Friday, January 19, 2018

"Timothy" on Christian Communion and the Lord's Supper, The Christian Messenger, 1828 (Part 2 of 2)

My first post about a certain series in The Christian Messenger, written by "Timothy," and dealing with the Lord's Supper, took up preliminary questions.

To repeat, our best evidence indicates that the author of the three articles, "Timothy," was one Thomas Smith. In addition, the evidence suggests that Smith was a leader in the early-nineteenth century Christian movement associated with the names Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. Apparently, Smith was a Kentuckian who, at the time he wrote this series, served as a preacher in Lexington. In fact, he was an old friend and associate of Stone's, and also was acquainted with Alexander Campbell. So, it is reasonable to suppose that Thomas Smith was present when, on New Year's Day, 1832, at the Hill Street Church in Lexington, Kentucky, "Raccoon" John Smith and Barton W. Stone shook hands, symbolically uniting two early-American restoration movements.

On that occasion, John Smith called upon the assembled to no longer be "Campbellites or Stoneites, New Lights or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights." If believers would simply come together on the basis of the Bible alone, that would provide "all the light we need."[1] Having established the context of Smith's three articles, then, we turn our attention to the material itself.

Timothy, "The Communion of Christians at the Lord's Table--No. I." The Christian Messenger 2, no. 12 (October 1828), 271-75.

In his first article, Smith, writing as "Timothy," begins with the question, "Who have a divine right to partake of the Lord's Supper?" (271).

Smith observes that "Paedo-baptists" practice open communion, while Baptists do not. I take the author's mention of Paedo-baptists as a reference primarily to Methodists and Presbyterians, two prominent denominations in the South and West at that time. Both groups practiced infant baptism. Of course, the same could be said about Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists. But they were not nearly as prominent at that time and place. (See Smith's own designations on p. 273).

By contrast, Baptists, at least the fellowship known as "United Baptists," practice close(d) communion. Smith announces his conclusion: when it comes to the practical question of open versus closed communion, the right way lies somewhere between these two extremes, "which, I conceive, all christians [sic] would do well to avoid" (271).

Smith asserts that the practice of open communion by a "sect" is inconsistent. For, by definition, a sect establishes strict qualifications for membership. And, a sect treats all who do not meet those qualifications as outsiders. Smith raises the question of why "Paedo-baptists" practice open communion. He answers that the practice attempts to ingratiate those who are not a part of the sect, with the hope that this will bring the outsider around to appreciating and perhaps joining them. Essentially, as they invite people who do not subscribe to their creed to share the Lord's Supper with them, they pray:
O Lord, our creed contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth;--we beseech thee, therefore, convert our neighbors and the world to our sect (272).
But, Smith writes, the practice is entirely inconsistent, because when Methodists and Presbyterians serve the Lord's Supper to all sorts of believers, they admit in practice that members of other groups are genuine Christians, the children of God. Thus, it is as if Christ has a Presbyterian Church, a Methodist Church, a United Baptist Church, and so on. The "free communion" of the Paedo-baptists is, thus, inconsistent. Furthermore, it is less than honest, "a mere sectarian engine" (272). So long as these groups cleave to their cherished sectarian names and human creeds, their claims to ecumenicism are, at best, temporary, hollow, and ineffectual.

Smith celebrates that there are thousands of people "in the different sects" who deplore current conditions "in the church." His critical remarks do not apply to those people, he writes, for they are the very ones who recognize and resist the problem (272-73).

At this point, Smith transitions into the second half of his article, in which he draws a comparison between Christianity in the Roman Empire and anti-sectarian Christianity in the contemporary world. He states that in the Roman Empire, all religions were welcome and encouraged, provided that were not seditious or intolerant; provided that they did not deny the legitimacy of other religions or speak against Rome authority.

When Christianity came onto the scene, it did both. Christians denied the legitimacy of every other religious persuasion. Christians were absolutely convinced that they were following the truth. And, they spoke and lived as though they truly meant it. Quoting his source on Roman history, Smith writes
They (the christians) dared to ridicule the absurdities of the Pagan superstition, and they were ardent and assiduous in gaining proselytes to the truth. Nor did they only attack the religion of Rome, but also all the different shapes and forms under which superstition appeared in the various countries where they exercised their ministry (274).[2]
Consequently, all religious and imperial power came together in an attempt to destroy Christianity. What else might explain the deadly persecution of the church from the New Testament era to the time of Constantine?

Then, Smith draws his analogy. The various modern religious sects tend to get along just fine with one another, even to the point of claiming communion with each other as they openly serve the Lord's Supper to members of any mainstream group. But, if a movement should emerge that stands consistently against all of the sects with their creeds and dogmas, at that moment all of the groups will line up together in strong opposition to them.

