Monday, September 18, 2017

24: The LBJ Version

Steven M. Gillon, The Kennedy Assassination--24 Hours Later: Lyndon B. Johnson's Pivotal First Day as President. New York: Basic Books, 2009. pp. xvii + 294.

Maybe you suspect that history is boring. Or, maybe you know that it's important and interesting, but it just seems like books take all the fun out of it. If any of that sounds familiar, then this book is for you.

The author, Steven M. Gillon is a fantastic researcher and a good writer, too. His topic is absolutely fascinating, and he's looked at tons of documents only recently declassified.

Most books about the Kennedy assassination deal with questions like: Who shot JFK? Was there more than one gunman? Was the assassination the result of a conspiracy? On and on it goes. Gillon's book is different. The author assumes that the Warren Commission got it right. There was one gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. And even though Oswald would have loved more attention from the Soviet Union and from Cuban authorities, he did what he did on his own.

Instead of dealing with those questions for the ten thousandth time, Gillon investigates what the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, experienced and what he did during the 24 hours after the assassination. Gillon reveals an LBJ who tried to do several things all at once:
  • He tried to assure the American people that the devastating assassination of their president had not destroyed their government. For example, Johnson invited photographers to capture those moments that revealed continuity, as when he took the oath of office aboard Air Force One.
  • He did his best to show deference to the people who were closest to the slain president, especially to his widow, Jackie Kennedy. Johnson told Mrs. Kennedy that there was no need for her to quickly vacate the White House. He reportedly said to her, "You stay as long as you want."
  • He sought to connect his brand new presidency to the legacy of John Kennedy, and worked to consolidate his authority as the head of the executive branch of the U.S. government. During the first 24 following the assassination, Johnson repeatedly told White House staffers that he wanted them to stay on the job, and that he needed them more than they needed him.
One of Gillon's main themes is that Johnson's personal insecurities and the real disdain that many people who were closest to JFK felt for him. Above all, the dead president's brother and closest confidant, Robert F. Kennedy, hated Johnson.

The book comes packaged in seventeen short chapters, which makes it easy to take in one chapter at a time. It includes 14 black-and-white photos, 30 pages of endnotes, a brief "Note on Sources," and a good index.

Here's a C-SPAN video of Gillon talking about his book not long after it was published. Here is the New Books Network podcast interview with Gillon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Stone-Campbell Restoration History and Teaching: A Brief Survey


The following is a quick overview of Stone-Campbell Restoration history and outlook. I wrote it in order provide basic information to readers of an academic paper who are not of Disciple heritage, who are not members of the Christian Church or Churches of Christ. My goal here is to evaluate and improve this statement. I welcome all respectful questions and comments: 

The expression Stone-Campbell Movement refers to the American-born, back-to-the-Bible tradition that grew out of the teachings of Barton W. Stone (1772-1844, pictured here), Thomas Campbell (1763-1854), above all, his illustrious son, Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), and the great evangelist of the movement, Walter Scott (1796-1861) who was distantly related to the famous Scottish novelist by that name.

Together, such leaders and their followers pursued a grand and distinct religious goal: the restoration of primitive Christianity. They sometimes spoke of restoring “the ancient gospel,” the Bible’s most basic claims about Christ to which every true believer must assent. They sought to identify the biblical progression by which one becomes a Christian. And, they set out to restore what Alexander Campbell called “the ancient order of things,” especially the Bible’s teaching about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the offices of bishop and deacon, and church discipline. Additionally, restoration pertained to matters more personal and inward; to self-control, pure speech, right living, the love of mercy, and the hopeful spirit of New Testament Christianity.

The project of restoration involved tearing down as well as building up. Christians of the Stone-Campbell movement sought to erase all distinctions between clergy and laity. Along with what often seemed to them the arbitrary authority of religious elites, they also rejected the authority of all creeds, confessions, extra-biblical traditions, and specialized, learned theology. They replaced all such traditions with a populist hermeneutic according to which every person was welcomed, even expected, to read and understand the Bible for oneself. Having embraced the tenets of Enlightenment philosophy and American freedom, Stone, the Campbells, and like-minded believers acted upon their conviction that the imposition of illegitimate authority in matters of faith provoked disunity and amounted to a certain type of idolatry, a defiance of Almighty God. Such pseudo-authorities were never needed anyway, since the essential teachings of the Bible, the Word of God, could be understood and agreed upon by all people of goodwill who were truly seeking the Lord.[1]

The ultimate goal of the Stone-Campbell Movement was the unity of all believers in Christ, a oneness that was essential to the salvation of the world. Leaders often noted that on the night when Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the authorities, he prayed that his followers would be one, even as he and God the Father were one. According to Jesus as he prayed, the purpose of Christian unity was that “the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). The unity of the church was necessary for a lost world to believe the gospel; to recognize the true identity of Jesus Christ as well as God’s unique love for those who follow Christ.[2]

Ironically, sometime after the Civil War, Christians associated with what Alexander Campbell called “the present reformation,” a movement designed to unify all true believers on the basis of the simple gospel and plain Bible teaching, splintered into two distinct groups. On one side stood those Christian Churches that would eventually give rise to the Disciples of Christ denomination and the independent Christian Churches. (Those two now-distinct churches emerged as separate groups during the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). Predominately, these congregations were in northern states, with power centers in places like Cincinnati and Indianapolis. They tended to value the later Alexander Campbell’s emphasis on Christian forbearance and unity at the expense of restorationism. However, influenced by then soldier-preacher and future U.S. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881), representatives of the northern congregations used resolutions issued by the Disciples’ American Christian Missionary Society to officially endorse the Union.

On the other side stood congregations that typically wore the name Church of Christ. Following the war, these churches were influenced by leaders like Tolbert Fanning (1810-1874)—who as a young man had been mentored by Alexander Campbell—and especially Fanning’s protégé, David Lipscomb (1831-1917). Both Fanning and Lipscomb resided in Nashville. The Churches of Christ were characterized by their commitment to the earlier Alexander Campbell’s emphasis on biblical primitivism and strict doctrine. For them, this specifically meant opposition to instrumental music in worship, and to all parachurch institutions like the Disciples’ American Christian Missionary Society, which members of the Churches of Christ insisted were not authorized by Scripture. Unlike the Disciples of Christ, who prized Christian unity, the Churches of Christ more often saw the restoration of the faith and practice of the New Testament church not as a means, but as an end.[3]

With two fellowships of autonomous congregations having gone their separate ways and having begun to grow apart from one another, it fell to the federal Census Bureau in 1906 to enquire, call attention to the fact of division, and finally provide, at least for their purposes, distinct names for the groups. Nowadays, three discrete church bodies trace their roots back to Stone and Campbell: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which embraces its denominational identity, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (sometimes referred to as “Independents”), and the acappella Churches of Christ.[4]

For several decades during the early twentieth century, historians typically referred to this tradition as the American Restoration Movement, or simply the Restoration Movement.[5] The more recent moniker, Stone-Campbell Movement, first appeared, more as a descriptor than as a title per se, in Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker’s 1975 history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) titled Journey in Faith.[6] The newer title has had some success in replacing the older one, especially among scholars, ever since Leroy Garrett published the first edition of his interpretive survey, The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches in 1981.[7]

Notes

[1] See Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), esp. 3-46 and 67-80. For an explanation of the Puritan roots of the Stone-Campbell Movement, especially its biblicism, see Theodore Dwight Bozeman, To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension of Puritanism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988). An outstanding overview of the basic theological outlook of American restorationist leaders can be found E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), ch. 14. Paul M. Blowers, Douglas A. Foster, and D. Newell Williams provide a fine review of the historiography, “Stone-Campbell History Over Three Centuries: A Survey and Analysis,” in the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, xxi-xxxv.

