“Places of Honor Among You” (Didache): Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Bishops, and Deacons

February 6, 2023

The Didache (“The Teaching”) addresses Christian communities scattered across, most probably, the region of Syria sometime in the late first or early second century, which is probably the same provenance of the Gospel of Matthew, which was written earlier. The Didache assumes the realities of local communities shaped by shared experiences. They were baptized into a specific community. They ate together at Eucharistic meals. They lived in community as people who walked in the way of Jesus. They received travelling apostles, prophets, and teachers, discerned between frauds and authentic leaders, and were led by a group of bishops and deacons. At the same time, each local community recognized that it was part of a larger network of communities with itinerant ministers. As Thomas O’Loughlin suggests, the slogan “think global, act local” applies but with a twist. “They had to think and act local while thinking and acting global.”[1] The Dicache addresses communities who live in both local and global environments, with settled leaders and itinerant ones.

Both the settled, local leaders and the itinerant ones were honored by the local community. Didache 15:2 says, the “bishops and deacons . . . are the persons who hold a place of honor among you, together with the prophets and teachers.” Honor is given to both groups, whether local or itinerant.  The honor given to extra-local leaders paralleled the honor given to local leaders, the bishops and deacons. The Didache emphasizes the honor due to itinerant leaders because there is a natural suspicion regarding outsiders, and this is why Didache 11:2 insists that faithful communities “receive [them] as the Lord” (see also Didache 11:4 concerning apostles).

Both groups are also tested, that is, before they serve, they are “approved” in some way. Didache 15:1 refers to the bishops and deacons as people “who are honest and have proved (δεδοκιμασμένους) themselves.” In the same way, the itinerant leaders, specifically prophets, are people “examined (δεδοκιμασμένος) and found true” (Didache 11:11). In other words, local communities raised up leaders among them who had been tested by the community, and they also examined all newcomers who came to them “in the name of the Lord” (Didache 12:1).

These leaders, both local and itinerant, received honor within local communities, and they were both examined and approved.

Itinerant Leaders

In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul begins by enumerating three gifts, though he continues in the text to name others. “God has appointed in the church,” Paul wrote, “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.” We also hear something similar in Ephesians 4:11: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Acts 13:1 names several “prophets and teachers,” two of whom (Barnabas and Paul) became “apostles” (Acts 14:14) as they were sent by the church in Antioch to the Gentiles. Consistent with these biblical texts, the Didache seemingly names three kinds of itinerant servants: teachers, apostles, and prophets (chapters 11-13). While the Didache, Acts of the Apostles, and 1 Corinthians name the same leaders, Ephesians elaborates by adding evangelists and perhaps pastors as a separate category from “teachers” (though I am inclined to think of “pastors and teachers” as a single category in Ephesians 4:11, that is, a teaching pastor).

Teachers

Whatever we might say, the aural nature of these ministries is significant for the earliest Christian communities who lived without written guidelines, a need the Didache supplies. Though what we call the New Testament is circulating in some partial forms early in the second century (the “Four Gospels,” for example, or perhaps a collection of Paul’s epistles) there was no normative collection of these documents into a single book (or codex) for some time to come. Consequently, the church depended upon local and itinerant leaders for teaching, communication, and its sense of unity with other communities of faith. It is no surprise, then, that the teaching function is highlighted in the Didache. Not only do “teachers” teach, but apostles and prophets teach as well (Didache 11:10).

According to Didache 11:3, every itinerant leader (specifically, prophets and apostles) is expected to conform to the “ordinance of the gospel” (τὰ δόγμα τοῦ εὐαγγελίου). The dogma of the gospel might possibly refer to the written Gospels themselves, or, more probably, it refers to the canon of truth that functions as a rule by which Christians walk (cf. Galatians 6:14-16). The “ordinance of the gospel,” as I understand it, is the teaching of the Faith that constitutes the Christian confession, and examples of this are embedded in the New Testament documents themselves. These range from “Jesus is Lord” in 1 Corinthians 12:3 to the summary of the story of Jesus in Peter’s homily at the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:36-43. This is the gospel, and this is what teachers must teach if they are to be welcomed into the community. Teachers must not teach any other gospel but the one that belongs to the dogma, the constitution, or the decrees of the Lord himself.

In the Didache, teachers appear as a general category, inclusive of apostles and prophets, but they may also be distinct but gifted instructors who are able to unpack the “ordinance of the gospel” that leads to “an increase of justice and knowledge of the Lord” for communities (11:2), perhaps leaders who know how to expound the Torah in the light of the exalted Messiah.  Apostles and prophets also teach, but their function is broader, especially for prophets who may lead the liturgy of the assembled community. The Didache does not give us much to work with concerning teachers (only 11:1-2).

Apostles

The Didache is concerned about the relationship of the apostles and prophets from the global community to the local community. This is indicated by how Didache 11:3 begins with, like many sections in 1 Corinthians (7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12), “now concerning” (περὶ δὲ). This introduces a specific topic that needs attention. The comings and goings of apostles and prophets is something the community must navigate for its own health.

While Didache 11:3 may suggest that “apostles and prophets” (τὼν ἀποστόλων καὶ προπητῶν) are a single group, or perhaps, if we understand “and” (καὶ) as epexegetical, even “apostolic prophets” because nowhere does the Didache list a triology of itinerants (“teachers, apostles, and prophets”), most distinguish between the two groups even though “apostles” are not present in the Didache other than here. Seemingly, this group often appears before local communities, perhaps as missionaries or representatives of other communities. Didache 11:4 calls for their reception just as they would receive the Lord, and there is the expectation that they would only stay a day or two. They bear an honorable title, “Apostles,” and a spiritual authority attaches to that title. They are not part of the Twelve, who constitute a unique group. Rather, they are “people sent,” and we might presume they are sent by other communities. They teach, but they are more than traveling teachers. They probably served as connectors between communities who were sent with some authority to share news, mission, or teaching with other communities. They manifested the unity of the church. The fact that “staying” for any length of time is not an option means their mission is a brief one and their journey as servants to the global church must continue rather than become static. They come, and they go. But they serve with some spiritual authority which communities should receive as the Lord, which means they are not only apostles of a particular community but messengers of the Lord himself.

They are supported in a minimal fashion—daily bread. If they ask for money, they reveal their inauthenticity as “false prophets.” Curiously, they are called “false prophets” rather than as, for example, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 “false apostles.” Perhaps this indicates they are also regarded as prophetic figures themselves, perhaps they are “apostolic prophets.” Their function included teaching, prophesying, and uniting the global church. Whatever the case, we are given little information about them other than: (1) receive them as the Lord, (2) provide for their immediate needs, and (3) reject them if they ask for money. This seems to parallel Jesus’s instruction for the disciples in Luke 9-10 or Matthew 10, and it indicates a radical commitment to poverty in the context of their mission.

