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.
Yesterday, I read with interest and appreciation John Mark Hicks’ reflections on John T. Lewis’ pamphlet “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day” (1952). In a brief span, Hicks uncovers the origins of the Sunday night serving of the Supper and the theological basis of Lewis’ opposition to the practice. The analysis is superb and clearly shows how portions of Lewis’ thought stem from his study under James A. Harding at the Nashville Bible School. Moreover, it also (indirectly) sets Lewis’ thought apart from that of many opponents of the “second serving” in contemporary non-institutional circles.
What I want to speak to here is not so much the content of Hicks’ post but the discussion about controversy — the controversy about controversy, if you will 🙂 — that came out in the comment thread. Hicks himself helpfully shows what was at stake theologically in Lewis’ decision to write. Some of those who left comments seem to have missed this point, however, choosing instead to pick up on Hicks’ admittedly ambiguous final remark about controversy (Hicks writes, “Lord’s Supper controversies have been with us for a long time…and will continue to be. Alas.”), tsk-tsking like New England school marms over the fact that there was debate about this issue.
I was left scratching my head over all of this. Lewis, as was typical of his style, believed that frank discussion of the issue would clarify what was at stake. Hicks himself understands (as is clear in the post) what was lost theologically when the Lord’s Day/Lord’s Supper link was broken in 20th century liturgical practice.
Some of the commenters, though, appear to be allergic to theological argumentation of any sort, even as they recognize the problem that Lewis points to. (Several of them seemed eager to share their own experiences of awkward Sunday evening Lord’s Suppers partaken of by only one or two people while everyone else looked on. Believe me, I can relate.)
What to make of this? Should Lewis not have written or said anything, so as to avoid controversy? And, the larger question(s): Why not write or preach (or blog) when something that you believe is important is at stake? Furthermore, what happens to a communion in which all theological argumentation/disputation is ruled out of order because of some negative past experiences?
(Note for my four readers: I’m considering posting scans of all of Lewis’ extant pamphlets — including “The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day” — on the “Texts” page of this blog. Does anyone know of a quick way to do that that wouldn’t involve me retyping the pamphlets into Word?)