[2] The unity of the church is a prominent theme in the two great “charter documents” of the Stone-Campbell Movement. The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, signed by, among others, Barton W. Stone in 1804, quotes from “the seven ones” passage found in Paul’s Epistle of the Ephesians, chapter 4. The “Imprimis” of The Last Will and Testament reads: “We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.” Similarly, Thomas Campbell’s 1809 Declaration and Address cites or alludes to Christ’s prayer for the unity of his followers, recorded in John 17, as well as to “the seven ones” passage several times. See Christopher R. Hutson, “Scripture Index to the Declaration and Address,” in The Quest for Christian Unity, Peace, and Purity in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address: Text and Studies, eds. Thomas H. Olbricht and Hans Rollmann (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 129-47.

[3] On the earlier versus later Alexander Campbell as a key to understanding some of the difference between Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, see Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 32-44. For some of his insights, Hughes credits an unpublished manuscript by Don Haymes, “A Battle of Giants: Alexander Campbell and Bishop John Baptist Purcell in Cincinnati, 1837.” For restoration as the means to unity versus restoration serving the goal of purity and, thus, salvation, see Jay Smith, “Notes on Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address,” Restoration Quarterly 5, no. 3 (Third Quarter, 1961): 113-18.

[4] The names used in the Library of Congress subject authority records are: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and Churches of Christ. Catalogers and researchers sometimes refer to these three groups simply as Disciples, 4Cs, and 2Cs. Although restorationist champions of undenominational Christianity would no doubt object to the use of such terms, everyone conversant with the history understands exactly what they mean. The state-of-the-art treatment of the worldwide history of the entire movement can be found in D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds. The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2013), especially chaps. 1-5. The history of the nineteenth-century American Restoration Movement and, after division, the twentieth-century Churches of Christ is best told by Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith.

[5] See, for example, Homer Hailey, Attitudes and Consequences in the Restoration Movement (Los Angeles: Citizen Print Shop, 1945); Enos E. Dowling, The Restoration Movement (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1964); and, more recently, Henry E. Webb, In Search of Christian Unity: A History of the Restoration Movement (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1990).

[6] Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Saint Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), 149, 253, 443.

[7] Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1981).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"The Lord's Supper" in The Christian Messenger, 1831

John Allen Gano (1805-1887, pictured at left) was a protege of Barton W. Stone and served as a prominent leader among the "Stoneite" Christians in Kentucky and nearby states. His career as an evangelist covered the sixty years from 1827 to 1887, during which time Gano baptized more than 10,000 people. [1]

In 1831, Gano wrote two pieces about the Lord's Supper for The Christian Messenger, a monthly that Stone had published from Georgetown, Kentucky beginning in 1826. His second piece, a letter to the editor, was a response to an opponent named John G. Ellis. After Gano published a letter of rejoinder, Ellis then wrote in response to Gano's rejoinder. Thus, in their exchange the two men wrote a total of four pieces.

On occasion, Editor Stone himself would briefly weigh in on the topic and the discussion between Gano and Ellis. This post will review and comment on the entire discussion as it unfolded and on the outcome of the exchange.

1. John Allen Gano on "The Lord's Supper" 

Gano's initial article, titled simply "The Lord's Supper," appeared in the Messenger dated February 1831. He began by raising the question of frequency: "How often," he asked, "is it the privilege and duty of the Christians, to attend to the Lord's Supper?" He noted that when Jesus instituted the Supper in Luke 22:19, he said to his apostles "this do in remembrance of me." But clearly, that command did not address the question of frequency.

Gano assumed that "the gospel system is perfect, that its laws and commands are perfect" and that Christians are thereby "thoroughly furnished." Consequently, he wrote,
we feel disposed to examine farther, and if not from the lips of the Saviour, from the practice of his apostles at least, learn the proper understanding of this command, and the attention due to it.
From there, Gano observed that according to Acts 2:42, "breaking of bread," which he equated with the Lord's Supper, was one of the "acts of public worship" listed in that verse in which the earliest Christians at Jerusalem participated. From Acts 20:7, he concluded that not only did the first-century church assemble "upon the first day of the week," they did so in order "to break bread," that is, to observe the Lord's Supper.

Gano added that Paul's instructions to the church at ancient Corinth reinforces the basic point. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul repeatedly corrects and warns the congregation because of their abuse of the Lord's Supper. But, wrote Gano, "how could they abuse that, which they did not attend to?" In other words, the specific way in which Paul addresses the problem underscores weekly observance of the Lord's Supper as the New Testament pattern:
Let us imagine one thus addresses his congregation, "Friends, when you come together, it is not to hear preaching, for one sleeps, another laughs, and another talks." Would not such a reproof or admonition plainly prove, that they did come, or ought to have come together to hear preaching? If so, the language of the passage just cited, being similar in form, this conclusion irresistibly follows; That [the earliest Christians] met every first day; when they did meet it was to eat the Lord's Supper; therefore [Christians in all times] eat it every first day of the week.  
In fact, he argued, based on the relevant New Testament passages, someone could just as easily deny that the first day of the week is when Christians are to assemble as he could deny that the primary purpose of the assembly is to share in the Lord's Supper.

Gano bolstered his case by referring to "the History of the Christian Church, for the first three centuries of its existence so far as it has come to us." He emphasized that early Christian tradition is "not inspired" and that all believers should establish their faith and practice on "the Bible alone." Nevertheless, for comparison's sake, early Christian history establishes that believers "assembled on the first day of the week, sung hymns, prayed, commemorated the death and resurrection of the Lord."

Finally, Gano responded to the possible objection that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper would make it all too common, and that its repeated practice would descend into cold formalism. Gano replied that this danger is connected to anything that Christians do repeatedly, since "every act of religious worship not attended to in the Spirit of Christ, is mere form." On the other hand, if the Lord, by the inspired teaching of this apostles, has taught us to break bread upon the first day of the week, then "assuredly it becomes us humbly to obey."

2. Barton W. Stone's Remarks

Immediately following Gano's article, Stone added a few of his own "Remarks." As if he anticipated a negative response from some who read the Messenger, Stone commented that Gano's arguments were "plausible, if not convincing to all." Further, he invited those who "may think differently" to "communicate for the C. Messenger the result of their investigation," yet always in "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." He also encouraged Gano "to continue for the Messenger his exhibitions of truth."

3. A Response from John G. Ellis

The very next issue of The Christian Messenger, dated March, 1831, included a letter sent from Dry Creek in Campbell County, Kentucky. The writer, a certain John G. Ellis, asserted that Gano's position on the Lord's Supper was "dangerous to Christian liberty." [2] What was the problem?

Ellis noted that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:26, "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death until he come." This language, he insisted, denies any restriction of the Supper to the first day of the week.

Furthermore, while Acts 20:7 indicates that "the disciples came together to break bread," these words should not be understood as a reference to "communion" since "neither wine nor cup is once named." Instead, here the breaking of bread should be understood in the same sense as it appears in Acts 27:35. According to that verse, Paul "took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat." Ellis pointed out that both passages include breaking bread, while neither passage mentions cup or wine. If one verse refers to the Lord's Supper, why not the other?

