment will be at Mt. Olivet.

 


On Children, Baptism and David Lipscomb (1914)

May 23, 2014

While there are many variations along a continuum, credobaptists (that is, those who baptize believers) approach children within the faith community in two major ways. On the one hand there are the revivalists, but on the other hand there are those who emphasize nurture.

Revivalists believe that children within the faith community, at some point, become sinners (some might think they are born such or at least guilty of Adamic sin) when they reach an age of accountability (however that is defined). They believe children are objects of evangelism. So, many credobaptists encourage children to say the “Sinner’s Prayer,” and those among Churches of Christ baptize only those who confess they are sinners. The latter are baptized in order to be saved, and they would (according to many) be lost without that baptism, though identifying the age at which they became lost is ambiguous (and often worrisome for parents).

Those who emphasize nurture believe children grow up in faith as part of a faith community. They are maturing disciples rather than lost sinners. They are baptized, then, in order to affirm their faith, own their discipleship, and receive God’s promised blessings. They are baptized because Jesus was baptized and because Jesus told them to be baptized.

I have previously argued in a couple of books on baptism, an article in the Christian Standard, and on this blog that the latter approach is the better one. I will not rehearse those arguments here, but I did want to point to a historical precedent within Churches of Christ.

David Lipscomb did not think one had to impose “a heavy weight of guilt” upon those who were “reared in the training and instruction of the Lord.” When those so nurtured want to be baptized, it is sufficient that they want to obey the Lord.

When one reared in the training and instruction of the Lord like Timothy desires to enter Christ, his case is divine inspiration to guide him. The little girl’s wish to be baptized because Jesus wanted her to be, is as much the direction of the Spirit of God as for the murderers of the Lord to ‘be baptized into the remission of sins.’ Those desirous to learn and do the will of God while children cannot be oppressed with a heavy weight of guilt, but find direction into the body of Christ, where all evils are banished and all blessings abound. Were one as faithful as the Son of God to be found, it would only be necessary that he be baptized to fulfill the will of God. [David Lipscomb, “A  Summary. No. 2,” Gospel Advocate 56 (1 January 1914), 11.]

I think Lipscomb offers some godly advice for parents, ministers, and youth leaders.


Nashville Tension — 1892 General Christian Missionary Convention

May 20, 2014

The Nashville Tennessean, in an article entitled “ALL DELIGHTED,” described the proceedings of the General Christian Missionary Convention’s 1892 annual meeting (October 21, 1892, p. 8). This was a highwater mark in the tension within the Stone-Campbell Movement (or, American Restoration Movement). The missionary societies held their convention in the capital of its opposition. There were three:  the domestic (American Christian Missionary Society), the foreign (Foreign Christian Missionary Society), and the Christian Women’s Board of Mission.  David Lipscomb and others considered this an affront to the good feelings of members who sincerely opposed the society on biblical grounds. The Convention appeared in the Gospel Advocate‘s backyard!

The Convention

The Convention was held at the Vine Street Christian Church, and “Rev. G. A. Lofton, the pastor of the Central Baptist Church” gave the Convention a “hearty greeting.” The attendees heard reports of mission work from around the world, including India, China (Edward F. Williams), Australia, England, and Japan (particularly C. E. Garst) among other nations.  Some of those who spoke included women as, for example, “Miss Judson, of Dunburg, Conn., a voluntary missionary to India.” “Miss Minnie Henley, of England,” was “preparing for missionary work in Africa” as a medical doctor and spoke to the convention about her plans. The meeting’s worship times included a solo by “Miss Kate Gillespie, of Nashville,” and Mrs. Garst sang a solo in Japanese as well. And The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement also had a prominent role in the meeting; their work was described as “working for purity everywhere, and for constitutional prohibition. Their purpose was to protect the home.”

The membership of the Convention counted twenty-eight states and five countries among its ranks. The Presidents of Drake and Bethany Colleges were present and addressed the assembly.

