On the Larimore-Spiegel Exchange — Part 3: Reflections

Pat yourself on the back if you made it through that last post. It was a bit of a slog. In my first two posts in this series, I tried to provide more historical context for the 1897 open letter exchange between T. B. Larimore and O. P. Spiegel.

What has troubled me—and the reason I wrote these pieces—has to do with the reserve,

spiegel01

O. P. Spiegel

the tight-lippedness, one sees in recent writers who have addressed the Larimore-Spiegel exchange. I have repeatedly asked myself, “Why?” Why is Spiegel only ever described as a former student of Larimore? Where does this reserve come from? Why does it continue to appear, as recently as that FB post by John Mark Hicks? What are we to make of it?

In this post, I want to suggest that the omission of details about Spiegel tells us something about the nature of history writing among Churches of Christ, as well as about the nature of the progressive-conservative dispute in mainline Churches of Christ.

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Prior to the ’80s, information about Larimore circulated primarily in the three volumes of Letters and Sermons and in F. D. Srygley’s Larimore and His Boys, all of which were reprinted numerous times by the Gospel Advocate Company over the years. This is hardly surprising: Larimore has always had a following among the churches all across the doctrinal and theological spectrum. Almost a full century after his death, Larimore and his preaching still carry a power that others of his generation do not.

The situation changed, though, when Larimore came into focus for younger, progressive historians in ’80s and ’90s. Their output on Larimore is massive, and we won’t be able to address nearly all of it. But here’s a partial list.

  • Pride of place must go to Douglas A. Foster, currently Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for Restoration Studies at Abilene Christian University. Foster published a book-length biography of Larimore, As Good as the Best, in 1984. He returned to Larimore in his 1986 Vanderbilt Ph.D. dissertation, The Struggle for Unity During the Period of Division of the Restoration Movement, 1875-1900. Larimore also plays a prominent role in the argument that Foster makes in his 1994 jeremiad Will the Cycle Be Unbroken?, and he appears again in Renewing God’s People, a history of the Churches of Christ that Foster co-authored with Gary Holloway in 2006.
  • C. Leonard Allen presently serves as Dean of the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University. In 1993, Allen published Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church. Chapter 20, “How to Deal with Division,” focuses on the Larimore-Spiegel exchange.
  • To this list, we should add Rubel Shelley. Shelley, of course, is not an academic historian, but his influential manifesto I Just Want to Be a Christian (1984) gives some attention to Larimore, and does so in a way that dovetails with the treatments found in Foster and Allen.
  • Honorable mention goes to pugnacious progressive blogger Al Maxey. Maxey is hardly an academic historian, but his Reflections blog is widely distributed. In the June 20, 2008, issue he takes on Larimore, and dwells at length on the Larimore-Spiegel open letter exchange. As with Shelley, there is considerable overlap between Maxey’s goals and those of Foster and Allen.

All of these writers see something in Larimore, especially Foster. But what is it?

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To answer that question, we have to remember the larger context in which these works were published: the conflict between progressives and conservatives that dominated the mainline Churches of Christ during the 1980s and 1990s. That conflict was defined by disagreements over several issues, perhaps the most prominent being grace, unity, the Holy Spirit, and hermeneutics. In an important sense, it was a generational conflict. Boomer progressives came into conflict with an older generation of leaders who, for a long time, had controlled the institutional centers of power in the church — the pages of the Gospel Advocate and the Bible departments of the colleges.

As they called for a re-evaluation of the theological consensus of the 1950s and ’60s, boomer progressives needed historical precedents in order to parry the sword thrusts of mainline conservatives. They needed a “usable past” (to borrow a phrase from recent historiographical studies) for progressives in mainline Churches of Christ. The historical work of Foster and Allen—but perhaps especially Allen’s Distant Voices—gave them that.

Distant Voices cover

This purpose is explicit in Distant Voices. (This is important to note because I’m not accusing anyone of hiding anything, of being devious, or having a secret agenda.) Consider Allen’s words in Chapter 1:

This book is an exercise in remembering. It has one overarching purpose: to recover some of the forgotten or “distant voices” from the modern history of Churches of Christ.

I use the phrase “distant voices” in a double sense: first, “distant” simply in that these voices come from a time now long past; but second, and more importantly, “distant” in that they are the minority voices among Churches of Christ, the voices that have been drowned out, the softer, fainter voices. Some of the voices come from people largely forgotten by the tradition; others come from major, well-known figures who held certain views now largely forgotten.

We easily assume that the history of Churches of Christ is basically “the present writ small.” One may assume, in other words, that Alexander Campbell and his colleagues restored New Testament faith and order sometime in the early nineteenth century and that Churches of Christ—or at least some segment of them—have simply preserved that pattern of truth unchanged down to the present time. Today one may see a fairly fixed, uniform tradition and easily assume that this has been the story from near the movement’s beginnings.

But it was not. As the tradition formed through the nineteenth and down to the early twentieth century, certain voices assumed central, controlling positions, thereby pushing other voices to the margins. These more dominant voices shaped the tradition of the twentieth-century Churches of Christ. They set the boundaries of acceptable views. They defined orthodoxy. They also interpreted, shaped, and maintained the “memory” or story of the movement, and this shaped story made clear who stood at the center and who at the margins.

But these central, more powerful voices were not, simply by virtue of their power, necessarily the wisest or most astute. As Walter Brueggemann has put it, “the capacity to give authoritative interpretation [within a tradition] is a matter of social power, and not primarily a matter of insight or sensitivity.” Important insights may reside at the margins of a tradition as well as at its center, among the minority as well as the majority.

Churches of Christ are now in a time when the central or dominant voices of the twentieth-century tradition are being questioned—gently by some, more sharply by others. It is a time when many people are assessing their spiritual heritage, indeed, a time when the traditional settlement of center and margin is coming under critical review.

In such a time, it helps to hear some of the “distant voices,” those who once occupied a strong place in the tradition but whose views have been remembered selectively, screened out, or simply forgotten. Listening to such voices helps one glimpse a modern heritage that is broader, richer, and more diverse than one may presently suppose.

Out of such listening can arise a new and perhaps more faithful settlement of center and margin.

–C. Leonard Allen, Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church (ACU Press, 1993): 4–5.

There is much to talk about here. (And some things to criticize: in particular, some of Allen’s postmodernist assumptions have passed their sell-by date.) Be that as it may, Allen’s larger aim of recovering “distant voices” shapes everything about the book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that Allen does a great service to the churches in highlighting what he chooses to highlight. Furthermore, historiography is never totally and completely objective. All of us who undertake to write history have our own agendas. Credit is due to Allen for being up front about his.

We have to acknowledge, though, that the context of the progressive-conservative fight colors the way he tells the story, especially when we come to the Larimore-Spiegel exchange. This is because, of course, Allen is not a neutral observer of the fight. He is a participant. His weapon is not the stinging article published in the Gospel Advocate, Wineskins, etc. It is the history that he is unearthing for his readers.

What does Allen see in the Larimore-Spiegel exchange? Simply this: Allen, and other progressives, sought to put on the mantle of moderation and simple Christianity that they saw in Larimore over against the spittle-flecked ravings of the mainline conservative editors and preachers, lectureship speakers and preaching school faculty members who opposed them. These were, to borrow Allen’s words, the voices who had “assumed central, controlling positions, thereby pushing other voices to the margins. These more dominant voices shaped the tradition of the twentieth-century Churches of Christ. They set the boundaries of acceptable views. They defined orthodoxy.” While others might be included, it is not difficult to see that Allen would have had in mind figures like Foy E. Wallace, Jr., and his disciples, generations now of dogmatic, hardline preachers and writers.

