David Lipscomb (1911)

Continuing my reading of Lipscomb in the first decades of the 20th century, I have lifted a few more what I regard as illuminating comments by the 80 year old editor of the Gospel Advocate.

Publish Both Sides for Free Discussion. Lipscomb believed that fair, thorough and open discussion of a biblical issue was the best course to follow. Truth would reign in such a situation and evil would be vanquished. Consequently the Gospel Advocate under his editorship published both sides of a discussion (part of the Tennessee Tradition of open discussion).  However, not everyone followed this policy such as Joe S. Warlick of The Gospel Guide (Texas Tradition paper) and Daniel Sommer of the Octographic Review (Indiana Tradition). When B. C. Goodpasture excluded NI (non-institutional) writers from the Gospel Advocate in the 1950s, this was one of the premier articles referenced by the excluded (cf. Fanning Yater Tant, “I Would Cease to Read It,” Gospel Guardian 6.12 [29 July 1954] 5).

This good has come from holing the Gospel Advocate open to discuss the evils of introducing into the church things not required by God. Evil has seemed to grow out of this by the failure to treat the subject as God directs. If these evils are not discussed, we disobey God and leave evil to run riot in the churches. Evil will grow up in the churches, and the failure to expose it is to invite the evil…I said: ‘I do not read [Joe S.] Warlick’s paper, because he will not publish both sides of a question.’…Brother [Daniel] Sommer, of the Octographic Review, adopted this policy some years ago, the only example of it I had ever known among disciples. I ceased to read his paper, and we get along so peaceably. The Guide adopts the same plan. I treat both alike…I would like to see all of us get along pleasantly and harmoniously in obeying the commands of God. But if the Gospel Advocate were to adopt this policy of criticizing others and refusing to let them reply, I would cease to read it. [1]

Women and Public Speaking.  If there is any question where Lipscomb reveals his enculturation, it is on the question of women in the church and society.  When he was asked about the practice of some Sommer churches in the north that permitted women to lead prayer, read Scripture and exhort the assembly, his response is quite strict. He extends the prophibition against public speaking to outside the assembly of the church.  To his credit, however, he did publish a response from Silena Moore Holman who was not only an elder’s wife but the president of the Tennessee chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement. This is a woman with whom Lipscomb had significant disagreements–she was a public speaker and politically involved. Nevertheless, he published both sides.

Again, there is no law prohbiting women’s speaking under the Jewish law. So the failure to authorize them to speak under that law amounted to a prohibition to speak. The same rule holds good now. While the language in 1 Cor. 14 certainly embraces the Lord’s-day meeting, it is difficult to say that it is confined to it.

All the reasons given and the facts stated condemn woman’s leadership in other places as well as in the church on Lord’s day…All public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place puts woman out of place, out of her God-given work. She is by nature and disposition suited to a quiet, retiring service. She may use these conditions to teach and develop her abilities and work as a teacher and instructor of all.

God forbids woman to take a leading public part in teaching people at any time; but she may in a quiet, modest way teach the Bible to men, women and children, at home or a place of meeting. God has appointed but one regular, necessary meeting on the Lord’s day, where certain worship is to be performed. He allows other meetings for worship as his children may approve. But woman is not permitted to take a leading part in any of them. She may instruct in a modest way where men fail to do it. All meetings of the church are church meetings. Some are for specific purposes; others to teach, encourage, and help each other. Women ought to be modest at all of them. Men should be active to lead, and all things will work well. [2]

Women Baptizing? In response to a question from a reader, Lipscomb opposed this as a public leadership role. It did not suit the role of woman in both society and church to have such a public face. In his response Lipscomb reveals his prejudice against immigrant Catholics who are proliferating in “northern lands” because progressive women seek careers and public leadership rather than bearing and raising children.

