Backgrounds of the Restoration Movement: “Raccoon” John Smith and the 1832 Unity Meeting

“Raccoon” John Smith

Smith’s story is well told by June Baldwin Bork,

In 1814, after much thought, John took his wife and four children to Alabama with dreams of settling and farming a large farm and eventually becoming a prosperous landowner. But, as we will see, God had other plans for this man. The Smiths settled into a house near Huntsville and rapidly found new friends. Then tragedy struck. When he was away from home on a preaching mission and his wife was visiting an ill neighbor, a fire broke out in the Smith cabin and was totally destroyed. Inside, fatally trapped, were the two Smith children, seven-year old Eli and two-year old Elvira. Grief stricken, Anne went to bed, unwilling to acknowledge the tragic loss of her children. She sank into deep depression and refused to eat. Slowly, in spite of all efforts to save her, she weakened and died within months and was buried in Alabama.

The deaths of his two young children caused him to question the Calvinism of the day, as under the doctrine he’d been taught, the children were surely lost.

Stone moved to Kentucky, where he remarried.

While preaching at Bethel Baptist Church in Parmleysville, John began to question some of the tenets of his own church. The doctrine which expressed eternal damnation of infants disturbed him powerfully. He did not want to believe that his own two children after suffering a particularly painful death, would be condemned by a malevolent God to eternal suffering. When John was given a copy of The Christian Baptist by Alexander Campbell, his doubts multiplied. For several years, Campbell had been worried over the many divisions within the Protestant Church and wanted to restore Christianity to what it had been at Antioch. Campbell had acquired a reputation as a “reforming Baptist” as he sought to unite all Christians on scriptural grounds. Most hard-liners though looked upon Campbell with suspicion and sought to discredit his teachings. John Smith wisely kept his doubts to himself. But when he learned that Alexander Campbell would be conducting a revival at Crab Orchard, Kentucky, he had to attend.

John borrowed a horse, who had seen better days, and a suit of clothes that didn’t fit well and were faded and course, but those were small matters for John Smith. He would have gone to Campbell’s revival even if he had to walk. So, from Parmleysville, a ragamuffin preacher rode off into the pages of frontier history.

At Crab Orchard, John found an assemblage of hundreds of people who were gathered in and around a small church. He found a place on the doorstep and listened intently to the proceedings inside. It was apparent that Alexander Campbell was not at the revival and John was disappointed, but the old spirit of revival was rising within him. So many spectators arrived that there were more outside the church, straining to hear the messages being delivered, than there were inside the building. The crowd outside became irritated at not being able to hear the ministers. To placate the people in the church yard and to head off a possible religious riot, two divinity students were sent out to conduct a separate meeting in a nearby grove of trees. The two students took turns on the platform that was hastily erected, reciting verses from the Bible and long prayers to repent. The crowd sensing it was being preached to by amateurs, began to drift away.

John Smith decided to seize this opportunity. He stood up, straightened his coat and stepped to the pulpit. Raising his hands, he shouted to the milling crowd: “Stay friends and hear what the great Augustine said. Augustine wished to see three things before he died: Rome in her glory and purity, Paul on Mars Hill, and Jesus in the flesh. Will you not stay and hear what the great Cato said? Cato repented of three things before his death: first, that he had ever spent an idle day; second, that he had ever gone on a voyage by water when he might have made the same journey by land; third, that he had ever told the secrets of his bosom to a woman…” By the time John had finished talking about Augustine, Cato and Thales, the milling crowd had settled down and the drifters were returning to the grove of trees. John continued: “And now friends, I know you are ready to ask: ‘Sir, who are you?” “I am John Smith from Stockton’s Valley. In more recent years I have lived among the rocks and hills of the Cumberland. Down there, saltpetre caves abound and raccoons make their homes. On that wild frontier we never had good schools nor many books; consequently, I stand before you today a man without an education. But, my brethren, even in that ill-favored region, the Lord, in good time, found me. He showed me his wondrous grace and called me to preach the ever-lasting gospel of the Son.”

John Smith began to preach in his unique and captivating style and the crowd became quiet. As he continued, some who had remained at the church left that service and joined the worshipers under the trees. The power of the Holy Spirit had descended upon John and he composed sentences he did not know he was capable of doing and called forth from memory verses and parables that he had not used in months. From his lips echoed the warnings of Ezekiel, Elijah and Isaiah, the praises of the psalmist and the promises of the risen Christ, our Lord. With each passing hour, the crowd became larger, listening to the country preacher who said he lived among the coons on the Cumberland. As evening approached, John delivered a final plea of salvation and by the time he finished, there was not a dry eye in the audience. Exhausted, he stepped down into the arms of an overwhelmed audience, who showered him with embraces and professions of faith.

His reputation as a preacher spread as word of his marathon sermon at Crab Orchard was passed from town to town. When he casually made reference to his having lived among the coons on the Cumberland, he unwittingly became known as “Raccoon John Smith.” Other ministers sought his friendship and advise and his presence at their own revivals. The name of Raccoon John became a guarantee of a large turn-out at camp meetings.

By 1820, Raccoon John had become a living legend in the state of Kentucky. Many regarded him as the greatest preacher of the day. As his fame grew, he found himself more and more frequently called away from his ministry in the South Fork country and spent much time in central Kentucky.

