The Third Generation and Beyond
On July 4th of this year (2018) our country turned 242 year old. If we assume that a dynamic generation lasts 70 years then our country is less that 3 and a half generations old. This is important for a few reasons: First, we are not very old as a country or as a movement, even though we have changed greatly as a movement. Secondly, information or historical knowledge has only had to pass hands three times to get from Washington to us. And thirdly, while it has been a short span of time, if we only pass along the practice and not the reason behind the practice, we will see a considerable amount of drift.
For 52 years David Lipscomb was the voice of the movement. But in 1917 he passed away, and that left an awfully big void. There were many folks who tried to assume the role of our voice and provide direction for the next set of culture issues we would face.
We must remember that Stone, Campbell, O’Kelly, Scott, Smith and the other early restoration leaders saw our country as the New Jerusalem. This lead to a belief that if we could unlock the pattern found in the scriptures, that we could encourage Jesus to come and start a millennial reign.
The second generation leaders like Lipscomb, Sommer, Hardeman, and Larimore believed that we had discovered the proper pattern and that we needed to lock that pattern in place. As the church grew, there began to be a tremendous focus on getting the pattern correct.
By the time the third generation of leaders came on the scene, the focus was almost totally on the pattern. Teachers, Colleges, and Preachers began to teach and preach more about the pattern and less about Christ. Our movement began to teach that we were the only true church and that everyone else was a denomination or a perversion of that church, since they did not hold to our pattern.
We were going to be jerked to the far right, and that had more to do with patterns than anything else.
In 1909, there were two voices striving to give direction for the church. R. H. Boll and H. Leo Boles. For 30 years premillennialism was an issue that plagued the Churches of Christ.
For R.H. Boll the topic was a dominant theme and for 50 years he led the premillennial movement. He was a writer for the Gospel Advocate and it did not take long for his views to make their way to his articles in the Advocate. Very often in his articles he would assert that the kingdom had not been established by Jesus’ death and ascension. Many of Lipscomb’s associates held this view.
But not everyone held this view and it didn’t take long for people to begin to argue the point. Attempting to maintain unity and fellowship, the editors of the Advocate asked Boll not to raise nonessentials to the same level of importance as essentials. For a while Boll would be removed from his position on the Advocate, but by the end of 1915 he was reinstated. It soon became clear that Boll would not keep his premillennial ideas from his articles and churches began to divide over the issue.
H. Leo Boles was the great-grandson of "Raccoon" John Smith, and felt a deep responsibility and tie to the movement. That’s why it was not a huge surprise that in 1927 Boles decided that it was time for the matter to be debated in the public forum of the Advocate. Starting in May and stretching through November they debated premillennialism the issue in the pages of the Gospel Advocate. The debate ended on an cordial note. Even though both men believed they were right in their positions, they both believed good had been accomplished. Boles believed enough agreement existed between the two men that they could "fellowship each other as brethren in the Lord." The first major hurdle of the third generation had been met and fellowship remained. But in the 1930s, the same topic would be discussed at greater length, and there would be no feelings of mutual left.
Foy E. Wallace Jr. was born in Texas in 1896, the son of a Texas preacher Foy E. Wallace Sr. He quickly became the loudest voice among the Churches of Christ focusing on issues and using a book, chapter, and verse style of preaching. His voice would carry the day for 30 years. He was a prolific writer and debater. You can still find his writings on line, but you won’t find much about Jesus. He choose to defend the church against anything he believed would take us away from the Biblical Pattern and was fond of saying “that error shall not pass."
In 1930 he accepted the editor’s position with the Gospel Advocate and began to use the paper to address the issues that he felt were plaguing the church. He quickly became obsessed with issues like premillennialism, pacifism, the support of colleges and schools from the treasury of the church, and the perversions of the scriptures found in any translation that was not the King James Version or the American Standard 1901. He spent a considerable amount of energy and time through his writings and preaching to address these issues.
