A bit of satire from the 1949 Gospel Guardian:
6674 Railroad Street
Church of Christ
Dear Faithful Preaching Brethren:
Surely you will look into your heart and pocket-book to answer the crying need of this place. The church in Anywhere was founded in 1918 by six loyal members. Through many trials and tribulations, splits and fusses, our membership now stands at a whopping 15. The denominations have better buildings than we do, and folks are beginning to talk about us. That is why we ask you to rush to our assistance—now!
Anywhere is a hard but promising field. Cucumbers grow so big here they look like watermelons. In fact, some say that Anywhere will someday be the cucumber Mecca of America!
We have spotted a lot in downtown Anywhere which is centrally located, and all that stuff, which we can get for a mere $11,600. On this lot we plan to erect a $64,000 meeting house which will be a tribute to the cause, and the envy of the denominations.
Through extreme sacrifice, the members have in the past five years, raised $46.32 and three buttons. Nearby churches, fifteen in all, who know how worthy this field is, have together contributed $1123. We felt that our cause was underway, and, taking courage, started our building program.
But, alas! with rising costs, little did we know what we would run into. It took all our ready cash to buy the most essential item—a mimeograph machine! We then borrowed money for envelopes, stationery, postage, and ink. If one of the members had not shrewdly suggested that we send these 17,432 letters third-class, I doubt that we could have sent them at all!
So you can see we are in quite a pickle. People are now asking, “When are you going to build?” Oh, the cause is suffering! suffering!! SUFFERING!!!
The owner of the lot has agreed to hold it for us indefinitely, unless he can find another buyer. And Brother Wackey, a local member of vision, has suggested this marvelous plan:—
We are asking each minister to contact all members who have $3.00! Ask those members to each buy a little pig, and put him up in a picket fence in the back yard. (Any kind of picket fence will do) Just feed that pig the ordinary slop left over from the wife’s cooking. Why, in no time at all that pig will taring—well, we don’t know just what; but, believe you me, pork is high these days!
When you have collected some $65 from each one, just pocket the $5 and send us the $60. You deserve this generous consideration for your efforts.
It is with extreme reluctance that we make this appeal at all. But we do promise you this: all receipts will be promptly and cheerfully acknowledged, unless we get too busy with other things.
Just mail all contributions to the treasurer of the church in Pigeon-Roost, as we do not have a member here competent to handle that much money.
Very sincerely yours,
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.
Digging around in the archives of Searching the Scriptures recently revealed this:
To go to heaven one is to visit the sick, the widow, the fatherless (Matt. 25:31; James 1:27). One is to labor “to have to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). One is to bear another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Dorcas gave garments to the widows (Acts 9:36-39). This method does more than make the gift. The giver is there with the gift. Is there danger that the showy method where numbers, buildings, and reports seem large may be the skimpy method? Let us work and pray that the individual may realize that everyone is to give an account of the deeds done in his body (II Cor. 5:10). Can a centralized home at Cullman or Nashville, however efficient, do the work I should do among my neighbors? Surely, we can agree that we must act. Is there danger that we may say, “Let the Welfare Department, the Red Cross, the church, the benevolent society, etc., do it”?
This is excerpted from “Dangers of the Present Crisis” by Irven Lee in Searching the Scriptures 3.4 (April 1962).
This kind of emphasis on what we might call lived religion — religion as a way of life, religion that does not divorce doctrine from ethics — shows up all over the place in Lee and other North Alabama NI writers. The whole article is worth it, but I think Lee is strongest and most on-target at this exact point. For him — even though I think the Lockean rationalism of our tradition gets in the way somewhat — there is a sense that the giver is the gift, that the gift of presence and personal involvement is as important as any check, no matter how large, that one might write.
This is an important lesson in a context in which mainline Churches of Christ, in particular, are witnessing the collapse (at a fairly rapid pace) of the institutional structures that were created at midcentury and that led to division in the fellowship. That’s certainly the case in Nashville. The way forward in the post-Christian reality of life in this country, where we no longer occupy an honored position in the culture, will lie (to some extent) in learning how to be congregations again, learning how to involve every member in the mission of God in the church. Our ancestors understood this. May we remember it again before it’s too late.
