David Lipscomb (1912)

As I continue to study and think about the Texas, Tennessee and Indiana Traditions within Churches of Christ in the first decades of the 20th century, I have  been reading through the Gospel Advocate in those early years of the last century.  I thought I would provide a sampling of what has interested me in the editorials of David Lipscomb in his 81st year of life.  Here are few “gems.”

Opposing the Rebaptists of Texas.  Lipscomb is still very much concerned about the sectarianism of the rebaptist position. He wrote several articles at the beginning of 1912 on the question. In one he thought the rebaptist position begat extremes among the Baptists and that Baptists and disciples had much more in common than different in their understanding of baptism. When a Baptist was accused by a Rebaptist of denying certain truths about baptism, Lipscomb thought it “imaginary” (remember that Lipscomb was a former Baptist himself).

None such ever occurred or will occur. Especially is this true in places and communities where the Bapitst have not had to struggle with the misrepresentations of our rebaptist friends. One extreme begets another, and the rebaptist extreme leads to this Baptist extreme. The two extremes lead to restrictions of both parties.[1]

Rebaptists believed that one had to have a precise understanding that baptism was the moment of salvation (“for the remission of sins”) as a condition for the validity of the baptism. Lipscomb opposed this. One of the common arguments made by Rebaptists was that just as one had to understand the design of the Lord’s Supper to authentically participate, so one had to understand the design of baptism to experience authentic baptism.  Lipscomb addressed this point in a poignant way that drew the argument into the larger world of how God deals with humanity in their weaknesses.

The example [the disciples at the Last Supper, JMH]  is not very flattering to humanity, but one that very strongly commends to us the love and condescension of God. It invites us to love and humility, condescension and helpfulness, to the poverty and needs of humanity. Let us look in kindness and pity on human mistakes and infirmities and bless and help as we need help and blessing. The forbearing, humble, helpful spirit that leads us to help the weak, forbear with the ignorant, and lend an uplifting and helping hand to every child of mortality is as much a part, and a vital part, of the religion of Jesus as the belief of any proposition or truth connected with that religion. Man is much more intolerant and ready to condemn and repel the children of men from the helps and privileges of gospel truth than God is. Let one take the mental and moral condition of those who partook of the first Supper under the direction of Jesus and compare them with the intelligence and standing of those they reject and repel [those immersed to obey God, JMH], and he must feel the inconsistency. Our mission and work is to bury and hide shortcoming and imperfections in faith and life, and, while teaching the will of God as he gave it, to encourage the weakest and most feeble to walk in his ways as he has given it and as far as they understand it. The work of Jesus in the ordination of the Supper is often as much violated and set as naught as the rights of those who believe baptism is for the remission of sins. Let us cherish and walk in the spirit of Christ. Both Baptists and many disciples are sinful in their exclusiveness in religion.[2]

The Sermon on the Mount. In a couple of series on the “religion of Jesus,” Lipscomb concentrates on the Sermon on the Mount. According to Lipscomb, “our present and eternal peace depend upon doing what God commands in this Sermon.”[3] There were many interesting observations in his articles. But I thought this one particularly noteworthy as it contrasted with what the Texas and Indian Traditions stressed–and a growing number in the regions of Tennessee.

The mission of Jesus into the world was to bring the world back under the dominion or rule of God, into his kingdom, under his rule or authority. This was the end or purpose of the mission of Jesus….So they were to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,”—that his rule or dominion on earth be established. Many looking at this from its bearing on the teachings of this age conclude this prayer now should not be made. Those persons confuse the opening or establishment of the kingdom with its dominion, rule, or completion of its work of bringing the whole world under the authority and rule of God. The establishiment of the kingdom of God in the world and the completion or end of that work are two wholly different things or ends. So long as the world or any part of the human family are not in the kingdom of God and not in obedience to his law this petition may and should be humbly made for God to aid and bless the children of God in subjecting the world to him….When God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven, it will change the earth of woe and suffering into a heaven of bliss and joy.[4]

Hermeneutics–The Function of the Gospels.  One of the more surpsing but invigorating articles by Lipscomb was his discussion of the role of the Gospels, Acts and Epistles in New Testament theology. While many divide the New Testament at Acts 2 and derive their ecclesiology from Acts and the Epistles, Lipscomb insisted on the centrality of the ministry and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Hold on to your hat for this one. 🙂

To object to what Jesus psoke and made known before his death is to attack the genuiness and validity of any will from him. Jesus himself said: ‘The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it.” (John [sic; but he means Luke, JMH] 16:16.) Those who fix the reign or law of Jesus Christ after the death of Christ need to study the teachings of Jesus.

