The A. I. Myhr Era (1890-1910)
The warning of Howard Norton, editor of the Christian Chronicle,
should be taken seriously. He wrote: "Spiritual men and
women to the right and left of center are concerned about our
future. They have never before experienced the amount and/or kind
of turmoil that afflicts so many of our congregations." They
fear what might happen to the church. Some believe we have already
experienced a split in the fellowship, which needs only to be
recognized. Brother Norton is optimistically hopeful that this
worst scenario is only imagined. This writer makes a realistic
appraisal that division among the churches is present and growing.
The tares have been being sown since the late 1960's. The bitter
harvest is here.
Exactly 100 years ago, the ugly specter of division first reared
its ghastly head in the Woodland Street Christian Church in Nashville.
In April of 1883, the ladies of the church suggested that a missionary
fund be started to spread the gospel in destitute places in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Home Missionary Society was organized on February
11, 1889, in the Woodland Street Church building. This was done
over protest which included E.G. Sewell, an elder.
It was during this time that the "digressive" leaders
in the Christian Church deemed it timely to push "organized
societies" and the "organ" into the churches in
the Southern region. On October 6, 1890, the Tennessee Christian
Missionary Society was organized by the Walnut Street Church of
Christ in Chattanooga. One year later, the TCMC met on October
6, 189 1, in the Woodland Street Church building. One year after
that, October 18, 1892, the General Missionary Convention met
for the first time in Nashville, Tennessee. David Lipscomb and
other kindred church spokesmen knew that the "Digressives"
meant business. They had taken over the Northern churches with
the society and organ, and they started their Southern invasion
to do the same.
The Andre Iverson Myhr Era (1890-1910)
The Woodland Street church brought in A. I. Myhr to serve as their
field missionary. The Tennessee Christian Missionary Convention
enlarged his role to "missionary in the field." He was
given the title of "Corresponding Secretary" and was
paid the handsome salary of $1500 per annum. David Lipscomb and
his associates, and with the support of the influence of the Gospel
Advocate, mounted a counter campaign to keep organized societies
and the organ out of Tennessee churches.
Lipscomb and his associates put Myhr in their "sights"
and tracked his every move over 20 years. Myhr was not a popular
type of religious leader. He was talented, abrasive, and militant.
He pressed the causes of the "Digressives" untiringly
for 2 decades. Myhr had become "battle weary" by 1910
and suddenly resigned his post. He summarized his successes: 75
churches established; 15,000 new members added; and $300,000 collected.
The late Dr. Herman Norton, Vanderbilt professor of religion and
Restoration history, wrote there was another side to the story
that Myhr did not tell. Dr. Norton wrote in his definitive Tennessee
Christians that Myhr
had engendered a bitter partisan spirit in almost every congregation
in the state. He himself had helped sow seeds of discord, strife,
bitterness, and alienation that followed in the wake of his program
activities. While there had been one communion, admittedly with
discord, when he arrived in the state, there were now two separate
and distinct bodies with no meaningful communication between them.
When Myhr resigned, he had not won over a single church in Nashville
and had very little success in middle Tennessee. Time would prove
that his successes in west Tennessee were limited. The east Tennessee
churches have been a bastion for the "Digressives" since
the days of Alexander Campbell.
When and Where the Tennessee Churches Divided
David Lipscomb was an astute church historian. He saw clearly
that church division in Tennessee had become a fact. Before the
turn of the century, Lipscomb made the appraisal that the Christian
Church is "as clearly defined and organized a denomination
as can be found anywhere" (Gospel Advocate, Vol. 39,
1897, p. 513). In 1902 the Newbern, Tennessee, Christian Church
split when members sued in protest when an organ was moved into
the church building.
In early January of 1903, a band of 86 members pulled out of the
Henderson, Tennessee, Christian Church to establish their own
fellowship. The "split" widened and deepened in the
years ahead. The United States Religious Census for 1906 made
the judgment that the Church of Christ and the Christian Church
exist as two separate and distinct churches.
The Christian Church leaders were encouraged to believe that they
would take over most of Tennessee. They were wrong! The Hardeman
Tabernacle meetings (1922) and the Boswell-Hardeman music debate
(1923) proved them wrong. The churches of Christ were growing
in Tennessee and were enjoying favorable approval by the public.
