The College Issue

(Six articles were published in Preceptor magazine by brother Robert F. Turner between April and October of 1962. They are presented here as one continuous thesis.)

Educational Institutions Among the Brethren

by Robert F. Turner (Preceptor, April 1962)

Educational projects among members of the church of Christ began in the same way any other private enterprise or social service began among brethren.  Educators, trained in their field, and interested in the secular training of youth, became Christians.  Immediately their interest in the whole of life was given a new dimension.  To the extent that each was zealous to spread the cause of Christ, he sought the opportunity to promote this cause in his particular field of endeavor.  The schools, therefore, are nothing more than private enterprises of businesses, operated on the same basis as farms or factories owned and operated by Christians.  Their purpose is SECULAR EDUCATION.  The Bible is taught because the individual teachers are interested in the spiritual development and eternal destinies of all who come under their influence, and use every opportunity available to promote the cause of Christ.  PLEASE read the next paragraph!

If the above explanation of educational institutions among brethren were complete — and if the practices of my brethren were consistent with this frequently stated theory — the task of tracing the historical development of such institutions, and showing their influence upon the cause of Christ generally, would be both simple and pleasant.  BUT THERE IS MORE, MUCH MORE, TO THE STORY.

The statements of the first paragraph are highly commendable — as a theory.  When brethren accept them as historical facts, however, they must be questioned.  My brethren, in common with most of humanity, seem content to establish acceptable theories and terminology; and then ignore both the theory and the fair and obvious meaning of words in their practice.  I am persuaded that when on objectively studies the history of educational institutions among brethren, two additional facts become apparent. (1) Almost from the beginning, there has been the feeling that these schools were something more than private enterprises — that they were actually adjuncts of the church.  Despite repeated lip-service to the private enterprise theory — there have been few generations, if any, when the schools were seriously regarded as parallel to a Christian’s farm or factory where he chose to teach Bible. (2) This “brotherhood institution” feeling — seldom expressed, but easily traceable — has had a tremendous influence in molding a denominational concept of the church.

Today the church faces anew many of her age-old problems.  Current studies of the organizational structure and work of the church have focused attention upon everything resembling “brotherhood activity.”  This, compounded by efforts to put the schools in the local church budget, has brought on a rash of adverse criticism for all schools operated by brethren.  I do not believe the schools are “sacred cows,” immune from criticism; nor do I believe that they should be used as whipping posts for the critically minded.  I am convinced that many unfounded statements are being made about the schools, and that unwarranted generalizations are being plucked from the history of these institutions. I am equally convinced, however, that we can not fairly and objectively consider the “institutional” problems of our day without recognizing the relation of schools to these problems.  Perhaps my personal feelings about the matter are best expressed by a statement from Tolbert Fanning, as found in the September 1850 issue of Millennial Harbinger.  Fanning, then president of Franklin College, wrote:

“We beg leave, most respectfully, to ask our brethren connected with colleges, and others who may be interested in the education of youth, if it would not be proper to ‘hasten leisurely’ in their conclusions touching the subjects of the Bible in Colleges, Professorships in Sacred History and Theological Schools?”

In the 1962 Lectures at Florida Christian College, an open forum discussion of colleges and their right to exist was presented.  At the request of the college, I presented a lecture on the “Historical Development of Educational Institutions.”  The school is to be highly complimented for the willingness to provide such opportunities for her own examination; in fact, Florida Christian College is probably unique among such schools in this respect.  But the purpose of this series of articles is neither to attack nor defend any particular school.  Instead, I hope to make some small contribution to a better understanding of the schools operated by brethren and urge brethren to “hasten leisurely” in their conclusions regarding such schools.  We may destroy in a few years, the work of generations.  On the other hand, through blind acceptance of the “Bible” schools, we may harbor the Trojan horse of institutionalism.  “Hasten leisurely” indeed!!

The history of schools operated by brethren in this country divides itself readily into three periods.  Schools established before 1850 belong to the Pioneer Period, and included Bacon College, established in 1836, and later developed into Kentucky University; Bethany College, established in 1841 by Alexander Campbell; Franklin College, established in 1845, by Tolbert Fanning; and Burritt College established in 1849.  During the early days of these schools, theories were being formulated and patterns formed that indelibly marked the educational picture among brethren.  We shall have occasion to note how much our present concepts differ from those formulated in the early days, but we should remember that antiquity alone proves a thing neither good nor bad.

The second chronological division of our study may be called the Medial Period, the period of change, between 1850 and 1930.  From Add-Ran College, established in 1873, to Harding College, established 1922; this period embraces such schools as Freed-Hardeman College, 1885; David Lipscomb College, established in 1891 as Nashville Bible School; Potter Bible College, established in 1901; Gunter Bible College, 1903; Abilene Christian College, established in 1906 as Childers’ Christian Institute; and Clebarro College, established in 1909.  For a concise and readable history of this important period read, “A History of Christian Colleges” by M. Norvel Young.

The Modern Period, after 1930, includes such schools as Pepperdine College, established in 1937; Alabama Christian College, established as Montgomery Bible College, 1942; Florida Christian College, established in 1946; and Central Christian College, established in 1949.  Within the past ten years, a promotional “fever” has swept through the churches, and schools have sprung into being so rapidly it is difficult to keep the count.  Some of these are firmly planted, no doubt, and will take their place with the “regulars” of school history; but others will close their doors for lack of funds, and because of regional difficulties.  It is much too early to judge many of these schools by historical standards, and the reader is asked to assign these schools a place in the light of current information.  The historical portion of our study will be chiefly concerned with the Pioneer and Medial periods, and the development of theories and practices that have established the generally accepted concepts of so-called “Christian” education today.

In my studies of the history of educational institutions among brethren, I find two questions that never seem to get the attention they deserve.  They are integral in many problems of the past and present, and sometimes are the basic issue of some particular “battle” without ever being recognized per se.  I am not certain that I can properly frame them, but perhaps the reader will be charitable and grapple with the principle involved instead of quibbling over my terminology.

