Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Money given to build houses is not given to the Lord”

In the summer of 1891, a plea for help appeared in one of the papers. Bearing the heading “Left to Die,” the letter writer stated that the cause would die in a particular location if the brethren there did not receive sufficient contributions for a new church building. Reflecting on this assertion, David Lipscomb demurs:

There is not an intimation in the New Testament that the success of the word of God anywhere depended upon a house of worship. A house of worship is not mentioned as being needful or even helpful to the establishment or upbuilding of churches of God. This would seem strange seeing they were entirely without houses and not many great or rich or noble came into the church, but the humble and poor. Yet it seems never to have occurred to them that a house of worship was needful. Now the general plea is that without a comfortable house of worship in a place even before there are members to worship, men can not be made Christians.

I am constrained to believe there is more sinful waste in the building and use of houses in which to worship than in any other thing connected with religion. There are in Nashville one million of dollars invested in meeting houses that stand locked up six days out of seven, 144 hours out of 168. Where is capital invested to lay inactive like this save in religion? And what is true of Nashville is true of all the cities in the land. In the country it is even worse. In the country immense sums of money are put in meeting-houses that are opened one hour per week sometimes one hour in a month. Where save in religion, is there such a piling up of dead capital? What would be said of people that would put money into buildings to so lay idle in any other field than that of religion? There is a superstitious idea that these houses are God’s houses, are sacred, and the superstition is so gross that it would actually exclude God himself from the house save on the set occasions. Were you to ask the owners and guardians of one of these houses the privilege of teaching the Bible in it, in the sensible heaven-approved way in which other things are taught, they would refuse it.

I am not opposing these houses, but the superstitious use or rather disuse of them, and the making the success of the cause of God depend upon having a meeting-house. They are not God’s houses. They are built for the comfort, and to gratify the pride of men and women. And any use of them for teaching the word of God that interferes with the gratification of that pride is refused. God is locked out of them except about three hours a week. Now the point I wish to make, is, why were houses of worship as a factor in the building up the church, wholly ignored in the primitive churches, yet regarded as so necessary now? How would a heading from Paul, “Left to Die” —sound, making the existence and success of the cause of God depend upon raising money to build a meeting-house, to be opened three hours in a week, kept locked against all admission, against God and others at all other time? It would be a discordant note in his writings.

But says one, “It is impossible to build up the church of God without a house in this age and country. Experience shows it.” Why is this? We think there can be but one reason given. The article of religion we are trying to spread at this time is a very inferior one. In the days of the apostles it was of a character that it was spread not only without houses of worship, but frequently the preacher preached from behind prison bars and wearing a chain. They worshiped in upper rooms, in caves of the earth, and at times in the catacombs of the dead. The religion of Christ, as he gave it, could overcome and survive all these difficulties, and run and prosper in spite of them. It must be a degenerate specimen of his religion that dies for the lack of a meeting-house kept locked up seven hours out of eight. And it seems to me a sinful waste of means, when whole states and territories are without the preached gospel, to bury three or four thousand dollars in one house, to be opened three hours in a week. The religion that requires that to keep it alive, is not worth keeping alive. As a comfort to the people needing the house, unable to build it, I have encouraged and helped, usually in building houses. Have spent money against the protest of my conscience, feeling that it had better be spent in preaching, but when it is presented that the cause will die without the house, I feel like saying, let it die, it is not worth preserving.

Money given to build houses is not given to the Lord. He has not asked money for such purposes. He may give us credit for what we thus do as kindness to our brethren.

Excerpted from “What Is Needed to Keep Alive and Spread the Church of God” (Gospel Advocate 33.26 [July 1, 1891]: 404–405).

Advertisements

The Character of a Schismatic

John William McGarvey (1829–1911)

John William McGarvey (1829–1911)

In the late 1850s, the defections of Jesse B. Ferguson (1819–1870) and Walter Scott Russell generated a good deal of discussion in the papers. I found this piece from J. W. McGarvey to be particularly insightful on the subject of the character of the false teacher.

Character of a Schismatic.

“A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” — Titus 3:10, 11.

It is often urged in extenuation of the conduct of a schismatic, that he is a good man, and most likely prompted by good motives. It is a fact that the majority of factions are headed by men in good repute for correct moral and religious deportment, and it is accounted for by the fact that only such men can attach to themselves any considerable number of adherents. This circumstance renders the exercise of proper discipline in such cases quite difficult. Apart from the mere act of schism, there is nothing that can be urged against the offender, and for this act he urges the controlling authority of his conscience. I have never known a mover of faction, however depraved he might finally prove to be, who did not stoutly and loudly protest that he was impelled to his course by a stern sense of duty. What to do with so conscientious a disturber of the peace, is a question that puzzles the minds of brethren.

