The Irony of Moses E. Lard: In Light of Contemporary Questions
Irony surrounds Moses Lard’s place in Stone-Campbell history. He is idolized by some and vilified by others. Richard Hughes calls him the “rationalist par excellence” and a brother a few years ago told me he was the "soundest man" ever produced in Churches of Christ. Some ignore him totally, James North’s history Union in Truth never even mentions Lard! I believe that both of these perspectives oversimplify just how complex a character Moses Lard really is and chooses to see or ignore those aspects that do not fit well into a chosen grid. Though he can come off sounding “ultra” on the right he can also sound “progressive” in areas that would still make many squirm today.
For example when I read through Lard’s essay “Do the Unimmersed Commune?” I think there are continuities with Alexander Campbell’s Lunenberg Letter. True, AC wrote with considerable elegance and sensitivity but he still, at that point, did not allow open communion with the unimmersed. Nor did he advocate a place in the visible church for the unimmersed. Yet he did not say, as a good friend of mine did recently, "be dipped or burn!” Lard has clear connections with
Lard clearly rejects the name Christian for the unimmersed. He drives his point home with the provocative example of Martin Luther:
“What! Will retort the astounded opponent, utterly shocked and scandalized at the boldness of what is here said, do you mean to say that Martin Luther was not a Christian? I mean to say distinctly and emphatically that Martin Luther, if not immersed, was not a Christian - this I mean to say. I do not mean to deny that Martin Luther was eminently a good and pious man; neither do I mean to deny that God took him when he died - I deny that he was a Christian” (Lard’s Quarterly [September 1863], 44).
This sounds fairly “ultra” to some (or "familiar" to others). But Lard here clearly does not make immersion absolutely essential to salvation and has no qualms in the slightest of saying that Luther was saved. Immersion was not absolutely essential to salvation. This I could never have imagined hearing in my home congregation.
There is a contemporary parallel though involving C. S. Lewis. In December 2004 an article appeared bearing the title “Did C. S. Lewis Go to Heaven?” The author confesses a great debt to Lewis, but Lewis was not baptized/immersed. This author could not, seemingly, find the grace for Lewis that Lard found for the unimmersed Luther (I omit the name because I am not attacking this brother)
Though Lard hedges the Table regarding the unimmersed he says some radical things regarding the Baptists. Indeed one is caught by surprise by Lard’s equally passionate plea to have “open” communion with the Baptists. He is worth quoting:
“If a man be a Christian, that is enough for me; I am ready to commune with him. In error he may be in some points, but this shall not cause me to reject him. Yet I should delight to see the day come when the Baptists would relax a little their austere and unhallowed rules on this point, and when we and they at least should enjoy the pleasure of cultivating more fraternal relations over the loaf and cup. I am not ashamed to avow that I seek this . . . I seek it because it is right in itself” (ibid, p. 50).
This is a remarkable statement and certainly does not sound anything like “ultra.” One wonders what Lard’s admonition would be to his spiritual offspring’s “austere and unhallowed rules” on this point? When I shared this quote with the brother mentioned above he charged me with “revisionism.” I wonder? Or have we taken the life out of Lard making him into a flannel board character?
One thing I admire about Lard is his willingness to state his belief with conviction and his willingness to change. Plotting his life from “Review of Campbellism Examined” through the Quarterly to his Commentary on Romans and beyond there is a noticeable change in Lard. Perhaps he was growing in the Spirit. In the third issue of the Quarterly Lard wrote articles on “Spiritual Influence as it Relates to Christians” and “Baptism in One Spirit into One Body.” In these articles he advocated not only a literal and active indwelling of the Spirit but that all Christians, not just apostles, receive Holy Spirit baptism. The Spirit works and ministers in and on behalf of the Christian, indeed the Christian can even “feel” the Spirit living within. For the life of the Quarterly Lard took on such luminaries as J. W. McGarvey, Hyram Christopher and George Longan defending his views. Though traditional in his theology of Spirit in conversion he was hardly so on the indwelling. I do not see him as “rationalist par excellence” on this. One could only wish more of his descendants could embrace similar views.
Two more matters are of interest in light of contemporary concerns. First concerns the role of women. As one works through Lard’s Commentary on Romans we come to Romans 16.1-2 and find arguments favoring Phoebe being an official deacon of the church (no Lard was not a feminist either!). Second, which is ironic in light of a recent SS (that I received in the mail as a present) is in his last published book (like Homer Hailey) Lard rejects eternal torment in hell. The book published in 1879 called Do the Holy Scriptures Teach the Endlessness of Future Torment? Lard’s studied conclusion is that no such doctrine is taught in the NT. Considerable furor was aroused by his views, as is true even today.
In 1880 not long before his death Lard commented on his life journey. He stated that he would “preach the same gospel but more loving” and with “more understanding toward those” with whom he disagreed. The gospel is after all good news.
Lard is an interesting and ironic figure. He rejected the sectarian (rebaptism, etc) positions of the Firm Foundation. He was a passionate supporter of the Missionary Society. He rejected instrumental music but was an ardent premillennialist. He wanted to protect the table from the unimmersed but longed for an end of closed communion with the Baptists. He was traditional concerning the Spirit in conversion but advocated Spirit baptism for Christians. He advocated a place for women among deacons but rejected eternal torment. Moses Lard was certainly not boring! One wonders if the real Lard showed up if those who call him the “pillar of soundness” if they would let him preach in their congregation? Revisionism cuts BOTH ways . . .