David Lipscomb was the editor of the Gospel Advocate for nearly half a century, from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. As a result, he was perhaps the most influential man in the Churches of Christ that were in the Deep South. Many of his teachings remain orthodox among the more conservative Churches of Christ today, but a surprising number of his views have been rejected and even forgotten — largely overwhelmed by the teachings of Foy Wallace Jr. in the mid-20th Century.
Among the views that Wallace successfully erased from much of the Church of Christ psyche was Lipscomb’s view of the Christian and government. You see, Lipscomb was a pacifist — and more. His views on the subject are laid out in his influential book Civil Government, which is available online for free. Lipscomb, who saw the suffering caused by the Civil War upclose from his home in Nashville, concluded that not only is it wrong to engage in war, but any participation by the Christian in secular government is wrong.
It is clear that human government had its origin in the rejection of the authority of God, and that it was intended to supersede the Divine government, and itself constituted the organized rebellion of man against God. This beginning of human government God called BABEL, confusion, strife. It introduced into the world the organized development and embodiment of the spirit of rebellion, strife and confusion among men. God christened it BABEL. It soon grew into the blood-thirsty, hectoring Babylon, and subjugated the surrounding families, tribes and kingdoms to its dominion, and became the first universal empire of the earth, and maintained its sway until the days of Daniel.
(Pages 9 -10.) In short, the account of the Tower of Babel was taken by Lipscomb as the story of the beginning of human government, in rebellion against direct rule by God.
All the wars and strifes between tribes, races, nations, from the beginning until now, have been the result of man’s effort to govern himself and the world, rather than to submit to the government of God. I am not intimating in this, that human government is not necessary, I believe that it is necessary, and that God has ordained it as a punishment to man for refusing to submit to the government of God and it must exist so long as the human family or any considerable portion of it refuses to submit to the government of God. Human government originated in the rebellion of man against his Maker, and was the organized effort of man to govern himself and to promote his own good and to conduct the affairs of the world independently of the government of God. It was the organized rebellion of man against God and his government. The essential character of this government, as protrayed by God will be given here-after.
(Pages 10-11.) Therefore, all war is a result of man’s refusal to submit to God’s government. Government is necessary but only because mankind persists in rebellion to God.
This government of God among the children of Israel was corrupted and perverted, but some of the Jews were schooled by it, and trained, as were others, not Jews, by the providence of God, for service in a higher and more perfect kingdom of God. God then took the Jewish national government out of the way, and superseded it with the kingdom of heaven – the Church of God, which was fitted for the service of individuals – few or all – in all nations, and aspires to universal and eternal dominion on earth. It is to embrace all people, all nations, kindreds and tribes, and to mingle and mould them into one universal brotherhood, to break in pieces and destroy all earthly kingdoms and dominions, and fill the whole earth and stand forever. The mission of this Church is to rescue and redeem the earth from the rule and dominion of the human kingdoms, from the rebellion against God, and to reinstate the authority and rule of God on earth through this own kingdom. Through and in it Christ must reign until he shall have “put down all rule, and all authority and all power.” Then will he deliver up the kingdom to God the Father, and himself be subject to God, that God ruling in and through his restored kingdom on earth, may be all and in all, the only ruler of the heavens and of the earth.
(Pages 12-13.) The church is the kingdom of God and therefore will one day replace civil government. Thus, one role of the church is to rescue the world from human government.
The first of all commandments is,
“Shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and
all thy soul, and all thy mind and with all thy body.”
To love a ruler is to serve him from the heart. Ye cannot serve God and the ruler of this world. All the powers of the soul, mind and body must be devoted to the service of God.
(Pages 68 – 69.) Therefore,
Christ’s mission – the mission of his kingdom – is to put down and destroy all these kingdoms, and to destroy every thing that exercises rule, authority or power on earth. How can the servants of Christ and the subjects of his kingdom, enter into, strengthen, and build up that which Christ and his kingdom are commissioned to destroy. How can a Christian enter into and serve the human, how can he divide his fealty, his love, his means and his time, his talent between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the evil one? Death came with the rule of the devil. All that came with him must be destroyed by Christ; must be rooted out as not planted by the hand of God.