(1) Regarding the Distinctive and Peculiar Purpose of the Bible:

May the Word of God (the Bible) be used with divine approval for any purpose other than the salvation of the soul? (May the ultimate goal — the salvation of the soul — be dismissed; the Bible taught or studied with divine approval when the only goal is temporary and earth-bound?)  (May the Bible be used as a secular subject, or study, with divine approval?)  (Is it wrong to consider the Bible as a text-book for secular, material, temporal purposes only?)  (Must all study and teaching of the Bible be a spiritual activity, to have divine approval?)  This multi-framing could go on forever, apparently; but if you do not now understand the issue I have in mind, we may as well pass on to the next problem.

(2) Regarding the Distinctive and Peculiar Function of the Church:

Do the scriptures teach that the dissemination of the Word of God is an exclusive function of the church?  (Is it wrong for any organization — body of people, acting collectively, other than the church, to teach the Word of God?)  (Does any body of people, acting collectively — a functional unit — other than the local church, have the right to teach or cause to be taught, the Word of God?)  (Define and clarify the “all-sufficiency” of the church with reference to the teaching of the Word of God.  Does this mean that only the church “as such” may teach, or cause to be taught, the Word of God?)  Brethren, I am well aware of the double-meanings, repetitions, etc. of these questions.  If you dislike one or more “wordings” you may pass to another — I have tried to cover the issue in the words of many different “schools” of thought.  How do you answer your questions?

And thus we introduce our study of Educational Institutions Among Brethren.  Next issue, the Lord willing, we will present the story of the earliest theory of education among pioneer brethren in this country.

Development of a Theory of Education

By Robert F. Turner (Preceptor, May 1962)

Alexander Campbell was an educator.  At sixteen years of age, he assisted his father in a private academy in Ireland, and after coming to this country he engaged in educational enterprises both as a means of livelihood and as a public service.  He established Buffalo Seminary in his own home in 1818.  As a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829, he introduced the resolution regarding universal education.  In fact, Clayton Morrison, former editor of the Christian Century, thought Campbell’s greatest contribution to society lay in the field of education.  Nor was Campbell alone as an educator among pioneer preachers.  Walter Scott, P. S. Fall, Tolbert Fanning, and other stalwarts were school teachers, editors of farm magazines, and operators of academies of one kind of another.

These men lived and worked in an age when illiteracy was high.  The states could not provide adequate educational facilities — in fact, some of them were still debating the advisability of providing schools for all citizens.  Schools were a luxury on the early frontier, and school teachers were at a premium.  A moderately well-educated man could render a valuable public service and operate a profitable business enterprise, by opening an “academy” or “institute” — as they were called.

And early gospel preachers had even higher motives for establishing schools. In contrast to the popular doctrines of direct and mystical influence of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, these men held that the truths of religion are a revelation in the word of God; and that to enjoy their blessings, one must apply his mind to understand the Bible. Their preaching was an appeal to the understanding of man, trusting the power of truth believed to move the heart and conscience.  “In this view of religion they held that men of cultivated minds would more readily grasp religious truth, and especially that such would be more successful in communicating the knowledge of truth to others.  Their zeal in religion, therefore, made them zealous in the cause of education.” (See “Life of Benj. Franklin;” Franklin and Headington; p. 389-f).

During this same period, the “Whole Man” concept of secular education was gaining wide acceptance in educational circles.  This was a recognition of the physical, social, and moral needs of man, in place of the earlier exclusive appeal to the intellect.  The restoration “preacher-educators” (or “educator-preachers” as the case may be) readily accepted this concept of education, and proposed the Bible as the “text-book for moral science.”  The need for “moral education” became the basis for the positive aspect of a theory of education developed among brethren.  There was also a negative aspect to this theory.

Restoration preachers placed great stress upon the non-denominational character of Christianity.  They battled incessantly with the sectarianism of their day, and they saw the “Theological Seminaries” as breeding grounds for “creedalism” and the “clergy system.”  Consequently, they had a strong aversion to “preacher training” schools.  Further, they proposed the adequacy and sufficiency of Christians “in their church capacity” to do all the work divinely assigned to them.  Alexander Campbell had written (in Christian Baptist, 1823):

“In their church capacity alone they moved.  They neither transformed themselves into any other kind of association, nor did they fracture and severe themselves into divers societies.  The viewed the church of Jesus Christ as  the scheme of Heaven to ameliorate the world; as members of it, they considered themselves bound to do all they could for the glory of God and the good of men.  They dare not transfer to a missionary society, or Bible society, or education society, a cent or a prayer, lest in doing so they should rob the church of its glory; and exalt the inventions of men above the wisdom of God.”

Campbell later tried to “soften” the application of these statements — when criticized for his part in the forming of the missionary society, and for changes in Bethany College.  But the influence of such statements on the early theory of education among brethren is clear and unmistakable.  The schools were not to perform the work of the church.

One may state this early theory of education as follows: Secular education, so needful to man, includes the development of man’s physical, social, intellectual and moral capacities.  The Bible, as the text-book of moral science, should be taught in secular schools; but distinctive doctrines and theology are not the province of such schools.

Early schools operated by brethren were secular in their nature.  Bacon College, established in 1836 at Georgetown, Ky., was first proposed as “Collegiate Institute and School of Civil Engineers.”  Its charter, borrowed from a school in Danville, Ky., stipulated that no peculiar doctrines should be taught.  Franklin College, established in 1845 at Nashville, Tenn., by Tolbert Fanning, was an outgrowth of “Elm Craig Agriculture School” and its charter contained nothing about religion.  Burritt College, 1849, began as “a civic enterprise, in response to demand for education” at Spencer, Tenn.  The charter made no religious demands.

Copies of some early charters and further notes on this subject may be found in “A History of Christian Colleges,” by M. Norvel Young.  Concerning Franklin College, Young writes: “Probably the most revealing thing about the charter was its silence on the subject of religion.  Fanning was a preacher and fully intended to teach the Bible as a textbook in his new college, but he did not propose that his school should be considered denominational.  Although in practice the members of the board of trustees and of the faculty were, with few exceptions, members of the churches of Christ, no such requirements were written in the charter.” (p. 41)

Tolbert Fanning understood and sought to apply the “whole man” concept of education in the establishment of Franklin College.  He said, “Education, in this establishment, will be divided into physical, intellectual, and Moral.”  “Genuine education implies not the exercise of the mind alone or any one of its powers, but it is the full development of the whole man - body, mind, and soul. (Franklin College and its Influences; by James Scobey; p. 17)  Yet Fanning was beset with doubts as he saw secular limitations placed upon the Bible.