The Convention in 1892, through the arm of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, supported “104 missionaries–33 males, 23 females and 48 native helpers,” including China, India, Japan, Turkey, Scandinavia, and England.  And Miss Bonner, of Fayetteville, met with potential supporters from Tennessee after the close of the meeting to garner support for her Paris (France) mission. The Convention inspired her commitment.

On the closing night, C. C. Loos, the president of the Convention, remarked that this was the largest attendance in the Convention’s history and that Nashville had received them cordially and enthusiastically. There were full houses at practically every session. “What a grand brotherhood there was at Nashville!” The paper reported that the convention had been “remarkably quiet,” and that it “had made a profound impression on the city and the people for the missionary cause.”

The Loyal Opposition

However, not everyone in Nashville was happy. Indeed, the Convention–in many ways–was the last straw for David Lipscomb and others. They thought it was intrusive and simply unchristian manners to bring the convention to Nashville.  Moreover, the many ways in which women participated in the convention and their prominent role in the missionary work disturbed the hearts of Nashville’s conservatives. The way women were highlighted and promoted was a turning point for many.

They did not remain silent. Several leaders prepared a statement for the Convention, which was “introduced by C. M. Wilmeth.”  Here is the text of the statement:

“To the General Christian Missionary Convention, Assembled in Nashville, Tenn.

Dear Brethren in Christ:

Inasmuch as your body is now in session in this city purports to represent the churches of Christ, untrammeled by creeds, and there is a conspicuous absence of many myriads of brethren whose sentiments are voiced in such periodicals as the Gospel Advocate, Christian Leader, Octographic Review, Firm Foundation, Christian Messenger, Christian Preacher, Primitive Christian and Gospel Echo; and,

Inasmuch as your [sic] assembled in the State of Tennessee, which contains about 40,000 Christians who profess to practice the primitive order of things, and perhaps not more than 1,000 of these thoroughly sympathize with your organization; and,

Inasmuch as arguments and appeals have been made on the floor of your convention to win these brethren over to your ways, we respectfully submit to your august body this memorial.

1. That we, believe as we do, that all should be one in Christ, of the same mind and of the same judgment, speaking the same things and endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, cannot countenance the corruption of the pure speech of the Bible, and do deeply deplore the grievously divided state of the church; whereby brethren are embittered against each other, congregations are torn asunder and sections are arrayed one against another.

2. That, believing as we do, that whatsoever is not of faith is sin, we cannot conscientiously co-operate in the organization or workings of any missionary society, home or foreign, with officers unknown to the New Testament and terms of membership at variance with the spirit and genius of the Gospel, it being our firm and abiding conviction that in building up such societies we are pulling down that which our fathers labored to build up and are sapping the strength of the church for which Christ died.

3. That, believing as we do, that the scriptures furnish us unto all good works, and that preaching the gospel stands pre-eminent as a good work, we bodily affirm and earnestly contend that the Bible contains a divine system of evangelism, powerful enough to shake the Roman Empire in its day and perfect enough to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth; and we modestly submit that, putting this faith into practice; we have demonstrated in our [sic] this divine plan is effectual, in that without other organization the primitive gospel has been planted in this region, a mission among the Indians has been sustained for many years, a mission in Turkey has been established and the Volunteer Band in Japan supported.

4.  That we, in consideration of the aforesaid truth and facts, come before you with brotherly love and beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you abandon these organizatoins that found no necessity or recognition in apostolic times, and that you concentrate your zeal and energies in the churches of God, under the direction of their heaven-appointed officers, which we all admit to be common and scriptural ground, thereby removing a cause of wide spread division and bringing about that union and co-0peration in which there is strength and which will enable us to make more rapid conquest of the earth for Christ, and to this end we present this memorial and for this consummation devoutly to be wished shall we ever pray.

