Category Archives: Churches of Christ

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.

“Write Him Up”

Write Him Up

If thy brother does thee wrong,
Write him up.

If he’s weak, ’twill make him strong;
Write him up.

If you know his faults are many,
Write him up.

For, of course, YOU haven’t any;
Write him up.

If some one says aught of YOU,
Write him up.

To let it pass would NEVER do;
Write him up.

If you have an enemy on earth,
Write him up.

Tell his faults from day of birth;
Write him up.

If a preacher makes slight error,
Write him up.

That he may henceforth quake with terror,
Write him up.

If a church is having trouble,
Write it up.

For, of course, ’twill make it double;
Write it up.

If you’re called there for a meeting,
Write it up.

Give their trouble widespread greeting;
Write it up.

— A poem by A. W. Young, of Sunset, Texas (Firm Foundation 21.25 [June 20, 1905], pg. 6).

“The most distinctly southern city I ever saw”: Nashville, 1897

Morrison Meade Davis (1850–1926)

Morrison Meade Davis (1850–1926)

To follow up on J. A. Lord’s comments about Nashville in my last post, here’s an excerpt from an account of a visit that M. M. Davis, then pastor of the Central Christian Church in Dallas, paid to Nashville in the summer of 1897:

Nashville is a splendid city of 100,000 people, and is the most distinctly southern city I ever saw; much more so than Dallas. It is strange but true that I traveled 400 miles north and found myself in the midst of a typical southern people; incomparably more so than those I left. That it is full of thrift and enterprise is evidenced by the Centennial Exposition, the best state show ever seen in this country. So good is it that in the estimation of competent judges it compares favorably in many respects with the Columbian Exposition at Chicago. The grounds are spacious and beautiful, the buildings are massive and artistic, and the exhibits are one perpetual and pleasing surprise, and I feel it my duty to urge every one to visit it.

We have about 3,500 people here, with fourteen organizations and twelve places of worship. I had the honor and pleasure of preaching at the Vine St. church, the oldest and largest of them all. They have a $40,000 house in the very heart of the city, and 600 members. R. Lin Cave has been pastor for more than sixteen years, and I never knew a man more universally loved. His recent resignation and call to the presidency of Kentucky University have cast a gloom over the whole church and city, for he is popular with everybody. He has a son, R. Lord Cave, who bids fair to become as great a preacher as his father. And why not? If there is anything in heredity, and we all believe there is, then the grandson of the peerless Dr. Hopson, and the son of R. Lin Cave, two of our strongest men, ought to be a man of power. The Woodland St. Church on the east side of the river, under the pastoral care of T. A. Reynolds, has a good house, with 300 members, and is doing a great work. This church boasts the proud honor of being the mother of the state mission work. A. I. Myhr, the leader of the missionary hosts, has his membership here. C. A. Moore, late of Missouri, is pastor of the South Nashville Church, with David Lipscomb as one of his elders. The other churches have preaching, but no regular pastors.

The Gospel Messenger, late of Mississippi, is now in this city. M. F. Harmon, filled with energy and aglow with hope, a young man of much promise, is its founder, proprietor, and editor. For some time, however, O. P. Spiegel has shared with him his editorial honors and labors, and just recently J. M. Watson has been added to the editorial staff. Bro. Watson will have charge of the office, thus giving Harmon time for outside work when necessary and Spiegel will continue to push its claims in Mississippi. This is the place for the Messenger, and I will be surprised if these three young men do not make it a success. They have wisely inaugurated a publishing house in connection with the paper.

Here also is the Gospel Advocate, edited by David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, and F. D. Srygley. This is one of our oldest papers, and is regarded as the representative of the anti-organ and anti-society sentiment. It has a publishing house, and supplies its constituency with much of their literature.

Nashville is pre-eminently a city of schools. Vanderbilt University, Peabody Normal, Belmont, Ward’s and Price’s are well-known institutions. Fisk University and Roger Williams Institute are large schools for the colored people. H. L. Surber is just beginning the second year of Southern Christian College, and he is hopeful for the future. Fanning Academy, founded by Tolbert Fanning, another one of our church schools for girls, is near the city. J. A. Harding’s Bible School for the training of young preachers, is here also. The very atmosphere of the place is charged with the educational idea, making it a most desirable place to live. This is not strange when it is remembered that there are not less than 3,50o students here every year…

(Excerpted from “Texas Letter,” Christian-Evangelist 34.38 [September 23, 1897]: 600.)

