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.