Douglas Wilson has a very fine piece on the death of Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) in Christianity Today. Smack in the middle comes this gem, as Wilson speaks of the relationship he developed with Hitchens during a debate tour (which turned into a book):
“So we got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. ‘If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers‘ (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10). Ironically, the branch of the faith most interested in getting the ‘cultured despisers’ to pay us some respect is really not that effective, and this is a strategy that can frequently be found on the pointed end of its own petard. Respectability depends on not caring too much about respectability. Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be ‘surrender slowly.'”
Not much to add to this, I suppose, other than to say that these are wise words for a communion that has become chronically allergic to debate of any sort.
Grace, [like every] other institution, has its own means of development & enjoyment. Hence the means of each & every grace promised & vouchsafed to us are a portion of that Grace itself. The means & the ends are equally the Grace of God. In other words, Faith is a Grace, Repentance is a Grace, Baptism is a Grace, and Regeneration is a Grace. Therefore, our whole salvation is of Grace. There is no human merit in Faith, in Repentance, in Baptism, in Regeneration. They are one & all Divinely bestowed upon man.
— Alexander Campbell (1859)
(H/T: Bobby Valentine)
“I once wrote off poetry out of frustration at its meaningless pretensions. But Christianity and poetry need each other, because poetry gives a mode of seeing and Christianity gives an object to be seen. But the need is asymmetrical: Without poetry, the Christian might fail to see how the world relates to God; without God, poetry might fail to see that the world exists at all.”
I’m still working my way through Baxter’s Life of Elder Walter Scott. Baxter is a good storyteller. The book has been enlightening on a number of points (e.g. I just finished the chapter that deals with the publication of Scott’s A Discourse on the Holy Spirit ); I’ll try to share more of what I’ve gleaned from the book soon.
In other news, I’ve been reading John T. Lewis’ The Christian and the Government (1945). The book is comprised of a series of articles published in the Bible Banner and (later) in Sound Doctrine during the period from 1942-1944, after Foy E. Wallace, Jr. changed his position on Christian participation in government and war and started to attack (along with his brother Cled and his friend W.E. Brightwell) those who disagreed with him as being “premillennialists.” Here’s a sample from Lewis’ pen:
“The consistent conscientious objector is the only one that can and does obey Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-7. Not being a partisan politician, he respects his government, and pays taxes to support it, regardless of the political party heading the government. Therefore, I boldly assert that the consistent conscientious objector — non-political Christians — constitute the greatest moral force behind our Government today. That is the reason the government respects their convictions. For instance, when Herbert Hoover, the outstanding citizen of the world, was President of the United States, every little peanut Democratic Christian in the South cursed and maligned him as though he was the devil incarnate, responsible for all the ills in the world. Not being a ‘political parson,’ I could, and did respect him as the head of our Government. I was in Portland, Maine, in 1907, when that rock-ribbed Republican state went Democratic from constable to Governor. Every Republican Christian, and that was about the only brand there, was absolutely certain that the devil had taken over their State Government, and was going to run it through or by the lowest strata of human society, the Democratic party. A few years ago when the Northern and Southern Methodists were trying to unite, they had a great convention in the city auditorium, here in Birmingham. I sat in the auditorium, one day during the convention, and heard an old time Democratic, Southern Methodist preacher from the ‘deep South,’ make one of the most touching and pathetic appeals that I ever listened to, he said: ‘Brethren, I had hoped to die, and go to heaven in the Democratic party, and in the Southern Methodist church; but now you are trying to turn the Southern Methodist church over to the Republicans.’ No doubt there were just as honest and as conscientious Republican Northern Methodist preachers, ‘down East’ who prayed just as fervently that the Northern Methodist church should not be turned over to the Democratic scum of the South….Brethren this is the brand of religion you have when you try to mix the elements of the temporal kingdom with the spiritual kingdom. These elements were united in the fleshly kingdom of Israel; but separated by Christ in spiritual Israel. What God has separated, let no man join together.” (pp. 51-52)