Smith intimates that this is exactly what has happened in his own time. Paedo-baptists and all other sectarians have lined up against mere "Christians," believers who reject all systems of theology and human traditions, and who insist on the authority of the Bible alone. Leaders of the sects have made themselves the enemies of "the sons of religious liberty" (274).
Hence, those who have christian courage, fortitude and piety enough to stand up and oppose the desolating tide of popular and and [sic] fashionable religion, are every where (like the ancient christians) spoken against (275).
Timothy, "The Communion of Christians at the Lord's Table--No. II." The Christian Messenger 3, no. 1 (November 1828), 11-14.

Having identified in his first article the inconsistencies of the "Paedo-baptists," Thomas Smith now turns to to the Baptists and their practice of closed communion. Against such practice, Smith states, he has three objections:

First, Baptists teach that faith in Christ and immersion in water are the two essential requirements for becoming a child of God. If one has this status, of course he or she should be welcome to partake of the Lord's Supper. But, writes Smith, the group known as "United Baptists" withhold the Lord's Supper from "Separate Baptists," even though all of their members, like other sorts of Baptists, believe in Christ and have been baptized! Smith adds that United Baptists treat not only Separates but also other sorts of Baptists in the same way. In fact, there are at least potentially many others who would qualify as children of God according to the Baptist understanding, who would be denied the Lord's Supper by United Baptists. Thus, in this regard, the United Baptists are as rigid as the Roman Catholics.

Second, writes Smith, there are sometimes more differences among the United Baptists than there are between United Baptists and other groups. How ironic! So then, how can their practice of closed communion be consistent? As it is, their distinctions are in fact completely inconsistent, obviously sectarian. Apparently, their rule is, only if one is in the good graces of a United Baptist congregation is that believer worthy to partake of the Lord's Supper. If not, then one should be debarred from the Supper.

Third, the United Baptist practice of closed communion forces them to say, in effect, that they are the only Christians. Otherwise, how could they insist on closed communion?

The Baptists are thus hung on the horns of a dilemma: they teach that anyone who comes to the Lord as they have are thereby true children of God. At the same time, they teach that only members in good standing of United Baptist congregation should take the Lord's Supper. While their doctrine of salvation is biblical, their observance of the Lord's Supper is sectarian. Smith concludes, then, that the United Baptists will never be relieved of their problem until "they abandon the ground they occupy" (14).

Timothy, "The Communion of Christians at the Lord's Table--No. III." The Christian Messenger 3, no. 2 (December 1828), 33-37.

Having dealt with both Paedo-baptists and Baptists in the first two installments of his series, in the third and final installment Thomas Smith sets out to explain his own convictions.

Interestingly, he uses the phrase "the ancient order of things" and identifies the Lord's Supper is "an ordinance of the Church." Smith states that the church should "spread the Lord's table," believing and knowing that there are Christians, pious and God-fearing people, among the various sects (33). He goes so far as to say that many unimmersed "Paedo-baptists" certainly are true Christians, as their lives and devotion attest:
For who that has had any considerable acquaintance and intercourse with religious society can doubt  the piety of many Paedo-Baptists? The contrary opinion is too shocking to be admitted. The purity of many of their hearts, evinced by the holiness of their lives, proclaims them loudly and clearly to be the children of God. Their humility, the benevolence, their humanity, and unreserved devotion to the interests of Christianity, present many of them as patterns of piety and good works, whom, even those who have been immersed, would do well to imitate (34). 
Their error is not one of will, but of understanding. They therefore have every right to the Lord's table. Citing 2 Corinthians 8:12--"For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not"--Smith concludes that the Lord does not demand of people an understanding that they do not have. Rather, they are judged by the Lord according to the understanding they do have (35).

But how or why would someone be ignorant of the will of God? Smith answers that the King James Bible does not translate the word that means immerse as such. Instead, that translation consistently uses the much more pliable word baptize. Paedo-baptists have been taught by their revered teachers that their sprinkling as infants matches that meaning of baptize. These people, Smith suggests, are stuck in Babylon. They might not make it out of Babylon as soon as one would like. Human nature being what it is, who would expect that they would? Not to mention that those who have been immersed as believers most assuredly have their own set misunderstandings.

But what about the Baptists, asks Smith? They would likely say, "If we take the position of 'Timothy,' how will we ever convince a Paedo-baptist that there is something defective about his understanding? We must exclude him until he learns what is true, agrees with the doctrine and follows it.

Smith rejects such thinking and its practical approach because, he says, the excluded Paedo-baptist will not feel challenged by rejection. Rather, he will feel disrespected. He will conclude that those who deny him the Supper must not recognize his true piety and Christian character.  In other words, the United Baptist approach is bound to backfire. On the other hand, if a Paedo-baptist is received as a brother at the Lord's table, then
he feels the cords of Christian affection binding him to you; he has confidence in you, and therefore every avenue to his mind is open to you; and thus you pave the way to his conversion to the truth (37).
Four Observations

For me, this series written by Thomas Smith provokes at least four observations.

