Faces of the Movement
Like any movement, there were a lots of moving parts in our movement. What I want us to do tonight is to look at some of the people and personalities in our movement and talk very briefly how their personalities not only drove our movement forward, but how their imprint continues to define our movement today.
We have mentioned several times that when a movement starts, it has not only a method but a reason. When we get to the second generation and beyond, we begin to drift because we forget the reason and start to focus on the method. We saw it in the early church, then again with the second reformers like Calvin or Manz, and we will see it once again in our own movement.
Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Raccoon John Smith, and the like were laser focused on unifying all believers. They understood that people would have different opinions and beliefs, as long as they believed in Jesus they were welcome into their fellowship.
They all wanted unity, but they went at it in different ways. Stone focused mainly on the heart and changed lives. He believed that we that we could find unity in what he called Fire Union, which was based on the Spirit which changes hard and unloving hearts into soft and loving ones. Whereas Alexander Campbell went to the Bible trying to find unity by finding the pattern of worship and organization. He believed when when we found that, we would all be unified and then Jesus would return and begin the Millennia. Both of them were pursuing unity, but they were coming at it from different angels.
One of the difficulties we have when there are two voices in a leadership role is that no matter how close the message they teach sounds, we will pick sides and follow the voice that we want to hear.
That was the case for our unity movement. In the north and in the far west, meaning Pennsylvania and Ohio, many of the churches were drawn to the voice of Barton W. Stone. These churches focused on looking for unity in Fire Union, and believed as long as you believed in Jesus then you were welcomed.
If you believed in speaking in tongues, if you worshipped with instruments, if you were egalitarian (you believed that men and women could lead in worship) of if you disagreed with all of those things. You could still worship together and be a family because your belief in Jesus trumped all other beliefs and practices. Stone was interested in the heart and changed lives. Remember he taught that heresy was not a false teaching, but living a false life.
In the south a majority of the churches followed the Campbells and were focused on head or book union. Still to this day 70% of the Churches of Christ are found in the south. While in the North a majority of the churches are Christian Churches or Disciples of Christ. Maybe you have had the experience of traveling up north. You get checked into your hotel on a Saturday night, and look up the closest Church of Christ so that you can go and worship the next morning. Sunday you find the building, it has Church of Christ on the sign, but when you walk in you see a piano maybe a guitar or two, and a woman get’s up and welcomes you to the service. And you immediately think, someone has stolen our name! They have the right name, they are just from the side of our movement that heard the voice of Barton W. Stone. There are a few other reasons that we will get in to in the next few weeks, but it really comes down to whose voice did you hear.
Has anyone here ever been called a Campbellight? That is a term I have only heard used in the south. Because in the south we chose to hear the voice of the Campbells. We believed that Jesus laid out a pattern in the New Testament that was taken from the Temple and synagogue and if we recovered it and followed it, then everyone would find unity. A majority of the churches in the south focused on getting the order and practice right. They wanted to be unified in practice and pattern. The voice that you heard directed your beliefs and your church.
So, even in our unity movement we were having a bit of difficulty finding unity. One of the results of this type of mindset is that we were lead to believe if we could just argue right, then we would convince everyone to believe like us and we would have unity. Let me just stop here for a moment and ask how many of you attended some of the debates in this area when you were growing up? How well did that work out for the church? Stone was right, Head union and Book union will never bring unity. That can only be done by the Spirit.
So tonight I want to introduce you to some of the second generation leaders. I want to briefly mention who they are and talk about some of their contributions, both good and bad.
One of the second generation leaders in the south was a man named Tolbert Fanning who often traveled with Alexander Campbell. He was a good man, a compassionate man, and an intelligent man. His greatest passion was education, and he started several schools including Franklin College, where men like David Lipscomb, and T.B. Larimore received their training.
Here is something you need to know about these colleges. A majority of the colleges associated with the Churches of Christ are found in the south. The only exceptions are York College in Nebraska, Rochester College south of Detroit, and Pepperdine in Los Angeles. And to be fair I was raised thinking that Pepperdine shouldn’t be on the list.
Anyway, these schools were started to teach folks how to preach, and by teach them how to preach I mean they were taught how to mimic in the style of the ones running the school. Maybe you have seen this: in the 1990’s you could tell if a preacher graduated from Faulkner or Freed-Hardeman based on what they did with their hands. Freed graduates were taught by Winford Claiborne and they would hang their thumb in their pants pocket, while those who graduated from Faulkner were taught by Wendell Winkler and they pointed guns a blazing.
When the church was beginning, Fanning was taught by Alexander Campbell how to preach. Fanning would go on to pass those lessons on to David Lipscomb, who would become the voice of our movement. Fanning did more than just teach, but he also edited the Christian Review, but the magazine he is best known for is the Gospel Advocate.
What we are going to discover is that the one who trains the preachers and the one who owns the printing press get’s to rule the day. Tolbert Fanning, trained the preachers who took his ideas and voice out to the masses. And he owned a printing press, so he was able to get his opinion and thought out to the world.
