Human Service Institutions Among Brethren:

By Ron Halbrook

The Need For Balanced Vigilance (1)

Only the Bible can settle the question of whether a practice is Scriptural, but we may learn much about attitudes and their consequences from the lives of men and movements. This latter point is as true with reference to religious issues as with all others. Such biographical and historical study is a primary reason why “of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12). Just as we may learn by studying with each other today, there is no end to the good things which may be learned from studying with men who have gone before us. Though dead, still they speak through their writings and the record of their lives. Kept in the perspective of providing illustration, stimulation, inspiration, and warning, rather than positive divine authority, such study is valid and helpful.

David Lipscomb (21 January 1831 – 11 November 1917) was born in Franklin County, Tennessee, attended Tolbert Fanning’s Franklin College during 1846-49, and was baptized into Christ by Fanning while there in 1846. The Gospel Advocate began publication in July 1855 through the efforts of William Lipscomb (David’s brother) and Fanning. The immediate purpose was to provide an open medium to discuss occult spiritualism and human philosophy, errors into which an influential Nashville preacher named Jesse Ferguson had fallen. The War Between the States which erupted in April 1861 disrupted mail service in Tennessee and the South generally, forcing the Advocate to suspend publication after the December 1861 issue. Because the War ended in April 1865, publication resumed under the date 1 January 1866. This signaled the change from a monthly to a weekly, with David Lipscomb and Fanning as editors. The immediate purpose was open discussion of missionary societies, or congregational cooperation through extra-congregational organizations, which the Advocate opposed in the name of the all sufficiency of the church to do its own work. With the help of the widowed Mrs. Fanning, Lipscomb initiated in 1881 the effort which led to the charter of the Fanning Orphan School (closed in 1943). With the aid of James A. Harding, Lipscomb founded the Nashville Bible School in 1891, a college which now bears his name.

In religion, Lipscomb loved the simple and the Biblical. He believed that all Christians should teach Christ to their neighbors and that an evangelist could devote his full time to that work, but he spurned anything smacking of professionalism in preachers. He was positively opposed to extra-congregational societies and extremely cautious about individual service organizations such as papers and schools. In the late 1860s, he pledged the Advocate “will constantly

strive to separate the church of God from its entangling alliances with the institutions of men – to exalt it alone, of the institutions of earth, worthy the undivided fealty and unfaltering service of human beings” (quoted in GA, 1939, p. 196). Human service institutions were regarded by Lipscomb not as extra-congregational machines but purely as individual business enterprises on a partnership basis. He defended such enterprises so long as they had “no organic connection with any church” and interfered with the work of no man or church further than the simple teaching of truth by “any individual preacher or writer” might do. Such enterprises were not regarded as peculiarly religious though they disseminated religious truth. “Publishing a paper is no more a religious institution than running a farm, a factory, or a store” (GA, 1896, p. 276.) In fact, the Advocate ran ads for such products as patent medicines (to the consternation of many brethren). Lipscomb dreamed of a “model paper” which would discuss, in addition to the Bible, all “general news” helpful to man’s “mortal and intellectual well-being” (GA, 1908, p. 328).

Lipscomb discussed these matters from time to time, often under the pressure of controversy. Such is the case with his article entitled “Bible Colleges,” part of an exchange with J.W. McGarvey. Lipscomb’s thoughts on Bible schools remind us of the need for balanced vigilance concerning all human service institutions among brethren. His article in the Gospel Advocate, Vol. XII (23 December 1869), pages 1151-58, is here reproduced, with a few observations and comments of our own to follow next week.

Bible Colleges By David Lipscomb (1831-1917)

We publish on another page an article from the Apostolic Times without a signature, which we felt perfectly safe in attributing to Bro. McGarvey. The internal evidence is so clear in our mind that we will treat it as such. He heads the article: “Educated Preachers and the Poor.” The heading is his not ours. We had nothing to say of educated preachers as a class. We spoke of those educated at the Bible Colleges for preachers, among wealthy surroundings, etc., and called them once the “new educated preachers” to distinguish them from those differently educated. Our object was to urge the churches to encourage and develop their own talent at home, and to cease to look abroad and depend upon the Bible colleges for teachers. We spoke of the folly of this and gave the grounds. It called forth the foregoing reply in which are some things so strange that we must notice.