The Millennial Harbinger, Sept. 1850, contained an exchange between Fanning and A. Campbell regarding the teaching of the Bible in secular schools.  Fanning asked, “Is it true, that we can adopt the Bible as a text-book, (and we all do so,) in our colleges, with our lectures thereupon, and teach nothing which is ‘peculiar’—which is not ‘Catholic,’ and which is not ‘universally admitted’?”  To this, Campbell replied: “We have been doing this, in our way, ever since the foundation of Bethany College, and have now had nine years experience; and although daily, during that period, lectures have been delivered on Patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian history, our text-books being the five books of Moses, with other portions of Jewish history, and the five historical books of the New Testament; and although having in attendance other Protestant denominations, almost all the while, and occasionally visited by clergymen of different denominations, we have never heard one exception taken against a single sentence ever uttered in those lectures, on sectarian grounds.  Do not all these admit the Bible facts, precepts, and promised?  And is there not enough of these for all the purposes of both religion and morality?” (A more complete report of this exchange will be given in later articles. rft).

Campbell accepted the “whole man” concept of education, and used the Bible as a text-book of moral science, but felt that Bible teaching in secular schools had definite limitations.  (And remember, he considered all schools operated by brethren as “secular” even though he sometimes spoke of “Christian education.”)  In 1857 he said, “Theories, speculations sometimes called doctrines, faith, orthodoxy, heterodoxy, come not within the legitimate area of collegiate, literary, moral or Christian education.”  (See “Popular Lectures and Addresses,” by Campbell; p. 486)

In his “Address on Colleges” (Ibid., p. 303-305) he said: “But essential as religion is, both to the school and to the state, the preternatural and unfortunate condition of Christendom is such as to inhibit the introduction of any form of Christianity into the colleges and seminaries of learning . . . The consequence is, that we must either have no college with the Bible in it as a text-book or as many colleges as there are sects in any given state or territory . . . The question of this age is, How is this difficulty to be met and overcome?

“There is but one sovereign remedy for these educational difficulties and embarrassments.  We Protestants have a Bible, as well as literature; and that Bible, as well as the Greek and Roman Bible, states certain prominent Christian facts, precepts, and promises, so plainly, so perspicuously and so fully that all Christendom admits them . . . These, with the moral evidences which sustain them, are so evident that no Christian denomination doubts or denies them.  They, therefore, are common property, and, without any factitious aid, are competent to man’s redemption.  They are — 1st. That Christ died for our sins; 2nd. That he was buried; and 3rd. That he rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven . . . Every man that believes that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification, so far as his faith is concerned, is said by the Holy Spirit to be saved.

“Since, then these facts are admitted by every denomination of Christians, they may, with great propriety, in all their evidence and moral grandeur, be taught in every school and college in Christendom; and that, too, without any censure or exception taken by any Christian denomination, Greek, Roman or Protestant.  That this can be done, is demonstrated by actual experiment on our part, and with the consent and concurrence of every denomination in our country.  Further than this, public instruction, ex cathedra, in Christianity, is neither desirable nor expedient during a collegiate course of learning.” (Abridged, as indicated by dots. — rft)

Needless to say, such Bible teaching in “our” colleges today would be most unsatisfactory, and highly criticized by all brethren involved.  Nor were the brethren of earlier days satisfied with such teaching, as we shall see in further articles.  In fact, here is one of the major problems of so-called “Christian Colleges”:  We seek to justify the colleges with a theory that differs widely from the practice we demand of those colleges.  We justify them as secular institutions and criticize them for secular practices.

But let us “hasten leisurely” with our conclusions.  There is much more, as we continue our study of the history of educational institutions among brethren.

The Schools, and Denominationalism

By Robert F. Turner (Preceptor, June 1962)

Schools operated by brethren in the “Pioneer Period” of our study were regarded by educators as secular institutions.  Their right to be “preacher-training” or “indoctrination” centers was denied, and definite limitations were placed upon the extent to which the Bible could be presented.  (See Article II)  The Bible was to be used as a text-book for moral science, not to instruct in matters peculiar to the church of Christ.  But what does one mean by “matters peculiar to the church of Christ”??  Peculiar to plainly taught doctrines of the New Testament, or peculiar to the widely accepted tenets of a party of people called the Church of Christ???  A certain ambiguity that attaches itself to this statement today was likewise felt in earlier days and was responsible for one of the first church-school conflicts among brethren.

Educators of the early days seemed to have developed a fairly definite theory of education—a principle by which they thought they could justify their work.  But this work required the support of the brethren—brethren who (1) had no clear and unified conception of the operation and benefits to be expected of such schools; (2) took an early and sectarian pride in “our” institutions; and (3) were subject to the same sort of changes we observe among brethren today.  Looking back upon the earlier educational problems, Franklin and Headington wrote:

“When the Disciples gave of their money to found and endow colleges, they did so with the idea that the influences of those colleges would be given to the extension of the principles of the Reformation.  In that sense they were expected to be denominational.  But whether that influence was to be exerted by having these principles regularly taught, or only through the personal influence and example of teachers, was a question which people had not well considered.  But that all the faculty should be Christians, and identified with the Reformation, was as well settled and anything in the public mind.” (Biography of Benjamin Franklin; pp. 397; Publ. 1879)

As early as 1845 there is evidence that “the brethren” expected more of the colleges than “a secular education in a Christian environment.”  Bacon College was in financial straits, and many brethren were dissatisfied with the administration of Pres. James Shannon.  Carol Kendrick, editor of the Ecclesiastical Reformer in Kentucky “took up the battle, and for several months he and Shannon debated the issue before the brethren of the state.  Kendrick charged that the brethren of Kentucky were refusing to support the school because Bacon College was not serving its cause.”*** (Note the “cause” brethren thought the school should serve. rft)

“Shannon declared that their charter, which was borrowed from Centre College at Danville, had stipulated that the peculiar doctrines of no sect should be preached.  Shannon defended the school by insisting they were teaching the Bible, but that they had consistently refused to teach peculiar doctrines of the churches of Christ.  For the first time, in all probability, many brethren learned that they belonged to a ‘sect’, according to Shannon.  It is not at all unlikely that Kendrick had struck at the basic trouble with the College, although there were many who agreed with Shannon in his viewpoint.” (See Search for Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 273).