All that Jesus Christ spoke or gave to the world consitituted a portion of the will of Jesus that went into effect after his death…The laws of Jesus Christ are given in the sayings and teachings of Christ recorded in the four biographies of Christ. [Yes, you read that correctly, JMH]

The law is given in the personal teachings of Jesus. The Acts of Apostles and the Epistles are the applications by inspired teachers of the king to the churches and the applications of the Bible to the facts of life as they arise in the world [occasionality? JMH]. These applications and exemplifications of the truths of the Bible to the workings of the world greatly help in the study of the Bible by the common people. But there is not a truth or a thought in the application of these parables that is not in the teaching of Jesus…Jesus is the lawgiver. The whole law of God to the world is taught by him. The Acts of the Apostles and Epistles explain what the teachings mean, but they do not add to or detract from them. A change or modification in the teachings of Jesus would be treason against him and God.[5]

That is just a taste.  More to come at another time.


[1] David Lipscomb, “Difference between Baptists and Disciples,” Gospel Advocate 54 (4 January 1912) 17

[2] David Lipscomb, “Jesus Christ and the Rebaptists,” Gospel Advocate 54 (11 January 1912) 45, 49.

[3] David Lipscomb, “The Religion of Christ Made Easy. No. 4,” Gospel Advocate 54 (28 March 1912) 401.

[4] David Lipscomb, “The Religion of Christ Made Easy,” Gospel Advocate 54 (7 March 1912) 305.

[5] David Lipscomb, “When Was the Will of Christ Made?” Gospel Advocate 54 (2 May 1912) 554.

24 Responses to “David Lipscomb (1912)”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    All right, I understand what the Tennessee and Texas traditions are and what they represent but what is the Indiana tradition and what makes it distinct from the other two. I was raised in Indiana and I know that the CoC has historically been very conservative (legalistic fundamentalism), so this is interesting to hear of the “Indiana” tradition.

    Grace and peace,


  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    The “Indiana Tradition” is my name for Daniel Sommer and his theological trajectory. More on that later.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    the mistery applied…
    AGAIN rom 15.8
    funny thing about being able to forgive sin while on earth isn’t it…

    got to go

  4.   cordobatim Says:

    Great stuff, John Mark. Thanks for sharing with those of us who are ignorant of our own history.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5.   Royce Says:

    As I haved studied Restoration Movement history, especially the writings of A. Campbell and his contemporaries, I have found few who represent the theology of our so called “conservative” brothers today. The founders were much more non sectarian and grace centered than the traditional churches today.

    Thanks for your contributions to helping me understand just who we are as a fellowship of believers.


  6.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I remember the name Daniel Sommer from by classes in Restoration History and yes, his influence has in many ways loomed largely in the upper mid-west. I am thankful we have Rochester College up there, which is having a positive influence in many ways throughout Michigan, Indiana, Ohio (I know the school has its critics but that comes with the territory of doing something good).

    Grace and peace,


  7.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    One more thing…I need to read more on Daniel Sommer in light of my earlier comments. In Indiana there are many CoC’s. Some of them are actually instrumental and really affiliated more with the Independent Christian Churches. Some of the others (not sure how many) were established by southerners (Arkansas, Oklahoma) in the late 40’s and early 50’s who came north looking for work after WWII. My hunch is that these southerners (who established a carbon-copy southern Bible-belt church in the north) were shaped more by the Texas tradition. At one time there was also a great deal of “non-institutional” CoC’s present but I am not sure how many exist there now because many of those congregations began as very small groups that never seemed to grow evangelistically that much.

    Grace and peace,


  8.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Indiana is complicated. 🙂

    The Sommerite churches are now few but mainly represented in their practice of “mutual edification.” The instrumental churches (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ–the Independents), many of whom have “Church of Christ” on their sign, are numerous. This reflects a general trend in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when most of Indiana went instrumental (the Disciples side of the “1906 division”).

    Sommer resisted Texas and Tennessee influence–he regarded them as sectarian and/or institutional. The Rebaptists were sectarians and the institutionalists (Tennessee) were headed down the same road that the Disciples walked.

