Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 15, 1968
NUMBER 40, PAGE 7-8a

Dr. Pinkerton

Kent Ellis

Once a person has developed a distinct attitude toward the authority of God's word, he will respond in a uniform manner to questions of faith and practice which arise. When it comes to light that a person or group of people has an inclination to deviate from what is clearly authorized in the Bible — when once this attitude is clearly discerned on any issue — one may rest assured that further departures from the truth will appear as "expediency" dictates and public opinion allows. This is true because when a person practices one thing he knows is not authorized in the scriptures, the principle has been accepted (or, the lack of principle has been betrayed) which will allow him to practice anything or everything not thus sanctioned. In short, he has renounced absolute reliance on and allegiance to God and His word and has substituted his will for the divine.

I can never read the history of churches of Christ in America without one name arresting my attention each time it appears. This is true because the individual illustrates perfectly the truth stated above. The man is Dr. L.L. Pinkerton.

Let us trace briefly the manifestations of the attitude of this man over a period of twenty five years of church history. I remind you that two basic things divided the churches of Christ from the Christian Churches: the American Christian Missionary Society (an addition to the organization of the churches) and the introduction of instrumental music (an addition to their worship). Since that time three main issues have divided the Christian Churches: open membership, modernism, and the United Christian Missionary Society. The two former questions arose during the lifetime of our subject.

Dr. Pinkerton comes to our attention in a prominent and conspicuous way for the first time in 1849. When the convention which gave birth to the American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati, L.L. Pinkerton serve as chairman until permanent officers were selected. When six men were chosen to draft a constitution for the society, Pinkerton was one of them. He stated that "our existence as a people is involved in some general cooperation for the conversion of the world."

Ten years later, in 1859, at Midway, Kentucky an instrument of music was used for the first time among the churches of the ancient order in America. Dr. L.L. Pinkerton was the preacher for the Midway church at that time. He wrote to the American Christian Review stating that he was the only preacher in the brotherhood who publicly advocated its use and the church in Midway the only church using it. That same historic melodeon is preserved today at the Kentucky Female Orphan School at Midway, which Pinkerton was instrumental in establishing.

A strong cause of discord among Christian Churches was the practice of open membership, or of accepting unimmersed persons as members. Again, the earliest open advocate of the practice was L.L. Pinkerton, in 1868, and later in a series of articles in the Christian Standard during 1873.

Modernism, or disbelief of the inerrancy of the Bible, became in later years a source of division in the Christian Churches. The first man among restoration preachers to deny the plenary (or, full) inspiration of the Scriptures was none other than Dr. L.L. Pinkerton, in the Independent Monthly, a paper he co-edited during the late 1860's. It now became evident that his disrespect for the teaching of the Bible grew out of (or, produced) disbelief of its complete truthfulness, and therefore an unwillingness to accept it as authority.

Dr. Pinkerton was truly a pioneer in places where "angels fear to tread." Historian W.E. Garrison called him the "first thorough 'liberal' among the Disciples." However, sad to say, he was only the first. His views on inspiration and open membership were unpopular at that time but later were accepted by many "Disciple" leaders.

It would seem that later when "conservative" Christian Church men, who rejected the modernism and open membership, saw that the attitude which promoted these things was the same that vigorously supported the society and originated the use of the instrument, they would have re-evaluated their acceptance of these earlier departures. But apparently they did not.

Not only will a distinct attitude respond to religious questions in a uniform manner. That attitude may raise the questions and itself become the issue. Such is certainly true when a disposition of disloyalty to the truth shows itself among a people who love the truth. This case history of the "liberal" spirit at work has not been given simply as an interesting bit of history. This lesson from the past should serve as a warning for the present. There are numerous men of Dr. Pinkerton's type at work in influential positions among some churches of Christ today.

(The historical facts given above may be found in: Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, 173, 175, 311, vol. II, p. 192; Homer Halley, Attitudes and Consequences, pp. 199-201, 227, 228, 232; W.E. Garrison, An American Religious Movement, p. 136.)

— Lufkin, Texas