I am apostate

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Or at least abstained from gathering with the saints.

It has been six months, two weeks and two days since I have been to church.

I have forsaken the assembly.

Well, not totally. I still pray for my church family. I still pray for people who are not in my church family, but who feel like family. Surely they need Your help as much.

You see, that’s where I’m having this problem. I haven’t lost faith in You, Father; nor your Son; nor your Holy Spirit. I’ve lost faith in your church. The Bride of Christ. At least, I’ve lost faith in the way we’ve conducted ourselves.

As if we’re just married one or two hours of one day every week.

But that’s not all, either. I also feel like when we gathered to worship, it’s all about us. The songs we like to sing. The scriptures we like to read. The prayers we like to repeat. The sermons we like to hear. The gifts we like to put in the collection plate. The potlucks and activities we like to participate in. All in the building we like to have around us with the pews we like to sit in.

I’m just not at all sure that’s what You meant by “church” or “assembly.” I’m not convinced You intended for it to happen once or twice a week, every week, with the same rituals played out over and over with the same words spoken and sung and prayed. I’m not positive that the gifts we give should be largely funding a building and its expenses or even a ministry staff. I’m not certain any of that equates to worship.

Because it feels like, if that’s what worship is, we can only do it then and there and when we’re all together, and I don’t find that to be the case in scripture.

And I have to wonder if the time of worship in a specific place at a specific time with everyone gathered was supposed to end when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed just as Jesus of Nazareth, your Son, predicted. That worship was to be constant, and prayer was to be constant, and singing was to be constant in our hearts — whether we’re alone or together in our homes or a borrowed place or on a seashore or a mountainside or a plain or wherever.

I get the picture that our gifts should be blessing the hungry and sick and poor and homeless. That there wouldn’t be as many of them and the destitution wouldn’t be so extreme if we weren’t spending our gifts otherwise. Mostly on ourselves.

I’m just not comfortable with the way we’ve been conducting ourselves as your family and the Bride of your Son.

I don’t preach anymore because it feels that my life should be the sermon seen and heard by those who aren’t familiar with You, or have had an awful experience with people like me who preached You but didn’t live You or love like You or bless others like You do.

I can’t see myself doing it the old way anymore. I’m spending more time, I think, with people who don’t really know You; people who feel like family whom You would love to hear calling you “Father,” and trying to drop hints to them that they’re loved and You’re listening and that You care.

I feel more at home among my fellow sinners, Father; You know I do.

And I don’t even know whether to be sorry about that.

I know that your family still gathering will be fine without me there. They don’t need to see my doubt and hear my lack of faith in church as they love it. I still love them, and I miss them, and I just can’t be there for them the way I used to be any longer. It’s not their fault or your fault or anyone’s fault, as near as I can tell — not even mine.

I’m just different in my doubt now.

I still believe in them, too; and that they will do much good and their hearts will worship You and people will be blessed.

That’s what I needed to confess. I will never forget what your Son said or did or gave for us, nor cease to be grateful for it, nor will I ever give up on church altogether.

I’m just with a different church now. The one that doesn’t really know You yet. The one willing to shake any preconception of the way church is or must be in order for You to be pleased and worshiped.

I want to hang with them, and be less of myself and more like You. Loving. Accepting. Gracious. Forgiving. The nonconformist who fishes for men and shepherds people and shares meals and tries to help heal brokenness.

That’s my confession, Father. I may be totally wrong and off-base, and if so, I’m doubly triply sorry. But I can’t believe in church as church is done right now, and I have to try something else.

Lord, help my unbelief.

Is This How We Want to be Known?

Many of us folks in churches of Christ are peculiar people.

RefuteYouThe problem is that, somewhere along our journey as a nondenominational nondenomination, too many of us have embraced the misapprehension that we are not only called to be a peculiar people — called out from among those “other” folks in the world — but that we are the One True Church That Has Everything Right and therefore The Only Ones Going to Heaven which means that Everyone Else is Going to Hell.

I guess that makes it incumbent upon so many of us to straighten out everyone who doesn’t see everything — and I mean everything — the way we do.

Considering the vigor with which we pursue that mission, you would think it was Christ’s Great Commission itself. Not so much to save the unsaved souls in this world, but to correct the souls in other churches who think they are already saved but are in fact mistaken on at least a point or two and therefore apostate and blasphemous and even more certainly bound for hell.

So the mission of many of us (whose church signs quote Romans 16:16 as if God had intended it to be the proprietary copyright-protected brand name of our group of believers) is not to salute, but to refute. We must refute everything that does not conform to the doctrines of our tradition.

All of which makes us about as attractive as Sheldon Cooper of television’s Big Bang Theory but without any of the personal charm.

May I just say this to the folks who have been so impressed with our peculiarly-misplaced mission: We’re an autonomous collective, like the peons of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We don’t have an overarching nationwide or multinational church structure. We don’t have imposed discipline for poor behavior. Each congregation does as it pleases, or hopefully, does as the good Lord pleases.

Therefore, I can’t apologize for the folks from churches of Christ who may have ambushed you in this way.

However, I can encourage you to forgive us and pray for us and hope that we will eventually perceive and wish to imitate the winsomeness of our Savior.

We’re not all that way. Some of us are not afraid to question the doctrines jackhammered into our heads and hearts from an early age and welded there by the terror of hellfire if we doubted. Some of us are willing to use logic that adheres to generally-accepted norms, and to imagine God and love and grace as more than Judge and correction and condemnation. Some of us are eager to see salvation as a gracious way of living Christ in this world as well as living with Him in the next. Some of us desire to be self-disciplined; to seek; to learn; to grasp; to embrace; to truly converse rather than just correct. Some of us believe that perfect love really does cast out fear.

Not all of us. The old ways die hard. And they feed our egoes. Some of us still want to get that better-than-thou rush. Some of us are convinced that the word “distinctive” is the most important word in scripture, even though it doesn’t appear there at all. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of browbeating and disciplining of others to maintain that level of certainty and arrogance, but it has persisted for many generations now in some pockets of our sometimes-fellowship, sometimes-similar-brand-name-only. Yet it can’t last forever.

Nothing that comes solely from the heart of man can.

I don’t think anyone can refute that.

I have lived in both camps. There are times — even now, while writing this — that the temptation is strong to leave the camp of the loving correctible and pitch a tent among the angry correctors. But I don’t dare.

There’s really no future in it.

And I still stand in need of correcting myself — frequently, privately, lovingly, and graciously. That’s how I’d prefer it.

But if it must also be firm and well-reasoned and communal and public, then so be it.

I know there will be those who will find this post ultimately offensive, hideously arrogant, and unforgivably divisive. Some of them will have written correctives more personally, more pointedly, naming those whom they judge and condemn without even once having made an effort to go to those folks singly or in twos or threes or even before the church before taking the matter before the whole world — first in printed publications and now digital ones. I refuse to do that. I believe Jesus shared the instructions of Matthew 18:15ff for good reasons. I do not believe that Paul failed to follow them, even if the details of that compliance are not recorded but assumed by scripture. So I do not believe those instructions are optional. Ever.

Let me make it clear: this post isn’t written to the people who will find it offensive, but to those whom they may have offended or condemned or turned completely away from Christ by an inaccurate and incomplete imitation of His just nature uncomplicated by His merciful nature.

I do hope they know this: that I love them anyway; that I want their efforts for God to be of a nature that He can bless them and make them fruitful; that I dearly desire for them to know Christ and the power of His resurrection: a sacrificial new life free of self and the shackles of man-made law and characterized instead by the freedom found in His Spirit to serve creatively and jofully. I wish that for everyone, including me.

Because I need to read and re-read; consider and re-consider my faith, and the way I practice it, and the Lord I seek to serve … more than anyone else.

I don’t think anyone can refute that, either.

Sermons and Chimes: Working Out Our Salvation

Alfred Ellmore, my Great-Great Grandfather
I’m coming to terms with my heritage in Churches of Christ through the person of my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, one of the early preachers in the Restoration Movement that yielded this fellowship. This is an installment from his 1914 book Sermons and Chimes, and my reactions to it in the form of a dialogue with him:



“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:[12-]13.)

One of the great blessings to man in this life is that his Creator has given him something to do. Without having his hands and mind employed he can not be happy. And in order to make this work a success, God proposes to take man into partnership with him, hence in the work of salvation there are two parties, the divine and the human, and if one be taken out, either the divine or the human, the work is a failure. Without the divine, man can not save himself. Man can not forgive his own sins, nor raise himself from the dead. Without the divine we would be denied the comforting influence of the Holy Spirit, and would know nothing of his sustaining grace. And without man’s acceptance and his hearty co-operation, God does not propose to save man. Man without God can not save himself, and without man’s acceptance God will not save man. And to make this a little stronger, God asks man through the means to save himself.

Right up to the point where you said “God asks man through the means to save himself,” Great-great Grandfather, I was right there with you. Because, right off the bat, I see a conflict with Acts 15:11, Ephesians 2:8, and 2 Timothy 1:8-10 — just to name a few.

Salvation applies to man in three distinct or separate states, and the first thing is to ascertain which salvation does Paul refer to here. There is offered to man a present salvation from past sins. This means pardon, forgiveness, justification. And man is promised salvation from the grave. This means only the salvation of that which was lost, viz., the body. It was the body which was lost in the grave, and when that which was lost in the grave is taken out of the grave, man will be saved from the grave. Then we are promised eternal life beyond the resurrection, and this will be given unto all who have washed their robes, who have been redeemed, and have lived faithful lives unto death. Now which of these salvations is referred to here? Does he refer to conversion, to their salvation from past sins? Whatever salvation it was, it had to be worked out. Then for two reasons we know he could not refer to their conversion. First, they had already been saved from their sins. Paul was not writing to sinners but to Christians, and though they had been saved from past sins, he is speaking of a fugure salvation. And second, there is not much “work” required in becoming a Christian. We read in the New Testament of the thousands who became Christians under the apostles’ preaching, and it was always the work of one day. There is not the case of one person who was told what to do to be saved, being put off until tomorrow. But if one were to obey the gospel today, and live forty years a faithful Christian life, there would be some work in that. Clearly, then, it was not conversion they were to work out.

