Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I first began to come across writings of a mysterious S.R. Cassius in the late 1990s when doing research on a term paper at Harding Graduate School. I was caught off guard by this man's bold and even daring pen. I began amassing a file on him and then discovered later my friend Edward Robinson, now at ACU, was doing a dissertation on him. Robinson has since published two volumes on Cassius: To Save My Race From Abuse: The Life of Samuel Robert Cassius and To Lift up My Race: The Essential Writings of Samuel Robert Cassius. I had most of the writings in the collection except the exceedingly rare Third Birth of a Nation ...
One hundred years ago the only voice agitating the "race issue" among Churches of Christ was Samuel Robert Cassius (1853-1931). Called the "Booker T. Washington of Oklahoma" by Fred Rowe , Cassius was really a mixture of Washington, Frederick Douglass and the radicalism of W.E.B. DuBois. Cassius was born a slave, became "contraband" in Washington D.C., learned how to read, and met five Presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield. He named one of his sons for his hero: Lincoln (Amos Lincoln Cassius was a well know evangelist among Black Churches of Christ in the 20th century). He began the Tohee Industrial School in 1899, modeled after Washington's Tuskeegee Institute, as the first school for African-Americans in Churches of Christ.
While many thought the Instrument, the Society, or the "Woman" question was the major hurdle of the church at the edge of the century. Not so with Cassius. He declared in bold language that it was the "race issue." He wrote passionately in any journal that dared to print his articles. The Christian Leader, published out of Ohio, was open to his contributions. He said, "the race problem is the paramount issue of the day and only the church can settle it" 
Cassius wrote bitterly about ruthless lynchings taking place every year -- many by so called "Christians." He was an outspoken critic of the doctrine that the black race was inferior to the white race. But Cassius was denied pulpits to preach and journals in which to write. Yet, he refused to be defeated. He believed the bottom line was anti-Christian race hatred plagued the brotherhood despite our claims to have restored NT Christianity. The problem was one of
"full of race prejudice and hatred, inbred by three hundred years of schooling of a purely one-sided nature . . . I may arouse passions that will cause my people to be hung, shot and burned under every tree in the South, or I may start a wave of sympathy that will roll over the land which will make such common things impossible for these to occur again."
I find it unnerving that Cassius mentions the possibility of violence against blacks for his views being published in a brotherhood paper. Later Cassius responds explicitly to the superiority question:
"If there is superiority in race give us an example of it by being better morally, physically and intellectually; and if God loves whites more than us, prove it by loving Him more and doing His will better than any other. Then and not until then will I concede that you are better than I am" 
The majority, however, followed the prevailing winds of the time: blacks have no souls, that they are decedents of Cain or that they have the so-called "Curse of Ham."
J.D. Tant summed up the views of the majority. Tant had taken an evangelistic tour of Kansas in 1898 and reported his adventure in the Gospel Advocate. He writes of his sheer amazement of how well blacks were treated in that state.
"Negro equality runs high here. Negroes ride in the same coach, go to the same school, eat at the same table with white people, and sometimes sleep in the beds of their white neighbors; all of which I am glad to say, is NOT tolerated in 'heathen' Texas." 
But America, nor the Church, was transforming into a place of equality among the races. Novels like The Clansman and the film The Birth of a Nation deeply trouble Cassius. So by 1920 Cassius had embraced a separatism between the races. Thus in his Third Birth of A Nation, a response to the film, he does not back down an iota from but argues that blacks could only ever experience freedom and equality if they were separate whites.
Cassius addressed many concerns besides race though. He even weighed in on the "rebaptism" issue. He writes ...
"I take this stand that if a person has heard the gospel preached and has believed it, and has obeyed the command and been baptized, simply because they get into the wrong crowd when they start out in the new life is no reason that they should be baptized again ... we should not make rebaptism a test of fellowship but should gladly accept them in the name of the Lord" 
I added this portion after the initial post of this piece. I wanted to say something of Cassius opinion of David Lipscomb.
When David Lipscomb died in 1917, Cassius eulogized Lipscomb giving us valuable insight into how this man was viewed by African American Christians. He writes,
"I never saw Brother Lipscomb but once; but he knew me and tried to draw from me the possibility of a writer, but I failed so completely ... It was perhaps that failure to make good on that book, 'The Negro a Beast,' that awoke in me a desire to be ready at all times to give a reasonable reason for any thought on those things that affected me, my race, or my religion ... [Lipscomb] regarded the negro as a man, and a negro Christian as a brother ... In his death the colored disciples have lost one of their best friends." 
It is unfortunate that Cassius is practically unknown in our collective memories. He was a fascinating individual and his story deserves to be recalled. There are lessons to be learned from this father in our family photo album. What are we blind to simply because it has "always been so?"
quoted in Cassius, "The Tohee Industrial School" Christian Leader 13 (15 August, 1899), 13.
 Cassius, "The Race Problem," Christian Leader (10 March 1903), 9.
 Cassius, "The Race Problem" Christian Leader (1 October 1901), 12.
 Cassius, "A Trip to the Golden State," Christian Leader (19 August 1902), 5.
 J. D. Tant, "In Kansas," Gospel Advocate (5 February 1898), 71.
 Cassius, "Among the Colored Disciples," Christian Leader 28 (6 October 1914), 13
 Cassius, "A Colored Brother's Tribute," Gospel Advocate 59 (6 December 1917), 1189.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
What follows below is a reproduction of David Lipscomb's article "Rebaptism Reviewed." The article is a response to "Brother Chism" who defended rebaptism. This is one of Lipscomb's fullest discussions of the subject. He takes us on a tour of the examples of baptism in the Book of Acts following a thorough examination of Acts 2.38 and the Great Commission. I think this article is significant enough to simply reproduce it in toto and Lipscomb explain the rational (exegetical and theological) for rejecting rebaptism.
Gospel Advocate, December 12, 1907, pp. 992- 793
I am glad to have this article from Brother Chism. He presents the points in a clear and tangible form so they can be understood. I believe the question ought to and can be settled with all who desire to follow the will of the Lord and are willing to study and abide by his teachings.
Some object to the name “rebaptism.” It is a reimmersion. The twelve at Ephesus were rebaptized, I believe persons ought to be rebaptized sometimes, and I call it “rebaptism.” I am glad of Brother Chism’s article because it places the practice on a ground that does not savor of infidelity. I feel shocked when professed Christians ask where the Bible says we must be baptized to obey God. It shows how little they know the Bible or how ready they are to sacrifice the fundamental principles of the Bible to sustain a pet theory or a party.
Brother Chism justifies the rebaptism practice on the ground that “for the remission of sins” is in the sentence, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” is part of the command, and this seems to be the chief ground on which he bases the practice. I believe “into” is preferable to “for,” but he seems to prefer “for.” But if “eis” or “for” here is a part of the command, what becomes of the argument that it means “in order to obtain,” that Brother Chism and others make on the design of baptism with the sects? If it is a reward for obedience to the command, it cannot be a part of the command. That argument or his position is all wrong. It cannot be at once a part of the command and a reward for obedience to the command. Webster defines “for:” “the antecedent cause or occasion of an action; the motive or inducement leading to an action.” It cannot be the antecedent cause of an action and the action itself. It cannot be the promise as a result of the obedience and the obedience itself. It is a promise to lead to obedience, and not the obedience itself. I believe it should be “into” indicating a result flowing from the act, so only indirectly a motive leading to it. There is certainly nothing in the sentence that demands it should be part of the command.
