Means of Grace: Scripture, Prayer and Fellowship

During July 2007 I presented three lessons in the summer series at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ near Nashville, Tennessee. They asked me to present some material from Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding which I co-authored with my good friend Bobby Valentine. Bobby and I presented the material of that book at a Tulsa Workshop and the powerpoints for that presentattion are available at Hans Rollmann’s website. At Brentwood Hills I chose to focus on how Lipscomb and Harding conceived and practiced the three spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer and giving (fellowship). The powerpoints of that three week presentation are now available on my Bible Class page under the title Means of Grace: Scripture, Prayer and Fellowship in Lipscomb-Harding Perspective.

The context for thinking about these disciplines in the minds of Lipscomb and Harding is their sense of discipleship. I think this particular statement from Harding, himself a well-known and successful evangelist through protracted meetings, is particularly enlightening.

I have observed that those speakers as a rule secure the greatest number of accessions who dwell most upon escaping hell and getting into heaven, and least upon the importance of leading lives of absolute consecration to the Lord; in other words their converts are much more anxious to be saved than they are to follow Christ.

James A. Harding, Gospel Advocate 27 (14 September 1887), 588

Harding was more interested in making disciples than getting people saved. Indeed, he believed this was one of the major problems within the church. Too many people want to escape hell in the afterlife than follow Jesus in the present. It seems to me that sounds like what many missional church or even Emergent church people are saying today. Listen again to his point and notice how this time he includes four means of grace or modes of spiritual discipline or training as the way to shape converts into disciples of Jesus.

Our greatest trouble now is, it seems to me, a vast unconverted membership. A very large percent of the church members among us seem to have very poor conceptions of what a Christian ought to be. They are brought into the church during these high-pressure protracted meetings, and they prove to be a curse instead of a blessing. They neglect prayer, the reading of the Bible, and the Lord’s day meetings, and, of course, they fail to do good day by day as they should. Twelve years of continuous travel among the churches have forced me to the sad conclusion that a very small number of the nominal Christians are worthy of the name.

James A. Harding, Gospel Advocate 27 (9 Feb 1887), 88

According to Harding, whoever pursues these “habits” of grace (Scripture reading, prayer, Lord’s Day, and doing good) “will surely abide in Christ.  These are God’s four means of grace to transform a poor, frail, sinful human being into the likeness of Christ.” Whoever “faithfully uses these means unto the end of life cannot be lost” (James A. Harding, The Way 4 [26 February 1903], 401-2).

My three lesson series uses these thoughts as a jumping-off place to talk about the spiritual tasks of Scripture reading, prayer and sharing our material resources with the poor. I first note how Lipscomb and Harding conceived these disciplines and then apply their insights to the contemporary church through the lens of the Gospel of Luke.

On an interesting sidenote, Lipscomb and Harding extended their “doing good” to their educational enterprise which began as the Nashville Bible School (1891) but is now known as Lipscomb University.  They saw their school–in contrast with Vanderbilt Univeristy in the late 19th century–as a ministry to the poor.  “We differ from many other schools,” Harding wrote, “in that we freely admit all who are not able to pay free of charge. Our Master preached the gospel to the poor; we are trying to imitate him” (Gospel Advocate 39 [3 June 1897] 338).  Lipscomb noted that “the gospel is to the poor, for the poor, and they are the chief helpers of God in carrying forward his work in the earth…The school is for the benefit of the common people.” In fact, the 1898 catalog contains this staement (p. 8):

When a student cannot pay tuition and his friends cannot or will not do it for him, we receive him without it, with the understanding that he will pay it, without interest, as soon as he becomes able to do so. If he never becomes able, our service to him is a gift.

My, how things have changed. Perhaps they had to change. But the ideals of Lipscomb and Harding are worth a second look as well as a recontextualized application.


John Mark


3 Responses to “Means of Grace: Scripture, Prayer and Fellowship”

  1.   Clyde S. Says:

    I was shocked when I first heard that Lipscomb began as providing an education for the poor. I am humbled by the generosity and concern for the poor demonstrated by both Lipcomb and Harding.

    I think the story you once told about Harding’s last box of cigars is in itself a remarkable witness to the way he made decisions, and his responsive heart.

  2.   Matthew Says:

    I enjoyed “Kingdom Come” a lot. I love the way you deal with topics by looking at the Bible, but also dealing with the trend in the Movement.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    WHYi did not comment on this i don’t know.
    it is very good advice.


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