The text quoted above was written in anticipation of this difficulty, and to relieve us from it. The word here rendered heretic, means a schismatic, a factionist, one who causes division. The Apostle enjoins it upon Titus to ‘reject’ every such character, after the first and second admonition, ‘knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.’ According to this injunction, the fact of schism being ascertained, we need look no further for evidence of the wickedness of the schismatic. Whatever may be his conduct in other particulars, or whatever the degree of his apparent piety, if he is a schismatic, you may ‘know,’ all doubt being removed, that he is ‘subverted’ from the path of rectitude, ‘and sinneth,’ and even bears in his conscience a sense of guilt, ‘being condemned of himself.’ In such cases, then, all empty professions of conscientiousness, and all appeals to past good conduct, are to be treated as the idle breath of a hypocrite, and the stern penalty of rejection is to be unhesitatingly inflicted.

The justice and strict propriety of this apostolic teaching will appear to the mind of every reader, if he will but ask himself this question: ‘What feeling must it be that could prompt me to cause a division among those whom I still recognize as my Christian brethren?’ Evidently nothing short of an indomitable pride, an intensely selfish ambition, or some passion more malignant than either of these, could prompt to such a course. It is a matter of necessity, therefore, the ‘he that is such,’ from the very fact that he is a schismatic, may be known to be subverted and a sinner, and self-condemned. Let no man say that this is a harsh sentence pronounced by me. It is the solemn sentence passed upon all such characters by the authority of an inspired Apostle. ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’

J. W. McGarvey.

(American Christian Review 3.38 [September 20, 1859]: 150. H/T: Jim McMillan, via the Stone-Campbell email list.)

On “getting the young people” (UPDATED)

I’ve spent the last few evenings browsing through J. M. McCaleb’s Once Traveled Roads (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1934).

McCaleb during his student days

McCaleb during his student days

John Moody McCaleb (1862–1953), from Hickman County, Tenn., entered College of the Bible in Lexington, Ky., in 1888. Among tales of how he met his wife and reminiscences of the faculty, which in those days included J. W. McGarvey, I. B. Grubbs, and others, Once Traveled Roads includes the following account of church life during McCaleb’s student days in Lexington:

When I entered school in 1888, there were two large congregations in Lexington—Main Street, and Broadway. They each contained about a thousand members. Robert T. Mathews was preaching for the Main Street church, and John S. Shouse for Broadway. There was no organ in either church. During my stay, however, Brother Mathews installed a small organ at Main Street, putting it near the center of the house, and on a level with the seats. Professor White called for a letter and put in his membership at Broadway. When Main Street built a new house and called it “Central,” they put in a great pipe organ that almost filled the end of the building. Not so long after I had left school in 1891, I heard that Broadway had also introduced the instrument [1902]. Main Street was getting the young people from Broadway. Something must be done. It was left to a vote, and the young people put the organ in. This time, Brother McGarvey and Brother Grubbs called for letters and put in their membership at Chestnut Street, a mission church that we students had established. But it was not many years till Chestnut Street also had the organ. Seeing the trend of things prompted me to write the five articles [in the Gospel Advocate] on “Pride, a Growing Evil.” Its growth was very manifest when I was there and became all the more so as time went on till both the churches and the school went to the world and minded earthly things. And is it not true that all our churches and schools are today in danger of the same fate? Will another generation or two find our schools and churches where Lexington now is? Let us hope not. (pp. 38-39)

I was thinking about that as I did some googling the other day when this turned up:

“I do not want to give the rest of the fellowship the idea that I am trying to promote instrumental praise anywhere else,” Atchley told the Chronicle. “What we are doing is a missional decision for our congregation, and while we are not trying to hide our decision, neither do we wish to flaunt it.”
In the Dec. 3 [2006] Bible study, Atchley told Richland Hills members that “there has never been a moment’s discussion of changing the name of this church or our affiliation with Churches of Christ.”
But he said Richland Hills must put the kingdom of God and Christ’s mission above concerns that the change might hurt the congregation’s standing or influence among Churches of Christ.
At the same time, he suggested to members that Richland Hills’ decision might “inspire many other Churches of Christ to be courageous in their kingdom efforts, and it could help stem the tide of gifted young leaders who are leaving.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

ADDENDUM (3/7/2015):

“A cappella is like Latin,” Graves said. “It is beautiful, it speaks to people at a certain level, but the problem is that a lot of people don’t speak Latin.