C. M. Wilmeth
David Lipscomb
E. G. Sewell,
J. A. Harding,
M. C. Kurfees,
and others

 Comments on the Above

This statement by the “loyal opposition” represents a unifying force within what became known as the “Churches of Christ.” This united the Texas  (Firm Foundation), Indiana  (Octographic Review), and Tennessee Traditions (Gospel Advocate). The opposition to the missionary society staked out an identity for Churches of Christ.

They opposed the missionary society on several grounds.  Hermeneutically, there was no support for the human institution within the apostolic record.  Theologically, the society supplanted the local congregation as the highest organization of Christ’s body, which was charged with God’s mission. Practically, it was unnecessary (evangelism and missions happen without it through churches) and misdirects the energies of the body of Christ (supporting the society rather than focusing on the mission).

The appeal for unity is rooted in both the biblical text and in the common ground between the two parties in practically the same way that Alexander Campbell argued for unity through immersion. The common ground is that everyone agrees that mission through the local congregation is biblical (just as all agree immersion is baptism); so the church should do and unite upon what they all agree is biblical. If one loved unity and Scripture is sufficient, why not simply divest ourselves of all questionable practices and unite upon what everyone agrees is biblical?

Conclusion

Alas, rather than unity and mission, the 1892 Nashville Convention marked the beginnings of a clear organizational, ecclesiological, and theological divide between the “Christian Church” (ultimately Disciples of Christ) and the “Churches of Christ.”

This became apparent in Nashville itself. While previously congregations in Nashville were known as the “Christian Church,” by the late 1880s and 1890s congregations were increasingly distinguished as “Christian Church” and “Church of Christ.”  In 1887, according to the Daily American [April 10, 1887, p. 9), there were five congregations, each named “Christian Church” in Nashville (Church Street [800 members], Woodland [250], North Edgefield [150], North Nashville [250], and Gay Street [African American, 850]). Soon, however, the name “Church of Christ” began to appear with regularity as new congregations were planted. [The South College Street Church, planted in 1888, was the mother church for 35 other congregations in Nashville through the use of tent meetings during the first 20 years of its existence. See David Lipscomb, “South Nashville Church of Christ,” The Nashville American (January 17, 1906), p. 8.]

The distinction is apparent in this blurb in Daily American (Oct 2, 1892, p. 6) regarding the Green Street church which was a church plant of the South Nashville Church:

The non-Christian Church on Green street is nearing completion. It is located on the lot that was used by Elder John T. Poe recently with the tent meeting. When completed it will be used by the Filmore-street congregation and be known as the Green-street Church of Christ.

Thus the distinction between the Christian Church and the Church of Christ appears in Nashville.


David Lipscomb: A Sermon at the Penitentiary (1900)

May 14, 2014

This sermon by David Lipscomb appeared in The Nashville American (February 21, 1900, p. 5). I thought it was interesting to read what Lipscomb said to those incarcerated at the “State Prison.”

I thought the reference to “character” rather than status, place or position was a veiled reference to looking at the heart of a person (or as MLK put it “the content of their character”) rather than the color of their skin.

Lipscomb is also interested in obedience as it leads to transformation. We love God through obedience so that we might experience gradual transformation, and this includes the ordinances, of which assembling on the Lord’s Day is one. All of God’s commandments (ordinances, ways) are designed to transform us into the image of Christ.

Character makes a difference in life, and a transformed character is the goal of the Christian “religion,” which “rebinds” (restores) us to God.

Here is the text in full.

What the Lord Requires of Israel.

Sermon by Elder David Lipscomb at the State Prison.

The following sermon was preached Sunday by Elder David Lipscomb at the State penitentiary:

He read Deut. x., 12-13: “and now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all they soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statues which I commend thee this day for thy good.”

The speaker, said in part, that God through Moses spoke this to the Israelites, but that the principles upon which God deals with man are always the same. He is spoken of in this connection as the Lord God who is the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, a great God, a might and terrible God, who regardeth not person nor taketh reward.

He spoke of how difficult it was for men to treat impartially their fellow-man without regard to place or position, and not solely in respect to their characters. But this was characteristic of God, who regards not the persons of men whether they be in high or low stations, but as they are in their characters before him, whose judgment is righteous and impartial. He said the Christian religion was designed by its divine Author to lift mankind from sin and shame to the attainment and cultivation of the Christian character.