Prophets

The prophet is one who “speaks in the Spirit” (Didache 11:7, 8, 9, 12). There is significant disagreement about what that means. Some think it refers to some sort of ecstasy in their act of prophesying, while others think it refers to speaking in tongues, and others think it refers to dreams or visions shared with the community. We find similar phrases in Revelation 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10 and the Shepherd of Hermas, Mandates, 11:8-9, both published in the late first or early second centuries. There is something charismatic or visionary about it, that is, it is a gift exercised within the community by the direct action of the Spirit. The community was able to discern an act of “speaking in the Spirit” in some way. While there is also a general sense of speaking “in the Spirit” that is true for all believers who confess “Jesus is Lord” according to 1 Corinthians 12:3, in the Didache “speaking in the Spirit” is a characteristic of prophets alone. It is unclear exactly what that “speaking” entailed in terms of words, language, embodied presence, and/or rhythm. Perhaps their ability to “speak in the Spirit” is what empowers them to give thanks at the Eucharist in their own words (Didache 10:7), and this indicates that prophets sometimes led local communities in their Eucharistic assemblies.

When a prophet comes “speaking in the Spirit,” the prophet’s credibility is presumed. The community does not test or judge the prophet out of respect for the work of God through the Spirit. They do not want to deny the work of the Spirit among them. At the same time, while there is an initial welcome, the prophets will reveal their authenticity by their behavior. Their own actions will approve them or disqualify them. The community will discern who is a false prophet and who is a true one by their behavior. As Jesus said, “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). In other words, the Didache seeks to put an end to abuses of hospitality on the part of itinerant leaders. In addition, there is an eschatological concern about the appearance of “false prophets” who will turn “sheep” into “wolves” and “love” into “hate” before the “world deceiver” appears (Didache 16:3-4). Consequently, though welcomed, prophets must prove themselves.

The Didache identifies a few specific behaviors that demonstrate the distinction between true and false, and these specifics provide a means of communal discernment.

  1. Prophets who order a meal “in the Spirit” and eat it are false prophets.
  2. Prophets who do not live according to what is taught are false prophets.
  3. Prophets who ask for resources for themselves are false prophets.

If the prophets do (1) and (3) for the sake of others rather than themselves, then this confirms their authenticity. In other words, the prophet is for others rather than for self. The prophet is kenotic; the prophet is conformed to the mystery of the gospel in the self-giving nature of Jesus himself. When prophets act out of self-interest, then the community discerns their inauthenticity. Their behavior and teaching must match up and reflect the realities of gospel cruciformity. Interestingly, these criteria indicate that not only was prayer and teaching part of the function of the prophet but also charity. In contrast, any prophet who uses their gift to demand money for themselves is a false prophet. The Shepherd of Hermas also noted this problem in Mandates, 11:12, and Jesus rebuked the church in Thyatira for harboring the prophetess he called Jezebel despite her behavior and teaching identified her as a false prophet. In the Didache, as in the Shepherd and Revelation, discernment is necessary.

When Others Want to Settle Locally

Didache 12:1 says, “Let everyone who comes in the name of the Lord be received.” The question is whether this a group distinct from the teachers, prophets, and apostles, or is this a general comment on other visitors, perhaps non-charismatic ones, who arrive in the community as unknown persons. Most interpreters prefer the latter option because, in part, Didache 13:1 resumes the discussion of prophets and what to do when they want to settle. There is a distinction between the group in chapter 12 who wants to settle and the prophets in chapter 13 who want to settle.

When someone comes to the community and wants to settle and participate in it, the Didache provides some guidelines. The community must exercise discernment and “be on guard against” those who would abuse their generosity.

  1. Prove (δοκιμάσαντες) them in order to discern their intent.
  2. If they are transient, help them for two or three days but no more.
  3. If they want to settle with the community,
  4. let them work a craft,
  5. but if they have no craft, discern how to help without burdening the community.
  6. If they do not cooperate, they are unacceptably “using Christ to make a living.”

The Didache expects people to work for their living rather than interminably living off the generosity of others in the community.

But what if a prophet or itinerant teacher wants to settle? Didache 13 states that prophets and “true teachers” deserve food, “just as a worker does.” When the community discerns that these prophets and teachers are authentic by their conformity to the gospel and the truth of their teaching, the community must support them with the firstfruits of their produce, herds, and flocks. Didache 13:7 instructs the community to “take the firstfruits of money and clothing and whatever [else] you own, as you think best and give them according to the commandment,” which is probably an allusion to Matthew 10:10 (cf. Luke 10:7). These are sacred offerings as if offered to high priests and the obligation to share is analogous to tithing in the Mosaic covenant by which priests were supported. In essence, they are sacred sacrifices for the good of the community because the community is enriched by the presence of authentic prophets and true teachers.

The Didache envisions a situation where prophets and teachers may visit, stay for a few days to teach and lead the community, and then leave for other places. But it also envisions a situation where these prophets and teachers may settle in a community, serve that community, and work alongside its bishops and deacons. In other words, prophets and teachers are not always itinerant, but—we may suppose—they are nevertheless remain global leaders as gifted prophets and teachers.

Lessons for the Contemporary Church

First, the community of faith must practice discernment. While always remaining open to the work of the Spirit, including listening to those who “speak in the Spirit,” there is a sense of approvedness that is applied by the community. The central tests are (1) a life consistent with their teaching, (2) the content of teaching conforms “the ordinance (or dogma) of the church,” which is cruciformity, and (3) the for-otherness of their teaching, practices, and lifestyle.

Second, though discernment is necessary, the community must submit to the authentic prophets and teachers that come to them. They are to be welcomed “as the Lord.” This is not said of everyone. For example, those who come “in the name of the Lord” in chapter 12 are welcomed but the phrase “as the Lord” is only applied to teachers, prophets, and apostles (Didache 11:2-4). The community is called to receive, support, and submit to these itinerant ministers of the cross. In part, this means the local community should listen to and learn from the global community as their authority from the Lord is recognized in the context of the universal church.

Third, the Didache expects a mutually enriching relationship between local and itinerant leaders. Chapter 15 seamlessly connects both sets. They have each “proved” (δεδοκιμασμένους) themselves, shown themselves honest, and eschewed greed. Local and global leaders are formed by the same character, though their gifts are distinct and different. The bishops and deacons, at a local level, “perform (λειτουργοῦσι) the functions of prophets and teachers” and they are elected by the local community through a show of hands (a vote; Χειροτονήσατε). The bishops and deacons, therefore, do not abdicate their local function to the prophets and teachers but serve alongside of them in the community. They perform or participate, in some sense, in the same ministry and deserve the same honor. Bishops are overseers of the flock and preside over its communal functions while the deacons are servants within and for the community; their focus is local. But they also receive global, itinerant leaders who enrich the life of the local community. At the same time, the itinerant leaders honor the local leaders, even though they are not themselves charismatics or people who have the ability to “speak in the Spirit.”

All the leaders, both local and global, hold a place of honor within the church, both local and universal.

Didache (Cody’s Translation)

11. 1Accordingly, receive anyone who comes and teaches (διδάξῃ) you all that has been said above. 2If the teacher (ὁ διδάσκων) himself turns to teaching (διδάσκῃ) another doctrine (διδαχὴν) [which will lead] to destruction, do not listen to him, but [if it will lead] to an increase of justice and knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.