When Bro. McGarvey says: “we must suppose Brother Lipscomb sincere when he says we make these remarks out of no disparagement to our Bible Colleges,” all understand that he does doubt our sincerity, and if the expression was not used to excite a suspicion in reference to our sincerity, we do not see the object of alluding to it. Our sincerity or insincerity had nothing to do with the merits of Bible colleges. We might place this as one of the intricacies of the clergymen’s arts, if the teachers teach what they practice, to wit, throw suspicion by an innuendo over the honesty of one whose positions they oppose. So far as the disparagement of the Bible Colleges are concerned we have no wish to be misunderstood and nothing to conceal of our convictions in reference to them or any other organization affecting the well-being of the Church of Christ. To disparage them would be to deny or throw a doubt over their effecting what they propose to do, as Bro. M. threw a doubt over our sincerity. This we did not do. They probably do all they propose to do. This we do not call in question. Hence we do not disparage them. But we have not the least disposition to conceal the truth that we doubt if the work they propose to do, when as well, as thoroughly done as is possible, is not an injury rather than a benefit to the cause of Christ. They propose to take young men desirous of preaching and by a series of lectures and instructions qualify them for this work. They take them out of the associations of practical life, away from the common people, to teach them the theory of things to be preached and “the how” to preach them. It is impossible to give them practical instruction in preaching, where so many are gathered together in one place separated from the practical workings of society. Their instruction must needs be theoretic. It necessarily makes the impression upon them, upon the church and upon the world, that they are a separate and distinct order or class of men, with peculiar privileges and to be taught something in a degree or manner that other members need not be taught. They are educated and made preachers by the college-before their piety or devotion is fully developed or their staidness in life fixed. They are made preachers by virtue of their course of study in the college, not by virtue of their labors as Christians, or the sanctions or approval of their congregations. In one word the plan of necessity establishes an order of clergy separate and distinct from the laity. This is an evil too palpable to need a word of condemnation from us.

The Bible Colleges do exactly the same that the theological schools of the denominations, except that the theories they teach differ. The Bible Colleges teach a truer theory than the theological schools of the various religious denominations.

They establish for the Churches of Christ a distinct order of clergy as clearly and fully as do the theological schools.

If there was nothing wrong in these schools with their distinct orders of clergy Alexander Campbell and his brethren sinned most grievously in their opposition to them. And if we are now to adopt what was then so bitterly opposed, we should first make a very humble confession to those who were denounced and to the world for our wrongs. The schools were denounced independently of their teaching, as any one familiar with the writings of Christians twenty or thirty years ago knows very well.

All that Bro. M. says of the self-denial and former laborious habits of the young men of the Bible College is certainly correct. Their future not their past lives were the object of our solicitude. Nor have we a doubt but that many of them will be benefitted by the instructions of the professors, and in spite of the evil influences will by their devotion and zeal do much good.

But our Bible Colleges have wealthy surroundings. A man’s inability to enjoy blessings and luxuries that are in his sight does not often destroy his taste for them. It rather excites it than otherwise. If our Bible College students live hard in the College, when they visit their brethren and sisters in wealth ar:d luxury, the desire for these luxuries is excited and the question involuntarily comes up, “Why may I not enjoy these as other Christians do.” The taste for such society thus cultivated make the daily routine of their poor, and educated neighbors at home, their plain scanty fare distasteful, dull and prosy. They become dissatisfied with them and naturally seek other fields of labor more congenial to their cultivated tastes. This is the tendency of such institutions. That some resist that tendency, and in spite of it by superior zeal and devotion remain to work among the poor does not alter the facts of the evil tendency.

Bro. M. refers to a few prominent brethren as examples. This is a very unfair manner of arguing. It is simply an appeal to great names to maintain a cause. It places us in this position, either we must admit the example and force of the argument, or show the example of these very men is opposed to his position and in vindication of ours, but this would be construed into an attack on these men, which we certainly have no inclination to make, nor will we say a word in depreciation of them. The examples he gives are of men who were raised in rural communities who were educated at Bethany College.