I have heard this so-called division of salvation described differently … as justification (Acts 13:39; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:16), sanctification (John 17:19; Acts 26:18; Romans 15:16; Hebrews 10:29), and glorification (Romans 8:30; 1 Peter 1:21): the pardon and forgiveness; the process of being set aside for growing increasingly like God through Jesus’ Holy Spirit; the translation into a glorified, eternal form to dwell with them forever. These are scriptural terms, and I have nothing against calling scriptural things by scriptural names — but it would seem to me that your division separates the last of these into two separate things, and ignores the middle one completely. And here I would differ with you.

Salvation is most often spoken of as a single thing; a continuous process. It may well begin with an acceptance of pardon and forgiveness, progress through the living of an increasingly Christ-like mortal life, and continue forever in an immortal form — but it is spoken of as a single life; a single salvation.

But does Paul refer to their salvation from the grave? For two reasons he could not have meant the resurrection of the body. First, we all get that salvation; as by Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Second, we do not have to “work” out that salvation. The death in Adam is universal and unconditional, so is the resurrection.

Then we are forced to the conclusion that the salvation spoken of here is the salvation in heaven, it is eternal life. Then, my friend, is there something startling here? Though they were Christians, but they were not in heaven, nor were they absolutely certain they would be; if they prove faithful unto death, a thing I fear very many Christians are not doing, they would be saved. The same thought is found in Heb. 4: “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to have come short of it.”

I would have to argue that in leaving out the “part” or sequence of salvation that has to do with becoming more like Christ — the part which involves our active participation and partnership with God through His Holy Spirit — you have left out the possibility to reach the correct conclusion.

And you have opened the door to the doctrine of a works-based salvation, against which Ephesians 2:8-10, Galatians 2:16 and all of Romans 3 and 4 (in fact, the entire epistle) argue heartily against.

I’m not sure than anything in all of Christendom has done more damage to the faith of believers than a doctrine of works-based salvation; that completely deficient teaching that our salvation is all up to us and that God has done His part and He’s through with us and the Holy Spirit is not going to help us today — only the people who lived in the later years of the New Testament age.

Because it leads to self-reliance and self-doubt, both of which are dead-end tracks to nowhere fast. Self-reliance and self-doubt may be quite useful tools for those who crave power to manipulate others into doing what they desire others to do, but they do not lead one closer to Christ because they are centered on self. To God be the glory!

Those “once in grace always in grace” people do not get much consolation here. Paul says: Let “us” fear! What! Paul fear he might be lost? “Final perseverance” people are not all saved here; they were not all baptized into Christ, and are therefore not in Christ.

“Work out your own salvation.” This suggests two things: First, I need not ask my brother to work out my salvation. He has a work of the same importance, that of working out his own salvation. And we need not ask the Master to work out our salvation. He has not promised to do that. And when he commands man to do a certain work, he will not do that work for man. Then if I do not work out my own salvation, it will not be done. Surely, the Lord will assist us in this great work. “He is a sun and a shield, he will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from them who walk uprightly.” He will not do our work, but he will assist us in doing it.

“We need not ask the Master to work out our salvation”? Really? Because it’s my understanding that we cannot do it ourselves (Romans 3:23) and that He offers the help we need through His Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Romans 5:5; Romans 15:16; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:14; Titus 3:5; Jude 1:20-21).

There are two things said of the congregation at Philippi, which I believe I never heard of being said of any other congregation: First, they had always obeyed, not in his presence only, but now much more in his absence. Whoever knew a congregation who were more faithful after the preacher had left them? Second, here is the only congregation I ever heard of which had its beginning at midnight. Turn to the sixteenth chapter of Acts, and here we read of the beginning of the work in Philippi. Paul and Silas were the apostles called to Philippi by a vision. And on the Sabbath day they went out of the city to a place where resorted persons for prayer, and Paul preached to some women who assembled there, and a woman named Lydia heard the word, believed, and was baptized. And a certain damsel, possessed of an evil spirit, said: “These are the servants of the most high God who show unto us the way of salvation.” And after some days, Paul being grieved, commanded the evil spirit to come out of her, and when her masters saw their business interfered with they beat the apostles, who were then put into the inner prison, and their feet were made fast in the stocks, and there in a strange city, and no friends, and bleeding and hungry, they sang praises and prayed. The Lord heard them, sent an earthquake which opened the doors and threw off their chains, and the jailor rushed into the prison, and seeing the prisoners all loose, was going to take his own life, but Paul saw him in time, and said: “Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light and fell down before the apostles and brought them out, and said: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house.” And they spake unto him the word of the Lord and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes, and he was baptized, he and all his straight way, and when he had brought them into his house he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Now here is the report of the beginning of the cause in Philippi. And were are the preachers now, under the most favorable circumstances, who would follow out such a program? Perhaps one-half of the men called preachers in the United States would not baptize people under any circumstances. But many who do baptize would not have gone out and baptized persons at midnight. No; they might say: “Wait until next Sabbath, and I will preach a discourse in our church, and if our church is the church of your choice, you can join.” But these preachers were preachers of the gospel; they were laboring under the commission of Him who had said: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Now, if you should happen to come upon a group of people administering this rite at midnight, what would be your conclusion as to their faith? Would you say they were Catholics? Oh, no; Catholics never baptize. But come among the Protestants; would you say they were Methodists, or Lutherans? Hardly. But are they Presbyterians? No. Presbyterians (except the Cumberlands) do not baptize.

Again, dear ancestor, you seem to miss no opportunity to say rude things about believers of other opinions than your own — and perhaps in their absence — rather than finding an opportunity to teach the beautiful, deep meaning of baptism and its salvific power in our lives. Would it not be more instructive to point out to those hearing or reading why baptism was commended by Paul and Silas to the jailer and his family … even to the heart-touching symbolism of the two evangelists washing the jailer’s sins away in baptism even as the jailer humbles himself to wash their stripes?

But it is God who works the will into the people. And says the sleepy Christian: “I’d like to do more and better work in the church, but I haven’t the will, and when God works the will into me, I will rise up and do my duty.” And says the alien: “I’d like to be a Christian, and when the Lord works the will into me I will obey, and of course you could not expect me to obey if I were not willing.”

Now, it is affirmed here that it is God who works the will into man, and if he do this independent of man’s will, even without consulting man, then men have a lawful excuse for their disobedience. But if the Lord propose reasonable means to induce men to obey, and they reject the means, man is to blame.

I am unable to find scripture which supports your turn of phrase, “it is God who works the will into man.” The closest I can come is 2 Peter 1:21, which is speaking of prophecy and prophecy alone; or Philippians 2:13 (the second verse you quote in your introduction), which says “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” And I believe that this does not say He works His own will into people, but works within believers who want to do what He wills; what pleases Him — almost certainly through the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (v. 1).

I wish you were still alive to explain to me how you came by this phrase and what you mean by it, as it is perplexing and outside of scripture and my experience. Was it a phrase used by other evangelists of differing opinions from yours; are you quoting it, daring them to justify it themselves? Because you seem to agree with it in the paragraphs which follow:

In the autumn of 1867 I went into Hamilton County, Ind., to preach. On Lord’s day the house was filled with women, and the men were seated on planks, chairs, and wagon seats in the yard, and I stood on the door step. The audience was enthusiastic, and I was energetic. After we closed, a shrewd man made his way through the crowd, and I was introduce to him as Mr. Smith. In a firm but mild manner he said: “Mr. Ellmore, I want to make a statement to you. I just wish to say that today is the first time I ever heard the gospel preached.” Said he: “I was born in North Carolina, and it was my lot to be thrown among that people who believe that God foreordains everything that comes to pass. Those who were born to be saved will be saved, and those who were born to be lost will be lost. Sometimes these people would hold protracted meetings and get up revivals; some would ‘get through,’ and they would shout. Others would seek and fail. I often became anxious as to my future. On one occasion I was in the woods crying and praying. All at once I sobered, and began a soliloquy: ‘What are you worrying over? My salvation. Is not that all unnecessary? Suppose you are one of the elect, don’t you suppose the Lord will call for you at the right time? But suppose you are one of the non-elect, will your worrying and praying induce him to accept you — when you from all eternity were lost, and couldn’t be saved?’ And I folded my arms and told the Lord that, if he wanted Dan Smith, he could let me know, and I should never make another effort until he informed me, and behold, I have spent the forenoon of my life, and now a part of the afternoon, waiting for the Lord to do for me what he has commanded me to do for myself, and today I have learned what that duty is.” Soon Dan Smith, wife and nearly all of their children were members of the church.

But how does God work the will into man, and leave man free to do his own will? Let us see. Early in the spring here stand two men, a father and a son, and the father says: “My son, it is now time to begin work on the farm.” But the son says: “I have decided to change my line of business. I shall quit the farm!” Says the father: “This is the first time you ever refused to obey my command, how is this?” “Well, father, until this morning I was a minor, and I was subject to you, but this morning I am twenty-one, and here are two citizens now, and two ‘wills’ to be consulted.” Now, since the father is willing — anxious — but the son is not willing, what is the first thing to be done? The father must “work the will” into the son. And what is the proper course for him to take? He might say: “My son, I am the stronger, and if you further refuse, I will force you to go.” This might be in accordance with the will of the father, but I hardly think it would work the will into the son. He might force the son to work, but it would be against the will of the son. Suppose, instead of coercion, he tries persuasion, and offers inducements. “My son, if you will go and work on the farm I will give you a dollar and a half for each good day you put in.” But the son hesitates: “I can make better wages for less hours at some other business.” But the father is loath to let the son go, saying: “Your mother and I are growing old, and we can not consent to having the family circle broken. And now, if you will work with us this season, I will give you two dollars per day, and in addition, I will give you one-third of everything the farm produces this year.” The son springs to his feet and asks: “Where shall I sow the oats, and where shall I plant the corn and cotton?” The father says: “A great change has come over you, and what has brought about this great change?” “You did it, father, by offering me such amazing inducements that I could not find it in my heart to deny.” So, the Father offers lost man remission of sins, the comforting influence of the Holy Spirit, his abundant grace, food and raiment, a glorified body, and an eternal home in heaven, and the considerate, reasonable man says: “I yield, I yield.”

