Brother Against Brother

Class Recording

A few years ago Trista and I were considering working with a church in Mobile, Alabama. During the discussions with that church one of their members shared with us what they considered to be a very interesting fact. They had done some research and discovered that every church in Mobile started as a split from another Church of Christ in the area. And the original Church of Christ had closed it’s doors back in the 1970’s.  Now I did not do any research to see how genuine that claim was, because honestly if it were true or false I would not be very surprised.

I have been a member of or worked with a few churches that have been through splits, but if I were to be totally honest I have never been in a congregation that divided for a good reason. Jerrie Barber used to tell me that unless your church is deader than Laodecia or infested with more sin than Corinth, it’s probably a good idea to look to Jesus as a point of unity and stay together.

But for a movement that started as a unity movement, we have found any and every reason to divide. Let me share a few reasons that churches I am personally aware of have split or had members leave.

There was an argument over the appropriate length of the preachers’s beard.

A church dispute over whether to keep the Christmas decorations in the storage building behind the building, or in the area by the baptistry.

A church dispute of whether or not to install restroom stall dividers in the women’s restroom.

A heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers.

A fight over which picture of Jesus to put in the foyer.

A church had several members leave because they painted the nursery a neutral color.

Someone went to the elders because they didn’t like the way that a man in the congregation prayed.

Two different churches had members leave over the type of coffee purchased for the kitchen.

Several families called for the firing of the youth minister after the youth borrowed a crockpot that had not been used for years.

Several members were offended because someone brought deviled eggs to a church meal.

An argument over who has the authority to buy postage stamps for the church.

A church member was brought before the minister and elders because she brought vanilla syrup for her coffee. It looked too much like liquor.

There was a heated argument over who has access to the copy machine.

A family left a church because someone had put extra chairs in the classroom they used to teach their Sunday School Class. 

An argument over whether the fake, dusty plants should be removed from the podium

This is such a far cry from a movement that was started by people who wanted to give the church, communion, and baptism back to the people. When we originally started the churches were able to find unity even when they had reason to disagree. There was disagreement on speaking in tongues, the roll of the Holy Spirit, women’s roles, and several different issues. But every issues was moved to secondary status in the light of a belief and faith in Jesus. But something happened that caused a division greater than their faith and love in Jesus.

The Missionary Society

From the beginning Alexander Campbell would use the pages of the Christian Baptist to argue against denominational cooperative societies. He felt that missionary societies were nothing more than tools of the clergy to expand their power. He also argued that missions extorted funds from Christians and he believed that there were more efficient methods to do evangelistic work.

In spite of his early opposition, other church leaders thought that cooperation was necessary to fulfill the great commission of Christ. Several congregations began to hold cooperative meetings based on a need for fellowship and the underwriting of common causes. The "New Lights" began cooperative efforts in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Vermont, and Maine.

Eventually Campbell would change his mind and argued for cooperation. In 1831 a meeting was called in New Lisbon, Ohio to begin cooperation on a county basis. Both Campbell and Walter Scott preached at this meeting. They agreed that that these county meetings would have “nothing to do with any church business, of any sort whatever; but shall spend time in public worship and edification, in hearing reports from the churches, and those who labor in the word, of the success attendant on their operations, and to devise ways and means for giving great publicity to the word in such places as may require their particular attention.”

In the fall of 1849 the American Christian Missionary Society was founded and called for a convention in October of that year. It was at this convention that they elected Alexander Campbell to be the president of this new society, even though Campbell was not at the meeting.

But not everyone was in agreement of these new Missionary Societies. A majority of the objections were raised on three grounds: (1) Scripture did not authorize conventions. (2) The organizations could infringe on the rights of local congregations. (3) Support for such structures soon become a test of Christian fellowship.

Benjamin Franklin wrote: “We want more faith and less machinery, more work and less talk, more faith and less planning. The Lord has given us the plan...; but instead of going to work with the tools he has furnished, we spend all the day in making new ones which in our wisdom we think will work better.”


While slavery was the most bitter underlying issue of the Civil War, in the churches it was not just a question of states individual rights but a moral argument. While the early Disciple leaders tried diligently to to keep this issue from dividing the Movement, the debate invaded the ranks of the Disciples and caused brethren to choose sides on this matter.

