8 Apr 2008

The Irony of Moses E. Lard: In Light of Contemporary Questions

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, Moses Lard, Preaching, Restoration History, Unity

The Irony of Moses E. Lard: In Light of Contemporary Questions

Irony surrounds Moses Lard’s place in Stone-Campbell history. He is idolized by some and vilified by others. Richard Hughes calls him the “rationalist par excellence” and a brother a few years ago told me he was the “soundest man” ever produced in Churches of Christ. Some ignore him totally, James North’s history Union in Truth never even mentions Lard even once.

I believe that both of these perspectives oversimplify just how complex a character Moses Lard really is and chooses to see or ignore those aspects that do not fit well into a chosen grid. Though he can come off sounding “ultra” on the right he can also sound “progressive” in areas that would still make many squirm today.

For example when I read through Lard’s essay “Do the Unimmersed Commune?” I think there are continuities with Alexander Campbell’s Lunenberg Letter. True, AC wrote with considerable elegance and sensitivity but he still, at that point, did not allow open communion with the unimmersed. Nor did he advocate a place in the visible church for the unimmersed. Yet he did not say, as a good friend of mine did recently, “be dipped or burn!” Lard has clear connections with Campbell on these thoughts.

Lard clearly rejects the name Christian for the unimmersed. He drives his point home with the provocative example of Martin Luther:

What! Will retort the astounded opponent, utterly shocked and scandalized at the boldness of what is here said, do you mean to say that Martin Luther was not a Christian? I mean to say distinctly and emphatically that Martin Luther, if not immersed, was not a Christian – this I mean to say. I do not mean to deny that Martin Luther was eminently a good and pious man; neither do I mean to deny that God took him when he died – I deny that he was a Christian” (Lard’s Quarterly [September 1863], 44).

This sounds fairly “ultra” to some (or “familiar” to others). But Lard here clearly does not make immersion absolutely essential to salvation and has no qualms in the slightest of saying that Luther was saved. Immersion was not absolutely essential to salvation. This I could never have imagined hearing in my home congregation.

There is a contemporary parallel though involving C. S. Lewis. In December 2004 an article appeared bearing the title “Did C. S. Lewis Go to Heaven?” The author confesses a great debt to Lewis, but Lewis was not baptized/immersed. This author could not, seemingly, find the grace for Lewis that Lard found for the unimmersed Luther (I omit the name because I am not attacking this brother).

Though Lard hedges the Table regarding the unimmersed, he says some radical things regarding the Baptists. Indeed one is caught by surprise by Lard’s equally passionate plea to have “open” communion with the Baptists. He is worth quoting:

If a man be a Christian, that is enough for me; I am ready to commune with him. In error he may be in some points, but this shall not cause me to reject him. Yet I should delight to see the day come when the Baptists would relax a little their austere and unhallowed rules on this point, and when we and they at least should enjoy the pleasure of cultivating more fraternal relations over the loaf and cup. I am not ashamed to avow that I seek this . . . I seek it because it is right in itself” (ibid, p. 50).

This is a remarkable statement and certainly does not sound anything like “ultra.” One wonders what Lard’s admonition would be to his spiritual offspring’s “austere and unhallowed rules” on this point? When I shared this quote with the brother mentioned above he charged me with “revisionism.” I wonder? Or have we taken the life out of Lard making him into a flannel board character?

One thing I admire about Lard is his willingness to state his belief with conviction and his willingness to change. Plotting his life from “Review of Campbellism Examined” through the Quarterly to his Commentary on Romans and beyond there is a noticeable change in Lard. Perhaps he was growing in the Spirit.

In the third issue of the Quarterly Lard wrote articles on “Spiritual Influence as it Relates to Christians” and “Baptism in One Spirit into One Body.” In these articles he advocated not only a literal and active indwelling of the Spirit but that all Christians, not just apostles, receive Holy Spirit baptism. The Spirit works and ministers in and on behalf of the Christian, indeed the Christian can even “feel” the Spirit living within. For the life of the Quarterly Lard took on such luminaries as J. W. McGarvey, Hyram Christopher and George Longan defending his views. Though traditional in his theology of Spirit in conversion he was hardly so on the indwelling. I do not see him as “rationalist par excellence” on this. One could only wish more of his descendants could embrace similar views.

Two more matters are of interest in light of contemporary concerns. First concerns the role of women. As one works through Lard’s Commentary on Romans we come to Romans 16.1-2 and find arguments favoring Phoebe being an official deacon of the church (no Lard was not a feminist either!). Second, which is ironic in light of a recent SS (that I received in the mail as a present) is in his last published book (like Homer Hailey) Lard rejects eternal torment in hell. The book published in 1879 called Do the Holy Scriptures Teach the Endlessness of Future Torment? Lard’s studied conclusion is that no such doctrine is taught in the NT. Considerable furor was aroused by his views, as is true even today.

In 1880 not long before his death Lard commented on his life journey. He stated that he would “preach the same gospel but more loving” and with “more understanding toward those” with whom he disagreed. The gospel is after all good news.

Lard is an interesting and ironic figure. He rejected the sectarian (rebaptism, etc) positions of the Firm Foundation. He was a passionate supporter of the Missionary Society. He rejected instrumental music but was an ardent premillennialist. He wanted to protect the table from the unimmersed but longed for an end of closed communion with the Baptists. He was traditional concerning the Spirit in conversion but advocated Spirit baptism for all Christians. He advocated a place for women among deacons but rejected eternal torment. Moses Lard was certainly not boring!