Ellis asserted that Acts 2 presents the same ambiguity. According to Gano's interpretation, the "breaking of bread" in verse 42 supposedly refers to the Lord's Supper, while "breaking bread from house to house" in verse 46 supposedly means the regular sharing of common meals among the earliest Christians.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11, Ellis pointed out that the chapter nowhere specifies that the church at Corinth typically gathered "on the first day of the week." It is certainly true, wrote Ellis, "that Paul in these verses specially refers to the Lord's supper." Yet, Paul does not specifically mention "a special day." Moreover, none of stories of institution in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke indicate that the disciples did or should eat the Lord's Supper every Sunday. Ellis concluded,
Seeing this is the fact my Christian brethren, let us be careful not to take the suppositions of poor erring man, though he may possess all the acquired knowledge of the world. . . . I assure my Christian brethren, that I am firm in the belief, that if I were honestly and conscientiously to celebrate the Lord's supper every day in the week, there is not a passage in the good word of God, that forbids it. On the contrary, it tells me "as often as you do this . . . "  . . . I am certain that [the] Lawgiver, and his law will ultimately prevail over human wisdom, self aggrandizement, and tradition of fallible man. 
4. Gano's Rejoinder

As one might expect, the very next issue of the Messenger, dated April 1831, contains a rejoinder to Ellis.

By way of review, Gano observes that his original piece set out to show "that the Holy Scriptures do authorize and require the breaking of bread, or celebration of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week."  Contrary to Ellis's suggestion, he denies that his article endangers Christian liberty. It is true the gospel means freedom from many things, including sin, condemnation, Jewish ritual, etc. Nevertheless, the gospel does not mean freedom "from Christ, his laws, authority and service." Although free, Christians "are bound to obey" their Lord.

With that, Gano sets out to answer the particulars of Ellis's letter. He begins with Ellis's contention that Acts 20:7 does not refer to the Lord's Supper. This is supposedly true "because the cup and wine are not mentioned." Yet Ellis assumes that 1 Corinthians 11:30 does refer to the Supper even though "the words drink, cup and wine" are likewise missing, an obvious inconsistency in the argument.

Next, Gano argues, contra Ellis, that if the language of "breaking bread" in Acts 27:35 does not refer to the Lord's Supper, this is no reason to conclude that all such language never refers to the Supper. Gano asserts that the differences "can only be understood by attending particularly to the context." Do not the various contexts of Acts 2:42, 20:7, and 27:35 reveal different meanings? Are there not clear differences between giving thanks at one's dinner table at home, compared to giving thanks at the Lord's table in the Christian assembly?

Besides, if in the Scriptures all instances of "breaking bread" are the same, then how can we resist the conclusion that the Lord has no say, and that mere humans have the authority "to decide the whole matter" regarding frequency? Does not Ellis's position "at once introduce confusion and disorder?"

Gano suggests that 1 Corinthians 16:2 further clarifies the matter: "On the first day of every week, let each of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it in the treasury." He regards this the best translation of the verse, which "proves they met every first day at Corinth." This verse, when combined with Paul's instructions about the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, and with Acts 20:7, points to an established order, an order that prevailed during the time when "Jesus alone reigned among his professed followers." Gano concludes his response to Ellis by asking:
Is there a single passage of scripture, that speaks of monthly meetings by name? Is there any authority in the word of God for communing only every three months, or once a year? Is not this remembering a crucified Saviour in his institution very seldom? who is to determine, when we shall eat the supper, if the apostles have not? If a majority of each church are to determine, do the minority eat oftener or seldomer, without being considered disorderly? My object is information from the Bible, for the truth's sake, under the humbling sense I feel of my limited abilities, and information.
5. Ellis's Response to Gano's Rejoinder

The June 1831 issue of The Christian Messenger contains a second letter from John G. Ellis. Apparently, he was not persuaded by what Gano had written in defense of his article on "The Lord's Supper." And Ellis wanted to publish a follow-up statement of his own.

Ellis maintained that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper is not a scriptural precept, making the words of 1 Corinthians 11:26--"for as often as ye eat this bread"--the centerpiece of his argument.

He ridiculed Gano's distinction between public and private acts of worship by again referring to Acts 27:37 and commenting: "Here [Gano] wishes to hold out an idea that Paul did not perform an act of public worship on board of the ship, in giving thanks in the presence of 276 people." (What Ellis does not acknowledge is that Gano's distinction was between worship at home and in other private settings, compared to worship in the presence of the gathered church. The story in Acts 27 describes a scene that hardly fits either of Gano's categories).

Ellis denied that Acts 20:7 carried the force of "a command of Christ and his Apostles." He asserted that "if there is a command in all the New Testament to meet every first day of the week, to celebrate the Lord's Supper, I cannot find it."

Not even when using "Campbell's translation" of 1 Corinthians 16:2 can Gano provide "even the shadow of a command to meet every first day of the week, to celebrate the Lord's Supper." All such argument amounts to human "law-making or legislating for the church of Christ." Ellis is quick to note that he believed it was "the duty of christians to meet often together, and to commune or celebrate the Lord's Supper often." What he objected to was the idea that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper should be regarded a matter of following Scripture. Ellis closed with the following:
I can assure my christian brethren that I do not intend to write another sentence for the C.M. nor any other paper on the subject of weekly communion, as I am fully of the opinion that the scriptures authorise no such thing. I wish to invite my C. Brethren to examine minutely what bro. G. and myself have written, and compare it with the word of God. My prayer is that all christians may closely adhere to the word of God, that we may all grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
6. Barton W. Stone's Final "Remarks"

By way of wrapping up the exchange between Gano and Ellis, Editor Stone penned a few concluding remarks. He noted that both men, in private correspondence with Stone, indicated they would not be sending anything more on the subject. Both men were willing to end the discussion, "to rest it with the public to examine, and to decide its claims to truth." Then Stone added,
It must be acknowledged that but little is said in scripture with reference to the weekly communion, but all must acknowledge, that it was the practice in the first centuries of the church. Let us never make this subject a cause of debate and contention amongst us. My mind has been long in the belief that weekly communion was according to truth, yet I could never find sufficient scriptural reasons to convince my brethren that it was a positive command. What satisfied me, could not satisfy them. We are all free, nor would I willingly take away the liberty of one christian.
Two Observations

The exchange between Gano and Ellis in the pages of The Christian Messenger is remarkable on at least two different counts. First, anyone who reads Alexander Campbell's series "On the Breaking of Bread," which appeared in several issues of The Christian Baptist during 1825, will immediately conclude that Gano's 1831 article, "The Lord's Supper," is essentially a digest of Campbell's series. The similarities between the two are striking.

In fact, reading Gano after reading Campbell on this topic is a bit like reading the Gospel of Mark after the Gospel of Matthew. Campbell's series of four articles is significantly longer than Gano's article. But the general correspondence between the two is undeniable. Not only does Gano cite the same passages (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11), which is predictable, he also makes the same kind of inferential arguments. Finally, Gano bolsters his case for every-Sunday observance of the Lord's Supper by citing early Christian history, exactly as Campbell did, including the very same caveats. Even the order of the material is virtually the same. In short, the correspondence between Campbell and Gano is unmistakable. The conclusion that Gano had read Campbell's series, and that his article is essentially a synopsis of Campbell, is irresistible.

