Friday, January 03, 2014

Notes on "Divisions in North America: The Emergence of Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ," Chap. 5 in The Stone-Campbell Movement

"Divisions in North America: The Emergence of Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ," Chapter 5 in The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2013): 76-93.

Overview of Contents

The chapter begins by noting that 1866 saw three important events:

(a) the death of Alexander Campbell
(b) the resumption of the Gospel Advocate
(c) the beginning of the Christian Standard.

For many years Campbell had worked to smooth over rifts in the Movement he presided over. But division, signaled by the content of the Advocate and the Standard, led to the recognition of two separate bodies: Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ, a division "documented by the 1906 U.S. Census of Religious Bodies" (76).

Tolbert Fanning imbibed the "apocalyptic" worldview of B. W. Stone, and the biblical primitivism of A. Campbell. Fanning, in turn, deeply influenced young David Lipscomb. Their outlook, combined with a strong sectional bias, generated among the Southern churches an opposition to

(a) missionary societies
(b) instrumental music in Christian worship
(c) the called, resident preacher system.

By contrast, Disciples, those in the North, misunderstood and rejected the Southern emphasis on what appeared to be doctrinal tests of fellowship based on identification of and adherence to scriptural positive law. Northerners emphasized a theme found in both The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery and Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address: that "compulsory confessions of faith" are "a source of religious tyranny and division" (80).

"Two events symbolized the growing divergence of outlook in the Movement" (81). Those two events were

(a) the publication of the Sand Creek, Illinois, "Address and Declaration." Closely connected with the leadership of Daniel Sommer, this document wrote out those guilty of embracing and retaining "innovations." Significantly, both J. H. Garrison, editor of the Christian-Evangelist and Lipscomb, editor of the Advocate, condemned the document.
(b) the General Christian Missionary Convention held in Nashville in October 1892. Lipscomb attended and came away with much to criticize. As he put it, the event was "an open, defiant rejection of God and his holy word" (81).

Those in charge of the U.S. Religious Census perceived the rift and began to ask questions. When Lipscomb published an official query and his own responses in the Gospel Advocate, J. H. Garrison responded in disbelief in the pages of the Christian-Evangelist. To Garrison, Lipscomb's editorial was a power grab and a throwing down of the gauntlet. To Lipscomb, it was simply a matter of answering a direct question truthfully and offering clarity.

The authors note that "[t]he division reflected in the census data cut across racial lines" (82). They tell the stories of two black leaders, Alexander Campbell and S. W. Womack. Both parted from the society/instrument Christian churches in Nashville and eventually began the Jackson Street Church of Christ, "the 'mother church' of African American Churches of Christ" (83). Campbell and Womack recruited G. P. Bowser, an A.M.E. Church minister, who, beginning in 1897, left the Methodists for the Christian Church, and finally united with the Jackson Street Church. Bowser initiated the Christian Echo, and was involved in the establishment of the Silver Point Christian Institute at Silver Point, TN in 1907. From Jackson Street came one of the great evangelists of black Churches of Christ, S. W. Womack's son-in-law, Marshall Keeble.

The authors observe that the 1906 Census both defined the previously-existing division and prompted congregations to choose a side. "In the impoverished and defeated South, most members of the Stone-Campbell Movement identified faithfulness to Christ as obedience to the positive commands of the New Testament. In the prosperous and victorious North, most Stone-Campbell Christians identified faithfulness as trust in the person of Christ" (84).

Several intellectual and social currents (e.g., Darwinism) were felt most strongly in the prosperous, urbanizing North. Perhaps most significant among these was biblical higher criticism. In response to higher-critical theories, conservatism was personified by J. W. McGarvey. On the left were leaders like E. B. Cake, Alexander Procter, and most notably, Robert C. Cave. In December 1889, Cave preached a sermon, published in the St. Louis Republic under the title "Clerical Sensation," in which he denied the virginal conception and bodily resurrection of Jesus. J. H. Garrison, who had taken a moderate view on matters of higher criticism, believed that Cave has crossed a line. While condemning Cave's views, Garrison attempted to maintain both faithfulness to the core message and healthy spirit of inquiry. 