First, although judging from its title this series might seem to be primarily about the "Lord's Supper," in fact it has everything to do with that other phrase: "Christian Communion." Here, those words clearly refer to what is sometimes called "fellowship." Smith's leading question, "Who have a divine right to partake of the Lord's Supper?" does not address typical questions like frequency of the Lord's Supper, the meaning of the ordinance, etc. Much more broadly, Smith is asking, Who is a Christian? The practical concern is the issue of how a church's quiet observance of the Lord's Supper loudly responds to that question. What does the church's practice imply about what identifies a true Christian?

Second, the central question in Smith's series is two-sided. That is, it not only asks about the Christian identity of individuals, more to the point it asks about the character of the movement of which Smith is a part. He seeks to raise and respond to the question, Will we "Christians" (or "Disciples" or "Reformers") practice open or closed communion, or will we take a third alternative? That is to say, the series is not so much about the Christian identity of individuals. Rather, it deals with the Christian identity of the "Christians."

Third, Smith's rejection of both open and closed communion indicates that the practice in many, likely most, of today's Restoration churches regarding the Lord's Supper reaches all the way back to the very first generation of the movement. Many restorationists today have heard and repeated statements like, "It is not our supper, it is the Lord's Supper" and "We neither invite nor debar." Such mottoes do not fully explain the rationale behind the custom to which they point. Such is the nature of mottoes. Yet, these words do express and emphasize an approach to the Lord's Supper that is consistent with the goal of being Christians only, while never claiming to be the only Christians.

In my own experience growing up among the acappella Churches of Christ, though we did not repeat the mottoes I have quoted here, we essentially followed them. In the congregations of my youth, it was understood that the Lord's Supper was for baptized believers. It was also understood to be a duty and a blessing for Christians to partake. Yet, no one was especially welcomed or discouraged to participate. Individuals made the decision for themselves.

Fourth, it appears that one reason why the Stone and Campbell movements were able to converge sometime around the early 1830s is that they took the same view of Christian identity, the same view of communion or fellowship in the broadest meaning of those words.

Famously, in the pages of the 1837 The Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell replied to "a conscientious sister" who wrote from Lunenburg, Virginia. A brief quote from letter reveals the essential question: "Does the name of Christ or Christian belong to any but those who believe the gospel, repent, and are buried by baptism into the death of Christ?"

In his reply, Campbell wrote:
But who is a Christian? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to this measure of knowledge of his will.
Later, and reminiscent of Thomas Smith's statements from nearly a decade before in The Christian Messenger, Campbell made the following comparison:
Should I find a Pedobaptist more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth much. Did I act otherwise I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians.[3]

[1] Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), pp. 151-52. The full discussion of attempts to unite the "Disciples" and "Christians" appears on pp. 146-55.

[2] Along this line, the eminent historian G. W. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), points out that Christianity of the second to fourth centuries invented the words martyr and martyrdom, and that these words uniquely belong to the early church. For a good overview of this period, see Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking Press, 2009), ch. 5. MacCulloch offers a fine description of how, to the Romans, the boldness of the early Christians seemed like a provocation, how their aloofness created suspicion, and how their distinctive use of political language represented an affront to imperial authority. The Christians worshiped none of the traditional gods. Were they atheists? In their assemblies, it was rumored, they ate flesh and drank blood. Were they cannibals? Suspicion and resentment sometimes resulted in the martyrdom of Christians, terrible ordeals that generated for the church more and more heroes. One can only wonder why MacCulloch ignores one of the earliest and most-interesting episodes in the history of Rome's various encounters with early Christianity: the conflict over the Cult of the Emperor in the province of Asia during the reign of Domitian, the unmistakable back story of the New Testament's Book of Revelation.

[3] For the initial exchange between the lady from Lunenburg and Campbell, see The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 1 (1837), 411-14.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Assassinations, American Indians, Van Halen, and More! My 17 Favorite Books of 2017

I spent the first week of 2018 sick. The next thing I knew, we were halfway through January! So, a little later than I had meant to post it, here's my annual list of "best books." I'd love to hear about what you read last year. So please leave a note about some of your 2017 books, and why you liked them, or didn't.

U.S. Presidents

1. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine,and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard (2011). A well-written, easy-reading book about President James A. Garfield, his assassin, and the political world they lived in. From the bibliography, it's clear that Millard knows much more about Garfield's religious life, and how it made him the great man he was. But for some reason, she neglects this vital theme. Why?

2. The Kennedy Assassination--24 Hours After: Lyndon B. Johnson's Pivotal First Day as President, by Steven M. Gillon (2009). Take the TV series "24" and make it about the first day after the Kennedy assassination. That's what Gillon does in this interesting, detailed book. Gillon provides plenty of insight for those who want to understand Kennedy, Johnson, their politics, and their presidencies.

American Indians

3. The Chickasaws, Arrell M. Gibson (1971). The old acknowledged masterwork on the subject. Gibson often cities interesting primary sources. Still, Richard D. Green, the current historian of the Chickasaw Nation, notes that Gibson produced this book without interviewing a single Chickasaw. Since then, of course, a newer day in the historiography of American Indians has dawned.