In the spring of 1824, Alexander Campbell visited Kentucky and met with Raccoon John Smith and Barton W. Stone at Flemingsburg. For John, this meeting was the realization of a long anticipated dream. Although none of the three ministers had met each other, the trio established a foundation which eventually led to the union of the three men of God under a common denomination. Stone was a leader in the Cane Ridge Revival and had become fascinated with Campbell’s ideas. Following this meeting with Alexander Campbell, John openly disavowed the tenets of the Baptist faith. His announcement stunned the Baptist community and struck hard at his old friends in Wayne County. He continued to be their friend, but he was no longer welcome in their churches. Conventional Baptists rejected the Campbell-Smith-Stone doctrines and condemned Raccoon John as a traitor and apostate. The movement grew, culminating in the establishment of the new Christian Church in 1831. One of the first Christian Churches to be organized was in Wayne County. John Smith’s teachings changed the hearts of some of the Hurt and Burnett families, who were loyal Baptists until the Christian Church was organized, when many changed to that church.

During a visit to Frankfort, Kentucky, John was unable to find a single Baptist church that would let him preach. Such treatment did not deter Smith for long. When the citizens of Frankfort learned that Raccoon John Smith was going to hold services in the court house, they filled the gallery and spilled out into the halls. Such was his power to draw a crowd. He was a preacher for all the people. While others identified themselves by denominational titles, Raccoon John carried only one label: Christian. Wherever he traveled, people came to him for guidance and blessing. He was well received in the largest of cities and the very smallest of rural areas.

Elder Smith’s powerful preaching touched thousands all over Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri, representing the Disciples or Reformers at the great meetings.

Smith converted thousands and persuaded many more to join in Campbell’s movement. A sense of the man can be found in his unusual methods. Smith was a tall, wiry man. He was known to enter a new town, find the preacher for the local Presbyterian Church, and begin to drag him through the town square, announcing to all that he intended to baptize him in the river. Inevitably, the preacher would sputter that it would do no good to baptize a man against his will! Smith would reply, “But you baptize babies against their will every day, with the poor babies crying out just as you are doing!” He’d then announce the time and place of his preaching that night, and always draw a large crowd.

Lexington 1832

In 1832 Raccoon John Smith and Barton W. Stone held a large unity meeting in Lexington, Kentucky. There were many towns that had both a Christian Church and Disciples Church, and they taught much the same thing. But there were important differences.

As reported by Leroy Garrett,

As Raccoon laid it before the unity meeting: “Whatever opinions about these and similar subjects I may have reached, in the course of my investigations, if I never distract the church of God with them or seek to impose them on my brethren, they will never do the world any harm.”

He went on to identify the gospel as a system of facts, commands, and promises, and insisted that no deduction or inference drawn from them, however logical or true, forms any part of the gospel. Our opinions about the gospel are not part of the gospel and therefore cannot be held as a threat over those who deny them, he added.

He said he was willing to surrender any opinion for the sake of unity, but that he would not give up one fact, commandment, or promise of the gospel for the whole world. “While there is but one faith,” he told them, “there may be a thousand opinions; and hence if Christians are ever to be one, they must be one in faith, and not in opinion.”

It was then that he gave his famous exhortation: “Let us, then, my brethren, be no longer Campbellites of Stoneites, New Lights or Old Lights, or any other kind of lights, but let us all come to the Bible, and to the Bible alone, as the only book in the world that can give us all the Light we need.”

With that said, Stone and Smith shook hands, and they urged their congregations to merge — and they did.

It’s remarkable that Campbell was not consulted on this unity meeting. The movement, after all, was built on congregational autonomy. Soon thereafter, Stone and Campbell met, and sorted through several points of disagreement.

As Garrett explains,

The Stoneites saw the Campbell groups as woefully negligent of the work of the Holy Spirit and as too legalistic on baptism, Stone complaining as he did that many of the Campbell people would not accept disciples as Christians unless they are aware of being immersed for the remission of sins. Too Campbell’s coolness toward the name Christian, believing it was but a term of derision applied to disciples by pagans, disturbed Stone no little.

The Campbell wing, on the other hand, saw the Stone folk as far too speculative, and much too enamored with such theological questions as the incarnation and the atonement. And Campbell and Stone even found time to do some debating on these issues. Too, the Campbellites were far too rationalistic for the Stoneites, while the Stoneites were too “heartfelt” for the Campbellites.

They had reasons enough to remain separated, and surely their differences were greater than many of those that keep the Movement divided today. The point is that they loved one another, a love that transcended the differences, a love that binds everything together in perfect harmony, as the apostle Paul puts it. Too, they realized that only a united church can lead the world to Christ, and they believed that their two groups shared in common those principles upon which the body of Christ could preserve the unity of the Spirit.

You see, Stone did not strictly agree with the Nicene Creed, but assured Campbell that he beleived every statement in the scriptures about the relationship among God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This was enough for Campbell. And Campbell insisted that the Spirit worked only through the word, which Stone strongly disagreed with. Moreover, although Stone taught baptism of believers for the remission of sin, he saw receipt of the Spirit, as evidenced by a transformed life, as the true test of salvation. And yet the men gladly accepted one another as brothers and united their works.

To assure that unity would be realized, Stone agreed to accept John T. Johnson, one of Campbell’s followers, as co-editor of his periodical, and the two men agreed to publish a single hymnal so that they’d not be competing with each other. And they agreed that their congregations did not need to change names, as they weren’t intending to found a new denomination. Thus, some congregations remained Christian Churches, some remained Disciples of Christ, and a few remained Churches of Christ.

