- How Can We Play a Reel in This Strange Land? theumlaut.com/2013/04/26/how… via @umlautmag 2 hours ago
- Acklen Avenue Church of Christ, Nashville, TN, 7 December 1939 wp.me/p2Z5-oi 4 hours ago
- "Wyclif’s scriptural theology was a less radical departure...than Protestant historiography has made it out to be." themarginaliareview.com/archives/2449 1 day ago
- RT @JohnLuce: "You can pretty much put anything in quotes, attribute it to C.S. Lewis, and Christians will repeat it ad nauseum." - C.S. Le… 2 days ago
- RT @NeinQuarterly: The box doesn't much care what you're out there thinking about. 2 days ago
Thanks to Mac for scanning in these pictures. This scan is as clear as the GA original.
In my research, I have been fascinated by accounts of how the Gospel Advocate staff in the late 1950s handled the problem of John T. Lewis and his opposition to institutional buildup among the churches. Here are a couple of examples. These are instructive for what they say about institutional power (centered in Nashville) and its use among the Churches of Christ at midcentury.
This first excerpt is from Mississippi preacher, C. D. Crouch:
“C. E. W. Dorris is perhaps the oldest preacher of the gospel in Nashville, and is the able author of two of the Commentaries in the Advocate series of New Testament Commentaries. He stands today where Lipscomb stood on this matter when Lipscomb edited the Gospel Advocate. C. E. W. Dorris is not permitted to write for the Advocate today. He is not a crank; he is not a hobbyist. He is a safe and sane teacher, but he is not granted space in the Advocate to call attention to the Advocate’s departure from the truth!!! R. L. Whiteside, next to David Lipscomb, the greatest Bible scholar since the Apostles, was denied space in the Advocate before he went home to be with the Lord. James A. Allen, one time editor of the Advocate, can not be heard through its columns now. John T. Lewis who has been of greater service to the Advocate than any other man in Alabama, when that paper needed his service, is not permitted to have space in it to correct the misrepresentations made of him through its columns. Its present editor has the temerity to call such godly men ‘hobbyists’. And then he can declare that ‘somebody in the deep south’ told him that the young men are going to take over the Advocate!!!!!! Was he anticipating the change that ‘young men’ have taken it over already? Well, such is the case, and if Goodpasture has the intelligence that I have thought he has, he knows it has been ‘taken over’ by ‘young men’, and that it does not stand for the principles it maintained in the days of David Lipscomb. And the results are similar to the tragic results when the ‘young men’ took over Rehoboam…” (C. D. Crouch. “Reminiscing — No. 1.” Gospel Guardian 10.25 [October 23, 1958]: 1, 8).
Crouch is clearly upset (it may, for example, be an exaggeration to say that R. L. Whiteside was the greatest Bible teacher “since the Apostles”). By 1958-59, that was essentially the case everywhere these issues were in dispute. Even so, Crouch’s examples are telling.
And another. This one comes from some comments by Guardian editor, Fanning Yater Tant, regarding Guy N. Woods’ attack on Lewis during the 1957 Birmingham debate between Woods and Roy E. Cogdill. There was some disagreement, it would seem, about the transcript of the debate as it appeared in the Advocate and Guardian editions of the debate:
“Brother Woods seeks to make a play to arouse prejudice and destroy confidence by quoting from the first line of the publisher’s preface these words, ‘This book is an exact reproduction of the oral speeches delivered by the principals in a six night debate in Birmingham, Alabama.’ In the use he makes of this statement he disregards the rest of the preface which is explanatory of this introduction and then garbles another quotation made a little farther down in the preface, wresting and misapplying it entirely. This is the kind of treatment, and an example of the completely dishonorable attack he made on John T. Lewis during the debate. He introduced a chart with a quotation on it of what Brother Lewis had said concerning Carroll Kendrick, commending him for giving up the missionary society, and tried to construe it as an endorsement of what Brother Kendrick had said in a book to which Brother Lewis made no reference whatever. The debate closed with this disrespectful, dishonorable attempt to discredit and misrepresent a man whose honor and integrity has never been questioned and who has always had the respect even of those who oppose him and differ with him, uncorrected in spite of the fact that it was exposed and I begged Brother Woods to apologize for it.
“…I have not seen the Gospel Advocate version of the debate and do not intend to give Goodpasture $5 if I never see it. I do not know anything about its contents or how many “deletions” and how many changes or how much “smoothing” Guy did on his speeches in their version. But if he deleted from their edition the misrepresentation he made of a Tennessee statute which had been repealed for four years; and the mis-representation he was guilty of in falsely imputing an endorsement of an unscriptural position to John T. Lewis; the utterly dishonest denials he made of having made any change in position; and all of the other blunders he made and dishonesty he showed, it is a puny book. If Curtis Porter had not caught the deletion made by Woods from the Indianapolis debate it would have gone through. You can’t trust these brethren to treat you honorably and fairly. They have to be made do it. That is, unless you will worship at their altar and they will then feed you on sweet cream — but it curdles and turns sour before touching my lips.” (Fanning Yater Tant. “Slander — Gospel Advocate Style.” Gospel Guardian 10.34 [January 1, 1959]: 4-10.)
