"The Voice Of The Pioneers" … And Current Problems

Robert H. Farish, Tarrant, Alabama

“The Voice of the Pioneers on Instrumental Music and Societies” is the title of a book written by Brother John T. Lewis in 1931. The book was published by the Gospel Advocate in 1932. I have just re-read the book and am so impressed with the valuable material which brother Lewis has collected, and his pointed comments on the matters discussed, that I write this to introduce the book to younger brethren, and to excite the interest of older ones to re-read the book. The book is replete with significant material which has current value in its bearing on present day issues.

Twenty-two years ago Brother Lewis undertook to answer some claims and contentions of M. D. Clubb, a digressive preacher, who was secretary of Tennessee Missionary Society and editor of Tennessee Christian. That Clubb’s contentions were amply refuted is evident to the careful reader of the book. In an exchange with Brother J. A. Allen, Clubb had asserted, “Our brethren have always been committed to organized mission agencies. It is worse than folly to dispute this. The pioneers were almost unanimous in favor of organization.” Brother Lewis showed that this was a baseless assertion by giving quotations, which opposed unscriptural cooperation, from the pen of pioneer preachers, during the period when efforts were being made to create sentiment in favor of the society. He also raises the question, “What were ‘our brethren’ doing from the beginning of the reformation till 1849, when they had their “first convention” and organized “The American Christian Missionary Society”? The reformation had almost circled the globe as a golden belt in 1849.”

The advocates of the Missionary Society cannot justly point to the glorious success of “the reformation” and claim that as an accomplishment of their society.

Some of the men who were most powerful in their arguments against the missionary society later apostatized and went along with the society element. But the fact that they changed their convictions or compromised does not weaken their arguments which they made against such. The same thing is observable in some today. If we were disposed to regard human behavior as our standard, we could justify compromise of conviction, by pointing out that it *as done then and is done now, hence, it is the thing to do. Kinsey to the contrary, general behavior is not the standard. If it were, there would be no such thing as misbehavior. If the majority of the brethren of 1954 go off after unscriptural cooperation plans, institutionalism, etc., no one is justified thereby for going along with the crowd.

There were however, many powerful pens exercised in opposition to the Missionary Society from 1849 onward, just as there are many today who stand on their convictions and relentlessly oppose the “society in the eldership” of a local congregation. Among the pioneer preachers who fought to stem the tide of digression, Jacob Creath, Jr. was in the forefront.

Brother Lewis gives the following quotation from “The Story of Churches — The Disciples of Christ” by Errett Gates, “The struggle for organized missionary work among the disciples was begun, and progress was contested at every step by a bitter and relentless opposition, which became a party within the ranks with its leaders and newspapers. The first leader of the anti-missionary element was Jacob Creath, Jr.” An unfair note is evidenced in the language used by Dr. Gates. Notice he refers to those who opposed the missionary society as “the anti-missionary element.” Just such tactics are employed today by the advocates of centralization and institutionalism. We frequently hear those who oppose “institutionalism” and “societies within the eldership” branded as opposing caring for orphans and carrying out the great commission.

But Gates in his history does recognize Jacob Creath, Jr. as being a leader in the opposition to the missionary society. In view of Creath’s pioneering efforts to stem the tide, it would be wise for all gospel preachers, especially the younger ones, to read the articles of Creath on this issue. Here are some sample quotations taken from Brother Lewis’ book. Perhaps they will whet the appetite for more. Page 24, 25, “As to the argument offered to sustain these associations — that they are acceptable to our brethren — we would say that they have been unacceptable to them until recently. What has produced this change in them? What new light is this that has sprung up so recently upon this subject? I confess I have no more light now, on the subject of associations, than I had twenty-five years ago. Will these brethren, who have been so recently and suddenly converted from their former faith upon this subject, furnish us with a small portion of this new light, that we may be converted, too? I suppose the golden calf was acceptable to all the Jews, except Moses. I believe the calves set up at Dan and Bethel were popular with Jeroboam and the ten tribes. The report of the spies was acceptable to all the Jews, except Caleb and Joshua … . The Pope is very acceptable to the Catholics; so are creeds and clerical conventions to all the Protestant parties. But does all this prove that they are acceptable to God? Did not God’s Son say, that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God? It is seldom that a thing is acceptable to God and man both.” (Jacob Creath, Jr., in Millennial Harbinger, 1850, page 470.471)

“You ask, are not the terms ‘congregation’ and `convention’ verbal equivalents? I answer no — they are not. You ask, what is a single church but a convention? I might ask, what is a single family but a state, and what is a state but a single family? Are they the same thing? A single church is a select assembly of Christians located permanently in one place, meeting weekly to celebrate the ordinances of God. A convention is a collection of the clergy, elders, and laity, of some religious party or sect scattered over the United States and other countries, meeting occasionally, annually, or semi-annually, in different places — for what? To pass resolutions to bind themselves or others to do what they were already bound to do. The creation of a single congregation is the work of God; the creation of a convention is the work of man.

“You say our Savior and the apostles did not denounce conventions, as such. Did they denounce popery or corrupt Protestantism, as such? Did they denounce infant baptism or creed making, or auricular confession, as such? It is for you to show where they authorized conventions.” (Jacob Creath, Jr., in Millennial Harbinger, 1850, page 497)

On page 27 of Brother Lewis’ book we read that “a number of the periodicals of the reformation refused their columns to the discussion. But the “Review” was opened to it, and as it circulated everywhere, the people generally were awakened to a consideration of the subject.” There are periodicals today which seldom if ever open their columns to the discussion of current issues but now as then, there are periodicals which are “opened to it.” The Gospel Guardian has consistently plead for open, fair, brotherly discussion on the issues which are current and vital. It’s columns have been open for discussion of the issue and articles from both sides have appeared. The Preceptor has also carried many fine articles discussing the principles involved. We are gratified to note that the Firm Foundation has opened its columns to permit Brother Glenn Wallace to present objections to “Herald of Truth.” We trust that the columns of that fine old paper will continue open for discussion of the issues.

The Gospel Advocate has also carried some articles on the issues, among them the series by Brother Earl West on “Congregational Cooperation.” These and many other articles of such nature are what we would naturally expect to see in the grand old paper which had as a main reason for its establishment the discussion of the subject, “Cooperation.” In the “Voicet of the Pioneers — ” on page 89 Brother Lewis gives Brother Fanning’s statement of this fact. “In establishing the ‘Gospel Advocate,’ I determined, by the help of the Lord, to give the subject of cooperation a thorough examination. I do not pretend to say how it has been brought about, but I have for years believed that a change must take place in our views of cooperation before we can labor to each other’s advantage or to the honor of God.”

On page 90 Brother Lewis commented, “Thus, when the Gospel Advocate was born, it opened its eyes, scanned the field of church cooperation and set the compass that has guided its course through seventy-five years of tempestuous religious journalism. It came here fighting the inventions and devices of men in religious matters; and should it ever cease the fight, I pray that the ink may fade from its pages.” These were the sentiments entertained and expressed by John T. Lewis twenty-two years ago and I am confident remain his conviction till this day. To his prayer I add my fervent amen!

“The Voice of the Pioneers on Instrumental Music and Societies” by John T. Lewis is another “must” for the preacher’s library. Purchase a copy if you can find one, if not, then borrow, study, and return. The Gospel Guardian has a limited supply of this book.

Gospel Guardian 5:50