Alexander Campbell and the Spirit of the Revolution (II)

By Ron Halbrook

Humble, Garrett and Harrell on Division in the Restoration Movement

“The seeds of Division in the Restoration Movement: Alexander Campbell and the Republic” was presented by William J. Humble, faculty dean at Abilene Christian University. The Declaration and Address themes of restoration and unity are complementary, he said, but division has been a tragic reality. Humble briefly reviewed Campbell’s Christian Baptist attacks on missionary societies and other Protestant innovations upon the New Testament order. But the speaker showed how the creation of the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849, with Campbell the first president, ignited a controversy ending in the tragedy of- division. In 1855 the Gospel Advocate was begun, propagating the kind of views Campbell had expressed in earlier years. Tolbert Fanning and the Advocate opposed the society but told a missionary society convention, “We are one people.” But the Civil War added another strand to the seemingly inevitable division. The Society diverged from the strict limitation of its charter, to comment on the political problems of the day; it urged support of the Union cause. Subsequently, Fanning, David Lipscomb, and other Christians in the South were alienated by what they saw as a call for their “throats to be cut” and for Christians to kill other Christians. In the post-war period, other heated issues contributed to the final and irrevocable division.

Due to a question on the causes of division, Humble asked Ed Harrell to comment, which he did, pointing out that (to use an admittedly extreme example to make the point) the reason a Unitarian Universalist and a Fire-Baptized Pentecostal Holiness devotees are religiously divided is not so much that they disagree about doctrine (though they quite obviously do!) as that they are totally different religious personalities who have completely differing concepts of religious thought and practice, formed to a large extent by their respective cultures. When Wolfgang asked a question directed at Humble, designed to elicit comments from him regarding social and economic influences in the recent division over institutionalism, Leroy Garrett took the floor, not allowing Humble to respond. Profusely displaying his own misconception of Ed Harrell’s position, he proceeded to castigate Harrell’s “errors” on the cause of division. Getting carried away, he actually preached at Harrell, pointing his finger at him several times and challenging, “you hear that, Ed?” Harrell, who not scheduled to have the floor until the next day, replied from his seat by striking hard at Garrett’s intellectual arrogance and false pride. He commented simply that if Garrett’s tirade was an attempt to refute Harrell’s voluminous writings, “You don’t understand the first thing about what I’ve written.”

Additional Lectures

Carey J. Gifford of Pepperdine (at Malibu) began the Friday evening session with “The Sense of Temporal and Spatial Destiny in Alexander Campbell.” When Larry E. Grimes, Bethany College, spoke next on “Mr. Campbell Meet Mr. Melville: A Problem of Optimism in American Thought,” he had the rare honesty to say that the main “problem” was that his research showed no apparent connection between Campbell’s and Melville’s thought! At the end of this evening session., Leroy Garret made a few remarks-more appropriate to a unity forum (which this was not) than a historical gathering (which it was)-then called on James W. Russell (formerly of the “one-cup” segment, but now of Ketchersidean persuasion, and editor of the Fresno, CA paper Outreach; see Mission, IX:B, March, 1976, p. 180) to lead a special prayer, observing that he .was further right than anyone else at the conference-“even further right than you, Ed,” indicating Ed Harrell with a jab of this thumb–and therefore had a bigger job than the rest of us receiving all of us in fellowship as brethren. As quick as the prayer ended, Harrell met Garrett at the podium in a righteous indignation, pointing out that this was a historical conference and not a unity forum. He said he resented the implication that all of us were there to receive the rest as brethren, in some kind of religious unity, adding that if such were the nature of the program then he would not speak in his scheduled slot on the morrow! Steve Wolfgang and Ron Halbrook immediately stated their objections to the cast Garrett was trying to give the conference. Since none of the other speakers presented unity speeches and since several other individuals expressed disapproval of Garrett’s conduct, Harrell finally decided to stay and speak. Garrett seemed to be incensed at Harrell’s explanation of division since, if it be true, it would mean Garrett’s new unity movement is wholly misguided and doomed to fail.

