J. D. Tant, Rebaptism and the “New Paper” (1938-1939)

1938-1939 were significant years for the Churches of Christ. In 1938 E. W. McMillan, one time chair of the Bible department at Abilene Christian College, began preaching for the Central Church of Christ in Nashville, TN and in January 1939 assumed the editorship of the Christian Leader which was now under new management (Clinton Davidson). The journal intended to reflect a kinder, gentler approach to Christian thought, practice and fellowship. In October 1938 the 20th Century Christian began in Nashville under the leadership of Norvel Young among others. J. P. Sanders, the preacher for the Hillsboro Church of Christ, was the first editor. The magazine intended to promote undenominational Christianity but it a kind spirit that emphasized the practical as well as the pietistic spirituality. Even further, the Gospel Advocate was under new editorship as B. C. Goodpasture took the reins in 1939.

In July 1938,  Foy E. Wallace launched the Bible Banner which intended to combat the “general softness” which pervades among the “plus-mouthed and velvet-tongued moderns among us” (Bible Banner [July 1938] 2). Wallace was set for the defense of the gospel and would leave no stone unturned as he rooted out “Bollites” (among others) from the schools and leading churches of the Restoration Movement. In the spring of 1939 Wallace held a meeting at the Chapel Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville. One of his sermons was entitled “What Must the Church in Nashville Do to be Saved?” Part of his answer was that they must dismiss the Bollites from their colleges (aiming at David Lipscomb College where Ijams was president) and stop practicing the Social Gospel (aiming at the Central Church of Christ where McMillan preached).

Further, in 1938 N. B. Hardeman returned to Nashville for another “Tabernacle Meeting” at the Ryman Auditorium. Unlike previous meetings where the target audience was the community-at-large, this time the audience was the Churches of Christ. Hardeman dealt with issues that faced the “brotherhood,” particularly premillennialism.

This brief background provides the context for the article by J. D. Tant copied below. (For more information about this background, see Richard Hughes, Reviving the Ancient  Faith, chapter 9.) Tant’s article is illuminating on several counts if one remembers its context.

In particular, Tant sees the issue of “sect baptism” or “Baptist baptism” (the rebaptism question) is still alive. In fact, it needs to be publicly debated in Nashville in order to silence its promoters. Far from being put to rest back in the 1910s, the issue still festers, at least in the eyes of Tant.

Further I would suggest that the tensions present here are the vestiges of the conflict between the Tennessee Tradition and the Texas Tradition. Many of those associated with the new Christian Leader had their roots in the Nashville Bible School and the Tennessee Tradition.

Here is the article.  Soak in a bit of history.  Brackets [] are my own comments added to the article.

J. D. Tant, “On the Firing Line Again,” Firm Foundation 56 (6 June 1939) 3.

After being out of work for seven months, by paralysis, I am glad to state that I am on the firing line again.

Just closed my second meeting in Oklahoma, and am booked for one more meeting in Oklahoma, three in Tennessee, one in Texas, one meeting and two debates in California. Then back to the farm.

This letter will also inform my old time friend, Brother [F. B.] Srygley, that I am still able to kick with both feet, and if he had been kicking with both feet all the tie, we would not now have the departures from God’s word in Tennessee that we have.

I notice we now have in Tennessee a new paper which wants to be soft and not preach it straight like the Advocate once did [referring to 20th Century Christian]. I also heard that one church [Central Church] and their preacher [McMillian] in Nashville absolutely refused to announce Hardeman’s great meeting in that city. But through some means the meeting leaked out, and more than six thousand people heard Hardeman preach the gospel. If that preacher and that large church had announced the meeting and worked in it, no doubt, ten thousand would have attended. We are taught in the word of the Lord not to put a tumbling block in a brother’s way. But many good brethren forget that when they oppose a meeting.

I am also receiving another paper with a soft pedal to drown out the Advocate [referring to the Christian Leader]. As Brethren Sam Hall, G. C. Brewer, Dr. Ijams, A. B. Lipscomb, Adamson, J. P. Sewell, and others are all gone over to the new paper they will not give such strong medicine now.