That’s the rhetorical frame Allen tries to establish in his treatment of Larimore. But there is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand at work in his treatment (or non-treatment) of Spiegel. To refresh your memory, here’s how Allen’s chapter on the Larimore-Spiegel exchange opens:

In July of 1897 the Christian Standard published “An Open Letter to T. B. Larimore” written by one of Larimore’s former students. The letter was full of admiration for Larimore and his work, but it contained an urgent request. “You owe it to yourself, your family, your friends, your Saviour and your God,” urged Oscar Spiegel, of Birmingham, Alabama, “to speak out on some matters now retarding the progress of the cause of Christ.” One cannot remain silent, he insisted, “when we see our fellow men, and especially our own family drifting apart.”

Spiegel then came to the point. He asked Larimore to declare himself on four key issues that were deeply dividing the restoration movement: the use of instrumental music in worship, the creation of missionary societies beyond the local church, attendance at “cooperative meetings,” and salary contracts for preachers.

“Thousands of your brethren and sisters,” Spiegel concluded, “believe it is your duty to speak out on these questions, and strive to unite, if possible, the people of God.”

Distant Voices, pp. 153–54.

This is all that Allen says about Spiegel: he is “one of Larimore’s former students … [from] Birmingham, Alabama.” Why so little? We have already seen that there is plenty of information available about Spiegel.

Here’s my suggestion: By leaving Spiegel unidentified, the reader is left to his imagination, and might naturally assume that Spiegel was the 1890s equivalent of a writer for Contending for the Faith or the Spiritual Sword. After all, is it not usually those sorts of folks who make demands upon others to take a stand on the issues of the day? Indeed, we can almost hear Spiegel’s words

“You owe it to yourself, your family, your friends, your Saviour and your God, to speak out on some matters now retarding the progress of the cause of Christ.”

coming out of the mouth of an Ira Rice or a Buster Dobbs.

Interpreted in this way, Larimore’s words could be understood in a way that cohered with the aims of contemporary progressives. Allen and Foster’s readers clearly understood this. Maxey’s blog post on Larimore demonstrates this clearly. By appealing to Larimore, they could profess to be tired of doctrinal squabbles and internecine fighting, to be above the fray, and so forth. In keeping with this aim, Allen emphasizes Larimore’s unwillingness to fight:

Despite the strong and incessant voices pressuring him to take sides, he simply refused. Year after year, he refused. In many letters and sermons, Larimore made his conviction and practice clear. “My earnest desire,” he wrote, “is to keep entirely out of all unpleasant wrangles among Christians….I propose to finish my course without ever, even for one moment, engaging in partisan strife with anybody about anything.”

Accordingly, when someone asked him what “wing” of the church he belonged to, the loyal or the digressive, Larimore replied: “I propose never to stand identified with one special wing, branch, or party of the church. My aim is to preach the gospel, do the work of an evangelist, teach God’s children how to live, and, as long as I do live, to live as nearly an absolutely perfect life as possible.”

Distant Voices, pg. 156

Allen highly praised these sentiments even as he was writing a book that was, in itself, a contribution to the squabbles he condemned. We could read Foster’s (and Shelley’s) work in a similar fashion. Maxey seems to have missed the memo, though. One of the funnier ironies of his work is how he uses Larimore—a man who, according to Maxey, “left behind a rich legacy of tireless effort to bring disparate disciples together in sweet fellowship rather than the partisan wrangling”—as a cudgel with which to beat John Waddey, the (now deceased) conservative editor of a (now defunct) journal called Christianity: Then and Now (according to Maxey, “a legalistic preacher for a small group of factionists in Surprise, Arizona”). This is not, I should say, meant to be a defense of Waddey. I’m simply highlighting Maxey’s peculiar appropriation of Larimore’s “rich legacy.”

Yet, shorn of their context, Larimore’s words to Spiegel are infused with a meaning that they did not originally possess. Once we understand who Spiegel is, the comparison that Allen and the rest were attempting to make falls flat. At the very least, it doesn’t apply with nearly the force that it might otherwise have.

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O. P. Spiegel, as we have seen, was not a radical conservative editor. He was a vigorous young progressive, someone who strongly believed in the “fierce urgency of now” (to borrow a phrase from MLK that was used as the title of a CSC panel on “social change within the Churches of Christ” from a few years back). He aggressively sought to flip churches to his way of thinking in a way that any gal328.org or One Voice for Change sympathizer would recognize and admire.

As we saw in the last post, in the very year these letters were written, Spiegel, along with noted song leader J. D. Patton, had attempted to bring the organ into the Huntsville, Alabama, church. He failed, but his angry reaction to that failure—found in a letter that he wrote to the elders of the Huntsville church—is worth spending some time on:

This is an age of progress, development, and enlargement …. He [God] ordained that his people should use instruments of music in the old economy; they were never condemned in the new; they are used to illustrate the highest type of heavenly music and holy service in the world to come. In view of these facts and others, suppose I should play a weak brother, and say they must be used, etc.; then how about Rom. 14: 10–13; 15: 1, 2? In answer to these passages see Acts 5: 29. There is utterly no excuse for weak brothers in Huntsville in 1897, not if your eldership has done its duty. Of course if it encourages weak brothers in their slothfulness and ignorance by putting a premium upon them, you may always expect to have such members.

daughertyYes, Brother Daugherty sung for you without the organ, but less than six months ago, on the streets of Nashville, he told me if the Lord would forgive him for so doing there, and several other places also, he would never do so again. He said no sensible musician would conduct the music unless the church would let him conduct it, and that no musician would risk his reputation by affirming that you could get anything like as good music out of an audience without as with an instrument. I tell you this is an age of progress, development, and enlargement, and what Daugherty did when an inexperienced boy away back in the eighties is no sign of what he will do in the nineties.

No, Professor [Patton] would not sing without the use of an instrument …. I have filed your letter for future use, as an official document from that church, refusing me the use of the house to preach in at my own charge. I stand thoroughly identified with the great bulk of the disciples who have fought so many battles and gained so many victories. When I make my report they shall of course set about to have some preaching done in Huntsville, as there seems not to be a single church in the city which stands for free thought and free speech.

(Quoted in F. D. Srygley. “From the Papers.” Gospel Advocate 39.43 (October 28, 1897): 673.)

This probably sounds familiar. All of the chief rhetorical strategies of the ardent young progressive of our own day can be found in these 120-year-old lines:

  • The imperative necessity—indeed, the moral necessity—of change.
  • The controlling rationale of progress. Or, more accurately, the confusion of the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of the Age (“progress, development, and enlargement”).
  • “This is 1897!”  (A statement which is identical in spirit to the young collegiate SJW who argues for her causes on the grounds that “It’s 2018!”)

When we read the Larimore-Spiegel open letter exchange with this in mind, it is Larimore who is the conservative in the equation, the cautious older man who was unwilling to buy in to the young firebrand’s aggressive program for change. And this was frustrating for Spiegel. So, in 1897, in his third year as State Evangelist in Alabama, Spiegel acted decisively to neutralize the influence that Larimore had in the churches of Alabama. He was nice about it, to be sure: the “Open Letter to T. B. Larimore” wasn’t openly hostile. But there was no mistaking what exactly Spiegel hoped to accomplish.