We were not aware that Bethany had a Bible College at the time these examples, including himself, were educated. We have nowhere intimated an opposition to any one being educated. It was the style, manner and purpose of their education that we called in question. But even taking these examples as just and fair ones; not one of these men are now laboring in the poor, rural districts in which they were raised, but all of them are in cities or wealthy communities; and while they may occasionally preach in a poor community, no poor or destitute community can obtain the regular labors of any one of them. We do not blame them. We do not speak this to their disparagement, but to give an unfair personal appeal of Bro. M. its proper weight. So far, then, as these examples go, they show the folly of poor communities relying upon teachers educated in wealthy cities and wealthy surroundings, to do the work of teaching in poor communities. This whole subject was more forcibly brought to our mind at Lexington, a few years ago, than ever before. We spent a week there at the State meeting, and we were not too “awkward” to listen, to compare, to try to learn lessons that would enable us to be of service, with all our “awkwardness,” to the cause of our master. Bro. Jarrott there made an appeal, and stated facts that went unchallenged before the meeting, that set me to thinking on the subject. His appeal was for help on the part of the College educated preaching brethren to aid him in the poor mountainous districts of Kentucky in teaching the poor people. His statements were, that while the rich blue grass counties were overrun with educated, college preachers, seeking places, he could not get one of them to the poor mountainous counties. We probably think “awkwardly,” as well as speak “awkwardly,” but we put these things together about in this way: It was not so much the money, as the style of society, that drove these young preachers from the mountains. It is true a great number of them had been raised in this kind of society. They had been away to be educated in a different society; their learning would not here be appreciated; their taste, their refinement would find no congeniality, hence they could not stay. This, Brother McG., was the start we received in this direction of “awkward” thought, concerning the influence of Bible Colleges on young men.

Bro. McGarvey speaks of the poor in the cities – says those who preach in the cities preach to the poor. We very readily grant that a poor man occasionally, by virtue of his proximity to his rich neighbor, receives some of the crumbs of luxury from his rich neighbor’s table. He does this as to preaching as well as other things. But that was not the point. We were speaking of those communities in which all are poor – where no rich and educated men or women can be found to support in elegance and sympathize in taste with the preachers whose periods of youth, when the character was formed and the taste molded, were spent in rich and elegant surroundings. How shall they be converted and taught? How many College-made preachers can you find settled down contented to live and labor in such communities as these?

But we are led to believe, from our Brother’s style, that he really does not know what constitutes poverty. Poverty is a comparative term, like riches. We do not often preach in the cities; we have always shrunk from it because of a consciousness of our “awkwardness,” and of the fact that it would be offensive, not to the more cultivated minds, but to the fastidious taste of those in the city who were accustomed to the more graceful and polished manners of those whom our Father had more highly favored in this respect than he has us, but we know enough of the city preaching, of the city hearers of preaching, to know that the poor of the cities do not, as a class, attend preaching at all. No one able to dress fashionably, as a class, attend church in the cities, and we will venture the assertion that the squalid, suffering poor of no city in the world are visited by the preachers as a class. They are neglected. The Colleges are greatly to blame for educating the tastes and sympathies of the preachers away from the destitute poor. To the extent they exert this influence, they are antiChristian and evil in their influences. A man, a good man, may shut himself up with the educated and wealthy until he almost forgets there are poor, ignorant, offcast and degraded beings in our world. This is one danger of risking men shut up in a College, to mold the characters and tastes of the teachers of the Christian religion.

Another evil of these Colleges for making preachers is, that those who enjoy the College advantages are led to depreciate, if not despise, the men and the efforts of the men who do not enjoy such advantages. This has been very clearly manifested in Brother McGarvey himself. His bearing of assumed superiority, a style and species of dogmatism when dealing with others that is offensive, a continual tendency to make personal thrusts as a right peculiar to himself betrays the feeling.

We note as examples of this first, a criticism on Brother Brent’s tract. So far as he criticizes its matter or manner, we have not a word to say; but when he assumes to tell Brother Brents, a man older than himself, “you ought to procure the aid of a good critic, to enable you, etc.” it is a betrayal of a feeling of superiority that is offensive. Brother McGarvey evidently thinks that Brother Brents is not fit to write. Yet, while we dislike comparisons, as individious, we venture every good critic in the land would say the style of Brents in correctness, force, clearness, and even elegance, and in all the essential elements of a correct writer is fully equal to that of Bro. McGarvey – although Brother Brents obtained his education in the blacksmith’s shop and Bro. McGarvey his in the College halls. Yet we would not like to see Bro. McGarvey cease to write.