Unscheduled Sessions of Interest

Two especially interesting sessions not on the formal schedule were held immediately before and after the Friday evening lectures. During the Friday morning session, it was announced that a meeting of “all editors or staff member of Restoration periodicals” was to be held at 6:00 P.M. Ron Durham, editor of Mission indicated that the invitation included Truth Magazine and its resident “stringers” at unity forums, Halbrook and Wolfgang. Since not only these but also Vic Hunter, former editor of Mission, Hoy Ledbetter, editor of Integrity, and Don Haymes and Norman Parks, frequent contributors to these papers, and others were present, t1iis promised to be a most interesting and informative meeting. These editors and writers spoke freely of the problems they faced in publishing papers representing those who are breaking away from the “mainstream” of the- Churches of Christ. Though late returning from dinner, we attended the last portion of the meeting, including the final observation that the one thing the two extremes-liberals and conservatives among Churches of Christ-had in common was that neither could get articles published in the Gospel Advocate (of course, the immediate question then is, who would want to?)!

After the evening session, some of those in this group had requested an informal session with Ed Harrell in order to allow him to more fully discuss his views regarding political opinions, participation (or nonparticipation) in political affairs, and the nature of both religious and political liberalism and conservatism. Many who attended, including the authors of this article, freely spoke their minds with respect to these and related problems which have caused the diverse attitudes toward authority and other religious issues which have divided the Churches of Christ.

Additional Lectures

Beginning Saturday morning, we heard Franklin H. Littell of Temple Univesity discuss “Religious Restitutionism and American Politics.” Littell (author of, among other works, The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism and the recent MacMillan Atlas History of Christianity) began by speaking of the fact that “restitution” (often used by scholars instead of “restoration”) as a concept has gained ground recently outside the so-called “Restoration Movement.” Tracing the roots of the concept to the Reformation, Littell cited what he called “a fault line of geological proportions” between the “Magisterial” Reformation (stressing continuity, sometimes through “apostolic succession” with New Testament times) and the “Radical” Reformation, stressing discontinuity and therefore a need for drastic measures to restore apostolic Christianity. These latter stressed restitution or restoration of the primitive church rather than “reform” of the existing structures of corrupted Christianity. While pointing out that the four major branches of 16thcentury radical reformers (“Anabaptists,” consisting of Swiss Brethren, South German Brethren, Hutterite Brethren, and Dutch Mennonites) had serious differences of opinion about the specifics of what should be restored, all shared in agreement of the fundamental necessity for restitution. Seizing upon the general category of “primitivism,” Littell then surveyed some of its various manifestations, from the religious emphasis on restoring the primitive New Testament church to religio-political or economic expressions often characteristic of many episodes in American religious history. From the colonial vision of America as a new Eden to the civil religion of antebellum politicians and preachers to the political religiosity of Jimmy Carter, this theme was presented by Littell as an integral part of the mainstream of American thought. Consequently, “Alexander Campbell’s vision of a new America and a new Christianity was not, therefore, a mutation. It fitted very well into the understanding of the interaction of a purified politics and a restored religion which flowered in many places in the Age of Jackson.” While noting the tendency of restitution-oriented groups to splinter and for portions of them to re-enter the “mainstream” under the guise of “Unity,” Littell attempted to defend some of the radical restitutionists from charges of counter cultural withdrawal from social concerns.

Following this, Lester G. McAllister of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis summarized his book on Z.T. Sweeney. “Zach” was a major figure among Christian churches in the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s. Living through this period of change from certainty to uncertainty, faith to doubt, order to disorder, and security to insecurity, Sweeney lost the sense of innocence and simplicity which had earlier characterized the Restoration. He was “more confused by the changes than opposed to them.” Though deeply committed to the old ways, this spokesman for the “old guard” maintained loyalty to the “great middle stream of Convention churches” and tried to keep his associates “loyal to the International organization.” In an oratorical age, he was a popular orator, called “the Fighting Parson” in campaigning for his son-in-law to be Indiana governor in 1906. An ardent Republican, he was appointed Consul to Constantinople for 1889-1891 by President Harrison. His 1904 speech “Our Country and Our Cause” said civilization will advance as the Disciples advance, mixing civil religion and Christianity.

Richard M. Pope from Lexington Theological Seminary discussed “Edward Scribner Ames and the American Democratic Faith.” Pope presented Ames as a transitional figure in the development of Liberalism among the Disciples of Christ. After attending Yale Divinity School in 1891 (against the advice of those who warned that his faith would be destroyed), he saw religion as evolving out of man’s experience rather than a Divine revelation. In 1893 he went to the University of Chicago and came under the influence of men like John Dewey, finally receiving the first Ph.D. in Philosophy given there. He edited the ultra-liberal Scroll and was close to men like W.E. Garrison, H.L. Willett, and C.C. Morrison. His Liberalism was too far ahead of his time, so he was denied some high Disciple positions; even Neo-Orthodoxy was too conservative for him; he considered it a regression. His humanistic theism upheld the human Jesus, hoped for a better life here rather than escape from sin, saw hell as the experience of evil in this world, though Christianity should adapt to the new democratic spirit, and believed that in the ideal church of the future all people should work for human needs.

