A Theological History of Restoration Movement Thought, Part 7.6 (Harding)

harding.jpgJames A. Harding was a highly influential evangelist and a contemporary of Lipscomb, McGarvey, and Larimore. Harding may fairly be characterized as leading the charge to complete the division of the instrumental churches from the a cappella churches.

Daniel Sommer initiated the first division, but most a cappella churches refused to divide, following the lead of Lipscomb and others, who had refused to make the instrument a test of fellowship. In fact, for years, Lipscomb had allowed visiting preachers from the instrumental churches to stay in his home while preaching in Nashville.

However, in a famous debate with J. B. Briney, Harding announced his view that non-instrumental churches must separate from instrumental churches. Soon pressure was placed on Lipscomb to agree or disagree.

A taste of Harding’s approach may be found in this article published on the occasion of McGarvey’s death–

There are few of the great and good whose lives are not marked by some serious blemish, some dark spot, a spot that seems all the darker because of the brightness and beauty that shine around it.

If Lard, McGarvey, Graham, Grubbs, and men of like faith, had resolutely marked and turned away from them that were causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine they learned; if they had resolutely turned away from them, if they had marked them as they really are—as men who do not serve the Lord Christ, as men who serve their own bellies, as men who are enemies to God and his Church, who by their smooth and fair speech beguile the hearts of the innocent—if the brethren I have mentioned had resolutely refused to have any fellowship whatever with these dividers of churches, these lovers of their own bellies, we would have had a very different story to tell now. … We ought to have no fellowship whatever, religiously, with those who have divided, or are dividing churches. Unless they repent, confess their sins, and turn resolutely form them, all Christians must mark and avoid them—or bring upon themselves the curse of an outraged God.

And so, Harding labeled those who use the instrument as damned–and all those who fellowship them. It’s not good enough to refuse to use the instrument. You must separate from those who do or be lost!

On the other hand, Harding accepted the indwelling of the Spirit

Some seem to think that the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent to abide with us forever, has returned to heaven, and no longer dwells in men. If there is any passage teaching that he has returned, I have failed to see and understand it; and I will be very much obliged to any one who thinks he knows of such a verse, if he will call my attention to it. Unless some such a passage can be found I will not believe that Christ’s “forever” has run out.

Now, in fairness to the men of this age, the nature of the times should be considered. The instrument and society controversies were not merely doctrinal. Rather, across the country, churches were being divided over these questions, with several bitter lawsuits filed to determine the ownership of the meetinghouses. Many people who’d contributed great sums for the construction of church buildings saw their buildings taken over by people they considered heretics.

Prominent members of the Movement, such as Lipscomb, were often called as witnesses to testify as to which side was truer to the original principles of the Movement, as some courts would grant the property to the members who remained truest to founding doctrine. This, of course, led to extensive efforts to prove that Stone, the Campbells, and Scott were opposed to the instrument (Alexander Campbell certainly was, but not as a test of fellowship) and the society. Campbell strongly supported the first missionary society, but elaborate arguments were devised to show that he was not in his right mind and really didn’t feel that way.

Emotions were understandably high. Nonetheless, some men rose above it and counseled unity and tolerance. However, Harding and others continued to push for division, damning all who stood in their way. By 1906 Lipscomb considered the division an accomplished fact and so advised the Census Bureau.

Today, it’s interesting that many who argue for continued separation from the instrumental churches speak in identical tones–even going so far as to justify division because of anger over the churches that were split 100 years ago! Well, it’s quite likely that some people sinned greatly 100 years ago as they fought over property and money. But that has nothing to do with whether the 21st Century churches should be treated as brothers.

These men weren’t stupid or badly educated. However, they did lack the perspective that time should give us all–and with the benefit of 100 years of hindsight and perspective, we ought to be able to reach better conclusions.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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