3In the matter of apostles and prophets (τὼν ἀποστόλων καὶ προπητῶν), act this way, according to the ordinance of the gospel (τὰ δόγμα τοῦ εὐαγγελίου). 4Let every apostle (ἀπόστολος) who comes to you be received as the Lord. 5He shall stay [only] one day, or if need be, another day, too. If he stays three days, he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 6When the apostle (ὁ ἀπόστολος) leaves, let him receive nothing but [enough] bread [to see him through] until he finds lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 7Do not test any prophet (προφήτηv) who speaks in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι), and do not judge him, for every [other] sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. 8Not everyone who speaks in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι) is a prophet (προφήτης) but only the one whose behavior is the Lord’s. So the false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης) and the prophet (προφήτης) will be recognized by their behavior. 9Any prophet (προφήτης) who gives orders for a table [i.e., a meal] in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι) shall not eat of it; if he does, he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 10If any prophet (προφήτης) teaching (διδάσκων) the truth does not do what he teaches (διδάσκει), he is a false prophet (ψευδοπροφήτης). 11No prophet (προφήτης), examined (δεδοκιμασμένος) and found true, who acts for the earthly mystery of the church (ποιῶν εἰς μυστήριον κοσμικὸν ἐκκλησίας) but does not teach (διδάσκων) [others] to do everything that he himself does, shall be judged by you, for his judgment is with God. The ancient prophets (οἱ ἀρχαῖοι προφῆται) acted in the same way. 12You shall not listen to anyone who says in spirit (ἐν πνεύματι), “Give me money, or something,” but if he is asking that something be given for others who are in need, let no one judge him.

12. 1Let everyone who comes in the name of Lord be received, and then, when you have taken stock of him, you will know [what he is like], for you will have right and left perception [i.e, perception of what is good and bad about him]. 2If the person who comes is just passing through on the way to some other place, help him as much as you can, but he shall not stay with you more than two or three days—if that is necessary. 3If he wants to settle in with you, though, and he is a craftsman, let him work and [thus] eat. 4If he has no craft, you shall use your insight to provide a good way for him to avoid living with you as a Christian with nothing to do. 5If he is unwilling to do what that way calls for, he is using Christ to make a living. Be on your guard against people like this.

13. 1Every true prophet (προφήτης) who wants to settle in with you deserves his food. 2In the same way, a true teacher (διδάσκαλος ἀληθινός), too, deserves his food, just as a worker does. 3So when you [sing.] take any firstfruits of what is produced by the wine press and the threshing floor, by cows and by sheep, you [sing.] shall give the firstfruits to the prophets (προφήταις), for they are your [pl.] high priests. 4If, however, you [pl. through verse 4] have no prophet (προφήτην), give [them] to the poor. 5If you [sing. through verses 5-7] make bread, take the firstfruits, and give them according to the commandment. 6Likewise, when you open a jar of wine or oil, take the firstfruits and give them to the prophets (προφήταις). 7Take the firstfruits of money and clothing and whatever [else] you own, as you think best and give them according to the commandment.

15. 1Select, then, for yourselves bishops and deacons (ἐπισκόπους καὶ διακόνους) worthy of the Lord, mild tempered men who are not greedy, who are honest and have proved (δεδοκιμασμένους) themselves, for they too perform (λειτουργοῦσι) the functions of prophets and teachers for you. 2So do not disregard them, for they are the persons who hold a place of honor among you, together with the prophets and teachers.

Resources

Cody, Aelred. “The Didache: An English Translation,” 3-14. In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995. 

Draper, Jonathan R., “Apostles, Teachers, and Evangelists: Stability and Movement of Functionaries in Matthew, James, and the Didache,” 137-174. In Matthew, James and the Didache. Edited by H. van de Sandt and Jürgen Zangenberg. Missoula, MT: Scholars, 2008.

Draper, Jonathan R., “Social Ambiguity and the Production of Text: Prophets, Teachers, Bishops, and Deacons and the Development of the Jesus Tradition in the Community of the Didache,” 284-311. In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Draper, Jonathan R., “The Didache in Modern Research: An Overview,” 1-42. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Draper, Jonathan R., “Torah and Troublesome Apostles in the Didache Community,” 341-366. In in The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Draper, Jonathan R. “Weber, Theissen, and ‘Wandering Charismatice’ in the Didache.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 6, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 541-576.

Halleux, André de, “Ministers in the Didache,” 300-320. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Jefford, Clayton N., “Prophecy and Prophetism in the Apostolic Fathers,” 295-316. In Prophets and Prophecy in Jewish and Early Christian Literature. Edited by Joseph Verheyden, Korinna Zamfir and Tobias Nicklas. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.

Milavec, Aaron. “Distinguishing True and False Prophets: The Protective Wisdom of the Didache.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 2, no. 2 (Summary 1994): 117-136.

Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.

Niederwimmer, Kurt, “An Examination of the Development of Itinerant Radicalism in the Environment and Tradition of the Didache,” 321-339. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Niederwimmer, Kurt. The Didache: A Commentarty. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

O’Loughlin, Thomas. The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.

Patterson, Stephen J., “Didache 11-13: The Legacy of Radical Itinerancy in Early Christianity,” 313-329. In The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission. Edited by Clayton N. Jefford. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Schöllgen, Georg, “The Didache as a Church Order: An Examination of the Purpose for the  Composition of the Didache and Its Consequences for Interpretation, 43-71. In The Didache in Modern Research. Edited by Jonathan A. Draper. Leiden: Brill, 1996.


Common Ground: Anabaptists, Baptists, and Restorationists (Stone-Campbell)

December 16, 2022

This rudimentary online presentation for a course at Lipscomb University identifies the common ground between Anabaptists, Baptists, and Restorationists (Stone-Campbell). It also identifies some significant differences as well.

The Powerpoints are available here.


Rule of Faith and Creeds: Our Common Faith

December 12, 2022

This video both defines the Rule of Faith and describes its relation to reading the Bible theologically as part of a common faith among disciples of Jesus.

I refer to Paul Blower’s article several times in this video. You may access that article here.

The article was originally published as “The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith,” Pro Ecclesia 6, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 199-238.

The Powerpoints are available here.


Reformation Theology: The Five Solas (Lutheran and Reformed) and Late Medieval Theology

December 10, 2022

This rudimentary presentation for one of my online classes (an introduction to theology course) provides a basic understanding of the Five Solas of the Reformation.

What is the meaning of the five solas–sola fidei, sola Deo gloria, sola Scriptura, sola gratia, and sola Christus–in relation to late medieval theology? The video also offers a brief comparison between Lutheran (Luther) and Reformed (Zwingli) theology.

The power points are available here.


Broad Differences between Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) Christian Traditions

December 6, 2022

I prepared this rudimentary video for one of my online classes at Lipscomb University. It introduces listeners to the broad differences between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholic Christianity.

As an introduction, generalizations abound to which there are exceptions and often a continuum of sorts. Consequently, listen to this as a typology for the two positions rather than a box that confines them. The traditions are broader and deeper than I can possibly represent in a brief video for introductory students.

Powerpoints are available here.


Suffrage, Tennessee, and Churches of Christ.

August 18, 2022

Today is its 102nd anniversary.