John T. Lewis was sitting in the audience of the Cogdill-Woods debate, which took place in the auditorium of Phillips High School in Birmingham in November, 1957. As the institutional issue was being debated in Birmingham, the legacy of Lewis loomed large. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that Lewis himself became the subject of the debate on one of its last nights. Tant’s comments give us a sense of just how much was at stake.
This is a brief reflection I delivered in chapel at work today. The text for today was Luke 22.39–23.49.
Today is Good Friday. In services taking place all around the world today, Christians will gather to remember the events described in the passage we just read. This morning we take a few moments out from our workday to join in those remembrances.
Let’s focus in on one single statement in this passage. It is found in Luke 23.34: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’” (NRSV).
Now, there are two ways we could take these words spoken by Jesus from the cross. On the one hand, we could understand them in a limited sense to mean that the people involved in Jesus’ death – the temple police who arrested him, the government officials before whom he sat on trial, the soldiers who mocked him, beat him, and placed him on the cross, the mob who called for his crucifixion – none of them understood exactly who he was. Some in the crowd had undoubtedly been present when Jesus preached and performed miracles of healing. But they did not believe Jesus’ claims. Or, in some cases, they were confused by them and could not see what Jesus was saying. If they had they wouldn’t have done this … right?
But what if we understood Jesus’ words in another way? We can readily see how these words apply to the people described in these Scriptures. What if we took this as more of an existential statement about who we are as human beings, instead of simply a limited statement about these people in this situation?
But that’s offensive, right? I pride myself on knowing things. I hold down a job here, in part at least, and I have responsibilities in many other areas of life, because of what I claim to know. I don’t like having what I know called into question. I get touchy about that sort of thing. I like the way A. K. M. Adam puts this. He writes, “I know a whole lot. I know the sweet kiss of a drowsy child, the scintillating misty hush of a summer sunrise. I know uses of the Greek participle. I know the forlorn plaints from the trampled heart of a student, a friend, a lonely visitor to my office. I know the psalms, I know the working of a well-practiced basketball team, I know [the] contents of the heaps of paper on my desktop. I know fear and doubt, I know pain and desperation, I know joy and pride and satisfaction. In the age of expertise, I am an expert; in the age of “just do it,” I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I know what I am doing.”
But what if, as Jesus says, I don’t really know what I’m doing? In my seeking after knowledge, in my pride, in my lack of self-control, in my selfishness, in my daily failures to love as I ought, I demonstrate that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I haven’t truly learned how to live my life in conformity with the image of Christ that is shown to us in these Scriptures. If we’re honest with ourselves, every single one of us could say the same thing.
Good Friday brings us to the cross. We see Jesus there. But, in the words of one ancient Jewish writer who spoke better than he knew, the Jesus we see there “is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training … He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange” (Wisd. Sol. 2.12, 14, RSV). The Jesus we meet at the cross tells us the truth about who we are, the truth that we do not know what we are doing.
But notice this too. If we stop there we will have seen only half the truth. Having faced the truth about ourselves, we are prepared to see another truth that is just as important: Jesus forgives. The glory of the cross lies in the fact that it does not leave us stranded in our sins, in our false claims to “know what we are doing.” It calls to us to take up our own crosses. To follow Jesus, and in so doing to find forgiveness, and hope, and life.
In the early 1920s, Price Billingsley edited the Gospel Advance, a journal published out of (successively) McMinnville, Columbia, and Nashville, Tennessee. The Advance was largely sympathetic to the overall aims of its neighbor, the Gospel Advocate. But not always. In a number of issues, for example, Billingsley devoted considerable space to highlighting the inconsistencies of Advocate editor J. C. McQuiddy on the carnal warfare question. More of that, though, at a later date.
Under the above heading, Billingsley put four questions to a number of noted preachers and leaders among the churches in the January 1922 issue:
1. What single occurrence was the most significant and cheering during the year just closed in the spread of the gospel?
2. What do the churches of Christ most need today?
3. What evils in the church today, or what dangerous tendencies menace us?
4. What one most important thing will make the year just begun the banner year in extending the kingdom of Christ?
One of the people that Billingsley queried was John T. Lewis. Here are his answers:
1. I simply can’t do it. God only has that particular information.
2. Spiritual life, and the way to get that is to read the Word of God, and pray more. We are living in an almost prayerless age, an age that leaves God out of our doings.
Very few children ever heard their fathers pray, or know what family prayer is. We must change our course or the ship which carries the next generation will be wrecked on the rocks of infidelity.