The 1890s were, as we’ve said, a decade of transition that witnessed a shift from one church with squabbling progressives and conservatives within her walls to two churches, two separate fellowships, rapidly moving apart from each other. In drawing the lines more definitively, Spiegel made a significant contribution to that process.

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A bit of prognostication as we close. Painting in broad strokes. Take it, from an outsider no less, for what you think it’s worth.

When we consider the course of mainline progressivism since the early 2000s, I wonder if we are not seeing the beginnings of a generational divide between the boomer progressives of the ’80s and ’90s and their children, the millennial progressives of our day. The old battles about grace and unity and hermeneutics are in the past. Progressives and conservatives have largely gone their separate ways. Millennial progressives no longer engage in direct conflict with writers for the Spiritual Sword and similar publications. (Indeed, many are no longer aware of their existence.)

The issues have evolved, as well. The instrumental music question has been forcefully reopened in a way that it had not been in the ’80s. The questions surrounding women in ministry, beginning to be felt in the ’80s and ’90s, have come front and center over the past decade. Millennial progressives are motivated by a different set of concerns from those of their parents. Chief among these are issues of race and gender and sexuality—in keeping with the same issues that are currently roiling evangelicals as a whole. Indeed, a good many millennial progressives view themselves as part of the larger world of the evangelical left—not to mention the political left. They share many of the assumptions of this larger grouping; they mimic the same concerns about economic and social justice, gender equality, and the like. They draw their cues from figures like David Dark and Rachel Held Evans (to name just a couple), far more than from any representative figures from Churches of Christ. While there is much that is commendable in these new emphases (for example, the recovery of pacifism), there is much that is troubling, as well.

From a generational perspective, if boomer progressives looked to Larimore—gracious, patient, unwilling to take sides—as a suitable avatar for their own self-understanding, a significant number of their children could well find one of their own in O. P. Spiegel. His brash attitude and overweening sense of his own right-ness, manifested in the authoritarian tendencies seen so clearly in his letter to the Huntsville elders—and in his demand that his teacher come down clearly on the right side of history—calls to mind the forthright dogmatism, border-policing, and hyper-sensitivity of much theology emerging from the evangelical left in our own day.  To what extent do these tendencies manifest themselves on the college campuses and the lecture circuits of mainline Churches of Christ?

I should say that Twitter is the petri dish from which I derive these observations. If Twitter is indeed an accurate reflection of what is and of what is to come, the spirit of O. P. Spiegel lives on among us much more fully than Leonard Allen could ever have imagined.

Finis.

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On the Larimore-Spiegel Exchange — Part 2

1897 was a watershed year. While it has become canonical, following the national religious census, to assign 1906 as the official date of a split between progressive and conservative Disciples, a page-by-page examination of the Advocate and other papers suggests otherwise. If we want to assign a date, we could do worse than setting it at least a decade earlier.  1897 witnesses a sharp uptick in hostility between progressives and conservatives. We get defections on the missionary field in Japan; J. M. Barnes asserting that he wouldn’t be seen walking down the street beside progressive leaders in his state; Vine Street in Nashville introducing the organ into its worship assemblies.

We could go on, but for the purposes of this discussion, 1897 is significant because it is the year when O. P. Spiegel was radicalized.

In this post, I will examine this critical year in more detail in order to understand the immediate context of the Larimore-Spiegel open letter exchange. Whatever else we might say about it, their exchange did not occur out of the blue. In this post, I will argue that Spiegel’s open letter to Larimore in the Christian Standard was part of a larger effort on his part to neutralize the influence of both Larimore and J. M. Barnes, the two most prominent conservative leaders in Alabama.

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Through the first years of his time as State Evangelist—up through 1896, let’s say—O. P. Spiegel pursued a more or less moderate course toward the emerging divide between conservative and progressive Disciples in Alabama. In this, he was far from unusual. As we’ve already said, this was a time of transition for Disciples across the nation. Ties between conservatives and progressives were frayed, but far from severed. Spiegel, along with most other leaders of any standing, still felt it to be in their interest to maintain ties and communication across the Disciple theological spectrum. There was conflict from time to time, to be sure. (For example, Spiegel and Lipscomb clashed in the pages of the Advocate again in 1895.) But there was also constant interaction, often positive, that counterbalanced such episodes of conflict.

Like other progressive leaders during this phase of the conflict, Spiegel believed that patience and gentle persuasion would bring conservative Disciples around to supporting the work of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation. His evangelistic work during the years from 1894 to 1896 reflects this belief. Many years later, he would write, “Up to after I was state evangelist in 1894–97 I could preach in ANY church of our conservative brethren and they could preach in ours.” He was right. But Spiegel’s task as State Evangelist in Alabama was far more daunting than that of a State Evangelist in, say, Ohio or Illinois. In those places, the state society might face only small pockets of opposition to cooperative work or the use of the instrument, a congregation or two here and there. The situation was completely reversed in Alabama. Only a very small number of the Christian Churches in Alabama actively supported the work of the ACMC. The overwhelming majority of the churches did not. Spiegel held evangelistic meetings for churches across the state. In most places he was well received as a preacher. In a few places (Athens, for example) he established a Christian Church where one had not previously existed. But almost none of these churches changed their stance toward the state society as the result of a Spiegel meeting.

But something changed in 1897. Suddenly we see a man who is much more aggressive, more combative, toward his conservative opponents. Why? I think in large part it grows out of his frustration in the face of the sheer scale of his job, at not being able to convince more conservatives to come over to his side of the question. This frustration begat a change in Spiegel’s overall stance toward his conservative brethren.

It also begat a change in strategy. By 1897, Spiegel had come to believe that these churches did not support the society because they were in thrall to a handful of influential conservative leaders—”block-headed, would-be bosses,” he called them on one occasion—who had blinded them to the benefits of the society. As we will see, Spiegel really has two specific men in mind: J. M. Barnes and T. B. Larimore. His tactical approach to each man was quite different.

We might simplify it this way:

With Barnes, Spiegel used the stick. With Larimore, he used the carrot. 

Let’s consider a few episodes from 1897 to see this new stance in action.

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First, a note about the geography of the progressive/conservative divide in Alabama around 1897. Alabama as a whole was politically and economically divided between its northern and southern regions. The divisions in the church reflect that same geography.

  • There was strong progressive representation in the churches of the Black Belt, a swath of territory in the southern part of the state, extending from Tuscaloosa through Selma to Montgomery.
  • Walker County, northwest of Birmingham, was the epicenter of a radical conservatism founded upon the doctrinal emphases of the Firm Foundation.
  • The conservatism that held sway in much of the state’s remaining congregations had about it more of the flavor of the Gospel Advocate: staunchly opposed to societies, instrumental music, and the located minister, but also opposed to the Firm Foundation’s hardline stance on rebaptism.

