Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 3, 1963
NUMBER 34, PAGE 4,13b-14a

The History Of Religious Journalism - (No. 2)


(Text of a lecture delivered at the Florida Christian College Lectureship, February, 1962.)

In 1830, the Christian Baptist suspended publication and the first issue of the Millennial Harbinger made its appearance. For forty years this great journal was to be the commanding voice in the Restoration Movement, strengthening, encouraging, and extending its influence not only into every part of America, but even into foreign countries. In the very first issue of this organ, as he had done with the Christian Baptist, Campbell set the tone that was to govern his editorial policy through all the years. He wrote:

"We must remember that in this world of weakness and error, the good and the virtuous are often found enlisted under the banners of error. There are honest differences of opinion, and men equally sincere and virtuous on both sides of every question." (M. H., Vol. 1; page 44)

Holding firmly to that conviction we find that his paper through the years carried an immense amount of material `son the other side" from Campbell's own convictions. Honest discussion was always welcome; sincere and open study was encouraged in every way.

The Millennial Harbinger was an open forum in which each writer could bring forth the very best arguments he had to sustain his contention. Sometimes brother Campbell responded to these articles; many times he did not. If he felt a subject had been pretty well covered in previous writings in the Harbinger, he would frequently just insert one of the "opposition" writings with no comment at all. He had confidence in the intelligence and understanding of his readers; he was not afraid to expose them to error in matters where he felt they knew and understood the truth.

As all of those who are acquainted with Restoration history know, it was Alexander Campbell himself who sparked the drive for the formation of missionary societies, culminating finally in the establishment of the "American Christian Missionary Society" at Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849. This move had been developing for at least fifteen years. And the Millennial Harbinger carried articles and letters in abundance both from those who favored such societies and from those who opposed them. There was heated controversy, strong and vigorous protest; and a gradual clarification of what issues were involved. Indeed, right up to the time of Campbell's death, it was a moot question as to whether the Missionary society idea would prevail among the disciples. The energetic and lively discussion of the question was constantly bringing new ideas into focus, forcing new study of the Bible; and many a man who at first favored the society, abandoned it and turned against it in the light of this continuing study and dispassion. Notable among such are the names of David Lipscomb a Benjamin Franklin, It is entirely within the realm of possibility that the organized missionary society might have been forever banished from the ranks of the disciples had not another factor appeared just at this critical junction.

The decisive factor in fastening the missionary society around the neck of the church like an albatross was the founding and growth of a paper which adopted a "closed door" policy in its columns, refusing to permit its readers to see "both sides" of the missionary society and the instrumental music controversies. That new journal was called the Christian Standard. Originally conceived by a wealthy oilman named G. W. N. Yost, the Standard was founded and financed by. Yost as a medium through which John F. Rowe might do his editorial work. Rowe, however, was reluctant to undertake the editing of the journal, and suggested to Yost the name of Isaac Errett as a likely editor. Errett was given the task; and within a very few months he so completely dominated the arrangements that he was able to force Rowe out altogether, and turn the Christian Standard eventually into a mighty organ for the promotion of liberalism among the churches of Christ.

Departing from the policy of all gospel journals which had preceded it, and from those which were its contemporaries, such as Lard's Quarterly, the Gospel Advocate, and the American Christian Review, the Christian Standard resolutely set itself as the champion of one particular school of thought, excluding from its columns all material which might be favorable to an opposing view. It was edited with skill and ability, and gradually began to make its influence felt in wide areas. David Lipscomb commented after one year of publication that,

"The Standard is edited with ability, and in a fair and liberal spirit. It is the only weekly now that is an advocate of the organized human societies in religion. Whether from a refusal upon the part of the conductors or not, articles upon but one side of that question ever appear in the Standard." (Gospel Advocate, Jan. 24, 1867)

The instrumental music controversy came into being perhaps twenty years after the society controversy. At first the Standard carried articles on both sides, but gradually closed its columns to all "anti" articles, and eventually adopted a policy of excluding all material from its columns which opposed the organ. A huge following was being built up ignorant of the real issues, and being led to believe that only a few rapidly dying out fanatics and hopelessly outdated mossbacks were still to be found opposing the organ and the societies. David Lipscomb was caricatured in cartoons as an old woman with, a broom trying to sweep back the sea.

The sad sequel to this tragic bit of history is perhaps known to every person under the sound of my voice. The mighty Restoration Movement, conceived with such high hopes and launched with such glittering promise, was shattered and splintered. And when the smoke of battle cleared away, and the shouting and fury subsided, it was seen that the vast majority of those who had come out of denominationalism to be simple Christians had been led right back into the embrace of a denominationalism as sectarian and bigoted as any they had left. In the northern states where once great and prospering congregations had flourished, the liberalistic digression made almost a clean sweep of everything — members, houses, preachers, almost without exception, in many — cities blindly followed the Standard's line. Seventy-five years before Adolph Hitler rose to power, and before Joseph Goebbels hypnotized and deceived an entire nation with his technique of the "big lie," that evil pattern of propaganda promotion was being used right here in our own nation and among our own brethren. Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the readers of the Christian Standard were rigidly shielded from all discussion of the organ and society question; and were told over and over again that only a little handful of rapidly dying out fanatics and hopelessly prejudiced hobby-riders were still opposing the organ and the societies.