This early conflict between the desire of the brethren and the policies of the schools is but preliminary to the Kentucky University battle, of which we shall presently study.  Let us note here, however, that although schools do influence the thinking of the brotherhood, we should not completely discount the influence of the brotherhood on the schools.  As long as the schools are dependent upon the approval of the brethren, their policies are usually adjusted to majority pressures, whether right or wrong.  These schools change according to the changes taking place among brethren . . . and brethren do change.  What happens when the schools are well enough endowed to be self-sufficient??  And what happens when the school is powerful enough to ignore the thinking of even a large portion of the brotherhood or to exert pressures to change this thinking???  Bacon College, Harrodsburg, Ky., closed in 1850 due to a lack of funds.  But the spirit of “brotherhood organizations” was growing.  (American Christian Missionary Society, organized 1849.)  “In 1852 at a state meeting of the churches (emphasis mine, rtf) it was voted to reopen the College, but to amend the charter so that the school would belong to the “Christians in the State of Kentucky.”  (Private enterprise?? rft)  There was no immediate action, however.  Then, at a meeting of the brethren held at Harrodsburg on Oct. 22, 1855, John B. Bowman proposed that a university be established upon the ruins of Bacon College.  Within a few years, $150,000 was raised, and by September 1859, the school began operation under the new name, Kentucky University.  The new charter called for “a self-perpetuating board of thirty curators, two-thirds of whom were to be members of the church in Kentucky.”  (For thought-provoking comments and history of this period, see Search for the Ancient Order, by Earl West; Vol. I p. 273-f. Vol. II, p. 113-127)

In 1865, following a disastrous fire, the university moved to Lexington, Ky., and absorbed Transylvania University.  Transylvania had recently negotiated with the Kentucky Legislature to provide a College of Agriculture and Mechanics and would receive an endowment from the State to support this project.  Consequently, the “brotherhood of Kentucky” was soon involved with a State-aligned school, consisting of a “College of Bible” plus Colleges of Liberal Arts, Law, Commerce, and A & M.  Two-thirds of the board members were members of the church in Kentucky, as demanded by the charter; but by this time the “brotherhood” was restless and partially divided over the development of the missionary society, and the “new issue” — mechanical instruments in the worship.  Liberal minded board members were headed by liberal-minded, powerfully wealthy John B. Bowman.  The stage was set for trouble.

Bowman and the liberal curators claimed the school was “non-sectarian.”  This sounded like the old refrain, so in keeping with the early theory of education among brethren, and many were soothed to sleep by this familiar verbiage.   But Bowman considered the churches of Christ another sect.  His ambiguous statement only meant the school would serve no particular group.  By this time the brethren had dismissed their early reluctance to “indoctrinate” by means of the secular (?) class-room, and a sort of brotherhood orthodoxy had developed which demanded that “our” church be promoted by “our” schools.

J. W. McGarvey, preaching in Lexington and teaching at the College of Bible, opposed the liberal trends.  He was backed by Moses E. Lard and others.  Benjamin Franklin entered the battle, and in the Sept. 1871 American Christian Review wrote concerning the school: “True, we grant, it is not to be sectarian, but is to be Christian.  It must be under the control of Christians.**** We desire to know that the University is not only nominally turned over to the brotherhood, but run in accordance with their desires.” (Private enterprise??? rft)

The “bursting point” of this church-school feud was as spectacular — and ugly — as the repeat performance may be in our own generation.  (God help us!)  Bowman and other liberals left the church where McGarvey preached and started a new congregation.  The Main St. church withdrew from Bowman.  In 1873 McGarvey was ousted from the school.  By now, the secular press and “brotherhood papers” were printing various versions of the battle.  In 1874 a group of brethren appealed the matter to the State Legislature. They proposed a new Board of managers to be selected “by the church in Kentucky.”  (“Fifty congregations” in agreement could represent “the church in Kentucky.”)  A “committee of twenty-one brethren” canvassed the state for resolutions, etc., from the churches, but the measure failed to obtain a majority vote in the Senate.

We are presented here with the ridiculous spectacle of an “unorganized brotherhood” trying to “own and control” anything. They could cease to support the school financially, but by now the university was so well endowed that Bowman laughed at such threats.  The acceptance of State funds had given the general public a voice in the matter; and to the general public, the “brotherhood” was a denomination, seeking to control a State-aligned University.  The denominational characteristics necessitated by efforts at “brotherhood ownership and control” are further seen in that when the Board of Curators sought to deal with “the brotherhood” they did so by appealing to the Kentucky Christian Educational Society, a fund-raising organization that had existed for some time among members of the church in Kentucky.

The “brotherhood” lost Kentucky University—if it ever had the school in the first place.  An independent College of The Bible was finally established in Lexington and J. W. McGarvey, Robert Graham, I. B. Grubbs, and others served there with honor; but the effect of the K. U. fight was not easily erased.  In later articles, we will discuss the effects of this battle on the theory of “Christian Education” among brethren—even until our own day.  It is foolish to ignore such valuable “hindsight.”

The K. U. debacle illustrates our major proposition for this article, viz., any project or institution operated by or for the benefit of the church at large, "the brotherhood," tends to denominationalize that brotherhood.  The institution itself may not be so much to blame as the “brotherhood” conceptions that produce and maintain the institution.  Party ties are made and strengthened, opinions accepted by the majority become traditions, are crystallized into party tenets; and accepted in the second or third generation as proof of orthodoxy.  When the “brotherhood” functions, there must be the acceptance of common direction and guidance; the “brotherhood voice” must be heard.  And “brotherhood schools” have paved the way for denominational organizations among members of the Lord’s church.  No amount of denying can change this obvious historical and current fact.