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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44 Responses to Backgrounds of the Restoration Movement: “Raccoon” John Smith and the 1832 Unity Meeting

  1. David Himes says:

    Even though I've read most of Leroy's history books on the Restoration Movement, I appreciate your retelling of this story.

    What makes it particularly interesting to me is that I have ancestors who lived in Crab Orchard when Smith came to town.

    It just makes the story more personal.

  2. Royce says:

    Our common faith in Jesus and the love for each other that faith produces is the only real ground of unity we can share and enjoy.


  3. Gary Cummings says:

    Barton Stone was a theological heretic for not believing in the Trinity. He was more of a modalist, and did not believe in the eternity of the Son of God. This is why the Jehovah's Witnesses have a similar Christology-"Jesus was a created being and there was a time when he did not exist."

    The Campbell group was more rationalist-like what we got today. Yet, we must remember that the COC hi-jacked the Restoration Movement in 1898 with Daniel Sommer, which ws the unofficial start of the COC, with 1906 the official date set by David Lipscomb.

    It would have been a great thing if that unity meeting had never taken place. The Stonite heresy would have died out, and Campbellism-who knows?

  4. Randall says:

    That Campbell and Stone would eventually unite as brothers in Christ is more than a little amazing. Not only did Stone reject the Trinity and the idea that Jesus was God, he also rejected the penal substitution theory of the atonement. These doctrines are accepted by nearly all Christian denominations. But despite substantial theological differences Stone and Campbell united simply on the basis that they both believed Jesus is the Christ.

    (We still see evidence of the rejection of these basic doctrines of Christianity in several ways. If you look at the lyrics to the song Holy Holy Holy you will notice that in many songbooks the line "God in three persons, blessed Trinity has been changed to eliminate the word "Trinity." Also, those of us that grew up on the Jule Miller filmstrips will note a reference to false doctrines that developed several hundred years after Jesus – this is a reference to the 3rd council of Nicea which was about 325 AD and clearly articulated the doctrine that Jesus is true God of true God. Stone made such an issue of these doctrines that Thomas Campbell eventually told him to keep them to himself lest other denominations use Stone's heterodoxy to accuse the movement of being a heretical sect or cult.)

    I wonder if anyone has any insight as to why Raccoon John Smith thought the "Calvinism of the day" taught that children were lost. Was it b/c he was a baptist and his children has not yet been baptized or for some other reason? Generally Covenant theologians regard children as part of the covenant community and thus baptize them as infants as they have simply substituted baptism for circumcism. It is clear that there was very limited opportunity for theological study in that day and they may have been a lot of under educated people spouting nonsense. (Good thing we don't have that problem anymore 😉 I would truly appreciate any help or or insight that anyone might be able to provide regarding this rather bizarre understanding as I have never met a Calvinist that believes babies are lost, born in sin yes, but not lost.

    From these last two posts on Stone and Smith it is easy enough to see that our disregard for orthodox doctrine, indeed our notion that theology is a bad word has roots that go back to the very beginning of the movement. None the less, we can take much good away from our history with its emphasis on being able to unite as sisters and brothers despite important differences.


  5. Gary Cummings says:

    You are right about this. The "unification" was amazing. The bit about Smith and Calvinism and children being lost probably refers to the non-elect dying in infancy or childhood. True Calvinism teaches that there will be babies and young kids in hell, if they were not of the elect, and that this damnation of babies and kids gives glory to God. That makes God an irrational mass-murderer in my opinion.

    It is interesting that two, maybe three sects, morphed from the COC. All three were non-Trinitarian: Mormons, Christadelphians, and Jehovah Witnesses. Two out of three were/are pacifist, and the Mormons weren't. The original main DOC leaders were pacifist like Stone and Campbell. Campbell's ADRESS ON WAR is great.
    As far as the non-orthodoxy of Stone goes, he was educated in Greensboro, NC, and his school was about 1 mile from a Quaker Meeting house. They were and are certainly non-orthodox (though there is a group which calls itself "Orthodox Friends). Friends were non-Trinitarian, did not believe in the substitutionary atonement, and they denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. Stone got at least two of these aberrations from them.

    The non-trinitarian issue caused me some problems for a few years. I was friends with Brent Graves of the COC, and he was a Modalist-only one God in three subsequent forms.
    I finally got cured of that about 10 years ago, though I never fully embraced it. My wife has always been a Trinitarian, anbd she was very patient with me till I got it right.

  6. Matthew says:

    I don't have anything to add to the above comments, though they are thought provoking and interesting. I will add that Leroy Garrett does a nice impression of Raccoon John Smith at some of the Disciples meetings from time to time. His health may prevent him from doing them any more though.

  7. Randall says:

    Like you, I count Leroy among my firends. We used to live in the Dallas area and I was able to have lunch with him occasionally – back in the 1980s when he taught at Dallas Christian College. He was also kind enough to grace our Sunday School in Plano when we had a series on church history. It lasted about a year and a half and the last four months or so was on the Stone Campbell Movement.

    It was good of Leroy to see to it that you got the Millenial Harbigner and the Christian Baptist. I don't know if I have ever seen a bound set of the latter. As I recall Alexander Campbell was sometimes caustic in his remarks – and especially so in his very early years when he wrote to/for a newspaper using the psedonym of "Clarinda." Other times he was very gracious in his remarks and I think he was always gracious in person to his guests and others.