4. American Indians in U.S. History, by Roger L. Nichols (2003). An engaging, brief survey by an expert. Longer and, in my opinion, more useful than the introduction by Perdue and Green (see next entry). Like them, Nichols takes a chronological approach. His text is not accompanied by reference notes, but each chapter ends with a brief list of “Suggested Readings” that represent the classic titles for that historical period.

5. North American Indians: A Very Short Introduction, by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green (2010). More serviceable than most of the other volumes in the Very Short Introductions series that I’ve read. Chapter 4, “Indians in the West,” corresponds closely to Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier, 1846-1890, listed below.

6. The Indian Frontier, 1846-1890, by Robert M. Utley (2003). An interesting survey. The author essentially says, “For the moment, let’s hold onto the Frederick Jackson Turner thesis, but include Indians along that all-important frontier.” Just after I finished reading Utley, I posted a full summary of his book.

Mostly Just for Fun

7. Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal, by Greg Renoff (2015). Renoff begins with the early lives of the original members of Van Halen, and ends with the 11-month world tour that followed the release of their first album in 1978. The book is mostly about Van Halen before hardly anyone outside of Southern California knew who they were. I read it just after passing my qualifying exams, which made the experience that much better. Anyway, if you're interested here's a bit more about it.

8. Ford County: Stories, by John Grisham (2009). This book is Grisham's only published collection of short stories. Not many people like short stories anymore. I've always liked them. With novels, you sometimes don't know if you're going to like them until you're several pages in. With a short story, by that point you're done, and you know not to necessarily trust that author. For one thing, Grisham tends to write long short stories. I know, that's a weird description. But for comparison, check out one of the really-short short stories by Raymond Carver.

9. Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie (1943). Woody Guthrie's unique and colorful descriptions of early-twentieth century America will sometimes make you smile and laugh. At other times, his recollections of personal struggles--a family ravaged by disease, financial disaster, house fires, and destitution--might just make you cry. Through it all, you will admire and appreciate Guthrie's unbreakable spirit. Here we have on full display the mind and heart of a creative genius who never took himself too seriously.

Restoration Movement History

10. Among the Early Evangelicals: The Transatlantic Origins of the Stone-Campbell Movement, by James L. Gorman (2017). This is the most significant monograph dealing with the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement to be published in the last several years. In this revision of his doctoral dissertation, Gorman reveals the transatlantic, pre-American roots of the Campbell Movement in America. A signal achievement, Gorman's work breaks new ground and resets the agenda for studying "Campbellism" in America.

11. The Sun Will Shine Again, Someday: A History of the Non-Class, One Cup Churches of Christ, by Ronny F. Wade (1986). The subtitle says it all: “A History of the Non-Class, One Cup Churches of Christ.” The author, Ronny F. Wade, is a long-time, widely-regarded preacher within this group. As one might expect, the history he writes is characterized by advocacy. He is much like the sports announcer who, while calling the game, always cheers for his team. Sometime back, I posted a brief review of Wade's book.

12. Oklahoma Christians: A History of Christian Churches and of the Start of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma, by Stephen J. England (1975). England was a great biblical scholar, teacher, and leader within the Disciples denomination during the 20th century. Because he spent so much of his career serving as a professor and school administrator in Oklahoma, he took an interest in the history of his people in the Sooner State. For that particular topic, this book is a unique resource.

Still Other Sorts of History

13. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, by David Hackett Fischer (1989). The pick of the litter. This book, all by itself, is an education in several broad streams of American history. Fischer is one of those force-of-nature historians, and Albion's Seed is a delightful masterpiece. You'll never think of the various regions of the U.S. the same way after reading it.

14. Contesting the Reformation, by C. Scott Dixon (2012). Dixon has done a great service to students of the Protestant Reformation. A true expert on the literature, he writes each chapter as a detailed historiographical essay on some aspect of this massive topic. I found it to be an indispensable resource, especially as I prepared for qualifying exams on the Reformation! So, if you're getting ready for exams, or you just want to get a handle on the secondary literature about, say, Calvinism or the Radical Reformation, Dixon's book should be your first stop. It is both thorough and detailed. At least in English, there's nothing else quite like it.

15. Heading South to Teach: The World of Susan Nye Hutchison, 1815-1845, by Kim Tolley (2015). An outstanding new example of microhistory American style. By closely examining the life of an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things, Tolley is able to identify something of how the early U.S. changed especially as a result of the Second Great Awakening.

Texas History

16. Gone To Texas: A History of the Lone Star State, by Randolph B. Campbell (2003). This is likely the very best general survey of Texas history. Campbell relates the story of Texas "from prehistoric times to the beginning of the twenty-first century" (ix). The book is easy-reading, and is complemented by dozens of maps and illustrations. The history of the Lone Star State has often been told according to the traditional, great-people-and-events model. Some readers, especially Texans, might argue that given the topic, this approach is only natural. Either way, Campbell's book is no exception to the rule. Immigration, politics, and conflict, often violent conflict, are major features of the coverage. Neither footnotes nor endnotes accompany the text. Instead, each chapter has its own selected bibliography.

17. Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution, by James E. Crisp (2005). In this delightful, unusual little book, a native Texan combines memoir and original research as he takes up a two specific questions about the Texas Revolution. First, was Sam Houston, a president of the Republic of Texas, an anti-Mexican racist? Or, did someone else put words in his mouth? Second, did Davy Crockett really go down fighting at the Alamo, or did he surrender to Santa Anna's troops? Along the way, Crisp uncovers long-lost evidence, detects mistranslations, reveals secrets, and teaches the reader some of the deeper significance of history. He concludes that when, for whatever reason, we attempt to bury and silence the past we just wind up diminishing ourselves.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

"Timothy" on Christian Communion and the Lord's Supper, The Christian Messenger, 1828 (Part 1 of 2)

What did leaders of the early Restoration Movement believe and teach about the Lord's Supper? And, how did their teachings influence Christian churches affiliated with the movement when it came to their participation in the Supper?

As part of my attempt to get a handle on this topic, I decided that my next project would be a survey of a three-part series of articles that appeared in successive issues of Barton W. Stone's monthly magazine, The Christian Messenger. The series can be found in the following numbers:

Volume 2, number 12
Volume 3, number 1
Volume 3, number 2

These three issues are dated October, November, and December 1828, respectively.

Observation and Disclaimer

There are a few books and doctoral dissertations that have been written about nineteenth-century Restoration Movement thought on the Lord's Supper. But before reading them, I've chosen to get acquainted with the primary literature on my own.

Related to this, there are some who say that one should read the historiography first, and then go digging through the primary sources and archives. When it comes to graduate training in the discipline of History, this is the American model.

I have to say that I much prefer the European model, according to which students are turned loose in the archives before they are required to begin mastering some of the secondary literature. Why? For one thing, there is a certain authority, confidence, and set of questions that come as a result of having "been there and done that." When you know that you know what you know because you've seen it for yourself, that's indispensable. There is just no substitute for it.

On the practical side, this also helps you to know whether you're going to like archival research, or at least have the stomach for it. This, I believe, ought to come early. I myself enjoy going to new places and looking around in archives, courthouses, cemeteries, etc. But I realize that this is not for everyone. If interested in a vicarious experience along this line, one might consult a book by the French social historian Arlette Farge titled The Allure of the Archives.

So, Who Was "Timothy"?

Before getting into the material, the reader is immediately confronted by an unusual question about these three articles: Who wrote them? The author identifies himself as "Timothy," the name of the Apostle Paul's favorite son in the faith.

To those familiar with nineteenth-century Stone-Campbell journalism, the use of the pseudonym comes as no surprise. As historian David I. McWhirter observes, writers in the early Stone-Campbell Movement often published their thoughts using cryptic names in order to veil or completely conceal their identities.[1]

Although false names satisfied the playfulness, or the genuine concerns of the writers for anonymity, not all of the readers were amused or appreciative. In fact, several months before he published the series authored by "Timothy," editor Barton Stone acknowledged that some who subscribed to The Christian Messenger disliked pseudonyms, and he asked his contributors to stop using them:
We have many letters addressed to us by our patrons, requesting our correspondents to affix their proper names to their communications, and no longer conceal themselves under fictitious names. I cannot see the impropriety of the request, and therefore urge my correspondents to comply with it.[2]
Clearly, Stone agreed with his readers dissatisfied by pseudonyms. This was a significant complaint against a magazine that constantly struggled to survive. After three years of publishing the Messenger, Stone lamented that although he had 2,000 subscribers, paid receipts barely covered the costs of paper and printing.[3] Nevertheless, when it came to the articles under study in this post, Stone permitted the author to use the pseudonym "Timothy." Who was he?

In their index to The Christian Messenger, Barry A. Jones and Charles C. Dorsey provide a list of all of the pseudonyms that appear in the magazine. Interestingly, they identify only one of the pseudonymous writers, even though a handful of others are fairly well known. Jones and Dorsey indicate that "Timothy" was one Thomas Smith.[4] Naturally, this raises the next question: Who was he?

At least a few primary sources fill in some of the blanks and provide a partial answer. The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone includes part of a letter written to Stone by "Elder Thomas Smith, of Fayette county, Kentucky." Smith is described as "one of the oldest preachers in Kentucky," who "for talents and piety . . . occupies a very enviable position." It is further said of Smith that he knew Stone for forty years.[5]

In his Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Robert Richardson states that in late 1831 and early 1832-- around the time of the formal union at Lexington between the Kentucky "Christians" and the "Disciples" or "Reformers"--the most prominent minister of the Christian Church in Lexington was Thomas Smith. Richardson notes that Smith was
a man of more than ordinary abilities and attainments, and long associated with the movement of B. W. Stone. He was an excellent preacher and was considered a skillful debater. He possessed withal a very amiable disposition, and was highly esteemed by Mr. Campbell, whom he often accompanied during his visits in Kentucky.[6]
Thomas Smith, the author of our series, was a friend and co-worker of Barton Stone's, and an acquaintance of Alexander Campbell's. He served as a prominent leader among those connected to the "Christian" movement in Kentucky, especially in Lexington, a city highly significant to the Stone-Campbell Movement.

