That Which Is Perfect

Christian Leader columnist George A. Klingman has this to say in reply to query number 20,005:

“What is that which is perfect and when is it to come?”

That which is “perfect” is the eternal, the infinite, the absolute; the state in which we shall see “face to face” and no longer through a glass darkly.  “Now we are children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.  We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  We do not know when this glorious change shall come.  Now we are finite, limited, handicapped by a body of flesh–then we shall “fully know as we have been fully known.”

Christian Leader, “Query Department”, February 24, 1920, page 5.

I wasn’t looking for this in the first place…just another happy discovery…and didn’t notice any reply to the query, or Klingman’s answer, in later issues.  It comes and goes…read slowly or you’ll miss it.

Klingman in February 1920 does not identify Paul’s ‘perfect’ with the completed canon of the New Testament.  For him it is the eschatalogical completion of God’s purpose for believers: in the glorious ‘not yet’ they fully know Christ face to face.  Now we experience incompleteness, then we will know fullness.

Now, how representative or exceptional this position is in 1920 among the readership of F. L. Rowe’s Leader I cannot say.  Whether and how this agrees …or not… with the query departments of Firm Foundation, Gospel Advocate, Christian Standard, Christian-Evangelist, American Christian Review or any number of smaller papers, I cannot say.  Nearly every commentary on 1 Corinthians published by Disciples or Church of Christ folk still awaits publication in 1920.  So do most of the lectureship speeches at the colleges and universities.

It will be a welcome contribution to the literature for someone to trace the history of interpretation of this text (1 Corinthians 13.10) across the Stone-Campbell traditions.

2 thoughts on “That Which Is Perfect

  1. In 1920 George Klingman is Dean of the Bible Department of Abilene Christian College; by 1923 he will be banished from ACC, one of several victims of a purge against persons whose consciousness of eschatology was held to be suspect by others who fancied themselves orthodox. When, forty years later, i asked Jesse Parker Sewell about Klingman, the spark of an old rage ignited in his ancient eyes, and his voice rose: “We had to get rid of him!”

    Two streams of consciousness flow into the understanding of the “perfect” or “complete” in 1 Cor 13:10 as the Bible. The first, derived from the controversy with Robert Henry Boll’s premillennial understanding of the Bible, seeks to domesticate eschatological themes in Scripture and to subordinate them to rules for thought and behavior in the present. The second stream seeks to domesticate the Holy Spirit and to subordinate it to the Bible. These streams respond to the teaching of Adventists and Pentecostals, who by 1920 are among the principal competitors of Churches of Christ.

    These streams of consciousness flow together in the work of Robertson Lafayette Whiteside (1869-1951), who is the intellectual engine of the Wallace faction among Churches of Christ during the second quarter of the twentieth century and beyond. It is Alexander Campbell, in his debate with Nathan L Rice in 1843, who first articulates for a wide audience the idea that “In conversion and sanctification, the Spirit of God operates on persons only through the word of truth,” that is, the Bible. In 1901 Frederick Louis Rowe, publisher of the Christian Leader, broke out this fifth proposition of the Campbell-Rice debate and published it as a separate volume. Whiteside affirms, in Sound Doctrine 1:14 (1920) that “the Holy Spirit selected the very words which inspired men used” in the writing of the Bible.” In the fourth volume of Sound Doctrine (1924), Whiteside appropriates 1 Cor 13:10 to declare that all “gifts of the Spirit” to humankind ceased when the last word of the New Testament was written. Paul had, Whiteside declared, “just affirmed that prophecy, or inspired revelation, and tongues would cease, or ‘be done away’ (Vs. 8), and in this verse he tells when they would cease or ‘be done away,’ namely, when revelation was completed. With John’s book of Revelation, the sacred canon was closed — the Gospel was completely made known. . . . The miraculous gifts of the Spirit, having served their purpose, passed away, never again to be needed or used by man in this life.” (Sound Doctrine 4:94-95)

    For Whiteside, “the Word of God” = the Bible, and as he draws the consequences of that equation, faith is demystified and holiness becomes, quite simply, an achievement of human will and ability. What had once been understood to be “gifts of the Spirit” are now understood to be exercises of human “talent.” In Whiteside’s system we may see the origins among Churches of Christ of an endless preference for and preoccupation with the trivial.

    May God have mercy.


  2. See further George A Klingman, “When That Which Is Perfect Is Come,” in Abilene Christian College Bible Lectures 1922-1923 (Cincinnati: F L Rowe, Publisher, n.d.) 36-43.

    Klingman begins by engaging the “issue,” directly and to the point.

    “This passage is understood by some to have reference to the completed will of God, or the completion of the New Testament revelation. Some who hold this view further assert that ‘the perfect law of liberty’, mentioned in James 1:25, refers to the same thing.

    “Neither Paul nor James had in mind ‘the completion of God’s will.’ This can be clearly shown from the context.”

    Of that “context” Klingman writes,

    “Can there be any question in the mind of any one as to what the ‘now’ and the ‘then’ refers? All you have to do is to turn back to verses 9 and 10 and the context makes it perfectly clear. It would be the worst form of ‘destructive criticism’ to assume that the apostle Paul knew ‘in part’ that which we now ‘know fully’; that through the exercise of our fallible faculties we could read the New Testament scriptures and know more than that great inspired hero of God knew nearly nineteen hundred years ago!”

    i think we can safely assume that Klingman’s opponents and critics assumed exactly what he says they did — and we are still living with the assured results of that “destructive criticism” among the Churches of Christ.

    May God have mercy.


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