    We last saw Leroy about a year ago – I think just before he turned 90. Although he was having some pain issues, his mind was still quite sharp. He has had surgery and reports he is doing some better now.

    As you know, anyone intersted can sign up to receive his occasional newsletter at

  8. Gary Cummings says:

    Randall and Matthew.

    Leroy is a great guy, though to be honest he is one of the editor-bishops of the COC. I have been out of touch with him about a year. I count him as a friend and acquaintance.
    The last I heard Ouida was ill, I hope she is doing better now.

    His STONE-CAMPPBELL movement book is quite good, well told and entertaining. I laughed out loud a few times reading it.


  9. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Great article. I have for a long time been fascinated with the Restoration history, and it is my prayer that one day, we can be united instead of arguing and dividing over kitchens, cups, Taking Oaths
    Armed forces and war
    Mixed bathing
    Church sports teams
    Card Playing
    Movies/ movie going
    Marry unbeliever
    Bob’d hair
    Long hair on men (how long to be wrong)
    women wearing hats
    Women teaching teens (boys and girls)
    Lord’s supper (PM)
    Literature/ class
    Hymns played on piano at home
    Flowers from church treasury for funerals etc…
    Formula said at Baptism
    Lords Supper – using wine or grape juice
    Hymns we think are unscriptural
    Local minister
    One cup
    Bible classes
    Versions of Bible
    Pitch pipe
    United fund supporting good works like Herald of Truth
    Women wearing Pants suit – worship
    Wives-working outside the home
    Work on Sunday
    Women saying “Amen” in assembly
    Women praying along with men
    Children pray
    Tongue speaking
    Eatting blood pudding

    Of course this list found along with alot more things list in my dad's old New Testament, represent things that over the years have been points of issue and concern and some have caused division…

    But look how we have weakened ourselves.

    Surely the grace of God means something.
    Sometimes i just dream of what it would be like to have the three congregations in our town to be united, and I suppose many out there dream dreams like that too.

    Love's prayers,
    Jack Exum Jr.

  10. David Himes says:

    Ouida is doing better. Go to and you can sign up to get his weekly essays, which often include updates on his health as well as Ouida's

  11. GAry Cummings says:

    Dear Jack,
    I agree with most of what you said except two things:

    (1)-Going to war- Going to war does violate the ethic of agape love. I will not worship with anyone who says war is right or taking human life is right.
    (2) Oaths-Jesus did say not to take oaths.

    I do not think you can lump these two fairly outstanding teachings of Jesus with things like kitchens in the church or the other nonsense. War is hell and not nonsense. Taking an oath directly goes against the honest life Jesus wants us to live.

    All in all, you are on to something here, but just because the COC abused many people over many of these issues, most are non-issues, but going to war, for the follower of Jesus, is a major offense against the IMAGO DEI-the image of God.

    Thanks for listening,
    Gary Cummings
    Vietnam Vet and ex-Navy Corpsman (unarmed)

  12. Rich says:


    I have shared your sentiments in the past.

    Two questions:

    1. Why did Jesus answer under oath while on trial? Matt. 26:63-64?

    2. Why does Paul use capital punishment as an authorized action of government? Rom 13:4?

  13. Gary,
    I kind-of get what your saying, but then again I don't.
    You are right when you say destroying another being that was created in the image of God is wrong, if you are saying that that is not what God had purposed for his creatures.
    But I need you to clearify if you were drafted to go to Vietnam or if you volunteered.
    Regardless I'll still worship with you because I love you as a brother (and a brother in arms).
    Steve Valentine
    OIF Vet, combat engineer DV (armed)

  14. Gary Cummings says:

    Steve and Rich,

    I think you need to do more work on Romans 13. Nowhere does it say a Christian may use a sword or anything to execute criminals, much less go to war. The text in Romans 13 says zipp about war. John Howard Yoder has done a good exegesis of Romans 12 and 13, and I highly recommend it. One thing that is always missed by pro-war folks is that they never read Romans 12 prior to Romans 13.

    As far as Jesus taking an oath at His trial, that is ridiculous, they did ask Him under oath – yes. But He did not feel obligated (since He is God the Son) to answer under oath. He simply let His yes be yes: "I AM". He did forbid His followers to take oaths. That is very clear, more clear than acapella music.

    I was a minister in the Churches of Christ, and I felt led by God to give my ministerial deferment and be drafted as a !A-O Conscientious Objector. I volunteered. I did that for 2 years in a state hospital, and went to seminary again. I felt that I could have done more, plus a few other reasons, and I volunteered to join the Navy as an unarmed Corpsman for 4 1/2 years. I am a Vietnam Era Vet, but did not serve "In Country" in Nam itself. I took care of the guys coming back from battle, wounded in body,, mind and soul.

    The way of Jesus is Shalom- a holistic peace and Agape Love-which includes loving ones enemy and not killing them. To all people in the military, I urge them in the Name of Christ to stop fighting and killing,and apply for a conscientious objector discharge. It is no longer possible to be an unarmed medic. They put a stop to that.

    God bless you all,

  15. Gary,
    First thing, let me tell you thank you for your service and the "healing" that you took part in.

    This is the reason I asked you if you were drafted or volunteered. If you were drafted you were abiding by the Rom. 13 Govt. But if you voluteered then you have signed your name and swore an oath in support of that same Govt.'s bid to wage war against fellow image bearers. (The last part of the oath to serve states "so help me God"). As far as I can see you have just violated both of the issues you would disfellowship someone over.