In 1934 Wallace was fired from the Gospel Advocate and for a moment he lost his public forum. But the next year he started his own paper the Gospel Guardian, and with his own paper he found a freedom to attack error with ungloved hands. He was not afraid to name names and call people false teachers. Every edition would be filled with people who were not to be trusted and needed to be disfellowshipped from. And if you were willing to fellowship the people who Wallace believed was teaching error, then you aligned yourself with them and were also a false teacher.
Most of you remember when our churches would get mailed a stack of gospel papers that listed false teachers like Rubel Shelly, Max Lucado, or Don Finto. And then there was a secondary list of men who had the audacity to speak on lectureships, or in churches where these men had spoken. It was like a contagion list, where you could catch someone’s liberalism by merely standing in the same place as someone who was marked.
Wallace was also known to intimidate and attack churches who had the audacity to use the song book, Great songs of the Church. The book contained songs that he deemed unscriptural, and he was famous for holding it up and screaming “What Church?” when he would come into a building.
Just a side note here have you ever worshiped at a church that had songs marked out? Trista and I used to work at a church that had several songs in the book with a big stamp on the page saying, Not to be used in worship. Songs like Just A Little Talk With Jesus, He Lives, and Jesus Is Coming Soon. After I had been there a while, I asked why these songs were marked out? And who made the decision to mark them out. No one knew, they thought they came from the publisher like that. So that night we sang a rousing rendition of Just A lIttle Talk With Jesus. The congregation sang that song louder than another song in the history of that church.
In the January 1936 issue of the Guardian Wallace set his attack on premillennialism in general and R. H. Boll in particular. Wallace called Boll and his friends "wolves in sheep clothing." According to Wallace all the neutral or moderates were just as bad as the liberals and needed to be marked and named. Wallace’s issues and attitudes became the prevalent issues and attitudes that the church would debate and discuss for years to come.
Wallace would even go so far as to critique his friend and co-writer G. C. Brewer, claiming "Brother Brewer has not done one thing to strengthen the defense of the truth on these issues but has said and has done many things, both publicly and privately, to weaken it.” Their disagreement stemmed from the fact that Brewer would not disfellowship someone he disagreed with, and Wallace claimed that Scripture demanded it. What little unity that was left in our Unity Movement was fading fast.
When N. B. Hardeman preached at the Ryman Auditorium in October of 1938 his theme was premillennialism. In 1939 the Lipscomb Winter Lectures focused on “isms." with the closing night focusing on Premillennialism. From the perspective of Wallace, Hardeman and the speakers at Lipscomb were too soft on the issue. Wallace believed that he was called by God to address the errors in the church and battle the digressive. (Today the worst thing you can call someone is a liberal, but in the 1930’s the worst thing you could call someone was a digressive, which meant someone who knew the Lord but turned their back on Him.) So Wallace continued to address the issues and write prolifically about them.
Wallace was able to convince Freed-Hardeman, Lipscomb, and eventually Harding colleges to agree that no one who believed in premillennialism was able to speak there. In Wallace's mind you could not be faithful in anything if you were not faithful in everything. If you disagreed with him in any point, like premillennialism or even tried to stay neutral and say that you were not sure what happened at the end of time, you could not be trusted to read and understand the scriptures.
The Wallace mentality flooded our movement, mainly because many of the papers were afraid to publish articles that disagreed with him. Wallace was sarcastic, caustic, and worse. He allowed himself to become God’s attack dog. Following his lead, in the 1930’s the church was filled with watchdogs who were bred to fight to the teeth with anyone who disagreed with their view and understanding. The result was an intense infighting among editors, preachers, and college administrators.
There were tragic implications for the church as attitudes, methods, policies, and procedures plagued the church for the next 50 years. This issue driven mentality only served to widen the gap where unity had once existed. This divisive spirit within Churches of Christ was a natural outcome of a people focused merely on the issues.
Wallace was a charismatic leader who built an intolerance in people by his strident positions on most issues. The sharply drawn opinions and the intolerance that flowed from his pulpit and pen did not perish with the new decade. The major issue, premillennialism, would fade from view but other questions and other men would take center stage. This spirit of intolerance, often cloaked in a defense of the gospel, would further divide our movement in the coming decades.