A difference of opinion was found even among the Movement's first leaders. Barton Stone condemned slavery and saw no justification for the practice. Alexander Campbell, on the other hand, would not condemn slavery and urged that the Disciples not make the issue a test of fellowship. Despite differing over the issue of slavery, Stone and Campbell still remained fiercely united. It was the second generation of leaders that would allow the movement to drift.

The discussions concerning slavery were not limited to simply asking if whether such an institution was moral or not. If the only question was about the morality of slavery, then the issue would have never taken center stage and turned Disciples against one another. But Disciples could not discuss the morality of slavery without using the Bible, which in their minds was the sole basis for morality.

Generally, Disciples adopted the attitudes of the part of the country they in which they lived. Most Disciples in the South were slaveholders and they not only favored the institution of slavery, they defended it on a biblical basis. But in the North, the Disciples opposed slavery, with some becoming  passionate abolitionists, pressing for immediate emancipation.

A majority of the members of our movement could be described as moderates. Whether pro-slavery or opposed to slavery, our group felt that the importance of unity in the church overrode other considerations and worked hard to keep silent on the growing national crisis. In addition, many of the leaders of this group were committed pacifists and were determined that the church not send its members to war, no matter what the cause.

Unfortunately, their voice did not carry the day. When the war came in 1861, thousands of Disciples on both sides put on their new uniforms and went to fight. Among them were Barton Stone, Jr. and Alexander Campbell, Jr., both officers in the Confederate Army. In the words of historian David Edwin Harrell, "In the heat of passion, Disciples killed their brethren."

Slavery is an interesting topic in the movement, because if you wanted to see what the early church thought about speaking in tongues, or instrumental music, or any of the other things we fight about the first generation leaders were almost completely silent. But the topic of slavery is one of the few major issues on which each leader in the first generation of the American Restoration Movement and the principal movers in the second generation expressed their views.

For example, Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, and Stone were silent on the instrumental music question. And while not totally silent on the missionary society issue, the recorded views of these three were extremely limited. Yet, with slavery, not only can one find what Stone, Scott and the Campbells thought, he can also find what Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and Isaac Errett believed.

Despite the unity that Stone and Alexander Campbell shared in the midst of their differences, a closer look of each man's views reveals the emergence of two distinct attitudes within the Movement. Stone and the Christians who followed him held strong views when it came to issues of social justice, of which slavery was one. This is still seen today in our movement, where the Christian Churches and specifically Disciples of Christ are more prone to vote and work towards social issues. Because they tied together Christian faith with one's position on social issues, any differing opinion became a test of fellowship.

The test of fellowship was something that Campbell desperately wanted to avoid. Campbell wrote at length in the Millennial Harbinger about the issue of slavery. He believed the matter belonged in the political arena and if allowed to rear its head among the Disciples, it would put a tremendous strain on fellowship, especially fellowship of the Disciples in different sections of the country. It is helpful to remember that at this time in our countries history, the feeling was that we were a group of individual states that were united in a cause. There was a strong emphasis on states rights, that trumped country rights. 

Stone was not as diplomatic as Campbell in his rhetoric about the slavery issue. By 1828, the issue was clear-cut for Stone. He pointedly wrote, "No man of intelligence now presumes to justify it, whether he be a politician, moralist, or Christian. He would blush in the attempt.” The difference between Stone and Campbell is obvious. One viewed slavery as wrong, but still as a matter of opinion and not faith. The other viewed slavery as an evil that could not coexist with the Christian rule of faith.

The second generation leaders mirrored the arguments of the first generation and continued to seriously debate the arguments as well. For the most part, the leaders recognized the political nature of the problem, and, because of this, were able to disagree without dividing. However, they could not stop slavery from planting seeds of division, some of which would not be noticed until forty years later.

Among the Southern Disciples who opposed slavery was Tolbert Fanning. Fanning was a protege of Alexander Campbell but not as restrained in his public comments about slavery as Campbell was. His motivation came from witnessing firsthand the splitting of a slave family, in particular the removal of the father from his family so that he could be sold for profit. He spoke often about the evils of Slavery and was once arrested after rebuking a slave owner during a sermon.

