"WE CAN NEVER DIVIDE"?
June 1, 1986 Issue
by Jimmy Cutter
(NOTE: April's article in this series on the Civil War dealt with the church's attitude toward participation in the war. The majority of preachers and editors were pacifists or taught non-participation. Last month's article dealt with the American Christian Missionary Society during the war. At the beginning of the war and during it, the Society was pro-Union. However, at the end of the war they worked hard at mending any schism that had been created.)
The Civil War was a grueling test of whether the United States would remain united. The answer came at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Likewise, the war was a test of whether Christians would remain united. Lard said that although they had just passed through a terrible war "not a rent in our ranks did that war produce." He pleaded, "Let no sectional preachers be sustained; in a word, let the very notion of sectionalism perish from our memories and our hearts." He triumphantly predicted, "we can never divide."
The three important histories which represent the major parties in the Restoration had fragmented Garrison and DeGroot's The Disciples of Christ: A History, Murch's Christians Only and West's The Search for the Ancient Order - agree in answering that the church was not divided by the Civil War. However, tremendous controversies involving the missionary society, instrumental music, the Central Christian church in Cincinnati, and a more progressive religion engulfed the Restoration Movement after the Civil War. Finally, the church divided into Disciples of Christ (Christian churches) and Churches of Christ.
Historians have long overlooked the influence of sectionalism in this final division. Perhaps this has come as a result of being influenced too much by Lard's confident assertion "Not a rent in our ranks did the war produce" and his prediction, "we can never divide." Obviously Lard was wrong. Still, historians have allowed Lard's prediction to become a basis for writing subsequent history. In Garrison's Religion Follows the Frontier Lard's famous statements are quoted and he agrees that the disciples survived the slavery controversy, the war, the 'loyalty resolution' without a rupture." He notes the Missionary Society caused some bitterness but concludes "Its ultimate effect was no division at all." Garrison even entitled his chapter "Not Divided by the Civil War." Similarly, Earl West stated that the church "weathered the issues created by the war without any serious disruption." James DeForest Murch wrote "the Christian churches were the only major Protestant body . . . that did not divide."
(West's later work The Life and Times of David Lipscomb does deal with the political and sectional aspects of the division).
The Missionary Society's records furnish strong evidence that the impact of the Civil War was divisive. When the Board of Managers presented the annual report in 1879 they admitted that the Society had been compelled to fight against four forces. Heading the list were the "alienations produced by the late war."
The Civil War had shattered the brotherhood feeling between northern and southern Christians in such a way that they could never again be called "one people" in a meaningful sense. This is not to say that the war was the only thing responsible for the ultimate division, because the conservativeness of the southern Christians had led them to oppose the Society before the war. However, it was the bitterness the Civil War engendered that destroyed the atmosphere of oneness in which doctrinal differences might have been tolerated or maybe even resolved. There were two threads of alienation - sectional bitterness and the antithetical under standings of basic principles - that came together to shatter the oneness. If clear cut division had occurred during the Civil War, one party would have included a large group of congregations located in the South who opposed the Society, in general were more conservative in their interpretation of the Bible, and led by the Gospel Advocate. When the United States Census Bureau listed the Churches of Christ and Disciples in 1906, the sectional division was almost that distinct.
Other OPA Article Links:
THE CIVIL WAR AND PACIFISM (Part One)
THE AMERICAN CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY SOCIETY
DURING THE CIVIL WAR (Part Two)
Jimmy Cutter 1986 OPA Main Page Home