on these days in the American Restoration Heritage: February 15-21

Among the things that happened this past week in American Restoration Heritage history …

February 15

Feb. 15, 1915Lew Wallace dies at his home in Crawfordville, Illinois at the age of eighty-seven. While experiencing a great deal in life, Wallace is best known to us today as the author of the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Though firmly convinced of Jesus’ humanity and deity, Wallace never claimed, or attempted to make, any connection with any earthly expression of church. However, the Restoration Heritage left its mark on Wallace as a youth.

Well, sort of.

Wallace’s mother (Esther French [Test] Wallace) died when he was only seven years of age. His father re-married two years later (1836), marrying Zerelda Sanders, who was a dedicated member of the Christian Church. In his autobiography, published posthumously, Wallace tells of how he spent his time while in church services with her:

“She was a member of the Christian Church, and insisted upon my attendance once every Sunday. I fear the services failed to impress me as she desired. My headgear was a flat-topped, black oil-cloth cap, visored before and behind, and, as it allowed penciling of delicacy on its surface invisible until held at a certain angle against the light, I converted it into a drawing-tablet. Greasy, and always in need of deodorizing, still it was eagerly sought on the return from “meeting.” The preacher, his assistant, the characters of the congregation, and all who had a peculiarity of face or manner were there penciled in unmistakable likeness. So the prayer, the sermon, even the communion, observed as it was every Lord’s day, might have been tedious to the others in attendance; they were not to me. I carried an occupation into the pew.”

As to the inspiration behind Wallace’s well-known book, it was a chance conversation in 1876 with famed agnostic Robert Ingersoll (who was the son of a preacher) that set the wheels in motion. Ingersoll recognized Wallace as they made their way by train to the third National Soldiers Reunion in 1876 (both men had served in the Union Army and had been at Shiloh, where Wallace had been wrongly made a scapegoat for a near Union disaster). Engaging in private conversation for about an hour, Ingersoll did his best to win Wallace over to skepticism. However, Ingersoll’s attempt had quite the opposite effect, launching Wallace into a sustained, personal investigation of the life of Christ. To keep himself fully engaged in the task and to increase the odds of others reading his conclusions, Wallace decided to turn them into a novel. Hence, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – essentially Wallace’s careful, considered response to Ingersoll’s take on things as well as a shadow of Wallace’s own journey toward faith.

We’re left to wonder if Wallace’s unintended motivation by Ingersoll to seriously look into Christ’s life would have ever happened, had it not been for the gospel seeds planted in a young man’s mind by years of regular church attendance. All of the latter due to a young mother’s great efforts every Sunday morning just to “be at meetin’,” no matter what. We never know just when the will cause the seeds we have planted  to germinate. Let us not grow weary in doing good.

[Incidently, Zerelda, Lew Wallace’s step-mother, is quite a force. We’ll note more about her in a post later this year. And yes, she did live for twenty years after her son’s book was published and so, she did know of his coming to believe.]

February 16

Feb. 16, 1864 – The building housing Kentucky University burns down, forcing one of its professors to move back to Bethany, West Virginia and find employment once more at Bethany College. The professor’s name is Robert Richardson. Two years later (1866), “The Sage of Bethany,” Alexander Campbell, will die and it is Richardson who will be selected to edit Campbell’s memoirs. Since his twenties, Richardson knew and worked closely with Campbell. Richardson will work tirelessly at his task and so, both volumes of Campbell’s memoirs, comprising over 1,200 pages in two-volumes, will be in publication by the end of 1869. Seven years later (1877), at the age of 70, Richardson will die and his body will be buried in the Campbell family cemetery in Bethany.

February 17

Feb. 17, 1869 – V. Livingston dies at his home in Washington County, Texas.

