David Lipscomb Against Confederate Conscription Acts

This entry is part 11 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.)

If you have been paying very close attention to this series, you’ll note that the date of this Lipscomb piece from 1866 is dated over two months after the previous (April 24 versus July 3, 1866). This may be because of an ongoing controversy with the Cincinnati Hymnal Society (a discussion for another time) or it may be that Lipscomb just needed a break. It’s interesting that the July 3 article is itself a “reprint” of a letter he wrote with other Church of Christ elders and evangelists in Tennessee to the President of Confederate States Jefferson Davis in opposition to the conscription acts. Following the retaking of Tennessee by the Northern states, a similar letter was sent to the military governor Andrew Johnson. Johnson had been appointed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and you will recall that in 1864 Lincoln chose Johnson as his running mate for reelection. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson took office as the 17th President of the United States. That letter will be posted next week here (and you’ll see the stark similarities in the language used).

Notable in this piece is the way in which Lipscomb and his co-authors argue for their firm non-violent stance. They are to “submit quietly” to the government save where submission would require violation of God’s law. Their view, of course, is that joining an army to kill would be a violation of God’s law. Would only Christians today see the wisdom in such a firm belief?

The Church of Christ and World-Powers (11) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, July 3, 1866, pp. 417-419.

To His Excellency the President of the Confederate States of America:

WHEREAS, A large number of the members of the Churches of Jesus Christ throughout this and the adjoining counties of the State of Tennessee feel a deep sense of the responsibility they are under to recognize the Bible in its teachings, as the only infallible guide of their life, and the supremely authoritative rule of action and as being of superior authority to and more binding upon the subjects of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, than the rules and regulations of any human government or power, they would respectfully represent.

1st. That they are fully satisfied that God, through the Scriptures of Sacred Truth, demands of his servants that they should submit quietly, heartily and cheerfully to the government under which they may live, in all cases, except when compliance with the civil law would involve a violation of the law of God. They are deeply impressed with the truth that when there is a conflict between the requirements of worldly government and the law of God, the duty of the Christian is, upon the peril of his well-being, to obey God first, let the consequences be to him what they may.

2d. They are firm in the conviction of the truth, that no man, who regards the authority of God, the spirit and letter of the Sacred Scriptures in their proper division and application, the life and teachings of the Son of God, or his Holy Apostles, as given for the guidance of his followers, can in any manner engage in, aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities and bloody conflicts in which civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they often involve their subjects.

The measure and limit of their duty to, and connexion with, the governments under which they live, as laid down in the Sacred Scriptures, is not an active participation in its affairs to destroy or upbuild, but simply a quiet and cheerful submission to its enactments, in the payment of tribute and any demands on our property or time, modified only by the first and highest obligation to obey God.

With these considerations of what our duty to God requires at our hands, the enforcement of the “Conscript Act” for the purpose of raising and maintaining an army, for the carrying on of this unhappy war, in which our country is involved, cannot fail to work indescribable distress to those members of our churches holding these conviction. Some of them will be driven as exiles from their homes, for no political preferences, but because they dare not disobey commandments of God. Others still, by the pressure of circumstances, may be driven to a deeply sadder fate, the violation of all their conscientious convictions of duty to their Maker and Master, whom they have, under the most solemn vows, pledged themselves to serve.

In view of these things, we are induced to make a statement of those facts to you, with the hope that some relief may be afforded to those of our member thus distressed.

We are the more encouraged, too, in this hope from the fact that we perceive that the Congress of the Confederate States of America, with a commendable regard for the conscientious convictions of its subjects, made provision upon certain conditions, for the exemption of the members of certain denominations of professed Christians, from the performance of requirements repulsive to their religious faith. With the view, too that this law might not act invidiously with reference to individuals or bodies of individuals, not specially named in said act, the power was vested in the Honorable President, of making such further exemptions as, in his judgment, justice, equity or necessity might demand. We respectfully petition of you, that members of our churches, who are now, and have been striving to maintain a position of Christian separation from the world, its strifes and conflicts, may be relieved, on terms equitable and just, from requirements repulsive to their religious faith, and that they may be, at least, placed upon a footing similar to that in which denominations holding a like faith are placed.

BEECH GROVE, Williamson county, Tenn., Nov. 13th, 1863.

This document was signed by the elders and evangelists of ten or fifteen congregations, and was the means of saving all those members of the church who would take this position, set forth above, and stand firmly to it, from service in the war through which we have passed. A petition of a similar nature, varied only to suit the changed demands, was presented to the Federal authorities. We will publish this our next week’s issue. We publish these as historic accounts of the position assumed by the Churches of Christ in Middle Tennessee in hours of fearful trial and trouble to Christians. We believe this position alone saved them from almost total ruin. Copies of these were filed with the then Governor, now President Johnson. Copies were also sent to the Review and Harbinger for publication, but neither of them published them.

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