K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: an Historical Perspective(1)
Vol. 37/No. 3
K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: an Historical Perspective(1)
John Mark Hicks
Harding University Graduate School of Religion
In 1962 Reuel Lemmons editorialized that a major shift was under way among Churches of Christ. While the past decade had been a struggle over institutionalism with the right, the next decade, he predicted, would be a "battle" with the "liberal left." The immediate cause of his editorial was a brotherhoodwide controversy over whether one should preach "the man or the plan." Lemmons was disturbed by younger preachers who were saying "I used to preach 'faith in a plan'; but now I preach 'faith in a Person-not faith in a plan.'"(2) He laid the blame for this shift at the feet of Christian college professors.(3)
The "Man or the Plan" controversy was acute in 1962. Apparently, it was the talk of the Lectureships. Indicative of its significance is Lemmons' devoting the July 3, 1962, issue of the Firm Foundation to a discussion of the subject.(4) During this intense period of publishing on the topic, only one person wrote in the Firm Foundation seriously questioning Lemmons' editorial. Waymon Miller stated, "In our effervescent zeal to convince all of the true terms of pardon, we have perhaps erred in selling a plan rather than a Person."(5)
An elderly, retired minister who lived in Oklahoma City wrote Miller an encouraging letter. He knew firsthand the ferocity of a brotherhood's displeasure. His name was Kenney Carl Moser. In his reply Miller reminded Moser that it was during a lectureship sometime during 1939 or 1940 in Idalou, Texas, that Moser introduced grace to him when he spent the night in Moser's home. Miller affectionately noted that he had "recalled [that conversation] numerous times through the intervening years" and that he "very much" valued Moser's book The Way of Salvation.(6) Miller had been deeply influenced by the one who led the first significant charge against "plan preaching"-K. C. Moser.
On December 1, 1932, Moser published an article in the Gospel Advocate entitled "Preaching Jesus."(7) To preach Jesus, according to Moser, is to proclaim him as the Son of God who bears the sins of the world as a sin-offering to God. Consequently, when Philip encountered the Eunuch, he "preached not a plan, but a man."(8) Moser was concerned that the conditions of salvation were preached "apart from their reference to the atonement." "When this is done," he argued, "the conditions of salvation become pure law and salvation is based on mere works." As a result, grace is voided.
In the 1930s Moser introduced the terminology of "man and plan" into the discussion of grace within the mainstream of the Churches of Christ. His distinction, however, was immediately questioned and the first salvo of the "man and the plan" controversy was the response of R. L. Whiteside to Moser's article.(9) While Moser had focused on preaching the man Jesus as sin-bearer, Whiteside argued that preaching the gospel is preaching any part of the New Testament plan.
Recently Moser has been identified as a starting point or, at least, an early reflection of a theological shift among Churches of Christ on the doctrine of grace and the practice of kergymatic preaching. In 1990 alone, four authors pointed to the significance of Moser. The first to notice his importance was Richard Hughes who stated that "the theological face of Churches of Christ began to change" through the work of Moser and his influential friends.(10) C. Leonard Allen, drawing on Hughes' information, noted that Moser saw a "displacement of the cross and God's grace" among his contemporaries and sought to correct it.(11) Michael Casey wrote that Moser was "one of the first to direct us back to the evangelical center of the gospel."(12) Finally, James Woodroof asserted that the present awareness of grace is but a "second wave," and the "first wave" was "initiated" by the publication of K. C. Moser's The Gist of Romans in 1957.(13) The most recent and extensive discussion of Moser is Allen's chapter "What Is the Gospel?" in his recent Distant Voices.(14) After briefly surveying Moser's writings, Allen summarized his contribution: "The efforts of Moser stand directly behind some of the theological shifts occurring among contemporary Churches of Christ."(15) The purpose of this paper is to provide an historical interpretation which gives weight to these claims.
