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Hall Laurie Calhoun in Transition

By Adron Doran

religion, articles, christianity

The personal life of Hall Laurie Calhoun represented a great moral and religious struggle from the time he tried to "get religion" during a Methodist revival in Conyersville, Tennessee, when he was 12 years old until the time that he left the Christian Church in 1925 at the age of 62 years. Though Calhoun was not satisfied with his early "conversion," he boasted that the "Campbellites" would never get him after he had seen his parents baptized and take membership in Blood River Church of Christ in Henry County, Tennessee.

He enrolled in the Mayfield (KY) Seminary when he was 14 years old. He attended a gospel meeting and after hearing 42 sermons, he was baptized for the remission of sins. He attended the non­organ Christian Church in Mayfield and in Union City, Tennessee. He had gone to Union City to enroll in high school where his brother­in­law, W.T. Shelton, preached for the Christian Church.

Calhoun had lived a well­protected life and was deeply committed to the Restoration Movement during his early years. When he graduated from high school in 1883, he returned to Conyersville to live with his parents and teach in the Male and Female Academy. He identified with the Church of Christ which had been established in Conyersville by James A. Harding. The family of Harding had left the Court Street Christian Church in Winchester, Kentucky, when the organ was introduced and established the Fairfax Church of Christ which wrote a restrictive clause in the property deed forbidding the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. There is no doubt but that the Calhoun family and the Conyersville Church of Christ accepted the biblical position of Harding which was endorsed by John R. Williams on a later visit to Conyersville.

Calhoun had received a congressional appointment to the military academy at West Point. His parents did not want Hall Laurie to become a professional soldier so they arranged for him to enroll in Kentucky University and the College of the Bible at Lexington. Charles Loos was President of Kentucky University and John William McGarvey was President of the College of the Bible when Calhoun enrolled in 1888. The Main Street Church introduced an organ that same year which McGarvey strongly renounced. However, Calhoun attended the Broadway Christian Church which McGarvey had established in 1870.

The Broadway Church was affiliated with the Kentucky Missionary Society but did not introduce an organ until 1902 at which time McGarvey left and went to the Chestnut Street non­organ Christian Church. Calhoun, who was a protégé of McGarvey, must have been terribly confused over the inconsistency of McGarvey who served as an officer in the missionary society and yet preached for organ­churches though he refused to hold membership in a congregation which used an organ in worship.

Calhoun graduated from Kentucky University with a baccalaureate degree and from the College of the Bible in 1892 with a classical diploma. He returned to Conyersville with a wife and a baby girl. He accepted an invitation to preach in Paducah, Kentucky, for the Tenth Street organ­Christian Church. He moved in 1897 to Franklin, Tennessee, where he preached for the Church of Christ. During the time that Calhoun was preaching in Paducah and Franklin, he was invited by David Lipscomb and James A. Harding to consider a teaching position on the faculty of the Nashville Bible School. After a period of discussion, Calhoun refused the appointment because Lipscomb and Harding would have required him to separate himself from the society­organ churches. This situation was very upsetting to Calhoun. He spent a period of time in developing what he called "an unanswerable argument" in an effort to justify the use of instrumental music in worship. About the only person who could not answer his argument was himself

When the Georgia Robertson Christian College was organized at Henderson, Tenn., in 1897, A. G. Freed and E. C. McDougle were named co­presidents. The college was owned and controlled by the Tennessee Missionary Society and an organ was in use in the worship of the Henderson Christian Church. Calhoun was offered a teaching position in the college which he accepted for the 1900 school year. Though he was frustrated over what had happened at the Nashville Bible School, he was satisfied and felt at home with the situation in Henderson. He was associated with the likes of N. B. Hardeman, A. G. Freed, and L. L. Brigance. He preached for a year with the Christian Church in Newbern, Tenn.

In 1901 Calhoun's fondest dream was fulfilled when J.W. McGarvey, on behalf of the curators, invited him to return to Lexington as a member of the faculty of the College of the Bible. Calhoun was required to enter an institution of higher education and earn an advanced degree. He enrolled in Yale University where he met the requirements for a Bachelor of Divinity degree in one year. He transferred to Harvard University where he earned a Master of Arts degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in two more years. He proved himself to be a Christian scholar indeed.

Calhoun returned to the College of the Bible in 1904 as a Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Civil History and in charge of the Department of Public Speaking and Reading. He became the preacher for the society­organ church in Nicholasville and when W.C. Moro resigned as dean of the college, Calhoun was appointed to fill the vacancy. When McGarvey died on October 6, 1911, Calhoun was appointed as acting president.

