19 Apr 2016

Blessed are the Shalom Makers: T. B. Larimore Sower of Peace & Love in the Face of Division

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Grace, Restoration History, T. B. Larimore, Unity
T. B. Larimore. Note the clerical collar.

T. B. Larimore. Note the clerical collar.

“Blessed are the shalom makers for they will be called the children of God” – Jesus.

I grew up within 5 miles of the Larimore home and Mars Hill church. His name was often spoken with a kind of reverence that let me know he was an important person.  However, I knew nothing of his legacy while growing up in Florence, Alabama. I was shocked by most of the stuff iv learned about him down thru the years.

Who was T. B. Larimore? Some Unusual Factoids 

Larimore was born in 1843 and died in 1929. He attended Franklin College in Nashville and will forever be connected with Mars Hill. When he died in 1929, glowing reviews of his life were published in all the major publications of the then badly splintered Stone-Campbell Movement from the more conservative Gospel Advocate to the liberal Christian-Evangelist. Everybody wanted to make sure that Larimore was on their side. But Larimore refused to be a sectarian.  He refused to be identified with any branch, group or position.

This is a testament to his stated desire: “I propose to never stand identified with one special wing, branch, or party of the church. My aim is to preach the gospel, do the work of an evangelist, [and] teach God’s children how to live.

Larimore served in the Confederate army during the Civil War as a “conscientious objector” and was a scout. Many years later he could be found at reunions of soldiers still wearing his uniform. I have tracked down several sermons that Larimore published in the journal Confederate Veteran. It was not until after the War that he came into contact with the SCM.

In many pictures of T. B. Larimore he is wearing a clerical collar. He was a “preacher” after all. In local papers in Florence, Alabama he is habitually addressed as “Reverend.” The later is not so surprising but the former is.

Larimore and his wife would sing duets during his gospel meetings.

Preached Peace (Ephesians 2.17)

There can be no doubt that much of Larimore’s preaching ministry overlaps a period of widening division among the heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement. The issues were the Missionary Society, Role of Women, Instrumental music in worship, theological liberalism emanating out of some quarters of the Movement. In many ways these are some of the same issues facing us today … and like then it is not always easy to pigeon hole people – there were supporters of both the Society and instruments that were anything but theological liberals. There were some who believed in a wider role for women that would reject the Society, instrument and theological liberalism.

Larimore was able to remain in fellowship with all.

Larimore's Angel of Mercy

Larimore’s Angel of Mercy

In 1875, as hostilities became more pronounced between factions of the SCM, Larimore decided to become an editor of a journal. He named his publication, The Angel of Mercy, Love, Peace and Truth. The editorial policy was:

The ANGEL possesses not the slightest belligerent proclivity – not even in the latent or dormant state. It will avoid all unpleasant discussion and personal references. One harsh, unkind or unpleasant word will be sufficient reason for consigning to the flames any articles written for its pages.

The publication only lasted seven months, sadly.  Christians often have a hard time studying the Bible and expressing their point of view without being combative.

By the 1890s numerous congregations had begun to use an organ/piano in worship. The Houston St Church in Sherman, TX was one such congregation. Larimore previously held a meeting with this congregation in 1888. So with trouble in the congregation, he was invited back in 1894.

The meeting began on Jan 3 and went to June 7, just short of six months. When the meeting began the instrument was used during worship but by the time the close of the meeting it had stopped. But Larimore not only never preached a single sermon on instrumental music.  In fact he never even mentioned it.

Like Paul with the congregation in Philippi that was being torn asunder by forces allied with Euodia and Syntche, he never takes side. He instead pointed to what was more important. The Cross and the fact that we are one.  That Christ is our peace. The church in Sherman eventually split because living like Larimore – a peacemaker – is incredibly hard to do.

Larimore’s Theology of Peace and Unity

Larimore published a sermon on “Unity” in F. D. Srygley’s work, Biographies and Sermons. Larimore had a “theology of unity” that held other disputable matters in their place. He noted that the Gospel of Christ produces unity. If one focuses on what is the most important thing there is rarely disagreement. Why is it that we are dividing then?

We who claim to be Christians should ever remember that fundamental principles and essential elements of that which prevents, antagonizes, or destroys Christian unity in any community are conspicuously prominent in this ‘black list’ of ‘works of the flesh.” If we cultivate the “fruits of the Spirit” we find material for maintaining unity (p.39).