The speaker said, being once interrogated as to what is religion, at the time he was puzzled to give a satisfactory answer to his querist or even to himself. The world religion means a rebinding. As applied to Christianity it means to rebind man to his Maker, from whom he had been separated by disobedience. Man could only be rebound to God by returning in obedience to God, retracing, as it were, the steps which had separated him from God. This could be effected through Christ, whom God had sent into the world for this purpose. He only could restore man to union and harmony with God. We were taught in this text to “fear God,” but this fear meant not to dread God in terror and alarm, but to reverently regard his holy name, his word and his ordinances.

The speaker alluded to a common popular error which taught that every man should walk in his own ways, but that God commanded man to walk in God’s ways, and in all of them, not to add to nor diminish aught from them. He said to select such ways of God as pleased us and reject those which did not suit us was not to obey God at all. To do only what pleased us and reject other commandments of God was but to walk in our own way and not God’s. It was a fatal error. God often gave tests of faith by requiring us to do things not agreeable to us. This was well illustrated in the case of Abraham who was commanded to offer up Isaac, his only child of promise. God might have foreknown that Isaac would be spared, but Abraham did not. His faith was increased by this test. So every test of our faith should result in our good, to give us stronger faith.

This text also teaches us to love God. God said to the Jews that he loved even strangers. He would do them good. Love was intensely practical. God’s love is manifested in what god does. So our love for God must be manifested in obeying the commandments of God in what we do.

The speaker said all our love, fear and service of God was not to benefit God, but as taught in this connection was “for thy good.” God was omnipotent and needed not this help of man, as many vainly suppose.

He said to shirk or doge a duty to God did not cheat God, but him who avoided the duty, and it would soon be manifest by an incompetency that would put one to shame. The pupil who dodged his lessons at school did not cheat the teacher, but himself. Some church members chose the Lord’s day to visit the sick instead of going to the assembly as God required. They could visit the sick at other times. They, too, cheated themselves and not God.

It was the design of all our worship and service of God to make us more and more like God in spirit and character. In proof of this the speaker read and explained II Corinthians iii.18, in which it is said, “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord.” This image was spiritual. It was of gradual formation. It was the result of a constant adoration and worship of God as seen in the life and character of Jesus Christ. This growth of the inner or spiritual man to the image of Christ, though certain and sure, we were yet unconscious of it at any particular time. This was illustrated by the youth who, however anxious to grow to manhood, was never able to see the growth of one day. Measurements at longer intervals would clearly indicate growth. It was so in the Christian life.

This image was never perfected while in the flesh. Although the flesh became weaker day by day and the inward man stronger day by day, it was yet impossible for the weak eyes of mortality to behold Christ in his glorious perfections. Now, we could only see him, as it were, in a glass, in mere outline. A perfect vision of Christ to the eyes of flesh would be too blinding, as the disciples experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration or Saul saw on the road near Damascus. But we shall be strengthened to behold him in his glory. We are “now” the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be.

The afflictions of life are the chatisements of a kind Father who feels more than his children the strokes of correction. The afflictions of life are brief and light, however severe in themselves, in comparison with the glory which shall be revealed in us. He will change this vile body and fashion it like unto his glorious body.

The gospel of the Son of God, by its transforming grace, can make the lowest and most degraded of earth to be the peer of the brightest angel that vies around the throne of God.

All were urged to make an earnest effort for a higher and nobler life.


David Lipscomb: South Nashville Churches of Christ (1906)

May 10, 2014

While doing some research in Nashville newspapers, I encountered this piece by David Lipscomb:  “South Nashville Church of Christ,” Daily American (January 17, 1906), p. 8.

I thought it was interesting for several reasons.

1.  It illustrates that Lipscomb thought church planting was the way to grow the kingdom.

2. It illustrates the use of tent meetings in the planting of churches, and how other churches supported the planting of those communities.