By the 1890s there were influential urban congregations:

  • Herron Street in Montgomery and Poplar Street in Florence were among the larger congregations in the state. Herron Street, established by J. M. Barnes in 1879, reported a membership of some two hundred, but it was not of one mind on the issues of the day. Poplar Street, established by G. A. Reynolds and T. B. Larimore in 1886, was a fairly young church. After the departure of Reynolds in December 1896, the congregation moved in a more purposefully conservative direction.
  • The Birmingham church, (re)established in 1885, reported 350 members in 1896, making it the largest congregation in the state. It was firmly in the progressive camp. J. M. Watson, a co-editor of the Gospel Messenger and close personal friend of Spiegel, was the minister at this point. Larimore, we mentioned in a previous post, held a meeting for the Birmingham church in January 1896 that was very well received. However, I. B. Bradley, preacher for the church in Russellville (and a recent graduate of the Nashville Bible School) held an independent meeting in Birmingham in November of 1896 that led to the establishment of a small, but feisty, conservative congregation in the city (eventually known as Fox’s Hall). There was great antagonism in those early years between First Christian and Fox’s Hall.
  • The Selma church, one of the the few surviving antebellum churches in the state (est. 1852), was also a progressive stronghold. It had hosted the November 1886 organizational meeting of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation. By the mid to late 1890s it was arguably more progressive than the Birmingham church. During the ministerial tenures of E. V. Spicer and Jesse Caldwell, Selma took on many of the classic characteristics of late 19th century Disciples liberalism. (Incidentally, J. E. Spiegel, one of O. P.’s younger brothers, was a member of the Selma church at this time.)

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At any rate, Spiegel opened his work for the year 1897 in Montgomery.

There were, at this point, three churches in the capital of Alabama. The Herron Street church, alluded to above; the West End church, a mission point that was begun through Barnes’s preaching efforts in the early 1890s; and a small African-American mission point begun by S. W. Womack, with the help of the Herron Street elders, in 1896.

As alluded to above, in 1897 Herron Street was, to a significant degree, still straddling the fence regarding the issues dividing conservative and progressive Disciples.

N. B.: Much of the chronology that follows comes from Barnes. It must be acknowledged that, when it comes to O. P. Spiegel, Barnes is a hostile source, to say the least. We’ll see that clearly in the extracts I’ve given below. Spiegel’s own self-reflection in both words and actions, however, often bear out Barnes’s estimate of him.

In March 1896, Spiegel had held a meeting for the Herron Street church that was very well received. Barnes himself later wrote that he “found him very, very nice.” But he was suspicious, nonetheless. He confided in another of the Herron Street elders, C. A. Allen:

“Charley, I do not feel right to be seen walking the streets with Spiegel.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “I am just encouraging a man who would destroy the work I have done  here for years.”
“O pshaw!” he replied, “he cannot do anything here. I’m not afraid of him. Let him go on.”
“Charley Allen,” I continued, “Spiegel could vote you out of your house right now, and the only thing that will save your house will be the mortgage that is on it.”
This and the following excerpts come from J. M. Barnes, “The State Evangelist at Montgomery, Ala.” Gospel Advocate 39.49 (December 9, 1897): 770.

Spiegel’s youth (he was 30 years old at this time) and charisma, in addition to his preaching style, resonated with a significant portion of the Herron Street congregation. Barnes understood this and expressed his concerns. Spiegel understood it as well, and sought to exploit the opening that a successful meeting had given him.

A few months later, Larimore came to the city for the first time. He was assisted by Barnes and W. J. Haynes in a meeting that lasted nearly a month. According to Barnes,

“The brethren at Montgomery determined to get Brother Larimore to hold their meeting. Spiegel began fishing to get into that meeting as helper to Brother Larimore. He worked all whom he had cajoled while he was in the city [in March]. At last the brethren wrote him without reserve that they did not wish him, and that they were not going to have him. He replied tartly.”

No further detail on this incident is available, but we can read between the lines a bit. There seems to have been real jealousy of Larimore on Spiegel’s part. (Larimore, as we will see, seems to have been oblivious to all of this.)

Spiegel was undeterred, though. Barnes continues,

In the spring of this year [1897] he returned to Montgomery, and brought with him Patton, a singer. A hall was hired, or the Recorder’s court room was secured, and Spiegel and Patton opened up with organ, a young lady educated at Highland Home, at that time a member in Montgomery, organist. By the time this meeting closed all who were unflinchingly on the Lord’s side were known, and those who went with the tide were full sectarians. Spiegel was approached on the subject of the organ. He claimed not to favor the organ at one time; at another he told a sister that he intended to have a fine church down town, and an organ in it. He studiously and wilily left with the women of the church a burlesque on a church difficulty, in which the elders, unlearned men, tried to put the organ out of a church, could not do it, separated from the church, tried to establish another church, failed, and showed themselves ridiculous creatures in everything. The stoop-low pamphlet was a fair index to the heart of the stoop-low man who circulated it.

Spiegel at Montgomery 1897

Montgomery Advertiser January 26, 1897, pg. 7

This was Spiegel’s first openly hostile action toward the Herron Street church. Notice Barnes’s strong language in the passage just quoted: “By the time this meeting closed all who were unflinchingly on the Lord’s side were known, and those who went with the tide were full sectarians.” (The clear choice that Barnes sets forth between those “on the Lord’s side” and “full sectarians” shows us just how tenuous progressive-conservative relations were by 1897.) The “burlesque” that Barnes refers to may well be the widely reprinted “Troubles of the Beanville Church.” (The series originally ran in six installments in the Christian-Evangelist and the Gospel Messenger in early 1894. It was reprinted in pamphlet form several times over at least a decade by Christian Publishing Company of St. Louis. The book editor of the Evangelist enthusiastically called it “the funniest thing in all our literature,” noting that it “has done a great deal to laugh ‘anti-ism’ out of existence.”)

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The spring of 1897 also saw activity in North Alabama. Spiegel, it appears, had been in

Patton music school

Marion County News (Hamilton, Ala.), October 11, 1900, pg. 8

talks with the elders of the Huntsville church to hold a meeting for them. Spiegel, as seen in the excerpts quoted above, frequently travelled with J. D. Patton (1868–1936), “singing evangelist” (songleader, in other words). Patton is interesting in his own right, but that’s a subject for another post. At any rate, Spiegel set certain conditions for the proposed Huntsville meeting, conditions that he seems to have insisted upon in other places. He writes,

I have a very fine singer who usually goes with me. We have some great meetings. Of course some at first do not like our methods, not understanding us; but no one who hears us through fails to indorse us. Our only contract for a meeting is that we be allowed to run it as seems best to us, with the co-operation and advice of the church, that entertainment be furnished us, and then for our support we take voluntary contributions of members and friends of the church of Christ …. If we want one, two, three, or a dozen songs before the sermon, we have them; if I want Professor [Patton] to sing a fine solo to impress a truth, I have it; if I want to have one stanza in the middle of my sermon to impress in song what I am teaching, I have it. Professor [Patton] uses an organ to fill up weak places and hold all voices steady….

Quoted in F. D. Srygley. “From the Papers.” Gospel Advocate 39.43 (October 28, 1897): 673.

The meeting did not come to fruition. Indeed, we might know nothing of the proposed meeting today had copies of the correspondence between Spiegel and the Huntsville elders not been anonymously sent to the offices of the Gospel Advocate in Nashville. In the Market Street offices of the Advocate, F. D. Srygley was carrying on a journalistic dispute with J. W. McGarvey. The issue was this: Srygley asserted that the state societies were actively pushing the organ onto local congregations. McGarvey denied this. (McGarvey, you will recall, supported the work of the societies, but opposed the use of the instrument in worship.) Srygley promptly published the correspondence. With Spiegel’s Huntsville correspondence in hand, Srygley had all the proof he needed that State Evangelists like O. P. Spiegel were actively trying to introduce the organ into local churches.