If there is uncertainty about it, let us test in another safe way. Let us interpret it by other similar scriptures. Take Acts 3:19: “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted from the presence of the Lord.” No one would say “that your sins may be blotted out” is a part of the command. It is a result to which obedience to the command leads. It is the same as “for remission of sins” in Acts 2:38. “That your sins may be blotted out,” or remitted, or forgiven, mean the same. The forgiveness is the act of God, and man cannot obey or do God’s part in any work. He can only “repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ;” and leave God to forgive his sins when has complied with God’s requirements.
These suggestions are a full reply to Brother Chism’s points. But I examine further. He says the command, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” is the exact equivalent of the commission given by the Lord. This is wrong. It is the application of that general law to one special case, and it is a mistake to interpret and restrict the general law by one special application of it. Numbers of our rebaptist friends ignore the commission altogether and find the law only in this application of it. (Acts 2:28). God first gave the law and then the application of it. Brother Chism reverses God’s order, passes by the general law, begins with one special application of it, and then restricts the law to this one application. This is as if a lawyer were to find a man tried for stealing a horse. The general law against stealing is applied by the court to this one of horse stealing, and the lawyer ever afterwards restricts the law against stealing to this one case and insists that the law is not violated unless a horse is stolen. Brother Chism finds the first application of the law was to sinners guilty of the blood of the Son of God, and in their guilt they ask if pardon is possible, and they are told: “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and your sins shall be remitted.” To be baptized in the name of Christ is to be baptized as Christ directs – “into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” for in them remission of sins, which they so earnestly sought, would be found. But is that the only blessing that is to be found in these names that can or should move men to seek God?
But Acts 2:38 is the commission applied to that particular case. Mark (16:15,16) says: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” Is “shall be saved” a part of the command in this case? Is it an obligation imposed upon man? Does not the obligation on man end with being baptized, and is not his being saved the work of God? Is it not a promise to man to encourage him, in his weakness and infirmity, to believe and be baptized? Brother Chism will not contradict this. Does not “be saved” correspond exactly to “for [or into”] the remission of sins?” (Acts 2:38) There is no command in remission of sins to men, but a promise of what God will do.
The commission by Matthew is: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” This is applied in Acts 2:38 to the condition of those present. The people were taught, believed, were commanded to be baptized in the name of Christ, into the remission of sins. To be baptized in the name of Christ is to be baptized “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” because that is the only baptism Christ authorized. When they are baptized into these names, they are baptized into the remission of sins. Into these names, embracing remission of sins in common with all spiritual blessings, are results flowing from the obedience and constitute no part of obedience. These different promises mean the same and cannot be a part of the obedience.
I think Brother Chism must agree to these points so far, and own “for remission” is a promise to lead to obedience. It is not the only promise. Other promises in Christ may lead as well as this one.
We both agree that remission of sins is a motive to lead to obedience. He seems to think it is the only motive, or at least the leading and essential motive to lead to baptism, and without this as the leading and controlling motive the baptism is not acceptable to God. I do not believe this. I believe there is one motive that in all service to God, without which no service is acceptable to him. That is, we must do the service in the name of Jesus, the Lord. “Whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Gal. 3:17) All Jesus did in heaven and on earth was done to please his Father. Nothing can be done in his name that is not controlled by the same desire. The law was: Be baptized “into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is frequently expressed by “in” or “into” “the name of the Lord Jesus.” To be in one of these names or persons is to be in all. In Christ are many blessings: no human being can know all. God has revealed a few that appeal to our conditions here. Some blessings appeal to one person, another to another, owing to the conditions of the persons. Acts 2:38 is not the only application of this commission to the conditions of man.
Take the case of the Samaritans. They had been wicked: the Jews despised them and refused to let them worship with them; but despite their surroundings, they were willing to obey God. The heart of the Almighty is very tender toward those unfortunately situated but willing to obey him. Those who fail to see this are ill fitted to understand and obey God. God sent his servant to the Samaritans. “When they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” In the name of Jesus remission of sins was enjoyed but in his name and kingdom are many other precious blessings.
Then there is the Ethiopian eunuch. He was a God-fearing man. He hade come several hundred miles to worship God according to his appointments. He was studying God’s word. God was so well pleased with him that he sent his servant to teach him the way of the Lord more perfectly. He preached Jesus to him. He asked and was baptized into Christ. I do not think “for remission of sins” was made prominent in this conversion, because he was serving God according to the best light he had and was guilty of no great sin.
Then Cornelius was a Gentile, a good man according to the light he had. He worshiped God. Peter said he feared God and worked righteousness; that commended him to the favor of God, who sent his angel to him. His alms and his prayers were treasured as a memorial before God. Peter told him he was out of Christ, out of God, and he was “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” Was much stress laid on “the remission of sins” in this case? He was baptized in the name of Christ, to obey God. Brother Chism, if you had been there, could you have objected to receiving Cornelius unless “remission of sins” was the present and controlling motive in his baptism? The very same Peter that told the bloody handed murderers to be baptized “for remission of sins” tells Cornelius to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” and said nothing of remission of sins. Why the difference?
Then those at Ephesus. (Acts 19:1-7) They were serving God according to the best light they had, had been baptized into John’s baptism, “for the remission of sins.” They had not learned that John’s baptism had been superseded by baptism into the name of Christ. When they heard these things, “they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.”
No emphasis was laid on “for remission” in these cases, but great emphasis on “into the name of the Lord Jesus,” as prescribed by the commission. The law was applied to suit the condition of the person. The apostles did not believe that stealing a horse was the only stealing that could be done nor that remission of sins is the only motive to lead men to obey God. Why are not all these applications of the case as much for our instruction as Acts 2:38? Why is not the command to be baptized into Christ, into the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit, as much the command of God as “for remission of sins?” Why is it not as important that men understand baptism is into Christ as to understand it is for the remission of sins? If we follow the Bible up, we find that in the writings to the churches and to Christians the emphasis is laid on having been baptized into Christ, having put on Christ, and living, dying and being raised in Christ.
There are now cases corresponding in state to these cases of conversion in Acts. I could mention many. The girl mentioned by Brother Holt that had likely, like Timothy, known the Scriptures from a child, wished to obey Christ, but not oppressed with the guilt of sin, she had not studied that point. Would the Father reject her because she wanted to follow Christ in her innocency [sic] and her youth?
While man is to love and trust God because God is good and blesses those that do his will, the idea that we must know what we are to get for and in each service, and that our service is acceptable only as we understand and render the obedience for the blessings we are to get, is repulsive to God. Abraham was the great model of faith for all future generations of the world. He followed God from his father’s home not knowing whither he went or what he would receive. In the service that was most pleasing to God, the offering of his son as a sacrifice, which secured the promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Abraham obeyed without a promise whether any blessing would be received. The obedience seemed to defeat the promise that God would of his son make a mighty nation. The anti-type of Abraham’s offering of his son was God offered his only Son to die for the world. This is continually held up as the great example given to man to follow. It places the truth beyond all controversy that God is pleased with the service that is rendered him at great sacrifice, from love of him, without any promise of blessing. Job said: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” That is the service God loves. We have other thoughts along this line we wish to offer.
Friday, February 20, 2009
When we say that the message is simple ... do we mean what Aaron means? We trust our Savior! I know ... I KNOW ... I do not understand God's will or purpose. I gave that up a few months after turning 39 when Hades invaded .... I love this song though. It is my hope!
I was coming back from the bowling alley with a truck load of 11 and 12 year old girls. This song came on the radio and they wanted to sit in the truck and finish listening to it. So in honor of my girl and her friends ....