So here we have a progressive’s view of events on the ground in Nashville at the turn of the century. Harmon’s Gospel Messenger ran strong for a few years in the mid 1890s, but never approached the circulation of the Advocate. It would close up shop in Nashville about a year after Davis wrote these words. O. P. Spiegel briefly tried to revive it in Birmingham as a periodical voice for the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation, but he too had abandoned it by the end of 1902.

In 1897, division between progressives and conservatives was becoming clearer. Even so, Davis can still say that “we have about 3,500 people here, with fourteen organizations and twelve places of worship” and refer to the Gospel Advocate as “one of our oldest papers.” Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

Conservatives in Nashville would certainly have disagreed with Davis’

Vine Street Christian Church

Vine Street Christian Church

assessment of R. Lin Cave and the Vine Street church. Twelve of those fourteen churches to which Davis alludes were conservative in sympathy. That said, none of them could claim the social standing, the respect, or the wealth that Vine Street and Woodland Street held. This comes through in some of David Lipscomb’s most scathing comments about Vine Street: “The Vine Street church, in Nashville, is a strong church numerically, pecuniarily, socially. It is surpassed by no such church in Nashville of any denomination in social and intellectual and pecuniary ability. It is the weakest church claiming to be Christian in the city. I have known its work for fifty years past. During that time it has not planted a church or sent out a preacher” (Gospel Advocate 1907, pg. 681, emphasis added).

It would be difficult to miss the point: Vine Street’s pride in its social standing—and its apparent lack of interest in evangelization—tarnished its faithfulness.

Still, though, I wonder what Lord was getting at in his comments about Nashville? Is social standing all he sees? Did he expect Vine Street and Woodland Street to start planting churches in numbers that would stem the conservative tide? Did he expect the conservatives to shoot themselves in the foot with their own dogmatism or their own “inadequate theory of church expansion”? We will never know.

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I’ll be back to the Birmingham materials soon. My trek through the Firm Foundation has yielded some interesting results that I intend to share here.

On “the fruitfulness of co-operative endeavor”: J. A. Lord in Birmingham, 1907

James Alexander Lord (1849–1922)

James Alexander Lord (1849–1922)

In November 1907, J. A. Lord, editor of the Christian Standard, traveled south to attend the annual meeting of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation, which was held in Jasper that year. He came away excited and very optimistic about the prospects of the progressive churches in Alabama, especially those in Birmingham and Jasper (where a new, pro-society church had just been established).

I’ve been doing a lot of research of late focused on establishing the context for John T. Lewis’ arrival in Birmingham in the fall of 1907, a point at which Castleberry’s He Looked for a City disappoints. For Castleberry, the Fox Hall church simply exists. He is not interested in describing its origins or the larger religious context of Birmingham. In his telling, Lewis stepped into a vacuum when he held that first meeting in Pratt City in August-September of 1907.

But this was simply not the case. Consider what Lord has to say about Birmingham:

This whole Birmingham story, so full of inspiring details, that pages might well be devoted to it, is a demonstration of the most striking character of the fruitfulness of co-operative endeavor in the great industrial and commercial centers of America. These churches and their preachers are devoted to the preaching of the simple gospel and to planting churches of Christ at every vantage-point in this whole growing congeries of manufacturing and commercial communities, which will be fused into a city of half a million people in less than twenty-five years. From the present rate of growth, and with the present outlook, some fifty churches of Christ will be planted here in the next quarter of a century. And let it not be forgotten by brethren who have been slow to fall in with co-operative methods of evangelism, that none of these churches would have been in existence if their fears had possessed the Birmingham workers, or their inadequate theory of church expansion had been carried out. One thousand people of Birmingham and vicinity are now enlisted in and are committed to the spirit of the Restoration plea, who would be out in the world, or scattered among the denominations, if the anti-co-operative views of those who opposed missionary societies had prevailed. In no important center of population except Nashville, Tenn., have the anti-co-operative ideas resulted in churches of Christ of any strength of membership or influence, and a full understanding of the facts will show that even Nashville is no exception to the rule.”

(Excerpted from “Southern Convention Notes,” Christian Standard 43.50 [December 14, 1907]: 2071.)

This was Lord’s third trip to Birmingham as editor of the Standard. In this excerpt, he is talking about the five progressive (i.e., pro-society, pro-instrument) churches that existed in Birmingham, four of which had been established in the seven years prior to Lewis’ arrival.

Ironies abound here, of course. At the very moment Lord wrote these words, the young John T. Lewis had just arrived in Birmingham to begin his work with the Fox Hall church. (Counting Fox Hall, of course, would bring the total number of Stone-Campbell churches in the city to six.) While Lord’s “fifty churches of Christ” never materialized, Lewis—beginning with that single, tiny church—was ultimately responsible for more than thirty churches in the Birmingham District based, albeit, on an “inadequate theory of church expansion” that Lord thought would never work.