Churches of Christ

Earl Irvin West, church history professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion, spoke on “Churches of Christ and Civil Government from 1900-1918: Some Tentative Observations.” Between the Civil War and World War I, David Lipscomb’s view and other views limiting a Christian’s participation in civil government were rather widespread among the conservatives. Those who accepted the societies, instruments, and other innovations of the day, as represented by the ChristianEvangelist, opposed such a view and were often openly nationalistic. During the 1862 Union occupation of Nashville, Lipscomb offered a petition explaining the conscientious objector view. General preoccupation with evangelism and edifying churches consumed so much time and energy for many years that few in these conservative churches pursued politics. But W.W. I brought a great deal of nationalism into churches of Christ. The churches faced the war with vexation; some churches sent conscientious objector (c.o.) petitions to the government, and men like John T. Poe, J. M. McCaleb, John R. Williams, and E. A. Elam actively opposed Christians going to war. Yet, thousands (even the sons of some of the above pacifistic stalwarts) went to the army as a tidal wave of super-patriotism engulfed members of the churches along with the whole nation. West said the college at Cordell, Oklahoma, was forced out of business by the government because of promoting c.o. views. The Gospel Advocate was ordered to stop teaching pacificism or stop printing! It shifted to appealing for the religious needs of soldiers and dropped the c.o. issue. When the government prohibited public meetings because of spreading disease, churches cooperated by meeting in small groups in homes. A growing spirit of secularism during the war caused spiritual interest to decline throughout the nation. Complaints against this development continued unabated, but the non-participation theme on government which prevailed between the Civil War and W.W. I passed off the scene for the most part.

David Edwin Harrell, Jr., historian at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, dealt with “The Churches of Christ and American Civil Religion Since 1945: Tentative Observations.” Though he felt that World War I brought some shifts as West suggested, Harrell said the real watershed for change in the churches of Christ was World War II. He thought the churches coming.out of the 19th century division were homogeneous from the beginning of the 20th century. Theologically, they were legalistic or authoritarian (seeing the Bible as an absolute standard in religion), anti-intellectual (distrusting higher education), consumed with doctrinal issues, exclusivistic, other-worldly, and ambivalently noninterested in civil government. Sociologically, they were people largely of the upper South (even in the early 20th century-until W.W. II-still one of the most economically depressed sections of the nation), the upper lower and lower middle classes, and had an uneducated ministry. Psychologically, they were belligerent and fond of debate, had a sense of persecution and estrangement from society, and came to terms with the world by belief in a Providential justice which would ultimately prevail. World War II dramatically changed this profile — even as it changes the face of the South generally; it was the turning point. The war was accepted with only pockets of conscientious objectors and the Gospel Advocate banned discussion on it in 1944. The theological stance was toned down, many of the Southerners began coming into affluence, and the sense of estrangement was exchanged for a sense of confidence as an accepted part of society. American civil religion became popular and interest in “the Christian nation” idea was dominant by the 1950’s, quite evident in the Firm Foundation. The membership reflected the typical middle class concerns of the “Sunbelt” for economic and political conservatism, a sort of patriotic gospel blending American values with Christianity, evident in the Voice of Freedom. Conservatism on the race issue, often uncharacterisitc of the churches before the turn of the century, was characteristic in the post-war churches. The post-war churches suffered another sociologicaltheological fracture like the one in the 19th century. The “antis” comprised perhaps 10% of the churches, giving theological emphasis to church organization, evidencing the same type sociological class separation, and continuing the psychology of persecution and estrangment (often including a non-interest or even anti-government position). A theological left also emerged from the large mainstream group, and comprised about 10% . This group was more affluent, well educated, and articulate. They were characterized by emphasis on higher learning, rejection of the former leadership, a sense of denominational loyalty while also criticizing the traditional beliefs, and its own message on Viet Nam, Nikon, and race. The dramatic changes of the post-W.W. II period thus included division-theologically, psychologically, and sociologically-very similar to that of the 19th century.

