McGary and the Firm Foundation “Saved the Day” in the Rebaptism “Battle”

In a previous blog I copied a 1933 article by J. D. Tant in which he honored the work of the Firm Foundation over its first fifty years. He believed the FF had served the church well in winning the battle over rebaptism among other issues.

Fanning Yater Tant, J. D.’s son, wrote a similar article in 1957.  He believd that the FF was instrumental in the battle over rebaptism and that “sect baptism” was defeated because the “truth” was rather obvious. Below is his article (Fanning Yater Tant, “‘Pride, Prejudice, and Papers’,” Gospel Guardian 9.11 [18 July 1957] 4):

Elsewhere in this issue, and under the above caption, will be found an editorial from the Firm Foundation of May 28, 1957. This is the kind of writing that made this great paper a bulwark of strength in days gone by; it is the kind of Christian journalism that is all too rare in our generation. Brother Reuel Lemmons, editor of the paper, has sounded an appeal to truth, common sense, and straight thinking that ought to challenge every Christian in the land.

It should be remembered that the Firm Foundation was born for this very thing. Old brother “Aus” McGary became convinced that Brother David Lipscomb and brethren east of the river generally were in error in their teaching and practice in the matter of “sect” baptism. While the pages of the Gospel Advocate were open to McGary to refute this teaching, he nevertheless felt that a more effective campaign for truth could be waged if he had his own medium. In the heat of controversy, the Firm Foundaiton had her “baptism” into the realms of Christian journalism. (This editor has some reason to know about that battle: His maternal grandmother, Fannie Mills Yater, living at Hartsville, Tennessee, was an ardent admirer of David Lipscomb and Tolbert Fanning, even naming one of her sons Tolbert Fanning Yater. The family moved to Bosque County, Texas in 1878, just when the “sect baptism” issue was beginning to get hot. When the Firm Foundation began, Grandmother Yater read every issue of it, as well as continuing to read the Gospel Advocate. She became convinced, totally and forever, that A. McGary had the better of the argument with Lipscomb — and persuaded the brethren in the little congregation where she worshipped to get a preacher named J. D. Tant, who shared McGary’s views on “sect” baptism, to hold a meeting. He came, met Nannie Yater, married her a couple of years later, and raised a family — of whom this editor is one of which.)

That battle over “sect baptism” raged for years — through the papers, in public and private debates, in gospel meetings, and just about everywhere else that brethren got together for any length of time. And out of controversy — came TRUTH! As a matter of fact, the extreme elements in both groups gave a little. The Gospel Advocate brethren gradually got away from their insistence that “the vast majority” of people who had been immersed had been scripturally baptized; and the brethren who were with Brother McGary little by little, began to concede that in some rare, isolated case it might conceivably be possible that an individual had understood God’s teaching on baptism, and had been scripturally baptized by a denominational preacher, if he could have found such a preacher with sufficient courage to defy denominational doctrine and practice.

But the Firm Foundation almost certainly saved the day in that battle. By her courageous stand for truth, and her insistence on free, open, and unfettered discussion of the issue, the church was finally brought to a general agreement and understanding as to Bible teaching on this vital matter. Let it be devoutly hoped that this editorial by Brother Lemmons will be the clarion call, sounding the opening of a new phase in current discussions; and that once again we will see this great, old paper stand like a bulwark against the threatening tidal wave of innovations and human organizations in the church which some are so ardently defending and promoting.

Three generations of Tants testify to the influence of the FF in the rebaptism question. Fannie Mills Yater, raised in the heartland of Tennessee, was convinced by the FF, J. D. Tant waged the battle through the FF, and Fanning Yater Tant observed its conclusion. What was a minority position in 1878 had become the majority position by 1957.

It seems to me, contrary to Fanning Yater Tant, that neither side (extremists on either end) gave very much ground. On the contested point–must one know that baptism is for the remission of sins for an acceptable immersion–neither gave ground.

3 Responses to “McGary and the Firm Foundation “Saved the Day” in the Rebaptism “Battle””

  1.   rich constant Says:

    what really makes me upset is the perpetuation of the plagiary of diatomic that comes from an anthropological anthology of theological mindset’s,also why men in that known position. could and would be admintt in that position….
    then it’s not like i wasn’t an old adamit dog wow!!!!
    bacon-ism gon amonk…..

  2.   Clark Coleman Says:

    I have several friends who were baptized for the remission of sins in a charismatic church. Much of the Firm Foundation stance seems to imply that it is rare for such a baptism to occur outside the Restoration Movement (RM) churches. Did the rebaptizers ever address the fact of baptism for the remission of sins (and for no other reason) outside the RM? For example, Roman Catholics and Lutherans are baptized for the remission of sins, but their practice devolved into infant baptism for the remission of “original sin.” However, it is common for adult converts to be baptized for the remission of sins in such churches. Did any of the combatants ever acknowledge such cases?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Anyone who was immersed as a believer explicitly for the purpose of remitting sin would be accepted by all. Rebaptists are those who were immerse any who did not understand their immersion was for the remission of sins. They would be recognized though adult conversion through immersion among Catholics, for example, is more mid-to-late 20th century than it was 19th century.

      Some, but these would be the fringe, would reimmerse any who were immersed by anyone outside of the Stone-Campbell Movement (or Churches of Christ). Those are actually fairly few and certainly not among the leaders. However, many rebaptists are skeptical that those who were immersed by “sectarians” would really understand that their baptism was for the remission of sins.

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