So begins my attempt to work through David Lipscomb’s Civil Government. Its Origin, Mission and Destiny and the Christian’s Relation To It. I’ve been saving it for now since the election is getting close. I’ve already seen quite a bit about why Christians, as Christians, should(n’t) vote for this or that (one) candidate. And every election year we wrestle with the choices, and invariably the discussion of Lipscomb’s views comes up.
I don’t know just yet how long or how deep this series will be. We’ll see how often I post…I don’t know yet. The book has four chapters, so I’d say four weeks at least…assuming I post once per week. That will take us right up to the election. But that really isn’t my overriding priority. I’m under no deadline…we’ll just see.
Today, for starters, I’m reproducing below DL’s 1910 reply to a query about the book (first published in 1889 by the Gospel Advocate Publishing Company, subsequently in 1913 by McQuiddy Printing and 1957 by the Gospel Advocate Company). To my knowledge GA hasn’t issued it in 50 years. It is available online here; and in hard copy from Doulos Christou Press in Indianapolis.
The Christian’s Relation to Worldly Governments.
Brother Lipscomb: The longer I live and the more I search the Scriptures, the stronger is my faith that the disciples of Christ have no God-given right or privilege to participate in, and be a part and parcel of, the political governments of the world. The church and the worldly governments are two separate and distinct institutions, ordained of God, each for its own peculiar purpose, yet he has never given the members of either the one or the other the right or privilege to participate in and administer the affairs and execute the laws of the other. It was through your writings in the Gospel Advocate more than forty years ago that my thoughts were first directed to this subject, and I understand you have constantly maintained and defended the scripture teaching all these years. In a conversation recently with a good brother, he said, “Should Brother Lipscomb now rewrite his articles on the relation of the church to worldly government, he would materially modify many of them,”; intimating that you now regarded at least some of your teaching as erroneous. Now, my dear brother, as the shades of the evening of your long and useful life gather around you, while you may, will you not give the Gospel Advocate readers one more brief but strong article on this vital question? Your many friends and brethren everywhere, who have been led to see these truths, would no doubt rejoice to hear from you again on this subject. S. T. F. Kirkpatrick.
Brother Price Billingsley wrote: “I have read your book on civil government, and am satisfied you are right, and the practice ought to be taught Christians."
Were I to rewrite the book, I would change some of the arguments. I would modify the positions on some scriptures. A few points I would explain a little differently, and some passages that were left out altogether I would introduce. I would do this, not because I have abated my faith in the truth of the position one particle, but to make it conform in all respects to the truth. As a sample, one of the scriptures condemning Christians looking to the political governments to settle difficulties and troubles is 1 Cor. 6:1-10; yet, as I remember, this passage is not noticed in the book. There is an application of the allusions to some of the poitical kingdoms of this world that I think not correct. But I have not abated or lost confidence in the least in the truthfulness of the position. I do not beleive the church can ever be clean and holy with its members commingling in the political affairs of the world. It is probable that I have done wrong in failing to press the truth as I should have done. The difficulty of holding men up to the position, the readiness of those who professed to believe the truthfulness of the position to fly into an excitement and political fury and do bitter denunciation because some election ot some political movement did not suit them, all has had a tendency to discourage me, and I ceased to press it. I would rejoice to see brethren take hold of the subject and press it as a great issue on which the welfare of the church and Christians depend. Christians will never be loyal and true to God while engaging in the political strifes.
So ends DL’s reply. And so begins my engagement with Uncle Dave and his first book. Please join in.