Possibly Brother M. by his reference to our awkwardness, wished to intimate to us that we needed the polishing influence of a Bible College, to correct our ungainliness of habit. If, so, a private note would have borne marks of much greater kindness in making the suggestions. But we think our awkwardness strikes in to the very bones and marrow -that no amount of polishing or whitewashing can take it off or conceal it. Indeed, we are perfectly content it should remain just as our Father gave it, only we dislike to offend the fastidious taste of Bro. McGarvey and others of like culture. Why Brother McGarvey should have made this personal thrust at my misfortune I do not know. I cannot see any object, except simply to rudely wound my feelings. It has nothing to do with Bible Colleges, and we had not made a single personal allusion in our article to which he replied. The only other explanation is, that he wished to retaliate on us for our offensive allusion to the style of Bible College preachers. But a teacher of the Bible Colleges ought not to return evil for evil. This is not showing the young preachers the true Bible teaching. If the tendency of Bible Colleges is not to practice the evils we spoke of – to wit: fine dress, elegance of manner, philosophy and science, together with an indisposition to manual labor – we did wrong in making the allusion. But we are perfectly willing to leave the decision of this-matter to the judgment of those who are familiar with College-made preachers.

But our Brother’s Scripture argument in behalf of Bible Colleges, strikes us with force. Jesus Christ took his twelve apostles from the laboring class, and for three years went with them into the abodes of poverty and the haunts of sin -showed them practically how to deal and associate with poverty – how to seek and sympathize with want, suffering and sorrow – how to eat the coarse and scanty bread of pinching hunger – how to treat sin and sinners. During this time he revealed the religion that he came to establish. He worked miracles, he revealed his laws, and carrying his apostles out into contact with the practical-workings of society, he applied these laws to the cases arising in society, that when the Spirit called to their remembrance all things that he taught them, they might understand to apply his laws as he applied them. Therefore a Bible College has the right to take young men away from the practical workings of society, away from the poor, from the suffering, and surround them with wealthy associations, cause them in the moulding period of their lives to associate with the rich, and not the poor, and deliver them lectures and theories on the subject of the Christian religion for years as a preparation for ministering to the poor. Deducing such a conclusion from such premises, we mark still another of the intricacies of the clergyman’s art. Again, Paul, at the feet of Gamaliel, is a student of a Bible College. What is its name? What is its endowment fund? How many students did it possess? Again, Paul tells Timothy to committ what he had heard of him to faithful men, that thy might teach others. That is both example and authority for a Bible College – for a succession of Bible Colleges. It was when all instruction was oral – when no written revelation of the New Testament Scriptures were in existence. Inspired men, like Paul, must tell to one partially inspired, like Timothy; and he admonishes him to be careful – commit to faithful men, who would teach others, and not pervert the teachings. This has often been adduced as evidence of official succession from the apostles by Romanists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and others. But this is a new idea; it is authority for a Bible College – a succession, too, of Bible Colleges; and that after revelation has been perfected and written, and the world not so dependent upon their teachers as when Paul gave this admonition.

“Such Colleges, in all that is essential to them, constitute God’s own chosen method of securing perpetually to the Church a class of men sufficiently educated in the Scriptures to be teachers.” So says our Brother. Such are the claims of the Bible Colleges. They stand to their pupils as Christ to his apostles – as inspired Paul and Timothy to one without a knowledge of God. I do not wonder that he despises the pretensions and labors of those who have never enjoyed the benefits of Bible Colleges. No one else than these have compiled with God’s chosen method of securing perpetually to the Church a class of men sufficiently educated in the Scriptures to teach. “All others are irregular, at least; their teachings are of a doubtful character.” They either are not qualified to teach, or else qualified themselves in some way not according to God’s own approved plan of qualifying them. Certainly our Brother did not wish to convey the idea that his words suggest. Alas! for the world, for the Church, if only those thus educated are qualified to teach. But we are not, never have been, opposed to education. Our conviction is, all Christians should be educated fully in the Scriptures of truth. In the development of their faculties one will show aptness and fidelity in teaching. When this in manifested to his brethren, let them encourage him in the work. The young should be educated, too, in the surroundings in which they are to labor. To send them to other surroundings is to disqualify them for sympathy with those in which they must labor.

Again, we are satisifed that more true Scriptural, practical knowledge and efficiency can be gained in six months active service, teaching the Christian religion to the Church and to the world, than can be gained in six years hearing lectures on the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not so intricate, so mysterious as to require such deep learning to understand and teach the way of salvation. It is so plain that the wayfaring man may not err therein. If a man wishes to study Greek, or Latin, let him study it; but the Church and its work in saving the world is the school for studying the religion of Jesus Christ. So time is lost among other evils that grow out of the Bible Colleges. So we frankly confess our misgivings as to the effect of the Bible Colleges on the purity of faith and simplicity of life of the people of God. We know many of our most thoughtful and worthy- brethren, teachers and others, fully share our fears on this subject.

Will Brother M. do us the justice to publish this?

Guardian of Truth XXV: 11, pp. 167-169
March 12, 1981