This was a huge departure from Stone and the Campbell’s, men who were willing to extend the hand of fellowship to anyone who claimed to love Jesus. But this is who we became, we had drifted. Less than 100 years from our beginning we were no longer a unity movement, now we were a tradition based movement centered around purity or doctrine of thought.
But Wallace was not the only one making waves in the brotherhood. The battles Wallace fought were not the only voices being heard in the church. Anyone who is in a discussion of the history of our movement cannot ignore the voice of W. Carl Ketcherside. He has been loved and he has been hated. He had unique insights about the church and the movement and he was not timid nor subtle about expressing his views. Ketcherside, was preaching at revivals at the age of 12 and was a protege of Daniel Sommer. In fact Sommer told Ketcherside that he believed the that the purity of the church would be kept under his watchful eye upon Sommer’s death. Ketcherside did not take that call lightly. He was a great defender of the ancient faith from the most conservative wing of our movement. He worked diligently to become a prolific writer and champion debater. He was as caustic and fiery as Wallace, and pointed and dogmatic as Sommer.
But something happened while he was doing mission work in Ireland. He had made arrangements to visit the old church where Thomas Campbell used to preach. While there he came face to face with his sins. He came to a realization that he had been fighting against unity rather than for it. He would later write:
It came home to me with force that I had never really labored for the unity of all who believed in Jesus. I had actually, in mistaken zeal, contributed to the fragmentation of the very movement which Thomas Campbell had launched with such high hopes and great promise. Instead of furthering the noble “project to unite the Christians in all of the sects,” I had absorbed and sometimes even gloried in a sectarian spirit.
As I stumbled along through the deepening snow, alone in a foreign city, I found myself weeping and praying and making promises to God of what I would do if my life was spared through His grace. The word grace came like a ray of hope and I rolled it on my tongue like a juicy morsel. What I needed to make life worth living, to overcome my frustration, to rise above the futility of my own efforts was grace. In all of my forty-three years no other thought had ever struck me with such force.
From that day forward he was a changed man. Instead of a defender of doctrinal precision, he became a voice crying out for unity. Resolving never again to be a party man, he spent his next 40 years trying to undo his past, he worked for peace and unity throughout the Movement, using his own paper, the Mission Messenger, to remove walls of separation rather than to build them.
He crossed lines of fellowship with abandon. His new motto was that he "loves them all while agreeing with none." His plea was that fellowship cannot be restored by confrontation and debate but only by the dynamic of love. "Wherever God has a child, I have a brother or sister, and Nothing should be made a test of fellowship that God has not made a condition for going to heaven. Love is the only power which can span the gaps of a broken fellowship. It alone can batter down walls, remove barriers, and open gates of access. Argument will not do it. Debating will not do it. Neither will conferences, committees, creeds or concordats. Nothing will do it but love.”
Leroy Garrett was an influential figure in the Movement for more than half a century. He was considered both a heretic and defector. Garrett’s early reputation among Churches of Christ was as a strident opponent of professionalism (paid ministers) and institutionalism (other institutions, like colleges, doing the work of the church.).
But the pendulum of his life swung from conservative to openness when he began to align himself with Ketcherside. Garrett loved the church and realized that in many ways they had lost their focus. He began to advocate openness and acceptance among our Movement's three major branches Churches of Christ, the Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ. Garrett tried to reach across the divisions that had evolved since the original efforts by Stone and the Campbell's to unify Christianity and to restore the New Testament church.
He attended Freed Hardeman for one year, and wrote about that year with gratitude and affection, relating special kindnesses shown him by the college’s then president, N. B. Hardeman. But after his great defection he began speaking out boldly wherever anyone would listen, challenging people to think. As you might expect, this did not always find a warm welcome among those uncomfortable with the thought of change. He was frequently vilified by editors, elders and evangelists within Churches of Christ. And in January, 1955 he was on the campus of Freed-Hardeman College during the lectureships. While talking informally with some of the students he was arrested. The President of the college declared him a mental case and had him arrested in front of hundreds of students, simply because they feared his teaching. When he asked one of the arresting officers what his offense was this officer replied, "Just being here is offense enough!”