In 1919, Congress passed the nineteenth amendment. Tennessee ratified the amendment on August 18, 1920 by two votes. That vote made it constitutional law. Harry Burn was a 24-year old representative up for re-election that Fall. He wore a red rose into the chamber which symbolized his “No” vote. His vote would’ve ensured defeat for the amendment. But he had a letter from his mother in his pocket next to his heart. That note changed his vote. “Hurrah, vote for suffrage!” Phoebe Burn wrote, “be a good boy and help Mrs. [Carrie Chapman] Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” The amendment became constitutional law.

In contrast to Phoebe and Harry Burn, several ministers of the churches of Christ signed a petition, published in the Nashville Banner on August 20, 1920. It opposed suffrage because it would “revolutionize our entire mode of life and will in our opinion have an evil effect not only in our homes, our churches and our families, but will affect the whole social fabric of our present generation and of generations yet unborn.” Some teachers at David Lipscomb College (J. W. Grant, S. P. Pittman, and H. S. Lipscomb) and several ministers (F. B. Srygley, J. C. McQuiddy, and James E. Scobey) signed it.

J. C. McQuiddy, the editor of the Gospel Advocate, opposed suffrage and wrote several articles in opposition to the vote to ratify the amendment. Only July 22, 1920, after quoting Genesis 3:16-19, he wrote: “Thus, just after the fall, we find that God placed woman in the home and made it her duty to bring forth children, with the understanding that ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ If any are disposed to find fault with this position, they are disposed to complain of the will of God Almighty, and not of the will of man. . . As the modern woman is demanding not only suffrage, but also political equality, it is clear that she cannot hold office and perform the duties of politics and remain at home at the same time.” “Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate, July 22, 1920, pp. 715-716.

The opposition to suffrage ran deep, and it is was based on (1) Genesis 3:16 places a woman (wife) under the rule of men (husband); (2) 1 Timothy 2:12 means no woman can have authority over a man, whether in church, home, or society, (3) women must exercise their influence through a man, and (4) if women subvert the divinely created order in society, then it should not apply to the home or church either since creation is the basis for both.

1) “From the time that sin entered into the world, and entered through woman, she has been placed in a retiring, dependent, and quiet position, and never has been put forward as a leader among men in any public capacity from the garden of Eden till now…This seems to have been a general decree for all time, for God has never varied from it an any age or dispensation….’Thy desire shall be to thy husband,’ is indicative of dependence—not in any slavish sense, but in the sense that she is to look to man as a leader and protector, and, in certain measure, supporter and provider….God himself never changed this decree, and does not allow man to change it.” (E. G. Sewell, Gospel Advocate [1897] 432.)

2) “[I]t is wrong for her so to usurp authority anywhere…the same principles that prevent her from teaching in the church, prevail in the schoolroom or anywhere else; it is a question of women usurping authority over men and becoming leaders of them.” (James A. Harding from The Way [March 5, 1903]).

3) The negative impact of suffrage, James A. Allen wrote in the Gospel Advocate, December 19, 1907 (p. 812), would subvert “the law of nature, and the law of God, that the influence of woman must be exercised through man.”

4) D. G. Porter concluded that women do not have the right to vote “unless, indeed, it is proposed to proceed upon what seems the absurdest of all principles; namely, subordination at home and in the Church, but independence and equality abroad. We call this proposition absurd, because it would seem that if woman can be equal to man in authority anywhere, it must be at home and in the Church; and that her equality here, if indeed that ought to be her position, must be the foundation of her equality in external affairs.” (Christian Quarterly [October 1874] 489-90)

Interestingly, few, if any, apply these texts in this way today. Perhaps we have learned something over the past 100 years, and we have more to learn yet.

May God have mercy.


Soft Complementarianism Among Churches of Christ in the Late 19th Century

April 10, 2021

James Madison Mathes (1808-1892), who edited the Works of Barton W. Stone, authored an article in the 1882 Gospel Advocate (pp. 490-91) entitled “Woman’s Work.” Mathes was a fellow-journeyman with the conservative leader Benjamin Franklin of Indiana. Franklin shared his perspectives on this topic.

He staked out what he thought was a middle ground between the “extremes” of silencing women in the assembly and inviting them to preach. He did not believe 1 Corinthians 14:34 silenced all women but only those creating a disturbance, and he believed there were “no female apostles, evangelists, or overseers in the apostolic churches.”

“The question of woman’s work in the church is one of the live questions of the hour. . .the apostle does allow Christian women to pray and prophesy in the public assembly. . .The apostle here says not a word against women praying and prophesying in the public assemblies, provided they wear long hair, or have their heads covered with a veil. (1. Cor. 11:6). And it is very evident that Christian women did occupy prominent positions in the apostolic churches. Paul commends Phebe [sic], as a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea.”He recommends the pamphlet Woman’s Work in the Church for those who want to study the topic more. That pamphlet was written by Abigail M. Mathes (James’s second wife) in 1878.

The biography of Benjamin Franklin (The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, p. 163), written by Benjamin’s son Joseph, describes sister Mathes: “She was long a teacher in the schools of Cincinnati, and is a very ready writer. She is the author of a very worthy tract, entitled “Woman’s Work in the Church,” which has had a large sale.”

Abigail M. (Rickoff) Mathes, Woman’s Work in the Church of Christ (1878).

Some congregations of the churches of Christ practiced and a number of conservative leaders advocated for the visible and audible participation of women as leaders in worshipping assemblies.

Abigail was one of them.Abigail was a school teacher and wrote for various periodicals. She was the second wife of James M. Mathes (1808-1892).

She offers a middle path between what she called two extremes. She did not think women should have public authority in either society (including voting) or church but did not think women should be silenced in worshipping assemblies or have no voice on social and political questions. This is a version of what is today known as “soft complementarianism,” though her version applies 1 Tim 2:12 to all of life and not just to the church.”

“Some women and men have gone to the extreme of placing woman upon an exact equality with man in every department of Church work, and even demanding for her political equality with the elective franchise and the right to hold office, and to exercise authority in the Church as Elders and Preachers of the Gospel. Another class, going off to another extreme and denying to her all religious, political and social equality with man, and condemning her to absolute silence in the Church, not even allowing her the privilege of praying or exhorting in the social prayer meeting…making her a religious nobody graciously permitted to be a member of the Church, but mute and inactive in all the public and social duties of membership.” p. 4

“We doubt the propriety of women taking the pulpit as pastors and evangelists, because it seems to take her out her proper sphere, and place her in a position from which her modest nature would seem to shrink, as unsuited to the true position of woman, as the assistant and help-mate of man. But I would not be understood as saying that women have no right to teach, exhort, sing and pray in the congregation. Very far from it. For I believe that she has the scriptural right to do all these things, and more.” p. 10

“May the sisters exhort, teach, sing, and pray in the worshipping assembly without violating the law of Christ? We answer in the affirmative. . . .We are aware that in some communities there is s sort of prejudice, as we think, growing out of ignorance, against the sisters taking any part in the social worship beyond the singing. They would make Paul’s prohibition general and universal [1 Cor 14:34-35] and condemn all women to absolute silence in the worshipping assembly.” pp. 12-13.