****

Larimore is, of course, conspicuously absent in all of this public back-and-forth in the papers. We do have one suggestive piece of evidence, though. In a letter of recommendation that Larimore wrote scarcely three months prior to the publication of Spiegel’s open letter in the Standard, Larimore gushed about his former student:

“Oscar P. Spiegel was my pupil during the three years he spent at Mars Hill College. . . . Oscar Spiegel was ONE of the PUREST, BRIGHTEST and BEST boys ever matriculated at Mars Hill . . . . I knew him and the family of which he was a member before he became my pupil. I have never heard it intimated, and have no reason to believe, that there has ever been blot, blur or blemish on the Spiegel family’s name or record. The Spiegels are, I believe—and we have long lived in the same section of the same state—above suspicion and without reproach. Oscar is scarcely more than a brilliant, well educated boy yet; but—pure, energetic, well balanced, healthy, prudent, free from all bad habits, possessing great power of both head, heart and hand—he is destined, as surely as he lives, to wield a wonderful influence in this wonderful world.”

Quoted in George and Mildred Watson, History of the Christian Churches in the Alabama Area (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1965), 71–72.

In light of this letter, Spiegel’s open letter to Larimore in the Christian Standard comes as something of a surprise. Larimore still thinks fondly of Spiegel, but Spiegel has clearly moved on. He is no longer willing to give his former teacher a pass.

Again, Spiegel is trying to neutralize the influence of Barnes and Larimore in the churches of Alabama. With Barnes, he undertook a frontal assault on the Herron Street church, apparently believing that would suffice.

Larimore, however, was a man with a national platform. Spiegel had to use a national platform, the Standard, in order to call Larimore out. He believed he could do it, though, because he had the institutional weight of the church (“the great bulk of the disciples”) behind him: the state and national societies, the major colleges (specifically, College of the Bible), and the major journals (the Christian Standard and the Christian-Evangelist).

Did it work? No. At least not in the way that Spiegel likely intended.

Accolades for Larimore’s statement poured in from conservatives all across the South. Indeed, nearly every issue of the Gospel Advocate for a couple months following the open letter exchange was filled with praise for Larimore.

****

As the new year of 1898 dawned, O. P. Spiegel had taken a new job, leaving behind the office of State Evangelist to become the new minister of First Christian Church in Birmingham. Once there, he continued the fight he had begun as State Evangelist, in short succession starting new progressive congregations in Woodlawn and Bessemer. He continued to seek a national platform for his mission. In October 1898, at the annual meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Spiegel delivered a keynote address, “The South as a Mission Field.” The text of the speech doesn’t survive, but the title alone gives us some insight into Spiegel’s mind. The South, indeed, was a mission field–but a specific kind of mission field. It was filled with churches that were not cooperating with the work of the ACMS. Because of that, it was ripe for attention from society-supported missionaries.

M. F. Harmon

Atlanta Constitution February 5, 1899, pg. 18

1898 also saw a new, but equally aggressive, approach to the problem of J. M. Barnes and the Herron Street church. At the beginning of year, M. F. Harmon, prominent Mississippi progressive and co-editor with Spiegel of the Gospel Messenger, came to Montgomery to establish the “Central Christian Church.” Harmon explicitly avowed that he had not come to town to sow division: “I want any work in this city to be characterized by love, zeal, intelligence, devotion to the cause of Christ, and a patient persistency. I am not here to ‘sow seeds of discord,’ nor any other kind of seeds, except the seed of the Kingdom.” It was clear, though, that instead of flipping Herron Street to the pro-society column, Spiegel had decided to establish a rival congregation in the city. Church leaders in Montgomery understood this. In the summer of 1898, James A. Harding came to Montgomery. On this occasion, Barnes and Harding co-signed the following piece that appeared in the pages of the Montgomery Advertiser:

There is something in God’s book called “the Church of God,” “the Church of Christ.” There is nothing named “Christian Church.” Those who “speak as the oracles of God speak,” can call nothing on earth “the Christian Church.” The people that worship at the corner of Hanrick and Herron Streets, and that are now carrying on the tent meeting at Wilson’s Grove, conscientiously believe that it is the duty of Christians to “speak as the oracles of God speak.” They are not “the Christian Church,” they are “the Church of God, the Church of Christ,” or they are nothing. The public are hereby notified that they are not “the Christian Church,” or any part or parcel of it. We invite all who love a pure speech to help us to hold fast the form of sacred words, and make a complete return to the language of the spirit of God.

“The Church of God, The Church of Christ, Not the Christian.” Montgomery Advertiser, July 3, 1898, pg. 2

Harmon’s Central Christian Church began its work with 14 members drawn away from Herron Street by Spiegel and Harmon. It only lasted a few months, however. Harmon left for Atlanta in September 1898, and the church withered.

In our final post, we will turn back to today.

On the Larimore-Spiegel Exchange

The T. B. Larimore house near Florence, Alabama, was destroyed by fire a couple weeks ago. It’s a devastating loss, and a lot of people are feeling it right now. My FB feed has been full of articles and photos.

John Mark Hicks posted this remembrance:

JMH on Larimore

Larimore’s plea to be “just simply and solely a Christian in this intensely partisan age” resonates with so many of us who have been witness to harsh (and often pointless) disputes both at the congregational level and at the “brotherhood” level. Indeed, his words seem timeless.

But context matters, and cannot be ignored even in this case. Questions arise immediately. Who was this “former student”? What motivated him to write to Larimore? What did he want? I want to talk for a moment about the context of Larimore’s words and how an entirely different light can be cast upon them when we allow that context to shape our reading and understanding.

This is important at the moment because of the way that Larimore’s words have been pressed into service in the context of doctrinal disputes between “progressives” and “conservatives” in mainline Churches of Christ over the past few decades. In order to keep this post tight, I will split it into two parts.

In this and the next post, we will look at Larimore and his correspondent in more detail. In a third and final post, I will offer some reflections on what all this might say about our current-day situation.

****

Most of the details of T. B. Larimore’s life are well-established, and we need not linger on them here. But a bit of context will be helpful. Recall that he had established and managed the Mars’ Hill school for almost two decades (1871–1887). In that setting, some of the most influential leaders of the Churches of Christ in the early twentieth century were trained and began their ministries: E. A. Elam, J. C. McQuiddy, F. B. Srygley. Also among the graduates of Mars’ Hill was young Oscar Pendleton Spiegel (1866–1947). Remember that name: he’s the “former student” alluded to in John Mark’s post and we’ll return to him in a moment.

By the middle of the 1890s, Larimore was in the sixth decade of his life and was an in-

t. b. larimore

T. B. Larimore (ca.1900)

demand evangelist all across the South. Along with David Lipscomb and J. M. Barnes, we might count him among the elder statesmen of the Southern churches at that time. He was easily one of the most popular evangelists in the Christian Church–and one of the few with a solid reputation among other Protestant bodies.