    Through your line of argument you imply that an unarmed Corpsman has nothing to do with the war effort only that you, " took care of the guys coming back from battle, wounded in body,, mind and soul." That line of argument does not hold water with me. It is like saying a water purification specialist (92W) has nothing to do with fighting a war. What do you think you were healing their bodies for? To send them home? No the first objective of military medical personnel is to get the wounded back on their feet to reengage the enemy. To think you obsolved yourself from participation based on the fact you were unarmed is rediculous. Your mere being there and volunteering implies you agreed with the war effort.

    We are commanded to pray for our enemies, one thing I never forgot to do. But no were in scripture do I find that we are to stand idly by and just watch the abuse and murder of the defenseless and innocent. I looked in the eyes of those that were oppressed and had elderly women who through trembling lips offered thanksgiving for our presence and actions in place of her inability to act on her own.

    Brother, I love you and fully respect your stance on the sanctity of life. But I can not and will not kick you to the curb because you have a different perspective on war (or oaths).

    Becasue of what Christ did,
    Steve Valentine

  16. Royce Ogle says:


    While I do respect your service to your country your position is not valid, re: war.

    I am reminded of a bootlegger in N.C. who got saved and then hired an unsaved brother in law to sell his remaining hootch since selling it himself violated his new found faith.

    Logic rules.


  17. Gary Cummings says:

    The US Army and other armed forces were the oppressors in Vietnam. There is no way it met the conditions of "Just War", even the criteria for "just war" are questionable as Jesus forbade His followers to take human for any reason..

    As I said, I was wrong to take the oath. But I remember it did say to "defend the US and Constitution", not wage aggressive war as in Vietnam and Iraq. Also "kill the enemy" is not explicitly stated in the oath. One can be a patriot and not KILL people. That being said, the oath itself is a sin, I took it and I was wrong about that. I have repented since, thank you.

    I am consistent prolife: no war , no abortions, and no executions. That is the way of Jesus.

    You do not have to answer to me, but to Jesus. What He says to you is between you and him. When I stand before him, I will not have blood dripping from my hands from killing another human being, just the blood of the people whose lives I saved, and helped heal. I have my own baggage to repent for, and I will answer to God for that. I try to live a forgiven life daily, and I fail a lot.

    By the way most of "the abuse, and murder of the defenseless and innocent" have occurred at the hands of the United States since WW2- millions! This country and its churches have not yet repented for those atrocities and wars, or A-Bombs, and probably never will. There is a verse In the Apocalypse that says the "captains" will will be thrown into the lake of fire, that goes for all who take human life and DO NOT REPENT.

    Thanks, Gary
    PS- I still take care of vets from all wars, and have been at the bedside of lot of guys dying from AGENT ORANGE.
    I will care for anybody anytime anywhere.

  18. Brother, here is the point: we have missed the forest for the trees. The point I confronted you on (and apparently failed to make clear) is this –

    “(1)-Going to war- Going to war does violate the ethic of agape love. I will not worship with anyone who says war is right or taking human life is right.
    (2) Oaths-Jesus did say not to take oaths.”

    You stated, and I read it as, you would kick anyone out of your local congregation that did not meet your standard (by the way that is pure military logic). You would have no qualms about kicking a brother to the curb if he/she did not meet up to a standard that you have placed on them and one that removes God’s grace to be replaced with your judgment; the exact things that “Raccoon” John Smith experienced from his Baptist brothers. I do not believe, and at this point in my life as it has not been reveled to me, that all killing is sin. What I do believe is a huge factor in determining the stance of killing is the condition of the heart. And only God Himself can see that.

    By your own admission; you took part in an “unjust” war and volunteered to do so whether you killed anybody or not. I am glad you will not have the blood of those you did not kill dripping from your hands on judgment day (you say this as if I will). On judgment day, the only blood I will have dripping from me is the blood of Christ; and that not just from my hands but from my whole body, dripping from my beard and running down over my feet.

    We differ on our understanding of what is right and wrong with participating in a war. We more than likely will never agree on that point. I praise God that you repented as you felt the need to do so. I do not feel the same need to repent for any of my dutiful actions (some that fell outside the parameters of duty I have repented for). My conscience is clear as you feel yours is as well. These differences on ideology are no reason to dismiss each other from the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    I pray we will both feel the fullness of freedom given to us by the grace of God through the blood of Christ. Peace.

    I apologize for taking so much of you time and space here. From this point on the discussion will be moved to my blog. Greg you are more than welcome to come visit me there by clicking on my call sign.

    May the grace and peace of our Lord be poured out on us in full!

    Because of what Christ did,
    Steve Valentine

  19. Sorry Gary, I called you Greg. The invitation is open to you Gary.


  20. Rich says:

    Interesting discussion on this issue. I have personally landed on both sides at differing times in my life.

    Early on, the words and actions of Jesus were emphasized by my bible school teacher who was a volunteer conscientious objector during the Korean war. Gary's position is the only one that seems valid from this perspective.

    However, Paul tells individuals in Romans 12 not to take vengeance in our own hands (vigilantes) and rely on the God authorized government to seek justice in Romans 13.

    Are the words of Paul an universal application of the teachings of Jesus or do they only provide application to the his first century audience and therefore no longer valid?

    It seems to me that anyone who says the gospels are of higher priority/authority than the letters must agree with Gary.

