Baptists and Disciples: David Lipscomb Appeals for Unity in 1866

In 1866 Lipscomb called for a representative meeting of Baptists and Disciples–whom he characterized as “brethren”–to seek a way to foster unity between the two groups. He identified their common theology (including a common baptism), but also stressed their common heritage which, he claimed, stretched back through “eighteen centuries of persecution and martyrdom.”

For Lipscomb, Baptists and Disciples have:

  • common baptism
  • common rule of faith
  • common discipline
  • common Lord
  • common Heaven
  • common ancestry
Read his plea for churches to meet together with prayer and fasting so as to unite as one people.

David Lipscomb, “To Baptists and Disciples in Tennessee,” Gospel Advocate 8 (10 April 1866), 236-37.

Brethern:–The Savior of the world prayed that his people and his followers might be one–that the world might believe that the Father had sent him. The oneness of the people of God, the unity of the followers of the Lord in one body, is made a condition of the world’s believing in the Son of God, that that world might be saved from the woe of hell. Division and strife to-day separate the professed followers of the Savior, and the world in infidelity and sin is going down to the dark abodes of eternal death. In the face of this lawful consequence of division among the people of God, what are doing to bring about union and peace? Are we making the efforts and the sacrifices to avoid division and bring about union that the importance of the subject demands? We divide and separate, and in careless indifference perpetuate that division in despite of the prayer of Jesus, and as a consequence our fellowmen, our neighbors, friends, brethren, husbands, wives and children go down to death, how can we be held guiltless in the sight of God? The union of Christians in one body, in one faith, in one walk, directed by the same rule, is the demand of God and the crying want of the world. Shall Christians make no effort to comply with the demand of God, and supply this want of the world? We appeal to Baptist and Disciples as having many points of agreement to make a move in this direction. They teach a common rule of admission into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, to-wit: A penitent believer’s burial in Baptism, in order to a resurrection to a new and holy walk with God, they have a common rule of faith and practice for individual Christians, and book of discipline for the Church of God, the simple, pure, unadulterated word of God. They have one common Lord and Master, one common Heaven of rest and happiness after life’s trials and sorrows are over. They have, too, one common ancestry, one common history for eighteen centuries of persecution and martyrdom. Can they not live and labor together in love and harmony as children of a common Father? Our brethren, too, in Virginia, have set us the example of trying to effect a union. Shall we not follow their good example? Shall we not have a meeting either of men chosen from our respective bodies at large, or commend to the churches to meet together, with fasting and prayer to God, and seek to unite as one people. How greatly would our capacity for good be increased? What joy to the good of earth and the angels of Heaven, would such an effort cause?

Will our brethren, Baptists and Disciples, at once speak out and say whether we shall make the effort, and if so, how, and how soon.

11 Responses to “Baptists and Disciples: David Lipscomb Appeals for Unity in 1866”

  1.   Scott Shifferd Jr. Says:

    Such unity was certainly plausible from Helwys to Spurgeon. There were autonomous congregations with no hierarchical conferences, weekly Lord’s Supper, acceptance of baptism as when one is united in death with Christ and raised with Christ, and many made melody by only singing. What was to hinder but the idea of sovereignty over free will? Helwys was free will and referred to the congregations as “churches of Christ” rather than Baptist.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      And Lipscomb did not even think it was necessary to know “when” one was united with Christ as much as it was important to obey God in baptism. You are quite correct that the similarities of many (if not most) Baptists eccleisologially grounded Lipscomb’s hopes, but that the Reformed (“Calvinist”) theology of many Baptists would have been a great hindrance to any such union. In a later article, which I hope to put online in the near future, Lipscomb actually comments on this point in relation to the “mourning bench” and its implications for the differences between Baptists and Disciples. Thanks for the comment, Scott.