James M Mathes (1808-1892) was a close friend and ally of Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878), Together, they led a conservative element north of the Ohio in the mid-19th century (e.g., they opposed instrumental music in the assembly). Franklin held the same view as Abigail Mathes. Franklin was convinced that there were “two extremes–the one not permitting women to open their lips in any worshipping assembly, and the other making them public preachers and teachers” (American Christian Review 10 [2 July 1867] 213).


FOURTEEN QUESTIONS ABOUT AND TWELVE INTERPRETATIONS OF 1 TIMOTHY 2:12

March 15, 2021

“I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent [or quiet].” 1 Timothy 2:12 (NRSV)

Some suggest the above text is clear, obvious in its meaning, and uncomplicated. Quite the contrary, I think, and for at least three reasons: (1) fourteen questions that reflect how difficult its interpretation is, (2) twelve distinct but seemingly viable interpretations of the text, and (3) its history of interpretation.

These considerations, among others, make this one of the most problematic texts in Paul to understand and apply. 2 Peter 3:16 recognizes some texts in Paul are “hard to understand.” Is 1 Timothy 2:12 one of them? Perhaps so, given its history of interpretation and applications.

FOURTEEN QUESTIONS ABOUT 1 TIMOTHY 2:12

  1. Does “man” refer to any male (including eight year old persons), all baptized/born again men in the church, all men (whether Christian or not) at a certain age, or to only husbands (as a domestic teaching rather than a “church” or assembly teaching)?
  2. Does “woman” refer to any female (including eight year old persons), all baptized/born again women in the church, all women in creation (whether Christian or not), or to only wives (as a domestic teaching rather than a “church” or assembly teaching)?
  3. Does “a woman” refer to a specific woman who was a protagonist of some sort and creating a disturbance, or is it generic for all women, or only some women like those identified in 2:9-10?
  4. To what does “teach” refer—official church authority, instruction of any kind, singing? Does it include speech like making announcements, reporting on mission work, serving on a praise team, leading worship in song and prayer?
  5. Is the purpose, content, or style of teaching part of Paul’s concern in this text? Or is it only the act of teaching itself?
  6. What is the meaning of the rare word for “authority”—is it negative, positive, neutral, official, leadership in any form, or a specific form of leadership? What is the lexical meaning of authentein (“to have authority”)–legitimate authority, oppressive authority, domineer? Why does Paul only use this word once in all his writings, and why did not Paul use one of his typical words for leadership/authority that are present elsewhere in the Pastoral letters?
  7. What is the grammatical relationship between “to teach or have authority over a man”—is it is it about the manner/style of teaching, or two separate but related acts, are the two verbs both positive/negative or mixed, does “over a man” apply to teach as well as having authority?
  8. What is the setting for the prohibition—assembly, home, society, public, private, etc.? Is it limited to any of these settings, or is it universal in intent?
  9. Is the intent situational (addressing a specific problem for a limited moment), universal and timeless, or both? What is the universal principle and how is it related to the situation? Is the statement itself the universal principle or an application of a principle within a particular situation? Why does Paul uses a word that typically addresses a limited situation (“permit”) instead of a more general and often used verb to “command” in the Pastorals?
  10. What is the meaning of “silent” or “quiet”—does it refer to voice, demeanor, submissiveness (but to what or to whom—husband, all men, church authorities, church teaching, the assembly, God)?
  11. How do we apply this text in our contemporary settings—what is “leadership” in our contemporary church architecture (serving communion while standing, serving on a praise team before the assembly, etc.), what is the line between teaching and non-teaching in this text (is there a difference between teaching and prophesying, making announcements, giving a testimony a baptism or in the assembly, requesting prayers, confessing sin, etc.?), what kind of authority (leadership?) is envisioned in our present settings, and are women to be “silent” with their voice, only “quiet” in their demeanor, or both?
  12. Where do we apply this text in our contemporary settings—small groups, home devotionals, public assemblies, Bible classes, street preaching, one-on-one evangelism, PTA meetings, etc.?
  13. What is the social, cultural, and historical context of this text? How would this have been heard in its context in light of the particular situation of the Ephesian house churches?
  14. What is the literary context of this verse, the purpose of the letter itself, and the disturbances surrounding women in Ephesus evident in the letter?

TWELVE HISTORIC INTERPRETATIONS OF 1 TIMOTHY 2:12

Bold=the NRSV text; Italics=an interpretative perspective

1.   I permit no woman to teach at all or have any authority over a man in any circumstance whether in society, home, or church; she is to keep silent in all contexts where men are present and submit to all men.

This was the typical interpretation for most of the Post-Constantinian church (fourth century onward). Women may only teach, have authority, or lead an assembly or group in female-only environments, whether in public or private. At times, women were not even permitted to write for publication, which is a form of teaching.

2.   I permit no woman to teach in any public (though it is permitted in private) venues where men are present or to have authority over a man in any public contexts, including social, political, and educational ones; she is to keep silent in public situations and maintain her role as a keeper of the home.

This was, historically, the interpretation of the vast majority of Christian traditions. Women were excluded from all public venues whether in society or church, though often encouraged to teach in private (within certain parameters). For many, “man” is defined as any adolescent male or any male that has been baptized/born again.

3.   I permit no woman to teach any man in any religious context whether at home or church (including small groups, Bible classes, and other religious venues) or have authority over a man in the life of the home or church (though she is permitted to do so in social contexts); she is to keep quiet and submit to men in the home and church.

This modern interpretation restricts its meaning to the church and home. A woman is not permitted to lead (have authority over) men in any public or private gatherings of the church in any way. This excluded women from leading small groups that included men in their home as well as teaching Bible classes, and it excluded women from leading prayers in such setting (sometimes, including leading their own husbands in prayer). It is represented by many traditional (“hard”) complementarians. For many, “man” is defined as any adolescent male or any male that has been baptized/born again. However, women may teach and have authority over men in social, educational, political, and other contexts.

4.   I permit no woman to teach any man in any public church context or have leadership authority over a man in any public way; she is to keep silent rather than teach; she is to submit rather than exercise public authority in the assembly. But she is permitted to teach in private contexts and public social venues.

This modern interpretation restricts the prohibition to public church contexts. A woman is not permitted to lead men in the public gatherings of the church in any way, whether visible and/or audible. However, it gives women space to teach in other settings such as small groups, Bible classes, or report on mission work to a group (depending on what is considered public or private). Some “soft” complementarians understand the text in this way. For many, “man” is defined as any adolescent male or any male that has been baptized/born again. However, women may teach and have authority over men in social, educational, political, and other contexts.

5.   I permit no woman to teach any man as an official church authority figure or in any way to have official authority over a man as a preacher (e.g., the official senior minister), pastor, or elder; she is to keep quiet by submitting to the authority of male church officials, though she is permitted to teach and have authority in private contexts, various religious gatherings, and social venues.

This modern interpretation restricts the prohibition to official authoritative speeches and decisions within the church. Primarily, this restricts women from becoming pastors (including the regular “preaching minister”) and elders. A woman may teach in religious contexts such as Bible classes, small groups, and even preach on occasion to the whole assembly as long as she does not assume the role of elder, senior minister, bishop, or some official authoritative representative of the church. Some “soft” complementarians understand the text in this way. However, women may teach and have authority over men in social, educational, political, and other contexts.