One wonders if the real Lard showed up if those who call him the “pillar of soundness” if they would let him preach in their congregation? Revisionism cuts BOTH ways . . .

Seeking Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

19 Responses to “The Irony of Moses E. Lard: In Light of Contemporary Questions”

  1. Steve Puckett Says:

    Aren’t we all “interesting and ironic” characters?

    When I look backwards into the life of such a person, I turn reflective. Most of all I remind myself that absolutely no one will come near God’s eternal kingdom without grace.

    Once we get grace globally positioned in our hearts, our judgments ease and our willingness to be understanding and get along with others of all walks of faith increases exponentially.


  2. Alan Says:

    There are many who when you read them Lard react much the same way when you read folks the Declaration of Independence…and peg it as a Marxist document.

  3. Justin Says:

    Thanks for this Bobby

    with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “Maybe there is hope for me in the C of C after all!”

  4. Vonnie Says:

    Interesting. I had to read this slowly.

  5. Bob Bliss Says:

    Bobby, thanks for your post about Brother Lard. He reminds me of a few I know.

  6. John Mark Hicks Says:

    Lard–rather than being characterized as “sound”–would have been labeled as progressive in much of his thought.

    On one point he was eminently and perhaps formatively conservative. His hermeneutic is a clear example of a legal reading of the NT searching for command, example and inference. I believe he is really the first to explicitly so formulate it in the way in which has been received among Churches of Christ for the past 100 years.

    James A. Harding said that he had heard the hermeneutic that way all his life. Interestingly, he was immersed at a meeting conducted by Lard.

    His hermeneutical legacy, I think, has outstripped all other legacies in his teaching.

  7. mac ice Says:

    Grace and peace to you, Bobby.

    Thanks for this essay; I’ve long appreciated your scholarship.

  8. Alan Says:

    J. W. McGarvey also would surprise a few folks on such topics. He did not hold that one must understand the purpose of baptism correctly in order to be forgiven. (see Jimmy Allen’s “Rebaptism?” where an entire section is devoted to McGarvey’s answer on that question). And McGarvey allowed for exceptions to the general rule that women should not speak in the assembly. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians:

    The Christian conscience has therefore interpreted Paul’s rule rightly when it applies it generally, and admits of exceptions. The gift of prophecy no longer exists in the church, but, by the law of analogy, those women who have a marked ability, either for exhortation or instruction, are permitted to speak in the churches.

  9. johndobbs Says:

    Great Post Bobby! Thank you for presenting that to us … fascinating!

  10. David Says:

    I appreciate your posts on characters of church history not being the simplistic cardboard cutouts that sometimes they have been made out to be. From my other (limited) readings of Lard I’d never seen this side of him…thanks.

    Reading history like this also helps me to realize that even those with whom I disagree probably have more depth to them, too.

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I appreciate the comments. John Mark I think you are quite correct on Lard’s hermeneutic. But I think Lard actually learned about necessary inference from, interestingly enough, Robert Richardson. I will have to go back and double check that.

    People are full of interesting mixtures. Lard is no exception.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  12. ben overby Says:

    There’s not much fat in that Lard.

    I’m not left to wonder how Lard would be treated by many within the churches of Christ. When I wrote that the Baptist are our brothers, I was quickly rebuked and cut off from any hopes of fellowship throughout the churches in southeastern Tennessee (formally with letters and less formally with phone calls). And after I was hired to work with what turns out to be the last church I’ll serve (having recently “retired” from ministry), some dear protector of the faith called to warn the elders that I taught a scandelous doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. Those are two examples the typical treatment I endured over the last six or seven years. I’m a tiny blip on the radar, a nobody in the great scheme of things; so one can can only imagine how someone with real influence like Lard would have faired today. It wouldn’t be pretty.

    But we need more Lard greasing our intellectual gears. Not that he was always right–but he was no consistent victim of Groupthink.

  13. preacherman Says:

    Wonderful post yet again brother.
    Wasn’t it Campbell that said, “Christians only, not the only Christians?”
    I pray and pray for unity.
    I hope we can see beyond some doctrinal issues that have seperated us from others and strive to reach out to the emerging generations and show them Jesus.
    Thanks again brother for informing us about men of the past that were concerned with important issues and striving to get people to think for themsevles.
    Kinney Mabry

  14. Matthew Says:

    I love your work in Stone-Campbell History, also it is interesting that Lard’s commentary on Romans is still used by some in the church, as one member stated to me recently, “It is the best commentary on Romans ever.”

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Appropo to nothing, is that a beard on Lard or a hairy goiter? They had some funky facial hair back then!
    — Interested reader

  16. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


  17. John Mark Hicks Says:

    As for the beard, I think–if I can speculate in terms of my own experience–it was to hide his double chin. 🙂

  18. Royce Ogle Says:

    Lard, my kind of guy. He actually thought about the things of God.

    His peace,
    Royce Ogle

  19. JT Says:

    I recall the name but can’t say that I know anything about him or what he taught. I realize this is just a sampling you’ve provided, gleaned from your research and readings, but I must say, it’s hard not to admire the man.

    Don’t know if very many folks are still reading your blog nowadays, Bobby, but if they are my comments as I go through your archives may serve as a pointer for some people to the past toward many of your good ideas and teachings.


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