David Lipscomb and his family often discussed the topic and evil of slavery. They made the decision to free their slaves after becoming convinced the practice of slavery was inconsistent with the teachings of the New Testament. The problem, though, is that the state of Tennessee prohibited you from freeing your slaves. So the Lipscomb's moved to Illinois, one thing is certain: when the Lipscomb family developed a belief, they practiced it regardless of the cost. However, the slavery issue was unavoidable for the Lipscomb's, because when they returned to Tennessee they were virtually forced, by the state's strict laws to own slaves. So, the Lipscomb's decided if they must have slaves they would treat them like brothers and sisters with the utmost respect and dignity.

Lipscomb argued about Slavery using the silence of the Scriptures. This is the same argument that he would later used in opposing the missionary society and instrumental music in worship. This laid the ground work for more significant debates among the Disciples.

Alexander Campbell still held considerable influence in the movement and pled for unity despite the already occurring division in the country. His argument for opinion is summed up in this statement: "We are not allowed to make our own private judgment, interpretation, or opinion, a ground of admission into, or of exclusion from, the Christian church.” While Campbell's words were received favorably by a majority of the Disciples, others turned a deaf ear to his advice. No event in the history of the United States would polarized the country as much as the Civil War, and that would be seen in the movement as well.

Pardee Butler moved to do mission work among the Disciples in Kansas, a state that contained both abolitionists and moderates. Butler had taken his abolitionist views with him, and it was seen often in his preaching. In 1858 Butler sought financial assistance from the American Christian Missionary Society. Isaac Errett, a northern leader in the churches was willing to financially help Butler, provided he abide by one stipulation, "It must, therefore, be distinctly understood, that if we embark in a missionary enterprise in Kansas, this question of slavery and anti-slavery must be ignored." Butler, with his belief that slavery and Christianity were incompatible, would not accept such a condition. This spurred a fight with those Disciples who possessed a less extreme position when it came to slavery.

On the pro-slavery side there were men who were as equally passionate and uncompromising in their stance. One such man was James Shannon. Shannon fervently believed that God created slavery, and, therefore, the institution was God ordained. In 1855 Shannon delivered a speech at a pro-slavery convention in Missouri. In a section of the stirring speech, Shannon called for war if the abolitionists would not adopt pro-slavery views.

While there were extremists in the movement like Butler and Shannon, there were many more voices of moderate Disciples. Lipscomb remained relatively silent on the slavery issue. His silence did not mean a lack of interest, but only pointed to a different focus. There was a greater question at hand for Lipscomb, and that was how the Christian relates to his government. His own personal transformation colored the words he wrote.

The Issue of War and Pacifism

There was not just an issue over whether a Christian should own slaves, there was also the issue over whether a Christian could take part in the Civil War. In the North they based their deep loyalty to the union on their religious convictions, and in the South they use their same religious convictions to argue for pacifism.

Alexander Campbell, found himself in a difficult situation. He had no desire to alienate any Christian based on their home place. The Civil War frightened Campbell, he had spoken of the horrors of war but a greater horror would be the abandonment of the American Restoration Movement principles for a secular battle.

Lipscomb was the most outspoken and influential of the Southern pacifists. The conservative leader based his position on his understanding of the commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." He held the Anti-Baptist position that the duty of the Christian was to abstain from taking part in the conflict. He held the view that our allegiance was to God’s Kingdom and not to an American Government. Therefore we had no business being involved in the business of the government, or voting, or holding public office.

Lipscomb taught that the origin of government is not from God, but a human invention and a rejection of the government of God. As a result, human government will always be inefficient and will also bear the blame for the catastrophes with which humankind has had to deal. According to Lipscomb, wars take place because of "man's efforts to govern himself and the world.”

Lipscomb's views on pacifism were his most controversial work. He drew the ire of Northern Unionists, Southern Confederates, and even those opposed to warfare. Lipscomb found himself virtually alone in the views he so strongly espoused.

In the North Benjamin Franklin, editor of the American Christian Review, also preached pacifism. There were also calls for pacifism among Disciples in the West. In 1861, fourteen leaders in Missouri signed a letter urging Disciples to remain neutral during the War. They saw no scriptural warrant to take up arms and no justification for joining the conflict.