In A. S. Hayden’s “History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve” - (pp. 461-f.) he pleads the cause of the missionary society, and other church combines.  He freely credits (?) the school (Eclectic Institute—later known as Hiram College) with the promotion of such “cooperations” among brethren.  He writes: “The chief glory of that institution has not been told: which was, that it created a most desirable and useful general confidence among us.  We united.  We joined hands around one good enterprise.  The purpose succeeded, and vindicated the most useful sentiment of union in action.***  This confidence is transferring itself to our missionary work.”

Schools are secular institutions and must remain such.  History and common sense urge us to “hasten leisurely” in our conclusion concerning them, but God’s Word concerning the organizational structure of the church demands that we take a firm stand against any “brotherhood institutions” or church support of any secular enterprise.

"Bible Schools" Become a Brotherhood Issue

By Robert F. Turner

In previous articles, we have traced the development of a theory of education among brethren of an earlier day.  We have seen schools begin as secular institutions, privately owned, and thought to have no right as “indoctrination centers;” become “Christian” schools, considered as brotherhood institutions, and expected to promote “peculiar and distinctive” doctrines.  (Our articles have been necessarily limited in this historical development, but the story of Kentucky University, with accompanying citations, amply sustains the above statement).

The K. U. debacle, discussed in Article III, focused attention upon the schools as “brotherhood” institutions—and productive of a “brotherhood problem” that has continued to this day.  It set in motion a reactionary feeling which greatly shaped the popular attitude toward “Bible Schools” from ca. 1890 to ca. 1930, until now.  The Missionary Society and the Instrumental Music issue divided the brethren into so-called “Progressives” and “Conservatives;” but a few years later the school problem presented its own divisive power.  Some of the conservative (or “Anti’s” as they were called by the “music and society” brethren) felt that the schools were right in principle, but that they must guard against abuses of this principle.  Others concluded that the whole principle of secular Bible schools was contradictory and wrong.  We shall study examples of each view, and their effect upon the history of the church.

Benjamin Franklin, the editor of the then powerful American Christian Review, is a fine example of a truly great man who “changed” from a promoter and supporter of schools operated by brethren, to an opponent of such institutions.  The following statements, by which Franklin tells his own story, were originally written in the “Review,” and are quoted from “The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” by Franklin and Headington; Pages 396-399.  In 1873 Franklin wrote:

“We gave it as our deliberate opinion, a year ago, that the majority party in the Board and the Regent disregarded the wishes of the donors to the University and their brethren in the State, to whom the University belongs, and who have the right to control it.*** Many well-meaning people thought no harm was meant, and that the alarm was groundless — that all was safe.  But look at the state of thing now.  Leading men in this factious movement are now talking about the churches taking action in the matter indignantly, and inquiring: ‘What business have the churches with it?’  This is a little cool.  The brethren of the State make up the churches, and the charter of the University recognizes them as the owners of the University, and as having the right to control it.  The appeal was made in their name.  Under that name they poured out their munificence. It was to be their University, and they were to control it.  It was for the cause — the Bible cause.  But how is it now?  It is out of their hands, and, by the dominant party in the Board, regarded as an impertinence for them to give an expression of their mind.”

Now brethren of 1962 — read these statements carefully.  Bro. Franklin thought brethren of Kentucky could own and control the school.  He experienced a rude awakening.  Three years later, when “liberal” views began to influence the teachers of other colleges, Franklin wrote: (Oct. 10, 1876 Review.)

“We do not disguise the fact that we are not working for Bethany College.  We are taking no interest in it.  We worked for it all the time till Bro. Campbell died, subscribed and paid $100 to its support since his death.  Things have been occurring all along since to cut our affections off from it till we have no sympathy with it.  We do not believe it is doing the cause any good.  We are now measuring every word we write, and understand the meaning of every word.  We can give reasons for what we are saying to any extent the reader may desire.  We shall put down a very few things briefly here:

1. We have become perfectly satisfied that education, in the popular sense, is purely secular, and is not a church matter.  The church ought to be connected with no educational enterprise.  We are in favor of no church college.  This is a matter that may be discussed at length, but we enter into no discussion of it now.  Still, this would not utterly cut off our sympathy with Bethany College, other matters being equal.

2. One of the main pleas Alexander Campbell made for a college under the control of Christians was, in view of the moral teaching, that no man was educated in the true sense who was not cultivated in heart.  This we hold to be as true as any principle yet uttered.  To this end there should be sound professors to train students, and there should be a sound church in the vicinity of the college, maintaining the highest order of morality, order and discipline.”

Franklin and Headington summarize Benjamin Franklin’s attitude toward the schools as follows: “He became finally well-grounded in the opinion that all schools ought to be as purely secular as a bookstore, and that religious instruction should be ministered entirely through the church and Sunday-school, or by the enterprise of individuals.” (p. 395).

Daniel Sommer purchased the American Christian Review in 1866.  He had previously written for the paper — including some articles on “Educating Preachers” in which he questioned some practices of the schools — and now he became the chief opponent of the “Bible College” in the sense we have been using the terms.  His “gloves off” attitude aroused the ire of college advocates, and his sometimes illogical arguments invited scorn, but his influence was great in the mid-west.  “Sommerism” became synonymous with opposition to the colleges, and to this day some brethren feel they have adequately disposed of a critic of the schools when they call him a “Sommerite.”  In sections where Daniel Sommer’s influence was greatest, conservative brethren generally adopted the conclusion that “Bible Colleges” (as institutions apart from the local church) and “the all-sufficiency of the church” were completely incompatible.