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The immersion of Alexander Campbell in 1812 by Baptist preacher Mathias Luce has been long been a troublesome issue for some heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement. For some like Austin McGary, the founder of the Firm Foundation, Campbell's baptism was downright embarrassing. The cause of that embarrassment is rooted in two historical facts: 1) Alexander (and his father Thomas) was baptized by a Baptist and 2) Campbell did not understand baptism's role in the remission of sin -- and would not for quite some time after. This presented such a problem for McGary that he even suggested that Campbell was secretly rebaptized -- a notion that David Lipscomb rightly dismissed as highly dubious. Even as late as 1999 a brother wrote an article concerning "Alexander Campbell's Baptism" that was another stretched attempt to remove this apparent black eye from Campbell.
The debate over Campbell is important. At the center of the debate is how much of the NT teaching concerning baptism a person must grasp before she can obey the Great Commission. Is one saved by submissive faith or precise knowledge? It is a critical question. Even those who demand that one must absolutely know that baptism is the POINT that one obtains remission are reticent to condemn Campbell to hell. Some even try to force Campbell into the rebaptist camp -- a great irony.
For example, the aforementioned article attempted to show that Campbell did indeed understand that baptism was for the remission of sins in 1812. The evidence from Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell is dismissed. Attempts are made to buttress the rebaptist position with a quotation from Selina Campbell that comes second hand from a debate that H. C. Harper had in 1917.
Alexander Campbell himself is quoted from his 1844 Debate with N. L. Rice and from Campbell's 1853 book on Baptism. These quotes have zero relevance, however, because Campbell is not discussing what he knew or what anyone must know about baptism at the time of their immersion. Selina's "evidence" (she was not even married to him at the time -- they were married 16 years later) there is simply no evidence to support the position that Campbell understood the "design" of baptism . There is no reason to doubt Richardson in the Memoirs.
Pertinent to our discussion here would be Campbell's understanding of baptism exhibited in his 1820 Debate with the Presbyterian John Walker. It is critical to remember that this discussion took place eight years after his immersion. Campbell affirmed in this debate that baptism confers spiritual blessings only "figuratively" . Campbell argued that the phrase "the renewing of the Holy Ghost" in Titus 3.5 is used figuratively with respect to baptism and not in reality . Campbell then explicitly places the new birth PRIOR to baptism. In his own words:
"Hence "THE RENEWING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT," is a phrase that denotes the influence of the Holy Spirit, exerted on the whole soul of man; and implies a death unto sin, and a new life unto righteousness . . . Which leads the subject on his gracious work to submit to 'be buried with Christ' . . . The outward rite [i.e. baptism], then must bear an analogy to the doctrine exhibited in and by it. Hence immersion in water is a beautiful and striking representation of our faith in the death and burial of Christ" .
This "outward rite," according to Campbell in 1820, is a "representation" of a reality that has already been accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Campbell makes this point crystal clear earlier in his Debate with Walker, "THE CALLED, cannot mean those whom every preacher invites to Baptism, but those whom the Lord calls by his grace or Spirit". Quotations of this nature can be multiplied from the Walker-Campbell Debate but such is needless. It is clear, though, that in 1820 Alexander Campbell did not have a doctrine of baptism that would be embraced by many of his descendants -- he clearly did not think baptism was "necessary" or for the remission of sins.
Campbell testified in 1838 that he had not given the special meaning of baptism much thought prior to 1820. In the winter of 1821-1822 Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell discussed a tract on the specific import of baptism by a Scotch Baptist minister named Henry Errett (later to be the father of Isaac Errett). It was from this tract that both Campbell and Scott learned of a deeper meaning involved in baptism. Even with this significant discovery, Campbell, says he was "engaged so much in other inquiries, it was put on file for further consideration" . The wider paragraph from Campbell is significant,
"In 1820 the Editor had a debate with Mr. Walker on the SUBJECT [sic] and ACTION [sic] of Christian baptism. He had not then turned his thoughts to the special MEANING [sic] or design of that ordinance. Either during that discussion or in transcribing it for the press, an impression was made on his mind that baptism had a very important meaning and was some way connected with remission of sins; but engaged so much in other inquiries, it was put on file for further consideration ..."
Campbell then goes on to say "Immediately on receiving a challenge from Mr. Wm. L. M'Calla, of Kentucky, dated May 17, 1823, I resolved to settle the true meaning of baptism before I ever debated the subject again" .
Campbell's debate with William MacCalla was in 1823. Even with this public pronouncement of the notion of remission of sins it was largely just theory rather not practice. It was left to Walter Scott's famous tour of the Western Reserve (Ohio) in 1827 to not only put this theory in practice but to invent the five-finger plan of salvation as well.
The mature Campbell’s views on baptism are more complicated than ours. Campbell’s theology of baptism certainly affirmed the rite was for remission, though he strongly denied that cognitive comprehension of that fact was required by God -- only submissive faith that was obedient. He thus never made specific knowledge of remission the litmus test of biblical baptism. On the contrary he believed such a position was sectarian to the core and a denial of the principles of the restoration movement itself. Campbell even opposed adding the phrase "for the remission of sins" to the "name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" of Matthew 28.19 when immersing a candidate . When Campbell reflected upon his own immersion in a "Dialogue on Reimmersion" he remembered that he simply confessed his faith that Jesus was the Messiah. Then Campbell adds, "Nor have I ever immersed any person but upon the same profession which I made myself" .
Alexander Campbell responded in 1831 to a question about rebaptism put forward by Andrew Broaddus, a prominent Baptist minister. Campbell (who addresses Broaddus as "brother") says that though baptism is associated with remission that is not the total New Testament witness concerning the subject. He says,
"Remission of sins is, indeed, connected with baptism; but so is adoption, sanctification, and all the blessings of the new institution." Campbell goes on to comment, "To be baptized for the remission of sins exclusively, is not what is meant by putting on Christ, or by being immersed into Christ . . . I know some will say the candidates which they immersed a second time did not rightly understand baptism the first time. Well, I am persuaded they did not understand it the second time; and shall they be baptized a third time!"
Rebaptism could not be justified simply because a person did not grasp the specific "design" of baptism but rather that they were really unbelievers at the time of the first immersion. He writes:
"Let me once more say, that the only thing which can justify reimmersion into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is a confession on the part of the candidate that he did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God -- that he died for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day, at that time of the first immersion -- that he now BELIEVES the testimony of the apostles concerning him . . . The instant that rebaptism is preached and practised [sic!] on any other ground than now stated -- such as deficient knowledge, weak faith, change of views -- then have we contradicted in some way and made void the word of the Lord, "He who believes and be immersed shall be saved" -- then have we abandoned the principles of the present reformation" .
The simple fact is that Campbell taught that if a person would believe One Fact (i.e. that Jesus is the Christ) and submit to One Act that reflects that Fact (baptism into his name) that person has been inducted by the authority of God into the Kingdom . On this point Alexander never wavered.