But not everyone was interested in pacifism. Two of them were James Garfield, who ascended to the Presidency of the United States in 1880. The other was Isaac Errett, the publisher of The Christian Standard. Errett profoundly disagreed with Lipscomb and wrote that some wars were justifiable and the Christian had a divine duty to obey the governmental authorities. Errett wrote that the Civil War was necessary to put down the Southern rebellion. He said, "The sword is divinely authorized, in the hand of the civil magistrate, for the vindication of right, the suppression of wrong.”

Errett, drew a significant line in the sand. Writing in 1866, Errett, who had already grown tired of the discussion about pacifism wrote, "With many, this [pacifism] is a new-born faith, unknown before the recent civil war, and chiefly prevailing among those who were in sympathy with a lost cause.”

It was this comment about which “lost cause” that might have been the hardest for Lipscomb to read and pierced Lipscomb's soul the deepest. He lost family members and possessions during the war. His grandmother's house was stripped of all its possessions by Union troops and his family home place was devastated by both Union and Confederate armies.

The most important thing that he had lost during the War was not the possessions that were taken from his farm, and it was not even the deaths of relatives. The most important thing Lipscomb lost had the deepest impact on him and would soon find itself in his writings and teachings.

During the War, his only son Zellner got sick and become dehydrated. Because of the Union armies camped to the north of his farm and the confederate armies camped to the south, Lipscomb could not get him to a doctor or appropriate medical care. The boy died, he was only nine months old. When Lipscomb and his wife, Margaret, went to bury Zellner in a family cemetery, they had to pass through Union and Confederate check-points. The fact that Lipscomb not only lost his son, but was unable to mourn the death of his son without governmental interference, hardened his position and his soul. These events had a deep impact on him which would soon find itself in his writings and teachings.

Instrumental Music

The discussion of Instrumental Music is an interesting one. Depending on whether you are reading the historical narrative from a member of a Christian Church or a Church of Christ you will get two different sides of this story.

Both sides mention L.L. Pinkerton in Midway Kentucky. Although the A ‘Capella side of the movement asserts that the Midway congregation was the very first church to use an instrument, the Christian side asserts that there were others, just not a large group.

1859 Pinkerton introduced a small melodeon in the church at Midway, Kentucky. He claimed the congregational singing was so awful that it was less singing and much more like screeching and bawling to the point that it would "scare even the rats from worship.”

The instrument would quickly become a point of contention, those who opposed its use argued from culture, not Scripture. Alexander Campbell's only comment I could find on the issue is the often quoted remark that an instrument was about as appropriate for worship as "a cow bell in a concert”. Those who favored instrumental music believed it was an expedient, an aid to worshippers, like church buildings, song leaders, hymnals or tuning forks.

David Lipscomb was silent on the issue before the Civil War, he did not even address the issue until 9 years after the war in 1874 and then took a stand against it in 1878 using the argument of silence.

In the south there was a “southern resentment”, following the war. The use of an instrument would very quickly become a 'test of fellowship' and eventually the issue on which the division would occur. But there is a possibility that it was not a mater of scripture, but rather a matter of economics.

After the war the South was lay in ruins. Many folks would travel to the north trying to find work so that their families could survive. On Sunday they would find a church where they could worship with other Christians. Once inside their buildings, to their horror they saw extravagance in the form of gas lights and musical instruments. Because of the outcome of the war churches in the North could afford both, while churches and christians in the south were struggling to survive.

When the Eighth and Walnut church in Cincinnati constructed a new church in 1870 (including an $8,000 pipe organ) at a cost of $140,000, eyebrows were raised and murmurings were heard across the South.

One of those voices of discontent was that of Daniel Sommer. In the pages of the American Christian Review, Sommer began to make a distinction between "the Church of Christ and the so-called Christian Church’.' You may remember that Sommer gathered a group of 6,000 Christians at Sand Creek, Illinois in 1889 an presented his 'Address and Declaration. In that sermon, Sommer cited such innovations as a salaried minister, missionary societies, modern methods of raising money, choirs, and instrumental music. He said that those who opposed such innovations were "more thoughtful" and "better informed in the Scriptures" than those who used them. He also said that those who favored them "must certainly know" that they were out of step with Scripture. He encouraged all true Christians to "turn away from such abominations" and if they did not then true Christians “can not and will not regard them as brethren'.' This was the original split between the a cappella and instrumental churches.