Like most other evangelists in the church–especially those who traveled extensively to hold protracted meetings–Larimore preached to an increasingly divided brotherhood in the 1890s. As the decade wore on, congregations on both sides of the divide were actively specifying that the preachers who held their meetings line up with their views on the marquee issues of the day (i.e. the missionary society and instrumental music in worship).

Larimore, perhaps more than most, sought to thread a needle that was increasingly difficult to thread. He attempted to preach wherever he found an audience, regardless of the congregation’s leanings on those issues. Among his most well-known efforts:

  • the 1887 Nashville meeting that put the South College Street church on a solid footing. (This was the congregation that David Lipscomb served as an elder for nearly three decades.)
  • the 1894 Sherman, Texas meeting, which lasted some 22 weeks and resulted in 254 “additions” to the church there.
  • Not as well known—but noteworthy for the subject of this post—was the January 1896 meeting he held for the Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a congregation with decidedly progressive leanings.

As the reader might imagine, such an approach invited criticism from all sides. Larimore’s actions in Sherman, Texas filled the pages of the Gospel Advocate for the rest of 1894 and into the following year. Lots of armchair quarterbacking can be found in those articles. J. D. Tant, closely associated with the Firm Foundation, was especially vocal in his attacks on Larimore. But criticism came from the other side of the divide, as well. Following the Sherman meeting, the Christian Courier, a progressive Texas paper edited by W. K. Homan, attacked Larimore for dividing the church in Sherman.

It’s worth noting that, even amid all of this, David Lipscomb never dropped his support for Larimore. Aside from some mild criticism—he thought that Larimore could be a bit more clear about his convictions—Lipscomb remained in Larimore’s corner. From this, I think we readily gather that Larimore’s own doctrinal leanings were with Lipscomb and other Southern conservatives.

O. P. Spiegel -- Shreveport Times April 10 1904 pg. 2

O. P. Spiegel (1904)

The most surprising criticism of Larimore, however, came a few years later, in the summer of 1897, when an open letter to Larimore, penned by that “former student,” Oscar Pendleton Spiegel, ran in an issue of the Christian Standard, perhaps the leading progressive paper in the nation. How did it come to this? How did Larimore and one of his students find themselves in this position? To answer those questions, we have to understand something of Spiegel’s own development.

(At the outset, we should note that the details of Spiegel’s career are no mystery. Sources are plentiful: Spiegel was a major player among Southern Disciples in the 1890s.)

O. P. Spiegel was a native of Morgan County, Alabama, and part of a prominent family of Disciples there. (Two of his brothers, J. E. and S. P., would go on to play prominent roles among the progressive churches of Alabama in the early 20th century.) He enrolled in Larimore’s Mars Hill school as an adolescent boy, and was a member of that final graduating class of 1887. When F. D. Srygley interviewed Larimore about his former students two years later for a book he was writing, Larimore spoke very highly of Spiegel, referring to him as “one of the very best and most promising of the Mars’ Hill boys—young, fine looking and destined to make his mark in the world” (Larimore and His Boys, pg. 175). At the time of this interview, Spiegel had left Alabama and was enrolled as a student at College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky. Later on, he would undertake studies at the recently formed Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago. But it was in Lexington, among his fellow classmates, in classes and conversations with faculty members such as J. W. McGarvey, that Spiegel’s mind began to change.

When he graduated in the summer of 1891, Spiegel accepted an invitation from A. R. Moore to take his place as minister with the church in Anniston, Alabama. He wrote later that he hesitated at first:

At first I would not think of going. I had heard that there were societies of many kinds in that church; that they had a separate choir, and that the members had very little pure religion any way. After the church had urged me to come, I at last came to this conclusion: ‘If there is a church on earth where the members are doing sinful things, and will come to hear me preach, I want to go to that church, for may be I can benefit them; hence, I will try my hand on Anniston.’ So I wrote them that I would come that first of September, last. I went; but, to my great surprise, they had no society there, except the church; no separate choir, and as to religion, ‘pure and undefiled,’ I have never seen a church with more than this one…. The brethren and sisters are ever ready to co-operate with the Lord in every good word and work.

Quoted in O. P. Spiegel, “Anniston, Ala.” Gospel Advocate 34.26 (June 30, 1892): 405.

This was a position he would hold for about ten months. During his stay in Anniston, we see all the marks of a man whose mind is changing and whose loyalties are clearly divided. While in Anniston, he writes articles supportive of the state missionary society for the Apostolic Guide (and, our sources report, took a salary for his work from the General Christian Missionary Society). Moreover, he served as president of the 1892 annual meeting of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation (the state society). All the while, he sent in regular reports to the Gospel Advocate, and participated in a meeting that Advocate front-page editor F. D. Srygley held in nearby Gadsden.

While fellowship between conservatives and progressives had not decisively ruptured in the early 1890s, the kind of tension that Spiegel courted at this point in his own life was not sustainable. Open conflict with David Lipscomb erupted on the pages of the Advocate after Spiegel wrote the following in the Apostolic Guide:

Not long since I went to hold a little meeting at one of our little cities. One of the elders took me out and said: “Now, we would like to know how you stand on the ‘organ,’ ‘missionary society’ and ‘salaried preacher’ questions?” Said I: “Now, brother ———–, I have my opinion as to whether those things are right under certain circumstances, and you have yours. So I propose that we each and all keep our opinions to ourselves and preach the gospel this week, and do all the good we can to save souls.” “No,” said he, “if you believe these things are right under any circumstances, you are not a fit subject to preach the gospel.” I preached it all the same. But I wonder how long it will be before the confession of our opinions will be taken instead of a confession of our faith in Christ as to whether we shall be entitled to membership in the body of Christ?

Quoted in David Lipscomb, “Opinions a Test of Fellowship.” Gospel Advocate 34.20 (May 19, 1892): 309.

Lipscomb responded:

“If a Methodist were to say to Bro. Speegle [sic], that you have your opinion about who should be baptized and how it should be done, and I have mine; let us keep our opinions to ourselves and preach the gospel this week, he would object, mine is faith, not opinions.

“I as firmly believe that it is a sin to set aside the divine order of work and worship, with the interferences and opinions of men, as he possibly can believe it a sin to substitute affusion for baptism, or to baptize the infant instead of the believer in Christ Jesus. He wonders how long it will be before a confession of opinion will be taken instead of a confession of our faith in Christ, as to whether we should be entitled to membership in a church of Christ. If he will study the exclusion of J. T. Frazier in Louisville, he can see that when those who substitute opinion and inference for the order of God feel they are strong enough they will exclude all who refuse to conform to the opinion of the elders. If he will note that as smooth and gentle a man as Larimore can hold a series of successful meetings in Texas, one in the home-town of one of the editorial writers of the [Christian] Courier, and never be noticed in the Courier. This means he is ostracised. How long before you will feel able to do this in Alabama, deponent saith not, but some years ago a few young men went from college down to Alabama, with a number of visitors, held a state meeting for Alabama, and refused to let J. M. Barnes, who was raised in the state and labored long to build up the churches of Christ, speak at it. And it seems from the above, a young man just out of school set at defiance the wish of an elder of a church, and preached against his wishes. That, at least, is implied by the language. I cannot tell how long it will be, but now as ever, those who depart from the word of God will ostracise, condemn, and cast out, those who refuse to depart from the order of God.