    With 20th century mobility, it is certainly possible that many “Texas” types moved into Indiana and as uniformity (to some degree but not totally) progressed in the 1930s-1950s the “Texas” position became a dominant one in most all quarters of Churches of Churches.

    The non-institutional group (a division in the 1950s-1960s) was influenced by Sommer but also by Texas. The anti-institutionalism is certainly part of both the Sommer and Texas traditions (though much more mixed in the Texas segment).

  9.   Terrell Lee Says:

    Lipscomb’s view of the Gospels is refreshing and ahead of his time. Are there similar statements in our earlier history from other important leaders? Thanks.

  10.   mcgarvey Says:

    John Mark, I ran across an interesting item from DL in the Advocate in 1889 just after Harding’s Nashville Debate. I will try to post it to my blog very soon.

  11.   Chris Says:


    Have you read Sommer’s autobiography? Volumes of the Octographic/American Christian Review? When you do, I think you may find that Sommer’s influence has not been as pernicious as many have argued and that there are some things we could learn from Sommer.

    A few (admittedly disconnected) thoughts:

    1) Yes, Sommer’s chief influence has been in NI and ME circles. Neither of those groups, however, accept Sommer’s entire platform. The NI position, for instance, is not Sommer’s position. Rather, it is essentially the compromise position that DS articulated in his 1932 “Rough Draft” on unity (from his “ecumenical” period in the 1930s, which is interesting in and of itself and deserves separate notice). (Incidentally, Sommer’s home church — the old North Indianapolis Church — is today an NI congregation. Also, NI publishers still keep a good deal of Sommerite literature in print — E.M. Zerr’s Commentary on the Bible comes to mind.)

    2) There is a marked emphasis on holiness in Sommer’s writing and preaching — usually defined as simplicity of living, plain dress, simple housing, etc. — which he gleaned from his mentor, Benjamin Franklin. His understanding of holiness also has a social component. His views on race were very advanced for his time, much more so than most in the Southern churches (Tennessee or Texas). I would put it this way: Sommer matches Lipscomb’s most radical statements on race and then backs them up with action. His apprenticeship-style Bible Class Readings were integrated at a time when no Disciples school (conservative or liberal) was taking that step.

    3) Sommer, like Lipsomb, continually emphasizes that the gospel is for the poor. In his writing, one can detect, to borrow the language of liberation theology, a “preferential option for the poor.” Sommer’s opposition to Bible colleges and the “located minister” grows out of this. Indeed, I think his opposition can only be explained in light of it. Sommer saw these two issues (Bible colleges and the “located minister) as two sides of the same coin. When he attacked them, he did so most often on sociological grounds, rather than sheerly doctrinal ones.

    You may still be wondering what those issues have to do with the gospel being for the poor. To put it simply, for Sommer, advanced education renders a man unfit to preach the gospel to the poor. Maybe an example will help to explain. (I’m paraphrasing Sommer’s own argument here.) A student goes off to a Christian college (Bethany, College of the Bible, Nashville Bible School, ACC, etc.) and earns his degree. That’s all well and good for Sommer; the problem lies in what happens next. It is almost always never the case, as Sommer sees it, that he will then go into the slums, pitch his tent and start to preach OR that he will go out into the country and work with rural congregations where no one will ever notice him and where his parishioners will not appreciate (or understand) his education. Instead, what is more likely is that he will seek out a large congregation in an affluent (usually urban) area where he will be remunerated handsomely, recognized for his accomplishments and where he may just land a spot as the congregation’s “located/full-time minister.” (Remember, the “located minister” only appears in CofCs in the early 20th century and the phenomenon is not widespread until the 30s and 40s. For Sommer it is a class issue — some congregations can afford to hire a located minister, some cannot, but will strain their budgets in order to keep with those who can.) This also opens up a generational divide between older (less educated) and younger (college educated) preachers. I think that Sommer is on to something, but with the exception of J.D. Tant, neither Tennessee nor Texas have much to say about this.

    I’ve probably written too much. Dr. Hicks, can you chime in with clarifications or corrections?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I’ve read rather widely in Sommer–his autobiography, Wolgang’s thesis, much of the Octographic Review, etc. His Bible-Readings approach to congregational education was quite useful, I think…though he did come to question even their propriety in later years.