Second, anyone who reads the entire exchange between Gano and Ellis is likely to sympathize with Gano, as I do, in his inability to nail down anything in the debate over specific New Testament texts. It appears that two unspoken issues stand behind this frustration. First, unlike Gano, Ellis does not believe that the New Testament contains an implicit outline of worship for Christians, one that specifies a certain day for the assembly as well as specific activities. Second, Gano accepted an approved example in Scripture as carrying the same force of a positive command. Ellis did not. As one might expect, on both of these questions Gano's view corresponds to that of Campbell.

Notes

[1] Jerry B. Rushford, "Gano, John Allen (1805-1887)" in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 347. Rushford "wrote the book" on Gano, a 1972 master's thesis completed at Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas, titled "The Apollos of the West": The Life of John Allen Gano.

[2] John G. Ellis was not as well-known as John Allen Gano. For example, while Gano merits his own article in the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Ellis's name does not appear in the Index of that work. Still, Ellis does seem to have had an important ministry in Campbell County, Kentucky. For example, in an 1839 issue of The Millennial Harbinger, Ellis apparently responded to a request from Campbell for a status report on the congregations with which Ellis was familiar. His brief description of congregations near Dry Creek in Campbell County, Kentucky, indicates that Ellis had conducted an active ministry among those churches.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Campbell on "Communion" and the Lord's Supper

Alexander Campbell argued that a simple definition of communion and the specific usage of that word in translations of the New Testament preclude its identification with the Lord's Supper. He defined communion as "union in that which is common" and pointed out there are several ways in which the Lord's people have experienced this in both Old and New Testament eras:
Wherever there is union in common, there is communion. As the glory of the Lord equally filled all the tabernacle and the temple, so the Spirit of God animates, consoles, and refreshes the whole body of Christ.
It was in this general sense of the word that Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." Here, Paul uses the Greek word koinonia, which carries the meaning of "fellowship" or "joint participation."[1] Clearly, replacing communion with Lord's Supper would cause that verse to no longer make perfect sense.

To be sure, wrote Campbell, "in the Lord's supper especially does God commune with his sons and daughters, and they with him." [2] The breaking of bread is a special time in the lives of Christians. Nevertheless, it is most unscriptural, he insisted, for "sectarian Christendom" to identify a "single ordinance," namely, the Lord's Supper, as communion.
Hence sectarians, or professors of most creeds will occasionally invite those of another creed to lead in prayer, in praise, in family worship, and afterwards debar them from the Lord's table, merely, too, in most cases, because of doctrinal or political differences. [3]
In this way, Campbell explained his rationale for not referring to the Lord's Supper, or the breaking of bread, as communion. Not only was that identification inexact and misleading, it was also the basis upon which some Protestant sects were guilty of a gross inconsistency. For while they were perfectly willing for visitors to sing, pray, and even contribute of their means, those same visitors were debarred from participating in what the sects called "Communion."

Notes

[1] Millennial Harbinger, 1834, pp. 568-69.

[2] MH, 1864, p. 152.

[3] MH, 1862, p. 529.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

"Communion with the 'Sects'": An Answer from George W. Elley

In August 1861, Edmund Ruffin, a Virginia planter and slave owner, wrote: "The excitement of the war, and interest in its incidents, have absorbed everything else." That very same week, Massachusetts Yankee Ralph Waldo Emerson repeated Ruffin's sentiment: "The war . . . has assumed such huge proportions that it threatens to engulf us all--no preoccupation can exclude it, and no hermitage hide us." [1]

But one would hardly guess America's preoccupation with the conflict by reading The Millennial Harbinger of the time. In its pages, writers committed to what Alexander Campbell called "the present reformation" diverted much of their attention away from the war by discussing those things they were convinced would outlast it. [2]

The previous post here at Frankly Speaking surveyed the position of Restoration leaders Isaac Errett, Robert Richardson, and W. K. Pendleton (pictured here) on the topic of "Communing with the 'Sects'." Again, their remarks were occasioned by a question about "open" versus "close" communion. Their responses appeared in the December 1861 issue of The Millennial Harbinger.

It did not take long for a few other writers to take issue with some of what had been published in the Harbinger. One of the first, whose thought is the subject of this post, was George W. Elley. His response to Errett, Richardson, and Pendleton appeared in the issued dated January 1862.

Elley began by suggesting that the position and the practice recommended by the earlier three writers amounted to "open" communion. Was not such a practice, asked Elley, "fully within the meaning of the 'open communion' of the sects, in its worst form?" Furthermore, does this not break down "all of the landmarks separating Christ's from human kingdoms?"

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:28--"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup"--Elley pointed out that this directive was "addressed to the church of God at Corinth, and of course applicable only to the citizens of Christ's kingdom." Paul was writing to Christians, not to everyone who might attend a worship assembly.

But what of the objection that "it is the Lord's table, and not ours"? Elley retorted, in that case, since it is the Lord's table, "what right have we to control it outside of his directions?" Has the Lord not sufficiently taught us who should and should not partake? The church should remember that the Lord has left it to the people of God to serve as stewards of his intentions, executors of his will. Because the Lord's Supper is eaten at the table of the Lord, wrote Elley, "I can only furnish bread and wine to those whom he invites. I have no discretion in the matter." And who has been invited to the Supper of the Lord? Only those who have been "born of water and of the Spirit." Consequently, fellowship and communion should be extended to "all such as are entitled to membership in the house of God, and to none others." This is not a matter of opinion or feelings. It is, instead, a matter of keeping "the law of Christ."

Someone else might object that "we are not to judge others." But, responded Elley, the command not to the judge simply cannot mean "Make no judgments." Otherwise, the church would not be able to follow the command to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned" (Romans 16:17).

Furthermore, Elley denied that the attitude and practice described by Isaac Errett, one according to which the church opens wide "the gate which leads to the altar of Christ's table" was common among Stone-Campbell congregations. "Such may be the his [Errett's] practice, but such is not the common practice of the churches."

Elley concluded with a succinct statement of his position. The church is made up of people who have been "born again." To be born again means to have been immersed in water as a consequence of faith and repentance. Only those who have obeyed in this way are "citizens of Christ's kingdom" and are therefore "lawfully entitled to the ordinances of God's house." If someone has become a Christian but still belongs to a Protestant sect, whenever that person takes the Lord's Supper with us it is not because the church practices "open communion." Rather, this is an example of "communion with that class of God's children who are improperly associated." Whenever the church refuses the bread and wine to unimmersed people, the church is acting "consistently with all our pleadings." Why would the church be "closed" in regard to baptism, but "opened" when it comes to the Lord's Supper? "Where is the consistency in this act? I am unable to see it." Elley's concluding paragraph reads:
When we have clearly stated the law of Christ upon the subject of the right and duty of God's people to the bread and wine, and then some should come who are not included, the responsibility must rest with them, and not with us; but if we allow 'all to come,' then it is with us. If I am wrong, I shall be thankful for correction.
In a brief follow-up titled "Remarks," W. K. Pendleton, co-editor of the Harbinger and one of the three writers challenged by Elley, gave notice to his readers that "Bro. Elley's article came too late" to include a reply. Besides, Pendleton would not have had room to publish both. With that explanation, Pendleton promised "the reply in our next," and called on either Richardson or Errett, or both, to write that reply. [3]

Notes

[1] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), viii.