Moreover—and not to put too fine a point on it—while the first decade of the twentieth century was a flush time for the pro-society churches, never again would the expansive spirit of A. R. Moore, O. P. Spiegel, J. A. Lord, and other progressive leaders in Birmingham be fully recaptured by them.

Finally, regarding Lord’s comments about Nashville. What does he know about the situation in Nashville that he’s not saying here?

Clippings from Recent Research

“The church must be free to be poor in order to minister among the poor.”

William Stringfellow (1928-1985)

William Stringfellow (1928-1985)

In the November 19, 1964 issue of the Gospel Guardian, editor Yater Tant reviewed a (then new) book by lawyer and Episcopal theologian William Stringfellow titled My People Is the Enemy. The review is a fascinating glimpse into the way that social and cultural issues of the day were addressed in the Guardian, and is (if I may be allowed to say so) worthy for our consideration today.

I give you here the review in its entirety, taken from Gospel Guardian 16.28 (November 19, 1964): 4, 9. Wording in bold is so in the original.

“My People is the Enemy”

This is the name of a most challenging book published last summer by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. The author is William Stringfellow, one of the leading Episcopal laymen of the day, and a lawyer with an international reputation in his field. He articulates a question that is coming increasingly to trouble the minds of thoughtful denominational leaders—and which has most serious implications for the churches of Christ.

Mr. Stringfellow examines the whole idea of modern religion’s involvement in the ‘social’ questions that trouble our generation. The churches of our day, he opines, are engaged in everything from playgrounds to politics, and from rental housing to racial revolutions. But have they put their eggs in the wrong basket?

He thinks maybe they have.

This book clearly warns the churches against plunging into ‘all sorts of social work and social action’ and thereby neglecting their basic reason for existence, ‘the proclamation and celebration of the gospel.’ In their efforts to alleviate man’s physical distress, and to relieve his want and hunger, Stringfellow argues that the churches have so ‘watered down’ the gospel as to make it lose its power.

He writes:

‘If the gospel is so fragile that it may not be welcomed by a man who, say, he’s hungry, unless  he first be fed, then this is no Gospel with any saving power; this is no word of God which has authority over the power of death.

‘The Gospel, if it represents the power of God unto salvation, is a word which is exactly addressed to men in this world in their destitution and hunger and sickness and travail and perishing—addressed to them in a way which may be heard and embraced in any of these, or in any other, afflictions.’

Stringfellow, who left Harvard Law School several years ago to live and practice his profession in the Harlem ghetto of New York City is particularly critical of what he calls the ‘urban church concept’ of Christianity.

‘The premise of most urban church work,’ he declares, ‘is that in order for the church to minister among the poor, the church has to be rich, that is, to have specially trained personnel, huge funds and many facilities, rummage to distribute and a whole battery of social services. Just the opposite is the case. The church must be free to be poor in order to minister among the poor.’

‘The church must trust the Gospel enough to come among the poor with nothing to offer the poor except the gospel.’

A church rich and affluent can hardly do that; a church poor and humble can. The gospel of Christ, as it is, is adapted to man as he is—miserable, hungry, frustrated, lonely, overburdened with grief, anxiety, and a sense of futility.

The churches of Christ have traditionally understood this. There has been very

Fanning Yater Tant (1908-1997)

Fanning Yater Tant (1908-1997)

little of the ‘social gospel’ emphasis among them. Not until lately. But now we are witnessing a significant change. A strong undercurrent of ‘social gospelism’ is becoming quite evident. A tremendous proliferation of ‘orphan homes,’ just when the denominational churches and social welfare agencies were turning from them to other and more acceptable forms of child care was but the beginning, and was but a symptom of the real trouble. Vast sums have been spent and are being spent in a wide variety of ‘social project’ efforts among the churches of Christ. They range all the way from summer camps to homes for unwed mothers to rehabilitation farms for wayward boys and hobby shops for restless housewives. There is a subtle (and probably unrecognized) loss of faith in the power of the gospel. These social projects are not the spontaneous fruit coming from the hearts of dedicated Christians; they are supervised ‘organizational projects’ of congregations. And they are frankly being promoted as ‘bait’ to intrigue the interest and soften up the resistance of the non-Christians! The ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-fed are not going to be interested in the gospel; we must first see that they are well-housed, well-clothed, and well-fed!

