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The Spirit of the Church and of the World-Powers

This entry is part 10 of 18 in the series The Church of Christ and World-Powers

This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)

Having stridently argued for the position that the kingdoms of the world are not of God through both Old and New Testaments, Lipscomb now seeks to differentiate the particular spirit of the Church versus the world-powers. By “spirit”, Lipscomb is describing attitudes, behaviors, and ways of being, and he illustrates the position of the Christian through the Apostles’ teachings. What animates the Church, and what animates the state? Nowhere in scripture, Lipscomb says, do you find the world-powers being described as anything other than full of blood and violence. They do not seek after God and his glory, but rather their own self-aggrandizement and their own glory. Correspondingly, nowhere in scripture does God command the Christian to have any part of such blood and violence, vain-seeking and glorification of their powers. And nowhere in Lipscomb’s work will you find a quote topping the end of this essay:

“The banners of all earthly institutions are rendered glorious and estimable by being drenched in the blood of their enemies, shed for their own benefit. The banner of the cross glories in the death of its own subjects for the good of its enemies; its virtue is derived from the bloodstains of its own great standard-bearer, dying that his enemies might live. Can the same heart adore and love two banners, the representatives of two such diverse and antagonistic spirits?”


The Church of Christ and World-Powers (10) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, April 24, 1866, pp. 257-263.

We wish to direct attention to the spirit of the Church of Christ and of the world-powers. Every organization must have its own peculiar spirit that abides in it and animates each of its members. The member of an organization or body that is not under the guidance and direction of its leading, animating spirit, cannot be in lively, active harmony with that body. The member of the fleshly body of man that is not animated, directed and controlled by the spirit that dwells within that body is dead. So, too, of the branch of a tree or vine that does not receive the life, the animus of the body, dies, and then must be cast out to be burned. So, too, the member of the body of Christ that fails to drink into, to be animated, guided and governed by the spirit that dwells within the body of Christ, cannot be an active, living member of the Church of God.

The world-government, too, has its peculiar spirit that dwells within it, and must inspire and direct every faithful, active, living member of this government. No individual can be under the guidance of two opposite or diverse spirits at the same time, two may contend for mastery in his person, but one or the other must triumph, rule and control the man. Are the respective spirits that rule and animate the Church of Christ and the world-powers similar and harmonious one with the other in their characters, or are they diverse and irreconciliable?

Every institution must partake of the spirit of its founder. No power can found a kingdom or institution, and give to it a spirit that he himself does not possess. No power can impart that which itself does not possess. The kingdom then must possess the spirit of its founder until some other power infuses a different spirit into it and changes its true and proper character. God, through his gentle, meek, loving, self-sacrificing Son established the Church of Christ, and imparted to it his spirit to dwell in, animate, guide, and control that body and every member thereof. Whoever puts himself under the guidance or control of a different spirit, ceases to be a member of the Church or body of Christ. “Now if any man has not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Rom. 8:9.

The kingdoms of the world were formed by man in rebellion against his Maker. Therefore they must have received of the rebellious spirit of man, or of the spirit of the great author of that rebellion—the wicked one. These spirits must of necessity have been antagonistic. Has either of them been so changed as to harmonize them? To have changed the spirit of the Church of God, would have been to have changed the church itself from its allegiance to God, to the wicked one. “If any man has not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” is as true of the church as of individuals. To give the church another spirit than Christ’s spirit, would be to make it some other church than Christ’s Church. The founder was to be known as the Prince of Peace. He came to establish a kingdom of peace. Isaiah 9:6-7, says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.” His government and peace were to increase alike, with equal steps. Of the increase of these, his kingdom and his spirit that animated that kingdom, there was to be “no end.”

The same prophet foretelling of the establishment of this kingdom and its nature and effect, says, Isaiah 2:2-4. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Here the establishment of the Church of Christ is foretold, also its character and effect. In the last days of the Jewish nation it is to be established. It is not to be confined to one people like the Jewish kingdom, but all nations shall have full access to it. Not one, but many different tribes and families will say, “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”

This is not a prophecy that every individual of all the nations will thus come to the Lord, “learn of him and walk in his ways,” but that it shall be open to all and certain ones out of all will come to the Lord, &c. The result of this was to be, that “he would judge among the nations and rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Who are the nations that are to be thus affected? The political kingdoms of the earth? They are to be found warring and fighting till their final destruction, at the end of the present order of things. See Daniel 2:42-44. Revelations 19:19. It is all an idle dream to suppose the earthly kingdoms of man’s mould and make will ever attain to the state of peace and happiness here described.

What then are the nations that are to attain to this condition? Certainly those who go up to the mountain of the Lord’s house—who are taught of his ways, who walk in his paths, who are rebuked or reproved of him, and hearken to his reproof. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, these are the nations, “that shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall these study war any more.” We find the same use of the term “nations” in Rev. 21:24. “The nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it.” A similar use of the term is had with reference to the opposite class. Psalms 9:17. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”

It is nowhere foretold that the political, human organizations of earth shall come to this estate. On the other hand. Joel tells us the mission, work or result of the earthly kingdoms. Joel 3:9. “Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; (they were the human governments in contrast with God’s government of Judaism) Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: beat your plow-shares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.” In which the work and spirit of the Gentile world are placed in contrast and antagonism to the Kingdom of God. Then the expression, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” is confined to those who “are taught of God,” and “who walk in his ways.”