The Life and Work of K. C. Moser (1893-1976)
Moser was born on January 23, 1893 on a farm near Johnson City, Texas. His father was J. S. Moser (1860-1923), who was a relatively well-known preacher/farmer in Texas and Oklahoma.(16) J. S. baptized his son at the age of nineteen and K. C. preached his first sermon when he was twenty-two. After teaching in a one-room schoolhouse for five years,(17) he entered Thorp Spring Christian College in 1915 as a preacher student, and he was listed as a faculty member for the 1918-19 academic year.(18) He began full-time, located preaching at the age of twenty-six in Normangee, Texas (1919-20). For forty-five years he preached for nine different congregations in Texas and Oklahoma.(19) In 1964, at the age of 71, his life-long friend F. W. Mattox, president of Lubbock Christian College, invited him to join the faculty as a Bible instructor. Despite his age, he was a popular, well-known and influential teacher at LCC. He retired from teaching in 1972 and died in 1976 at the age of 84.(20)
His ministry was a rather controversial one. As a preacher, he was hounded by others for his views on grace. As a lecturer, he was persona non grata at various religious events, such as the Abilene Christian College lectureships.(21) As a writer, he was either attacked or ignored. As a teacher, he was known as the "Baptist preacher" on the Lubbock faculty.(22) Nevertheless, his ministry is important for contemporary Churches of Christ.
After leaving Thorp Spring, Moser began writing for the two major papers of the Churches of Christ, Firm Foundation(23) and Gospel Advocate.(24) His contributions to the latter were few at first (ten articles in thirteen years) because he emphasized the periodical of his home state (thirty-eight in thirteen years). But in 1932 he shifted his literary contributions from the Firm Foundation to the Gospel Advocate, which was probably the result of his theological incompatibility with the Firm Foundation
From the beginning his articles in the Firm Foundation evidenced a concern for the state of the church. His first article in 1920 addressed his fear that worship had been "converted from a spiritual feast to an entertainment of the pleasure seeker." For Moser the key ingredient of worship was humility; and when the "spirit of entertainment enters, the spirit of worship goes out."(25) The topics of his articles were of wide range: materialism,(26) modernism,(27) disarmament,(28) the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit,(29) and the mission of the church to preach the gospel.(30)
However, from the beginning, Moser protested, at first lightly and then more boldly, against what he regarded as the legalistic preaching of the gospel by his own brothers.(31) As early as 1922 he observed, "When the gospel is preached, the part that has baptism in it will take care of itself," but "Many never say anything in the commission but baptism."(32) In three articles, one in 1923 and two in 1925, Moser outlined his basic position which he never surrendered.(33) In 1923 he stated, "Faith is the only thing that can save," and sinners are saved "when faith has completely manifested itself in leading them to obey the Lord" through baptism as an expression of that faith. Baptism, however, is not what saves. Faith saves as the principle which underlies baptism. When baptism is exalted above faith or placed on the same level, then the message reflects a legalism. "When we view baptism, or anything else," he concluded, "in any light except as a manifestation of faith we are headed toward legalism. This," he added, "is often done."(34) The importance of this topic for Moser was clear: Of the forty articles he published in the Firm Foundation from 1920 to 1934, eighteen dealt with the relationship of grace, atonement, faith and works.
The Way of Salvation
The substance of many of these articles, including his material on worship, sanctification, and the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, was incorporated in his first book entitled, The Way of Salvation, which was published by the Gospel Advocate Company in 1932.(35) It is subtitled "Being an Exposition of God's Method of Justification Through Christ." It is fundamentally an exposition of the doctrine of atonement from three perspectives. First, it unpacks the nature of Christ's atonement as it relates to the human need for righteousness in God's sight; that is, the human need for justification. Second, it correlates the conditions of salvation (faith, repentance, confession and baptism) with the nature of the atonement; it reflects theologically on the atonement and how faith is the only principle which can receive the grace of the atonement. Third, it explains how the doctrine of atonement is foundational for the Christian life in sanctification and worship; it applies the biblical doctrine of grace to the Christian life. There is no doubt, as Allen has commented, that there is a "subtle but steady polemic: somebody was misconstruing the saving work of Christ and seriously compromising the gospel."(36)
On January 1, 1933, Moser was appointed to the staff of the Gospel Advocate as the head of the "Text and Context" department.(37) However, from the beginning there was tension on the Advocate staff, and as a result of that tension Moser was (according to Foy E. Wallace, Jr.) "dropped."(38) As Wallace described it, the staff (identified as H. Leo Boles, F. B. Srygley, C. R. Nichol and R. L. Whiteside) objected to Moser's "peculiar ideas" on the conditions of salvation, which they believed were "contrary to the gospel."(39) They did not want Moser, as a staff member, to use the Advocate as an official rostrum from which to address the church.