Unity is essential to the very nature of the Gospel. Quoting John 15, not about making disciples but for the inter-connectedness of disciples to each other and to the Lord, he comments: “There should be no more clash, conflict, confusion, discord, dissension, or division among the followers of the Lamb than among the literal branches of a literal vine that bud and bloom …” (p. 41).

Larimore’s “theology of unity” is based on three axises: the Gospel, denying the sinful nature and surrendering to the fruit of the Spirit. The result is removal of self and ego with a corresponding valuation of the blood bought family as more important than “me” and my interpretation of controversial matters makes unity possible.

May the Lord grant that I may die before I sow discord among the brethren … {as with Sherman} I have never introduced, advocated, agitated, said, or done anything that could dissever church, family or friends … If I cannot bless then let me not live” (p. 43).

He continues

we must be ever ready to yield when and where no principle, but only hobby, opinion or personal preference is involved” (p.45).

In fact Larimore embraces the sentiment of “peace at any price.

Lot chose the cream of the country, all the best land. Abraham was satisfied with that which was left, the refuse, rocky and rough. So far as earthly possessions and carnal possessions were concerned, his motto seems to have been: ‘Peace at any price’ in preference to strife among brethren.” (p. 46).

Larimore’s “theology of unity” brings us straight to the cross.

Christ, the immaculate Son of the living God, because he loved us, left heaven, where, from all eternity, he had dwelt with the great I AM; where angels and archangels cast their crowns before him and rejoiced to call him holy, while the stars were but glittering dust around him and all the worlds were his; came to this sad world of sin and sorrow, and became the ‘Babe of Bethlehem,’ the child of poverty – poorer than the foxes of the field and the birds of the air – the weeping, groaning, suffering, sighing ‘man of sorrows,’ ‘acquainted with grief;’ the sinless friend of sinners and voluntary victim of Calvary, pleading, bleeding, dying on the cruel cross – all this to save that soul; and yet you, claiming to be a Christian, will deliberately doom and drag him to eternal death and dread destruction, rather than deny yourself one fleshly gratification, surrender one selfish desire, or waive one personal preference. See, him suffering on the cross, and then think of that!” (p. 48).

When and where nothing more than hobby, opinion, or personal preference is involved; ‘let us walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye [we] are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering … endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (p. 50).

Cannot Preach the Cross and Not Practice Shalom

I am for Peace – my name is Peace” declared Larimore. For Larimore unity did not consist in agreement on “controversial” issues. The raging questions of the day were “untaught questions” and was not required by God to have have an opinion much less a sermon on them.

Larimore actually had “opinions” on these matters. What is remarkable is that he never talks about them because he did not want his opinion to be used as a test of fellowship. They were not worth the destroying the unity and peace Jesus suffered on the cross to create. As he wrote in 1897 when chastised for not picking a side,

They may refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with ME; but I will NEVER refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with them – NEVER” [sic].

Old Mars Hill Church with Larimore's philosophy of unity. This picture hangs in my office and was a gift from my old friend Dee Colvett of blessed memory.

Old Mars Hill Church with Larimore’s philosophy of unity. This picture hangs in my office and was a gift from my old friend Dee Colvett of blessed memory.

Embracing Shalom

T. B. Larimore is a fascinating person to wrestle with. He confronts us with a deep biblical truth that most disciples simply refuse to recognize … there are things that simply DO NOT MATTER!! To use the technical word for it, there are somethings that are:

“adiaphora.”

They matter to many disciples and that is why we fight over them. But because they matter to us, is no evidence they matter to God.

There is no reason we cannot study and plunge the depths of God’s fathomless word. Lets do it!! But as we plunge, and come to see things we did not before, we do not demand everyone – who has not come close to walking the journey with us – bow to our present understanding of THIS biblical theme or subject.

There may even be CORRECT positions on this or that matter, and we want to find it, but it may still be “disputable.” What one person claims is “plain as day” in the text, another with equal honesty says you seeing only what you have imagined and placed INTO the text.

Larimore was perceptive enough to see this. In this regard we may say he had a “Hermeneutic of Suspicion” regarding not only himself but the pronouncements of his brothers on both sides of all the “issues.” The “Suspicion” was this: “you or I may be wrong, we may both be wrong … else we would not be fighting.”