Those who have been ardent supporters of nonsectarian Christianity have consistently held the same ground as brother Campbell. The great names, virtually synonymous with the Gospel Advocate for 150 years have held the same ground as the great Reformer. David Lipscomb militantly opposed as sectarian and digressive the notion that one must have a clear grasp of the doctrine of remission of sins in order to receive biblical baptism. Lipscomb always pointed to the priority of the Great Commission as Jesus gave it in Matthew 28 . E. G. Sewell, Lipscomb¹s long time co-editor of the GA was nearly as vocal in his opposition. Probably none, though, opposed the sectarian doctrine more than co-founder of the Nashville Bible School (David Lipscomb University) James A. Harding. Harding debated the issue twice, once in 1888 with Austin McGary and in 1901 with J.D. Tant. Harding wrote, "It is manifestly wrong to call remission of sins the design of baptism and insist that it shall be understood." Harding "doubt[ed] if there ever was a man who fully understood the design of the ordinance at the time of his baptism since Christ gave the commission." Because this is so, the question to be asked is not, according to Harding, "What did you believe about baptism?" Rather, the proper question is, "Did you believe wit h your whole heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and did you confess him as Lord?" . Giants like Walter Scott, Moses Lard, J.W. McGarvey, Benjamin Franklin, James F. Rowe, F. D. Srygley, M.C. Kurfees, J. C. McQuiddy, B.C. Goodpasture, J. N. Armstrong, George Benson, J. M Powell, Jimmy Allen all held this same ground because of a commitment to biblical nonsectarian Christianity. Even Daniel Sommer opposed Austin McGary on this one!
It does not follow that those who hold to the same ground as these great men, believe that baptism is an empty, meaningless ritual. Rather this ground is held precisely because the belief that the action performed in baptism is GOD'S work, not ours, and he will grant the wonder of forgiveness to those who come in submissive faith to his Son. I close with the wise words of David Lipscomb:
"If we make baptism depend upon what man understands about it, its purposes and meaning, he will never know when he is baptized. It has been told of Dr. John Thomas, who when he started out to be baptized that when he learned a new truth about the purposes of baptism, that he was baptized over twenty times. . . but what we understand of the purpose of baptism is not the proper ground for being baptized. But the ground is, God has required it as an act of fealty to him, and we do it to obey him; and when we do this, we enter into him, that in him we may enjoy all the blessings and favors he gives" .
In a day or so I play on posting a few thoughts on how and where Walter Scott fits into all of this ...
 Owen Olbricht, "Alexander Campbell's Baptism," Gospel Advocate (September 1999).
 I use the word "design" deliberately. Historically this word among rebaptist teachers referred exclusively to the doctrine of remission of sins.
 Debate on Christian Baptism Between Mr. John Walker, a Minister of the Secession and Alexander Campbell (Religious Book Service Reprint, n.d.), pp. 136-137.
 Ibid., p. 137.
 Ibid., p. 138.
 Ibid., p. 56 .
 Millennial Harbinger, 1838, p. 467-468.
 Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Standard Publishing Co. 1897), Volume 2, p. 288.
 Millennial Harbinger, 1832, p. 319.
 Millennial Harbinger, 1831, p. 483.
 Millennial Harbinger, 1836, p. 63.
 Christian Baptist, April 5, 1824, p. 60.
 Lipscomb’s views are easily accessible in his book Salvation from Sin, pp. 215ff and Questions and Answers, ed. M.C. Kurfees, pp. 528ff.
 The Way, March 1900, p. 35.
 Gospel Advocate, November 15, 1906, p. 728
Monday, February 16, 2009
One of the finest human beings known to me is Monroe Hawley. Monroe was a shaper of my thought long before I preached at Southside Church in Milwaukee where he was one of my shepherds (along with Wayne Alexander, Bruce Williams, and Al Gray). His books Redigging the Wells, The Focus of Our Faith, and Is Christ Divided? have blessed me immensely. I can honestly say that neither he nor I agree on every detail but a more gracious saint I have yet to meet. I mention Monroe because I took the time this weekend to reread his classic Is Christ Divided? in light of Todd Deaver's Facing Our Failure. I do believe that Monroe is right about one fundamental point: a sectarian spirit is the deadly enemy of Christian unity.
Interestingly enough rejection of "sectarianism" is part and parcel of the rhetorical DNA of Stone-Campbell churches. But as we saw in our previous post, Barton Stone noted that many who denied being sectarian simply had become "anti-sectarian sectarians." Perhaps this is because we miss classify sectarianism. Most in our non-denomination denomination would make a near equation of "false" doctrine and sectarianism. But, interestingly enough, this is a false teaching. And if it were correct many in our fellowship might have the label for they teach such things as: the Holy Spirit operates and/or indwells only through the written word; that a person must have more than faith to be biblically baptized; etc; etc; etc. But what is a sectarian spirit? Here is a taxonomy of this accursed evil ... with a nod to Monroe.
1) We betray a sectarian spirit when we display a party (i.e. denominational) loyalty concerned with defending the status quo rather than in the well-being of the entire church of God. A person might say "I'm Church of Christ all the way" or "The Church of Christ teaches ..." this is pure sectarianism.
2) We betray a sectarian spirit when we equate our fellowship of believers with the entire church of God or the kingdom itself. Some have a laundry list of issues by which they think they can identify the members of the family of God. The church is thus identified with a group of congregations of which he/she approves.
3) We betray a sectarian spirit when we think we have "arrived." We and we alone have the real truth. To put it another way we believe we have a "corner on truth." All we do is read, believe and obey the Bible. Everyone else either does not believe or they simply disobey. But to quote Monroe "it is the height of presumption and arrogance to assume that any group of people is exempt from the possibility of misinterpretation." But it is this attitude that lies behind our "brotherhood" Diotrepheses who consider themselves the defenders of God's church.
4) Finally we betray a sectarian spirit in harsh and judgmental attitudes towards others. This personality trait is among the first to be decried by Thomas Campbell in his legendary Declaration & Address. Judging another is a "daring usurpation of the throne of Christ" TC baldly declared. What right do we think we have to pontificate the destiny of any person when Michael the archangel of God himself refused to that to the Evil One himself (Jude 9).
There are at least three ungodly behaviors that are nourished by sectarianism. Perhaps they have been touched on in some way above but I want to lay them out explicitly. If what I have said is true above it seems that sectarianism itself breeds, like a virus, these other spiritual issues ...
Sectarianism breeds name calling. Rather than deal with a person as simply a brother or sister in Christ we label him or her as liberal, legalist, pseudo-add adjective, progressive, conservative, anti, compromiser, modernist, apostate ... and even spiritual retards. "We" even have found ways to justify this behavior!
Sectarianism breeds paranoia. Sectarianism is the original root for conspiracy theories. Dan Brown did not invent them ... sectarianism birthed them! Sectarianism lives in fear (yes fear). It awaits rather nervously every new book, new professor, article and sees these things as threats. Thus paranoia breeds unique combat language like fight, contend, battle, even "gospel bullets." This paranoid fear often borders on irrational. I say this not just as a contemporary observer among Churches of Christ but with a look at the sweep of our history.
Sectarianism breeds isolation. Isolation is the natural corollary to fear. We don't want to be contaminated by foreign ideas, teachings or be associated with those not quite as loyal as ourselves. We do not need to study for we have the truth. We rather "defend" the truth. Other points of view are sort of like biblical leprosy ... they are cut off and quarantined. This is carried out in brotherhood papers and lectureship resulting in a certain amount of inbreeding as we isolate ourselves from one not as sound as we imagine ourselves to be.
Sectarianism is not a "conservative" or a "progressive" issue. It is a spiritual disease that strikes anywhere, at anytime, if we are not on guard. Sectarianism is not simply believing something that is wrong. It is a matter of the heart that destroys our walk with Spirit.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Dr. John Thomas (1805-1871) was one such new editor. Thomas was a preacher among "us" first in Philadelphia and then Richmond, Virginia. In 1834 he began publishing his new voice in his Apostolic Advocate. By 1835 it became clear that he was promoting sectarian point of view. Stone-Campbell churches had always accepted those who had been immersed into the name of Jesus. Thomas believed this was grave error. Stoned-Campbell churches were not simply Christians they were the only Christians! And apparently many even in his own fellowship were not Christians either. Many, like Alexander Campbell himself, had been baptized at the hands of Baptist preachers never understanding the "deeper" significance of baptism until years later. Campbell vigorously opposed Thomas who eventually left the Restoration movement to form the Christadelphians.