The Christian Standard demonstrated for all time to come how effective and how diabolical an influence a religious journal can have over a people with a "closed door policy; it showed how prejudices could be aroused, how honest and sincere people could be blinded to the truth and aroused to a pitch of bitterness and fury one would have thought impossible among those who had once followed the lowly Nazarene. All over the nation church doors were locked against the "antis"; meetings were cancelled, the "quarantine" was put into effect. Congregations were torn asunder; families were broken; lives were shattered; and no doubt untold thousands of souls will be lost eternally because of the holocaust. Over the nation generally, nearly ninety percent of all congregations were swept into the apostasy.

I do not say that the policy of the Christian Standard was the sole cause of this tragedy of course. There were many factors at work, both social and political, as well as religious. But, I do say, and it cannot be denied, that the "closed door" of this powerful religious journal was one of the biggest contributing forces operating toward division. Indeed, it may well have been the most potent single influence in that direction.

Let us observe yet another of the great forces in the field of religious journalism. Founded by Benjamin Franklin (a distant cousin to the American statesman of the same name), in 1856, and edited by him for the next two decades, the American Christian Review was by all odds during Franklin's lifetime the most influential gospel paper in the brotherhood. Franklin was a man of great ability and consecration. While he had wavered for time on the missionary society question, he had never hesitated for a moment in his strong opposition to instrumental music. And within a few years he was able to study his way to the truth on the missionary society question, and bring his mighty paper to speak with a clear and single voice on the question of apostasy and liberalism. The columns of the review were open to a free discussion of these questions; and the ablest,

men who could be found on both sides, of such issues were given unlimited space for setting forth their views.

During Franklin's lifetime the "school question" began to have a great deal of prominence in the thought and writing of the brethren. It would be another quarter century before this question really became acute, but even before Franklin's death (in 1878) there were numerous articles being written about the schools and their relation to the churches. Kentucky University, John Bowman, J. W. McGarvey, Moses E. Lard, and a host of others were writing on the subject, not only in the American Christian Review, but also in Lard's Quarterly, the Christian Standard, the Gospel Advocate the Apostolic Times, and a variety of other brotherhood papers. There were many questions to be discussed, many points to be clarified, many things to be decided. But on this particular question all journals, both those in the rapidly developing Christian Church and those among the churches of Christ seemed to maintain a policy of free and open discussion; and there was no indication at all of any division or faction arising over the matter.

But, sadly enough, after Franklin's death, and some time after the paper had passed out of the hands of Franklin's successor, John F. Rowe, bro. Daniel Sommer bought control of this journal. For a few years he continued the "open forum" policy of Franklin and Rowe, and allowed the journal to be an "open forum" for the discussion of all problems which occupied the thinking of our fathers in those years around the turn of the century. But gradually he shifted to a different attitude and a different policy on one subject — the school subject. He changed the name of his paper from the American Christian Review to the Octographic Review, and later to the Apostolic Review. And as editor and owner of this journal, brother Sommer inaugurated his "closed door" policy on the school question. He began to fill the paper with articles opposing the operation of such schools, and rigidly excluded all articles in favor of such. Concerning this development, an aged disciple who lived through it all, and who is still living, brother C. E. W. Dorris, wrote two years ago:

"Many years ago a screw got loose in the editorial chair of the Octographic Review, and Daniel Sommer, the editor, adopted the policy of not publishing both sides of a question ....a thing unheard of among simple Christians up to his day. Soon after Joe S. Warlick began publication of a paper in 1903; a screw got loose in that office, and Brother Warlick decided to follow Sommer's example and refuse to publish both sides of a question. It was because of such a policy that David Lipscomb ceased reading both Sommer's paper and Warlick's." (C. E. W. Dorris, Gospel Guardian, X, p. 5)

The results of brother Sommer's policy have been evident for more than half a century. By careful and persistent screening of the material which went into his paper, he was able to build up a dedicated corps of followers who were strongly "anti" Christian college. Opposition to such educational institutions was fostered and nurtured by a steady diet of articles opposing them, and no articles at all balance or counter the arguments and statements made. The total tendency of such a policy and the actual fruitage of it was division. To this good day there are congregations of baptized believers in certain of the northern and western states which make this a test of fellowship. Churches were torn asunder, lives were blighted, hearts were broken.

And it was all so useless and needless! (To be concluded)

— F. Y. T.