So it is only by coercion and bribery that God “works his will into man”? What of the motivations of love for God and gratitude for what He has done for us in Christ and the honest desire to please Him? Have these no value in becoming more self-giving as Jesus was; living the kind of life He lived?

Now let us note some of the worthy examples who were laborers in the vinyeard, and first, the Master himself. He labored in the carpenter’s shop until he was thirty years old. He then became a preacher, and he labored from morning till night, and after the multitudes whent home to rest, Jesus went apart to pray, and upon one occasion he prayed all night (Luke 6:12). He visited the sick and he healed them. He sought the hungry multitude, and fed them. He went about doing good. How would the ten-thousand-dollar clergyman size up with the lowly Master? The twelve apostles must go into all the world and preach, and take, in part, bonds, and whippings, and imprisonments for their reward. They often labored with fear and trembling.

In his boyhood Paul was taught the trade of tent-making, and after becoming a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and after becoming an apostle, he worked at his trade between discourses, to help bear expenses of himself and the young preacher who accompanied him. A preacher of his ability to stop by the wayside and work with his hands! But he worked with “fear and trembling,” not so much for the hardships and dangers of self, as for the poor and forsaken around him. Paul could look across the dark river and see the rewards of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. And have we all thought of that three-years’ meeting he held in Ephesus? Did anybody ever read of such labors as those were? To the elders he says: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that, by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears!” Is not this a remarkable experience? For three years! A long meeting. I ceased not to warn every one of you, the whole congregation. Night and day. Not only during the day, but in the night also. But he warned them night and day with tears! There are not many preachers now who could give such a report. Do we know of one? Just one? And do we see Christians now serve God “with fear and trembling?” Do we see elders feeding the flock “with fear and trembling?” Do parents warn their children of the dancing hall, and of the saloon, and of the Sunday ball game with fear and trembling?

Now, in view of these things, let us all — every one — go to work, not boisterously, but industriously, quietly. Let us assist every one near us, to work faithfully. And let us pray much, pray without ceasing, at least once per day, but three times would be better. Let us do all the good we can, and no harm.

Great-great Grandfather, this is only half-a-gospel. It is the same half-a-gospel that too many preachers preach (and to only moderate effectiveness) today: Don’t do bad stuff. Do good stuff. Work faithfully. Pray. Do all the good we can, and no harm. Obey. Don’t mess up.

It isn’t specific. It doesn’t tell us what good stuff to do, or what good stuff to do might be, or what we should work faithfully at, or what all the good we can might involve.

And it is also only moderately effective because it is only moderately descriptive. It misses out on that whole middle sequence of the salvation process: growing up in, maturing like, growing closer to, becoming like Jesus Christ in this world, through the power and comfort and assistance of His very own Holy Spirit in our lives. It is part of an ongoing transformation which begins with our surrender and forgiveness (justification) and continues through our grateful obedience (sanctification) :

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~ Romans 12:2

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18

… then culminates in our being changed from mortal to immortal at the return of Christ and the judgment we escape by His grace:

” … who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” ~ Philippians 3:21

“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Great-great Grandfather, there is not one iota that you or I or anyone else (save the Lord) can do to effect this part of the change. It is beyond our capability. What Paul means by our working out our salvation in fear and trembling cannot possibly mean our transformation into eternal beings, but our transformation into Christ-like mortals through partnership with God, His Son the Christ, and Their Holy Spirit.

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:9

“As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1

“We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith …” ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:2

Paul doesn’t say this of himself or Timothy out of arrogance; but out of God’s grace and desire to work through those of us who believe.

“There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:6

That’s what scripture means when it says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13)

Partners with God. Working out our salvation. Not by ourselves. Not earning it ourselves.

Together, with Him. Yes, in holy fear and trembling at the notion of God Himself dwelling within us and working through us — but also trembling with excitement at the incredible opportunities afforded by a partnership with God Himself.

I believe you were on the right track when you began this sermon, dear ancestor.

I wish you hadn’t taken the dead-end siding.

Sermons and Chimes: The Ark and The Church

Alfred Ellmore, my Great-Great GrandfatherI’m coming to terms with my heritage in Churches of Christ through the person of my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, one of the early preachers in the Restoration Movement that yielded this fellowship. This is an installment from his 1914 book Sermons and Chimes, and my reactions to it in the form of a dialogue with him:



“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them, and behold I will destroy them, with the earth. Make thee an Ark of gopher wood, rooms shalt thou make in the Ark, and pitch it within and without with pitch.” (Gen. 6.)

If a man who had never heard of the Bible were given the Old Testament to itself, he would be surprised at the many wonderful things he had read, but he would also be surprised at not finding the object of his search. He had been told that there was a golden thread running entirely through the book, promising the world a great king, a deliverer, and a conqueror — ah! a Savior — but having read the book through, he found the history of many great men, but the great one promised he found not.

But if he were given a copy of the New Testament, having never seen nor heard of the Old Testament, he would find at its beginning, and running all the way through the book: “It is written, it is written in the law, it is written in the prophets, it is written in the psalms,” etc., and he would wonder who wrote those books, and where he could find them.

One of the many strong evidences that the Bible is divine, is its types and its anti-types. The Old Testament abounds with shadows, the full meaning of which would never have been known, if the New Testament had not been written. For example, what would the world know of the deeper meaning of the opening of the side of Adam, and the means taken therefrom to form for him a wife, if the side of Christ had not been pierced and the elements been taken therefrom — the water and the blood — to form and cleanse for him a bride, the church? God has given the world but two lawgivers, Moses and Christ, and we should never have had the deeper meaning of the finding of the former in the little basket in the rushes, if we had not heard of the finding of the infant Christ in the manger! And the world would never have seen the deeper signification of Adam and his one wife being required to populate the whole world with his offspring, if we had never heard of the wonderful transaction of Christ, through his one wife, the church, populating the whole world with Christians.

Great-great Grandfather, the metaphor of the bride being made from the side of the first Adam and the last Adam (as Paul phrases it in 1 Corinthians 15:45) is deep and visceral and invaluable. Thank you for that.

A few of the many types of Christ, are Adam, Moses and Isaac. Adam, the progenitor of the human race, foreshadowing that Christ would bless the world, the whole world, through a spiritual family which he would bring forth. Moses leading fleshly Israel from Egypt to Canaan, through the wilderness, foreshadowing that Christ would lead the spiritual hosts through this world of sin, to the land of rest. Isaac being made a sacrifice, in a figure, was the type of Christ, who was made the atoning sacrifice of the world. A few of the chief types of the church are the Ark, the Tabernacle and the Temple. And when these types are deeply studied and their corresponding anti-types in the New Testament are found and fitted, and a few prophecies added from the Old Testament, they form a bulwark of testimony that men and demons can not shake.

But I beg leave to deviate for just a few minutes, to adduce a golden thread as evidence from the work of Moses. Moses rose up 2,200 years this side of creation, and without a word of written history, in a few brief chapters covered that period perfectly and accurately. Then he went upon the mountain and received the law of ten commands, which he delivered to the people of God. Then he became prophet, and covered 1,800 years with a few prophecies, reaching to the coming of Christ, hence this man Moses, whose flaming words Ingersoll and a few lesser lights delight to mar and stain, became historian, lawgiver and prophet, and covered a period of 4,000 years, and he has never made one mistake that any one knows of. And how could he, with no date written, give an accurate history of 2,200 years? And how could he look down th[r]ough the ages and give accurate prophecies which are indorsed [sp.] by the later prophets, by the Savior and the apostles, if he had been only man? No wonder that Ingersoll, at death, cowered when considering his tare-sowing, and looking into the future, realized that he must reap as he had sown. What a future he will meet. Josh Billings, the humorist, gives my sentiments when contrasting Moses and Ingersoll. He says: “I wouldn’t give five cents to hear Ingersoll on the mistakes of Moses, but I would give five hundred dollars to hear Moses on the mistakes of Ingersoll.”

As an illustration from type and anti-type, take the following: Some morning in autumn a farmer goes into his field and sees his shocks torn, and there are tracks in the soft soil, such as he has never before seen. On looking to the east he sees the fence is broken down, and also upon the west. His conclusion is that some wild beast has done the damage. He tells his neighbors of his loss, and they say: “Perhaps it was a cow that has broken into your field.” “Oh, no, I know it was not a cow.” “But did you see the animal or see any one who did see it?” “No.” “Then how can you be so positive that the animal was not a cow?” “I know it by the track left in the soil.” Calling in some of the neighbors, and all deciding that the animal was a foreigner, they decided to call a man who was a great hunter, who had seen all kinds of animals on the American continent, who, when he saw the track says: “That is the track of a black bear! Sure, ask a number.” “May it not have been a grizzly or a mountain lion?” “No, sirs.” “Not having seen the animal, how can you be so positive as to the kind of a bear?” “I identify it by the extra toe in the track.” Now if this hunter is not mistaken as to the track, you are sure there is a black bear roaming somewhere in the community. There is no other animal known which makes such a track.

Dear ancestor, in your era the debate over inspiration may have been so well known that your listener / reader could discern your intent and easily deduce your support of the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing about the scriptures. But those of us in later days — and even disinterested unbelievers of your time — might have benefited from a clear statement of it.

In Noah’s time, the world having become desperately wicked, and every imagination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually, and refusing to hear the counsel of God, he concluded to destroy them, and said to Noah: “I will destroy the world with a flood; make thee an ark to the saving of yourself and your house.”

