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.


Alexander Campbell, Gratuitous Evil and Meticulous Providence

June 11, 2013

Yesterday I received my copy of J. Caleb Clanton’s new book entitled The Philosophy of Religion of Alexander Campbell (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013). I had previously read the manuscript in early 2012 and am pleased to see it in print.

Caleb taught philosophy at Pepperdine for several years but now teaches at Lipscomb.  I am grateful that Lipscomb has secured his services as a philosopher, and a philosopher who is interested in mining the resources of the Stone-Campbell tradition.

I deeply appreciate his engagement with the resources of the Stone-Campbell Movement, particularly Alexander Campbell, in the discipline of Philosophy of Religion. Of all the early Reformers, Campbell is the best—perhaps the only choice—for such a project.  However, my appreciation not only extends to the subject matter, but also for how Clanton brings Campbell’s philosophy of religion into dialogue with contemporary discussions. In the language of Vatican II’s aggiornamento, Clanton brings the Campbellian philosophical tradition “up to date.”

Clanton’s work is impressive. His analysis of Campbell’s ideas are fair, clear, and illuminating. His re-contextualization of Campbell’s thought is insightful. He demonstrates that Campbell squarely faced the questions that philosophy of religion raised in the early nineteenth century. Campbell was well-acquainted with the philosophical issues of his day. Not only does this demonstrate that the Stone-Campbell Movement has its own “philosopher,” but that the philosophic tradition Campbell represented may yet still provide some guidance in our current context. And, yet, I think it remains clear—as Clanton’s discussion of the Campbell’s ideation argument for the existence of God indicates—that Campbell, as a philosopher of ideas, is a deeply rooted empirical Biblicist who only ventures into metaphysical waters as a negative apologetic while always staying within sight of the empirical shore.

At the 2012 Christian Scholars Conference I offered a response to Caleb’s manuscript regarding Campbell’s understanding of Arminian-esque theodicy. Campbell’s theodicy, as Clanton unfolds it, is focused on the Free Will Defense, responds to the “Divine Hiddenness” problem, and articulates a high view of providence (even meticulous providence) that denies gratuitous evil.  My response to Clanton is available here.


Response to “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry”

June 6, 2013

The 2013 Christian Scholars Conference is currently in progress. Gary Holloway asked me to present a paper that would respond to the ecumenical 1982 Lima “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.”

I have uploaded the paper on my Academic page and it is now available here.

The paper suggests that the great strength of the document is its fundamental theological orientation but that its weakness is its strongly institutional character.

To figure out what that means I guess one will have to read the paper.

Blessings

John Mark


Stone-Campbell Research Tools

May 18, 2013

I have two good friends who have invested time, money and effort in making some valuable texts and tools available to researchers and those who are interested in reading original texts of significant Stone-Campbell works.

Barry Jones has made available the following texts for PDF searching. You can find them here.

  • Bible Banner
  • Christian Baptist
  • Millennial Harbinger
  • Gospel Guardian
  • Lard’s Quarterly
  • Millennial Harbinger

I have used his PDF files in recent weeks.  I have found them extremely helpful and could quickly find material that otherwise would have taken me weeks to discover through reading hard copies or microfilm.  The state of the scanning is quite good and searchable though with the usual problems of searching these kinds of files.  Nevertheless I have found the PDF files  invaluable.

Bob Lewis is another longtime friend who has been publishing Stone-Campbell original texts through the Web or on Kindle for several years now.  His Stone-Campbell e-Print Library provides Kindle access for several significant works (such as Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell and W. T. Moore’s Comprehensive History of the Disciples of Christ).

Bod has links to significant journals and works on his Stone-Campbell.org website (including Stone’s Christian Messenger).

I recommend supporting and patronizing both of Dr. Jones and Dr. Lewis. They are providing a wonderful service for researchers and those who love reading in Stone-Campbell history and theology.

Blessings on both their efforts!


James A. Harding’s “Successful Revival” in Nashville

May 13, 2013

In 1889, James A. Harding conducted an eight week meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  A total of 123 would be immersed over the eight weeks. Here is the Daily American‘s account of the meeting (August 9, 1889).

Successful Revival

Rev. James A. Harding Pleading for Christ.

The Tent Meeting in Edgefield and Its Progress

Eighty-Seven Conversions and the Interest Continually Increasing–A Gold Harvest

The tent meeting of the North Edgefield Christian Church is now closing its seventh week. Interest in the revival has been constantly growing. All the neighborhood is thoroughly aroused, and large crowds come from other parts of the city,especially from the South Nashville and Woodland street churches.

The tent contains 500 chairs, but the audiences far exceed its capacity. There were 800 last Sunday night. Other denominations are taking part with enthusiasm. There have been 87 accessions to the church, eight professing the faith on Wednesday night.