  21. Randall says:

    Maybe Jay will do a post that discusses the position(s) advocated by the CofC over the years. I doubt many know that the CofC once was the largest "peace" church in the USA – until about the time of the WWI – we were larger than the Amish or Quakers, etc. Even fewer are aware that a CofC college closed their doors and went out of business b/c the US government threatened to put them in jail (alien and sedition act) if they kept on teaching pacifism. We have such an interesting history and so few know much about it other than the "restoration" emphasis that has been magnified since the beginnings of the split.

    Richard Hughes covers a good bit on the topic in his history of the Stone-Campbell Movement. I believe it is still in print and available from Amazon.

    Peace (really),

  22. Gary Cummings says:

    Dear Rich,
    The words of Paul in Romans 12 match the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. There is no contradiction here. In fact Romans 12 is a prelude to Romans 13. Romans 12 gives us the teaching of Jesus about non-retaliation and living a life of love and forgiveness. Romans 13 teaches that the Roman Empire
    exercised a police authority to punish lawbreakers. This was never a treatise on war. Romans 12 and the Sermon on the Mount dispute the war exegesis of Romans 13. There is not one statement in Chapter 13 about going to war, much less a Christian going to war. In fact all of this was written15 to 20 years prior to the Roman-Jewish war of AD 66-70. There were plenty of Zealots them wanting to cut Israel loose from Ronme. Jesus refused the nationalist temptation of the Zealots here, for His Kingdom (BASILEA=rule) is not of this world, if it were His servants would fight (Gospel of John). Now Paul has a very good outline in Romans 12 of Jesus ethic of non-retaliation.
    So to me, it has never been a question of Jesus vs Paul, he was an inspired apostle, and it is evident to me and many scholars (which I am not), that Romans 13 has been used, abused and misused by the Constantinian Church in all of its varieties, even the 20th Century so-called Restoration Movement.
    In conclusion, if you agree with the ethic of agape love and the non-retaliatory teaching of Paul, my position is the only logical, rational, spiritual, and experiential one.
    Thanks, Gary

  23. Gary Cummings says:

    Prior to WW1, the COC could be somewhat described as a peace church. Its founders-Stone and Campbell were pacifists. I believe Tolbert Fanning was a pacifist, as was David Lipscomb.

    I did some reading on this today, it seems the Government cracked down on the editors of the Churches of Christ, and made a lot of threats against them. Then two COC members were sentences to be executed for treason. I am not sure this was carried out. But it got the attention of the leaders.

    Then Daniel Sommer, the great sectarian-hijacker of the 19th century RM, was opposed to pacifism, and Lipscomb apparently clammed up about that. Then before WW2 Foy Wallace was the main person responsible for ridding the COC of pacifists. They were still a few, and the great holders on to pacifism were many brethren in the Non-Sunday School COC.

    Richard Hughes did some work on this aspect of the RM in his history book, and Mike Casey of Pepperdine did prior to his death.

  24. Gary Cummings says:

    A little more:

    found a great peace today at a Pepperdine Magazine online:
    it was written by Christina Littlefield, a Graduate Assistant.

    It is a one page summary, but her last paragraph is erroneous about the Mennonite, Quakers, and Brethren being consistent in their peace testimony. That is just not so. According to my studies, 70% of Friends (Quakers), 40% of Mennonites, and 20% of Brethren served in the military. The Friends are divided into 3 main groups: Liberal Unprogrammed Friends (they have the highest resistance to war, Middle of the Road "Friends United Meeting" (most of them served in WW2 and many in Vietnam), and the Evangelical Friends (they are the most hostile to pacifism). I know this for a fact as I got my MDiv at Earlham School of Religion and spent two years as a pastor in the FUM group. As far as Mennonites go, there is a rapid decline in pacifism as they get more evangelical.
    Brethren are becoming more secular and less pacifist as well. The article can be found at

  25. Gary Cummings says:

    I do not worship at non-peace churches, nor do I consider non-pacifists saved. That is why I will not worship with them.
    I do not kick anybody down in the gutter, usually I am down there with them trying to help.

    I will try to get an ox out the ditch on the Sabbath, so I will try to render aid to anyone at anytime. I was and am responsible for my own moral decisions and actions. I have failed many times in my life.

    Both of us are saved and healed by the blood of Christ. Let's pray we both live a repentant life.

  26. Randall says:

    Thanks for the details about the Quakers and Mennonites. I have very, very little experience with the Quakers (mostly book learning) and more, but not a lot of experience with the Mennonites, so I appreciate any first hand knowledge I can come across.

    I consider all that have a genuine faith in Christ to be my sisters and brothers regardless of how confused (or not) they may be in their theology. I am one of those that believes in salvation by grace through faith – not by intellectual or theological prowess.

    I shudder to think that my salvation could be dependent upon my correct theology or obedience to any set of rules. While I strive to be in a close relationship with God it is apparent to me daily that I fail at loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength as well as loving my neighbor as myself. If I can not keep the great or second commandment then there is no basis for my salvation but by grace.
    May the peace of God be upon us both,

  27. Gary Cummings says:

    Reply to my last note.
    I do worship at peace churches. To have something other than a peace church is an oxymoron.

