Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 13, 1950

Dawn Of A Brighter Day

A brighter day is dawning for the church in those areas where "anti-Bible college" sentiment has been so strong in years gone by. It seems highly probable that many who are even now in middle age will live to see the day when what has been called "Sommerism" will be only a sad and fading memory. In spite of some unreasoning and unreasonable die-hards at both extremes, the over-all picture is heartening and encouraging.

When W. K. Pendleton delivered his famous speech in defense of the missionary societies (1866), he laid down a premise that was to confuse and divide the church for all time to come. His argument, in substance, was that God had committed to the church "universal" the task of evangelizing the world; and that, therefore, in the absence of any specific instructions, the church had full liberty to devise whatever means or ways (organizations) she might think wise to the accomplishment of that end. A missionary society, an education society (or college), a publication society, and a benevolent society could all be defended as expedients which the church had a perfect right to organize in fulfilling her mission.

Replying to the objection that the society was not scriptural, Pendleton said, "You say, 'Your missionary society is not scriptural'—and you mean by this, that there is no special express precept in the Scriptures commanding it. We concede this without a moment's hesitation. There is none; but what do you make of it? Is everything which is not scriptural, therefore wrong?"

David Lipscomb's Problem

Non-society brethren were bitter and violent in their opposition to Pendleton's argument. David Lipscomb pointed out that the logical conclusion from Pendleton's premise would be "a universal organization of the church of God with an earthly central head, that overlooks and directs the operations of all the numerous local organizations or congregations." Ben Franklin, an early supporter of the societies, turned his American Christian Review against them, and, too hastily accepting Pendleton's contention that both societies and colleges were expedients "to do the work of the church," saw no logical way by which he could condemn the society and not condemn the schools. So he laid the groundwork for all the subsequent "anti-Bible college" sentiment, which did not reach full fruition until Daniel Sommer came into control of the American Christian Review. During these years (immediately following the war between the states) many brethren all over the country were confused and uncertain concerning the colleges. David Lipscomb himself wrestled with the problem. He had many derisive things to say about the colleges, particularly about the college of the Bible at Lexington, Kentucky.

Many students seem not to realize that for a full twenty-five years of his mature life Lipscomb was unable to find a satisfactory answer to Pendleton's problem. Pendleton had put both schools and societies on the same basis—both of them were church institutions, organized by the church, to do the work of the church, and should be supported by the church.

It took Lipscomb a long time to find the answer to that. (He was sixty-one years old before he ever undertook the establishment of the Nashville Bible School). But finally he came up with the right answer: an answer clear, logical, and simple: The schools were private institutions, not church institutions; they were to be organized and operated by individual Christians, and were not designed to "do the work of the church." It was that easy!

Division Comes

Unfortunately, hosts of brethren throughout the northern states did not follow Lipscomb's thinking in these matters. It seems even likely that Lipscomb himself did not make as clear and distinct an analysis of the implications of his position as might have been done. No matter how much one might protest that the schools were not designed "to do the work of the church," the mere acceptance of a contribution from a church would nullify much of what was said. But so far as he himself was concerned, Lipscomb completely satisfied his own mind about the place of the schools. The school was simply a work that he, as an individual Christian, had a right to undertake. It was on precisely the same basis as the operation of a farm, a bank, or a grocery store by an individual Christian. As a farmer, banker, or storekeeper would have the right and the duty to teach the Bible to those with whom he worked, so Lipscomb, as a school-teacher, felt he had the right and duty to teach the Bible to students in his school.

But Daniel Sommer and hosts of others remained unconvinced. The arguments of Pendleton had sunk too deep. They could not escape the feeling that the schools were "church institutions, designed to do the work of the church." And, as such, they argued that the schools had no right to exist. Division resulted; churches were rent asunder; fellowship was broken; lines were drawn; "college preachers" were anathema in hundreds of churches, particularly throughout the northern section of our nation. Discord and strife reigned, and bitterness between brethren was intense. And so came stalemate.
Sommers' visits the south. Then came the happy day when Daniel Sommer, in the very last years of his life, decided to take a tour down south and "see for himself" what the true situation was.

He came; he saw; he was convinced—convinced, that is, that the schools were not "church schools" and were not designed to do the work of the church, but were only private institutions in which Christian men and women were engaged to teach. The "college brethren" convinced Sommer that the schools were entirely separate and apart from the churches, and had no relationship to them at all, other than any other business enterprise of a Christian man would have to the church.

Daniel Sommer went back to Indiana, and reported what he had learned. Reaction to his report was mixed. One of his own sons decided that his father in his dotage had "gone soft." He headed a small faction of die-hard irreconcilables who were determined that the line of cleavage should never be crossed; the breach should not be healed. His paper, "The Macedonian Call," hammered away at the idea that the very existence of a school in which the Bible was taught was sinful!

But the majority of those who had been opposed to Bible colleges have come gradually more and more into the belief that their earlier attitudes had been based on misinformation; they had been under the impression that the schools were "church institutions," and as such they had rightfully opposed them. But the "college brethren" were successful largely in convincing brother Sommer that this was not the case; and brother Sommer even in the few months left to him after his visit to the south, was able to have a tremendous influence in modifying the attitude of his friends and readers of his paper. The soil was being prepared for an eventful full restoration of fellowship and amity.


Ten years have passed since Daniel Sommer died. There has been a slow but quite discernible progress made in the direction of good-will and fellowship between the "college" and the "anti-college" brethren. Old animosities have died down; old suspicions have been shown to be unfounded; and in more than one place (but particularly in Indianapolis, where Sommer lived) a definite progress has been made toward a full resumption of fellowship.

As in every such affair, there have been those in both groups who have bitterly fought the healing of the breach. And there have been some blundering and misguided brethren in places far removed from the scenes of the division who have helped the situation not at all by their pronouncements.

One of the biggest difficulties yet remaining in the way of restoration of fellowship is the misguided zeal of certain "college brethren" among us who insist on church support of the schools. Their writings and their pleas have done an irreparable injury to the cause of unity. Every article they write or every speech they make urging such support is fresh fuel for the use of those who contend the schools have no right to exist.

In spite of such things, however, the cause of unity makes progress. For hosts of the "anti-college" brethren are realizing that multiplied thousands of their "college" brethren, who believe in and support the schools, are just as firmly convinced as they have ever dared to be themselves that the schools are not, and shall not be allowed to become "church institutions." When, and if, the schools themselves refuse absolutely and irrevocably to accept any contribution from any church, it will mark a long stride forward in the direction of peace.

"'Tis a consummation devoutly to be desired."