In 1835 other extreme positions bubbled to the surface as well. Matthias Winans, Arthur Crihfield, John R. Howard, and others, promoted a theory of the Holy Spirit that so closely linked the Spirit and the Word that they became nearly indistinguishable. Crihfield would throw his hat in the editor bishop's chair in 1837 with a journal creatively titled The Heretic Detector ... its task would be to root out any and all heresy. It was in the Heretic Detector that, as far as I can determine, we encounter for the first time the "marks of the one true church." The spirit of this publication has been "reincarnated" in journals that yet remain among us.
Interestingly enough Stone, Campbell and even Robert Richardson seem to have sensed that something was afoot at the Circle-K (for those who remember Bill & Ted!). Alexander Campbell wrote a lengthy piece titled "The Crises" (Millennial Harbinger [December 1835], 595-602). Richardson published a letter in the same issue to Campbell under the heading "Reminiscences of 1835" (pp. 611-618). Campbell's last words to his readers for the year 1835 was a plea for them to reread his article and even Richardson's (p.622).
Barton W. Stone had already voiced distress over the direction of some within the movement. In the August 1835 Christian Messenger he shared some "Remarks." Since it is brief, yet powerful, I will reproduce his entire "remark."
"The scriptures [sic] will never keep together in union, and fellowship members not in the spirit of the scriptures, which spirit is love, peace, unity, forbearance, and cheerful obedience. This is the spirit of the great Head of the body. I blush for my fellows, who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship; who plead for union of all christians; yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Vain men! Their zeal is not according to knowledge, nor is their spirit that of Christ. There is a day not far ahead which will declare it. Such antisectarian sectarians are doing more mischief to the cause, and advancement of truth, the unity of christians, and the salvation of the world, than all the skeptics in the world. In fact, they make skeptics." (Barton W. Stone, "Remarks," [Christian Messenger August 1835], 180)
Stone did not shy from voicing his concern over the direction of some within the movement he helped spawn.
Due to the vigilance of Campbell, Stone, Richardson, and Scott most of the extreme views that began to surface in 1835 were held in check. Yet after the Civil War these uprooted tares among the wheat began to bud again. There is a direct link between the "Texas Tradition" in the Churches of Christ and John Thomas. We might explore that some more soon ... Those devoted to "truth" often have to point the search light back at their own heart. This is a legacy we can embrace from Stone, Campbell, Richardson and Scott.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Where does it end? James A. Harding opined that no man since the time of Christ had understood the design of baptism when he submitted to it. Of course by design Harding meant more than Acts 2.38 ... as our recent post makes clear. All that was biblically required was submissive faith in Jesus as the Messiah the Son of God. J.W. McGarvey argued, convincingly, that God requires simply faith and repentance for biblical baptism. Because baptism "belongs to God and not man."
Some demand that a candidate must must know specifically "the remission of sins" though there is not a single text that makes such a demand. But once one starts "adding to" the list of requirements necessary for baptism where does the "slippery slope" end??
Barry Grider for example wrote in the "Forest Hill News" (vol 27.9) of the Forest Hill Church of Christ on February 27, 2001 an article called "Scriptural Baptism." If my memory serves correctly this is the home of Memphis School of Preaching. Grider makes some pretty hefty demands on the part of the candidate:
1) Must have the correct mode. That is it must be immersion under all circumstances.
2) It must be done for its one and only one scriptural purpose. "If someone is baptized for some reason other than the remission of sins, such a person has not been scripturally baptized." My emphasis.
3) Baptism must be preceded by repentance.This is applied to divorced and remarried "unbiblically" are to be refused baptism if they don't repent. "[A]n administrator of baptism should not baptize a person who refuses to repent" that is of their "adulterous relationship."
4) The candidate must not only be baptized for one and only reason (remission of
sins) this person must "understand the concept of the New Testament church." "A
few denominational churches baptize for the remission of sins, yet the individuals baptized are not added to the one true church."
I scratch my head folks! I see no such demands in the NT placed on the candidates. I hate to say it but it is sectarianism in the extreme but where does the slippery slope of adding unbiblical demands end?
There are many, not a single, biblical reasons to be baptized. And how many folks out there understood the "the concept of the New Testament church" at their baptism? I would say there is misunderstanding present in Barry's own article on this point ... he declares that the church is the kingdom and this is not so. Once we have decided to cut ourselves off of anyone else new conditions have to be added to keep us "distinct" ... so where does it end?
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Every Tuesday morning I meet a group of guys for "Coffee with Bobby." Usually the Sun has not graced the valley with beams of light yet. We have been reading our way through Habakkuk for some time now. What a rich journey! Many of the faith struggles and questions of Habakkuk resonate deeply with me. So what I propose to do here is share some of my interaction with the Prophet Habakkuk. I have written things in my journal and some of that has found its way into this post ... May it bless ...
“How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so justice is perverted.”
John Bright once remarked that Habakkuk lived in a time of gross and violent injustice. He lives in a time when society has not only grown accustomed to abuse of our fellow humans but has come to expect it and even sanction it. That is “just the way life is.” It was a the society obsessed with a “premonition of doom and gnawing insecurity . . .” (History of Israel, 3rd Edition, p. 320).
The world power structure of his day was radically changing. The Assyrian Empire, which had been the master of the east for centuries, was in its death throes. A new power, called Babylon, was rising as fast as a meteor shooting across the sky. Government officials were killing each other, kings were being assassinated left and right, judges and lawyers could care less about the right as long as they made a buck or two.
Habakkuk looked around and saw his world, his nation, God’s People bent on self- destruction. He saw a society where neighbors took advantage of each other any chance they could. He saw a country where the poor and outcast were severely discriminated against.
And Habakkuk is confused! He is confused because he does not understand why Yahweh, the God of Israel, tolerates this situation. He confessed the holiness and justice of God and yet was dismayed that God had not stepped in to rectify the horrendous scene before him. He is confused because he finds God’s People to be at odds with his faith. He is confused because he wonders if faith can even survive in this kind of world.
I love the prophet Habakkuk! I think he is my favorite of the prophets. He seems so relevant to my life in this postmodern, post-Christian, and post-divorce world. He speaks, seemingly, directly to my life and my world. My world that has also been filled with a “premonition of doom.” Think about our world for a moment, do we not live in a world amazingly similar to Habakkuk’s? I read through Drudge and various news outlets imagining that I was Habakkuk. Our world definitely seems to have a gnawing insecurity. Huge corporations and executives sap millions (billions!) of dollars from the little man, leaving hundreds of thousands wondering about their future. Innocent people spend 35 years in prison only to learn that the police and the court hid information that proved innocence. The world sleeps with one eye open for fear of terrorists and the possibility of war. In Sudan and Ethiopia thousands are starved to death by their own governments while the rest of the world just washes its hands as if we have no responsibility. Marriages fall to pieces ...
Yes...our world is like Habakkuk’s! He read the local paper and shook his head in dismay and said in a loud and painful cry, “How LONG! O, Lord, how Long!” It is as much an exclamation as a question. We read the paper and say, with Habakkuk, “Is God really in control?” “How can God let us go on treating each other as we do?” We must admit that we believe he is – but at times it looks as if he isn’t!!
