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Divisions Must Come: A 1907 Lipscomb Article

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

David Lipscomb wrote a brief lamentation in 1907 for the Gospel Advocate titled Divisions Must Come in response to the U.S. Religious Census of 1906. It is obvious that division has come again to the churches of Christ 90 years after the publication of the 1906 religious census. Some of the causes for the division are easy to make out, but others have no basis in fact or common sense.

In his article, Lipscomb recognized that the Religious Census of 1906 had accurately gauged the fact that the Christian Church/churches of Christ, identified with the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, were divided. This declaration was solely that of S.D.N. North, director of the religious census.

For verification of his decision, North wrote Lipscomb a letter dated June 17, 1907, seeking his advice:

Whether there is a body called 'church of Christ,' not identified with the Disciples of Christ, or any other Baptist body. Regular, Primitive, United?

North explained to Lipscomb that he was a carrying out a directive of the law in an act of Congress, March 6, 1902, requiring the collection of separate statistics of the religious bodies in America.

Lipscomb's response was simple and direct:

There is a distinct people taking the Word of God as their only and sufficient rule of faith, calling their 'churches of Christ,' or 'churches of God,' distinct and separate in name, work, and rule of faith from all other bodies or peoples.

North made a visit to Nashville in 1907 to confer with Lipscomb on the present state of the Christian Church and churches of Christ, and to arrange with Lipscomb to collect the statistics for further publication in the U.S. Religious Census.

Despite the "cock-and-bull" stories told by some of "our" scholars, e.g., Doctors Hughes, Hooper, and Foster, the lower case "c" in churches of Christ was used by David Lipscomb in 1906 to eliminate a denominational designation. Lipscomb was indeed the first to use formally the expression "churches of Christ," and he did so in response to North's query.

A Book Review by Frances Meeker, Religion Editor

Frances Meeker is religion editor of the Nashville Banner. She has recently reviewed a new book written by Richard T. Hughes under the title Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America. In order that my following observations may not be construed as biased and prejudicial, the words of Frances Meeker are quoted to document the fact that our liberal brethren now openly admit that they subscribe to the belief that the churches of Christ began as a sect during the early years of the Restoration Movement.

This is clearly a personal, theological affirmation of our liberal brethren who seek to impose it upon their unsuspecting conservative brethren.

The Banner religion editor penetrates the very heart of the major theses of Dr. Hughes' mighty tome:

[The book] will be praised as a comprehensive account of the Restoration Movement, the attempt to restore primitive Christianity to modern worship, the defining characteristic that has led to the claim that the 'Church of Christ' is the 'true, original church described in the New Testament.'

The book is flawed with one Achilles heel after another. The book is awash with a flood of endnotes, and numerous ones are without "rhyme or reason." Dr. Hughes describes Shelly as:

[A] young [but no longer] and celebrated spokesman for the conservative churches for the conservative wing of the churches of Christ in the late 1960s who underwent a conversion in the late 1970s and 1980s, emerging as a leader of a new generation of reformers of the church.

Meeker writes that Hughes is likely to be criticized for labeling the churches of Christ as a sect that evolved into a denomination during the 20th century. She describes Hughes as a lifelong member of the church of Christ. Hughes pictures himself as wracked with excruciating torment that he has abandoned the faith of his father.

This seems to be the theme of our liberal turncoat brethren whose names run the gamut from Max Lucado to Rubel Shelly. They now know so much more than their fathers as they tell of their painful withdrawals from conservative churches of Christ.

This writer sees Dr. Hughes in an entirely different light. He is viewed as an overly ambitious historian with limited knowledge in crucial areas of Restoration history. He is prone to blindside the facts of Restoration history to fit his own preconceived notions. Dr. Hughes fancies that he has, indeed, written an intelligible and meaningful comprehensive history of the churches of Christ which will become the standard for the 21st century.

The scholarly fame he seeks as a Restoration historian, in my opinion, will bring him instead the same measure of notoriety achieved by Douglas Foster in his Wineskins article on David Lipscomb, and the blasphemous article of Andre Resner.

This writer, at this level of the investigation, praises Dr. Hughes for an invaluable contribution rendered to the conservative churches of Christ. He has mounted the courage to set forth his conception of what he regards as a "jerry-built" Church of Christ denomination. Michael Weed, Leonard Allen, and Richard Hughes chose to keep under cover their views of what they deem a sectarian Church of Christ. This was changed forever with the publication of Doug Foster's book, Will the Cycle Be Unbroken?, and now with the release of the Hughes' volume.

A blind man can see, without glasses, that our liberal brethren are in a no-holds-barred fight to destroy the conservative churches of Christ. All we need is time, patience, and copy in our conservative papers to bring out the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" of this growing reality.

Postscript

It is my opinion that we shall be able to convince even the most radical liberal brother among us that Dr. Hughes has fallen far short of a command of the historical facts which would do honor to this ambitious undertaking to join the ranks of the digressives who have produced monumental and comprehensive general histories of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. We have in mind W.T. Moore's Comprehensive History of the Disciples of Christ and William E. Tucker and Lester G. McAllister's Journey in Faith.

Dr. Hughes knows well the rules of the paper chase game and how to play it. He no longer identifies with the conservative churches of Christ which he left after much lamentation and copious tears. He no longer wanders in this wilderness of ignorance. Another version is that he is not even a pale and fading copy of a modern day Moses.

We think that we have many surprises in store for Dr. Hughes in the months ahead that he has not yet faced in his mounting confidence that he is a reliable church historian.


Published May 1996