1. Now what was the object of the Ark? Salvation from death. From what death? Physical death. Physical death by what means? By drowning. And if there had been no flood, there would have been no need of an Ark. Where no loss is involved, there can be no salvation. This is true of every salvation spoken in the Bible. There could be no salvation from the grave if there had been no grave, and no salvation from sin if there had been no sin, and there can be no salvation from hell if there is no hell. The loss of the antediluvians may reach further than physical death, but this is the salvation promised by means of the Ark.

Now, let us take a view of the church. Christ said: “I will build my church.” Christ is the head of this body, and no man can come to the Father but by him. To him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. But some say the church can’t save us. But did the Ark save? Yes, those who went into it, and remained until the flood was over. And I think there is one class whom the church can save, those who go into it, remain in it, and do their duty.

There is a problem with this metaphor — that of the ark as type and church as antitype — and that is, of course, it is not strictly scriptural. It’s one that you, Great-great Grandfather, have devised. While it may be illustrative, it is not what one would call authoritative. That’s the purpose of a metaphor or parable: to clarify, rather than justify. They make truth clear; they do not make truth true.

When Peter speaks of Noah and salvation (1 Peter 3:19-22), he’s talking about how the resurrection of Christ pioneers the way for our own; how the waters of baptism wash away the world’s sin as the waters of the flood did so in Noah’s day. It is a chapter about imitating Christ, even through suffering as He did. The church — strictly speaking — can’t save us; we are saved into it. We could vote each other in and out all we want, but it would not save anyone.

2. How many Arks did Noah build? Only one. But since there were a great many people, why not make several Arks? And you know “all people can’t see alike,” and one Ark might not have suited all, with so many tastes and notions. And some might no like old Noah, he was a pessimist, clear and simple, no way would do but his way. And some of the women might not like some of Noah’s family. No, we can never join such a crowd as that! And I have no doubt but if we had a history of the suggestions made by men to Noah’s sons, and made by women to the sons’ wives, we would have something like the following: “Your father is old and he is becoming childish; we hardly think there will be a flood — it has never rained, and there is not sufficient water in all the seas and oceans to cover all these mountains; and why require Noah to labor more than one hundred years to build an Ark? And if he must bring a flood, he can point out to Noah the highest mountain and have him collect all the required creatures to that mountain, and take there of all food and preserve life as well there as in an Ark, wich would become musty and very unpleasant, and saved your father all this work? And if none are saved except those in the Ark, there will be very few saved.” And the women would approach the three wives of these three sons and suggest: “Now your father is a good man, but he is narrow in his views, and thinks nobody right but those who believe as he believes, and by his rigid preaching he has become very unpopular. Now, have the old man to exercise charity for the views of others, there are others who are as good as yourselves.”

Great-great Grandfather, I think you may have been as much a fan of Mark Twain as I am.

Then we might hear something like the following from the faithful old Patriarch: “Dear daughters, I would be glad to please all, and would be far from preaching a doctrine purposely to displease any one, but I have a message, not from man, but from God, and if I refuse — nay, fail — to deliver that messages, strictly and perfectly, to the minutest detail, we will all go down into the dark waters of inconsolable grief, with the rest of the disobedient.”

And how many churches did Christ build? But one. The church is the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, and we can not think Christ was a polygamist. The word “church” is in the singular, except when various congregations are meant; the seven churches of Asia mean simply, the seven congregations. The followers of Christ are commanded to be of one heart and of one soul, to speak the same things, and there must be no division among them.

3. The Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet in height, and had three stories, and yet it had but one door, which was in the side, and everything that went into the Ark went in through that one door. There was not one door for the admission of the large animals and one for the small animals, and another for the birds. Jesus says of the door into his church: “I am the door.” Then we must go in through Him. And when the side of Jesus was opened thence forth came the water and blood, the cleansing elements from sin, and no man can get into His church except through the water and the blood. We are immersed in water, into Christ’s death, and there we come in contact with His blood, and we are washed, cleansed and saved.

I have written before about the phrase “come in contact with His blood,” and since writing then (I Can’t Find It), I still have found no preponderance of evidence for saying it.

4. There was but one window in the Ark, and that was above, or upon the top, and here we see the sideom in so arranging the light. If the window had been near the base the heavy freightage would have kept it inundated, or if half way up, the spray and the waves would have darkened the window much of the time. But being upon the top, all the light possible could flow into it. And when we come to consider the light brought into the church, it all comes in through the one window. And what is that light? Some say it is conscience. No, if this be the light, then we would have as many windows as people, and no individual would give light to another.

But another says it is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. No, the gospel was often preached by the apostles, and people were saved, in the absence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit never converted any one, was not given as a condition to pardon. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit fell upon men to enable them to work miracles, and this occurred but twice, once upon the Jew and once upon the Gentile, and following this miraculous power men were baptized in water for the remission of their sins. (Acts 2 and 10.)

“But twice”? Then, dear ancestor, you would write off Acts 19:11, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 3:5, and Hebrews 2:4? You know, there is such a thing as pushing a metaphor too far.

Clearly, then, it is the Bible which brings the light from heaven. Where this revelation has never been given, people are in darkness, but where delivered and accepted, the inhabitants become enlightened and rejoice in this heavenly light.

5. All the food was in the Ark. The command to Noah was: “And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and gather it to thee, and it shall be for food for thee and for them. Thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” After the waters covered the earth there was no food for man, beast nor fowl.

But now men have become wise. One church, one assembly, one altar, is not sufficient. It has become necessary to have in addition to this perfect Holy Place, a separate gathering for the young men, another for the young women, another for the young people, and still another for the children! But look here, my zealous but misguided brother. Christ has but one body, and in this divine body — the church — dwells the Holy Spirit, in this one body is the blood, which remains in this body. And the grace of God, all of it, comes to the Christian through this divine medium. And every parable spoken by Christ where a blessing is conferred, it is within, and not without. And he formed the parables from things with which they were familiar, that the most unlearned could grasp his meaning. It was in the net that the fishes were caught, in the vineyard that the laborers must work, in the meal the leaven was placed, in the field that the seed was sown, in the field was found the pearl of great price, in the garden the mustard was sown, in the field the treasure was found. Let us be careful, very careful, that we do not direct some soul astray.

And here, I would say, is where the metaphor is taken too far — in the direction of painting the church as a place, rather than as a people. The wooden ark surely makes a fine metaphor to a wooden church building as typical of your day, but it is not an accurate metaphor in that way. Thinking of the church as a single edifice has led many to conclude that people meeting in a different building from their own cannot be a part of their church, and that is simply erroneous. When we so judge, we are judging, and that is not our place. Our place is to love, accept, and share the gospel — and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

6. There was one family in the Ark, and they must eat and drink to perpetuate life. If one had decided to fast during their stay in the Ark, he would have fasted longer than Dr. Tanner fasted. They were in the Ark a year and ten days. They went into the Ark on the seventeenth day of the second month in the six hundredth year of Noah (Gen. 7:11-13.). and they went forth out of the Ark upon the twenty-seventh day of the second month in the six hundred and first year of Noah (Gen. 8:13). During that period, in the one Ark, the one family prayed at the one altar, and ate at the one table. And we can not satisfy the longings of the soul at heathen altars nor gluttonous feasts.

7. The conditions of salvation by means of the Ark and of the church are the same. The first thing necessary in Noah’s case was a revelation. If God had not made known to him the coming destruction, Noah would have known nothing of it, and would have made no preparation for his salvation. After being informed of the approaching flood and of the terms of salvation, Noah must believe the revelation. The next thing was works, faithful works, complying with the terms offering salvation. He must build the Ark, go into it and remain, and be faithful to all the duties incumbent upon him as governor of that divine family. So in the salvation proposed in the church. As to the means of transition, bearing Noah’s family from the old world over into the new world, Peter says: “Wherein few, that is eight, souls were saved by water, the like figure wherein baptism doth now save us.” (1. Peter 3.) The water picked them up, and by means of the Ark, they were carried over and put down into the new world, so baptism takes the subject from the kingdom of sin and puts him into Christ, his church. He is then born again, born of God, born of water, born of the spirit, born (begotten) of the word, born anew, taken from the world and put into the church — saved. And the man of a very common intellect would say the birth was not of water alone. But some of the “called and sent” clergy now tell the people that baptism has nothing to do in saving men.

Baptism has much to do with saving men — but it is not the only thing God wants for us, and gives us, and wants to bless us with that is salvific; of His saving grace and power. Seeing baptism as a work of man — like building an ark — is an error that has seduced millions. Jesus built the church; not us (Matthew 16:18). And baptism is a gift from God (Matthew 21:25); ours to accept or reject. But in rejecting baptism, we reject its power of testimony to one’s immersion into the life of Christ and resurrection from one’s old dead person of sin.

8. I will now touch upon the destruction which followed the dispensation of God’s mercy, which lasted over one hundred years, but my pen is too feeble to portray that awful catastrophe. No heart can conceive, nor tongue describe, the horrors which fell upon that disobedient people. The Ark being finished, and the creatures all shut in, the windows of heaven were opened and for forty days and forty nights the waters fell in torrents, the low lands were covered, people’s hearts were faiting, they were being forced out of their homes. God is infinite in mercy. Many as devout prayers as were ever heard were offered, but the rains continued. People go up the hillsides. They were drenched and hungry. Children cried for bread. God is infinite in love! He loved all these people, but a God possessed of all the attributes can’t save people in disobedience. Poor old grandma’s strength had failed, and she had to be carried. O the cries and lamentations! Where are the children? Some had starved, some had fallen into the dark sea. God was able.

But see that group upon the highest hill; their provisions are exhausted, and they are ankle deep in water. God had said if they did not repent he would drown them; it looked that way then; they make their last appeal for help. God is infinite in all his attributes, and one of them is justice, and he will render to every man according to his works. Another is vengeance, and he will punish all who trample his righteous laws. If God had commanded Noah just then, saying, “They have suffered enough, push the Ark to those people and take them in,” would it have required a strong discourse, and a touching exhortation to induce them to enter the Ark? But it was too late — ah! too late.