  28. Gary Cummings says:

    I do believe in salvation by grace, but I do not believe we may then live as we please. Bonhoeffer calls that cheap grace. He also "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." That is a great truth.
    Many people have worn the name Christian, but were they: Hitler?, Paul Tibbets? (He dropped the A Bomb on Hirsoshima), Charles Calley? (A Lt. at the My Lai Massacre>
    Are there no absolutes or does grace excuse any of our behavior?
    I am the most flawed person I know, and I live by God's grace and mercy daily. In the light of that, I believe war is sin and not for the follower of Jesus.
    In fact I had some bumper stickers made WAR IS SIN.
    If you or anybody wants one, let me know. Just email me with your snailmail. Limited supply.


  29. Randall says:

    Well, If you have completely died to self then I suppose you would only need forgiveness for previous sins before reaching that state. Of course you don't claim that. But you seem to be saying God can forgive all your unrighteousness because it is not as bad as the unrighteousness you see in another who isn't in the same place you are. But I doubt you would affirm that as well. So that leaves us with the possibility, indeed our only hope, that God's grace may save both you and me as well as the other guy. How else will he deal with my self righteousness etc. I just wish I could over myself, don't you?

  30. Rich says:


    I certainly appreciate your heart. I can empathize.

    As an engineer, I consciously stayed away from lucrative offers in the defense industry. I just couldn't design a weapon system with a good conscience.

    However, when I was shown that life-death actions are permissible under the authority of government (Rom 13 capital punishment being the example) I grew to accept those who participate in government sanctioned military operations.

    Having been on both sides of this issue, I tend to place it in the Romans 14 category. I try to keep my conscience clean but not push it on others.

  31. Gary Cummings says:

    I believe Romans 12, 13 and 14, and all the rest of Romans. I do not think Romans 14 excuses Christians for going to war, not do I believe Romans 13 allows it.

    If you differ, God bless you. Read John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, and you will get a much needed alternative view to the typical Catholic-Protestant sanction of war.

    By the way, Romans 13 does not say that Christians may be executions or instruments of state violence.


  32. Randall says:

    Thanks for being considerate of the blog topic. You should know that I have no interest in arguing a position regarding the participation of a Christian in war or military activities. That has been done well enough by many over the past 150 years.

    I do have an interest in the history of the Stone Campbell Movement and also in grace. It is my belief that few in the CofC understand grace. I think the scriptures teach that man is saved by grace through the means of faith – plus nothing. Either Jesus work on my behalf is sufficient to cleanse me from ALL unrighteousness or it is not.

    One person may add a particular set of rules for how we may and may not worship God, Another may say we must adhere to this particular set of social standards (don't drink or dance etc.) Someone else may claim we must a particular understanding in our mind when we are baptized etc. The list is way too long to do more than provide a few examples.

    If someone says I must have faith in God/Jesus PLUS do anything they are saying that the finished work of Jesus is not entirely sufficient to save me. That is an affront to the good news that Jesus saved me.

  33. Gary Cummings says:

    Dear Randall,
    I hear where you are coming from, and agree to a point.
    Repentance is part of our response to the Gospel. After believing in Jesus, whore must stop being whores, thieves, killers stop being killers, etc. Our stopping what we were doing that was sinful does not save us, but it is our reasonable response to being saved.

    Sorry, but I do not equate the serious taking of life by napalm or M-16's and blowing out people guts as on the same level of drinking. I have taken care of the real damage of war – all of my life and even now. Sherman did not exaggerate by saying war is hell. I have been to the battlefields of the Civil War, and at Antietam, there were 24,000 casualties on one day. Thank God for Dr. Letterman of the North and Dr. Huntger McQuire of the SOuth, and Clara Barton of the Red Cross. They saved many lives.

    Again, your theology is very gnostic with a warm fuzzy view of salvation which requires no repentance. believe me, I have had major things in my life to repent of, but murdering another human being in war is not one of them. That does not make me better than any other sinner, but that does not lessen war as sin.

    Your refusal to take seriously repentance in salvation is an affront to the good news of Jesus that we can live a bounteous forgiven life.

  34. Randall says:

    You said "Again, your theology is very gnostic with a warm fuzzy view of salvation which requires no repentance."

    Gnostic??? where did that come from?

    Perhaps you're assigning attributes to my theology that are not there. It seems that being judgmental does not compare to dropping napalm on children – OK, I can see that. But sin is sin and either it is forgiven or it isn't. I hope we are not headed back towards a list of which sins damn and which do not.

    Please do not read any antinomianism into my comments. I do not advocate license, but I do preach God's grace saves me from my broken, sinful condition and the horrible behavior it leads to. I do advocate obedience to every command of God, but I do not argue that it will effect salvation.

    I do advocate that coming to true faith inevitably leads to immediate repentance. But like Paul, I find that the good that I would do I do not and instead do the very thing I would not do. Wretched man that I am …. Thanks be to Christ who saved me from that awful existence!

    I'll try not to put words in your mouth, especially if I doubt you believe them. I hope you will return the favor.