What was Leroy Garrett's mental illness that posed such a threat to young, impressionable minds? Simply, that we are free in Christ and should be urging unity among brethren, not facilitating factions and promoting partyism. It was not a popular theme among the "powers that be." His opponents vocally encouraged him to leave and "join another church." Others tried to push him out of the movement all together. But he would not be pushed out.
He would later write in his biography: I still hold the views I did then, albeit more moderately. Or to put it another way, I have shifted my priorities, deeming other issues more important. … “I would never leave the Churches of Christ, never!” But he mused, "While I have never left the Churches of Christ, I thought it might have left me. But I would work for change, redemptive change. There was always a growing number who would listen. I came to call them part of “the remnant church." Together we would make a difference.”
Garrett passed away in 2015 and spent his life calling the church back to reclaim the focus of our early pioneers. "While our pioneers insisted 'We are Christians only, but not the only Christians,' our people have been sectarian in claiming to be the only Christians. And while they said, 'In essentials unity, in opinions liberty, in all things love,' our opinions have been made into essentials. By multiplying the essentials, several sects have been spawned among Churches of Christ"
There were other third generation voices that were shaping our movement as well. Very briefly let me mention a few more folks who had a huge influence on our movement. Norvell Young introduced Church Growth Methods into our movement, Batsell Barrett Baxter ushered in the use of mass media with The Herald of Truth. Willard Collins brought mainstream evangelism techniques like door knocking efforts to the church. Jimmy Allen who was a fiery and engaging evangelist who is perhaps best known for his 50 citywide preaching campaigns on the topic What’s Hell Like. The Guy N. Woods and Gus Nichols debates on The Holy Spirit helped us bring clarity to an area of the Trinity that we had forgotten. All of these men were dynamic voices in our movement and did the best they could to do what was right.
The Church and Civil Rights
Our movement did not live inside a bubble. The Civil War was disastrous for most churches in our movement. There was a large number of male casualties in the war, leaving widows and orphans for individual congregations to support. Some congregations saw their buildings burned and their members scattered. Various congregations discontinued services because of the lack of men to conduct the services.
After the Civil War, the issue about civil rights was not settled. Jim Crow laws that mandated the segregation of public schools, places, and transportation, was also seen in the church. Even in the face of these laws the Churches of Christ saw an increase in the number of African American members after the war. There have always been African American members in our movement. Slaves were present at Cane Ridge and in 1815 buildings began to build balconies for the slaves to join them in worship.
In this side of the movement there were several prominent African American preachers like Rufus Conrad, Preston Taylor, R.N. Hogan, G.P. Bowser, and Marshall Keeble. And even though some of them were invited to speak at a variety of congregations throughout the south during the 30s, 40s, and 50’s the movement continued to allow culture to have a say on the way we interpreted the scriptures. The result is that many congregations struggled with the changing racial environment, especially during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
We had prominent voices on both sides of the movement that spoke loudly. On one side, Foy E. Wallace, was a rigid adherent of segregation. And on the other side Fred Gray, an African American attorney and member of a Church of Christ in Tuskegee not only was a civil rights activist but also served as the attorney for Rosa Parks and Martian Luther King Jr.
Taking her cue from culture, the churches did not always deal well and were often prone to segregation. In 1906 Lipscomb encouraged S.W. Womack to begin a church in his own home, where they could worship in a way that spoke to their own culture. Lipscomb supported Womack in his ministry, but believed that the churches should be separate and equal, and what we have often found is that while you can remain separate, very seldom does that mean equal.
And just a few years ago Rubel Shelly told a story about the first congregation he served as a minister. Rubel grew up in Middleton Tennessee. He was a sickly young boy, so his family had hired a large black woman named Dessie to take care of him. Her positive influence on his life impacted the way he viewed the segregated society in which he was raised.