In my next post on the topic, I will briefly survey the contents of Smith's series, and suggest a few ideas about its historical significance.


[1] David I. McWhirter, "Pseudonyms," in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p. 614.

[2] The Christian Messenger, 2, no. 3 (January 1828), p. 72. See also Lewis L. Snyder, "Speaking from the Shadows: Pen Names of Pioneers," Discipliana 51, no. 1 (Spring 1991), p. 7.

[3] Carl W. Cheatham, "Christian Messenger," in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 194.

[4] Barry A. Jones and Charles C. Dorsey, eds., An Index to the Christian Messenger (N.p.: 1984), 85-86, list all of the pseudonyms that appeared in Stone's magazine. Interestingly, they identify only one of the pseudonymous writers: "Timothy," they tell us, was Thomas Smith. James L. McMillan, [], "REPLY: 'Timothy' in The Christian Messenger," in Stone-Campbell Group, [], 11 January 2018, notes that there are more pseudonyms in the Christian Messenger for which we know the true name. McMillan gives three examples: "Candidus" is Alexander Campbell, "Archippus" is James Fishback, and "Philip" is Walter Scott. Thirty years before Jones and Dorsey identified "Timothy" as Thomas Smith, archivist and historian Claude Spencer, "Pseudonyms," Discipliana 11 (1951-52), 36, listed "Timothy" as one of the pseudonyms which had not been identified.

[5] Barton Warren Stone, The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone, Written by Himself, with Additions and Reflections by Eld. John Rogers (Cincinnati: J. A. and U. P. James, 1847), 118. For this reference, I am indebted to Michael Strickland, [], "REPLY: 'Timothy' in The Christian Messenger," in Stone-Campbell Group, [], 11 January 2018.

[6] Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell. Two Volumes in One (Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll, 1872), II, 384. For this reference, I am indebted to Bruce Hudson, [], "REPLY: 'Timothy' in The Christian Messenger," in Stone-Campbell Group, [], 11 January 2018.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Majesty of the Great Plains

"There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land--slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction. I had never looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it."

-- the character named Jim Burden recalls what it was like when, still a boy, he moved from Virginia to the plains of Nebraska in Willa Sibert Cather's novel My Antonia. How great is that?

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Simple Introduction to 2 Peter

This post is a simple, one-page introduction to the New Testament letter known as 2nd Peter. I wrote this as a study handout for a Sunday-morning adult Bible class that I teach occasionally.

In this study, I set out to resist the reputation of 2nd Peter as a "paranoid" or "combative" rant characterized by "mud slinging." Instead, I approach 2nd Peter as a letter in which the enemies of truth should be taken seriously, and according to which truth and goodness will defeat error and ungodliness when the Lord's people "double down" on their commitment to develop virtue (2 Peter 1:3-11) and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (3:18).

Who Wrote This Letter?

The writer identifies himself as “Simon Peter” (1:1). If our translations were more exacting, they would have it "Simeon," a rare spelling for the Apostle’s name (the only other occurrence is found in Acts 15:14). In 2 Peter 1:16-18, the author recalls his experience of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-7). According to 3:15, he seems to know very well the man he calls “our dear brother Paul.” And, the author refers to the writing of Paul as “Scriptures” (3:16). We can only imagine that Peter and Paul had reconciled after their public controversy reported in Galatians 2:11-21.

To Whom Was the Letter Written?

The recipients of 1 Peter are identified as Christians living in what we might call a five-state region: "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1 Peter 1:1). 2 Peter is different. The letter is addressed in a much more universal way: it is to “those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” (2 Peter 1:1). This is a bit of a puzzle since 2 Peter 3:1 might lead us to believe that 2 Peter was written to the same group as the first letter.
When Was It Written?

2 Peter 1:12-15 makes it clear that Peter wrote this letter not long before he died. A broad and consistent tradition has it that Peter was executed outside the city walls of Rome during the reign of the particularly cruel and depraved Emperor Nero. That likely happened around the year 66. An educated guess is that 2 Peter was written in 65.

Why Was It Written?

Here we might compare 2 Peter to 1 Peter. In his first letter, Peter instructs his readers about how to deal with outsiders who misunderstand and persecute Christians (1 Peter 4:4, 12). But in 2 Peter, he’s teaching them how to deal with insiders who are evil and who teach what is false (2 Peter 2:1; 3:3-4). The beginning and the end of 2 Peter suggest that, when it comes to spiritual warfare, “the best defense is a good offense” (see 2 Peter 1:3-11 and 3:17-18). This is the central the theme of our study.

