Saturday, February 21, 2015

Summary of "Unless Authorized to Act" by C. J. Dull

Dull, C. J., “Unless Authorized to Act: A Suggestion for the Timing Issue in the Civil War Hypothesis Concerning the First Division in the Stone-Campbell Movement.” Encounter 63, no. 4 (2002): 373-84.

Professor C. J. Dull begins with the notion that the Civil War marked the beginning of the end of any unity within the Stone-Campbell movement. He states, however, that "[t]he problem is that the tangible split did not happen then."  Moses Lard, in his classic 1866 editorial certainly did not think that a split was taking place. Two years later, W. K. Pendleton said much the same thing. Since then, interpreters have pointed to any number of events that supposedly mark the moment of division:

1866 - the death of Alexander Campbell
1879 - the death of Benjamin Franklin
1889 - the Sand Creek Address and Declaration
1903 - the revival at Henderson, Tennessee
1906 - the official census split

"What this paper wishes to suggest is that the reason such arguments [against musical instruments and the missionary society, fvb] found increasing plausibility toward the end of the nineteenth century was that there had arisen a class of congregational leaders and members who by the mere fact that they had served in the military, whether North or South, found the argument that silence excludes more compelling."

Dull cites a few examples where subordinates during the Civil War were upbraided for having done something that, though reasonable, was not authorized. The soldier who acted without authorization was out of line, no matter how practical or pressing his actions might have been.

" . . . we can conceive that the first member of the threefold hermeneutic--command, necessary inference, approved example--would have taken on special force for war veterans, and this stronger view of 'command' in which silence does prohibit would have come more naturally for them than for those who had not served."

Dull goes on to note evidence like presence of Churches of Christ near military installations worldwide, and what seems like periods of growth among a cappella churches in the wake of American wars.

"In summary, I wish to suggest that the Civil War was a contributing factor in our first split in that it helped to nurture and emphasize a perspective that valued more highly the value of silence than had previously been the case, an issue that resonated quite strongly at the beginning of the twentieth century and, apparently, following a quarter century of general peace and negative views of the military because of the Viet Nam conflict, much less at the end. . . . On the whole, emphasis has historically been placed on prominent individuals of the period and their role in this split. Perhaps many less prominent individuals may have been equally, if not more, significant. Rather than concentrating on what such individuals as Lipscomb, McGarvey and Hardeman said, we might consider investigating to whom they said it."

Though this article presents an interesting suggestion (see again the title), it begs for evidence from sermons and articles in which advocates of the threefold hermeneutic use military examples and metaphors. Dull does not provide such evidence, which may or may not be there. If this article could cite such evidence, then that could change Dull's suggestion and conception into a considerable argument. One can only wonder if, since the publication of this article, someone has taken up the challenge of trying to assemble the necessary evidence required in order to try the case.

2 comments:

Luke Dockery said...

Thanks for the summary! I think Dull’s hypothesis is fascinating, but as you suggest, really needs some significant support.

A couple of questions which immediately came to my mind:
(1) Generally speaking, it was Southern Churches of Christ which tended to view silence as restrictive while Northern disciples viewed it as permissive. But both Northern and Southern experienced the same Civil War and (presumably) similar discipline and expectations from their commanding officers. Why would the split occur significantly (though not entirely) along regional lines if both sides had come to appreciate the argument from silence?

(2) Many of the leading voices in Churches of Christ who opposed IM and Missionary Societies in the late 1800s and early 1900s because of silence were also staunch pacifists (Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb). Just because you are opposed to war doesn't mean that you would be unaware of the way commanding officers gave orders to their subordinates, but I am wondering how significantly typical military protocol would influence the hermeneutics and theology of such men?

Frank Bellizzi said...

Luke, thank you for your comment here. You raise insightful and important questions. I don't know that Dull's article has been well received. He himself mentioned something about lots of people disagreeing with it. What I do like about it is that it makes an assertion and attempts to defend that assertion. That it is plausible at all gets the rest of thinking about why different groups took shape as they did. Thanks again!