Though the Gospel Advocate (GA) is published in Nashville, TN, it has a large, and growing, number of subscribers in Texas in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Obituaries of no small number of members of the Restoration Heritage are commonly submitted to the GA for publication. Today, those entries shine a light on what “church life” was like in those days gone by. What people believed, how they lived, and the words they used to described matters are all recorded in these obituaries, and so, are a gold mine of information. The death notice for “V. Livingston” serves as an example.

“Died, at his residence, in Washington county, Texas, February 17, 1869, Bro. V. Livingston, in the 43rd year of his age. He was a devoted Christian, a bishop of the congregation at Black Jack Grove, always at his post and never tolerated anything not taught in God’s Word. During the war he was greatly persecuted on account of his anti-war principles, from which, however, he never deviated. He was a resolute opposer of all human societies, ever striving to withdraw the brethren from them. He was a living exemplification of the Bible precept ‘Owe no man anything but to love one another.’ He was emphatically a Bible man. We truly sympathize with his bereaved family in their great affliction, and trust we may all live faithfully in the service of the Lord, that we may unite with our dear brother in that blissful abode where parting is no more.” (J. H. Wilson, Gospel Advocate, March 18, 1869)

Now I ask you, how many rural or small town churches do you know of today that have elders in their early 40’s? I suspect not many. How many How many of members do you know who are pacifists, and have held to their convictions as to such during war-time, in a region strong in terms of military enlistment, and at great personal cost? I suspect the number is quite small. How many do you refer to as a “bishop?” None, right? And yet, there was a time in our Heritage when such would not have been all that unusual. “V. Livingston” is just one, enduring witness to such. We have not always done things as we do them now. Things do change, even if in our eyes the perceived rate of change is often exceedingly slow.

February 18

Feb. 18, 1935 – In Ardmore, Oklahoma, C. R. Nichol, Joe S. Warlick, J. D. Tant, and Basil D. Shilling conduct the funeral service for Jehu Willborn (‘J.W.’) Chism, a prolific debater and long-time associate editor of the Firm Foundation. Chism had been in bad health for two years and had died of pneumonia on the 16th at his home in Ardmore (416 Wheeler St.).

Finding a place to read, study, and reflect at length that is truly free of interruption can be a real challenge for most preachers. This is especially true for individuals whose personalities require quiet and freedom from visual distraction in order to focus and think well. As a result, what might appear odd to others can appear as an attractive and practical solution to a minister.

However, even ministers would likely agree that Chism’s typical habit of study was … unusual. Not the fact that his place of study was located at his residence, but that he would quite literally “crawl under a bed to study.” Yes, as in down “on the floor.” When his study hours were at night, it was not unusual for him to be at it until 2:00 a.m. or even later. [Picture it: your wife in bed above, and you studying, underneath.]. When his study time took place during daylight or evening hours, he would tell his wife that should anyone come by looking for him that, unless it was a matter of emergency, she was to tell them,

“He was here awhile ago, but I don’t see him now.”

February 19

Feb. 19, 1899Charles Chilton Moore, Jr., a grandson of Barton W. Stone, Sr. (through B.W.’s youngest daughter, Mary Anne), publishes in his newspaper, The Blue Grass Blade (TBGB), a list of items he wants to see take place. The list includes, quite amazing for its time, the following:

“* No Bible reading in public schools; * Stop paying chaplains out of tax money; * Churches should pay property taxes; * No more blasphemy laws; * No more liquor traffic; * Women should have the right to vote; * An international league of nations; * Publication of scientific information on sexual relations.”

At one time, Moore, like his famous grandfather, had been a preacher within the Restoration Heritage. He had attended Bethany College and had served a number of congregations in eastern Kentucky. However, after a time, Moore walks completely away from all faith. Moore does not stop “preaching,” though his content and audience will, naturally, change dramatically. He begins publication of TBGB in Lexington, Kentucky in 1886 and a phrase in its masthead tells all: “Published by a Heathen in the interest of good morals.” TBGB garners a large number of subscribers and the name C.C. Moore becomes a household name among well-read American agnostics and atheists. He will be one of the last in our country who will do prison time for the charge of blasphemy, but will secure his release from prison by special pardon at the hand of President William McKinley.