David Lipscomb at first praised the document but quickly changed his mind. J. C. McQuiddy of the Gospel Advocate called the manifesto "manifest folly'.' Christian Standard opined that Sommer was no more to be identified with the Disciples than was Sidney Rigdon (A Christian minister who joined the Mormons).

J. W. McGarvey said, "I have never proposed to withdraw fellowship from brethren simply because of their use of instrumental music in worship'.' T. B. Larimore also refused to take sides, saying he preferred to "sit on the issues and stand on Jesus Christ'.' The majority, however, chose up sides.

The real issue

The real issue the church faced was biblical authority and how it is applied. No one had an issue with the first half of Thomas Campbell's motto, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak'.' It was the second statement that created the chaos: "Where the Scriptures are silent, we will be silent'.'

Two views quickly emerged. One viewpoint was that silence means no, the other viewpoint states that silence means proceed with caution. In the Restoration Movement, those below the Mason-Dixon Line argued that the Bible does not authorize societies, instrumental music, or choirs. Those above the Mason-Dixon Line contended that these are expedients to get the job of evangelism, worship, and ministry done.

In the Churches of Christ our view point cause us to focus on the Pattern, or the way that God would have us worship and live. Our hermeneutic was built on command, example, or natural inference.

This principle goes back to John Calvin who was a second generation reformer who followed Luther. Calvin taught that, in worship, anything that isn’t authorized in the scriptures is not allowed. In other words, silence is a prohibition. This view was supported by passages that express God’s concern for how He is worshiped, like the story of Nadab and Abihu.

We need to remember that our movement grew out of Calvinism, both Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell were originally Presbyterians. And Thomas Campbell referred to himself as a Calvinist as late as 1820. Culture, especially religious culture dies hard.

A majority of the early members of our movement were also converted from Calvinist denominations, like the Baptists. (There was a time when most Baptists were Calvinists, while that is not the case today.) So it should not be a surprise that Calvinistic teachings were prevalent among the early Restoration preachers.

One of the struggles we faced is deciding what matters that the Bible were silent on could be included in worship and which ones needed to be banned. It was easy to find authority in commands and examples, but soon enough, Alexander Campbell was forced to conclude that authority would also be found in necessary inference, like church buildings, songbooks, Sunday school. What they didn’t conclude is that inference involves human wisdom and judgement which is less sure than the word of God. And in our side of the movement we have split time and time again over matters of opinion. One Cup or many cups, One loaf or pre broken bread, Wine only or grape juice, Paid local preacher or man of the congregation, support of children homes, head covering for women, and the list goes on and on.

There are two big issues with this type of hermeneutic: 1) It is only focused on one hour out of the week, where Jesus seems to be more interested in how you love God and Love people.

2) We are not consistent with the way that we use this hermeneutic to read the Bible. Consider 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

We do not expect men to pray lifting hands. We explain away the prohibition about women braiding their hair or wearing gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, or that they will be saved through childbirth. But because women keeping silent met the narrative of our culture at the time, this passage was used as a command.

In 1906 the Census of Religious Bodies, contacted David Lipscomb to get a count of how many churches and member there were in the movement. Lipscomb hesitated to respond saying that we did not have a claim to "earthly headquarters" but the Movement of which he belonged began with Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address'.'

When he was pressed Lipscomb replied, "There is a distinct people taking the word of God as their only and sufficient rule of faith, calling their churches 'churches of Christ,' or 'churches of God,' distinct and separate from all other bodies or peoples’.” David Lipscomb used the hermeneutic of Command, Example, or Natural Inference to formulate a test of fellowship based on how one viewed instrumental music and the missionary society.

This did not set well at all with J. H. Garrison, editor of the Christian-Evangelist, who said the division was "news to us" in his December 1907 editorial and asked "by whose authority?" did Brother Lipscomb make this pronouncement. A series of letters and editorials ensued, Garrison charging Lipscomb with creating a division and Lipscomb defending himself by saying he had done nothing but try to be true to God and his word.

In 1910 the Bureau of the Census published that a new denomination had emerged: Churches of Christ, formerly part of the Disciples of Christ. The split was official, The unity movement was no more, the Churches of Christ had now gone their separate way.

There is a great book entitled Torn Asunder by Ben Brewster. If you have any interest in studying the great divide further, this would be a great book to add to your library. You can find it on Amazon here

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