P.S. The more extensive and detailed introduction to 2 Peter linked here comes from the NIV Study Bible.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Early Beginnings of the Disciples in North Carolina

Meta Chestnutt Sager (1863-1948), the subject of my dissertation, grew up among the Christian Churches of eastern North Carolina. As a way of identifying and exploring her religious roots, I wrote the following description of the early Restoration Movement in that part of the United States.

At least four factors contributed to the beginning and growth of the Restoration Movement in North Carolina. The first relates to the former Presbyterian minister Barton W. Stone and the "Christian" movement that he led during the decades that followed the famous great revival in 1801 at Cane Ridge, Kentucky.

Within three years after that event, Stone and a few other like-minded leaders had completely broken away from their denomination. In 1804, they published a droll apology, "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery," long considered a founding document of the Restoration Movement. Among Stone's friends and proteges was Joseph Thomas, a Kentuckian widely known for his distinctive attire, a white suit and vest for which he was dubbed "the White Pilgrim." Between 1811 and 1815, Thomas preached the "Christian" message at various points in North Carolina, converting and making an indelible impression on many whose descendants would someday join hands with the Disciples of Christ.[1]

A second factor was the influence of Alexander Campbell's popular monthly magazines. On June 19-20, 1820, at Mount Pleasant, Ohio, Campbell engaged in a public debate against John Walker, a Presbyterian minister. The primary point of contention was infant baptism by sprinkling, the Presbyterian view, versus believer's baptism by immersion, a position held by Campbell. Not long afterward, an edition of the debate was prepared and published. The first 1,000 copies of the book sold quickly, and a second printing of 3,000 copies soon followed. As Campbell's biographer, Robert Richardson, explains, the public reaction to religious controversy in print did much to spur Campbell to consider the possibilities of leadership through publication:
Having realized in publishing the Debate with Mr. Walker the power of the press to disseminate his view, as he was now in consequence often receiving letters of inquiry and solicitation for visits and preaching from many quarters, he began to think of issuing, in monthly parts, a work specially devoted to the interests of the proposed Reformation.  . . . It was not until after he saw the effect of the debated into which he was reluctantly drawn with Mr. Walker that he began to take new views of his position, and to cherish, for the first time, the hope that something might be done upon a more extended scale to rouse the people from their spiritual lethargy.[2]
Campbell launched The Christian Baptist in 1823, and replaced it with The Millennial Harbinger in 1830. Not long after Campbell began publishing The Christian Baptist, he noticed that a growing number of his subscribers lived in the Tar Heel State. An item from a writer in North Carolina appeared in the pages of Campbell's journal as early as 1826.[3]

Third, fully aware of the interest shown by believers in North Carolina, Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father, made a trip there in 1833. The elder Campbell conducted a lecture tour and met many of those who were sympathetic to his distinctive religious outlook. His visit seems to have inspired especially B. F. Hall. In 1833, the Dover Baptist Association in northeastern Virginia expelled a number of congregations because of their sympathy for Campbellite teaching. Hall had been a member of one of those congregations. Upon coming to North Carolina, he railed against creeds and systems of church discipline, and taught that anyone who loved the Lord, believed in Jesus Christ, and wished to be baptized, should immediately receive the ordinance and be recognized a member of the church, the blood-washed body for whom Christ died.[4]

Hall's message appealed to, among others, the erstwhile followers of James O'Kelly. In 1792, O'Kelly led the first schism in American Methodism. The breakaway group first called themselves Republican Methodists. But standing by their commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, they searched for a name that was biblically approved. In the course of their meetings, they considered and debated several resolutions. Finally, a young man named Rice Haggard convinced the group to call themselves simply Christians. The conference unanimously adopted the proposal, and from that time on they wore no other name. Congregations of this group were known as Christian churches.[5]

In North Carolina, Free Will Baptists in particular subscribed to Alexander Campbell's publications and attended Thomas Campbell's lectures. Consequently, a large number of Free Will Baptists in the state united with the Disciples of Christ during the 1830s and 40s. In fact, of the twenty-six ministers on the very first register of Disciples in North Carolina, twenty-four of them, a full 92 percent, had formerly identified as Free Will Baptists. Many in the state considered Thomas Campbell's visit of 1833-34 the birth of a distinctive Disciple presence there.[6]

Fourth and finally, the Restoration Movement in North Carolina also grew as a result of the leadership of Dr. John Tomline Walsh. In 1852, Walsh, originally from Virginia, became the first educator-evangelist employed to work among the Disciples in North Carolina. Walsh had formerly published The Southern Review from Richmond, Virginia. In 1848, he established a medical college in Philadelphia and taught anatomy and physiology. His broad experience, active mind, and devotion to the Disciple cause made him the ideal person for the task of helping the churches to grow in size and in number.[7]


[1] Robert M. Calhoon, "Disciples of Christ," in Encyclopedia of North Carolina, ed. William S. Powell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 342. The story of early Restorationism in America, of which the Stone Movement was a part, is told by Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 67-81. A good 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.