One of Fanning’s students was a man named David Lipscomb. Much like Fanning Lipscomb believed that the work of the Campbell’s had restored the church, found the right formula, and gotten us ready for the return of Jesus. Since it had been restored, we needed to just continue do what we are doing with no deviations, and we will see Jesus.
He was a very intelligent and soft spoken, but greatly convicted in his beliefs. He had more influence on the churches of the south through his work in the Gospel Advocate than any other person during his lifetime. There is so much of what you were taught, if you grew up in the Church of Christ, that comes as a direct result of what Lipscomb preached and wrote.
Lipscomb believed that the Holy Spirit could not dwell within a person separate and apart from the Bible. In essence the Holy Spirit and the Bible were the same. This was not a universal teaching or belief, as a matter of fact this was heavily debated between Lipscomb and Robert Richardson. Richardson was Alexander Campbell’s heir apparent, his biographer and publisher of the Millennial Harbinger. But Lipscomb won the day and many of you were taught that the Holy Spirit’s only job was to come to earth and drop off a large leather bound book, say good luck, and disappear back into heaven never to be heard from again. That was a direct result from Lipscomb.
Women were relegated to secondary status in the church. We will talk more about this next week, but Lipscomb believed that women did not have the right or ability to own a business, or even work outside the home, hold political office, or lead in a church.
Lipscomb stood against Missionary Societies, believing it was a break from the declaration and address. We will talk about this more later, but basically the churches in the north decided in 1849 to pool their money together in an effort to go out into all the world. They were smaller congregations and believed that if each congregation would put their monies together, then they would have enough money to do a great work. But Lipscomb believed the Bible did not sanction congregations putting their money together, but rather we see each congregation doing their own work. Some of you were raised with this idea that the church can only do work with money from a free will collection. I have been in churches that went so far as to say free will offering from our own members. So if someone passes away and leaves the congregation a million dollars, and they weren’t a member of the congregation then the church would refuse the money.
Lipscomb was was looking for conformity and he was willing to stand against anyone who was not willing to conform. One of those men was Jessie Ferguson. Jessie Ferguson was the greatest preacher of his day, He preached at the largest Christian congregation, and wrote for and published the largest paper in the church The Christian Magazine. In April, 1852 Ferguson wrote his opinion of 1 Peter 3:19 and said that after Jesus died on the cross, he went to preach to those who had died before He arrived on the earth to give them a second chance. He also did not believe in a literal hell, where the soul experiences torment for ever and ever.
That was enough for Lipscomb to claim Ferguson a heretic and publicly divide from the most popular preacher at the largest church in our fellowship. Ferguson was forced out of the movement, and still today if you were to go and search for information about him, the biographers say that “He was brilliant, and he knew it. He was possessed with a very high degree of self-esteem, and fed his vanity until he developed into a very sophisticated preacher. Some claim that he was spoiled by the compliments that he received and the praises which were given him. Few men have possessed such conceit as he had. Of course, as he developed so much egotism, he lost in spirituality.”
That’s a far cry from the movement that Barton W. Stone started out of an idea that God loved diversity. And Stone was so committed to this idea, that he refused to separate from Campbell, Fanning, and Lipscomb, even after these men separated from him. So a movement based solely on the belief that Jesus was the Son of God began to drift. But Lipscomb, truly believed that the only way that the church could stay pure was to design a template and make sure that everyone followed the template.
But Lipscomb wasn’t the only one who wanted to make sure people and churches followed the pattern. Daniel Sommer grew up a poor child in a poorer family. His family was not religious, and raised Daniel with a understanding of religion, but refused to practice any type of devotion to God. As was the life of a poor man, Daniel would hire on at different farms or chop wood in an effort to survive. But in the winter of 1866 Sommer found himself hired to John Dallas Everitt who was intent on introducing him to Jesus and the church. After his baptism, Somner decided that he was going to attend Bethany College, since it was founded by Alexander Campbell and the president was W. K. Pendleton, Campbell’s son in law.
Sommer arrived at the college broke and with very little educational experience but he was determined to become a great preacher. While he excelled in determination, he often lacked in character. He was bitter and sarcastic and often found himself disappointed with the church and felt that he was the one who was called to fix it.
For example the ladies of the church in Bethany decided to raise some money to buy new curtains, and new carpet and to paint the building. So they organized the Ladies' Mite Society and would often have different students to come and speak at a services and then pass a hat so that each person could give his mite to this work. In Sommer’s mind this was a very worldly endeavor. So on the day that Sommer was asked to speak he used his time to call out the sinfulness of the Mite Society. Sommer's self-appointed role as a critic of brotherhood activities cost him dearly in friends and he claimed to be the "most hated" and "most loved" man in the "disciple brotherhood.”
Sommer was an imposing figure, with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. He believed that all preachers were called to preach the truth and divide from those who refused to follow the pattern. As matter of fact he believed in the necessity of separating so greatly that he would eventually divide from his father, mother, and brother who in turn would separate from him. Sommer would say that men like Lipscomb, Fanning, and Pendleton were being to sweet and kind to the liberals.