Look out for Brothers Boll and Klingman [both premillennialists] to come next. In five years I look for the new paper and Word and Work to be consolidated. Now if we can get Jim Allen [editor of the Apostolic Times in Nashville, JMH] and Goodpasture [editor of the Gospel Advocate, JMH] to consolidate it will be fine.

As some of the contributors to the new paper are now endorsing sect baptism, and calling on Baptists to lead prayer in their meetings, it will be necessary for me and all lovers of the truth to kick with both feet when I get back to Tennessee.

So I am making a standing challenge to all you boys: Will any, or all of you affirm that baptism as taught and practiced by the Baptist church is scriptural, and all who have it should be welcomed into fellowship of the church of Christ? I want one debate held in the Central Church of Christ, and one in the Russell Street church in Nashville. Will these boys defend their practice? I’ll wait and see.

After my last meeting in Oklahoma, wife and I had a kind invitation from the Highland church in Abilene, where Homer Hailey preaches, to attend their meeting, and hear our son, Yater Tant, in a gospel meeting. We both went, and were treated kindly along all lines, and shall ever cherish with love and appreciation the members of the church there.

Yater is a strong gospel preaching, yet young. In ten years he will stand up with N. B. Hardeman, A. G. Freed, F. W. Smith, Foy Wallace as one of our sgtronges men.

I was invited while at Abilene, to preach one sermon, and I did so to a large congregation. When I saw such men as Charles Roberson, J. F. Cox, President of Abilene Christian College, Harvey  Scott, Homer Hailey, and fifteen to twenty more up-to-date preachers sit at my feet and learn wisdom from me, I felt like if only had my degree in penmanship, I would be in the ring as a big preacher. But such is life.

I used to be a preacher, but I am a farmer now. But I am not too good to go back to preaching if I can get me a degree and find a located job that suits me.

But withal I had a find [sic] time and hope to visit the college again at Abilene.

I hear that Foy Wallace’s write-up of Abilene College had a wonderful influence for good [referring to Wallace’s opposition to put Colleges in church budgets and his response to a circular letter defending Abilene on several counts], and we should rejoice and give  God the glory.

San Benito, Texas.

6 Responses to “J. D. Tant, Rebaptism and the “New Paper” (1938-1939)”

  1.   Chris Says:

    Ironies abound. Yater did indeed “stand up with N. B. Hardeman, A. G. Freed, F. W. Smith, Foy Wallace as one of our strongest men.” Just not in the way his dad probably intended.

    Question: Russell St, Chapel Avenue, and Eleventh Street (which was the primary sponsor of the ’38 Tabernacle Mtg.) are generally found on the conservative side at this time; Central on the progressive side. Have you seen any other specific Nashville congregations so categorized in what you’ve read? I have my guesses, of course, but for whatever reason other congregations don’t seem to have played as prominent a role in the dispute.

    It might be worth pointing out, as well, that 20th Century Christian, at least early on, featured writers from both sides of this divide. The 1938 volume carries at least one article from Harris Dark, who may have already been at Chapel Avenue by this point. I seem to recall that Yater Tant also contributed.

    Thanks for this piece.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I have not yet seen any other church mentioned along with Central at this time. It is the main target. As for 20th Century, I think their intent was to defend primitive Christianity but to do so in practice and in piety. This would open the doors for many to contribute from varying perspectives as long as they were in line with the intent of the paper. You raise an interesting point. Tant is not too excited about the paper at this point himself. 🙂

  2.   Harold Says:

    As a beginning student of church history it strikes me that we have had many preachers, editors, leaders who elevated themselves above Jesus Christ.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Few, I would think, intentionally did so, but in practice and in effect even the best of us do so at times.

      •   Pothen Says:

        Agreed! You don’t have to be a student of history. We all seem to be infected by our on fleshly nature and wind up exalting the wrong things, i.e., self, whether in the pew or pulpit alike!

  3.   Barry Jones Says:

    Anybody out there want to study more from the Firm Foundation? In the process of scanning all these years (125 years)of the Firm Foundation, I have gathered many bound volumes that need to find a home. If you are interested, email me and maybe we can work out a deal. Thanks John Mark for the good review. Barry Jones 409-920-0667

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