A Complaint as Prayer
Habakkuk is among God’s faithful. He wanted to do what is right in Yahweh’s eyes, he wanted Israel to keep his covenant of love. But how is that to be done in a world that has forgotten God? How can Habakkuk have “faith” when he is simply struggling to have faith? How can you and I, not just maintain, but grow in our faith and devotion in times like these?
The prophet does something that most of us, on the face of it, despise. He complains! In our society complaining is associated with the sore loser or the ‘cry baby.’ That, however, is not the kind of complaining that Habakkuk is doing. Habakkuk’s complaint is called a “lament” and it is vital to genuine biblical faith. Habakkuk’s complaint (or lament) is a cry of weariness. The prophet is tired of the world as it is. He is exhausted from the fight of merely existing in a world in which the one standard is “look out for yourself!”
Because he is weary of Sin he complains to God. Because he is tired of injustice he laments. Because he is weary of evil he calls to God, “How Long, O Lord” (v. 2). This is the language of worship – it is the language of prayer! It is holy language ...
How does one exercise and struggle for faith in a world like ours? If Habakkuk is any indication the first step is wrestling with God in prayer. Habakkuk in a sense becomes Israel itself. Israel means the "one who wrestles with God." And Habakkuk is in a mighty wrestling match.
What can the Christian do about Iraq, banks, corruption in government and injustice against those of another race? Habakkuk says we must turn to the only source for making the world a place of shalom (peace) and that is Yahweh in anguished prayer! The prayer of the follower of Christ is intensely interested in God’s mishpat, God’s justice in this world. That is the dominating idea in these four gut wrenching verses of Habakkuk. The prophet prays for God to intervene and make justice count. He prays that right will prevail in the lives of those around him. He asks the honest question, “how can you stand to look at wrong doing?” (v.3, TEV). I cannot begin to count the number of times I have voiced that same question.
The struggle of faith in a troubled world is anchored and shown in prayer – honest wrestling prayer. No not a prayer every once in a while but constant prayer. The text lets us know that Habakkuk has been uttering this lament in prayer for a long time. Over lengthy periods of time faith is demonstrated through calling on his Name. Habakkuk challenges us – because he was challenged – hunger and thirst after righteousness and seek God’s kingdom first in this world. It made the prophet sad, even angry, that his world was dominated by a view that could tolerate the mistreatment of fellow humans. That sadness fed his prayer life. That sadness caused him to plead, cry and wrestle in prayer with Yahweh to send forth his righteousness.
Complacency and Struggling for Faith in Troubled World(s)
Christians must avoid the spiritual disease of complacency at all costs. You see complacency kills our search for intimacy with God. It kills the God-born hunger in our hearts for righteousness. Complacency convinces us that the world isn’t so bad – especially if we are not personally impacted by its injustice. Complacency whispers that I need not be concerned about corruption in officials or the courts.
Habakkuk calls such mentalities on the carpet. He demonstrates just how foreign such an outlook is to those who belong to the covenant community of Yahweh. He challenges us to hate evil and seek God about it in prayer. Prayer not only demonstrates our faith while living in a troubled world, but it also FEEDS and STRENGTHENS our faith. In prayer we learn, as did Habakkuk, “that no matter how loud the roar of the storm, no matter the strength of the wind or the force of the rain – God is with us.” (Jerry Jones, Beyond the Storm, p. 165).
In prayer we enjoy the refreshment. How so? In prayer we may not discover the answer to injustice or why God tarries. However, in prayer – in worship – we find the gracious Presence of the Father. The same Father who once lost a Son to a mob bent on lawlessness and injustice. We find companionship for the dark night and strength – yes even divine strength to live by faith in a troubled world.
That is why Habakkuk laments and wrestles with God in prayer.
I recently read a fascinating book by Eugene Genovese, The World the Slaves Made. It amazes me how the “world” the slaves made was fashioned out of their troubled world – it was the creation of faith. Imagine, if you will, that you were born in 1838 (or you think you were) and you just happen to be black. You are now 20 years old in 1858. You don’t know who your father is, nor your mother, because you were sold shortly after birth. You have seen children taken from their mothers and it grieves you. You have witnessed white men take slave girls and father children by them only to see them sold into slavery themselves. The other day you wandered off the plantation without supervision and received thirty-nine lashes for trying to escape. On a day called Sunday you see a bunch of white folks go to a building called a “church” and worship some “God.” You even think in your mind that you might have faith in this God too. I ask you, how would you, if you were one of those slaves, maintain faith in your troubled world?
I tell you, honestly, I don’t know if I could have – but they did! In fact faith thrived. How did they do it? They did what Habakkuk did – they prayed their laments. They sang their prayers and they triumphed over the world that had them in chains. They have left all Christians a priceless treasure of faith filled prayers songs we call “spirituals.” They sang prayers like, “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “Roll Jordon, Roll” and “Where You There When they Crucified My Lord.” They sang,
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egyptland
Tell old Pharaoh
To let my people go.
(Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred years of African-American Writing,
ed. Deirdre Mullane, p. 277)
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain’t got long to stay here.
We’ll soon be free,
We’ll soon be free,
We’ll soon be free,
When de Lord will call us home.
My brudder, how long,
My brudder, how long,
My brudder, how long,
‘Fore we done sufferin’ here?
(Crossing the Danger Water, p. 291)
Did you hear the same question that Habakkuk asked? “How Long, O Lord?” It is the cry of God’s People down through the ages. But in that troubled world faith not only was born but thrived. We sing their prayers of deliverance. We sing their prayers songs for God’s kingdom to burst forth. We sing their songs of unshakable faith. The slaves had faith by going and wrestling with God in prayer – they did not find the answers they longed for but they found something profoundly mysterious – the companionship of God. The slaves are just one example of faith thriving in this fallen and sinful world. But its one that I am grateful for.
As Christians we believe that God has in fact answered Habakkuk’s complaint. He has heard the slaves of long ago. God wants us to seek him, and him alone, not the “comfort” of the world. God assures Habakkuk that he is working to overcome the evil he laments (1.5-11). No, God will not tolerate evil and injustice. He does not just want to punish evil but eradicate it, he wants to cure it!
God points the prophet forward to a time he cannot see – to the time of the Cross of Jesus Christ. There in the face of the Ultimate Outrage against justice we see God’s one and only answer to the problems Habakkuk has shed tears over. God challenges us to see in that event his answer to the evil of this world. He condemns and punishes all the evil the Prophet complained about and the slaves sang about – he tells us to look at the figure of the Man on the Tree and see the wrath of God displayed against injustice. We see the resurrection and are assured that God does in fact make it right. Our prayers are being heard, they have not fallen on deaf ears. In spite of it all ... THIS I DO BELIEVE!
So we Christians, in the year 2009, will commune with God in his holy temple and keep silent prayer before him (2.20). We will continue to wrestle in prayer for God’s way to be our way. We will pray for God’s kingdom to have dominion over all hearts. We will pray for justice to be empowered in our world. We will maintain faith – through God's gift of prayer – in this mighty unfriendly and troubled world. We will call to our God and he will give us the strength and see us through. I close with, possibly, the most stirring words in all of Scripture:
“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Oh, God may it be so ... as we Seek Shalom.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
The very mention of the name "J. W. McGarvey" inspires awe among many descendants of the Stoned-Campbell Movement. His name is synonymous with biblical scholarship among us. He courageously took on the liberals of his day in The Authorship of Deuteronomy. But he is most remembered for his Commentary on Acts. A work that some hold to this day to be the best study ever of Luke's second volume. Today he is cited in our intramural conflicts between progressives and conservatives, usually by the "conservatives." But who was McGarvey? What did he believe? He is rightly remembered for his scholarship. He is rightly honored as one who can help us understand deeper levels of the biblical text. He may not, however, if he were alive today fit snugly where some imagine he would. Let me use the issue of baptism to illustrate the point.