(Page 83.) As Jesus will destroy all powers and authorities — all civil government — how can a Christian offer allegiance to an enemy of Christ? We must obey the governments, as a matter of necessity, and we must prayer for their leaders, but we should have no loyalty to them.
Paul declared the civil ruler was ordained of God for the punishment of evil-doers; a work which he expressly declared Christians could not do but which the kingdoms of the evil one were ordained to do. He declared the exercise of the civil authority, to be a bearing the sword to execute vengeance and wrath, he told the disciples they could not execute vengeance, and that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds,” 2 Cor. x: 4, showing clearly that the Christians could not use these civil powers to promote righteousness, morality, or good to humanity. Christians cannot use them? They are to serve God in earnestness and loving loyalty and in the spirit of meekness and love to obey him, and he will so bless us.
(Page 86.) We are prohibited from taking vengeance, but the civil government is charged with taking vengeance. Therefore, we cannot be part of civil government!
Lipscomb further argues –
Under this Scripture we may expect, if not specific precepts, at least general directions for man’s guidance in all the relationships of life. We do find directions for guiding Christians, as parents and children, as husbands and wives, as masters and servants, as neighbors and strangers as friends and enemies, as those who do wrong and those who suffer wrong, guidance is given Christians in every possible relationship into which a Christian may enter, except that of civil ruler or manager of the affairs of the governments of earth, if it be admissable for him to be this. The Christian’s duty, as subject of earthly governments, is definitely revealed; but not a word, nor an example is given as to his duty, or the rules that should govern him as a manager or ruler in human governments. And yet this is the most important relationship, involving the weal or woe of a greater number of human beings than any other relationship into which he may enter, if it be lawful for him to enter this. Why this failure to prescribe duty here, except on the ground that these earthly kingdoms are of the evil one, and have grown up in rebellion against God, and the mission of the church and the children of God is to displace and destroy them with the Divine government?
(Pages 86 -87.) The New Testament gives instructions for children, parents, husbands and wives, and church — but nothing about how to run the government. Clearly, God meant us to govern our families and our churches but not to participate in civil government — or else God would have given us instructions!
Lipscomb concludes that it is sin to participate in jury duty, to hold political office, or to take an oath of loyalty to the government. But teaching school as a government employee is different because it doesn’t involve government administration.
There are requirements sometimes made of persons by the government that they have difficulty in determining whether they violate the law of God in doing them. Among them is jury service. The rule determined in the preceding pages, is, the Christian should take no part in the administration or support of the government. Jury service is a part of its administration, and frequently lays on the juryman the duty of determining the life or death of his fellowman, and leads into affiliation with the agencies of government. … Teaching school is no part of the administration of the government. It seems to me a Christian might teach a government school as an employe without compromising his position. As a rule the government exacts an oath of its officers, to support the government but it does not of its employees.
(Pages 141-142.) Indeed, Lipscomb holds that Christians may not vote (p. 155).
In modern terms, I’m confident Lipscomb would have objected to Christians saying the Pledge of Allegiance, as it’s essentially a loyalty oath to a government, despite it’s acknowledgement that the government is “under God.” He sees all government as a power or authority that will be destroyed by Christ so that his Kingdom will be the only Kingdom.
The Churches remained largely pacifistic until Pearl Harbor — when Foy E. Wallace, Jr. rejected his earlier pacificism and campaigned vigorously for participation in the war effort. And the vast majority in the Churches of Christ agreed, although a few, such as B. C. Goodpasture (who later became the editor of the Gospel Advocate himself) supported pacifism, seeking to raise money to support the few church members who refused military service on grounds of conscience.
However, so far as my memory and reading go, I can find no evidence that the teaching of pacifism survived until the the Viet Nam War — and had there been any memory of the teaching, it would have received a sympathetic hearing in those days. But by then, the Church of Christ’s views were indistinguishable from the government’s. If you’re drafted, you fight, but if you can avoid service by joining the National Guard or other deferment, fine. The civil law defined right and wrong in the minds of most people.