Christians Among the Sects? James A. Harding Answers

While in Montgomery Alabama for a summer meeting in 1902, James A. Harding answered several questions from the “Question Box” which was available to hearers there.  He answered a few of these through the pages of The Way (“Questions and Answers,” 4 [July 17, 1902] 121-123). One concerned the name “Christian Church” (which he opposed both as a name and as a denominational body), another concerned the differences between Baptist and Christian baptism, and another on the possibility of falling from grace.  The question and answer reproduced below was the most interesting and, given subsequent developments among Churches of Christ, the most surprising answer in that issue of the paper (p. 122).

“Mr. Harding, you say you believe there are people in all the denominational churches who will be saved. Please explain by the Bible how you extend hope to the individual who has accepted sprinkling for baptism.”

I extend no hope to him. Jesus said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Sprinkling is not baptism; it is a human substitute for a divine ordinance. It is not the word of God; it is a rejection of the word of God. God is not pleased with it; he abhors it just as he does every substitute of man’s way for God’s way. It is not from above; it is from below.

I suppose there are people among all the so-called “Christian denominations” who have believed in Christ with their whole hearts, who in deep penitence of soul have confessed his holy name, who have been buried with him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life, who are diligently studying his holy law and who are daily striving to do his will. I say I suppose there are such folks in the denominations, because I have known numbers of such people to come out of them. It is not probable that they are all out yet; but if they remain faithful and diligent, God will be continually leading them out.

Wherever a man is, if he is daily, diligently seeking the truth, if he is promptly walking in it as he finds it, we may expect him to be saved. He will be daily dropping error, daily learning and doing more truth. But for the man who is contentedly abiding in error there is no such hope. Jesus says: “If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). It is nowhere recorded that error makes men free.

We might ask Harding: “But what is faithful diligence that assures sanctification and gives comfort to the believer who has not yet come out of denominationalism?” His answer might be something similar to what he describes as the diligence that will preserve one from apostacy. Here is the last paragraph to his answer on falling from grace (p. 123).

It is more than probable that not more than one-half of those who truly become Christians will be faithful unto death, and so attain to the home of God. This thought ought to spur us up to great diligence in using the four great means of grace whaich God has given us, namely: (1) Diligent, daily study of the Word of God. (2) The fellowship, that is, the partnership with God and his saints. This consists in giving time, money or other needed things, sympathy, help to the poor, the sick, the distressed, and to the spread of the gospel, the building up of the church. (3) The attendance upon the meetings of the Lord’s house. Every Christian should count on attending every meeting of his congregation. Nor should he fail to do so except when he has a reason for not attending which he is sure God will freely accept as a good excuse. At this point I am sure a great multitude deceive themselves fearfully. They imagine they have good excuses for staying away, when those same excuses keep them from going nowhere they want to go. A few attend nearly every service. Nearly all could do it, if they would. (4) The prayers. The Christian should be diligent and regular in secret prayer. It is a good rule to pray regularly four times each day, morning, noon, evening and night, and at other times when occasion requires it. We should give all diligence to attending to these four great means of grace. They should be the most important things in life to us by far, inasmuch as they bring prosperity for this life, and eternal happiness in the world to come.

I explore some of Harding’s thinking on baptism and salvation in my “Gracious Separatist” article in the Restoration Quarterly. We might summarize his position something like this:

  • He offers no explicit biblical hope to the unimmersed, but–in other places in his writing and debates–he leaves them to the “uncovenanted mercies” of God and refuses to say unimmersed seekers of God’s will will be damned. In fact, he cautions that  “we know too little of what God is doing in giving light and inducing them to work in it, to decide upon such matters” (“Does Ignorance Excuse Them?” Gospel Advocate 24 [30 November 1882] 758).
  • He believes those who have been immersed out of a faith in Christ (even if they did not know if it was for the remission of sins or not, even if they thought they were saved before their immersion) and walk in the light as they see it will be saved even if they continued to be a  member of a particular denomination and did not separate from it.
  • Walking in the light, or showing faithful diligence, entails using the “means of grace”: (1) reading the Bible for oneself; (2) giving oneself in ministry for the sake of the poor and the kingdom of God; (3) attending the meetings of the church; and (4) constant, daily prayer.