It is a Grand Harvest

for the Christian Church. At all times wisely conservative, they have nevertheless braved public comment to carry the true gospel into this hitherto uncultivated field. As a result a substantial and handsome brick building has been erected on the same lot with the tent. A mission has been established there for several years, but this is its first meeting of any importance. Rev. J. C. McQuiddy is in charge.

The audience last night was composed of ladies for the most part. Rev. R. Lin Cave and Elders Corbin and Hall were in the pulpit. The minister’s text was Paul’s definition of faith. He treated it in a dispassionate, analytical manner, striving evidently to clearly expound the Apostle’s meaning. He was listened to with the most interested attention. There was one conversion.

Rev. James A. Harding

of Winchester, Ky., has been laboring in this city for some time. The morning meetings, with which the revival was begun, have been discontinued so that he could supervise the publication of his recent controversy with Rev. Mr. Moody in South Nashville. His health is declining under the severe strain, but he intends to continue so long as there is the lest interest manifested. He has covered very nearly the whole ground of Christian faith and duty.

His Preaching

is eminently thorough, plan and practical. His winning points are his earnestness and his perseverance. He is superior to most revivalists in the fact that he is never discouraged. The titles of some of his best sermons are as follows: The True Vine and the Branches, Will Christ Come Again? If So, When and How?, Heaven, The Eunuch’s  Conversion, The Conversion of Saul, and the Christian’s Armor. The common verdict is that his success is most wonderful.

JMH Comment Begins

The sermons on the Second Coming and Heaven are interesting in that his views on both of those points are rather unusual for contemporary Churches of Christ.  His view of the second coming was premillennial and his view of heaven was a renewed earth.  I only wish we had the transcripts of some of those sermons.

The North Edgefield congregation began meeting in 1887 under the preaching of Elder T. J. Stevenson, M.D. as a mission of the Woodland Street church.  J. C. McQuiddy began preaching at the church in 1889–a graduate of Mars Hill  Academy in Florence and office editor of the Gospel Advocate.  The building was dedicated in December 1889 and housed a congregation of about 200 (115 of whom were baptized in this meeting). — This data comes from an article in the Daily American (January 26, 1890).

The debate with J.B. Moody, held in the Central Baptist Church where up to 2000 attended, began on May 27, 1889 and extended for sixteen days.


Tolbert Fanning on Evangelists and the Lord’s Day

April 5, 2013

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

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

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

Concerning the function of an evangelist, Fanning writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Antebellum Middle Tennessee and the “Lord’s Day” I

March 27, 2013

During the summer of 1858 Tolbert Fanning, President of Franklin College and a leader in Middle Tennessee for over twenty-five years, toured the congregations surrounding Nashville. He recounts this tour in the September 1858 edition of the Gospel Advocate (“Prospects in Middle Tennessee,” pp. 257-263).

He visited Hartsville and Bledsoe’s Creek congregations in Sumner county; Lebanon and Bethel in Wilson county; New Hope in Canon county; Ebenezer, Millersburg and Murfreesboro in Rutherford county, Shelbyville in Bedford county; Fayetteville in Lincoln county; Petersburg, Berea and Lewisburg in Marshall county; Williamsport and Columbia in Maury county; and Nolensville, Hillsboro, Thompson’s Station and Boston in Davidson county.

He drew three conclusions from his tour (pp. 262-263):

1. We have labored in Tennessee in word and teaching for twenty-nine years, and we never witnessed half the anxiety generally to hear and examine the Truth.

2. We never before saw half so many brethren determined to labor for the Lord. More churches are meeting for worship than have been at any previous date engaged.

3.  We conscientiously believe that the brethren no where on earth possess a higher appreciation of the Truth, and of spiritual life, than in Tennessee, and with all our reverses the prospects are flattering. A faithful perseverence [sic]  in well doing will remove mountains.

The recent “reverses” is an allusion to the devolution of the Nashville church under the leadership of Jesse B. Ferguson who embraced “spiritualism” as a theological method. His youth, popularity, and rhetorical flourish led the church away from its 1820s-1830s roots, according to Fanning.

However, this has occasioned a revival of sorts.

The apostacy and opposition of several popular men, who were numbered with us, have doubtless had the effect to induce the brethren to re-examine the foundation on which we are building, and the result is, that an unusual degree of intelligence is evinced by all who read and study, especially the Divine oracles. We regard it not the least flattery to intimate the probability that there are perhaps more independent thinkers, and devoted and intelligent Christians in Tenn., in proportion to the numbers professing faith, than in any other State in the Union. Our church afflictions have had the effect to weaken the confidence in the infallibility of men, to teach us humility, and we are not sure but they have had an influence to better qualify us for grappling with difficult questions.

