2 Feb 2009

Fellowship? A Spiritual Means of Grace, The Distant Voice of James A. Harding & David Lipscomb

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Church History, Contemporary Ethics, David Lipscomb, Discipleship, James A. Harding, Jesus, Love, Mission, Preaching, Restoration History, Unity
It is important to note that spirituality for James A. Harding was not simply some privatized religion. For him spirituality had deep moments of encounter with God that was quite “public.” Spirituality was how one came to know and experience the “most loving Father in the Universe.” Thus “fellowship” was listed, following Acts 2.42, as his second in his “means of grace.”

Fellowship was more than simple agreement on a few doctrinal issue. Rather fellowship is supplying the needs of others, especially the poor and oppressed. He truly believed that “fellowship” was the ideal word for this means of grace because it was “partnership” and “sharing” in the “great firm in which Christ is the head and every Christian is a member.”

Theologically (doctrinally) Harding believed this means of grace must come after the first one. It is only after, he believed, one has come to know the loving and gracious God who shares and suffers with his creation that we will have the faith to “share” in the ministry of giving. As we become more like the Christ we encounter in the Word the more we will take on the world’s burdens through our giving of our time, means and lives. Harding’s advice was that the only way to become wealthy was to give away (share) what one has to the poor.

As we read the promises of God to those who give, nothing but a lack of faith will prevent us from becoming more generous and whole-hearted in his service. Giving in God’s service is not squandering the means for your support in old age or sickness; it is rather a sowing from which you may expect to reap a big harvest, when the need comes, if you have sown liberally.”

For Harding the starting place for any disciple of Jesus was the tithe. But one who drank from the Spirit of giving would soon be dissatisfied with a mere tithe. He writes,

You will no longer be content with giving a tenth; soon you will give fifteen cents on the dollar – then twenty, twenty-five, and so on; for you will find that the more you give, the more you will have to give, and the more good you can do, and the more the name of God will be glorified in you.”

We must not make the mistake that Harding simply advocated giving so that one may get a return on a slot machine. We give because in so doing we become a partner (i.e. have fellowship in his mission) with Jesus in ministering to those in need . . . And we also, ironically, identify with Christ because Jesus said he was with the poor.

In the language of his partner in this line of thought, David Lipscomb. What follows is interesting language but captures a central insight of this stream of spirituality among Churches of Christ.

Christ is personified in his poor, helpless brethren. Matt xxv.40. In them, Christ appeals for help to himself. Who realizes this? . . . Let us realize that every helpless, needy one of our brethren is the personification of Christ to us appealing for help. He is our Christ, to be kindly welcomed and generously treated. Shall we cast our Christ from our doors and let him become a beggar from others? Let us be careful, ‘Verily I say unto you inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’”

Christians, argued Harding and Lipscomb, take on the nature of Christ in this “means of grace.” How so? Because as Christ “emptied” himself and identified with the poor of the world Christians “empty” themselves on behalf of the masses. Hear the language of kenosis:

KCWe must sacrifice our luxuries, our comforts, our wealth and pride, to relieve our brother’s distresses, just as Christ sacrificed his honors, glories, joys and possessions in heaven, to help . . . This was the fellowship of God to man. I will give of my honors and joys to you, and take of your weaknesses, sufferings, and sorrows to myself, is the language of Jesus to man . . . Our fellowship for one another must be of this character. I’ll give of my plenty, and partake of your privations and self-denials, is the language of Christian fellowship.”

Fellowship is a means of grace because it is in this way we take on the actual character of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a double means of grace. On the one hand God uses us to be his instrument of mercy while we share in the ministry of Jesus. This has a life transforming effect upon us. Our values, hearts, thoughts, lives and money are molded into that of Jesus. On the other hand it is also a means of grace because we ironically identify with the Christ who has become one with the destitute of the world. Harding and Lipscomb taught that Jesus so lived with the poor that the poor WAS Christ. It was through such a fellowship that a disciple truly learned who Jesus is. Perhaps we could benefit from their insight into “fellowship.”

Bobby Valentine

6 Responses to “Fellowship? A Spiritual Means of Grace, The Distant Voice of James A. Harding & David Lipscomb”

  1. Larry James Says:

    Good post, Bobby! So, how did the modern church move so far away from the heart of gospel message? Here at Central Dallas Ministries we have been heard to so often, “If our message is not literally good news to the poor, it is the wrong message entirely and it is not the gospel.”

  2. Anonymous Says:

    The church in America should read the parable of the Rich Fool…every day.

    Try computing what each family gives on Sunday as a % of a probable income that week. What % do you estimate it is?

    Too low.

    Of particular concern in tough economic times is that people my mistakenly decide to pull back on their contributions to God. A terrible mistake!

    And, Bobby… you still owe me a time where I can call you.


  3. Brandon Barr Says:

    Good post. And needed in our current times.

  4. BillyWilson Says:

    hello! bobby! oh, there you are. hey, bro. =)

  5. Royce Ogle Says:

    Awsome stuff Bobby! Men like Harding it seems were too immersed in the love of Christ, loving those He loves, to be too concerned about the folks in the church down the road.

    I love the way our ancesters expressed themselves, very beautiful and moving.


  6. nick gill Says:

    No, Harding and Lipscomb found time to be keenly interested in the church down the road. Like Campbell, their genius was not in lack of foibles, but in transcending them to an extent that I long for. They could be (or at least sound) just as argumentative and sectarian as their peers — but the kingdom vision that possessed them prevented them from becoming hobbyists like so many of their detractors.

    This was one of my favorite parts of KC, Bobby.

    BTW, Who Needs HH went really well even though it was Super Bowl Sunday PM. The vision of the gathering as alternative community might just catch on! Thank you!


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