Given my heritage in Churches of Christ, Harding would not have been appreciated if he had expressed these viewpoints in regions of the church in which I grew up.  Indeed, he would have been thought a “false teacher”–and even now would be thought of as such. Heaven is much more inclusive and the kingdom of God much broader for Harding than for many others in 20th century Churches of Christ.


Postscript: Part of the backdrop for this broader vision of the kingdom is the whole theological orientation of the “Nashville Bible School” tradition which Bobby Valentine and I explore in our book Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding.

14 Responses to “Christians Among the Sects? James A. Harding Answers”

  1.   WesWoodell Says:


    I guess all those jokes my classmates and I used to make in the old HSBS program about Harding rolling over in his grave were pointless.

    Oh well.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2.   Randall Says:

    There is much to appreciate about Harding, but on the topic of Christians among the sects I find Campbell’s comments to the dear lady in Lunenburg, Va. to be more generous.

    Merry Christmas to you and all your readers!

  3.   mcgarvey Says:

    Good morning John Mark,
    Thanks for this post. As I’m working now on CEWDorris, pupil of both DLipscomb and JAHarding, I’m revisiting your work on the NBS tradition. As I get more into the material I’m sure I’ll have some questions for you.

    Grace and peace to you this Christmas day,

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Randall, I agree. Campbell’s understanding that one who authentically walks the Christian life though unimmersed is similar to Paul’s understanding of the godly uncircumcised as nevertheless true Jews. He is definitely more generous.

    BTW, the “dear lady” from Lunnenberg was a set up. She was a member of the Thomas’ congregation and, if I remember correctly, the wife of one of Thomas’ first rebaptisms. She was trying to get him to say something that would upset his constitutency and win the day for Thomas. She almost succeded. 🙂

    As for Harding, his comments are generous in the context of the 1906 split and what others like the Texas Tradition (Firm Foundation) were saying. It does, however, fall short of what Campbell himself said.

    Blessings on Christmas day, my friend.

  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Dorris is an interesting figure. He even took on Lipscomb over his understanding of the indwelling of the Spirit. Dorris thought it too ambiguous and left the door open for the Texas Tradition understanding of the indwelling. I believe that was in the 1898 Advocate, but I can get that info for you.

    I don’t know much about Dorris after the first decade of the 20th century. I think perhaps he was a rather transistional figure….starting out in the NBS tradition but slowly–though never entirely–moving into a Texas mode. But I don’t know enough about him to discern fairly or clearly. I look forward to hearing about your research on him.

    Blessings on Christmas day, my friend.

  6.   Randall Says:

    Thanks very much for your response. I read somewhere (possibly in the Encyclopedia of the Stone Campbell Movement??) a few years ago that the letter may have been a set up. I found that interesting as I had not heard that suggested in the past. In September I had the opportunity to visit with Leroy Garrett (used to lunch with him occasionally when we lived in Dallas area in 1980s) and I asked him if it was a set up. His opinion was that it was a genuine letter from a real lady in Lunenburg. I don’t recall the source of the information supporting the “set up” understanding of the origin of the letter. Would you happen to know it and be able to share it?

  7.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I don’t think there is any doubt that it was a real lady. We know her name (Louisa A. Anderson); she was the wife of Albert Anderson who was rebaptized by Thomas. The letter, I think, was an attempt to draw Campbell into some controversy and take some heat off of Thomas.

    A significant and definitive article on the subject was recently published in “Stone-Campbell Journal” 11.1 (Spring 2008), 3-28 by David Matson. The details are there.