  35. Gary Cummings says:

    I have stated all I will on this thread on this topic about war and oaths. Thank you for the discussion. Pacifism is part of the heritage of the COC Restoration Movement. It was larger prior to WW1, and decreased afterwards. WW1, and WW2, Korea, Vietnam (my war), and our current have some CO's. How many were/are related to the COC RM, I do not know. That would be an interesting study. If anybody wants to read mye HERITAGE OF PEACE go to and look for Gary Comyn (my pseudonym). There you will also find RECONCILIATION, about my dad and I reconciling before he died. I was the Church of Christ pacifist, and he the retired major from the Air Force.
    Good luck to all and God's blessing, I will not respond to any more notes in this thread about war or peace or oaths.
    Gary Cummings

  36. Pingback: Discussion continued in the Desert. « Desert Wandering

  37. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Hey Gary,
    Very true, war is hell. I was skipped over for Viet Nam, and have great respect for any who served. I cannot imagine the pain of those who went through that war or any other.
    Sorry about generalizing.
    The main thought I had in mind was how sad our Lord must be over the things that His people split over.
    Even back then when the war issue 'was big', I hated war but had to agree that governments are ordained by God, and do not bear the sword in vain.
    So things like capital punishment, and war seem to be things which would fall in the area of ones own personal belief, pro or con. I respect your opinion, but it doesn't interfere with my considering you my brother in Christ if you disagree with me.

    As for taking an oath… I understand Jesus statement on the matter. But I don't consider a court taken oath, something flippant. Which seems to be the issue Jesus was dealing with there. Saying "I affirm" is no different to me. Maybe it is to others, and provides a way to deal with it conscienciously.

    In any case, I agree with you, that these two things should not be classified with a list of "silly things". However, I do consider fellowship in the body of Christ, unity of the body of greater importance than being pro or con war or taking an oath in court (or saying "I affirm" this or that.

    Thanks again for your response. I always enjoy these discussions.

  38. Larry Short says:

    Gary, thanks for all the responce to a topic you have spent a lifetime thinking about. War is not forbidden anywhere in the Bible. In a sense, war can be like rescue, Is it right to stand idlely aside as millions are murdered by Hitler? Can a Christian stop a mass murderer? Can a policeman shoot a tower gunman firing constantly at a crowd?
    I realize that every battle, every war is far more ethically complicated than stopping Hitler. Bear with me on another example. Do you pay taxes? Do your taxes buy arms? Do your taxes support abortion? Do you realise that your taxes bought DDT to poison foreign fields? Jesus seemed to favor paying taxes. In his time Rome was regularly conquering new lands. He supported financially a government killing innocent people defending their homes!
    Lastly, Jesus commended the widow's mite donation to the temple, that He previously warned againist its corrupt, wrong morality leadership. Does this make sense? Perhaps in our lives we must participate with an authoriy that we don't agree with. Just asking.
    Personally, we live in a country that allows choices, and I applaud yours. I cannot see any moral reason for Vietnam. Perhaps A bombing Japan saved more lives that it took, but that would be hard to evaluate when assigned the job. Is the person who made the bomb's metal shell just as guilty? Probably the only way to be ethically pure is a monastic life. Jesus didn't suggest that either.

  39. Jay and others,
    Please forgive me for breaking a promise. But…

    "I do not worship at non-peace churches, nor do I consider non-pacifists saved. That is why I will not worship with them.
    I do not kick anybody down in the gutter, usually I am down there with them trying to help."

    Gary, how can you put these statements in the room together?

    Steve Valentine

  40. Hello. I happened upon your site while I was looking for something completely unrelated. While I don't agree with some of what you say we do have similar thoughts by and large. I have bookmarked your website and will visit again in the near future to see what you are blogging about in 2010!

  41. Dana Brown says:

    Just a footnote,so no one will be fooled by Gary Cummings.He is NOT a Viet Nam Veteran or Era veteran..He was a conscientious objector.Go to… which is Jane Fonda's site and look at his posts.As far as being a Christian ,read his posts.You decide.I've seen more charity from a mad pit bull.There are many others on the web just as bad.Just google Gary Cummings+viet nam. Just wanted to post so you wouldn't be taken in.Make your own decisions.
    He has already told falsehoods here.

    Gary Cummings
    Vietnam Vet and ex-Navy Corpsman (unarmed)

    then he says
    was a minister in the Churches of Christ, and I felt led by God to give my ministerial deferment and be drafted as a !A-O Conscientious Objector. I volunteered. I did that for 2 years in a state hospital, and went to seminary again. I felt that I could have done more, plus a few other reasons, and I volunteered to join the Navy as an unarmed Corpsman for 4 1/2 years. I am a Vietnam Era Vet, but did not serve “In Country” in Nam itself. I took care of the guys coming back from battle, wounded in body,, mind and soul.

    He never left the states,in other words.And he considers Viet Nam vets lower than Nazi's,and that we will all burn in hell for our "murders. Please read all pages ,all his posts.
    Thank you

  42. Gary Cummings says:

    I served as as Conscientious objector in Alternative service from 1970-1972, then 1974 to 1978, as a Navy Medic. Because of my service from 1/74 to 8/74. I am listed a a Viet Nam Era Veteran. I do have my enlistment papers and Honorable Discharge. During all of that time I was opposed to the Vietnam War, and still am. I never call my self a "Vietnam Vet", as that implies I was in country. Since 1974, to this day, I have taken care of many vets from all wars, Vietnam included. Nothing I have stated is a lie of any kind nor have I mistated, to my knowledge any of the facts of my objection to the war or my service to this country as a conscientious objector. If you wish to reach me, my email is [email protected].

  43. Gary Cummings says:

    Look at for the definition of a Vietnam Era Vet. People who served between 8/5/64 to 5/7/75 are considered by law to be Vietnam era vets.
    Thanks, Gary

  44. Gary Cummings says:

    Correction of a previous post. It should be "because of my service from 1/74 to 5/78", I am listed legally as a Vietnam Era Veteran. It has been a long day and I am tired. Thanks, Gary

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