But, my slothful brother and my heedless neighbor, let me once more remind you of that awful destruction, more fierce that this one, which I believe will fall upon the world in the near future. Peter says: “The world which then was being overflowed with water perished. But the heavens that are now, and the earth, by the same word are stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” [2 Peter 3:6-7] He says: “The elements will melt with fervent heat, the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” [2 Peter 3:10] Now, sinner, do you not believe this? Then eternal fire awaits you. But we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. O that great day. We shall all be there.

There may have been a time when addressing one’s listeners and readers as “slothful” and “heedless” had an air of authority to them, but these days, insults simply come off as insulting. (I have to wonder if they did back in your day, too, Great-great Grandfather.) At any rate, I cannot recommend the use of them.

In fact, I have to question the whole psychology of pointing an accusing finger down from the pulpit of authority … trying to terrify someone out of hell and into doing a bunch of things that leads to trying to always do the right thing … lest one slide right back down a hell-bound slope. Does that really lead a person to become a devoted, life-long disciple and example of Christ? Fear?

Or does perfect love cast out fear? Doesn’t it make more sense to come alongside someone whose life-path wanders aimlessly … lovingly share the message of the dying-yet-living love of Christ with them … and teach them what it means to be like Him so that others can see His promise in our lives?

Sermons and Chimes: The Bible

Alfred Ellmore, my Great-Great GrandfatherI’m coming to terms with my heritage in Churches of Christ through the person of my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, one of the early preachers in the Restoration Movement that yielded this fellowship. This is an installment from his 1914 book Sermons and Chimes, and my reactions to it in the form of a dialogue with him:



The Bible is a finished book; it will admit of neither addition, subtraction nor change. No other book has such resources as the Bible. Each author has had full privilege to say all he wished to say, and therefore the book is complete. On this point the following summary is submitted. God in this book is heard, and has said all he wished to say, or to have said. Christ, both before and after his death, has said all he wants to say. The Holy Spirit, through men, is fully heard, good men uninspired have been heard, wicked men have been heard, the prophets have been heard, and the Arch-Deceiver once had an encounter, face to face, with the Master. All these have had impartial hearings, and wish to say nothing more. Now, if any man wish additional revelation, who would make it and what could he say?

I think I’ve been misunderstood in my answer to this question, dear ancestor, and I have no great desire to interrupt the flow of your thought, but … The Holy Spirit might well desire to make additional revelation and what He could say to and through people would be up to Him. But it might well take the form of personal direction or information (Acts 16:7), a warning (Acts 20:23; 21:11), or to inspire a realization of the blessed Lordship of Jesus, the Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). These are revelations that are not supplanting, but supporting; not replacing, but reinforcing; not rescinding but reminding. I would not rush to say that His work is over and done.

There is no book in the world over which there has been as much debate and contention as has been over the Bible. And there is no room for another divine law. Its divinity has been discussed, upon by both sides, by as able controvertists as the world has ever had.

But because of the great controversies many reject the Bible. But are there not as great differences between men in other callings? Take men in the medical profession, and in the law, and over capital and labor, and we find in all these callings men who differ, and they are at sword’s points, each contending fore his dogma and his party. And while right and wrong are in the world, there will be religious differences. And while all acts pertaining to men’s duty are made plain in the Bible there is in it a depth, and a height and a breadth which no human mind can grasp. If all the mysteries in the Bible could have been solved, the book would have lost its interest many centuries ago.

But that the tyro may know that the Bible is super-human, take the following:

1. The Bible knows the past, the present and the future alike, and never makes a mistake as to date. It knows our course tomorrow as well as yesterday, our line to the grave as well as to our cradle. It gives a true history of our ancestry back to Eden. But it gives a minute history of the world for 4,000 years before Christ. And in recording events in history, behold the writers were giving prophecy for the future, and if these prophecies could be properly explained, their fulfillment would be as accurate as is the needle to the pole. But please turn to the future. The Bible lightens up the grave and gives assurance of the day of judgment, and when all the evidence is brought in, each part will fit into its place as the wheel fits into a perfect machine.

Great-great Grandpa … this 4,000-year reckoning of time, of course, depends solely on the research of Bishop James Ussher, whose chronological estimations were often included in the center margins of two-column commentary King James Version Bibles in your era, weren’t they? Especially the Scofield Reference Bible?

2. It advocates every pure thought, and every pure word, and every righteous deed performed by man. On the other hand, it condemns every licentious thought, every idle word, and every wicked act of man.

3. We dare not add to this volume nor take from it. “If any man shall add unto these things God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book, and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy (Rev.) God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and from the holy city, and from the things written in this book.”

For near 2,000 years men have been legislating and forming laws and creeds for the supposed benefit of man, but no one man nor body of legislators have been found who could add even the eleventh command to the decalogue.

4. All other books, whether of history, of law, or of prophecy, when read once, or at most but a few times, lose their interest, and we keep them merely as books of reference. We have read them and exhausted their fountain. Not so with the Bible. We read it day by day, and chapter after chapter, and it is still the inexhaustible fountain to us.

5. It has been killed, and burned, and its funeral has been preached ten thousand times, but it rises up out of its ashes and haunts its assassin to the grave, and the more he opposes it the worse it troubles him. And in that sad hour which awaits all opposers of the blessed volume, the smoke of their sins will rise in awful density, until their lights will go out into eternal night, while the men of faith pass down into their graves with a halo of peace encircling them, into the palace royal of the universe

It is now about 1,900 years since the book was finished, and it has stood the storms of persecution, and it is gaining victories more wonderful than ever before.

But whether we shall ever be able to account for the book, one thing is certain, the book is here, and it is very much alive. And if we refuse to let it give its own origin, how shall we account for its advent into the world? It is not a product of nature, for nature reproduces of her kind. It is not spontaneous, it did not just happen.  Being a book of so much intelligence shows that it is the work of effort, of intelligence.

Well, did men — good men — of themselves, create the book? No, the authors who wrote claim they were moved to write by a higher power. We should not assign to men a work they claim not to be the authors of. But have bad men produced this book? Then, pray, what was their object in writing such a book, since from first to last it condemns wicked men, and seals their death warrant on almost every page? No, good men who wrote say they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and since God is its author, and the Holy Spirit is the medium, we claim that no evil design is in the book.

But one of the very greatest hindrances to the perfect understanding of the book is the lack of knowing how to classify and arrange its different parts into one perfect whole. A very common idea is, since the book is divine, that it is applicable to all people, under all circumstances, without considering as to the writer, to whom he is writing, and under which dispensation did those addressed live. They open, read and apply to themselves, when probably the language can not apply to them by hundreds of years.

Ah! Would that many of my siblings in Christ could understand this principle today: that some scripture is meant for us, some meant for all, and some was meant for others of a time long past. But the discernment of which sets of language within scripture does indeed apply to us can be difficult. What a blessing that we can ask and receive the discernment of God’s own Holy Spirit! (Luke 11:13; Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:9; James 1:5) Yet, dear ancestor, your era’s thrill over classification — which led to excesses like Dispensationalism — does not compare with the recognition that God through the Logos, His Christ, was consistently at work throughout the Word start to finish to reconcile mankind to Himself through His patient instruction with our best interests at heart.

It has been about 6,000 years since creation, and these years have been divided into three dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Jewish and the Christian. The Patriarchal began at creation, and ran to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. During this age there was no church of any kind in the world. The only worship the world had was family worship. The head of the family was the prophet, priest and ruler. The Jewish dispensation began with the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, and ran to the crucifixion of Christ, and by that act it was taken away.

The Christian dispensation began fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, and will continue till the sounding of the trumpet and the end of the world. Obedience to the Patriarchal law will make neither a Jew nor a Christian. Obedience to the ten commandments, with all the carnal ordinances added, can not make a Christian. Obedience to the New Testament can make a man neither a Patriarch nor a Jew, but a Christian only. Observe these classifications and you will be aided much in coming to the perfect knowledge of the Bible.

The next grand division is to separate the two testaments. The first is the testament of Moses, the second is the testament of Christ. God has furnished the world two lawgivers, viz., Moses and Christ, and under these lawgivers we have two classes of inspired men, the prophets under Moses and the apostles under Christ. And from these divine leaders, and their bands of inspired men, we have substantially the Bible. Take Moses out of the Old Testament and we have a riddle, take Christ out of the New Testament and we have a novel. But we are not under Moses, but are under Christ. We are not the children of Abraham in the flesh, but we are children of Abraham in the spirit. We are not under the law, but we are under the gospel. We are not saved by the typical lamb, without blemish, but we are saved and sealed with the blood of Christ.

Here I must quibble over the appellation “lawgiver” applied to Jesus Christ. Though it is true He gave commandments (I can think of very few expressed as such, though: Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34 — and the first two of this Law of Christ and the Spirit of Life were a part of the Mosaic law), I gather from John 1:17 and Galatians 3 and Romans 10:4 that He would prefer to be known as a bringer of grace and truth. We are indeed — as you say — under the gospel rather than law.

But we will hear Paul further upon this matter. Now that no man is justified by the law before it is evident. The righteous shall live by faith. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. Is then the law against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been by the law. But the scripture shut up all things under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed, so that the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer [under] a schoolmaster. “For ye are the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female, for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus, And if ye are Christ’s, then ye are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:13, 29).

We are now brought to the New Testament, which when classified, the plan of salvation will become so plain that children can understand it. This book contains three laws, or rules, viz., the law of faith, the law of obedience, and the law of Christian Duty. Matthew, Mark Luke and John are establishing the divinity of Christ, and they take four different lines to prove this proposition, each one writing from his own standpoint and to his respective readers. The four historians show that Christ was the Son of Eve, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, and that he was the Son of God. And when we have read these divine histories we have been referred to the Old Testament 193 times for prophetic proof, and behold when we follow references the statements are there, hence these two testaments are bound together by the golden threads of inspiration. And when we search his life, his miracles, his death and his resurrection, and to these proofs add the inspiration and the work of the apostles, we have a line of testimony as broad as earth, as deep as the grave, and as high as heaven. And John says, “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 20:30.)