    John Mark

  8.   Randall Says:

    Thanks very much for the details. It does make sense that the letter was both written by a lady from Lunenburg AND that someone put her up to it. I had not heard that before. I am sure I will enjoy reading more about it.

  9.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Thanks for posting this for us John Mark.

  10.   rich Says:

    they had over700 people baptised this year.

    in ca…

    no less

    that be a good thing

    say john mark
    i would be interested in reading a bit on that subject if you have the time
    thanks rich

    Dorris is an interesting figure. He even took on Lipscomb over his understanding of the indwelling of the Spirit. Dorris thought it too ambiguous and left the door open for the Texas Tradition understanding of the indwelling. I believe that was in the 1898 Advocate, but I can get that info for you.

  11.   rich Says:

    one deviation LITV

    what do you think on the use of this word?
    i like it.
    but the only GREEK I know is out of town
    i know a little old….
    although still works onthe kids… 🙂

    blessings all
    Rom 5:18 So then, as through one deviation it was toward all men to condemnation, so also through one righteous act toward all men to justification of life.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      I’m not sure what this has to do with my post. But the term you are asking about is used also in 4:25, 5:15,16,17,18,20. It is the word “transgression” or violation, deviation, lapse. It can have some varied meanings, but it seems to me it stands for “sin” in general here as Romans 4:25 seems to indicate to me.

  12.   rich Says:

    it just seems to me that in Romans 1:21. deviation from the good of God’s creation expresses more clearly, What actually happened over a period of time. a deviation from the good. I mean, sin is not imputed where there is no law, which makes men no less responsible to do the good and right thing. According to God revealing himself in creation.
    And then God brings forth the Gospel, and reestablishes the good, by divine nature through faith. As in Hebrews, exercising your mind in word of righteousness to learn to discern both good from evil.
    So for the last time I would imagine. We have an opportunity (mankind), to do the good that God exhibited through his son.
    And I would say, looking back at your post, it would be a deviation, from the good that had been achieved in exercising our mind to come to grips to the good that God calls us to.

    So, as in baptism, and our walk with God, and how we address the Lords supper and table, fellowship and other issues, deviation from God’s truth, is something that men do not, (who are searching for sanctification) would not strive to attain to again, in any sense of the word.
    deviation just expresses where each and every one of us are at this present time were not perfect, I’ll know we are righteous and have all spiritual blessings in Christ. It’s just how deviated we are from the truth, and how much there is for us to attain.
    Transgression and sin don’t seem to fit for me.
    Iniquity works real well for me, as used as by definition without authority.
    The way I understand Romans, the fifth chapter deviation works real well for me, it seems to set the sixth chapter in the seventh chapter into the eighth chapter with a better idea conveyed.
    As I said before, I’ve got these older books from my mom written in 1956. Lipscomb commentaries,
    I guess I’ve been popping in and out of those almost all my life.
    i just kind of keep a tab on my brain and where my head is so just doesn’t go too far out to right field.
    and now i don’t need them so much any more.



  13.   rich Says:


    rom. 14-15
    we are called to peace and not to judge…

    to teach and accept those in christ…
    the many differances of the 7 churches in rev.
    and , and, and…

    i sure hope you can get my drift by way of this state ment

    Randall, I agree. Campbell’s understanding that one who authentically walks the Christian life though unimmersed is similar to Paul’s understanding of the godly uncircumcised as nevertheless true Jews. He is definitely more generous.

    after waking up this morning
    i thought i might put this along with my thinking on why deviation seems to be a better word than sin as a type of world view….

    every one to one degree or another is is a sinner…everyone.
    faith is freedom from the law of sin and death.
    as we walk in the spirit the war of the flesh presists

    well anyway thats is my thought on deviation…

    and so the QUESTION is this.
    Is this just a big bunch of sofistry that i just wrote.
    or ??????

    blessings my friend


Leave a Reply