In 1886 Edwin Alden, placed his paper, the American Christian Review, up for sale. Sommer quickly bought the paper and changed it’s name to Octographic Review. The name was to denote the “writings of eight,” referring to the eight writers of the New Testament and it was used to put people in their place, to name those who were false teachers, and to humiliate those who were to be withdrawn from.
Once again we see that the people who control the printing press gets to make the laws and they become the de facto leaders and keepers of the keys to the kingdom. Think about it this way, if I have the printing press then I can write whatever I want to say about you, and then mail it out to everyone in a 200 mile area. How are you going to defend yourself? How are you going to tell people your side of the story? So the person who controls the flow of information, is the person who gets to make the rules and set the standards.
This was still happening in the 1990’s when I was in college. There were several publications like the Guardian of the Truth and Contending for the Faith that would send out papers every month and name the false teachers. And while I had not yet met Max Lucado or Rubel Shelly, I just knew that they were going to show up in our church one day and drag us in apostasy.
Daniel Sommer was not just content with his paper, where he could name the false teachers. In 1889 he decided that it was time for him to take control of our movement. He gathered almost 6,000 members of the Church in Sand Creek Indiana and read to them a call to divide he entitled The Sand Creek Address and Declaration. It was intended to undo what the Campbell's had done with the Declaration and Address.
The paper concluded with this statement: "In closing up this address and declaration, we state that we are impelled from a sense of duty to say, that all such innovations and corruptions to which we have referred, that after being admonished, and having had sufficient time for reflection, if they do not turn away from such abominations, that we cannot and will not regard them as brethren."
Leroy Garrett wrote that the “Churches of Christ as we know them today began with the words of Daniel Sommer at Sand Creek on that August day in 1889. There the pattern was established that, if a group of Christians understands certain things from the Bible, and other groups do not conform with that view, a division must occur. The pattern has been repeated innumerable times since that fateful day.”
80 years after our movement started, division had become a Christian duty and not a sin. Sommer would go on to say, “We are saved by a conformity to a set of traditions and doctrines that it is not enough to claim a relationship with Christ, you cannot have a right relationship with Christ unless you follow the right doctrines.” That might sound vaguely familiar to many of you who were brought up in the same types of churches as I was raised.
To his credit David Lipscomb did not approve of the address or the separation. But Sommer continued to push the two parts of the movement apart. We must acknowledge that there were other things happening as well that continued to form the divide. The Churches in the north began to pursue and embrace education and associations of churches. But the Southern churches believed that those things harmed our call to autonomy. (I am not going to belabor the point here about how brotherhood publications already destroyed that, we thought we were different and unique just like everyone else).
Two more men that you might have heard of, first N. B. Hardeman who you might know from a partnership he entered into with A. G. Freed. These two men started a school in Henderson Tennessee.
One of the greatest contributions of N.B. Hardeman was not the college, but a series of 5 lectures, 127 sermons, that he did in the city of Nashville, and the Ryman Auditorum. The main focus of these sermons was to explain what the Church of Christ is and what we believe. The sermons were preached at night, and then the manuscripts were run in the Nashville Banner and The Tennessean papers the next morning. It was estimated that there were six to eight thousand persons who were able to attend the meeting with and additional two to three thousand who were turned away because of the lack of space. These sermons became the defining mark of who we were, and they are still available in print today, and often used by those young preacher students from our colleges that are trying to preach and not get into trouble at the same time.
I want us to close on a high note, so let me mention one more name, a very compassionate and sweet man, T.B. Larimore. He was a student of Tolbert Fanning at Franklin College, and took on the mantle of finding unity in the name of Jesus. He settled in Florence, Alabama and eventually opened Mars Hill Academy. He would tell his students the two greatest books that you can possess, and read are The Bible and Webster's Dictionary.
His was a very humble man who had an indescribable and irresistible pathos in his voice. His sermons could melt audiences to tears and moved their hearts to repentance. He preached more sermons to larger crowds and baptized more people than any other preacher of his day. He once held a meeting in Sherman, Texas that started on January 3 and ended on June 7. In that five month time span he preached three hundred and thirty-three sermons, 2 sermons every day except on Sunday when he would preach 3. During this meeting there were 254 baptisms.
Larimore was kind and gentle and refused to get involved in petty arguments. That does not mean that he refused to speak boldly on the issues of his day, but that he absolutely refused to endorse one side or the other. Rather, his position was that we should all learn to love one another more, and squabble and separate over our preferences less.
This utterly infuriated some leaders on both sides. Some blasted him as a liberal; others regarded him as a closet conservative. Some on both sides of a number of issues refused to fellowship him since he wouldn’t take a vocal stand for either position. But, Larimore did take a stand, squarely in the middle where he hoped all brethren could come together and have unity in spite of their differing views.
He said, “I must love my brethren, and never refuse to fellowship them, ANY OF THEM, simply because we do not always understand all questions exactly alike.” He also wrote, “Shall I now renounce and disfellowship all of those who do not understand these things exactly as I understand them? They may refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with me, but I will never refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with them. NEVER.”