The trouble with Bro. Speegle is, he does not keep his opinion to himself. He may have done it on that occasion as a matter of policy, but he is head of a society in Alabama to propagate his opinion, and he presses that opinion on the brethren wherever and whenever he can, without defeating his own aims to establish it. No one will object to Brother Speegle’s opinion if he will keep it to himself.”

There’s a lot going on in this exchange—did you notice Lipscomb’s use of Larimore in his response to Spiegel?—but we should note two things that come through with great clarity, especially when the Lipscomb-Spiegel conversation is placed alongside the later Larimore-Spiegel exchange:

  1. By 1897, in his open letter to Larimore, Spiegel has reversed himself, essentially taking the line of argument made by the elder in the story above.
  2. In the five years from 1892 to 1897, Spiegel’s transition was complete. His was not an uncommon story in the 1890s. It was a time of transition and ferment. All sorts of people in the Christian Church were transitioning from conservative to progressive and from progressive to conservative during these years. Likewise, congregations were making the transition from one side of the fence to the other. By the end of the decade, it was much, much more difficult not to take a side (as Larimore was trying to do) than it had been at the beginning of it.

After his time at Anniston, Spiegel’s trajectory was set. He accepted the position of State Evangelist in July 1894.

Because even most who have heard of the missionary societies are unfamiliar with the office of  State Evangelist, a word of explanation is in order. The State Evangelist was the public face of the state missionary society. As the name of the office suggests, he traveled the state holding meetings and raising funds for the state society. He also helped connect churches with preachers who could hold meetings for them. In some cases, he would help to resolve congregational disputes or to vet preachers for doctrinal suitability. Moreover, it was common for the State Evangelist to act as a subscription agent for the pro-society papers, like the Standard, the Apostolic Guide, and the Christian-Evangelist. In all of this, the State Evangelist was a key player in building the denominational scaffolding that would result, by the 1960s, in the formation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

During his time as State Evangelist (July 1894 to December 1897), Spiegel did the job he was commissioned to do. He sent in reports of his work to the Advocate as well as to the more progressive papers. Year by year, Spiegel’s loyalties to the progressive cause became clearer. More than that, though, he became increasingly more aggressive in pushing his newly formed conclusions on the churches of Alabama.

We’ll turn to that story in the next post.

 

“Concerning Military Training”

In the July 16, 1896, issue of the Gospel Advocate, F. D. Srygley reprinted, with approval, the following query that had been directed to the editor of the Christian-Evangelist. As with so many other things one encounters in the Gospel Advocate from the 1890s, it’s noteworthy as an index of how much things have changed.

“Do you think that our institutions, like Drake, Kentucky University, Bethany, Eureka, Add-Ran, etc., should have regular military companies in them? Do they not cultivate the military or war spirit? Are the benefits equal to the evils? (An Observer.)

We do not see any sufficient reasons for military companies in such institutions as are named. It is urged in their favor that they train boys to walk erect, but this should be done before the boy goes to the university or the college. Besides, some system of calisthenics would answer that purpose as well. It seems hardly consonant with institutions founded in the interest of the King of Peace to foster the military spirit. Rather let the students of our colleges be taught to put on the whole armor of God and to fight their battles with spiritual weapons.—Christian-Evangelist.

Excerpted from “Spirit of the Press.” Gospel Advocate 38.29 (July 16, 1896): 450.

A few explanatory notes:

  1. The querist is asking after the propriety of what are now commonly known as ROTC programs. In our day, these are largely uncontroversial. Colleges and universities of all stripes—including at least some of those affiliated with the Churches of Christ—host these programs. But such programs—along with intercollegiate football programs—were regularly criticized by writers for the Advocate as late as the 1930s.
  2. Some of the colleges named—Drake, Bethany, and Eureka—are still in operation. Kentucky University, through a complicated institutional history, fed into the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University. Add-Ran is now known as Texas Christian University.
  3. It’s also worth noting that, a mere two years later, J. H. Garrison (1842–1931), editor of the Christian-Evangelist, would throw his full weight behind the American war against Spain. Garrison’s response on this occasion is frankly surprising: consistent pacifism of the kind found in the Advocate during the 90s was in very short supply in most other brotherhood papers from that same period.

On Individual Responsibility

James J. Irvine (1862–1898) was a native of New Zealand. He came to America at the age of 20 and, in due course, enrolled in classes at College of the Bible, from which he graduated in 1890. Like a large number of other graduates in those days, he came south to Alabama to begin his ministerial career. He served as State Evangelist in Alabama from 1890–1891, followed by a stint as minister for the church in Selma.  By 1895, he had taken a position as office editor of the Southern Christian,  edited by C. P. Williamson out of Atlanta, with close sympathies for the progressive stances of the Apostolic Guide and the Christian-Evangelist. Later, he would undertake pastorates in Jacksonville, Fla., and Norfolk, Va.—where he met an untimely death in 1898 at the age of 36.

The Gospel Advocate for June 20, 1895 reprinted a piece that Irvine wrote for the Southern Christian, titled “Individual Effort.”  It might strike us as odd that the Advocate would reprint a writer like Irvine with such ties. Two considerations are at work here: 1) the Advocate of the pre-Goodpasture period consistently fostered the open exchange of ideas and the various sides of a given issue. F. D. Srygley—front page editor at the time this piece was written—would reprint anything he thought worth reading, no matter who the author was. 2) The 1890s were a time of transition. A page-by-page survey of the decade allows the reader to clearly see the split between progressives and conservatives in real time. It was not a time when firm lines that could not be crossed had been drawn—although that was soon to happen.

Anyway, I reprint the piece here not so much to make a specific theological point, as rather for the sake of general edification.

Every work to-day, great or small, stands as a monument to personal effort. We look upon an immense building in all its beauty and massiveness; we think of the different individuals who worked with brain and muscle, and of the agencies used to bring about this grand result.

The architect, as he made the plan, as he calculated the symmetry, the blending of the parts; the contractor, as he takes what has been planned and begins to lay his foundation deep and wide and strong, and going down to the solid rock to make it the base of his operations.

The building begins to assume size and shape. Each one at his particular place, all helping and using their skill and personal effort until the whole building fitly joined together is a fit abode for man. All this was brought about by a combination of personal effort, a working together for a desired end.

Is not this the divine idea and will? Are we not co-laborers together with God in the building up of the great structure of the Church of Christ?

In the building of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, we find that the people had a mind to work, although surrounded within and without by enemies, and the result was the walls were completed.

So with the spiritual walls of Jerusalem, the people must have a mind to work, must have the Christ spirit dwelling in them, to be continually going about “my Father’s business.”

The walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are being strengthened in our Southland, and now the servants of our Lord are doing so much. How much could be done if every individual follower of Christ would put forth some personal effort. Now is the time. Let us go to the Divine Architect, get our plans, and work by them. Go down to the solid “Rock of Ages,” build thereon, and each one in his place, with the talent and ability given him, rear a part of the great structure to the honor and glory of God. In this God-given work let each do his part and do it well. If you can sing, sing the praises of God and the gospel of his Son. If you can pray, pray fervently for the workers in whatever part of the great building they may be found. If you can teach or preach, know nothing among men but the Christ, exalt his name, hold him up as the chief corner-stone, the one despised and rejected, but now the King of kings.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God, and when life’s work is done on earth we have the sweet promise of entering into that rest and that mansion prepared for the faithful, into the heavenly Jerusalem, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. May each one do his individual part in the effort to save men.