It is clear that Calhoun had crossed his "Rubicon" in 1901 when he left Tennessee and joined the faculty of the College of the Bible. McGarvey was his revered and honored mentor and personal friend. Calhoun was being groomed by McGarvey as his successor. It is apparent that Calhoun chose the course of the Christian Church, the College of the Bible and John William McGarvey whithersoever they went. He followed this course with vigor and success until 1917 when R.H. Crossfield, a liberal of the first order, became president and changed directions. Crossfield abandoned the course which had been set by the "old guards" and employed the likes of Willard Fortune, William Clayton Bower, Elmer Snoddy and George Hembry, who were admitted advocates of the New Theology. They spent their time in the classroom teaching destructive criticism and evolution. Calhoun and a number of the mature students filed charges against these liberal faculty members with the board of trustees. A "fire storm in the Bluegrass" resulted which caused great disturbance within the "brotherhood" with Calhoun right in the middle of the conflict. After a number of hearings, the Board voted to exonerate President Crossfield and the faculty and found them not guilty as charged.

Calhoun resigned from tile deanship of the College of the Bible and joined the faculty of Bethany College in West Virginia. He accepted invitations to preach for society­organ Christian churches in the adjacent region. When Calhoun left the position of dean in the College of the Bible in 1917, he was never able to regain his place of high standing in the Christian Church. By the end of the 1924 school year, Calhoun saw the same liberalism under the influence of the ultra­liberal mined Wilbur H. Cramblett, infiltrating Bethany College. The Bethany Christian Church under the preaching of young John Barclay was also going the way of the destructive critics and the pattern which had been set by the liberals.

Unusual experiences of Hall Laurie Calhoun came in 1913 while he was still dean of the College of the Bible. He was a member of the International Sunday School Association and was selected by the Association to attend a world convention in Zurich, Switzerland. He and his wife also visited nine other countries while on the trip. Calhoun kept a daily diary of events and happenings during his three­months' journey. His arrangements for worship on each Lord's Day represents his irenic spirit and ecumenical theology. The decisions which he made regarding worship on the Lord's Day were to be expected. In most cases, when one decides that it makes no difference what he does in worship, then it follows that it makes little difference in the day on which he worships and the denomination with which he worships. This seems to have been the conviction of Calhoun during his heyday with the Christian Church.

On their first Sunday away from home, they worshiped with a Catholic church at 10 o'clock, with the Knox Presbyterian Church at 11 o'clock and the First Methodist Episcopal Church at 4 o'clock where he spoke to the Sunday School in Montreal, Canada.

The Calhouns spent their second Sunday on board the Laconia steamship. They attended an Episcopal church service and heard a Bishop Lawrence. At a night service they heard a Scotch Presbyterian preacher relate some of his own experiences. On Sunday, July 6, they attended a service at the London Temple where they heard the noted R.J. Campbell preach on "the necessity of faith." The next Sunday in Zurich, Switzerland, they "went to hear the Reverend L. Moffat Gantrey preach a Methodist sermon on the 'sword of the Spirit.'" On a later Sunday they went to the English Church just inside the Joppa Gate in Jerusalem, but on most of the remaining Sundays they spent the time sight­seeing. No mention is made in the diary that they engaged in the "breaking of bread" in their own quarters. Calhoun wrote about returning to the Providence Christian Church on Sunday, Sept. 21, where he was greeted by 177 people in Sunday School and by a "packed house for Church."

In 1925 when Hall Calhoun was in the midst of turmoil and strife in his personal and professional life at Bethany College and in the Christian Church, he came to renew his fellowship with F.W Smith, N.B. Hardeman, and M.C. Kurfees. They reminded Calhoun of the "way of the Lord more perfectly" and arranged for him to resign his professorship in Bethany College and separate himself from the Christian Church and move to Henderson, Tennessee, where he became Associate President of Freed­Hardeman College and minister of the Henderson Church of Christ.

Calhoun found himself answering criticisms of his adversaries in an article to the Gospel Advocate in which he said that the teaching of destructive criticism and evolution was destroying Christianity and that the affiliation with the Missionary Society and the use of instrumental music in the worship were corrupting the church.

Calhoun had come full circle by 1925 and spent the last decade of his life among the people in Tennessee whom he loved and who loved him. Gone were the days in which he was required to fight the encroachment of liberalism in the churches. He had lost the "Battle of the Book" in 1917, but was now among the churches of Christ who loved the precious Book.

Published May 1997