By Ted Parks
Standard Publishing, publisher of CHRISTIAN STANDARD since shortly after the American Civil War, recently donated a major collection of archival materials to Nashville’s Disciples of Christ Historical Society. The gift is remarkable not only because of its historical value, but as an expression of goodwill between distinct “streams” of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
The historical society, founded in 1941, serves all congregations related to this movement: those in the Disciples of Christ and a cappella churches of Christ as well as independent Christian churches and churches of Christ. Housed in the Thomas W. Phillips Memorial Building in Nashville, Tennessee, the society holds the largest collection of Stone-Campbell material in the world.
Standard’s spring donation consisted of 39 boxes of materials filling two pallets used for the shipment from Ohio to Tennessee, according to McGarvey Ice, public services archivist at the society and associate minister at Nashville’s Central Church of Christ.
Among the donated items were more than 200 bound volumes of periodicals, mostly from the 19th century. These included full sets of the Christian Baptist, edited by Alexander Campbell between 1823 and 1830, and the Millennial Harbinger, begun by Campbell in 1830 and continuing publication after his death until 1870. Adding to the bound volumes were about 300 loose periodicals.
In addition to the early journals, the donation contained some 50 books from the personal libraries of 19th-century Stone-Campbell leaders F. W. Emmons and Isaac Errett. Emmons joined Campbell’s reform after reading the Christian Baptist, while Errett—a pivotal figure in the post-Civil War Restoration Movement—was founding editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.
In addition to periodicals, pamphlets, and books, the gift also included 3,500 biographical and photographic files. The files contained personal information on ministers and missionaries featured in Standard reports over the years, as well as the leaders’ photos.
Society President Glenn Carson underscored the value of the biographical archives, which he believes dramatically expand the information on individual church leaders the society can make available to researchers.
“We suddenly now have thousands of biographical files on . . . ministers that we did not have,” Carson said. Before the Standard gift, the Disciples-related society had only a “handful” of files on ministers from Christian churches/churches of Christ.
An important find among the Standard materials are two copies of Alexander Campbell’s seminal “Sermon on the Law,” preached by the early reformer in 1816. Presented in what is now West Virginia to the Redstone Baptist Association, the sermon was a major factor in Campbell’s subsequent separation from Baptist circles.
In the sermon, Campbell “lays out his way of making sense of the relationship between Old Testament and New Testament,” said Newell Williams, president of Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. Williams said the message upset Baptists because it undercut their evangelistic use of the Old Testament law to demonstrate human sinfulness, Campbell preferring to call people to Christ by emphasizing God’s grace.
Previously, the society had only one copy of Campbell’s sermon, Ice said.
Ice said the new materials had the potential to “fill in gaps” in the society’s holdings, moving the library closer to full sets of the Stone-Campbell periodicals it archives. As for the books from editor Errett’s personal library, Ice explained that knowing the texts a writer had access to can provide important information about the context of the writer’s thought.
“Any time you can have a window into . . . what contributes to Errett, that’s going to be significant,” Ice said. “I can’t say how long he sat up at night reading from these books and how much he absorbed from them, but I do know that they were available to him and that they’re in his library.”
With Errett’s leadership dating back before the Restoration Movement split into three streams, Carson emphasized the editor’s importance for all Christians in the Stone-Campbell tradition.
For Carson, Errett was “the number one voice for all of us,” the CHRISTIAN STANDARD serving as “our major media outlet of the late 19th century.” Carson added, “You have a sense of a common heritage in the CHRISTIAN STANDARD of the late 1800s that you don’t find elsewhere.”
The donation was a by-product of Standard Publishing’s recent move to more up-to-date but smaller facilities. Transitioning to a tighter space provided the perfect occasion to evaluate the books and documents that had come to rest in Standard’s library over the decades. Longing to make the best use of the potentially valuable materials accumulating dust on the library shelves, Standard got in touch with the Nashville society.
“Initially, it was just a very vague, ‘We have some things from our archives,’” Carson recalls from an early conversation with Standard. But even without specifics, the society jumped at the invitation to house the materials.
“We immediately said yes,” Carson remembered. “We don’t even need to know what it is. We want it,” he told Standard.
Carson sees the gift as a sign of closer relationships within the Stone-Campbell family. “You have, just kind of out of the blue, Standard Publishing willing to put on deposit a significant collection . . . with the historical society, which starts with the word ‘Disciples,’” Carson said. “It signals to me . . . a growing openness for dialogue.”
Ted Parks is an associate professor at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Disciples of Christ Historical Society’s Web site is www.discipleshistory.org.