In the south, however, (where the “music and society” digression was least felt), the Bible School issue seemed not to have reached such “black and/or white” conclusions.  Many educators of the south accepted theories practically identical with those of Daniel Sommer but found means of justifying practices which Sommer declared inconsistent.  For example, David Lipscomb seemed convinced that schools should not be “preacher factories”—as Sommer might call them.  In an article in the Gospel Advocate, April 8, 1875, he wrote, “We think the most fatal mistake of Alexander Campbell’s life, and one that has done much and we fear will do much more to undo his life’s work, was the establishment of a school to train and educated young preachers.”  (For this, and remaining quotations see Search for Ancient Order, Vol. II, pages 368-f).  Yet, in writing about the Nashville School, Lipscomb emphasized its roll in aiding “those who wish to devote their lives to the service of God.”  Thirty-two regularly enrolled students entered the school the first year, and twenty-four of these were preparing to be preachers.  The second year, thirty-four students enrolled, “all save two or three preparing to spend their lives in teaching the lost the way of life.”  These young men preached in and about Nashville, and by March 1893, the Advocate reported that forty-two persons obeyed the gospel “under their ministry.”  Theory notwithstanding, the practical result and advertised emphasis was “preacher training.”

The schools must not “do the work of the church,” everyone seemed to agree.  But a careful definition of the “work of the church” — and what is meant by the “all-sufficiency” of the church in this field — seems not, to this good day, to be established.  In 1891, in written controversy with a missionary society advocate, Lipscomb stated: “And whenever you will convince me that the school is usurping any function of the church of God, takes out of its hands or the hands of individual Christians, what God has committed to it, I henceforth will oppose all schools. ****I have never found where the Bible committed to the church or to anybody but parents, the work of educating their children for making a living. . . . .”

When J. M. McCaleb wrote to James Harding, asking the difference between the Bible School and the society in principle, Harding replied: (G. A., Oct. 10, 1895).

“The day the Bible School becomes an organized society for preaching the gospel, teaching the scriptures, or for any other purpose, that day I leave it.  The Bible School is a school, that is all . . .***May the richest blessings of God ever rest upon this work, and may He forbid that it should ever become a Society organized for the purpose of doing what He has committed to His church.”  Harding, as well as Lipscomb, seemed to feel that unless the school avowed a certain “purpose” it could not be held accountable for actually doing that particular thing.

Yet, if one seeks an avowed purpose that conflicts with the divine purpose of the church, it seems to be available.  In the original subscription drive for the building of Nashville Bible School, is the following clause: (SAO, V. II, p. 381)  “The supreme purpose of the school shall be to teach the Bible as the revealed will of God to man and as the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice, and to train those who attend in a pure Bible Christianity, excluding fro the faith all opinions and philosophies of men, and from the work and worship of the church of God all human inventions and devices.  Such other branches of learning may be added as will aid in the understanding and teaching of the Scriptures and will promote usefulness and good citizenship among men.”

Opposition to “Bible Schools” from Daniel Sommer and others, had a marked effect upon the schools of the south; but it seems to have changed terminology more than it changed practices.  The history of Bible Colleges is a mass of contradictions — one can almost “prove anything he wishes” by searching the records.  Now, this is not to say that Lipscomb, Harding, et al., were a bunch of hypocrites, or dolts—far from it.  But it is obvious that such contradiction, however explained, have given fuel to those who oppose the schools and provide embarrassment for those who would defend the schools.

The most serious error in this field today is made by those who refuse to acknowledge that Bible Schools, as now operated, ARE A BROTHERHOOD ISSUE—AS THEY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN.  Certain basic questions regarding (1) the work of the church; (2) what is meant by “all-sufficiency” of the church (as an organization) with respect to teaching the gospel; (3) Bible as a secular subject; and perhaps other equally important matter must be faced.

But we must “hasten leisurely” lest we create new and greater problems.

The Problem of Church - School Ties

By Robert F. Turner (Preceptor, September 1962)

Throughout the history of Bible Colleges, much attention has been given to the undesirable aspects of church-school ties.  The restoration of New Testament Christianity logically demands faith in the all-sufficiency of God’s plan — the all-sufficiency of the Lord’s church to perform her divinely appointed work.  Campbell deplored a church fractured by missionary, Bible, or educational societies; and school officials, from Campbell and Fanning down to the present spokesmen, have assured us of their opposition to church-schools ties.  But such ties exist.

As early as 1852, “at a state meeting of the churches” it was voted to reopen Bacon College, but “to amend the charter so that the school would belong to the Christians in the state of Kentucky.”  (Emphasis mine, rft., See Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, P. 273-f.)  Practically all Bible colleges (or “Christian Colleges” as they are now called) operated by brethren since that time have been widely considered as “our” schools, and I suspect the “quote marks” are now preserved through opposition to denominational terminology more than by opposition to the idea expressed.  Is this massive contradiction of theory and practice simply a prolonged, inadvertent abuse; or is some basic error involved?  The importance of the subject justifies our careful and objective consideration.

On what basis may we say that “Christian Colleges” are church-related institutions?  Since churches of Christ do not acknowledge an organizational structure larger than a local church, it is obviously impossible to relate the colleges to a non-existing headquarters.  But this alone does not solve our problem.  We may tolerate something we would not acknowledge.  Nor have we dealt fairly with the situation when we claim the schools are parallel to a store or farm, where Christians — pursuing their individual occupations — may teach the Bible.  Can you honestly imagine a store or farm in the position currently occupied by “our” schools?

In the absence of direct organizational ties, other cords may produce the type of church-school bonds we are here considering.  Indirect ownershipdoctrinal ties, and support may bind the churches to a human institution for many years before direct organizational ties are established.  Church history bears repeated witness to this fact; a fact so clearly proved that it seems only the willfully blind could fail to see it.  Now, do such ties bind the churches and schools?

A few small schools have been directly owned by single congregations, but this is certainly the exception rather than the rule.  If the universal church has no organizational entity, who does own “our” colleges?  About ten years ago Rex A. Turner wrote an excellent article on this subject for the Firm Foundation.  (It was republished in the Gospel Guardian, Jan. 29, 1953.)  He defined the schools as “Charitable Trusts” and cited legal definitions for ownership of such trusts.  Put briefly, the schools belong to the Purpose for which they are established, and indirectly to the donors who support the Purpose.  Trustees could sell the schools, but the proceeds would have to be used cy pres. i.e., for “the nearest thing to” the purpose set forth in the original charter.  All of which seems to argue against church-school ties via ownership.  But there are practical considerations that greatly nullify the legal consideration.