After his graduation, he accepted a pulpit position in New Albany Mississippi. Approximately a year after beginning his work with that congregation, Martian Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis Tennessee, a little more that 80 miles away. The following Sunday Rubel preached a sermon based on Racism and Civil Rights. That Monday Night He was called to an elders meeting and told to either recant what he had said or he would be fired. Rubel said that he believed what he said was biblical and until we can read black and white where the bible says Jew and Gentile they were making a mockery of the notion that we were following Christ.
A larger problem was seen in the racial segregation among our schools. Like the culture of the day, Churches of Christ were characterized for over a century by segregation, and racism. While we have probably all seen the news clip of George Wallace standing in the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama blocking the entrance of African American Students. On a much smaller basis the same scene was playing out on our Christian Campuses as well.
In Nashville, A.M. Burton established the Nashville Christian Institute for African-American’s who desired to attend school. The president of the school was Marshall Keeble, and the students were given a education, and many young men were taught how to preach. Many believe that the school was established as an alternative to allowing black students to attend Lipscomb College. The school was closed in 1967 shortly after the federally mandated racial integration of Lipscomb.
Everett Ferguson, who currently serves as Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Abilene Christian University, and author of over 25 books dealing with Church history. When given the opportunity to preach at Chapel as a young student at Abilene Christian College chose to talk about Race Relations. He said. “I look forward to the day, when ACC will admit Negro students—when they will sit with us in the classrooms, participate with us in extra-curricular activities, eat with us in the cafeteria, and live with us in the dormitories—not because they are forced upon us, but because we as students, faculty, and trustees have matured in outlook to the point where we can voluntarily accept them on their own merit.”
The sentiment was quickly picked up at Harding College where a small group of students approached the administration eager to desegregate their school as an act of faith. Yet their administrators were not so eager. When Marshall Keeble sent a personal letter to the college president requesting the admission of black students, the letter was returned to him with “ABSOLUTELY NOT” written across it in red ink
Enter, Ira North. Ira was the most dynamic speaker in our brotherhood and he began preaching for the Madison church in 1953, and over the next 30 years the church grew to be the largest church in our movement. He was called flamboyant, show-off, "Fiery Irey," "Mr. Enthusiasm," and liberal. He would preach in a red jacket, the the chagrin of those in our movement. He founded the Madison Children's Home and Domestic Violence Shelter, began a Mother's Day Out Program, Valley View Bible Camp, and helped begin the Nashville Inner City Ministry. Ira was a man of compassion and conviction.
The story is told that Ira would be asked to speak every year at Lipscomb’s Winter Lectureship. In 1961 Ira was once again asked to keynote the final night of the lectureship. On that night Fiery Ira North, in his red blazer stood in front of the crowd and declared, “In an effort to fulfill the great commission we will send a man half away around the world to convert the poor African on foreign soil. But I will no longer have any association with a school who says to heaven with the blacks in Africa and to hell with the blacks in America.” And with that he walked off the stage.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that our schools ended segregationist admissions policies because they were forced to by Civil Rights laws. In 1962 Abilene desegregated, Harding in 1963, Lipscomb and Freed finally accepted black students in 1964. Alabama Christian College desegregated a few years later. As the remainder of the 1960s unfolded, Church of Christ Colleges took pride in the fact that their facilities had desegregated peacefully, forgetting to acknowledge that the decisive factor was federal funding, rather than a moral commitment to racial justice.
Where does that leave us?
As you can tell, we have a history that has it’s share of potholes and divisiveness. We truly are a collection of broken people. But there is hope. The Churches of Christ began as a unity movement, a movement that wanted to get rid of all of the hierarchy and give the church back to the people. We are still that movement.
One of my favorite attributes of who we are is a little thing called autonomy. And I know that there have been times when were bullied into giving that autonomy up by folks who controlled the printing presses, we are in a marvelous time. We can reclaim our autonomy and do our best to find God’s will for our community.
I imagine that my boys and grandchildren will probably look back at our history and find a few things that I have not understood as well as I should. But they can fix that and know that I truly love Jesus and fearlessly did the best I could with what I had at the time. I hope that same will be said for you, and for this church.