I offer for this installment the suggestions of my friend Chris Cotten. Several weeks ago I asked Chris to consider guest-posting to eScriptorium a short reading list on non-institutional churches of Christ (NI). I told him there would be no parameters, no restrictions and no pay…well, ok, a meal at Wendell’s in West Nashville, but no lucre, filthy or otherwise, is at stake here. Chris obliged and put together twelve annotated suggestions for first-reads on NI churches and issues. Enjoy…
First Reads: non-institutional churches of Christ
This list is my own. The interpretations are my own, as well (although we can talk about the scholarship behind them in the comment box if you’d like). There may be works that you would include that I haven’t; that’s ok, tell me about them in the comment box.
1. ‘The churches of Christ (non-institutional)’ via Wikipedia. Don’t laugh, it’s actually a decent summary of the controversy of the 1950s and some of the later controversies within NI circles. The article is aided considerably by the input of Jeff Barnes and others.
2. “Please Don’t Call Us ‘Anti’” by Ferrell Jenkins. The text of an address delivered at the 55th Annual Pepperdine Lectureship in May, 1998. It attempts, as much as possible, to give a snapshot of the NI fellowship as it stood at that time. Much of what he says is still valid a decade later.
3. David Edwin Harrell, Jr., The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century: Homer Hailey’s Personal Journey of Faith. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2000. Included in this biography of Homer Hailey is probably the most complete history of the NI churches following the split of the 1950s.
4. ________, “The Emergence of the ‘Church of Christ’ Denomination.” Athens, AL: C.E.I. Publishing Company, 1972. If you think the institutional debate was about kitchens, you don’t get it. The young scholar turns the rigor of his sociological analysis of the 19th century Stone-Campbell Movement to an examination of the institutional controversy in this delightfully written, and frankly polemical, pamphlet.
5. Irven Lee, “A Friendly Letter on Benevolence.” Athens, AL: C.E.I., 1958. Included in this tract is the memorable, and very telling (I think) line, that Christianity “is a do-it-yourself religion.” I think this gives significant insight into the NI mindset: Lee is not saying that you don’t need the church and that you can go it alone, rather that teaching, preaching, missionary activity, care for the poor¸ widows and orphans, are always the responsibility of each Christian and can never be “outsourced” to agencies that do those things for us without us ever having to lift a finger. To me, this is a kind of proto-“missional” stance. It has, incidentally, recently been dressed up and re-presented in Russell D. Moore’s book on adoption.
6. Cogdill-Woods Debate: A Discussion on What Constitutes Scriptural Cooperation Between Churches of Christ. Lufkin, TX: Gospel Guardian, 1957. This debate between Roy Cogdill (representing the NI position) and Guy N. Woods (representing the institutional position) took place in Birmingham, Alabama, in November 1957. (Interestingly, this major debate took place almost three full years after B.C. Goodpasture had printed calls for a ‘quarantine of the antis’ in the pages of the Gospel Advocate in December 1954.) Although not a very edifying read, yet lauded as the textbook on the subject by many on the NI side, this is the standard presentation of the hermeneutical side of the institutional controversy. The text of Cogdill’s first affirmative speech can be found here.
7. The Cogdell-Turner Discussion. Bowling Green, KY: Guardian of Truth, 1983. A written debate between Gaston D. Cogdell (not to be confused with Cogdill above), representing the ‘mainline’ and Robert F. Turner, representing the NI position. In general, I have found that written debates are far more effective than oral ones when attempting to understand a question. Thus, I consistently recommend this debate over Cogdill-Woods if you want to examine a debate about institutionalism.
8. Cecil Willis, ed. The Arlington Meeting. Marion, IN: Cogdill Foundation, 1976. In 1968, a group of well-known preachers and authors representing both the institutional and non-institutional positions gathered in Arlington, Texas, to talk things over. Nothing came out of the meeting itself, but the speeches given were collected into a single volume by Cecil Willis and make a nice resource on the whole question, mostly because of the general absence of rancor on the part of the speakers.
9. Steve Wolfgang, “History and Background of the Institutional Controversy.” This is Wolfgang’s opening address at the 1988 Nashville Meeting. Originally published in Guardian of Truth 33 (1989), it was reprinted in pamphlet form from Truth Bookstore. The entire address is now available online in four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4.
10. John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding. Siloam Springs, Arkansas: Leafwood, 2006. Much of what is described in this book – although not all of it – is passed from Lipscomb and Harding through John T. Lewis (a 1906 Nashville Bible School graduate) to a group of preachers (Benjamin Lee Fudge, Irven Lee, Hiram Hutto, Sewell Hall, Howard See, Carrol Sutton, etc.) and churches in North Alabama and Middle Tennessee during the first half of the twentieth century. As it manifests itself in NI circles, it retains the Lipscomb/Harding position on war and government, the female head covering, prayer (and prayer posture), grace, etc., as well as Lipscomb and Harding’s ecclesiology (which this particular ‘school’ points to in defense of its adoption of the NI position in the 1950s). When examining the history of the NI fellowship over the past twenty years, it is possible to see the tensions between “liberals” (the group described above) and “conservatives” (represented by Truth Magazine, Faith and Facts, Watchman Magazine, etc.) as another example of the strife between “Tennessee” (in Hicks and Valentine’s paradigm) and “Texas.”
11. Benjamin Lee Fudge, “Can A Christian Kill For His Government?” Athens, AL: C.E.I., 1943. This tract, published the year that Fudge graduated from Abilene Christian College, was extremely controversial. It was published at a time when the slow trickle away from pacifism in Churches of Christ had become full-scale retreat, due in large part to the shift of Foy E. Wallace, Jr. from a pacifist to a militarist position following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In short, Fudge’s answer to the question posed in the title of the pamphlet was “No.” As the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, Fudge’s unpopular position on participation in war, combined with his alignment with the emerging non-institutional movement (as demonstrated in his journal, The Gospel Digest), led to a nationwide boycott of the publishing enterprise he had founded during the 1940s – called C.E.I. (Christian Enterprises International) and at the time a major provider of Sunday school literature among Churches of Christ – that forced him into involuntary bankruptcy. This tract has probably done the most to keep the pacifist option open in NI circles over the past fifty years.
12. Daniel Sommer, The Rough Draft: Can’t We Agree on Something? Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) was something of a spiritual grandfather for the non-institutional movement. Let me hasten to clarify that statement because if I leave it alone I will catch flack from all sides.
It is difficult to speak of Sommer at all in Church of Christ circles. Outright misrepresentation of his positions (or incomplete understandings of them) are rampant in Church of Christ circles. A few things should be noted first for an informed reading of the Rough Draft. First, it was common in mainline CofC circles in the 1950s to refer to those who advocated the NI position as “Sommerites.” Partly this was to score rhetorical points – to call someone a Sommerite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a shorthand way to refer to that person as an extremist or a fanatic.
First published in the American Christian Review in June 1932, this is a fascinating document. It comes from the “ecumenical” period late in Sommer’s life. The positions elaborated in the document are, thus, moderate positions designed to appeal to a wide audience across the conservative end of the Disciples spectrum. The compromise position on support of colleges enunciated in this document becomes, twenty years later, the NI position during the debates of the 1950s. By that time, of course, the game had changed in Churches of Christ. The push for denominational status (in the Troeltschian sense), respectability and institution-building in Churches of Christ in the 1950s made the compromises of the 1930s seem quaint at best, dangerous and radical at worst.