In McGarvey's day it was the rule, not the exception, that immersed believers from Baptist or Methodist churches were welcomed into Stoned-Campbell churches without undergoing a rebaptism. This would have covered Alexander Campbell himself. Evangelistic reports from the period frequently highlight how many were "baptized" and then how many have embraced the "plea" to be only Christians. This latter category were folks from other churches that practiced believers baptism.
Periodically some one would raise the question (as Dr. John Thomas did in the 1830s but that is another story for another time) of this practice among "us." J. W. McGarvey was faced with this question in the American Christian Review in 1862. He asked "What is Valid Immersion?" There are those, McGarvey, admits who are confused on the subject of baptism. Sometimes due to the failure of the preacher they are not fully taught on the matter and believe "error" about the "ordinance." Does the belief of the error undo the candidate's obedience? Biblically, McGarvey argued, there are two conditions for the candidate to fulfill:
1) the candidate was commanded to believe [the gospel] and
2) the candidate was commanded to repent.
These were the commands to which God required obedience for valid baptism. A false or incorrect notion about the ordinance does not undo baptism. Why? Because "it belongs to God and not man." The blessings, or gifts, of baptism are not commands to be obeyed but rather grace that flows from the hand of God. So ...
"when the conditions [belief & repentance] are complied with, he will be as good as his word, and it would be most unreasonable to suppose that he would withhold the blessing simply because I do not know that I am entitled to it. A man, therefore, cannot forfeit the blessing by mere ignorance of the promise, unless a knowledge of the promise is found to be a condition of its fulfillment, which certainly will not be assumed by any reader of the New Testament."
After declaring what constitutes valid baptism ... a candidate coming in faith in the gospel and a penitent heart ... McGarvey turns to the prevailing practice of the Stoned-Campbell churches of accepting into fellowship immersed Baptists, Methodists and others. In fact, McGarvey presents us with a concrete example ...
"[S]uppose a Baptist presents himself for membership with us, and we attempt to decide upon the validity of his immersion. We find that he was a believer [condition #1], and a penitent [condition #2], before he was immersed. He did not make the confession in express terms, but it was because he was not required to so, the preacher having become satisfied of his faith through other evidence. He believed that his sins were pardoned before he was immersed, and said so; but this was a mistake, not an omission of any duty, unless it be the duty of understanding Scripture. But this duty is not peculiarly connected with immersion, and we have seen that its omission cannot invalidate the immersion ... it is most unreasonable to suppose that his sins are still unforgiven."
Since valid baptism consists in fulfilling two conditions (faith & repentance) McGarvey believed restoration churches were completely true to the Bible in the practice of welcoming all immersed believers in Christ as members of God's family. That is as real Christians. Just to make his point emphatic and clear McGarvey stated ...
"If I were to attempt [to rebaptize the candidate], I would be making him repeat a duty which he had already fully performed ... We conclude, with all confidence that the brethren have been doing right to receive into fellowship all who have with faith and repentance have been immersed and have since led a reputable Christian life."
One wonders if McGarvey had published his thoughts in 2009 and not a hundred years ago if he would still be thought as the greatest biblical expositor in our heritage. But from what I can tell, McGarvey's understanding is in harmony with the Scriptures ...
Friday, February 06, 2009
What follows are not dogmatic axioms but explorations into the deep wells of God’s unfathomable wisdom. I remain open to correction and study.
There are four basic interpretations of “to teleion” in 1 Cor. 13.10. Not all are equally weighty or persuasive but I offer them nonetheless.
1) Probably the most familiar view among Churches of Christ is that “the perfect,” as the King James Version reads, refers to the completed canon of New Testament scripture. This particular interpretation seems to have arisen historically as a reaction to Pentecostalism. B. B. Warfield is said to have taken this position but I have been unable to document this. But I have checked into the history of the interpretation of this verse and it is true that this view does not seem to exist prior to the 19th century. Usually James 1.25 and Romans 12.2 are appealed to in support of this interpretation. But as the lamented J. W. Roberts wrote these verses are not discussing the canon (see J. W. Roberts, “That Which is Perfect” Firm Foundation [July 25, 1972], 468). This particular interpretation has been shown to be both exegetically and historically wrong by such conservative scholars as Richard Oster, Carl Holladay, J.W. Roberts, Gordon Fee and Donald Carson. In fact I have not found any standard commentary which has adopted this interpretation. The context of the verse and history of interpretation pretty much eliminate this as the proper understanding of the text.
2) The second interpretation that is usually given of “to teleion” is that the phrase refers to “agape” (love). This particular view has more going for it that the one just reviewed. Indeed, this is the view that I once held myself and still find it to be very persuasive. More specifically this view holds that “to teleion” does not refer so much to “perfection” but to the “totality” or “maturity” of the Corinthian Christians in terms of agape love. Carroll Osburn has probably presented the best case that can be made for this interpretation . . . and as I stated before it is a strong case (cf. 1978 Abilene Christian College Lectures, pp. 138-171; Jim McGuiggan presents a summary of Osburn in his commentary on 1 Corinthians). Osburn has done an amazing amount of research into how the Church Fathers interpreted this text. In fact some of his research has moved me to embrace a position different from him.
3) The third interpretation is a nuanced view of #2, in that the church no longer needs gifts. The weakness of this position is that it is not built upon 1 Corinthians but upon Ephesians 4.7-16. This interpretation breaks, what I believe to be an iron clad rule of exegesis, a passage must first be understood in its own context and then seen in light of others. John McRay has written the presentation of this view: “To Teleion in 1 Corinthians 13:10” in Restoration Quarterly (1971): 168-183.
4) The fourth position is the position that I have come to believe as the best interpretation of the verse. This interpretation understands “to teleion” to refer to the Eschaton or the return of the resurrected Lord at the End of Time. In summary fashion let me share why I have come to this position:
A) As Osburn’s research shows, this is basically the position in the history of the church until around 1600. I do not know of a writer who understood “to teleion” to refer to the Bible. But the Fathers almost unanimously agree the “perfection” refers to the End of Time or heaven (eschaton). Origen for example writes in his controversy with Celsus that we cannot know the eternal things here but only in the highest heavens (pros akrois tois ouranouis) and then he says, “we shall ever be engaged in the contemplation of the invisible things of God, which are no longer understood by us through the things which he has made from the creation of the world . . . then face to face [a reference to 13.12] when that which is perfection comes then we that know in part will be done away” (Contra Celsum, VI, xx). Basil, Gregory, Eusebius and Chrysostom all understand the text to refer to the Eschaton. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin (see his Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, I, p.428) take the same position. I am not merely parading names here but showing that there is pretty much universal consensus on the meaning of this text stretching across both centuries but even the Catholic and Protestant divide.
B) However, my reasons for accepting this position are not wholly historical but rather exegetical. It is the exegetical reasons the carried such weight with the names above and I find them convincing. The Apostle frames a great deal of what he writes in the context of eschatology Throughout First Corinthians his advice is repeatedly framed within this forward looking perspective (cf. 1.8f; 2.6; 3.13, 15, 17, 22; 4.4f; 4.8f; 4.19; 5.5; 6.2f; 6.9f; 6.14; 7.17-24, 26, 29, 31; 9.24f; 10.11; 11.26, 29, 32; 15.12ff; 16.22).