Early schools established by our brethren (Bacon, Bethany, Franklin, and Burritt Colleges) were secular institutions.  In their early years, a studied effort was made to avoid the teaching of “peculiar and distinctive” doctrines.  (See Article II, May 1962)  But changing brotherhood conceptions brought about changes in the schools, and in later years restrictive deeds and clauses, written into the charters of the schools, gave the schools a “purpose” peculiarly related to the churches of Christ.  As an example, the charter of Gunter Bible College (19036-28) stipulated that the school “. . . .shall be managed and controlled as hereinafter set forth by a Board of Directors, each of whom shall be members of a congregation of the church of Christ, which takes the New Testament as its only sufficient rule of faith, worship, and practice, and reject from its faith, worship, and practice everything not required by either precept or example, and which does not introduce in the faith, worship, and practice, as a part of the same or as adjunct thereto, any supplemental organization or anything else not clearly and directly authorized in the New Testament either by precept or example.”

The Harding College charter (1934) required that each member of the Board of Trustees shall be “. . . .a member of the Church of Christ in good standing, who believes in and adheres to a strict construction of the Bible and who opposed all innovations in the work and worship of the Church, such as instruments of music, missionary societies, Christian endeavor societies, all other human inventions not authorized by the Word of God;. . . .”  These charters clearly demonstrate the doctrinal ties that bind the churches and schools.  Further, as the churches change, the schools also change.  For example, let’s see someone oust a Harding College trustee today for being a member of a liberal church.  Such an effort would convince us that restrictive deeds, etc., are usually a locking of the barn after the horse is stolen.  They serve admirably with reference to a current issue, already solved by those making the deed; but they do little to guarantee doctrinal purity, or adherence to the original purpose, in the future.  Harding’s charter could be changed by a two-thirds vote of board members.  (For other school charters, see Appendix, “History of Colleges” by M. Norval Young.)

An example of church-school ties brought about through money considerations is found in the history of Burritt College.  (1849-1939)  In 1877, Dr. T. W. Brents, a prominent preacher and former physician, was employed by Burritt College to sell school stock on a 2 1/2% commission basis.  Norval Young (History of Colleges, page 60) says, “This stock was sold to members of the church with the understanding of the bond that it should be represented by the subscriber during his life, and at his death, by the church to which he left it.  In this way, the college was tied more closely than ever before to the Churches of Christ.”

In the Gospel Advocate of Aug. 4, 1892 (S.A.O., Vol. 11, p. 377), James Harding wrote concerning Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb College): “It is a fact that many young men who want to attend the school cannot pay tuition and board.  In some cases congregations send and sustain them; in others, individuals have done it; some have worked their way through . . . . . We would like to hear from individuals and churches who will take part in this good work.”  I believe Harding correctly distinguished between support of the school and purchase of service, but I am at a loss to reconcile the above statement with his assignment of secular education as a parental—not a congregational—responsibility.  In any event, such matters strengthened the church-school ties, and today those who advocate the direct support of colleges by the congregations claim Harding and Lipscomb for precedent.

Historical records indicate a fluctuating pattern of church-school ties.  From the early days, when no tie existed, the bond grew rapidly (with growing brotherhood organizational plans) until about 1870.  At this time even the conservative Benjamin Franklin wrote of “our schools” “owned and controlled” by the brotherhood.  Then came the Kentucky University debacle.  (See Art. III, June ‘62)  This terrifying blow, coupled with growing opposition to the missionary society, gave church-school ties a great set-back.  Brethren became cautious—wary.  Sound preachers pounded strongly on the “all-sufficiency” of the church.  Later, the Sommer opposition to Bible Colleges had its effect.  But with Kentucky University almost forgotten, and the Sommer opposition largely overcome, church-school ties once more began to grow.  In the 1930’s several prominent preachers publicly advocated church support of the colleges (those were hard times, remember?) but the conservative element of the church was too strong at that time for such a move to succeed.   Then, following World War II, the brotherhood organizers began to gain power; and with these developments, church-school ties were also promoted.  Today the church-school ties are more prominent than it has been since the days of the Kentucky University blowup.  Brethren, re-read this paragraph, and think!!

Harding College announced her 1960 Lectures by writing, “The theme of the lectureship is ‘Christian Education,’ approached from the viewpoint of the educational program of the local church, the Christian College, and individual or corporate projects.” (emp. mine, rft)  In a special issue of the Gospel Advocate (Apr. 21, ‘60) on Christian Education, A. C. Pullias, president of D. L. C., writes repeatedly of “church-related colleges”; and Willard Collins cites D. Lipscomb and James Harding as believing “that the Christian school should be in close relationship with the church.”

In December of 1960 representatives of twenty-two schools and colleges operated by brethren met at Henderson, Tenn., and heard President A. C. Pullias speak.  I will not attempt to “quote” Pres. Pullias, but present a few of the notes taken by one who heard him, and verified by another likewise present.  The gist of his speech was that colleges and schools should have the Bible for the basis of their educational program and that churches can support such schools and colleges.  He contended that D. Lipscomb believed churches could support colleges and schools.  He further said that many had gone out on the plains of Ono and compromised with Daniel Sommer in saying that such schools were “secular” and that the churches “as such” could not support them.  He said that bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord was a matter of Faith — and the “how” was a matter of judgment.  He said the Christian school was one of the “hows” and that until a better way was shown for doing this job, he would urge brethren to support the colleges and schools.  Can there be any doubt that church-school ties are growing, and that church support of the schools is being actively pressed?

There is no organic tie between congregations and the schools — nor is such a thing likely for many many generations.  But there are many alarming aspects in the church-school ties that do exist, and that threatens to increase.  Perhaps these historical studies but review the symptoms of a more deep-seated problem.  Is it possible for brethren to function collectively in the teaching of the Word of God, in some relationship other than that of the local congregation, and not infringe upon the all-sufficiency of the Lord’s church?  Or, do we need to re-examine our definition of “all-sufficiency”?  You won’t answer these questions by “blowing your top.”