[2] Of course, writers in The Millennial Harbinger referred to the war on occasion. Still, it is remarkable that no more than just a few references appear in the issues published in 1862.

[3] Elley's article, titled "Communion with the 'Sects.' " and W. K. Pendleton's brief "Remarks" appear in The Millennial Harbinger for January 1862, pp. 39-42.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Restoration Leaders on the "Untaught Question" about the Lord's Supper

Regarding the Lord's Supper, should churches invite all in attendance to participate, permit only members in good standing to partake, or serve the Supper to all and leave it to individuals to decide? In 1861, this question and larger, related issues were addressed in the pages of The Millennial Harbinger by three important leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement: Isaac Errett (pictured here), Robert Richardson, and W. K. Pendleton. [1] Their teaching as well as their references to contemporary practices of the congregations they knew provide a window on what some, certainly not all, restorationists of the Civil War era thought about this aspect of the Lord's Supper.

What was the historical background to their discussion? According to Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, young Alexander Campbell and other reformers of the early first generation defended "close communion," which in their circles meant "the practice of admitting only believers baptized by immersion to the service of Communion." By contrast, Barton W. Stone and like-minded Christians in Kentucky did not forbid "defective believers" from participating in the Lord's Supper. Eventually, Campbell's outlook changed and his position moved closer to the one held by Stone.
As Campbell moved into maturity, he modified his view and joined some of the followers in shifting from close to open communion. The impulse to reflect the oneness of God's people around the Lord's Table was stronger than the will to hold fast to an exclusivist interpretation of New Testament Christianity. [2]
Such were the competing principles with which the first and all subsequent generations of restorationists have had to grapple. Is the Restoration Movement primarily motivated by Christian unity or doctrinal purity? Or, as McAllister and Tucker put it, "Is the church primarily an inclusivist or an exclusivist community?" [3]

Before examining the specific comments of Errett, Richardson, and Pendleton about the Lord's Supper, it would be best to establish the specific context in which they were written. Apparently, the three responses were occasioned by a letter from a certain "Bro. Hawley." According to Richardson's reply, a discussion had emerged "among the brethren in Detroit in regard to the question of open or close communion." The reference to Detroit provides an important clue. It is most likely that the author was Richard Hawley (1815?-1884). He attended the inaugural, 1849 meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati and was elected one of its officers. Among the officers of the ACMS, he served as one of twenty vice presidents, who were geographically distributed. Hawley represented Disciples in the State of Michigan. [4]

"Bro. Hawley," as his name appears, sent the same letter or a similar one to both Errett and Richardson, who then responded in the pages of the Harbinger. W. K. Pendleton, then a co-editor of the magazine, also offered his reflections on the issues.

Isaac Errett

In his response written from Muir, Michigan, Isaac Errett began by acknowledging that the plea of the present reformation was to bring back the conditions that presumably existed among the churches of apostolic times. However, because "the church has not yet half recovered," he wrote, the people of God were "scattered and divided" among the various Protestant sects. Consequently, Christians of the Restoration Movement, immersed as believers, were compelled "to recognize as Christians many who have been in error on baptism, but who in the spirit of obedience are Christians indeed. (See Rom. ii. 28, 29)."

Referring to the various sects who had taught much truth over many generations, Errett insisted that it would never do "to unchristianize those on whose shoulders we are standing, and because of whose labors we are enabled to see some truths more clearly than they." Therefore, in regard to the Lord's Supper, the standard practice was "neither to invite nor reject particular classes of persons, but to spread the table in the name of the Lord, for the Lord's people, and allow all to come who will, each on his own responsibility."

Errett reported his impression that "fully two-thirds of our churches in the United States occupy this position," with those churches that were originally Baptist being "rather more unyielding." He concluded with words of both conviction and generosity: "For myself, while fully devoted to our plea, I have no wish to limit and fetter my sympathies and affections to our own people."

Robert Richardson

For his part, Robert Richardson argued that because Christianity in apostolic times was not divided into organized sects, the question at hand, being "anterior to the apostacy," could not be discussed or decided on the basis of Scripture. In other words, because the first-century church was presumably united on all essentials, the New Testament did not contain an answer to the question of whether a church should permit unimmersed believers to participate in the Lord's Supper. Therefore, "we neither discuss nor determine this question. We simply leave it to each individual to determine for himself. It is really, as the brethren . . .  say, an 'untaught question'."

Citing Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:28--"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat . . . ,"--Richardson asserted that the practice he advocated was "precisely in the spirit of this injunction, and we very properly forbear to decide the question either way, and consequently neither invite nor prohibit."

Like Errett, Richardson noted that the Scotch Baptists "are especially rigid in regard to this matter." Yet, he could vouch for them as "generally faithful and pious brethren" and thus suggested that "great forbearance" should be extended to those congregations.

W. K. Pendleton

In his follow-up "Remarks" on the question, editor W. K. Pendleton expressed his doubt that "the subject is one likely to develop any very serious controversy among the brethren." He approved what he referred to as the "almost universal" custom in Stone-Campbell churches to deny any authority "to exclude from the Lord's supper any who, by their walk and conversation, and in their own hearts, approve themselves as the Lord's people." Pendleton called on his readers to remember that "we are laboring, not to introduce a totally new church, but to restore the things which are wanting in one already existing; not to overthrow what is good, buy to teach the way of the Lord more perfectly."

Pendleton concluded with a revealing flourish. In the following purple passage, there can be no doubt that the essential question was not "Who should partake?" The basic matter at stake was the question of who should be regarded as a believer?
If Peter had been left to his Jewish prejudices and exclusivism, he would doubtless have refused to admit Cornelius to baptism. It was the overwhelming evidence of his reception by God that compelled the apostle to say, 'Who shall forbid that he shall be baptized?' So ought it to be with us. Can we deny that God has recognized and is still recognizing the truly pious and full of faith and good works in the many divisions of professed Christians, as really and truly his people? Will any one take the absurd position that the noble list of illustrious men who have been the light and ornament of religion in the ages that are past, and whose piety and learning are still the admiration and glory of the Lord's people--that all these, because of an error, not on the significancy or divine authority of baptism, but what we must be allowed to call its mode,--that all these, because of such an error, must be pushed from our ranks as reprobate--torn from our Christian affections, as heretics--thrust from the communion of the body and blood of the Saviour, whom for a long life they so truly loved and devotedly served, and counted no more worthy of our Christian fellowship than so many heathens and publicans! The conclusion is too monstrous for any but the hide-bound zealot of a cold and lifeless formalism. I should feel that I had injured the Christianity which I profess and which I love, could I recall that even for a moment I had allowed by head so to interpret its pleading mercy, or my heart so to restrict its wide-embracing charity.
Such a vigorous defense of a generous restorationism clearly indicates that second-generation leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement had much more than the Lord's Supper to discuss. The essential nature of the restoration plea and the position of the movement in the larger world of Christendom was the real issue.

Notes

[1] The responses from Errett, Richardson, and Pendleton appeared under the title "Communion with the 'Sects'" in the The Millennial Harbinger dated December 1861, Vol. 32, 711-714. This material was reprinted in Benjamin Lyon Smith, The Millennial Harbinger Abridged, Vol. 2 (Cincinnati: Standard, 1902), 239 and following.

Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Saint Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), 237.

[3] The approximate birth and death dates for Richard Hawley are taken from McAllister and Tucker, Journey in Faith, 240. For Hawley as the ACMS representative from Michigan, see The Millennial Harbinger Abridged, Vol. 2, 400.

[4] McAllister and Tucker, Journey in Faith, 240.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Alexander Campbell's Four-Part Series "On the Breaking of Bread"

In their quest to rehabilitate what Alexander Campbell referred to as "the divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies," early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement identified weekly communion as a central practice. [1] For example, when Thomas and Alexander Campbell and like-minded believers established the Brush Run church in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in May 1811, "their first act of worship was the observance of the Lord's Supper, which they resolved to celebrate weekly thereafter." [2]

In February 1825, Alexander Campbell inaugurated a series of articles titled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things," which he published in his monthly magazine, The Christian Baptist. The completed series included thirty-two installments. Four of the earliest articles, numbers six through nine, were subtitled "On the Breaking of Bread." [3]

Campbell began his series with an indictment of the monthly, semi-annual, and annual observances of the Lord's Supper within the various branches of Protestantism. Neither the frequency nor the demeanor of those observances met the standard of the New Testament. Campbell's complaint likely includes a veiled reference to the yearly summertime festal communions held by the Presbyterians, the denomination of which he and his father were former members. He notes especially that some believers had turned the Lord's Supper into a morose affair, a somber observance. [4] By contrast, he wrote:
It was the design of the Saviour that his disciples should not be deprived of this joyful festival when they meet in one place to worship God. . . . He did not assemble them to weep, and wail, and starve with him. No, he commands them to rejoice always, and bids them eat and drink abundantly. [5]
The heart of the series involved the question of frequency. Campbell well understood that the New Testament contained no explicit command that Christians should observe the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis. This led him to highlight the significance of approved examples in biblical interpretation. Campbell noted that the New Testament
does not altogether consist of commands, but of approved precedents. Apostolic example is justly esteemed of equal authority with an apostolic precept. Hence, say the Baptists, shew us where Paul or any apostle sprinkled an infant, and we will not ask you for a command to go and do likewise. [6]
Passages from three chapters of the New Testament make up the scriptural centerpiece of Campbell's argument for the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper: Acts 2, Acts 20, and 1 Corinthians 11. In the first of these, Acts 2:42 describes how the earliest Christians in Jerusalem "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Campbell noted that "the first congregation organized by the apostles after the ascension of the King, did as steadfastly attend on the breaking of bread in their religious meetings, as upon any act of worship or means of edification." [7] Thus we learn "that the breaking of bread was a stated part of the worship of the disciples in their meetings." [8]

Based on the first half of Acts 20:7-- "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread"--Campbell insisted that "above all, we ought to notice that the most prominent object of their meeting was to break bread." [9]

From 1 Corinthians 11:20, Campbell argued that when Paul reproved the church at ancient Corinth for their abuse of the Lord's Supper, by implication he pointed to the central place of the breaking of bread in Christian worship. Paul wrote, "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper." Campbell, in order to make his point, offered a comparison. If a man hired workers, but later found them idle, he might say to them, "You did not come here to work." Thus, although indirectly, in 1 Corinthians 11:20 Paul identifies the the Lord's Supper as an essential part of Christian worship. [10]

Campbell concluded his series "On the Breaking of Bread" by pointing to early church history as a verification for his conclusions about the frequency of the Lord's Supper. He emphasized that while the New Testament foreground has no authority, it is useful as an answer to those who say, "Innovation!" in reaction to authentic New Testament teaching. The following brief passage includes two disclaimers regarding the authority of tradition. It also provides two reasons for studying church history:
We lay no stress upon what is no better than the traditions of the church; or upon the testimony of those called the primitive fathers, in settling any part of Christians worship, or Christian obedience. Yet when the scriptures are explicit upon any topic, which is lost sight of in modern times, it is both gratifying and useful to know how the practice has been laid aside, and other customs been substituted in its room. There is, too, a corroborating influence in authentic history, which, while it does not authorize any thing as of Divine authority, it confirms the conviction of our duty in things Divinely established, by observing how they were observed, and how they were laid aside. [11] 
At the end of the third of his four essays on the Lord's Supper, Campbell offered the following synopsis of his position on the topic. It serves as a good summary for this blog post as well:

"To recapitulate the items adduced in favor of the ancient order of breaking bread, it was shewn, as we apprehend--

1. That there is a divinely instituted order of christian worship, in christian assemblies.

2. That this order of worship is uniformly the same.

3. That the nature and design of the breaking of bread are such as to make it an essential part of christian worship in christian assemblies.

4. That the first church set in order in Jerusalem, continued as stedfastly in breaking of bread, as in any other act of social worship or edification.

5. That the disciples statedly met on the first day of the week, primarily and emphatically for this purpose.

6. That the apostle declared it was the design or the primary object of the church to assemble in one place for this purpose, and so commanded it to the churches he had set in order.

7. That there is no law, rule, reason, or authority for the present manner of observing this institute quarterly, semi-annually, or at any other time than weekly.

8. We have considered some of the more prominent objections against the ancient practice, and are ready to hear any new ones that can be offered. Upon the whole, it may be said that we have express precedent and an express command to assemble in one place on the first day of the week to break bread. We shall reserve other evidences and considerations until some objections are offered by any correspondent who complies with our conditions." [12]
______________________________________

Notes

[1] "Order of Worship"Christian Baptist, Vol. II, July 4, 1825, p. 164. Along this line, another of Campbell's phrases was "the ancient order of worship in the Christian church." See Ibid.

[2] Paul M. Blowers and Byron C. Lambert, "The Lord's Supper," in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 489.

[3] The first installment in Campbell's series titled "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things" appeared in The Christian Baptist dated February 7, 1825. The final, thirty-second installment was published in the issue dated September 7, 1829. Campbell published The Christian Baptist from 1823 to 1830.

[4] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--IChristian Baptist, Vol. III, August 1, 1825,  pp. 174-75. For more about the origins and history of festal communions and camp meetings, see Leigh Eric Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001). For the famous 1801 Cane Ridge Revival as a Presbyterian festal communion, see Paul K. Conkin, Cane Ridge: America's Pentecost (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), a book that owes a good deal to Leigh Eric Schmidt's 1987 Princeton PhD dissertation, and to Marilyn J. Westerkamp, Triumph of the Laity: Scots-Irish Piety and the Great Awakening, 1625-1760 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[5] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--I," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, August 1, 1825,  p. 174.

[6] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--II," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, September 5, 1825, p. 179.

[7] Ibid., 181.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--III" Christian Baptist, Vol. III, October 3, 1825, p. 187.

[11] "On the Breaking of Bread, No. IV," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, November 7, 1825, p. 194. I note that Churches of Christ historian Everett Ferguson offers much the same rationale for, and caveats regarding, the study of Christian history in the introductory chapter of Church History: Early and Medieval, 2nd ed. (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1985).