In the immediate context of 13.12 we have a clear eschatological frame of reference. “Perfection” thus entails a “state of affairs where my knowledge is in some ways comparable with God’s present knowledge of me” (D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, pp. 70-71). Gordon Fee has some insight that is not so much the end itself but what will happen at the end . . . that is the goal of the End: “At the coming of Christ the final purpose of God’s saving work in Christ will have been reached” (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, p. 208). Richard Oster in his commentary takes this same position, along with an extended discussion of why this does not force one into accepting Pentecostalism. Another good resource for reading is Klein’s article “Perfection, Mature” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 700.
This interpretation has context on its side, it has the history of interpretation on its side and the consensus of modern scholars. I believe it is the correct interpretation of what Paul meant in this text. Again I think only interpretation 2 is a serious challenger for this view but I feel that context weighs against it.
We long for the "perfect" to come ... Come Lord Jesus.
I was at the Tulsa Workshop a couple years ago when John Mark Hicks and I spoke together. I didn't make it last year due to other commitments and a small hurricane that entered my life. However next month, March 26-28, I plan on being there ... not on the docket but I certainly plan on just "getting away" for a couple of days and lost in the crowd.
Who out there is planning on being at the Workshop? Perhaps we could have a "bloggers" fellowship ... any one up for it?
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Those words, uttered by James Shannon in 1852, capture the near unanimous voice of the 19th century Stoned-Campbell Movement for a Bible in clear, accurate and understandable English. I recently blogged about Alexander Campbell's Living Oracles and his attitudes regarding the King James Version and due to some interest I plan on a few more posts on the quest for a fresh translation of the Bible.
When the English Revised Version hit the shelves of Barnes & Nobles in 1881 it was greeted with open arms among Churches of Christ. Celebrated though it was, it was seen as a result of Alexander Campbell's work earlier in the century. The Gospel Advocate noted, "More than half a century ago, Mr. Campbell was busily sowing Revision seed all over this continent and some of that seed fell on English soil, whose ripened fruit is seen today in the volume I hold in my hand" (L.H. Stine, "The New Revision," GA 23 [July 1883], 473).
Though Campbell was not, in any way, connected with the Revised Version, it is true that he labored endlessly for a corrected vernacular translation. In the 1820s he observed, "[A]ll who attained to the honor of first reformers attempted to give a translation of the scriptures in the vulgar tongue of the people they labored to reform" ("History of the English Bible No.2," Christian Baptist 2 [March 1825], 159). Tolbert Fanning could write in the mid-1850s, "For the half of a century the friends of what is acknowledged "The reformation of the nineteenth century," have zealously pleaded for a revised version of the scriptures, but most denominations have maintained a steady and unmitigated opposition to every argument and effort on the subject" ("Revision of the Holy Scriptures," Gospel Advocate 1 [November 1855], 156-157).
Some resisted, as Fanning noted, "tampering" with the Bible of their youth. James Challen, long time Stoned-Campbell preacher, put it this way ... "Not a few seem to believe, or at least act as if King James' version was inspired, and consequently infallible, that to touch it with the rod of criticism, is like laying sacriligious or unpriestly hands upon the ark of God" ("The Necessity of a New Version and the Means of Procuring It" p.23)
Some people's attachment to the King's version was extreme. Alexander Campbell reproduced from the New York Recorder the plea of William Stone not to defame the grand old Bible at the inaugural meeting of the American Bible Union ...
"You may appoint a congress of theologians; but think you that the associations of two hundred and forty years can thus be erased? Think you that Christians who have learned to lisp the Saviour's name from this book, can thrust it aside and take up a new version? Dear old English Bible! we will not forsake thee. Thou may'st be slandered with "blasphemy," but we will not part with thee; and when we lay our heads on our last bed of sickness, this slandered, blessed book, shall be our pillow, and in its own glorious words we will breathe out our last prayer, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit" ("A Most Portentous Discussion and Decision," Millennial Harbinger [August 1850], 437)
Campbell's long held belief in the necessity of revision of the King James version was honored when he was invited to deliver the key-note address at the first annual meeting of the American Bible Union in 1850. This speech, which is 39 pages long, gives a history of the history of translation and revision. In the end such translation is both missionary in nature and growth in discipleship ... without it the advance of the gospel will not happen and fresh translation reflects advances in understanding what the Bible says and means. Thus the task of producing a Bible "in words easy to understand."
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Fellowship was more than simply agreement on some doctrinal issue. Rather as supplying the needs of others, especially the poor and oppressed. He truly believed that “fellowship” was the ideal word for this means of grace because it was “partnership” and “sharing” in the “great firm in which Christ is the head and every Christian is a member.”
Theologically Harding believed this means of grace must come after the first one. It is only after, he believed, one has come to know the loving and gracious God who shares and suffers with his creation that we will have the faith to “share” in the ministry of giving. As we become more like the Christ we encounter in the Word the more we will take on the world’s burdens through our giving of our time, means and lives. Harding’s advice was that the only way to become wealthy was to give away (share) what one has to the poor.
“As we read the promises of God to those who give, nothing but a lack of faith will prevent us from becoming more generous and whole-hearted in his service. Giving in God’s service is not squandering the means for your support in old age or sickness; it is rather a sowing from which you may expect to reap a big harvest, when the need comes, if you have sown liberally.”
For Harding the starting place for any disciple of Jesus was the tithe. But one who drank from the Spirit of giving would soon be dissatisfied with a mere tithe. He writes,
“You will no longer be content with giving a tenth; soon you will give fifteen cents on the dollar - then twenty, twenty-five, and so on; for you will find that the more you give, the more you will have to give, and the more good you can do, and the more the name of God will be glorified in you.”
We must not make the mistake that Harding simply advocated giving so that one may get a return on a slot machine. We give because in so doing we become a partner (i.e. have fellowship in his mission) with Jesus in ministering to those in need . . . And we also, ironically, identify with Christ because Jesus said he was with the poor.
In the language of his partner in this line of thought, David Lipscomb. What follows is interesting language but captures a central insight of this stream of spirituality among Churches of Christ.
“Christ is personified in his poor, helpless brethren. Matt xxv.40. In them, Christ appeals for help to himself. Who realizes this? . . . Let us realize that every helpless, needy one of our brethren is the personification of Christ to us appealing for help. He is our Christ, to be kindly welcomed and generously treated. Shall we cast our Christ from our doors and let him become a beggar from others? Let us be careful, ‘Verily I say unto you inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’”
Christians, argued Harding and Lipscomb, take on the nature of Christ in this “means of grace.” How so? Because as Christ “emptied” himself and identified with the poor of the world Christians “empty” themselves on behalf of the masses. Hear the language of kenosis:
“We must sacrifice our luxuries, our comforts, our wealth and pride, to relieve our brother’s distresses, just as Christ sacrificed his honors, glories, joys and possessions in heaven, to help . . . This was the fellowship of God to man. I will give of my honors and joys to you, and take of your weaknesses, sufferings, and sorrows to myself, is the language of Jesus to man . . . Our fellowship for one another must be of this character. I’ll give of my plenty, and partake of your privations and self-denials, is the language of Christian fellowship.”
Fellowship is a means of grace because it is in this way we take on the actual character of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a double means of grace. On the one hand God uses us to be his instrument of mercy while we share in the ministry of Jesus. This has a life transforming effect upon us. Our values, hearts, thoughts, lives and money are molded into that of Jesus. On the other hand it is also a means of grace because we ironically identify with the Christ who has become one with the destitute of the world. Harding and Lipscomb taught that Jesus so lived with the poor that the poor WAS Christ. It was through such a fellowship that a disciple truly learned who Jesus is. Perhaps we could benefit from their insight into "fellowship."