Those who act differently cannot be taught of God, and do not walk in his ways. Isaiah says of the coming and influence of the kingdom, 11:6-9. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatting together; and a little child shall lead them. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In this mountain of the Lord, or in his Church that was to be established, vicious temper or wicked spirit could exist, in all or any part of it nothing could hurt or destroy. This is the temper and spirit foretold by Isaiah in contrast with the wars, fightings, destructive and bloody conflicts that he and others of the prophets continually foretell shall be the spirit and working of all earthly kingdoms until they finally be destroyed from the earth, and leave the Kingdom of God the sole dispenser of the blessings of perpetual and unbroken peace through the years of God’s glorious reign upon earth.

We might fill a volume with extracts from the prophecies of the Old Testament, showing the peaceable spirit of this new covenant of God with the faithful of all nations, and the opposite spirit of the world-institutions. Every single world-institution brought in review before the visions of the prophets, exhibits the same spirit and finds the same bloody end. We have failed to find from Genesis to Malachi a single prophecy concerning the work and destiny of a world-government that did not indicate a life of strife and a death of blood.

We come now to an inquiry concerning the spirit of the institution, as exemplified in the life and teachings of Christ, his apostles and the early church. His advent on earth was announced by the shout of an angelic host, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth, peace, good-will to man.” When Jesus commenced his mission, after his temptation, he first delivered to his apostles an abridgement of the great principles or laws that were to govern his subjects in his kingdom. In this code of laws he explicitly declares, Matt. 5:38, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” Matt. 5:43. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven: for he maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”

Here the Savior gives as a positive law of his Kingdom, that his subjects shall not return evil for evil, but they shall return good for evil. This is a positive law, too, for the government of every subject of King Messiah. The object as set forth by the Savior is to make us the children of our Father who is in Heaven, and to perfect us like God our Father. To every one then that has an aspiration to be a child of God, to be made perfect like God, it is necessary to conform to this solemn law of the Lord Jesus. And no man can be a child of God without cultivating and continually practicing this spirit. The same law as given by Christ himself, is recorded by Luke 6:27. The whole life and teachings of the Savior were a continued exemplification of this law. He uncomplainingly bore evil, persecution, contumely and contempt during his life. He endured sorrow and affliction while he lived on earth. His life was falsely sworn away, and he suffered a cruel and ignominious death, as a malefactor, without a word of bitter reproach escaping him. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7. But in his last dying struggle, without a bitter feeling to his enemies, he prays, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Peter speaking of the uncomplaining sufferings of the Savior, says, 1 Peter 2:19. “For this is thank-worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened nut; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”

He tells that Christ’s meek and uncomplaining sufferings were an example to us that we should follow his steps. The Savior tells his Apostles they should suffer persecution. He sent them forth as sheep amongst wolves. The meek, submissive, unresentful, uncomplaining suffering of the sheep, was the temper that his followers must exhibit. In all their persecutions, that they underwent, (and many of them had the continual witness of the spirit that “in every city bonds and imprisonment awaited them”) the gentle harmlessness of the dove must be their spirit. The Savior makes the forgiveness of our enemies an absolute and necessary condition of our being forgiven of God. “If ye do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in Heaven forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:26. He tells the disciples that would call down fire and brimstone to destroy the offending village, Luke 9:56, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” To Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus with the sword, the Savior said, “Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword.” Matt. 26:52.

He was then in the great work of establishing his kingdom, and it is a distinct declaration that the sword was not to be used in the establishment of his kingdom. All those kingdoms that are established by the sword, or use the sword, shall perish by the sword. The Apostles were all true to this spirit in their lives, and taught it to their brethren. Stephen died animated by the spirit of his Master, praying as they stoned him to death, “Father lay not this sin to their charge.” Acts 7:60.

Paul, to his Roman brethren, 12:17. “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing time shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

1 Cor. 4: “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it.” “Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?”

He tells the Galatians, “The fruits of the flesh are hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings, murders,” “and they that do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God,” but the fruit of the spirit is peace, long suffering, &c. Gal. 5:20-22.

To the Ephesians, 4:31, he says, “Let all bitterness, and strife, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

To the Philippians, “Only let your conversation (behavior) be as becometh the Gospel of Christ.” Phil.* 1:27. “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory.” Phil. 2:3.*

To the Colossians, 3:8-10. “Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, &c.: put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

He says, 1 Thes. 5:15. “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good.”

Hebrews 12:14. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.”

1 Peter 2:21-23. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” Again, 1 Peter 3:9. “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise, blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

1 John 3:15. “Whosoever hateth his brother, is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”

James 3:16. “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” 4:1. “Whence come wars and fighting among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”

Indeed every page of the New Testament bears the ineffaceable trace of this spirit of the church as manifest in the teachings, lives and deaths of Christ and his holy Apostles. No human government ever originated, save in strife and bloodshed, they all live by virtue of their strength and skill in the use of carnal weapons, and must die, one and all of them, in and through bloody strife. There is nothing that more fully illustrates this irreconcileable antagonism of spirit, than their respective banners and monumental institutions. The banners of all earthly institutions are rendered glorious and estimable by being drenched in the blood of their enemies, shed for their own benefit. The banner of the cross glories in the death of its own subjects for the good of its enemies; its virtue is derived from the bloodstains of its own great standard-bearer, dying that his enemies might live. Can the same heart adore and love two banners, the representatives of two such diverse and antagonistic spirits? “Can a fountain send forth, at the place, sweet water and bitter?”

* The original text had an accidental misquoted epistle here, as well as leaving out the reference for the second quote. Nobody’s perfect!

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