Great-great Grandpa, the term “law of faith” is the only scriptural term among the three you outline (Romans 3:27); the others (the “law of obedience” and the “law of Christian Duty”) having failed to make an appearance in the Bible. The entirety of Romans 3 — indeed of the whole epistle — argues against the idea of the law’s sufficiency to save one. Had you clearly proposed these as principles rather than as law, I might have less to argue about — yet they still seem to be heavily works-oriented. In my era, we can look back on the damage that a works-centered doctrine has done to the faith, as opposed to the opportunities posed by a Christ-centered one.

And the four gospel authors do take pains to emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ Sonship, yet I would have to say that they all speak of His humanity as well as His divinity — especially the Synoptics, which have the emphases on “the Son of Eve, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David.” And I would not lean too heavily on the number 193 as the total number of prophecies of the Christ fulfilled in scripture. Some folks have compiled a good deal more.

Now when a man has become convinced of the divinity of Christ, and convicted of his own sins, he is ready for the question: What must I do to be saved? and for the divine answer he is brought to Acts of the Apostles. Here is the history of the work of the apostles who had been immersed in the Holy Spirit, and sent into all the world to preach the gospel, and here are reports of their work, showing how they converted men, and this is the book from which we learn how to become Christians. Our Savior, in giving to the apostles the authority to preach, says: “All authority in heaven and upon earth is given unto me: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16.) And the reports given in Acts inform us that as soon as the people heard and believed, they were baptized immediately, after which they rejoiced. (Acts 2:38, 8:26, 16:19, 34.)

Having been made a believer by the testimonies of the four historians, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and having become by Acts an obedient believer, having been born of water and of the Holy Spirit, baptized into Christ, he is now ready to hear the law of Christian duty. The first law informs him what to believe in order to become a Christian, the second what he must do to become a Christian, and the third law informs him how to live the Christian life and be saved in heaven. These Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude, which, in their direct application, are not for the sinner in the world, but for the household of faith.

Having outlined the Bible and shown its proper classification, we are now ready to speak of some of its blessings and its wonderful influences upon the faithful in this life. The first will be its power.

1. It carries with it a secret power which is wholly unaccounted for, unless we admit that it is divine. And this power will be manifest upon every day life. It will accompany us not only into the sanctuary, upon the Lord’s day, but it will go with the devout man in his store, his fields and his bank. It will call him into the house of prayer and prepare him to worship.

Is this solely the power of the book authored by the Holy Spirit, dear ancestor, or the power of God working in the devout through the testimony of the book as well as the Spirit within?

2. Two young persons make contract in the marriage relation. They marry, and though the young lady has many friends of the opposite sex, she leaves them all for this young man, and though the young man has many young lady associates, he quits them all for her sake, and though they live fifty years, this Book will be the golden cord which will bind them together in the sweetest bond of earth. And what a home they will have all these years, if they will let the Bible govern their conduct.

3. When I was ten, I visited with my parents a community 140 miles distant, in which there was no church, but it had been known many years for whiskey, cards, dancing and horse racing. An uncle of mine and a few other good men had the gospel preached, a few obeyed, and from time to time good preachers visited them. When I became a preacher I began visiting them, once a year. The soil was thoroughly broken and the good seed bountifully sown, and within a few years more than 800 people were gathered in, and dancing and horse racing and card playing there were things unknown.

I am so curious about the name of this community! I wish you had shared it. Yet, as with many of the communities mentioned in scripture, there may be no surviving trace of this influence for good. Certainly there was an era in which the acts you name must have been regarded by polite society as the most dreadful of sins, but Great-great Grandpa, these seem quaint and relatively innocent to my peers. Was it because the word preached was against sin yet not for the righteousness of God imparted by Christ’s blood?

4. In a little city there are many powers brought to bear upon the wicked people — the municipal authority, the judge, the lawyers, the justices, the sheriff, the constables, with three to ten sessions of court each year — and will all these powers keep order? Thieves and gamblers and crooks of various kinds swarm into the city. But if some good preachers and just a few good men start the preaching of the gospel, the atmosphere quiets down, and, sirs, if all the people would take the New Testament and live it out perfectly, people could sleep with their doors unlocked, and without weapons under their pillows.

5. In order to [protect] safety of life and property, say nothing as to peace, our government must have a standing army, a navy, a penitentiary, and sometimes two in each state, a jail in each county seat, courts, judges, lawyers and thousands of law books, but if all men would abide just the New Testament, we might disband the army, tear down every penitentiary and jail, take the locks off our doors, and put away our weapons, and rest at night in peace! It is the power of God unto salvation, and it saves our souls!

But the Bible is a safe book. There are books the husband would not wish his wife to read, and there are many mean and immoral books the wife would not wish her husband to read. There are books you would not wish your children to read, but the Bible is not one of them. The Bible is a safe book in the hands of the President, of Congressmen, of Senators, of lawyers, of citizens, of neighbors, of parents and of children, and it is dangerous to none — no, not ONE.

I am uncertain how “safe” the Bible really is. Even in our era, only the bravest few will explore the Song of Solomon from the pulpit … or discuss the obliteration of entire peoples by God’s hand or His people’s armies … or investigate other aspects of divine sovereignty that still rock the foundations of our faith today. In our era, we have seen the Bible’s scripture used to justify all kinds of evil, especially when verses are lifted out of their context and given new, alien meanings by the interpretation of wicked people with selfish agendas. How safe is the Bible? It is only as safe as the one reading from it. Yet we are promised a Spirit to assist us with this task beyond our ken, if we would but ask.

But another objector says: “You Protestants can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.” Perhaps he has not considered the real source of division among the professed followers of Christ, or what it is they are differing over. Do not be surprised when I tell you we are almost perfectly agreed as to what the Bible contains, but the things we are quarreling about are the things not in the Bible. At first thought you may say this is a mistake, but it will be easy to convince you that it is true. Let us see: A penitent man wishes to be baptized, he and a preacher go out to where there is much water, they both go down into the water, the candidate is buried in the water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and they come up out of the water. Now who says that man has not been scripturally baptized? There is not an intelligent man in the United States who regards authority, who will say he has not been lawfully baptized. Why? Because this is in the Bible. But if the most intelligent preacher will argue that to sprinkle a few drops of water upon the person is also baptism, will he show you where such can be found in the New Testament? He will not venture to do so. Why? Because he knows there is no such scripture.

Ah! This begins, I see, a tirade which will accuse and lambaste a broad percentage of the Christian population whose interpretations differ with yours, Great-great Grandpa. (Though many who followed you would have begun it by recoiling at being called “Protestant” to begin with, as if part of a denomination.) Those who disagree either do not regard authority, are not intelligent, or are not a part of the United States (or some combination/totality thereof). Does this approach to the argument really do it justice? Does it address in a kind, teaching way the beautiful deep meaning of baptism and thereby provide an excuse to segue into the truth of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection providing for our own death to sin, immersion in water and into His life, and ultimate resurrection as first a new person and ultimately an immortal one?

But what is the name by which the followers of Christ should be called? Two names are found in the New Testament, disciples and Christians, but the name disciple does not apply as the family name. While John the Baptist, the twelve and the seventy were getting out materials for the church which Jesus built, their converts were properly called disciples — learners — but after the church was built, the followers were divinely called Christians. And now let us show that all recognize this name as divine. It is not offensive to the Presbyterian to tell him he is no Baptist. This no more offends him than to tell him he is not a blacksmith. It does not offend the Friend Quaker to tell him he is not a Methodist. They each care no more for the name by which some other sectarian body is called than to tell them they are not Modern Woodmen. And why is this? Because they all know these modern names are all human. But you tell any one of them that he is not a Christian, and see how he squirms. They know his is divine, and yet they each hold as tenaciously to their human names as if Paul were a Presbyterian or Peter were a Baptist.

Yet while Christians were first so-called at Antioch — perhaps divinely — it is equally possible that they were so-named pejoratively … and that would almost certainly hold true in the century of persecution to follow.

For the last half century there has been a terrific war over music in the divine worship. Now what caused this wrangle? Let us see. A band of worshipers meet in the sanctuary to worship, each one is furnished a song book, a hymn is announced, all sing with the spirit and with the understanding; is this divine worship? There is not a dissenting voice. Why? Because it is thus written in the Bible. But up come a few fidgety, ignorant, heady and likely impious members, and introduce the instrument, a number of the intelligent, faithful and loyal brethren object to the instrument, and we have a wrangle, a war. Now what is this fuss about and who caused it? Who are causing this musical war all over the country? Is the Bible responsible for it? Ask Mr. Garrison, of St. Louis, who are the guilty ones. We are warring over a thing unknown in the New Testament, and no people on earth know it better than our apostate brethren know it. And since the faithful have rung this in their ears a thousand times, and they refuse to hear, what kind of sentence to do they look for in the great day?

Here, Great-great Grandfather, you have offered no scriptural foundation for your position on instruments of music in worship … offering instead only insults for those who practice it with them, and judgment, and condemnation. (And compliments for those who practice worship without them.) With all due respect, my ancestor, this is beneath your dignity and the dignity of any follower of Christ. How was your position rung in the ears of those who opposed your view? Was it privately, as Aquila and Priscilla conversed with Apollos (Acts 18:26)? Did anyone go to them at all (Matthew 18:15-17) or were some steps in the process conveniently skipped so that it all went public in “brotherhood” publications first — and in tones that spoke of anything but brotherhood? I realize that the hurts of this division were fresh and real and sometimes personal in your day. Yet this approach is just meanness — and I am persuaded that the writer of Ecclesiastes would deem it “meaningless.”