Mercifully, Stone does not live to see these days in the life of his grandson, as Stone dies in 1844 when Moore is only seven years of age.

Feb. 19, 1903 – The death notice of Parmelia H. Farrar, written by J.D. Floyd, is published in the Gospel Advocate.

Some of the history of the Restoration Heritage can be told by examining the lives of its prominent leaders. Much more of our history can be told through a look at the lives of church members who, though not nearly so well known, made a powerful, consistence difference where they were with what they had been entrusted. Quite simply, they lived out their faith and their devotion to Christ, showed. Parmelia H. Farrar was apparently just such a Christian.

“Sister Parmelia H. Farrar was born in North Carolina on April 2, 1830, and died at Flat Creek, Tenn., on February 2, 1903. Sister Farrar was the mother of twelve children, seven of whom are living. Before the Civil War she became a member of the church of Christ at New Hermon, Tenn.; and when the church at Flat Creek was formed, in 1868, she was one of its charter members. I knew Sister Farrar intimately for forty-five years, and feel that I can make a just estimate of her worth as a Christian and a neighbor. While she was always poor (as the world calls poor), always plain and unassuming, yet it can be said that she was worth more to our community than any other person who has lived in it during the last forty-five years. She visited and waited on more sick people and ministered to more who were in distress than any one else. There are three reasons why she could do this: (1) She was a woman of unusual bodily vigor; (2) she was never so engrossed in worldly affairs but that she could leave them; (3) she had the disposition of heart that led her to make sacrifices for others. She was a plain woman. I never saw her with any head covering but a sunbonnet. She was always plainly, but neatly, dressed, and never tried to follow the fashions. The dress pattern which she used when I first knew her would have answered for her last one. I said at her funeral, and I repeat here, that one woman like her is worth more to a community than a ten-acre lot full of the befrilled, dancing, card-playing devotees of fashion that are found in many places. Sister Farrar was faithful in her church relation. She seldom missed a service. When her seat was not filled, we knew that she or some one who needed her attention was sick. We bid our faithful sister good-by here, but trust that we shall meet and greet her in a fairer clime than this.”

February 20

Feb. 20, 1872 – Benjamin Franklin, editor of the American Christian Review (ACR), airs his total disgust with the Central Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio upon their having constructed a new church building styled after French Gothic architecture, complete with choir loft, an organ, what is thought to be the largest stained glass window in the United States (at the time), and seating for 2,000 people. It on an order of magnitude far beyond any other facility then utilized by those of the Restoration Heritage. The cost of the facility? $140,000 (a sum equivalent to over $3.1 million in today’s dollars). The date and location of its erection is especially significant: the Reconstruction of the South, devastated by the Civil War, is still just getting underway and Cincinnati is bounded from Kentucky (a border state strongly divided by the war) only by the Ohio River. W.T. Moore, the congregation’s preaching minister, will use some of Jesus’ last words on the cross – “It is finished” (John 19.30) – as his sermon text during the building’s dedication service.

Reminding Central that God “is not attracted by imposing temples, worldly show, nor fine entertainments,” Franklin will declare to all of his readers:

“These leading men in Cincinnati … have utterly disregarded the view of the great body of the brotherhood … They have put us to the test, to come up and tacitly endorse their folly, extravagance, and pride, with their corruption of the worship, or stay away. We can tell them plainly that we will never endorse them in their present worldly course. They will find many thousands more of the same mind. We would blush to talk of the ‘ancient order,’ the ‘gospel restored,’ returning to the ‘primitive order,’ the ‘man of sorrows’ who ‘had not where to lay his head’ … in this temple of folly and pride.”