[2] Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. II (Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, 1898), 48-49.

[3] J. C. "Extract of a letter from a friend in North Carolina, to the editor, dated September 10, 1826," The Christian Baptist 4, no. 5 (December 4, 1826), 104-06.

[4] Calhoon, "Disciples of Christ," 342. For a brief sketch of Hall's influence in the first generation of the Restoration in America, see Charles L. Woodall, "Hall, Benjamin Franklin," in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 380.

[5] Wilbur E. MacClenney, The Life of Rev. James O'Kelly (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1910), 115-16. For more on the critical role played by Haggard, see my article, "Rice Haggard: Unsung Hero of the Restoration," Gospel Advocate (March 1997), 26-31.

[6] Thomas Campbell's letters home during this trip are in Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, together with a Brief Memoir of Mrs. Jane Campbell (Cincinnati: H. S. Bosworth, 1861), 152-164. Interestingly, these letters point to an experience far different from a religious triumph. The elder Campbell mostly laments his separation from his wife and family, and focuses on the consolation he receives from the Lord.

[7] Much of the description here relies on the outline of developments provided by Griffith A. Hamlin, "Educational Activities of the Disciples of Christ in North Carolina, 1852-1902," The North Carolina Historical Review 33, no. 3 (July 1956), 313-315. Regarding Free Will Baptist history in North Carolina, according to sources like H. L. McBeth, "Free Will Baptists," in Dictionary of Christianity in America, ed. Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 452-53, Maryland-born minister Paul Palmer, of Arminian persuasion, first established what came to be known as Free Will Baptist churches in North Carolina, beginning in the 1720s. But J. M. Barfield and Thad Harrison, History of the Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, rev. ed., J. O. Fort (Ayden, NC: Free Will Baptist Press, 1960), 38-39, point to origins as early as the late 1600s. For detailed information regarding the Disciple annexation of Free Will Baptist congregations in North Carolina, see George W. Stevenson, "Some Light on a Confused Period of Free Will Baptist History," The Free Will Baptist 76, no. 38 (Sept. 27, 1961), 3-4.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

"Indian Mission," by J. Ellis, The Christian Standard, Vol. IX, No. 21 (May 23, 1874), p. 162

With many thanks to Michael C. Mack, editor of the Christian Standard magazine, I've been able to read and transcribe all of J. Ellis's 1874 article on the "Indian Mission." The significance of this piece is that it is, I believe, the earliest report we have from a preacher of the Restoration Movement conducting mission work among the Chickasaws in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. In its entirety, it follows here.

Dear Bro. Errett: -- As I write on business, I will say that I have been evangelizing for about three months past in northern Texas, and the southern part of the Indian Territory, and enjoying some refreshing seasons from the presence of the Lord. In northern Texas, I have gathered into the different congregations where I have proclaimed the word of life, about eighty-five members, a large proportion of whom are heads of families.

And since crossing the Red River into the Indian nation, I have been very successful for the time I have labored. I gathered up a very pleasant congregation of Indians and whites, and organized them into a Christian church under the name "Chickasaw Christian Church," appointed the proper officers, and setting the machinery to work in good order. And after leaving them to run alone awhile, I have returned among them, and thus far my visit has been blessed to their good. About twelve more have been added, and the good work is still going on.  We enjoyed a blessed good time at the water last Lord's day, as a goodly number of promising young men obeyed the gospel in being buried with Christ in baptism.

I have engaged to preach for them for one fourth of the time, for six months, and hope to see many more become obedient to the faith. I have engaged to preach half of the time in the nation, and if I could obtain a little aid from the churches of Christ, or from a few benevolent members, I could devote my whole time among them. And from what I know of them, I have no doubt I could turn many from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, and build up large self-sustaining churches, in the course of a year. For our teaching takes finely with these unsophisticated children of nature, and they say they can understand it. They like it because, as they say, we "have but one Book," and we tell them to "go and do something, instead of sitting down to feel."

I preached last night at the Orphan Academy, to about thirty bright little fatherless Indian children, together with a goodly number of older people, and had a good time. I expect to preach there one fourth of my time. A large number of the Indians are "half-breeds," pretty well civilized, occupying fine lands, and are becoming quite enterprising; and they certainly offer us a most interesting field for missionary work. I am in the field, and would like to remain, but can not without aid.

There are five nations of Indians here (Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles), occupying the best lands in the United States, all uttering the Macedonian cry, "Come over and help us," and shall we let them cry in vain?

If any of our brethren feel interest enough in our Indian missionary work, to write us, we certainly would be happy to answer. Or if you please, write to B. F. Overton, Esq., our elder (an Indian), at Cedar Mills, Grayson County, Texas. Pray for us.
                                                                                 J. Ellis.
Chickasaw Nation, May, 1874.
P.S.  Bro. B. F. Overton, who is one of our elders, and an Indian, we expect will be Governor of the Nation pretty soon.