3. The selfishness manifested, and the course pursued by the teachers in the church, whether preachers or elders, have always been, are now and always will be the greatest menace to the church. To illustrate, fire and water are two of the greatest blessings to humanity so long as they are under control; but when once on a rampage they become the most destructive agencies of life and property. So it is with the teachers in the church, so long as they are controlled by the spirit of Christ they are indispensable to the life and growth of the church; but when they get headed in the wrong direction they become the most deadly menace to the church. Tell me the ideas and ideals of the teachers of a church, and I will tell you what kind of a church it is. A teacher usually imparts his very being to those taught. The apparent lack of the spirit of Christ manifested by many of those “who are reputed to be somewhat” [Gal. 2:6] among us, is the darkest spot that I see in the elements of faith today.
4. According to my premise the conclusion will have to be, if preachers will rid themselves of self, putting away all “enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths and factions,” and “sanctify in their hearts Christ as Lord” — do what they can do for the cause of Christ, and rejoice in whatever good others may do — this will be a glorious year for the church.
When he writes in to the journals, we most frequently see the polemical side of Lewis. Here, though, we see a glimpse of what we might call his pastoral side. It is marked by a deep concern for the spiritual lives of his congregants — centered on prayer and on the reading of the Word, in the church and in the family — and a deep concern for the spiritual formation (to use an admittedly anachronistic term) of leaders in the church. “Tell me,” Lewis writes, “the ideas and ideals of the teachers of a church, and I will tell you what kind of a church it is. A teacher usually imparts his very being to those taught.”
If we are willing to listen, may Lewis’ words encourage us to reflect on the role of teaching in the church and the seriousness with which we are called to approach it.
In preparation for some recent writing, I worked through the Cogdill-Woods Debate (1957). (Actually, I used the Gospel Advocate edition of the debate, so it would be more accurate, I suppose, to say that I worked through the Woods-Cogdill Debate.)
What good, you might ask, can come out of such an exercise? You would be in good company were you to ask that question. In our day, there are few topics in the history of the Churches of Christ that get people more exercised than debates. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that debates are one of those things best left in the past, a rebarbative pursuit of our forefathers that we have rightly left behind.
So, if that’s the case, why waste my time on this stuff? Better yet, why treat a debate as a serious piece of theology? Maybe I can answer those questions later.
For now, something that caught my eye. I’ve read through a few debates during all of this writing and one seemingly negligible feature of the debates has consistently stood out to me. Many of the major debates — e.g. the Neal-Wallace Discussion (Winchester, Ky., 1933) and the Porter-Tingley Debate (Birmingham, 1947) — invariably include a notation at the beginning of each night’s speeches listing who led prayer and who led singing. In other words, the speeches for each night have a kind of “liturgical frame.” Usually the assignments — song leader and pray-er — were split between supporters of each debater. (I don’t know if this is universally true or not; I haven’t yet looked at every single debate book in my own library, much less others that I don’t own.) The event of the debate, in other words, was thought of, at least to some extent, as a worship service.
Curiously, by the time we get to Cogdill-Woods, neither the Advocate or Guardian editions list these pieces of information separately. That said, the debaters occasionally make reference to the prayers in their speeches, so at least each night’s speeches were preceded by prayer, if not by singing. Why does Cogdill-Woods no longer list this these details?
Moreover, with Cogdill-Woods we are no longer in a church building. (Not that every earlier debate was held in a meetinghouse.) Wallace-Neal began in the sanctuary of First Christian Church in Winchester (before it was moved); Porter-Tingley split the time between Central Church of Christ and Tingley’s Birmingham Gospel Tabernacle. With Cogdill-Woods, we are now convening in a public high school. How does that affect how the debate is viewed? Does it? Does it affect the decision about listing the prayer and singing information? Am I reading too much into this?
Your thoughts are welcome.
As a brief interlude, I thought I’d take a moment to survey some of the available internet resources for Lewis and his work in Birmingham. Obviously, a great deal of the source material for my research is unavailable online. But a few things have been very beneficial along the way. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. John Thomas Lewis (1876-1967). This is the page devoted to Lewis at Scott Harp’s therestorationmovement.com site. The page is rich in visual source material and includes a chronology of Lewis’ life. Because the chronology is based solely upon Ottis Castleberry’s He Looked for a City, it is seriously flawed in some places and simply incomplete in others. Proceed with caution.
2. Encyclopedia of Alabama. I’m a Tennessean who married an Alabamian. There’s a lot I don’t know about the State of Alabama that this digital encyclopedia — a joint project of Auburn University, the University of Alabama, and the Alabama Department of Education — has helped me to understand.
3. Bhamwiki. As the name suggests, it’s a Wikipedia-type site specifically for Birmingham. Because it’s a wiki, you can sign up to contribute. I’m already planning to write a short piece on Lewis for the site in the near future … so don’t go getting any ideas .
4. Gospel Guardian. Bennie Johns has put much of the Gospel Guardian online — and thus much of JTL’s writings in opposition to institutionalism.
5. The Voice of the Pioneers on Instrumental Music and Societies. This is a rough PDF copy of what is perhaps Lewis’ best known work, hosted at David Sims’ “Retain the Standard” website. (Other texts by Lewis, of course, are hosted on the “Texts” page of this blog.)