Beginning shortly after the Civil War and continuing for 50 years, David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell edited the Gospel Advocate, which was plainly the most influential periodical among Southern Churches of Christ until the last 20 years or so.
In the last posting, I mentioned Sommer’s decision to divide over the missionary society, located preachers, and the instrument, among other “innovations.” It’s interesting to read Lipscomb’s reaction—
The evils opposed, we oppose. … [But] this looks very much like a convention unknown to the New Testament exercising judicial and executive functions to oppose error and maintain truth, and it looks very much like doing the thing they condemn. It has been the besetting sin of Christians, when they start out to oppose a wrong, to commit another wrong to oppose this.
Wise words, indeed. The Sand Creek elders and churches had no authority to convene in order to issue pronouncements on how other churches should conduct their affairs. Ironic, then, that the 21st Century Gospel Advocate now supports the “Address and Declaration.”
Sadly, though, Lipscomb soon became guilty of the very sins he opposed, announcing in 1906 that the Restoration Movement had divided over the instrument. In fact, by that time, the division was quite real. Lipscomb had resisted it for years, but was eventually persuaded to participate with those who demanded that fellowship be broken.
But this is hardly surprising, given Lipscomb’s narrow view of grace–perhaps the narrowest in Restoration history. In discussing the conditions for receiving God’s blessings, Lipscomb makes it clear that one does not have to have perfect understanding of all doctrine to be baptized, but a doctrinal error means the person baptized isn’t saved until he later comes to a correct understanding.
Then were a man to come to me who has been reared in a beclouded atmosphere and had seen it was his duty to be buried with Christ in baptism, but under the influence of his former teachings could not yet understand it was necessary to observe the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s day, but manifested a determination to learn and do the whole will of God, I would baptize him. … If I failed to get him to see it, I would baptize him, trusting in his efforts to obey God he would learn this truth. It is not necessary to understand all truth before he obeys what he does understand. I did not say I believed he was saved.
Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell (1921), 67. Remarkably, if the convert were not yet persuaded on the weekly Lord’s Supper, Lipscomb would baptize him but not consider him saved until he later came to the correct doctrinal understanding!
Hence, Lipscomb considered all lost until they had come to a correct doctrinal understanding, regardless of baptism. He had to have seen those using instruments as lost in their sins and not brothers at all.
In this light, it’s remarkable that he resisted the efforts to force a division. It appears likely that Lipscomb’s views became narrower over time. In fact, to some extent, his writings suggest that he redefined his views of grace in order to conform to his views on the instrument, and in this sense, he is prototypical of the 20th Century Churches of Christ.
On the other hand, Lipscomb was viewed as “liberal” by some, as he insisted that Baptist baptism was sufficient to save. Lipscomb frequently taught that the convert did not have to be aware that his sins were being forgiven through baptism for his sins to be forgiven. This remained the editorial position of the Advocate well into the 20th Century, but the Advocate eventually succumbed to the view that only baptism that is consciously for the remission of sins effects a remission of sins.
Lipscomb also had a generous view as to the role of women. He vociferously opposed women’s speaking in the assembly, but he had no objection to their teaching men in Sunday school.
So I am sure that a woman may teach the Bible to old or young, male or female, at the meetinghouse, at home, at a neighbor’s house, on Sunday or Monday or any other day of the week, if they know less than she does, if she will do it in a quiet, modest, womanly way. … They are often especially fitted for the work.
Ibid. 736. See also 733-34. This view never became orthodox in Church of Christ circles, despite Lipscomb’s unparalleled influence.
Lipscomb was a pacifist, famously arguing that Christians should have nothing to do with civil government. Christians should not serve in the army (where they may be called on to kill other Christians), serve on juries, be elected to office, or serve on juries. This view has largely died out, but was still influential as late as the 1950’s and 1960’s. Lipscomb was strongly influenced by his experience during the Civil War, when many members of the Church fired bullets at brothers in Christ.
Indeed, during World War I, many members of the Churches of Christ went to prison rather than be drafted, as their was no conscientious objector status available in those days. However, by World War II, a war that seemed much more righteous than World War I, pacifism had largely died out in the Churches of Christ. It’s now nearly unheard of, even considered wrong.
In short, Lipscomb was one of the Movement’s most original thinkers. Not all his ideas caught on. But his influence ultimately affirmed the rightness of the division over the instrument, and he built a doctrine of grace on that decision–those guilty of doctrinal sin are damned until they repent.