— J. J. Irvine, “Individual Effort.” Gospel Advocate 37.25 (June 20, 1895): 386.

I’ve not blogged much over the past couple years, but expect to see more of this kind of clipping. I’ve collected a lot of this sort of thing from my time in front of the microfilm reader.

 

 

 

McCaleb on Revelation

J. M. McCaleb -- student at CotB

J. M. McCaleb (1862–1953)

By 1895, J. M. McCaleb had been doing independent mission work in Japan for more than a year. During that time he was a regular contributor to the Gospel Advocate, writing columns on a range of subjects from doctrinal issues to moral exhortations to book reviews to reports of the work in Japan. In the January 3, 1895, issue of the Advocate, he contributed a piece titled “Some Good Books” which contains short reviews of J. W. Shepherd’s Handbook on Baptism, J. L. Martin’s The Voice of Seven Thundersand a new pamphlet by David Lipscomb titled “Truth-Seeking.”

I thought McCaleb’s comments on Martin’s book were interesting, and wanted to share them here:

I read this book some twelve or fifteen years ago, when a boy, but read it a second time with more interest and benefit, because better prepared to receive it. It is simply a commentary on Revelation given in the form of lectures. It is a very common idea that if one is not just a little “unbalanced,” he is at least wasting time in studying or preaching from Revelation. Hence this part of the Book is usually neglected. People take it for granted it is something not to be understood, so pass it by. In our Bible course of study at Lexington, I remember there was scarcely a hint at Revelation. Excellent as it is, I believe it could be improved by including this important part of the scriptures, if it was only to give a few leading points as to how it should be studied to be understood. While one may not agree with all the author says, there are certainly many excellent suggestions that stimulate one to study the last words of Jesus to the churches and the world with a new interest. Why call it a revelation if it is a mystery not to be understood?

(Excerpted from “Some Good Books,” Gospel Advocate 37.1 [January 3, 1895]: 6–7)

McCaleb, of course, was an 1891 graduate of the College of the Bible (in the same graduating class with O. P. Spiegel as it happens). This nugget of insight into the curriculum at Lexington helps us understand a bit more fully the disputes that broke out in the churches over premillennialism two decades later.

J. M. Barnes on singing and unity

Justus McDuffie Barnes (1836–1913)

Justus McDuffie Barnes (1836–1913)

In July 1896, J. M. Barnes embarked on a month-long preaching tour through the State of Texas, documenting his travels in a series of articles in the Firm Foundation. Barnes was, without question, the leading conservative in Alabama during the years between the close of the Civil War and his own death in the spring of 1913. But he also travelled extensively, and was a regular writer for, among others, the Gospel Advocate and Benjamin Franklin’s American Christian Review.

This is an illuminating series for, among other things, its insights into congregational life in the 1890s. Beginning on the first Sunday in August, Barnes recounts that he preached a ten-days’ meeting at the Pearl and Bryan Streets church in Dallas, “in some respects the most remarkable body in my whole knowledge.”

Barnes is blunt over the course of several articles as he describes the state of Pearl and Bryan’s eldership. These men, he says, are elders, but not bishops in the New Testament sense of the word—and he goes on to say why. Then he comes to the singing. Here is what he says:

After the first discourse I asked, as a special favor, to allow me to lead the singing during my stay. This was granted. I insisted that no people should offer to God a sorry thing. God had shown that he was choice in His sacrifices by refusing to accept of those with blemishes or those deficient in any way. Man had to take trouble in the days of the Aaronic priesthood to find an offering to please God; so they do now. He requires the fruits of our lips. Heb. 13:15. He demands singing, or what is the same, commands it. 1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16. He wants the very best you can give. I told the brethren at Dallas I would not have their singing, and I was satisfied God would not. I am satisfied that the devil laughs heartily at most of the singing offered to the Lord. God is not going to take your old singing unless it is the best that you can give and the best that you can prepare to give. Theatre people may sing to the devil, but they do it so as to like it themselves and make others do so, too. Not many churches sing, so they like it themselves. It is upon a failure here that organ lovers find their first excuse for the instrument. Dallas had a woman leader. This is common. Why? Because the men are too lazy or too indifferent to study music and learn to lead. This is not always the reason. Sometimes the women just will lead. God has distributed singing talent nearly as promiscuously among the human family as He has the eating talent.

(Excerpted from “In Texas,” Firm Foundation 12.44 [November 3, 1896]: 1.)

Barnes continues in the following week’s issue:

The essentials to good singing in God’s ekklesia are, first, all sing; second, all sit or stand as closely together as possible; third, that there be not the least contrariness among any of the members; fourth, a leader whom all can hear; fifth, a leader who will keep first rate tune; sixth, a leader who will stand where all can see him and the movements of his time hand; seventh, distinct articulation of every word, so they can heard as if read, and well understood … I wish every one could understand that contrariness comes from the devil, and that this old fellow has about as much influence among so-called members of the church as Jesus Christ has. “I can sing here as well as anywhere else.” I have heard this from the “saints” in all times and metres. The user of this expression thinks it original, but he is quoting from many, many forerunners in contrariness and stubbornness. “I can sing here as well as anywhere else,” and he or she fastens self to the back seat in the house. Such a one would rebel against a choir and justly do it, but choirs, like organs, are the fungus growth that springs luxuriantly from sorry congregational singing … Why do the members of a choir sit or stand closely together? Why do concert, theatre, or minstrel singers sit and stand closely together? In order to have good music. Why do members of the church sit or stand as far apart as each can get from the other? In order to show that each individual is an integral whole entirely independent of every other whole, and dependent upon nothing upon the face of the green earth except on ungodly contrariness that is generated in the bad place.

(Excerpted from “In Texas,” Firm Foundation 12.45 [November 10, 1896]: 1.)

We might smile at some of this; Barnes was nothing if not colorful in his writing and speaking. But in his sarcasm in that final line, Barnes makes a very serious point, one that anticipates the insights of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio and hearkens back over fifteen centuries to similar ideas found in the writings of the Fathers. Calvin Stapert, in A New Song for an Old World, argues that we can see this point as far back as Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Toward the end of his letter, the apostle pronounces this blessing upon the Christians in the imperial capital:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Jesus Christ, that together with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 15:5-6)

It is impossible to say whether we have a direct reference to singing in this text. Nevertheless, Stapert observes, “no one can doubt that [Paul’s statement] articulates a principle that the church took very seriously for her singing. The importance of singing ‘with one voice’ was a constant refrain among the early Christian writers” (pg. 25). Here’s St Ambrose, fourth-century bishop of Milan, from his Commentary on Psalm 1:

[A psalm is] a pledge of peace and harmony, which

St Ambrose (ca. 337–397)

St Ambrose (ca. 337–397)

produces one song from various and sundry voices in the manner of a cithara….

A psalm joins those with differences, unites those at odds and reconciles those who have been offended, for who will not concede to him with whom one sings to God in one voice? It is after all a great bond of unity for the full number of people to join in one chorus. The strings of the cithara differ, but create one harmony.

There is nothing in our worship assemblies, apart from the Lord’s Supper, that so effectively demonstrates our unity one with another as the act of singing. Already, though, in the late nineteenth century, the tendency to individualism showed itself in congregational life, as indicated by Barnes’ words.