From Larimore we learn the truth.  Unity is sound doctrine.  In fact unity is a doctrine of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Unity is a mark of the one true church. A divided church is by definition a fallen and in desperate need of grace church.

I sometimes wonder if we are guilty of the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus castigated them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous …” Many hold Larimore up as a faithful gospel preacher and want him on their side. He is included in that constellation of “faithful and representative men.” But they reject, ironically, the very message that he preached! They draw lines and exclude on the very issues he refused to do. Larimore preached unity and peace.  He did not ask where a person stood on the issues before he could have fellowship with them.  We are one because the Cross makes us one.

The Gospel is the basis of unity. But lets learn from T. B. Larimore that unity is more important than my or our issue that WE demand people line up on.

Meditate on Psalm 133 and Romans 14-15 … Write T. B. Larimore in the margin.

Shalom.

8 Responses to “Blessed are the Shalom Makers: T. B. Larimore Sower of Peace & Love in the Face of Division”

  1. Dwight Says:

    The only side to take is Jesus side and we should note that Jesus didn’t take anybody’s side, Shammai or Hillel, Sadduccees or Pharisees or Zealots, but wait he did take the people’s side who were caught in the middle and suppressed. Jesus was for God and the people, not for a side that was clearly a man made institution.

  2. Profile photo of Greg England Greg England Says:

    I, too, grew up in the Shoals area and attended Mars Hill Bible School 10th ~ 12th grades and, other than being aware of the Larimore House on campus, never heard of him until many years later. I preached in Long Beach for almost 15 years and the worship leader’s wife and her twin sister were great-grandchildren of Larimore. I did the funeral service for T. B.’s granddaughter. I never tire of reading about this man of grace and wish there were more of his tribe among “our” tribe. Thanks for this article.

  3. Kathleen Smith Barnes Says:

    My dear friend, Greg England, sent this link to me. Thank you for posting this article. I grew up hearing about and honoring my G Grandfather, T.B. Larimore. My mother, his granddaughter by Julia Esther Larimore White, remembered him from her childhood and loved him. He called her “little daughter.” I would enjoy visiting with you sometime when you are in the Los Angeles area. I have a journal that he kept when he was just beginning to preach. You might enjoy seeing it. I will send this on to my brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

    • Profile photo of Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine Says:

      Kathleen honored to have you on my blog via Greg. I will be in Malibu in May at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. When you say you have a “journal” that T. B. Larimore kept that is all you have to say 🙂 Such a treasure needs to be copied and preserved 😉 I would love to see it if I could. There are special collections for items like this journal at Harding School of Theology in Memphis and the Center for Restoration Studies in Abilene, TX. I would be glad to get you in touch with either … after I get to see it 😉 Hunt me down on fb and we will find a way to connect in May if possible. Blessings.

  4. Shannon Mersch Says:

    I am Kathleen Barnes’ youngest daughter. So, Grandfather Larimore was my great-great-grandfather. We named our son, Kelton Larimore after him. He also has the Mersch family name, representing his great grandfather Mersch who was also a preacher. It is our prayer that Kelton will grow to be a great man of faith who is characterized by gentleness, humility and a deep love for God’s Word like his grandfathers. My grandmother’s birthday was this past week. She died many years ago but she would have been 104 this year. Her grandfather, T.B. Larimore, or just Grandfather as she referred to him, baptized her in 1920 when she was 8 years old. I have vivid memories of her sitting in her arm chair reading his sermons in the quiet of the day. She loved him so much and I am thankful that she kept him alive to us by talking about him often. Thank you for your very nice article.

  5. John Richardson Says:

    Very good article about a preacher all in the SCM could learn from. Glad that his great grandson, Leonard Larimore Smith married my aunt, Margaret Wallace.

  6. Kathleen Smith Barnes Says:

    Hi Bobby. I’m using this means to contact you because others have failed. I would love to have you look at T.B. Larimore’s journal. I will be in Malibu on Monday night (prior to beginning of PBL). Wondering if you’ll be in town yet? Work schedules make it very difficult for us to get out there easily. Message me on FB or send an e-mail and we’ll try to make a plan to meet.

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