Vol.XI No.XII Pg.6
February 1975

Can Two Walk Together?

Robert F. Turner

James Wilburns Hazard of the Die is the story of Tolbert Fanning and the Restoration Movement. We quote from pp. 247-250, and deeply regret that limited space forces us to cut so rigidly. This material deals with Fannings attitude toward the Missionary society party, his efforts to maintain fellowship, and the not surprising conclusion of this struggle.


Probably no controversy in Fannings closing years was to have more far-reaching implications than the questions clustered about the Missionary Society.... That he conceived of the society arrangement as an apostasy is obvious. He bent some of his strongest efforts toward convincing others that they should and could carry out their work through local churches without such auxiliaries. He thought he sensed in the supporters of the societies a failure of commitment to a divine pattern. But the effect of this on his attitude of fellowship is also significant...He refused to shut the door of fellowship upon the society party. It was only when some, like Thomas Munnell and G.W. Elly, tried to make his approval a test of fellowship, demanding that he support their efforts, that Fanning rebelled and branded their demands as tantamount to a new creed....

Back in the 1850's in Tennessee, when some supported the society and some did not, Fanning encouraged consultation meetings. While some did not surrender their convictions that the society was valid, they agreed, for unitys sake, to work without them.

Fanning continued to hope that this unity might also prevail through discussion at the national level. While this attitude of communication and fellowship with the Society party is apparent, it should not, minimize the tremendous influence which Fanning exerted in keeping many from being engulfed in the end result. The commitment to the Societies, regardless of the effect, soon became apparent. Had it not been for the clear and decisive influence of Fanning, repeatedly voicing objection to the societies direction, the Restoration Movement after the Civil War, notably in the South, would have been far different...Fanning came to realize eventually that the society was bringing division far more deeply than he at first suspected. Although he went to his grave still seeking reconciliation with his alienated brethren, he came to realize that the possibility was not too likely. His closing comments betray one who is severely disillusioned (as idealists often are) and badly broken because of the determined party spirit. He wrote of the rule or ruin attitude which he encountered in some and concluded. The cooperation which seems current is merely the union of parties to build up their particular sect, or to carry into perfection their pet schemes, adopted in the wisdom of men, to give place to their originators. It is difficult not to sympathize with Fannings genuine concern when one listens to the way in which he was handled by those to whom he ascribed this party spirit.