A Close Look at "Our" Colleges

By Robert F. Turner (Preceptor, October 1962)

I “graduated” from Freed-Hardeman College in 1936.  During the next three years, as a student at the University of Illinois, I had the opportunity to compare these two types of schools.  I have given financial support (albeit somewhat limited) to two of “our” schools, and have urged others to support them.  The administrators and teachers of these schools have treated me kindly, despite our divergent views on current issues, and I have no reason to write vindictively.  I believe I have been greatly benefited by my “Bible school” training, and I am not unmindful of the splendid influence such schools may have had on young people.  (I sent my own daughter to A.C.C. until she withdrew of her own accord.)  But I can not deny a growing reluctance to encourage such institutions.  And I am thinking of something other than the flagrant abuses prevalent in many schools today.

This history of Bible teaching schools operated by brethren is a massive contradiction of theory and practice.  Previous articles have emphasized this fact, and further proof is easily available to the serious student.  These schools are “secular” institutions, that capitalize on their “spiritual” influence.  They are “private enterprises” that “belong to the brotherhood.”  They dare not do “the work of the church” but specialize in preachers and elder training, indoctrination, devotionals, and the sending out of “soul-saving” teams.  And periodically, as public opinion permits, they ask the churches (whose work they can not do) to support them from the church treasury.  Such indictments are of record, and few if any schools will deny them.

If such contradictions occurred infrequently — perhaps only under some inadvertently poor administration, one might dismiss them as abusers to which all human institutions are subject.  But almost from the first, these schools have operated at variance with their stated policies; and I am forced to believe there must be some basic errors or contradictions in our very conception of “Christian Colleges” — that something is expected of them which is contradictory in its very nature.

Mind you, I said error in “our” conception.  I am convinced that whatever errors may exist are not simply in the school itself, but among the brethren who foster and support the school.  These are “our” schools, in a very real sense of the word, and no amount of denying can change this.

Can it be that we are wedding cross-purposes when we expect a secular school to produce spiritual results??  As seen in article two, Campbell thought it neither desirable nor expedient to teach in the secular school anything other than “morals” and those things common to all religious denominations.  The “brotherhood” abandoned Campbell’s original theory of education when they demanded that peculiar and distinctive doctrines be taught in secular schools.

Another pioneer educator, Tolbert Fanning, wrote Campbell concerning this very matter. (Mil. Harb., Sept. 1850, p. 510f)  He asked, “1. Is it true, that we can adopt the Bible as a text-book, (and we all do so) in our colleges, with our lectures thereupon, and teach, nothing that is ‘peculiar’ — which is not ‘Catholic,’ and which is not ‘universally admitted’?  2. Are we satisfied, from any demonstration whatever, that religious Professorships in colleges, constitute the best means of teaching morality and maintaining sound government for youth?  3. To qualify men for preaching the gospel, would it not be better to establish schools exclusively devoted to this end?”  To Campbell’s discredit, it must be reported that he used ridicule, and side-stepped the last two questions.  But Fanning’s questions are most apropos.  It seems highly possible that he sensed the contradiction in secular Bible teaching, and that in a school which must not “do the work of the church.”

Perhaps both parties of this difference contain truth, and both contain error.  Perhaps Campbell was right in saying that the secular school was not the place to teach distinctive doctrinal matters, and the brethren were right in feeling that the Word of God could not be properly taught without teaching that which was peculiarly and distinctively the truth.  The error of both parties lay in their thinking that both secular and spiritual purposes could be blended in one institution of human origin — the inherent contradiction of secular — Christian.

At this early date everyone concerned — Campbell, Fanning, and “the brethren” — were convinced of the all-sufficiency of the church to do her God-assigned work.  We may ask, then how could they justify the establishment of a human institution to teach the Bible?  There are two elements involved here.  First, they seemed to be just about as confused as we are today on this matter of the “all-sufficiency” of the church to preach the Gospel.  And second, they had accepted the “whole man” concept of education; that training is incomplete which does not develop the “moral” nature of man.  The original purpose of the early schools was to build moral fiber as well as intellectual acuteness.  But the fine-line distinction necessary to separate “moral training” from the means of soul salvation was lost to the masses.  I am convinced that such a distinction would be even more difficult to maintain today, with the brethren conditioned to accept “brotherhood institutions.”

The second inherent contradiction in our conception of “Christian Colleges” lies in their relation to “the brotherhood.”  The local church is the only divinely approved means for performing the work which God assigned to be done collectively.  Or, as others have put it, the organizational structure of the church begins and ends with the single independent congregation.  First, this principle is scriptural, and therefore right.  Second, this has been a basic consideration throughout the restoration movement, and is a major deterrent to our becoming “another denomination.”

But early schools were established during the very time that brethren were developing a “brotherhood” consciousness, and we have shown that their growth has closely paralleled the ebb and flow of “brotherhood” activity.  We establish a teaching institution, emphasize its importance in “Christian” development, indoctrination, the training of preachers, etc., and call on brethren all over the country to unite in its support “for the good of the cause”; — and then, we wonder why the church-school ties grow so persistently.  How can a large number of brethren support and encourage such an institution without involving action in God-assigned church work?  And since the school and its supporters are not a single local church, how can this avoid becoming a “brotherhood” activity?  There may be a way — but our total “Christian College” history fails to reveal it.

Benjamin Franklin concluded that the school should be “as secular as a bookstore”; and I’m inclined to agree with him.  The schools handle a noble product — knowledge.  They provide an invaluable service — instruction and training.  Our precious children need these things, and we should like to provide them at a source that respects their faith in God and maintains a surrounding conducive to their continued service to God.  We may be able to accomplish this in our own community, through our influence as citizens, in the P.T.A., working through and with the local school board; or we may feel we should unite with other parents and establish such a school of our own  but the school must remain a secular institution — secular in its aims, as well as it nature.

To develop and maintain this type of school, we must divorce them from the church and its work.  We must not expect of them anything but that which belongs to secular education.  The church or churches near such a school should make every effort to provide the spiritual guidance and training needed by the students — and that, not because they are students of the school, but because they live and worship there, and are the responsibility of the elders there.  And finally, we must love the Lord and His church enough that when we see the school encroach upon and overshadow the Lord’s own institution, we will renounce the school rather than seek to change the church so that the contradiction can be removed.  If loving the Lord and His church more than I love the school is a crime, then I must plead guilty.

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