6.   I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man in the sense that she may not usurp or take by force an authoritative teacher role in the public assembly; she is to keep an appropriate quiet[ness] in the public assembly.

This modern interpretation affirms women teachers (including the public assembly) as long as they are serving quietly under the leadership of church male authority (e.g., elders). Some suggest there is a hard theological boundary (e.g., no women elders or preachers) as to what church officials may permit while others believe elders are guided by a spiritual wisdom that discerns what is culturally appropriate for the sake of the health of the congregation.

7.   I permit no [wife] to teach or have authority over a [husband]; she is to keep a quiet demeanor in relation to her husband at home and in public, especially in the public assembly of the church.

This modern interpretation restricts the teaching to the relationship between a husband and wife in public or in the public assembly. Some limit it to only domestic relationships, and thus it does not apply to church organization or assemblies. It is limited to the interaction between a husband and wife. Consequently, it contains no other limitation on the participation of women in the public assemblies of the church.

8.   Accommodating to the Roman cultural setting for the sake of the gospel, I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep quiet as they submit to God so that the gospel might get a hearing.

This modern interpretation reads the text similar to the way many handle slavery texts. Living within the Roman culture, Paul does not take a revolutionary approach but a quiet subversive one. The gospel must be heard first before any revolutionary changes are possible in cultural dynamics. But Paul does not intend this as a universal, timeless prohibition. It is an accommodation to the domestic patterns of Roman culture.

9.   For now, I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man due to the turbulent circumstances surrounding women in the Ephesian house churches; she is to keep a quiet demeanor in all her activitives.

This modern interpretation affirms the situational nature of Paul’s statement. It is peculiar to Ephesus in some sense and is Paul’s response to those specific circumstances. Paul does not intend this as a universal, timeless prohibition but is limited to the peculiar circumstances of the Ephesian house churches.

10. I permit no deceived woman to teach false doctrine or to have authority in a way that negatively and abusively overwhelms or dominates a man; she is to keep a quiet demeanor in all her activities, just like all believers. Once she has learned, then she may teach.

This modern interpretation affirms the situational nature of Paul’s statement and identifies it as a problem with some women who have been deceived by false teachers and were active among the house churches. Paul does not intend this as a universal, timeless prohibition but is limited to the specific circumstances of the Ephesian house churches.

11. Correcting male and female overseers (bishops) in the midst of a congregational struggle with false teachers, Paul wrote, I permit no unlearned or deceived woman to teach in an incorrect or overbearing manner; she is to learn with a quiet demeanor, submitting to the truth of the gospel.

This view understands 1:18-3:16 as focused on leadership in the church, particularly overseers. Paul has already excommunicated two male leaders, and now he instructs Timothy in the appropriate decorum regarding leadership in the church. Men were arguing and women were dressing immodestly (disorderly) and acting (teaching) in overbearing ways.

12. Paul or one of his disciples wrote, I permit no woman to teach at all or to have any authority over a man in any circumstance whether in society, home, or church; she is to keep silent in all contexts where men are present and submit to all men. But this is an enculturated perspective that is no longer viable in our contemporary context.

This modern interpretation suggests the author is simply wrong, though his direction was appropriate for his own cultural location or perhaps was blinded by his own cultural values. This perspective understands the prohibition in the same way as the Post-Constantinian church, which is #1 on this list.

*If you are interested in my own view, you can watch this video, or read the appropriate chapter in this book.*

SOME RELEVANT HISTORY FOR CHURCHES OF CHRIST

In the nineteenth century, many leading teachers among the churches of Christ believed that 1 Timothy 2:12 had universal application. It was not limited to the assemblies of the church but also applied to societal relationships and vocations. Consequently, 1 Timothy 2:12 was used to deny women the vote, oppose public speaking by women in any social situation, and reject any kind of public leadership on the part of women.

If the historic, traditional interpretation that dominated for centuries in the Post-Constantinian era is correct, they had a point. If the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 is rooted in some kind of “order of creation” (primogeniture or firstborn), then it applies universally—whether in church assemblies or educational and political ones. Whatever is rooted in creation, complementarians typically believe, applies to every aspect of human life.

It would seem a consistent application of 1 Timothy 2:12—if one thinks this expresses a timeless prohibition—excludes women from any public leadership or authority, whether in the church or in society. That is how our “forefathers” read it until women were given the right to vote, hold political office, sit on juries, serve as judges, and become Presidents of universities as well as sit on the boards of Christian universities. Subsequently, we no longer believed that, adjusted our interpretation, and decided that the text only applied to (any?) assemblies of the church (and/or home) while continuing to ground the prohibition in some kind of “creation order.”

This came into specific focus when the woman’s suffrage movement—the movement to secure the right of women to vote in local, state, and federal elections—became a prominent question among the churches.

In 1874, D. G. Porter, a minister within the American Restoration Movement, wrote an article entitled “Republican Government and the Suffrage of Women” (Christian Quarterly [October 1874] 489-90) in which he concluded that women do not have the right to vote “unless, indeed, it is proposed to proceed upon what seems the absurdest of all principles; namely, subordination at home and in the Church, but independence and equality abroad. We call this proposition absurd, because it would seem that if woman can be equal to man in authority anywhere, it must be at home and in the Church; and that her equality here, if indeed that ought to be her position, must be the foundation of her equality in external affairs.”

According to this argument, 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids women to have authority over men because this is the order God instituted in creation. If this order is rooted in creation, it is universal. It cannot apply simply to the home or church, but it must apply to society as a whole. Consequently, women do not have the right to exercise the authority of voting or have authority over men in any social situation.

This was a common argument in the late nineteenth century, and we can see it or something similar among some of the most respected leaders among Churches of Christ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

David Lipscomb (d. 1917) wrote:

For women to enter the work of public speaking or of leadership in the affairs of this world is to cut them off from childbearing (Gospel Advocate [3 July 1913], 635).

Woman’s work in life is to bear and train children. No higher, holier, more sacred work has ever been committed to human beings. This is her chiefest work in life. If there were not a passage of scripture on the subject except to indicate this, it would forbid her engaging in any work incompatible with this. Public speaking in any of the callings of life that demand a constant strain on the mind, a constant anxiety and care in reference to the public affairs of church or state, an excitement of the ambitions for place and power, not only destroy her taste for and cause her to neglect the home and family duties, the duties of wife and mother, but such a strain on the mind destroys the ability for childbearing (Questions Answered, 739).

R. C . Bell (1877-1964) in The Way (1903), p. 776:

[W]oman is not permitted to exercise dominion over man in any calling of life. When a woman gets her diploma to practice medicine, every Bible student knows that she is violating God’s holy law. When a woman secures a license to practice law, she is guilty of the same offense. When a woman mounts the lecture platform or steps into the pulpit or the public school room, she is disobeying God’s law and disobeying the promptings of her inner nature. When God gives his reason for woman’s subjection and quietness, he covers the whole ground and forbids her to work in any public capacity…She is not fitted to do anything publicly….Every public woman—lawyer, doctor, lecturer, preacher, teacher, clerk, sales girl and all—would then step from their post of public work into their father’s or husband’s home, where most of them prefer to be, and where God puts them….You are now no longer a public slave, but a companion and home-maker for man; you are now in the only place where your womanly influence has full play and power.