      I certainly don’t think Sommer was wholly negative. Indeed, his cultural separatism has had a major impact on Churches of Christ as a whole, but he shared that with Lipscomb and Harding. The Sommer of the “Rough Draft” is much more irenic than the Sommer of, say, 1900. Even then (1900) Sommer was much more socially progressive on race and women than Lipscomb or Harding.

      Sommer’s influence on the NI would be an interesting thing to dig into. I recognize it is a mixed bag–on some points he was a “prophet” (as Tant called him) about institutionalism for the NI and a model of cultural separatism.

      I don’t think it is fair to say that Sommer’s opposition to Bible Colleges grows out his emphasis on the poor. Your point about distance from the poor is exactly Lipscomb’s points in the 1860s and 1870s about Lexington. Indeed, Lipscomb started Nashville Bible School for the poor to be supported by the poor in contrast to Vanderbilt. President Elam actually reprinted these articles by Lipscomb in the 1912 Advocated and Lipscomb commented on the gap between poor and educated ministry.

      I see Sommer’s opposition to Bible Colleges on basically two points, and this is what he consistently stressed: (1) it is sacriledge to call any human institution a “Bible” or “Christian” thing, and (2) it is a human institution doing the work of the church (Christians should suppport the church rather than brick & mortar). Sommer, of course, was not opposed to education (a graduate of Bethany himself) and educated ministry, but he did not want them to have a theological education (specifically trained preachers for the professional pulpit) and neither did Lipscomb or Harding.

      I do see much that is valuable in Sommer. His primary influence, however, has been in ME and what legacy he left in the NI movement. Other than that, I think he is marginal to the history of Churches of Christ in the 20th century.

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:

      I admitt I know far less about Sommer as compared to men like Campbell, Stone, Lipscomb, and Harding. What I do know is almost exclusively from secondary literature. I am sure there are things we can learn from Sommer that would be very valuable to churches today. What stands out in my memory about Summer was his willingness to divide/split. Is my memory wrong? Assuming it is not, there are many CoC’s in Indiana that have been established by splitting and division. While I do not know the current scope (it has been over 10 years since I last lived in Indaiana), at one time there were over 20 a capella restoration churches in the 3 counties that touch Lake Michigan (Lake, LaPorte, and Porter). Nearly all of them had some reason for why they had divided themselves from the rest of the fellowship (and most were congregations of less than 20 members). I know that is not a scientific representaiton of the CoC in Indiana but it does give some insight into the plight of the CoC in that state and especially in those three counties (of which, together as part of the greater Chicago area, share a population of 500,000).

      Grace and peace,


      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Daniel Sommer, to be sure, is most remembered for his separatism. But, then again, other “traditions” have written the history of Churches of Christ.

        Leroy Garrett, for example, dates the beginning of “Churches of Christ” with the Sand Creek Address and Declaration (1889). This is clearly a separatist document, but it was not embraced by the Gospel Advocate (for example).

        This legacy has colored many of the positive dimensions of Sommer’s theological agenda: holiness, local leadership, Bible-educated laity, racial inclusivism, openness to female participation in the assembly and Bible Reading forums as well as many theological points that opposed the Texas Tradition (e.g., oppposed rebaptism and advocated for a personal indwelling of the Spirit).

        But it seems that the overarching legacy of Sommer has been separatism and opposition to institutionalism. But that is largely because the “winners” have written the history. Neverthless, Sommer’s influence was marginalized by geography, the power of the press in Texas and Tennessee, and Sommer’s reputation (whether rightly or wrongly attributed).

        That, at least, is my general opinion. 🙂

  12.   Gardner Says:

    Many overlook the heavy influence of what you call the Nashville Bible school tradition among many “noninstitutional” brethren. Those influenced by that “tradition” strongly emphasize grace, the non sectarian nature of God’s church, holiness and separation from the world, non participation in the military, acceptance of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 as applicable today, etc. At the same time they still believe in a primitivist approach to the scriptures which in turn produces their aversion to the denominational machinery and promotionalism of the mainstream.

    Yes, many in the “noninstitutional” movement like Roy Cogdill, Yater Tant and others were heavily influenced by the “Texas” tradition.” Others however, like F.B. Srygley in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Irven Lee, Bennie Lee Fudge (in the 1950’s and early 1960’s) and many others, whose names most of your readers would not recognize, were very much in the “Nashville Bible School” tradition as you describe it in your books. I would like to think that the influence of those who emphasize grace along with primitivism and cultural seperatism is growing, since I feel it is close to examples of godly disciples we see in the scriptures.