[12] "On the Breaking of Bread. No.--IIIChristian Baptist, Vol. III, October 3, 1825, pp. 187-88.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Alexander Campbell, Early Church History, and the Breaking of Bread

Alexander Campbell concluded his 1825 series "On the Breaking of Bread" by pointing to early church history as a verification for his conclusions about the frequency of the Lord's Supper. He emphasizes that New Testament foreground has no authority. However, he writes, it is useful as an answer to those who say, "Innovation!" in reaction to authentic New Testament teaching. Notice in the following brief passage the two disclaimers regarding the authority of tradition. Note also the two reasons given for the value of studying church history. As soon as I read this, I was taken back to Everett Ferguson's booklet in the Way of Life series on Early and Medieval Church History, where Ferguson makes similar points in favor of this kind of study, in church "Bible classes" no less:

"We lay no stress upon what is no better than the traditions of the church; or upon the testimony of those called the primitive fathers, in settling any part of Christians worship, or Christian obedience. Yet when the scriptures are explicit upon any topic, which is lost sight of in modern times, it is both gratifying and useful to know how the practice has been laid aside, and other customs been substituted in its room. There is, too, a corroborating influence in authentic history, which, while it does not authorize any thing as of Divine authority, it confirms the conviction of our duty in things Divinely established, by observing how they were observed, and how they were laid aside." (A. Campbell, "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. IX, On the Breaking of Bread, No. IV," Christian Baptist, Vol. III, November 7, 1825, p. 83).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Brevard S. Childs on the Message of Habakkuk

Brevard Childs was a first-rate biblical scholar, a real master of the various critical analyses so basic to his craft. But he did not consider any of the methods as an end. He understood them as means.

It seems to me that Childs was really a bit of a preacher, a believer in Christ who was convinced that the ultimate goal of even the most intricate Bible study was to reveal the message of the sacred text so that the people of God might be instructed and edified to His honor and glory.

I wrote that while preparing my Bible class for next Sunday. This is from the conclusion of Childs' discussion of Habakkuk:

"Righteousness is not judged by human capacity to understand the mind of God in world history, but rather in a faithful response of obedience which lives in God's promise. The prophet's testimony (3:18f.) witnesses to this faith which rejoices in God's salvation and awaits the end in spite of a human situation which oppresses the people of God (3:17)." --Introduction to The Old Testament as Scripture, p. 453.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Microhistory: What It Is, and What It's Good For (5th and Final)

In this fifth and final post, I want to say a few things about the future of microhistory. If recent discussions of theory and methodology, and just the production of historiography itself are any indication, then it seems that microhistory has a promising future. For example, a recent unigram search of Google Books indicates an exponential growth in the occurrence of microhistory from the 1980s up to the present. Kim Tolley’s new microhistory, cited at the beginning of the first post, is one of many.

Positive signs also turn up in one of my own subfields of study, the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. The authors of a recently-published survey textbook, The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History, make the following generalization:
A shift away from macro-history began in the 1970s, especially rejecting history written from the standpoint of dominant institutions or socio-political elites. Instead, the focus was on “micro-histories” and the stories of outsiders and marginalized groups, especially immigrants, racial minorities, and women.[1]
Among the few works of Stone-Campbell history that fit this generalization, at least two stand out: Daisy L. Machado’s Of Borders and Margins: Hispanic Disciples in Texas, 1888-1945, and Edward J. Robinson’s To Save My Race from Abuse: The Life of Samuel Robert Cassius.[2]

To summarize this entire series then, microhistory grew out of the interests of European social historians and was developed in Italy beginning in the 1970s. Its initial concern was to use “microscopic” methods to verify, correct, and supplement macrohistory, whose generalizations might be misguided or incomplete. In this way, microhistory could serve the goal of the Annales school to present “total history.” Since its inception, some examples of microhistory have been criticized for their dependence on the methods of cultural anthropology, or for their indulgence in anecdotalism and antiquarianism. Nevertheless, works described by their authors as microhistories, as well as other works that exhibit some of the characteristics of the microhistorical method, have grown in popularity among historians. At least one advocate of microhistory, namely, American historian Richard D. Brown, does not consider this trend a scholarly fad. Rather, he sees it as important to the foundation of history itself.

Of course, Brown’s overall concern relates to much more than the usefulness of microhistory. For example, in a much more general way French social historian Arlette Farge has responded to the question of the relationship between truth and historiography. She takes a mediating approach, one that argues that while no historian ever produces “the definitive truthful narrative,” no historian worthy of the name can ever disregard truth, or fail to care about what is true.[3]

Here, there is a discernible correspondence between Farge’s position and that of Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis. In his series of lectures titled The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past, Gaddis observes that historians have always known that arriving at historical consciousness means one has learned “that there is no ‘correct’ interpretation of the past” and that “the act of interpreting is itself a vicarious enlargement of experience.”[4] At the same time, Gaddis rejects the extreme conclusion that because “we have no absolute basis for measuring time and space” we therefore “can’t know anything about what happened within them.”[5]

Both Farge and Gaddis would agree, it seems, that historians can and should identify many things that are true, while at the same time recognizing that one’s interpretation of a set of facts is just that: an interpretation.
_____________________________________________
[1] D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds. The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2013), 5.

[2] Daisy L. Machado, Of Borders and Margins: Hispanic Disciples in Texas, 1888-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Edward J. Robinson, To Save My Race from Abuse: The Life of Samuel Robert Cassius (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007).

[3] Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives, trans. Thomas Scott-Railton (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 95-96.

[4] John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 10.

[5] Ibid., 34.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Microhistory: What It Is, and What It's Good For (4)

If the method known as microhistory is both legitimate and productive, then what microhistories stand out as the best examples of this subfield? What features distinguish them as good models? Above all, what do microhistories uniquely accomplish?

Here, pride of place belongs to Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. The key to the success of Ginzburg’s work as a microhistory is not his story of the now-celebrated Menocchio, so much as it is his demonstration that Menocchio’s case was not purely unique. There was also, as Ginzburg tells us, a “rustic in the Lucchese countryside who hid behind the pseudonym Scolio.” Much like the main character in The Cheese and the Worms, Scolio “projected onto the written page, elements taken from oral tradition.”[1] Like Menocchio, for example, Scolio was convinced that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all preached some version of the Ten Commandments. The two men also shared what Ginzburg calls “a common store of traditions, myths, and aspirations handed down orally over generations.”[2]

Ginzburg next introduces yet another peasant radical, Pighino (“the Fat,”) who was likewise a miller. The author notes that sixteenth-century millers had, at best, mixed reputations, and were well known for their radicalism. Dealing with a wide variety of people, they worked in out-of-the-way places, where people freely exchanged ideas much as they would at “the inn and the shop.”[3] These were the places where the cultures of “peasant religious radicalism” and of “peasant egalitarianism” were kept alive.[4] Consequently, Ginzburg argues, we should reject any assumption that “ideas originate exclusively among the dominant classes.” What is required of historians is a “more complicated hypothesis about relationships in this period between the culture of the dominant classes and the culture of the subordinate classes.”[5] This represents what should be regarded as the most significant contribution that Ginzburg’s work offers to the historiography on the period. Not only does the book relate a compelling story, more importantly, it shows us a part of the past we would not otherwise have seen and signals why it is important for us to know that part.