Fanning reports that he has seen evidence of a great growth in the “spiritual life” of congregations in Middle Tennessee (p. 257). One of the major pieces of evidence for him was the growing practice of “meeting weekly to worship” (p. 262). It was more common, as Fanning notes, for churches to meet only once a month or only when an Evangelist was in town (as was still the case for some communities like Lebanon). For Fanning the “Lord’s Day” is a critical part of what it means to be a church, to cooperate in the work of the Lord, and to fulfill the mission of Christ.

In future blogs I hope, as time permits, to explore this theological idea as Fanning seeks to inculcate a reverence for the Lord’s Day on the part of Middle Tennessee congregations.


Nashville Church Planting–Early Perspectives

March 26, 2013

David Lipscomb wrote a wonderful biography of Tolbert Fanning which was published in Franklin College and Its Influences (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing, 1906). There are many historical gems in this piece, especially concerning the history of the Nashville Church. One particular theme struck me as I read through it again.

After Philip Slater Fall, who had led the church into the Restoration Movement in 1827, left the Nashville Church in 1831, it was led by the elders of the church. The congregation practiced mutual edification and equipped while Tolbert Fanning and Absalom Adams were supported as Evangelists from 1832 to 1836. An “Evangelist” at that time was not the “local preacher,” but one supported to evangelize in the community and region. They were supported to plant churches. The Nashville Church planted, through Fanning, Adams, its elders and others, congregations at Franklin, South Harpeth, Hannah’s Ford, Sam’s Creek, Burnet, Philippi, Sycamore, and other places in the surrounding counties (pp. 48-49).

One of the disappointing aspects of the hiring of Jesse B. Ferguson in 1846 the church became consumed with their lead pastor and the congregation lost its equipping and church planting fervor, according to Lipscomb and Fanning.

When the congregation fell apart–falling from 600 members–it was reorganized with only a couple of dozen members. They asked P. S. Fall to return and he arrived in 1858. By the  Civil War the congregation was around 200 about half of what it was when Fall left in 1831. Fall assumed the role of Pastor in th church such that, as Lipscomb remembers it, there were few who would even lead a prayer or give thanks at the table in the congregation. Fall did all the “public work” (p. 58).

This focus is problematic for Lipscomb. To his knowledge in the forty years since the end of the Civil War this pastor-led church “has not sent out a preacher or planted a church” (p. 60). In contrast, Lipscomb began meeting with others in the “suburbs of the city” in 1865 (p. 59). This congregation and its daughters have since established “about twenty churches in the city and suburbs.” The old, established congregation failed to multiply whereas the new plants multiplied. 

How did Lipscomb account for the difference? The established downtown church employed a pastor who “preached to it, conducted the worship, and [drew] large audiences composed of talented, wealthy, and fashionable people.” This situation encourages a passivity such that “a church with wealth and numbers and talent and social position and attractive entertainments will be a helpless church” (p. 60).

Lipscomb thinks there is a better model. He planted churches among the “working classes, accustomed to doing their own work at home, and ready to do what was needed to keep te worship alive in their midst.” If churches are to grow and mature spiritually, they must do their own work rather than support “a preacher to minister to and for them” (p. 59). Church planting results when congregations focus on equipping members rather than supporting preachers, according to Lipscomb.

If a congregation among the “common people” is to support a preacher, then they will never “become self-supporting,” and this is unacceptable. “Christ intended his religion for the poor, adapted it to their necessities, and it is a perversion of the church of Christ to so change its character that it cannot live without money from wealthy churches” (pp. 59-60).

Let the church be the church, Lipscomb pleads. “The common people can do their own work at home and can sound the gospel out as no other people can” (p. 60).

Lipscomb believed that he followed Fanning on this points. He summarizes Fanning’s church planting method in this way:

The result of his teaching on the subject of the members doing the work of the church without a regular preaching or pastor was the establishment of a great number of churches in the towns and counties of Tennessee in which the entire services were conducted by the members of the churches; and a preacher was called in only to hold a protracted meeting. This in its beginning does not make a show before the world, nor is it attractive to those who seek entertainment; but it educates the members of the church in the study of the Bible and the practical performance of all the duties connected with the worship and work of the church. This is the best education of the members of the church that they can receive. No one can be said to properly understand a thing until he puts it into practice. No idea or sentiment is made his own until he practices it. The best and most sacred truths, although he may approve and admire them, do not enter into the make up of his character until he practices them in his life; so the reading, commenting on the Scriptures, praying, exhorting, and teaching others is much more effective teaching to those doing this work than hearing others.