  2.   Homer Says:

    When I read the article regarding “Baptism in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement” in the book “Believer’s Baptism”, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright, I felt great hope of a breakthrough. On Baptism there seems to be a move on the Baptist side but I wonder how Baptists have reacted to the book. And then there is the push toward the Reformed view. It seems to me the “eternal security” doctrine will be an even greater hurdle.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think there is some common ground developing among some Baptists and some “Disciples” (to use Lipscomb’s language). Stan Fowler, for example, has written much about this as well as the “Baptist Sacramentalists” in Scotland. See my previous post here.

  3.   eirenetheou Says:

    In 1866, Austin McGary is still a Texas sheriff, but James Robinson Graves has long since made his way with his carpetbag from Vermont to Tennessee, preaching the Landmark Baptist gospel of “blood before water.” Graves and his ilk are as contemptuous of the “water salvation” Campbellites as they are of the drycleaning Methodists and Presbyterians. McGary and Tant, in their rejection of Baptist baptism, are responding to the Landmark sectarians. DL and his brothers who would find common cause between Baptists and Disciples are caught between these warring sectaries.

    May God have mercy.


  4.   dsrygley Says:

    “They teach a common rule of admission into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, to-wit: A penitent believer’s burial in Baptism, in order to a resurrection to a new and holy walk with God…”

    Unfortunately, whether this statement was true in 1866 or not, it is not the case today. Baptism, in Baptist teachings, plays no part in the admission to the Kingdom,if we equate admission into the Kingdom with salvation. According to Baptist doctrine, salvation, the transferring from darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son, takes place at the working of the Holy Spirit at the time of faith, a faith, which oddly enough, is given by the Spirit as well.

    Baptism is into the church, but only the church as understood in denominational terms, or worse yet, dispensational terms, e.g. “stop-gap” or “Plan B” ideology. (Thankfully, the latter view is dying away!!)

    Repentance is still being debated among the Baptist themselves as to it’s role and position, if any, in the ordo saludis. However, we would all agree that it would precede baptism.

    “In order to,” if used by Lipscomb to imply the purpose of baptism, would be a point of disagreement. The “new and holy walk with God” results from salvation through faith, not baptism.

    Oddly enough, while Lipscomb, and even the Campbells, didn’t obsess on the “when,” the Baptists did!

    So, is there truly a hope of unification? If it is to be, it will be a road paved with sacrifice, humility, and love. It will require honest evaluation of our teachings as to what is “of first importance” on the part of both “disciples” and “Baptists.” Above all, it will require the fate of the lost to be more important than winning or losing arguments.

    My prayer is that we will diligently preserve [or restore] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      The dialogue is difficult. I’ve participated in several. But it can be fruitful and among some it is. Neither “Baptists” or “disciples” are monolithic, and they are filled with a sense of independence and freedom to read the Bible as individuals. So, the process is not easy nor is the goal.

      I think there is more in “common” on baptism that you might be willing to give, at least as seen in the above post. Many Baptists recognize that baptism is the completion of their obedience to God, entrance into the visible community of faith and the first act of discipleship. This is sufficient for Lipscomb who, as you note, did not obsess on the “when.”

      Thanks for the comment. Blessings.

      •   dsrygley Says:

        I agree; it is difficult but fruitful. The great variance on beliefs that two “autonomous” groups allow would, at certain points, have to find agreement among some within the two groups. This certainly happened in the early days of the Restoration Movement among Baptists, Methodists, and others.

        A recent article by Chuck Colson in Christianity Today (April 2012, p. 70) attempts to define evangelicalism as “a reform movement seeking to renew and strengthen orthodox faith within the holy, catholic, and apostolic church to which we belong and whose creeds we embrace.” Except for the last few words, in principle not content, I think all the early restorationists and many today would agree. If this spirit would guide these difficult discussions, I think we might just make it!!!

        Don’t mean to hijack your blog! God bless you and your ministry.

  5.   Lynn E. Mitchell, Jr Says:

    The key to Baptist/Church of Christ fellowship is local and congregational. The Heights Church of Christ and the Heights Church (a “Cooperative Baptist” Church plant) meet in full fellowship and harmony (with two services and somewhat different worship practices) in the oldest standing “Church of Christ” building in Houston (where Austin McGary died). Lynn Mitchell

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