Since the advent of microhistory, Americanists have also employed this methodology, but often in ways that deviate from or go beyond what Ginzburg and his cohort were trying to do. In a 2003 article titled “Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge,” American historian Richard D. Brown identified three types of works that can be called microhistories. First, he cites investigations of certain locales over a long period. Alternately, scholars have given such works labels like “the new social history” and “community studies.” Significantly, perhaps surprisingly, Brown places in this category a book published as early as 1963: Sumner Chilton Powell’s Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town.[6]

Brown identifies a second type of microhistory that he calls “intensive community analyses” designed “to illuminate and explain particular events.” Examples of this category are Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum’s Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (1974) and Robert A. Gross’s The Minutemen and Their World (1976).[7]

Third, Brown notes that there are many works that merely give a voice to extraordinary but little-known people from the past. It is at this point, with the third possible category, that Brown draws a line. He insists that microhistorians should “be eager to test and refine standing generalizations.” He agrees with pioneering microhistorians like Giovanni Levi who believe that, ideally, microscopic observations should “reveal factors previously unobserved”; and with Jill Lepore when she asserts that microhistory must not be confused with a celebratory biography of someone from the past who, simply because of his or her qualities or experiences, everyone should know.[8] Microhistorians are trying to discover big things.

As noted earlier, when it comes to Americans, without calling their works microhistories, a large number of scholars have produced books and articles that Brown would include in his expanded definition of the type. Perhaps the best example is Alan Taylor’s 1995 work William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize. As the reader soon learns, this is much more than a thick biography of land speculator William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown and Ostego County, New York. By detailing and contextualizing Cooper’s aspirations, his rise to wealth, and the fortunes of his family, Taylor is able to shed new light on the politics and demographic character of what was in the 1790s the western frontier of New York. As Taylor shows, although Cooper’s humble background would suggest an interest in Jeffersonian republican politics, he did not favor the style of authority connected with the title “Friends of the People.” Instead, Cooper, whom Jefferson himself once called “the bashaw of Ostego,” hoped to become one of the few genteel “Fathers of the People” in his community, a style much more in keeping with the outlook of the Federalists. But it was not to be. Above all, the rise of Jeffersonian politics at the local level, part and parcel of the republican revolution of 1800, undermined Cooper’s dreams for himself and his heirs, including his son the novelist James Fenimore Cooper.[9]

Another possible nominee is Kevin Boyle’s Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age. Ask any well-informed American what the 1920s were all about, and the answer will likely include flappers, speakeasies, dancing the Charleston, Republican presidents, the Harlem Renaissance, and the growth of jazz. Arc of Justice reveals that the answer should also include the presence of deadly racism in America, even in a northern city like Detroit. Boyle sets out to tell the story of a black medical doctor, Ossian Sweet, his family and friends, and the incident and subsequent trial that made him a significant historical figure. A fine piece of journalistic and popular history, this book does not begin with a thesis statement per se. As Boyle continues, however, it appears that his purpose is to drive home the point that although the saga of Ossian Sweet is a compelling story, one that should be told, of greatest significance is the story's context, an American racism that often seems to recognize no restraint or limit.[10]

This last work brings us back to the question of boundaries, the definition of microhistory. In 1993, Carlo Ginzburg expressed his conviction that “the reconciliation between macro- and microhistory” should not at all “be taken for granted.” In fact, it “needs to be pursued.”[11] With approval, he pointed to the opinion of Siegfried Kracauer who saw in Marc Bloch’s Feudal Society the perfect approach. According to Ginzburg, that approach was “a constant back and forth between micro- and macrohistory, between close-ups and extreme long-shots, so as to continually thrust back into discussion the comprehensive vision of the historical process through apparent exceptions and cases of brief duration.”[12] This naturally raises a question: in order for a work to be a microhistory, is it necessary for the author to intend it as such? From the foregoing, it seems clear enough that one distinction between the two sides of the Atlantic is that Europeans like Ginzburg are more likely to answer that question with a “Yes,” while Americans like Brown are more likely to say “No.”

In fact, Brown sees microhistory, including what might be called its indirect or implied forms, to be an effective response to what he styles “the post-modern challenge.” He begins by noting that historians are often slow to adopt new trends in scholarship. Unlike scholars in other academic fields like sociology and literary studies, historians are wary of embracing theories or methods that might soon turn into yesterday's fads. Yet Brown confesses that he is “a convert to microhistory, and an evangelical one at that.”[13] He observes that as early as the 1890s, Henry Adams, whom he describes as a proto-postmodernist, complained that the field of history had become hopelessly subjective. It was, according to Adams, “a sort of Chinese Play, without end and without lesson.” As a discipline, history was “an inextricable mess.”[14] Brown responds to this, as well as to similar criticisms coming from more recent scholars, by acknowledging that history is indeed “a subjective construction derived from ‘facts’ that were selectively recorded to serve a wide range of purposes, and which often survive by chance.” It is also true, he admits, that historians select from the universe of facts according to their own logic and intentions. “The very subjects we choose to recover . . . are based on our politics broadly conceived, our judgments of what is important, and the tastes of our audiences.”[15]

Still, Brown is not yet ready to give up on history. To begin with, there are many things that we can know and confidently claim about the past. For example, he asks, where is the American historian who will assert that in the early republic “women, blacks, Indians, or the poor controlled the levers of power and ran the state”? The same principle works for positive assertions as well. Thus, we can state without fear of serious challenge that the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787.[16] When it comes to such matters of fact, mountains of consistent evidence permit historians to make claims that compel the assent of every reasonable person. Of course, more serious kinds of questions appear and multiply whenever historians begin to make claims, as they invariably do, that are more intuitive. Any work of synthesis, for example, is by definition a scholar's creative projection. And, even those historians who never attempt a grand synthesis routinely engage in the same kind of activity. In fact, those historians who do not carry on such work thereby welcome the criticism that they are the sort of scholars who know “more and more about less and less.”[17]

This is precisely why Brown advocates the microhistorical method. He envisions it as the very type of scholarly work that can produce an effective response to the post-modern challenge. Again, works of history, invariably synthetic to one degree or another, are open to the criticism that historians piece together their narratives in much the same way that clever defense attorneys spin alternative stories about crimes. But how can historians avoid these kinds of suspicions? After all, historical narratives and especially works of synthesis simply cannot make the claims they make without standing “on a footing of disparate monographs.” This is critical because, for the sake of the credibility of their work, historians need to be able to convince others that “history deserves its status as an authoritative source of truth.”[18] Now that “fake news” is an everyday expression, could historians have anything more important to do?


[1] Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 112.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 119

[4] Ibid., 123.

[5] Ibid., 126.

[6] Richard D. Brown, “Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge,” Journal of the Early Republic 23, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 10.

[7] Ibid., 11.

[8] Ibid., 14. Here, Brown cites two important works: Giovanni Levi, “On Microhistory,” in New Perspectives on Historical Writing, ed. Peter Burke (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991): 93-113; and Jill Lepore, “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography,” Journal of American History 88, no. 1 (June 2001): 129-44.

[9] Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Knopf, 1995).

[10] Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (New York: Picador, 2004).

[11] Carlo Ginzburg, “Microhistory: Two or Three Things I Know about It,” trans. John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi, Critical Inquiry 20, no. 1 (Autumn 1993), 27.

[12] Ibid. Later, Ginzburg points to Siegfried Kracauer as having been ahead of his time. Kracauer, he writes, “had already foreseen” that “the results obtained in a microscopic sphere cannot be automatically transferred to a macroscopic sphere (and vice versa)” (33).

[13] Brown, “Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge,” 1-2.

[14] Ibid., 3.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 4.

[17] Ibid., 8.

[18] Ibid., 10.