Not to worry: Franklin is just getting warmed up. Until his death, six years later in 1878, he will continue to write of his great unhappiness with how he sees things playing out in the Restoration Heritage. Franklin, always having lived in poverty, has long believed that since at least 1850, that there has been two strong, competing groups in the Movement: one concerns itself with the common people and one is more minded about the well-to-do of society. He sees the gap steadily widening between these two groups, and his own life is a microcosm of the matter (especially his experience in working with, and being dependent on the benevolence of, well-to-do David S. Burnet in the 1850’s).

In short, the Movement, now in its second-generation of leadership, is leaving simplicity and the masses behind, trading them for bettering oneself and greater acceptance by those higher in society. Outreach is being traded off for outward appearance and so, the fundamental problem among the brethren is more attitudinal, than doctrinal. That is, it is Franklin’s conviction that the multitude of specific issues (instrumental music, missionary societies, etc.) that appear to be increasingly dividing brethren (in Franklin’s words as expressed earlier in the Millenial Harbinger in January 1870) “are not the cause, but only the occasion” for the real problem to do its deadly work. To attempt to address the specific doctrinal questions rather than the underlying attitude is like addressing the symptoms of a disease rather than the disease itself.

February 21

Feb. 21, 1901 – The notice of David G. Fleming’s death appears in the Gospel Advocate. Reference is made to the fact that as an adult he had been “baptized into Christ.”

Our speech betrays us; it reveals us. What we say, and what we don’t say, unveils what we actually believe, value, and want to emphasize. The phraseology we choose as we announce a person’s conversion to Christ is no exception. And as the vocabulary of our Heritage evolves through the years, death notices capture our beliefs, values, and emphasis.

While I’ve not made anything like an in-depth, comprehensive study of the matter – it would interesting to see one – my general impression through decades of reading Restoration Heritage obituaries (whether appearing in the GA or elsewhere) is that the earlier/older the account, especially in the mid-1800’s, the far greater the likelihood that baptism will be mentioned and that it is “into Christ.” However, during the latter 1800’s, and especially during the first half of the 1900’s, that tendency decreases and phrases such as “obeyed the gospel,” etc. appear more frequently. Of course, there are many exceptions to this observation, and so I realize I’m “painting with a roller brush” to put it this way, but still, it’s not too much to say that the emphasis is on Christ early on, then either the church or the gospel, and finally neither, but simply on the act, or fact, of baptism itself. A few examples will illustrate the evolution/devolution. In each instance below, note the year of death and so, thereby, the year the words describing the person’s conversion are crafted:

James C. Anderson (d. 9/12/1857) – “He was baptized into Christ …”

James R. Allen (d. 10/6/1859) – “… buried with Christ by baptism …”

Christian C. Elkins (d. 4/15/1873) – “…  immersed into Christ …”

Maggie L. Alexander (d. 8/6/1876) – “… was buried with her Lord in baptism …”

Mary E. Grigg (d. 1/3/1887) – “She was baptized into Christ …”

W.H.H. Griffin (d. 6/27/1896) – “… she became obedient to the faith …”

G.G. Griswold (d. 12/19/1902) – “She was baptized into the church of Christ …”

Mary C. White (d. 3/8/1910) – ” … she united with the church of Christ … being baptized by …”

John Ogden Collins (d. 10/31/1920) – “He obeyed the gospel …”

James David Taylor (d. 7/12/1929) – “… was baptized into the church of the Lord Jesus Christ …”

Dovie Williams (d. 5/24/1932) – “Her obedience to the gospel occurred at Henderson …

From the 1940’s onward, the tendency to make direct reference to a person’s baptism greatly decreases in death notices of those within the Restoration Heritage, or if notice is made, it is simply of the fact of it occurring, the year it was experienced, or by whose hands.

A.H. Taylor (d. 7/25/1940) – “He was baptized …”

I have not read all that many notices dating from the 1950’s up through our time, and so, I will not speak as to the trajectory of our vocabulary since the 1940’s.