The President of Pepperdine University, William S. Banowsky, concluded the conference with “The Campbell Movement and Political Involvement Directions for the Future,” much of which is contained in his contribution to the book, What Lack We Yet, edited by J.D. Thomas (p. 67). Though Jesus spoke of what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, he did not tell us what does belong to each. So, should we protest under a Nazi government, exert ourselves in society’s race problem, be policemen, or hold elective positions? Two positions are taken: (1) we should be involved in the affairs of this world to be as influential as possible, (2) since our ultimate allegiance is to the spiritual kingdom we should not get mixed up in civil kingdoms. Banowsky said we must not retreat from the world, because Jesus said take them not out of the world, be a salt, leaven, and light (is this not a perversion of these figures since Christ referred to our efforts to convert others rather than to alleviating society’s ills?). Earlier in the 20th century, churches of Christ felt the Disciples movement had digressed not only by missionary societies and the like, but also by too much involvement in politics. Between 1938 and 1941, many articles in the 20th Century Christian teach that military affairs are not the business of Christians. The right wing of the churches is characterized still by such isolation. In calling for more involvement, Banowsky cited his own example as 1972 Chairman of the Re-Elect the President Committee in California. He said the situation ethics of Watergate must be rejected, yet we must recognize that politics is pragmatic. We must recognize the spiritual and civil realms as two separate spheres. What would be considered a lie in the spiritual realm may not really be a lie in the pragmatic realm of politics. (Read it again and weep, brethren, that is what he said!) We should get involved in making the nuts-and-bolts decisions that affect daily life. It is better to have Christians doing this than non-Christians, but Christians must understand the pragmatic nature of politics if they are to get successfully involved. In conversation after this speech, Ron Durham, editor of Mission Magazine, said he did not object to the point about lying and pragmatic politics except that Banowsky was guilty of failing to show that we should experience a sense of tragedy when we are involved in such (i.e., experience a corporate sense of gult as we go on doing what is necessary in the corporate body). On the other hand, there are some of us that were shocked altogether to hear the champion slayer of situation ethics spouting nothing less than situation ethics for Christians involved in politics! And to think he is President of a school professing to educate youth so as to strengthen their faith in the principles of Jesus Christ! Banowsky seems to have amended Revelation 21:8 to read, “. . . all liars – except Christian liars who did not really lie when they lied because they were engaging in pragmatic politics as salt, leaven and light – shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”


Some may wonder (perhaps rightly so) what one can learn from such a gathering and why anyone (particularly several gospel preachers) would want to “waste their time” attending such a conference. Aside from the fact that both of the authors of this article are at least avocationally interested in American and church history, there are several useful thing sto be learned that we summarize in final impressions of the conference. First, it is always amazing to see afresh each time how far religious liberalism will go in its gyrations to find what it can never can seem to identify; and, to find how deeply such liberalism has penetrated the thought of those claiming to be involved in restoring New Testament Christianity and ever purporting to be members of the Lord’s church. Second, if there is any truth at all to the philosopher Santayana’s dictum (“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”), the value of such attention to historical detail and the development of the perspective of hindsight should be self-evident. Third, it is good periodically to be intellectually stimulated by give-and-take not only with those of other religious persuasions but with those such as Brother Harrell who have not allowed the wisdom of the world to obscure the wisdom which is from above. Finally, recognition and understand (which is not the same as acceptance) of the religious thought of others can serve a kind of “lower good” which is useful to the servant of God who must live in a society permeated with this sort of thought. To quote or able Brother Harrell, “This interest in our past will not be without its rewards. The result will not be union . . . but it might be understanding. As an immortal soul, my deepest hole is the attainment of salvation through literal obedience to the Word of God. As a mortal man, I believe the greatest achievement in life is the gaining o f an understanding one’s self and of those who differ from you. I do not believe that we shall ever reach accord in thing spiritual, but it could attain the lower good of understanding why, the insight would serve us well in our struggle in this life” (” A Peculiar People” A Rationale for Conservative Disciples,” in Disciples and the Church Universal (Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1967), p. 44). (Anyone interested in obtaining any of these speeches on tape may contact J.C. Noblitt, P.O. Box 174, Mt. Dora, Florida 32757).

Truth Magazine XXII: 8, pp. 137-140
February 23, 1978