Denominational churches have tried this approach. And now Stringfellow’s is only one thoughtful voice among many that are being raised to question the assumption. At the very time when our brethren are turning toward these social projects, the discerning ones in denominational circles are questioning the validity of this entire point of view. It is built on a false premise … or so Stringfellow contends.

We believe the conservative [i.e. non-institutional] congregations will not quickly adopt the ‘social gospel’ approach to win people to Christ. And it is quite possible that many even in the more liberal churches will question it. But for all of them, both conservative and liberal, this new book by William Stringfellow ought to be ‘required reading.’ It can be ordered from the Gospel Guardian. The price is $3.95.

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stringfellowicon

Icon of Stringfellow, hanging in the chapel of Bates College (ME), his alma mater.

A few comments about this piece. First, if it seems confusing that FYT would be reviewing a book such as this, we should recall the very open editorial policy that he pursued for the Guardian during this period. Side-by-side comparison with the Advocate from the same period is instructive. Tant and his writing staff from time to time dealt with topics—in the form of discussions of race and other social issues, book reviews, etc.—that would never have appeared in print in B. C. Goodpasture’s Advocate. We might not always agree with their conclusions, but the fact that the discussions ran at all is significant.

A couple of observations should be made about the content of the review. First, Tant quotes Stringfellow thus: “The church must be free to be poor in order to minister among the poor. The church must trust the Gospel enough to come among the poor with nothing to offer the poor except the gospel.” Tant then observes: “A church rich and affluent can hardly do that; a church poor and humble can.”

In a single sentence, Tant gets at the crux of the enduring socioeconomic divide in American Protestantism. Those of us who are well off (and well educated) may genuinely want to help the poor, but we rarely want to give up what we have (“be poor”) in order to do that. We want to be able to help while still enjoying all of the advantages that come with our class status. Tant and other non-institutional thinkers in the churches of Christ in the 1950s and ’60s saw in that truth the genesis of so many parachurch/institutional projects.

Moreover, they saw that these projects were born out of a certain awkwardness. It was the awkwardness that came when a group of people who were busy crossing the tracks socioeconomically looked back at the place and people from whom they had so recently come. Many genuinely felt bad for those they had left behind and wanted to help. In their response they ended up mimicking the behavior of members of other middle-class Protestant denominations. Institutional projects such as Childhaven and countless others allowed the affluent (or recently middle-class) church member to help, while simultaneously keeping his distance. In so doing, they completely missed the way in which they constructed a divide between themselves and the poor.

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A final word: I would be remiss not to note the at-first-glance odd pairing of Stringfellow and Tant. These days, Stringfellow is read admiringly among certain, but not all, progressives in the churches of Christ. I dare say that he is largely unknown among conservatives. That’s interesting, though, because Tant clearly saw an affinity between Stringfellow’s argument in My People Is the Enemy and the non-institutional argument that he and his writers were making in the Guardian in the ’60s, so much so that he could call it “required reading.” I have to wonder: how might one of our editors evaluate Stringfellow’s book today?

 

“May We Have More Modest Reports?”

I’ve written here in recent months about some of the more moving stories to be encountered through a careful reading of the “News and Notes” column in the Gospel Advocate. It’s an unlikely source, to be sure, but I’ve been edified by my encounter with such stories.

By the 1940s, one can detect an unmistakeable shift of atmosphere in “News and Notes.” What had once been the place where a small, committed band of evangelists shared news and prayer concerns, marriage announcements and jokes, pleas for help and so on, gradually became a bloated vehicle for self-promotion and career-building.

This shift can be seen in at least a couple of ways. First, there is the fact that “News and Notes” ballooned in size during this period. By the 1940s, “News and Notes” typically took up a third or more of the total weekly page count. Most everyone wanted to appear on the page. (Incidentally, John T. Lewis was a notable exception; you’ll only find him there if he’s being mentioned by someone else.) In part, this was because such appearances, especially regular ones, were the currency of a career in preaching. It was a way to get your name out there, to break into the brotherhood of preachers, especially if you were young.

A. E. Emmons, Jr. (1913-1980)

A. E. Emmons, Jr. (1911-1980)

Consider the example of Birmingham preacher A. E. Emmons, Jr., preacher for the new Central Church of Christ from 1942 to 1948. During his time in Birmingham, Emmons became a regular contributor to “News and Notes.” Whether the news was significant or not, Emmons kept the statistical reports coming. These reports, whatever their intrinsic value, served to keep Central — and, just as importantly, Emmons himself — before the brotherhood as an active and growing congregation. Thus it could be seen as a kind of resume-padding.