But this is a comforting book, it brings a streak of sunshine into the heart of the poor man as he toils in the fields, or in the shops, for his bread. When the father returns from the funeral of his wife, and sits down with his half dozen children in mother’s room, and looks at the empty armchair, and then at the faded dresses, Oh, what is the source of consolation to him then? What is the book he would have read at the funeral, and who would he have to read it?

1. When the young man leaves home, what book will mother put in his suit case?

2. When the happy young bride and groom begin life, what book do they need first?

3. When a man fails in business, and his friends desert him, what book will give him comfort?

4. When the young man starts into business, what book does he most need?

5. When grandpa has reached his eightieth milestone, and grandma and half of his children, and nearly all his early associates, are in their graves, and he feels that he is now only in the way, what book will give him comfort then?

6. When your children get to be five, buy each of them a Bible, and see that they read a lesson from it every day.

Dear ancestor and brother, there are many worthy thoughts in this message. A lot of them survive the language and circumstances of a century ago. I understand some of the circumstances of your era, and its analytical focus on the Bible. At the same time, this message missed many opportunities to be gospel. It gives short shrift to the Savior in favor of the medium. It is not the Bible which saves souls, but the Christ. The power is not in the pages, but in the blood.

Whether classified and divided up into dispensations by man or unified by the eternal purpose of God, the Bible conveys the Story of God and us, culminating in gospel of Jesus Christ, His Son. Scripture looks forward to Him, looks directly at Him, looks back on Him, looks forward to His glorious return. It is not solely law any more than God is solely justice and righteousness. The Bible brings the message of grace and reconciliation, as surely as God is also loving and merciful — throughout all of scripture.

I am not at all certain that your era, Great-great Grandpa, was ready for — or would have accepted — a Jesus Hermeneutic. I’m not at all certain that mine is. But I am convinced that we need to adopt it, and soon, if we wish to recapture the true power of partnership with God found in scripture and delivered through the promised Holy Spirit:

  • I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. ~ Ephesians 3:7
  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. ~ Romans 1:16
  • I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done — by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. ~ Romans 15:18-20
  • For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:11

Sermons and Chimes: Introduction

Alfred Ellmore, my Great-Great GrandfatherI would like to give you a free book, upon the condition that you pay for it. Not a great deal, it sounds like, but you will not be paying money; you will only have to pay attention to my reactions to the book as I share it. Oh, I guess you could ignore them, and just read the indented parts written by the original author. My feelings won’t be hurt.

Because the original author was my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, and the full name of the tiny volume (7-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ x 3/4″) is Sermons, Reminiscences Both Pleasant and Sad, and Silver Chimes. (That was too long to appear on the binding.) The copyright, now long expired under existing law, is 1914 by G.H.P. Showalter for Firm Foundation Publishing House, Austin, Texas.

I have blogged about him before (link above), but that was before I recently acquired this work of his (the first I’ve been able to read in its entirety) via the seller’s market at Amazon.com. I want to comment on this quaint work as it has some ideas worthy of highlighting and merit, as well as some which deserve further examination and even criticism. I’d like for my comments to take the form of a conversation with my dear ancestor. My feelings toward him are unchanged, though some of my suspicions have been confirmed and I do not agree with everything that he bequeathed me in ink: I love and respect the gentleman as a brother in Christ as well as an accomplished ancestor.

If you received a publication from Pepperdine University called Pacific Church News this week, it likely featured a smaller reproduction of the D.S. Ligon Portraiture of Restoration preachers from the early part of the twentieth century, and Alfred’s picture is among those first 196 and subsequent 260 gospel preachers from Churches of Christ. (Also, next to him, his son/my great grandfather Will Ellmore. Early versions of the print misspelled their last names, which were later corrected to include the extra “L” that Alfred — according to legend — added.)

But I will let you get acquainted with him through the geniality of his publisher:


To incline the erring into paths of rectitude, to impel wayward and sinful humanity to lives of righteousness in the sight of God, and to inspire all men — the good and pure, the bad and those who are out of the way — to stronger faith and brighter hope and nobler living, and to do this in kindness, in patience and in love is a service well worth the time and effort and thought of any one. Alfred Ellmore has spent almost a half century in the gracious and exalting work of turning souls to Christ. In this he has been remarkably successful. Few men among the disciples of Christ have baptized more people. His strong faith, deep and abiding piety and fervent love have carried him through many vicissitudes and have borne him up through seasons of adversity. Sunshine and sorrow have been blended in his life. He has passed through the deep dark vales of adversity and has emerged a stronger, greater, better man.

The following pages represent the rich gleanings of a long life and are offered the public on their own merit. The author brings forth from memory’s treasures many interesting lessons from the recent past. His vivid recitals of what he has seen and heard and learned will help others who are younger and who must pass through similar experiences. His sermons are strong, clear and convincing — they are soul-winners. The author is blessed in contemplation of that sweet promise: “They that shall be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever.” [Daniel 12:3]

G.H.P. Showalter
Austin, Texas, December 1, 1914

I take Bro. Showalter at his word; that my great-great grandpa Alfred did indeed turn souls to Christ – though I have to wonder as I read the work that follows how many were turned to Christ or simply to the Church or to the Bible or to a hopefully-logical argument or a plan. I cannot judge this, so I will not.

You’ll immediately perceive from this introduction the quaint language of the works of this era — this one now going on 100 years old — and later, you’ll catch on to a frequent reliance on what at least sounds logical and a rather argumentative style of presentation. Oh, and a passionate manner of presenting a plea to obey.

Sermons and Chimes is divided into the three sections betrayed by the (long) title, and I will attempt to present them here in that order. “Sermons” and “Reminiscences” are self-explanatory; the “Chimes” are simply newspaper-column material which, I suspect, were used in the publications for which Alfred wrote, including the Gospel Advocate. They were the Twitter tweets and Facebook posts of more than a century ago.

I have elected to let typographic errors stand as printed, except where obvious omissions and other errors obscure the meaning; those will stand in [brackets] — like the added Bible citation above. References which have become unclear by the march of years I will attempt to link to explanatory material on other sites.

So, over the next few weeks, enjoy a revealing look backward — and enjoy your free book!


Alfred Ellmore occupies the twenty-ninth chapter of V. Glenn McCoy’s tome Return to the Old Paths, readable online at this link.

Restoring the New Testament Church

You know, maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

But there’s really only one way to do it. And it has nothing to do with trying to re-create the way church was “done” in century one; analyzing structures and customs and laws and hermeneutics and praxes of a day long since past, then trying to imitate them and adapting them and staying within them and never straying outside them and shaking our fingers or fists at those who don’t “do” church as well as we think we think they should be “doing” it.

Restoring the New Testament Church is the natural result of restoring souls to the God they have either never known or have wandered away from – through His Son, gifted by His Spirit, penitent and confessional and washed clean of sin and dedicated to drawing ever closer to their Lord.

If we really gave our hearts away to God and to the desperate needs of others, it would happen. And it would happen in the same ways that it did more than nineteen hundred years ago.

Those unreached by God’s love would be turned to worshipers by the generosity we would show. They would open their own hearts to the Story of the Christ by our answer to their question “Why do you do this for us?”: “Because Jesus loves all.”

We’ve made a terrible mistake in thinking that restoring the church is the means by which we can bring people to Christ.

Bringing people closer to Christ is how His church is restored.

And while it’s true that sometimes we learn by doing, most of the time we love by doing.

Not by talking about it. Not by analyzing it. Not by meeting in our distinctive church buildings and worshiping our distinctive way and maintaining our distinctive air of piety.

All we have to do, really, is focus our lives on Christ; being like Him and loving like Him and serving like Him. Because, in a bizarre Moebius loop of cause-and-effect, when we serve others we serve Him. When we care for others, we care for His needs. When we feed and heal and clothe others, we feed and heal and clothe His body; His church.

There was an early time – before greed and racial tension and hierarchical jealousy and other selfishness set in – when the church was a group of people restored to God:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

They did it because they loved unreservedly, just as Jesus prophesied and promised them:

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

They did it because that’s exactly what He did:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you love, you give.

If you love, you give up self.

That’s His idea of restoring the church.

How does it compare to ours?

Great-Great Grandpa Alfred

I never met the fellow. (Actually, I never met his grandson – my grandfather – who perished before I was born.) I love and respect him, and especially the fact that great-great-grandfather Alfred Ellmore felt a keen calling to preach from a young age.

But I would not agree with all of his beliefs.

For someone known as a great Restoration preacher – someone who was pierced by the older preacher Ben Franklin’s personal advice to him to “do all the good you can and no harm” – I think he did harm.

His position on Sunday schools: “It is another society and one of which the New Testament knows nothing. … transfer the Sunday school into the worship and give to every child who is able to read a New Testament … have the bishops and others who are safe teachers to spend fifty minutes, more or less, upon the lesson: continue the worship without intermission to the close.”

His position on mission organizations: “The Lord made the church for this work.”

His position on those baptized, at any age, in any other church: “[they should] be reimmersed for the remission of their sins.”

His position on churches which worship with instruments of music: “If there were but one congregation in the United States which worshiped as did the primitive church, I would hold my membership in that church. And were I so remote from it that I could but seldom, or never meet with it, I would send [it] my fellowship, and my Christian greeting, and do my praying at home. And if there were no such church, and I were a preacher, I would go immediately to work and create such a body.”

His newspaper’s mission (The Gospel Echo, merged with the Gospel Advocate in 1901): “… there are, we believe, two things which have been sadly neglected, viz.: the supporting of true ministers, and the cleansing of the sanctuary.”

The title of his first book, 1877: “Which Is the True Church?.”

I have no doubt in mind or heart that Alfred Ellmore’s mind and heart were zealous for the furtherance of God’s truth. I disagree with many of his perceptions of it.

I believe he was, in many ways, typical of the gospel preachers of his day. I’m afraid that is why I read so much rancor in the writings of their various publications.

If you’re of an eastern philosophy, you might be thinking “Whew! That’s a lot of negative family karma to bear toward the next life,” and I would agree with you.