Christian Churches have not found a similar favorable approval
with the public in Tennessee.
Dr. Norton said that if called upon to supply specific dates for
the separation of the Christian Church and the church of Christ
that he would suggest two. His first choice was October 6, 1890,
which marked the establishing of the Tennessee Christian Missionary
Convention by the Walnut Street Church of Christ in Chattanooga.
He designated October 26, 1890, to be his twin choice. This marked
the time when E.G. Sewell and a small band of Christians pulled
out of the Woodland Street Christian Church and established the
Tenth Street Church of Christ.
Will the Churches of Christ Divide?
The Christian Churches divided again in the 1968 "Restructure."
This is another story! My answer to the question is that churches
of Christ in Tennessee are troubled and dividing, and this is
true in Texas and elsewhere. A split occurred when opposing groups
in the Hendersonville, Tennessee, Church of Christ went their
separate ways. Churches in Nashville are deeply troubled, and
some are in turmoil.
Division in the ranks of the churches of Christ got underway in
the late 1960's. One indicator was the publication of Mission
magazine. Its editors and staff deemed the time right to begin
to push for the adoption of the modernism of the "new theology"
reflected in the writings of Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, and
others. Mission magazine died aborning.
A new generation of kindred liberals has now arisen among us who
deem the time right to begin the "takeover" of the conservative
churches of Christ. They are strongly ensconced in many of our
educational institutions, editors of some brotherhood papers,
and authors of several books. Popular preachers are delivering
messages based on the "junk theology" of the "New
Age" church spokesmen.
They announce the imminent death of the conservative churches.
The denial of the "virgin birth" of Jesus and the assumption
of the illegitimacy of his birth appears in a recent publication
of Wineskins. Would-be church historians, who don't know
what they are talking about, write articles. The Second Incarnation,
written by Rubel Shelly and Randall Harris, relies completely
for documentation on contemporary liberal theologians outside
the church without even an honorable mention of the likes of David
Two Dates Marking Division
in Contemporary Church of Christ
This writer suggests two dates and places that mark the split
between the "conservative" and "liberal" churches
of Christ. My first choice is April 10, 1973, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Then the representative of the Herald of Truth defended the program
against its critics. Lynn Anderson denied that he claimed a "miraculous
vision." Landon Saunders ignored the charge that his "Heartbeat"
devotionals (an adjunct of the Herald of Truth) were tinctured
with charismatic terminology. Today a look back sees Lynn Anderson
and Landon Saunders as only bit players in a larger, unfolding
Brother Anderson cannot soon forget describing the churches of
Christ as a "big sick denomination." The emerging "New
Age" church of Christ seems to have "Kierkegaardian"
symptoms of a "sickness unto death." The think-tank
of the Herald of Truth labored under the delusion that the public
could be hoodwinked into believing a fellowship, other than the
churches of Christ were the sponsors of "Heartbeat."
The Mormons take enormous pride in their world class TV ads with
the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints"
affixed. Managers of Herald of Truth were not so honest.
The Herald of Truth people thought that E. R. Harper could be
dropped from the program with a minimum of "damage control."
They were wrong! "Art is long and life is short." Though
the life of a man is short, the memory of history is not. We will
remember the Memphis meeting as the place and time when the loyal
members of the churches of Christ stood up to be counted and forced
the liberals to show their hand.
I would choose the week of July 4, 1991, as the time that marks
the widening of the gulf. This was during the second meeting of
the Nashville Jubilee. During these lectures - in a workshop,
and in the Nashville Tennessean - Jubilee spokesmen trashed
and ridiculed churches of Christ. These transactions have been
Just as A. I. Myhr is associated with troubled times in the churches
of Christ, so was Don Finto a few years back in the highly profiled
Belmont church split. We have in our midst a new generation of
trouble-makers who would usher us into the 21st century with their
idea of a "New Age" church of Christ. They now are busily
drafting a "new ecclesiology" and a "new theology."
They have a peculiar notion that the church is the "second"
reincarnation of Christ.
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