But that is to be perhaps a bit too cynical. These sorts of reports served another, equally important function. They allowed Emmons to extend the favor of good publicity to young preachers with whom he was acquainted. As was common in those days, Emmons would leave Birmingham during gospel meeting season (i.e., the summer) to hold meetings across the country. While he was gone a young man, usually from one of the colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ, would fill in for him. For example, Jack Duncan filled in at Central during the summers of 1943 and 1944; Joe F. Watson, a student at Freed-Hardeman College, filled in for the summer of 1945; Bob Crawley, then a student at David Lipscomb College, filled in during the summer of 1946. (Some of you will recall that Crawley later preached at Belview Heights in Birmingham.)

In each case, Emmons repeatedly mentions the young man’s name and compliments him on the work he did for the Central church. Such mentions in “News and Notes” functioned as a brief letter of recommendation for young preachers and songleaders from all over the country who were looking for meeting work or for a position with an established congregation.

A second way in which we can see how “News and Notes” was changing is that the content of entries became more formulaic, more laconic. Individual entries came to consist largely of a tally of meeting locations, numbers baptized, numbers restored. Such information has its uses for the historian, of course. But even the detail-obsessed among us (like myself) can see that something important was lost. Gone is the personal feel of earlier reports: the request for prayers for a dying church member, the wedding and birth announcements, the family news, jokes — in short all of the little gems that one might have found there thirty years earlier.

The Advocate itself, it should be noted, encouraged this change: “News and Notes” editor W. E. Brightwell (1893-1957) frequently exhorted those who sent in reports to strip out all “extraneous” details from their reports. To make clear what it was he was looking for in a good “News and Notes” entry, Brightwell ran a feature called “The Sum Total,” a context-free tally of the number of baptisms and restorations reported in a given issue. At various times, similar tallies were given for the Nashville churches. Brightwell wanted the stats; the personal stories were, it would seem, nice but unnecessary.

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These changes had their critics, none more pointed than Birmingham preacher

Pryde E. Hinton (1897-1978)

Pryde E. Hinton (1897-1978)

Pryde Hinton. Hinton, after spending time in Atlanta and Selma in the ’20s and ’30s, settled for the bulk of his preaching career in northern Jefferson County, Alabama, around Warrior and Oneonta. He was a frequent contributor of articles to the Advocate and a close associate of the Birmingham churches and of John T. Lewis, even though they had their differences from time to time. As was true of Lewis, Hinton was hardly one to shy away from speaking his mind.

A characteristic example of Hinton’s criticism of “News and Notes” can be found in the May 23, 1946 issue of the Advocate, which I transcribe here unedited:

“And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14: 26-28.)

Some things in the above are more obvious than the identity of a colored parson.

1. God’s grace was considered a major factor.

2. They were responsible to the church which sent them. (Acts 13.)

3. They reported to the church which sent them–not to the “brotherhood.”

4. They did not tell what they had done, but “all that God had done with them.” They seemed only humble tools in God’s hand.

5. They gave God the credit for their success. He opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. In the words of one of these preachers: “Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” How time changes things–sometimes!

If a Christian moves from Bugtussle to Peepcrack (there are such names in Alabama — well, nicknames, anyway), he should make himself known to the elders, if they are to look after his soul. But it does seem that the elders might notice that a stranger is present, talk with him, and then announce his coming to work and worship with the congregation — not that evening, for then precious few would ever know it, but next Lord’s-day morning. Or Brother Jones could come forward in “response” to the invitation.

But what I still want to know is this: Why is such a change of address of any importance to Christians in Tennessee or Texas? If Bugtussle is a better church, having a stronger group of elders than Peepcrack, is not Brother Jones worse off for the move? Too, granting that Brother Jones is an asset, has not Bugtussle lost a fellow worker? Is that good news?

But it does make good padding for the preacher’s report, and he must create the impression that things are happening like fighting fire, since he has moved to Peepcrack. Perhaps Brother Jones would have been left out in the cold, cold world if the preacher had not been there to grasp his hand when he came down the aisle in “response” to the invitation (either aisle).

May we have more modest reports? Also I suggest that we give God credit for opening the door of faith unto people, anyway. Surely it was not altogether our irresistible personalities that won the people to Christ! God must have had some part in the meeting.

— “An Interesting Report,” Gospel Advocate 88.21 (May 23, 1946): 499.

Hinton wrote several of these blistering meta-level criticisms of the self-promoting fare to be found in “News and Notes.” This isn’t even the harshest one. More amazing to me is that the Advocate printed them.