Another moderate like Garrison was Isaac Errett. He was willing to affirm Christ as "the foundation of faith," and believed that the Bible was "a reliable guide." But notably, Errett would not affirm that the Bible was free from error, and refused to apply the word "infallible" to the Scriptures.

Such struggles among the predominately-northern Disciples generated "conservatives, liberals, and moderates." Some, like B.B. Tyler, W. T. Moore, and Samuel H. Church, the grandson of Walter Scott, were much more liberal and ecumenical in outlook than were others, like J. A. Lord, editor of the Standard, and H. G. Allen, editor of the Old Path Guide.

Churches of Christ also exhibited three distinct groupings:

(a) "the Tennessee Tradition, led by David Lipscomb and James A. Harding"
(b) "the Indiana Tradition, led by Daniel Sommer"
(c) "the Texas Tradition, led by Austin McGary" (89).

These three--named for origin, but not necessarily designating territorial dominance--vied for influence among Churches of Christ as the twentieth century unfolded. Each held sets of values that sometimes overlapped with one or both of the others, but on other points stood opposed.

The Tennessee Tradition "represented a fusion of the apocalyptic and positive law traditions of the Stone-Campbell Movement" (89). Indiana "shared the Tennessee Tradition's antipathy toward sophistication, worldliness, and the power of industrialists" (90). But unlike both Tennessee or Texas, Indiana took an even stronger stand against institutionalism, while upholding what were called the "rights, privileges, and duties" of women in Christian assemblies. The Texas Tradition was best-known for its rejection of any baptism that was not known by the candidate to be "for the remission of sins."

The chapter closes with the note that some leaders, like T. B. Larimore and Frederick D. Kershner, maintained a commitment to ignoring what they regarded as divisive issues.

Comments and Questions

1. When it comes to the historiography I'm acquainted with and presentations I've heard, it's clear that this chapter picks up and applies the term "apocalyptic" as it was used by R. Hughes in Reviving the Ancient Faith (1996). Hughes employed the term to describe the worldview of the Stoneite Movement. Similarly, the chapter borrows the three-fold variety (Tennessee, Texas, and Indiana) within emerging Churches of Christ that has been noticed and so named by J. M. Hicks and B. Valentine.

2. For reasons I have a hard time articulating, I've never thought that "apocalyptic" was the best word for what Hughes was describing. Now nearly twenty years later, in the wake of cultural items such as the spoof film This is the End, I like "apocalyptic" even less. Has/can anyone suggest an alternative word or phrase that would be a better fit and supplant the old term that is now semantically beyond the point of popping?

3. Significantly I suppose, this chapter ignores Hughes' suggestion in Reviving the Ancient Faith that the two branches described are partially the result of a change in A. Campbell. In 1837, he debated the Roman Catholic Bishop Purcell and thus became a popular defender of Protestantism over against Catholicism. As I recall, Hughes sees Churches of Christ as the heirs of the pre-1837 "sectarian" Campbell, with Disciples being the heirs of the post-1837, "ecumenical" Campbell (my terms in scare quotes, not necessarily Hughes'). To what extent is that an accurate and useful interpretation of the division?

4. It's much safer to agree that the authors have rightly picked up and used the work of D. E. Harrell, Jr. regarding sectional aspects of the division.

5. If I could add a potential footnote to the final section of the chapter, it would be the cooperation in Indian Territory between Meta Chestnutt (a North Carolina Disciple who received assistance from the ACMS) and R. W. Officer (an evangelist from Tennessee who opposed the societies and who was published more in the Octographic Review than in any other journal). As I recently discovered, they both knew and had significant contact with T. B. Larimore, who traveled to I.T. in order to encourage them and their work.

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