Tag Archives: Gospel Advocate

On Individual Responsibility

James J. Irvine (1862–1898) was a native of New Zealand. He came to America at the age of 20 and, in due course, enrolled in classes at College of the Bible, from which he graduated in 1890. Like a large number of other graduates in those days, he came south to Alabama to begin his ministerial career. He served as State Evangelist in Alabama from 1890–1891, followed by a stint as minister for the church in Selma.  By 1895, he had taken a position as office editor of the Southern Christian,  edited by C. P. Williamson out of Atlanta, with close sympathies for the progressive stances of the Apostolic Guide and the Christian-Evangelist. Later, he would undertake pastorates in Jacksonville, Fla., and Norfolk, Va.—where he met an untimely death in 1898 at the age of 36.

The Gospel Advocate for June 20, 1895 reprinted a piece that Irvine wrote for the Southern Christian, titled “Individual Effort.”  It might strike us as odd that the Advocate would reprint a writer like Irvine with such ties. Two considerations are at work here: 1) the Advocate of the pre-Goodpasture period consistently fostered the open exchange of ideas and the various sides of a given issue. F. D. Srygley—front page editor at the time this piece was written—would reprint anything he thought worth reading, no matter who the author was. 2) The 1890s were a time of transition. A page-by-page survey of the decade allows the reader to clearly see the split between progressives and conservatives in real time. It was not a time when firm lines that could not be crossed had been drawn—although that was soon to happen.

Anyway, I reprint the piece here not so much to make a specific theological point, as rather for the sake of general edification.

Every work to-day, great or small, stands as a monument to personal effort. We look upon an immense building in all its beauty and massiveness; we think of the different individuals who worked with brain and muscle, and of the agencies used to bring about this grand result.

The architect, as he made the plan, as he calculated the symmetry, the blending of the parts; the contractor, as he takes what has been planned and begins to lay his foundation deep and wide and strong, and going down to the solid rock to make it the base of his operations.

The building begins to assume size and shape. Each one at his particular place, all helping and using their skill and personal effort until the whole building fitly joined together is a fit abode for man. All this was brought about by a combination of personal effort, a working together for a desired end.

Is not this the divine idea and will? Are we not co-laborers together with God in the building up of the great structure of the Church of Christ?

In the building of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, we find that the people had a mind to work, although surrounded within and without by enemies, and the result was the walls were completed.

So with the spiritual walls of Jerusalem, the people must have a mind to work, must have the Christ spirit dwelling in them, to be continually going about “my Father’s business.”

The walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are being strengthened in our Southland, and now the servants of our Lord are doing so much. How much could be done if every individual follower of Christ would put forth some personal effort. Now is the time. Let us go to the Divine Architect, get our plans, and work by them. Go down to the solid “Rock of Ages,” build thereon, and each one in his place, with the talent and ability given him, rear a part of the great structure to the honor and glory of God. In this God-given work let each do his part and do it well. If you can sing, sing the praises of God and the gospel of his Son. If you can pray, pray fervently for the workers in whatever part of the great building they may be found. If you can teach or preach, know nothing among men but the Christ, exalt his name, hold him up as the chief corner-stone, the one despised and rejected, but now the King of kings.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God, and when life’s work is done on earth we have the sweet promise of entering into that rest and that mansion prepared for the faithful, into the heavenly Jerusalem, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. May each one do his individual part in the effort to save men.

— J. J. Irvine, “Individual Effort.” Gospel Advocate 37.25 (June 20, 1895): 386.

I’ve not blogged much over the past couple years, but expect to see more of this kind of clipping. I’ve collected a lot of this sort of thing from my time in front of the microfilm reader.





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.

“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).


“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.


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 “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.


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.



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.


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?