At the same time, I am certain that Alfred brought many people to know Jesus Christ, and His is the eastern philosophy to which I have given my life.

Whatever else he believed or taught or wrote or did, Alfred Ellmore could also write: “A majority rule is not the rule of Christ. Christ and no man rules in all things in His church.”

His poetry was soulful and heartfelt:

Pray, earnest soul, what hast thou done
In the battle and the strife,
This short expanse from sun to sun,
To scatter seeds of life?
The poor have trod the stony road,
The rich for wealth have striven,
But who has sought to ease their load,
By pointing such to heaven?

– the last stanza of “Sunset” from his Maple Valley Poems

And one of his “Wheat and Chaff” columns from the journal Word and Work wistfully observes: “I suppose every matured Christian in looking back over his life sees somethings he did, which if presented now he would not do.”

Not long ago I observed on salguod’s blog that

“We’re probably always (in this life) going to have … people with vision, charisma, energy and genuine dedication who will try to make good ideas into doctrine instead of just letting them be good ideas.

Maybe they are part of God’s plan for encouraging us to study, think, meditate and pray for ourselves about what’s best; to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

I seem to remember that Paul was grateful even for those who preached from selfish motives because Christ was preached.

I’m going to have to think about that again for a while!”

I have chewed on it a little since then.

I’m grateful for Alfred Ellmore.

He also did a lot of good.

201 Years Too Late

I have been struggling today with the temptation to respond to the recently-published document A Christian Affirmation, but have decided that my response would be not only uncredentialed but unavailing.

Instead – although I am almost 201 years too late – I’d rather respond to the things I like and dislike about a document that many scholars have judged to be seminal in the formation of the Restoration churches now known as “Churches of Christ,” “Disciples of Christ” and “The Christian Church.” One of its signatories is Barton W. Stone, and it was called:

Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery

For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of the testator; for a testament is of force after men are dead, otherwise it is of no strength at all, while the testator liveth. Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised saying, yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken as of things that are made, that those things which can not be shaken may remain.–Scripture

Well, I guess the only thing I can reasonably take issue with here – since it is Scripture – is that it lacks citations, which are (in order): Hebrews 9:16-17, I Corinthians 15:36, John 12:24, Hebrews 12:26-27 … thus initiating a heritage of concatenating non-contiguous scripture when convenient, even though it creates questions like “Fruit whose voice then shook the earth?”

The Presbytery of Springfield sitting at Cane Ridge, in the county of Bourbon, being, through a gracious Providence, in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily; and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die; and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make and ordain this our last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, viz.:

This is worded in a neat, legal-like way. It carries the sense of parody strongly, with an implied disdain for the governing body which will be described later. I like it.

Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.

All right! Absolutely! You go, guys!

Item. We will that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God’s heritage, and his name one.

Sure, why not? Distinctiveness is overrated, and who needs that “reverend” stuff? Why should anyone care whether the church is called “Presbyterian” or “Church of Christ” or “Lord’s Church” as long as it’s one with the Body of Christ?

Item. We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

Well, of course. Individual people should be making their own decisions and interpretations, rather than some old powerful church government. They ought to read and study for themselves and be guided by the Spirit! Go on!

Item. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

Yeah, the last thing we need is a bunch of uncalled-for preachers licensed by somebody else. Though I’m not clear on how that license is obtained from God. Or how candidates know for certain that they’ve been called by Him. Maybe that’s something that should be ironed out later. Individually, of course.

Item. We will, that the church of Christ resume her native right of internal government,–try her candidates for the ministry, as to their soundness in the faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority but Christ speaking in them. We will, that the church of Christ look up to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest; and that she resume her primitive right of trying those who say they are apostles, and are not.

Wait a minute. Didn’t you guys revoke that government thing in Item #2? Turn it over to God? Or was it that you were just transferring it from an outside group to the individual assembly? And what does this “try her candidates” language mean? Is that a multiple-choice test, or essay?

Plus, the whole “experimental religion” thing sounds dangerous to me. Like trying things out to see if they work. Do you mean “experiential religion” – doing stuff that’s already been tried?

Are you really planning to hold court on folks who say they’re apostles? Because that does indeed seem “primitive.”

And, well, are you going to stick with the name “church of Christ”? Because you’ve used it twice in the same paragraph now, and some yokel might go and trademark it or something.

Item. We will, that each particular church, as a body, actuated by the same spirit, choose her own preacher, and support him by a free-will offering, without a written call or subscription–admit members–remove offenses; and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatever.

Um … I’m a little hesitant about this hiring-the-preacher clause, because it seems that the first-century church just had circuit preachers who worked a job on the side. And I’m not clear about the “written call or subscription” language regarding admitting members and removing offenses. Seems like there ought to be a procedure here. Yeah, a five-step procedure. “Five Steps To Salvation!” They’d make nice bullet points. Easy to remember, like a creed. Okay; maybe not. Last sentence — there you go with that government thing again. Aren’t you guys are men, constituting a set of men, whatever? Or do you mean it’s okay to turn over her government to women? Hmmm. I don’t think that’s ever been tried …

Item. We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.

I’m with you most of the way here, but I’ve got to tell you that a lot of our preachers need to supplement their income by writing books … and I’ve been blessed by many of the books I’ve read about the Bible. Though there have been some I’d rather burn than give away. I appreciate you leaving that up to us.

Item. We will, that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.

Yes, yes, yes … o God, please, yes!

Item. We will, that our weak brethren, who may have been wishing to make the Presbytery of Springfield their king, and wot not what is now become of it, betake themselves to the Rock of Ages, and follow Jesus for the future.

Okay, that “weak brethren” phrase seems a little condescending. Though it calls to mind some language that the Apostle Paul used in his letters. Maybe it’s okay. Certainly it’s all right to encourage people to commit themselves to Christ as King, rather than any particular church.

Item. We will, the Synod of Kentucky examine every member who may be suspected of having departed from the Confession of Faith, and suspend every such suspected heretic immediately, in order that the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of Gospel liberty.

Gutsy. There’s that hint of sarcasm again, boldly demanding to be called heretics by the oppressor. However … this is just awkward to have to say, fellows, but before you all signed this, did you hop a horse to the Synod and express your disappointment with their leadership? Because that seems like the Matthew 18:15-18 thing to do. (Though declaring independence in a document is a very American thing to do.) Maybe you did dialogue with the Synod and I just don’t know about it. I hope so.

Item. We will, that Ja— —–, the author of two letters lately published in Lexington, be encouraged in his zeal to destroy partyism. We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined into by all who may have correct information; but let foreigners beware of speaking evil of things which they know not.

You could have done better with your penmanship. Folks would like to know that fellow’s name – who should be commended in his zeal to destroy partyism, because that’s a John 17:20-26 thing to do. And we’d like to shake his hand in heaven.

Item. Finally we will, that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.

You couldn’t have worded that any more carefully to avoid sounding judgmental yet still sound the alarm. It’s a little pushy, and I think some circuit-riding visits might have been in order, but it does fit with the whole tone of the document.

Springfield Presbytery, June 28th, 1804

Ahem. Dissolved in the Imprimis above, remember? Suggest: “Former Springfield Presbytery.” Otherwise, gentlemen, sign those names where there are no dotted lines. Even though I’m not real clear which of you are signatories and which are just witnesses, or both?

Robert Marshall,
John Dunlavy,
Richard M’Nemar,–Witnesses.
B. W. Stone,
John Thompson,
David Purviance,

— as recorded at ACU’s Stone-Campbell Archives

Richard McNemar was the original author of this document, as I understand it, which co-signer John Marshall later referred to quaintly as “the obnoxious instrument.” He also called McNemar an “eccentric genius.”

Though it does not specifically refer to creeds (other than the “Confession of Faith” one), opposition to the idea of creeds seems to have been one of the main motivators behind the document.

There’s no way to know, of course, how any of the leaders of the movement that followed would view “A Christian Affirmation.”

That would be an interesting dialogue to witness.

(Some illuminating background material can be found at Restoration Quarterly and The Restoration Movement Pages.)

A Chequered Past

It’s the one thing that churches of the Restoration Movement can claim to have in common. We were all separatists, whether Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Christian Churches or whatever.

We came from Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist roots, whether we own up to it or not.

As a movement, it almost certainly pre-dates Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. And those guys had some peculiar beliefs.

It began in more places than just Cane Ridge, Kentucky. And a lot of truly weird stuff went on there.

We started in a lot of different places, geographically and philosophically. We sort-of started as an emergent movement, with some similar tenets and some that did not and could not be reconciled. Becoming a divergent movement was almost inevitable.

Almost. Because division, sectarianism, name-calling was what the restorationists railed against.

Not to mention the Founder.

We split, and we split and we split again and again and ….

“Emerging” and “emergent” are probably good words for the subtle and often cyber conversation that has begun. There are still too many old wounds that go too deep to begin calling it a “convergent” effort. But it has already begun to draw together people who have been able to see past differences in creeds and practices and what great-grandpa stood for.

(My great-great-grandpa, incidentally, was one of the Reformation preachers: Alfred Ellmore. He put the extra “L” in the name. My only other brush with history is attending church as a child at the same congregation in Indianapolis as a relative – probably a grandson – of Daniel Sommer, who in 1932 wrote a Rough Draft of a proposal to re-unite churches divided over his preaching in 1889. It has the distinction of being, perhaps, the most likely Church of Christ doctrine document that later generations would describe as a “creed.” The younger Sommer, Paul, though greatly older than me, was always glad to pull me aside in the 1970s and describe his voluminous latest writings on a very social justice-oriented incarnation of the church.)

But is the “emergent” conversation focusing too much on the problem of how to “do church,” too?

Doesn’t it make sense to go back beyond the 1970s, the 1890s, the 1790s, the 1500s and, yes, even past the late first century to find a model for fellowship?

Shouldn’t we rather be examining in detail the Kingdom of God described by His Son to his closest followers?

To the Kingdom that is “within” and/or “among you” (Luke 17:20-21)?