Clippings from Recent Research

F. W. Smith (1858-1930)

“If the congregations striving to worship after the New Testament order could magnify more the importance of the Lord’s-day service, the breaking of bread, by discontinuing all other services, it would be a good thing. If by so doing Christians could be induced to come on Lord’s day solely to commemorate the sufferings of Christ, we could have more evangelists in the fields of destitution. I am not sure but the churches of Canada are right in their practice. They have no Sunday-morning sermon, but exalt and magnify the Supper. People who want to hear preaching have to attend the evening service, and this demonstrates those who are hungering for the preached gospel, instead of simply an ‘outing’ to display finery when there is no other place in which to do it.”

— F. W. Smith, “Falling Off in Church Attendance.” Gospel Advocate 52.16 (April 21, 1910): 484.

In 1910, F. W. Smith was living in Nashville and writing regularly for the Gospel Advocate. Apart from his work with the church in Franklin, he busied himself with gospel meeting work that took him throughout Tennessee and most of the neighboring states, as well as further north into Canada. (One of his stops in 1910 was in Birmingham, Alabama, where he held a protracted meeting for John T. Lewis’ fledgling West End church, while Lewis himself lay sick in a hospital bed in Nashville.)

Smith’s argument for the centrality of the Table assumes an arrangement that was beginning to die out among Churches of Christ in 1910. The advent of the located minister pushed the mutual edification practices of the 19th century to the side and replaced the emphasis on the Supper (present as early as Campbell’s writings) with an emphasis on revival-style preaching. Smith cites the Canadian churches as a model, but he could just as easily have mentioned the British churches, which also privileged the Supper in their Lord’s Day assemblies and who also avoided the more deleterious effects of American revivalism in their worship practices.

We’ve come along way since Smith’s day, obviously, and not always for the better.

4 responses to “Clippings from Recent Research

  1. I visit congregations in Canada (particularly Jordan and Wellandport in Ontario) and there are still leftovers from the British system. In particular, they still have a “president” (presider) who coordinates the service, announcing the hymns (though he doesn’t lead them), presides at the table and makes announcements.

    Though I think exclusion of unbelievers at services is extreme (and is not practiced by Canadian churches I know), certainly early Christians focused primarily on the Lord and his sacrifice as they partook of the bread and not on evangelizing the lost. That emphasis was seen elsewhere.

  2. That’s fascinating. Are these non-institutional churches, as well? Do they observe the wearing of the head covering?

  3. I have heard of a congregation in Paris, France that has two seperate services on Sunday with a break of a few hours in between. The first service is devoted exclusively to the Lord’s Supper.

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