“What people in the Churches of Christ call instrumental music, other people just call music. It’s English.”

And in Music City, its appeal is undeniable. Graves said there’s no intention of alienating other congregations — only of better connecting to Nashville and Brentwood communities.

Otter Creek, where the congregation’s average age is 27, already has experimented with instrumental music with a Wednesday Vespers service; young adult, children’s ministry, and student ministry gatherings; and special worship for Good Friday, Christmas and other holidays.

“The Man and the Building”

hardeman tabernacle mtg

W. E. Brightwell (1893–1957), “News and Notes” editor for the Advocate and minister of the Waverly-Belmont church in Nashville, contributed an introduction for the published volume of the 1938 Hardeman Tabernacle Meeting. In it, he says the following about N. B. Hardeman and the Ryman Auditorium:

“The affinity between the man and the building is interesting, if not unique. Possibly no other man has used this remarkable building more; certainly none has put it to a better use. On the other hand, the building has surely received the cream of the best thoughts of his life. He has received more from the building, and the building has received more from him, than from any other man or building. His every utterance there has been published.”

I was struck by Brightwell’s rhetoric. He almost gets carried away, it seems. We can follow his words out to the point where the Ryman takes a place alongside the Cane Ridge meetinghouse and the Bethany church in the pantheon of sacred spaces for the churches of Christ. In Brightwell’s rhetorical construct, the Ryman becomes not solely (as it would become later) “The Mother Church of Country Music,” but the Mother Church of the renewed and rebuilt Jerusalem of the churches of Christ.

I base that claim on a statement made by Leonard Jackson, minister for the Franklin church, in his introduction of Hardeman on the opening night of the meeting, October 16, 1938. Consider the analogy that Jackson makes to explain the place of the meeting in the history of the churches and of the city of Nashville:

“The church … needs constant admonition to ‘contend

earnestly for the faith.’ Christendom, my friends, needs more Nehemiahs to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. She needs more Ezras to restore the law of God. Christendom needs more Zerubbabels to rebuild the temple of God. In your selection of a preacher to lead you in your gesture here toward these ends, you have chosen a man who has combined in himself the qualities of the afore-mentioned three. Like Nehemiah, he would rebuild Jerusalem’s fallen walls; as Ezra, he would uncover and restore the ‘law of grace’; like Zerubbabel, he would rebuild the temple of God. In this all important work, Nashville for the fourth time becomes the field of assertion.”

As with other writers among the churches, Nashville is Jerusalem. But Jerusalem has been allowed to crumble and it must be restored. Hardeman is the man—the only man—for the job. As we see here, expectations for the meeting were high and the rhetoric of the speakers rose to meet those expectations—and to stoke them even further.

“Synagogues of Satan”

Tolbert Fanning

Tolbert Fanning, 1810-1874 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading J. E. Scobey’s Franklin College and its Influences (1904) of late. Scobey’s book is part biography of Tolbert Fanning, part history of Franklin College, Fanning’s short-lived school.

Reading this morning, I came across this bit from Fanning’s pen that seemed worth sharing:

“It is an indisputable fact that even churches formed of the wealthy, speculative, and idle are little more than synagogues of Satan. I pretend not to account for the mystery; but if there be truth in existence, there is something in labor which controls and subdues man’s animal appetites–reconciles him to his Maker and renders him contented with his lot. If it be an object to have honest society, the proper plan is to form it of a working population; if we wish good morals, we must find people who live by industry; and if we wish to live with the pious, we must find an association in which the rule is adopted and carried out punctiliously that ‘he that will not work shall not eat.’ All the sermons, lectures, and papers of Christendom will fail to make an idle, luxurious, and sport-seeking community either wise, virtuous, or happy. The best and happiest beings of earth are such as ‘do their own work, laboring with their own hands,’ and love to have it so. The working classes are admitted to be the most charitable of all others.”

Christian Review (1846), quoted in Scobey, pp. 24-25.

Snippets from the pens of Fanning and David Lipscomb along these lines could easily be multiplied. Fanning’s writings frequently feature attacks on wealth in the Church and push through the lines we usually draw in contemporary American society (and American Christianity) about wealth and poverty, socioeconomic and educational status. Franklin College — and its institutional descendants, the Nashville Bible School (1891) and Alabama Christian College (1912-1922) — were characterized by a deep commitment to the value of manual labor and of education of the poor.