God never called woman to such public works….there is no intimation that they will be saved from it, or blessed in seeking to do man’s work as a leader and guide of man….Some Southern women are following in the steps of these [progressive women, JMH] and are becoming public speakers and business managers, and they are failing to bear children, and in a generation or two the Catholics will take the lead here. [3]

Or, in another place, when he is concerned about how men are retreating from leadership in the church, he wrote:

 There are two causes that lead men to cease to attend the church and take part in the teaching and worship of the church. The first is, the women are forward to take part in the service, and especially to lead and teach….The Bible, taken as a whole, in all its works and institutions, makes woman a home keeper and imposes on her the work of bearing and rearing children. To this work, if not perverted, her tates and inclinations will lead her. Let us all faithfully and truly work as God has appointed, and he will abundantly bless.” [4]

The Work of Jesus is the Work of the Church.  Lipscomb has a consistent emphasis on the relationship of the church to the poor and weak. Here is a succinct but profound statement of his position that one can see in almost every other editorial by Lipscomb in these last years.  I wonder why he sense a deep need to emphasize it–cultural shifts in the church, or at his age he simply emphasized what he thought was most important. In any event, here is a good example:

 How many professed Christians are there that give time and labor to help the poor and needy, the sick and destitute in the world? Are professed Christians more apt to do good in helping others as Christ did than those not Christians? The work of the Christian is to do the work of Jesus. The spiritual body of Christ, the church, should continue the work he did in the fleshly body. So being trained to the same work, we may be fitted to dwell with him in his home. If we cannot and do not the work of Jesus, it is because we are none of his. [5]

In my opinion, Lipscomb is batting .500 for his views in this post.  I’m grateful that both he and I are saved by grace through faith rather by a knowledge that bats 1.000 (or, what batting average is required if it is not by grace?).


[1] David Lipscomb, “Difficulties and Differences Among Christians,” Gospel Advocate 53 (12 January 1911) 44-45

[2] David Lipscomb, “Information Wanted on the ‘Woman Question’,” Gospel Advocate 53 (19 January 1911), 78-79.

[3] David Lipscomb, “Query Department,” Gospel Advocate 53 (26 October 1911), 1222.

[4] David Lipscomb, “Stopping the Leak,” Gospel Advocate 53 (14 December 1911) 1454-5.

[5] David Lipscomb, “Can We Too Rigidly Follow God’s Law,” Gospel Advocate 53 (9 March 1911) 303.

5 Responses to “David Lipscomb (1911)”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I guess I have more than one issue on which I would disagree with Lipscomb 🙂 but nevertheless his support for “fair, thorough and open discussion” is something that was really missed as the 20th century of Churches of Christ pressed on. As we look at the polarization existing today, we are seeing the effects not allowing this part of Lipscomb’s legacy to carry forth. However, in light of his support for such discussion, I think he would have welcomed the blog for the way blogging is/will revolutionize biblical/theological inquiry on all levels of church.

    Grace and peace,


  2.   Tuck Says:

    I would be relieved (and maybe surprised) to know that I’m batting .500!

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Of course, I think I am batting 1.000 or else I would change my mind, but I know it can’t be true. 🙂

  4.   Paula Harrington Says:

    Very interesting.

  5.   preacherman Says:

    How one views the Word of God and what is essential to salvation differs greatly from person to person.
    Limpscomb must have understood this I hope. I believe that if the Bible isn’t against it then neither should we. Women baptizing is not a role that I see as a doctrinial or salvation issue. I think it is a beautiful thing for a mother to give birth not just once but twice. Precious in the eyes of God.
    Does God change his mind over music when we get to the New Testament? If so, what does that say about God and his will and promises? Can they be trusted? Would someone go to hell for playing a piano to God? The scriptures they use to prove music in worship is wrong doesn’t even have to do with worship. It is about the joy and excitement that we should have as believers. I just don’t get it! It seems that ministers in the earlier centuries wanted to keep people ignorant to the word of God to control gender, race, and even who was in and out of the body of Christ. I find it extremely sad. We must free God’s people of legalism and hard core traditionalism. We must show them the light. We must strive to show them the mercy and grace of God.

    I do believe that the issues that the older generations in the Church of Christ saw as essential or something to cause division is fading away. I think it is great that we are a generation that is striving to break away from the legalism of the past and actually strive to be the church of the 21st century instead of the 1st century. I am seeing extreme growth in non-denominational churches, progressive churches that give people hope, comfort, love, mercy, grace. It is wonderful to see the church meeting needs. Yes, we still see splits from time to time but we must preach and lead the church into a century of freedom and jubalee!

    Thanks brother for your continued remarks on this subject. Keep up the great work you do with your writtings. You are a true scholar in deed. 🙂

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