History enlightens us. Even among Churches of Christ we have not always interpreted this text the same way–and many other examples could be cited, including no women teachers at all. This ought to give us some pause, especially if we think we understand this text correctly and have no doubts about our conclusions.

CONCLUSION

A text with such difficulties, questions, and history of interpretation (where only an extreme minority would hold the traditional, historic interpretations of #1 or #2) should not be the basis of excluding women from teaching in the public assembly because . . .

  1. the diversity of interpretation is disorienting to some degree,
  2. the questions are debatable at every turn, especially the meaning of authenteo,
  3. other texts affirm women prophesying with men present,
  4. the story of women in the Bible runs against the grain of this text (e.g., Miriam as a leader of Israel [Micah 6:4], Deborah has authority to judge and prophesy [Judges 4:1-3], etc.),
  5. the application of this text is wildly inconsistent,
  6. the history of interpretation indicates the church has often been wrong in the application of this text,
  7. the understanding of this text, even among traditionalists and complementarians, has changed in the light of further study and positive (as well as negative) illumination of cultural contexts.

Consequently, any certain application or interpretation of this text does not take full account of its difficulties. 1 Timothy 2:12, given our distance from the situation the text addresses, the problems of grammar, and a critical issue of lexicography, is not a clear and unequivocal text.

Given the principle of interpreting the more obscure texts in the light of the clearer texts, it is best, then, to interpret this text in the light of clearer texts such as the gifting of women to prophesy among other texts.

Peace upon God’s church


Soft Complementarianism Among Churches of Christ: A Piece of History

March 1, 2021

Abigail M. (Rickoff) Mathes, “Woman’s Work in the Church of Christ” (1878).

Some congregations of the churches of Christ practiced and a number of conservative leaders advocated for the visible and audible participation of women as leaders in worshipping assemblies. Abigail was one of them.

Abigail was a school teacher and wrote for various periodicals. She was the second wife of James M. Mathes (1808-1892).

She offers a middle path between what she called two extremes. She did not think women should have public authority in either society (including voting) or church but did not think women should be silenced in worshipping assemblies or have no voice on social and political questions. This is a version of what is today known as “soft complementarianism,” though her version applies 1 Tim 2:12 to all of life and not just to the church.

“Some women and men have gone to the extreme of placing woman upon an exact equality with man in every department of Church work, and even demanding for her political equality with the elective franchise and the right to hold office, and to exercise authority in the Church as Elders and Preachers of the Gospel. Another class, going off to another extreme and denying to her all religious, political and social equality with man, and condemning her to absolute silence in the Church, not even allowing her the privilege of praying or exhorting in the social prayer meeting…making her a religious nobody graciously permitted to be a member of the Church, but mute and inactive in all the public and social duties of membership.” p. 4

“We doubt the propriety of women taking the pulpit as pastors and evangelists, because it seems to take her out her proper sphere, and place her in a position from which her modest nature would seem to shrink, as unsuited to the true position of woman, as the assistant and help-mate of man. But I would not be understood as saying that women have no right to teach, exhort, sing and pray in the congregation. Very far from it. For I believe that she has the scriptural right to do all these things, and more.” pp. 10

“May the sisters exhort, teach, sing, and pray in the worshipping assembly without violating the law of Christ? We answer in the affirmative. . . .We are aware that in some communities there is s sort of prejudice, as we think, growing out of ignorance, against the sisters taking any part in the social worship beyond the singing. They would make Paul’s prohibition general and universal [1 Cor 14:34-35] and condemn all women to absolute silence in the worshipping assembly.” pp. 12-13.

James M Mathes (1808-1892) was a close friend and ally of Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878), Together, they led a conservative element north of the Ohio in the mid-19th century (e.g., they opposed instrumental music in the assembly). Franklin held the same view as Abigail Mathes. Franklin was convinced that there were “two extremes–the one not permitting women to open their lips in any worshipping assembly, and the other making them public preachers and teachers” (American Christian Review 10 [2 July 1867] 213).


Three Early African American Leaders Among Nashville Churches of Christ

February 28, 2021

Peter Lowery (1810-1888).

Peter Lowery (1810-1888), married to a free Cherokee named Ruth Mitchell, (1) became a member of the Nashville Christian Church in 1835, (2) purchased his own freedom in 1839 and eventually freed his mother, three brothers, and two sisters, (3) worked at Franklin College and was mentored by Tolbert Fanning in the 1840s, (4) began preaching in 1848, (5) owned businesses worth $40,000 which he lost in the Civil War, (6) planted the first black congregation in the Restoration Movement in Nashville (eventually known as the Second Colored Christian Church) in 1855, (7) stayed in Nashville despite harassment and potential exclusion of all free blacks from TN by the legislature, (8) participated in the political pursuit of rights for Freedmen after the war, and (9) founded Tennessee Manual Labor school near Murfreesboro, TN in 1866 (185 students enrolled in 1869) though the project was abandoned in 1874 and property sold in 1876.

David Lipscomb recommended that his readers support the school: “Elder P. Lowery was long an approved teacher of the Gospel by the Church of Christ in Nashville. He has long been a free man; has, by industry and economy in days past, gained property; and so demenned [sic] himself as to command the respect and esteem of the community in Nashville, as his letters of endorsement attest. It would probably be difficult to find one of his race more competent to cary his proposed school into successful operation.” Gospel Advocate 10, no. 11 (12 March 1868) 256.

J. P. Grigg wrote his obituary in the Gospel Advocate (Feb 15, 1888, p. 10): “Bro. Lowery obeyed the gospel in his young days and had been a proclaimer of the gospel for 40 years. He was a good neighbor and devoted Christian. He lived a devoted member of the church from the day of his obedience until the day of his death. He died in a bright hope of a blessed immortality. I never saw any one who seemed to be more devoted to the Christian life than he. He was always found at church on Lord’s day when he was able. I do not remember of ever meeting him that he did not ask me how I was getting along spiritually and express his hopes of a brighter and better world than this.”

Peter Lowery (1810-1888), an enslaved black man who purchased his own freedom, owned businesses in Nashville, and planted the first black congregation in Nashville associated with the Restoration Movement in 1855, petitioned the city council of Nashville for permission to hold night church services in 1857. This was their response. May God have mercy.

“Ald. Fogg said he did not believe any good resulted from negro preaching. If negroes desired religious instructions, the churches in the city were all open to them. Negro preachers could not explain the fundamental principles of Christianity; they were not competent. There were many things connected with the night meetings which were objectionable and demoralizing. He moved its rejection. The motion prevailed unanimously.”“City Council,” Republican Banner (May 29, 1857) 3.

David Lipscomb held a different view: “Elder P. Lowery was long an approved teacher of the Gospel by the Church of Christ in Nashville” (Gospel Advocate, March 12, 1866, p. 256).

Samuel Lowery (1830-1900)

Samuel Lowery (1830-1900), the son of Peter Lowery and educated by Tolbert Fanning at Franklin College (whom he always highly regarded), became a school teacher in 1846 (yes, at 16!; schools for free blacks had existed in Nashville since 1833) and a preacher in 1849.