    There has been tension between the two groups among noninstitutional brethren (“Texas” versus “Tennessee”),, although a growing independent spirit (less influence by papers) has probably tempered that somewhat in the last 10-15 years.

    Thanks for fascinating material!

    •   Chris Says:


      My own experience bears this out. It just seems that this segment of the NI movement isn’t as vocal as the “Texas” wing.

      •   Gardner Says:

        I suppose those who give more emphasis to God’s mercy and who are less concerned about controlling a network of congregations will by nature be less belligerent, though equally as fervent in their convictions.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think this is quite true. While I would suggest the dominant influence in the NI movement has been Texas and its theology, there is a significant Nashville Bible School influence as well. Srygley and Fudge are good examples (I don’t know Irven Lee), and I would add John T. Lewis as well (1906 graduate of NBS).

      It would be an interesting history to write about NI from the vantage point of the tension between the Texas and Tennessee. It seems to me, as a relative outsider to the NI (I had connections early in my teen years), that Texans like Cogdill emphasized the hermeneutical dimension of the debate while others like John T. Lewis, Srygley and Fudge emphasized the cultural and theological implications of institutionalism.

      •   Gardner Says:

        Your last sentence is right on the money. For another discussion of this see Ed Harrell in Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1, 1996.It’s online.

        A few other names I could include in those greatly influenced by Lipscomb besides John T. Lewis (though he supported Foy Wallace) among those categorized as “NI” would be Leslie Diestelkamp,Robert Turner and to a large degree, Homer Hailey, though all would have some elements you would describe as “Texas” in the mixture.

        These and others who have heavily emphasized God’s grace were attacked by more aggressive elements in the 1980’s as believing in “automatic forgiveness.” The controversy is still referred to as the “continual cleansing” controversy.

  13.   Jr Says:

    Is that shocking to say that Jesus’ commands were given in the Gospels? Why the “yes, you heard that correctly” line John Mark?

    And to the final points you referred to, “The Acts of the Apostles and Epistles explain what the teachings mean, but they do not add to or detract from them. A change or modification in the teachings of Jesus would be treason against him and God;” while the latter is acceptable, the former I’m not so sure of. The Acts and Epistles are much more than simply what the teachings of Jesus mean; but are there not present within them further teachings from the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised His disciples? This does not add to the teachings of Jesus, for they are the teachings of Jesus! Jesus was building His church, doing powerful things in gathering His flock while appearing to people like Paul who happens to be the author of most of the aforementioned letters. I do not see the beginning of Acts as the end of Jesus’ instruction. How can you if you believe the epistles we have are inspired texts? Maybe I’m not seeing his point clearly…

  14.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    What is shocking about the statement, Jr, is that it is not the standard CoC hermeneutic which divides the New Testament at Acts 2 or at the death of Christ. The standard hermeneutic–and hints of this in Alexander Campbell himself–is that what is prior to Acts 2 cannot function as “laws in the kingdom of God”. In other words, our ecclesiology must be drawn from the Acts and the Epistles.

    To say that our ecclesiology or the laws of the kingdom are grounded and taught in the ministry of Jesus was not the norm. For most the dispensational hermeneutic meant that the ministry of Jesus proved he was the Son of God but it did not provide authority for what we do in the church. This is what Lipscomb was combating.

    Lipscomb certainly believed the Epistles were inspired and the apostles were led by the Spirit. I think Lipscomb means that the Epistles draw out the meaning of what Jesus said and did, not that there were not further specifics or explanations. He would recognize Paul’s teaching as the teaching of Jesus by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he would also say that Paul is applying and interpreting the ministry and message of Jesus for his audience.

  15.   randall Says:

    Interesting post and follow-up discussion. I did come to the conclusion that NI means non institutional. I assume ME is also an abbreviation I should recognize – it just now occurs to me that ME is mutual edification. Is that correct?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Yes, ME is “mutual edification”–the practice of multiple participants in the assembly, especially for speaking, encouraging and teaching. The focus is on “mutual” rather than a single speaker/preacher. In Sommer’s congregations, women participated in the “encouraging” but were specifically limited from being the teacher.

  16.   John Morris Says:

    The discussion of ME piqued my interest, as I am a part of that fellowship. For those interested in developing a greater understanding of those brethren, check out http://www.apostlesdoctrine.us, and the list of “Links” it contains.

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