In Nashville, these commitments are what set NBS in its early years apart from schools like Vanderbilt University and Ward-Belmont College, schools that indeed were open, but open for those who could afford to pay. As time went on, the pedagogical vision of Fanning and Lipscomb was forgotten in the quest of college administrators to conform their institutions to the prevailing standards of American higher education in the twentieth century, a quest that was paralleled in churches in the same period as Fanning himself suggests in this excerpt.

Death on a Saturday Evening

As I said the other day, it is the human stories that one encounters in the Advocate that really have moved me in this process.

In May 1938, Cled Wallace (1892-1962) came to Birmingham to hold a meeting for the Bessemer church. We don’t know much about the outcome of the meeting as far as the usual measures. J. R. Ezell (1886-1966), elder and preacher for the Bessemer church, did not submit the normal tally of baptisms and restorations. Neither did Wallace submit a report of his own.

The August 4, 1938, issue of the Gospel Advocate gives us a possible explanation. There we find the following obituary from the pen of John T. Lewis:

John Morgan Queen was born August 14, 1899; run down and killed by an automobile May 7, 1938. He had just driven up to the church where Cled Wallace was conducting a meeting in Bessemer, Ala., got out of his car, and started across the street, when he was hit by a passing car, and never regained consciousness. He was baptized by the writer February 8, 1928, and was married to Miss Gladys Dobbs, August 11, 1933. From the time he obeyed the gospel till his untimely passing he was an interested, diligent student of the Bible, and never missed an opportunity of talking to his friends about the importance of obeying the gospel and living the Christian life. He was a good song leader, could make good talks, and would do anything he was called on to do in the work and worship of the church. In all my association with him I never heard him use a vulgar word or tell a smutty yarn. He kept the scriptural injunction: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” — JOHN T. LEWIS.

We can only speculate as to how devastating this must have been for the members of the Bessemer church. Does a church continue a meeting after an event of this sort or just call it off? It’s difficult, in our day, to understand the enthusiasm that would have surrounded a gospel meeting in Queen and Lewis’ day. Perhaps Queen’s enthusiasm is also foreign to us.

Something else strikes me here. Lewis’ obituaries in the Advocate really are models of restraint. They lend dignity to the lives of their subjects; they do not detract from them with wordiness or flowery vocabulary. Not that anyone ever receives formal training in obituary composition, but there’s probably a lesson there for us.

Lewis also never fails to pass up an opportunity to teach with an example. Queen, he tells us, was a model of what the Scripture means that says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4.23).

Missing Persons Report

For much of its history, one of the chief features of the Gospel Advocate was its “News and Notes” section. By doing nothing more than watching how this section of the paper developed over the years one can learn a lot about the paper as a whole, as well as about the self-image of many in the Churches of Christ.

For the most part, “News and Notes” consisted of reports from preachers and congregations about gospel meetings, changes of address, and other newsworthy items. By and large, it makes for bland reading, at least for the casual reader.

Every now and again, though, a note of pathos breaks through. A few such items have appeared along the way in my Birmingham research. Here’s one from the March 6, 1930 issue of the Advocate:

Mrs. Harry L. Parker, Route 7, Box 76, Birmingham, Ala., February 20: “I am wondering if any of the readers of the Gospel Advocate could give us any information about a brother and sister in Christ, Mr. and Mrs. B. A. Austin. Brother and Sister Austin are young people about twenty-eight and twenty-four years, respectively. They labored with the congregation at North Lewisburg, Ala., for about one year. They were formerly from Southwest Missouri. They were members of the Christian Church there, but took up work with this congregation, knowing only the church to give God all glory. On December 26, 1929, they left here with household furniture on an open truck (White’s), bound for some place in Missouri, promising to even write us on their journey. But we have never had a single line from them and are anxious about them. We do not know their former home address. Any information through the Advocate or otherwise will be appreciated by the whole congregation here.”
Whatever happened to Mr. and Mrs. B. A. Austin? Did the good people of the Lewisburg church ever hear from them? We don’t know. There’s no followup, at least not in the Advocate. But the note of concern — something not heard very often in “News and Notes” —  in Sister Parker’s letter stands out. In it, we get a tiny glimpse into the lives and feelings of the people who filled the Birmingham churches in John T. Lewis’ day.
That’s been one of the real gifts to me of engaging in this research. It’s easy to get lost in chronological minutiae — Who was preaching where? When was a given church established? — or in the doctrinal conflicts that expended much of Lewis’ energy. Items like this, though, have the salutary effect of reminding me that there are flesh-and-blood human beings behind all of this. Countless people who never occupied a pulpit or wrote for the papers lived and died, married and raised children, in these churches. Our opportunities to hear their voices are rare and are a gift to be treasured.