3. It illustrates the use of “lay” (my term) preachers, that is, bi-vocational ministers, in the growth and maturing of congregations.

4. It illustrates why Nashville has so many Churches of Christ. Lipscomb promoted the planting of many small congregations who managed their own affairs (did their own teaching, missions, evangelism, etc.) rather than consolidating into large congregations. Small but many was better than few but large, according to Lipscomb.

Here is the piece in full:

“South Nashville Church of Christ

BY ELDER DAVID LIPSCOMB

To the Editor of the American:

An item in The American, Monday morning, concerning the South Nashville Church of Christ and its work, is so full of mistakes that it is easier to write a new account than to correct it.

The South  College-street Church was first organized in its present house of worship eighteen years ago. After a few years of successful work, the Green Street, the Carroll Street, and the Flat Rock churches were begun by a number withdrawing from this church to do so. The old Bible School  Church, Highland avenue and West Nashville churches were formed largely by members from this church.

Since the formation of the church eighteen years ago nine or ten preachers have been developed in the church. Tents have been greatly used by the congregation in its work in reaching the non-church going and the people generally. A tent is sent, with a preacher, to hold a meeting, receive what contributions are offered, without asking any, report to the church, and what is lacking in these contributions to sustain the work is supplemented by the churches engaged in the work. Oftentimes the sending of the preacher and tent a few times will arouse such an interest in the place or in some neighboring church that they will support the meeting without cost to those sending, except for the use of the tent. Yet, if the tent had not been sent it is most probable nothing would have been done.

The first tent meeting was held in South Nashville by J. A. Haring, principal of Potter Bible College, of Bowling Green, Ky. He also held very successful meetings in East Nashville, out of which grew largely Foster-street Church.

For  four or five years past the South College-street Church, the old Bible School, the Tenth, West Nashville and Green-street churches have kept two or three tents at work. One has been kept almost constantly at work in and around Nashville. A church has been established on the Dickerson pike, and one at the New Shops within the last year. Churches have been established by the use of these tents at Monterey, Baxter, Erin, Dayton, Graysville, with others in Rutherford, Cannon, Warren and Montgomery counties, Tennessee; Trion and Atlanta, Ga.; Huntsville and Wilsonville, Ala.

Counting the churches formed out of the South Nashville Church, we count thirty-five congregations planted by this work, two of which have dissolved and united with other contiguous churches. There are eight or ten other mission points that promise churches at an early day. During the past summer over 500 persons were baptized through this work. During the last few years as many as 2,000 have been baptized.

Elder E. A. Moore, of South Nashville, has looked after the collecting and disbursing of funds. S. W. Morrow, of the old Bible School Church, has largely done the purchasing and managing of the tents. A number of churches established by the tent work have purchased tents, and become centers of operation for doing similar work around them. Dayton, East Tenn., and Trion, Ga., are examples of this. Other churches in West Tennessee, Arkansas, Canada and California have been moved by the example of this work to do likewise. Much of this work has been done by working men, who have, by conducting the worship, looking after the affairs of the church and studying the Bible, become good, efficient teachers of the word, while following their ordinary avocations for a living. They can more effectively reach their fellow-workmen than can those who rely on preaching as a  means of support. When a preacher can say to his congregation: “I know you are all tired with your day’s work, as I am and I will try to not weary you,” he touches a chord of sympathy in that audience that is worth more than learning, to lead them to good.

With the hours of labor per day the earnest working man can find time for study, and preparation, that will enable him to appear with credit before any audience. There are a number of such preachers in Nashville. It has not been the policy of the South College-street Church to encourage the collecting of a large membership in one body. This with a fine house may flatter the preacher and attract numbers, but to scatter the large congregations into a number of worshipping bodies and leave them greatly to depend on themselves, will call out the activities, develop the talent, give practical experience to the religious lives of the masses of the people, and give the most reliable class of religious people to be found in any community.