He left Nashville for Cincinnati, Ohio, due to the closure of black schools and violent threats against free blacks in 1856. It seems he founded the Harrison Street Christian Church (“colored”) in Cincinnati in 1857. From 1859-1862 he served as an evangelist and church planter in Chatham, Canada West, sent by the American Missionary Society.

He later returned to Nashville as a chaplain in the Union army (9th US Heavy Artillery US Colored Troops) during the Union occupation. He also conducted school for soldiers in Union regiments while in Nashville. Between 1865-1875 he was deeply involved in State Colored Men’s Conventions and the Tennessee State Equal Rights League.

He raised funds for and taught at the Tennessee Manual Labor University near Murfreesboro, TN (five of his seven children attended the school). The school’s demise was due, in part, to accusations about the mishandling of funds by Samuel, though it is uncertain whether this was ever the case. After studying law with a white mentor near Murfreesboro, TN, he began to practice law in Nashville.

In 1875, he moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to practice law and founded the Lowery Industrial Academy (which won first prize for its silk at the 1884 World’s Fair), edited the National Freeman, and was the first African American to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court. He ultimately became disenchanted with politics and focused on his silk business. He became an ally of the educator Booker T. Washington.

The Gospel Advocate (1880, p. 203) noted his achievement: “Samuel R. Lowery, a colored man, was recently admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.”

Daniel Wadkins (1818-1883)

Elder Daniel Wadkins (1818-1883), biracial and born free, was a member of the Nashville Christian Church on Church Street (probably since 1844). Originally a farm laborer, he became a teacher’s assistant in 1833 when the first school for free blacks in Nashville was started. He began his own school in 1839.

The schools were typically clandestine and often violently opposed. In December 1856, twelve white men threateningly entered his school and closed it. It remained closed until 1862 when it reopened with 159 students during Union occupation. However, by 1865, Wadkins’s school closed due to free education offered by white churches/missionaries in Nashville.

In 1866, Wadkins, like Samuel Lowery, was commissioned to raise money for the Tennessee Manual Labor University. Wadkins received a letter of commendation from Frederick Douglass. Though accused of mishandling funds, an investigation by the Nashville Christian Church, led by P. S. Fall, acquitted him of any wrongdoing and affirmed his integrity (Gospel Advocate, October 27, 1870, p. 397).

In the 1860s, Wadkins was also involved in city politics as well as Freedmen associations and conventions. In 1867, he was elected to the city council but was replaced by a white Republican before the council went into session. He lost his next election bid in 1868. When Andrew Johnson (former military governor of TN and President of the US) ran for Senate in 1869 in TN, Wadkins led Republican freedmen in questioning Johnson’s views: Did he support black civil and political equality with whites? Did the Tennessee government represent blacks as well as whites? Wadkins’s letter to Johnson was published in the Nashville Daily Press and Times (April 15, 1869). Johnson never responded. Wadkins argued in various political meetings that “there was not now any disposition on the part of the whites to oppress the colored people” and noted the legislature to that point had not passed “any law restricting their rights” (Republican Banner, November 12, 1869, p. 1).

When a new constitution was written in early 1870 and a new governor installed (John Calvin Brown, a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member), Tennessee’s Reconstruction era came to an end. Wadkins was disappointed and disillusioned. He turned his primary attention to preaching.

In the 1870s, Wadkins served as an evangelist supported by various congregations. He preached and planted churches in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. His audiences sometimes included white as well as black attendees, and sometimes he was refused use of buildings where white congregations met. He was also a leader in the annual conventions of the “colored Christian church” in Tennessee (e.g., Gospel Advocate, November 20, 1873, p. 1119).

In support of his ministry, the First Christian Church in Nashville (his home congregation) commended him with this letter: “This shall certify that Bro. Daniel Wadkins (colored) has been for thirty years a member of this congregation, and is in regular standing as such. He has been long engaged in preaching the word, and is hereby authorized to do so wherever, in the providence of God, an opportunity may offer. He is commended, as a disciple of Christ and as a Christian Teacher to the attention of the brotherhood. In behalf of the elders and deacons of the said congregation, and by their order, Lord’s Day, March 29, 1874. P. S. Fall.” (Gospel Advocate, May 7, 1874, pp. 447-8).

In 1881, Wadkins, commissioned by Governor Alvin Hawkins, became a Chaplain in the State Penitentiary. (Gospel Advocate, March 31, 1881, p. 203.)

Wadkins died on May 10, 1883 in Nashville. “His funeral was preached by Bros. D[avid]. L[ipscomb]., and R. Lin Cave, assisted by Rev. Nelson Merry, in the First Baptist Church, a large audience being in attendance. Bro. W. was a man of remarkably strong and vigorous mind, and superior talents.” (Gospel Advocate, May 16, 1883, p. 315.)

Wadkins, a leading black evangelist who traveled in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky preaching and planting churches (see my post earlier this morning), became the center of a controversy in 1874 that signaled the direction many churches would take during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras.

In 1874, Watkins asked Lipscomb to publish his request for the use of “meeting-houses” so that he might teach Christianity to “the more destitute of my people” that “are willing to hear.” Unfortunately, to the dismay of Lipscomb, “white brethren in some places refused the use of their houses at times when unoccupied by themselves.” “We do not hesitate to say,” Lipscomb added, “that such a foolish and unchristian prejudice should be vigorously and eagerly trampled under foot, and all persons who are driven from the church because the house is used by the humblest of God’s creatures, in teaching and learning the Christian religion would bless the church by leaving it.” Further, “if the houses are too fine for this, they are entirely too fine for Christian purposes.” (Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, March 19, 1874, pp. 281-83.)

On October 9, 1874, a “consultation meeting” of more than thirty ministers and elders was held by disciples in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Daniel Wadkins was present, and he was commended “to his people as one being qualified to preach the word, and plant and build up churches among them.” On the morning of October 12, the “ordination” committee proposed this resolution: “Resolved, that we recommend to our colored brethren who have membership with whites, whenever practicable to withdraw themselves and form congregations of their own, believing that by so doing they will advance the cause of Christ among themselves, and when it not practicable so to do, that they receive the attention of their various congregations.” (Gospel Advocate, October 29, 1874, 1017-18.)

David Lipscomb took exception to the segregationist resolution. “The resolution in reference to colored brethren forming separate congregations we believe plainly contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures. The Jews and Gentiles had as strong antipathies as the whites and blacks. They were never recommended to form distinct organizations. The course we believe to be hurtful to both races and destructive to the Spirit of Christ.” (Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, October 29, 1874, 1020.)

Wadkins himself had stayed with the mother Nashville congregation when a black congregation was planted in the city by Peter Lowery. Lipscomb believed the church should be the place where black and white serve and worship together in contrast to segregated society. But Reconstruction and the emergence of the Jim Crow South dramatically shaped the story of black and white churches in the South.

However, it is understandable that some freed people sought their own space because of the paternalistic and assimilationist attitudes on the part of many white churches where power was not shared or expectations were not equitable.

May God have mercy.