This tension appears in the pages of the Advocate itself. In 1933 R. L. Whiteside began a study of Romans, later published as a commentary, as a response to Moser's The Way of Salvation.(40) Whiteside was amazed that any brother could write as Moser did, for "if a universalist or an ultra-Calvinist had penned such words, we would not be surprised."(41) Some of this tension was also reflected in Moser's condemnation of those who "pronounce one a heretic simply because he is out of line with others."(42) Despite the problems his convictions caused, Moser could not be quiet. He had to speak despite the fear which keeps others quiet--the fear of being "put out of the synagogue."(43)
Nevertheless, Moser's name last appeared as a staff member in the August 24, 1933, issue of the Advocate shortly after Whiteside's critique. In light of this tension, G. C. Brewer's favorable review of Moser's book earlier that same year was a significant event.(44) Moser had his supporters. Indeed, these political moves were more complicated than will ever be known due to the premillennial controversy that was raging at the time.(45)
Three Significant Works
Over his remaining years Moser pressed his views on grace and faith while continuing to publish sporadically in the Gospel Advocate. For my purpose, I wish to note three works which spawned the "Man or the Plan" controversy of the 1960s. In 1937 Moser published a booklet entitled Are We Preaching the Gospel?(46) in which he proclaimed Christ as the "forgotten Man" in our preaching.(47) The gospel does not consist in "abstract facts," according to Moser, but in a "person."(48) The gospel has been misrepresented as an abstract plan which we must work rather than a gift of righteousness which we receive through faith. G. C. Brewer promoted Moser's pamphlet.(49)
In 1952 Moser released a pamphlet entitled "Christ Versus a 'Plan'" which was published by Harding Press.(50) This document began the debate that exploded a decade later in the Firm Foundation The arguments, however, were as old as the 1920s and 1930s when Moser pressed them then. The timing of this pamphlet is important. It appeared at the beginning of the institutional controversy when the emphasis was on the pattern of the NT, the plan of salvation and strict, precise obedience to that pattern and plan. The soteriological focus of the Churches of Christ was on whether strict obedience to the pattern was necessary for salvation and what exactly that pattern contained. The right and moderate wings of the Churches of Christ were debating the exact details of the pattern so as to determine who was the true Church of Christ. In this context, Moser published a pamphlet which called us back to Christology as the basis of our soteriology. He moved the discussion away from ecclesiology back to Christology. Despite the fact that he was either ignored or lightly dismissed, he revived a theological focus that would bear fruit in the 1960s after the church was wearied by the internal struggle over institutionalism. Significantly, G. C. Brewer again supported Moser's polemic.(51)
Moser practically withdrew from publishing after the appearance of his 1952 pamphlet.(52) During this time, he wrote his thematic commentary on the book of Romans entitled The Gist of Romans It was first printed in 1957, with a second edition in 1958.(53) The book's theme reflects the emphases of Moser's writing over the past three decades. His concern was still legalistic preaching and the subtle legalism to which it gives expression. His purpose was to give "an exposition of the fundamental doctrines of salvation through Christ" as they appear in Romans. He was set for the "defense of the cross" as opposed to the defense of the "conditions of salvation, or some theory."(54) The preacher, according to Moser, must not only know what to tell someone to do to be saved, he must first understand what salvation is. Only when one understands the "fundamental doctrine of the atonement, of grace, and of faith" can anyone be a gospel preacher.(55) Moser feared that many of his preaching brothers did not truly or fully understand the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. He was not alone in his fear. G. C. Brewer had expressed similar fears. He was concerned that many were preaching a creed instead of Christ, and "too many us instead of trusting in Christ, depend upon working out our own salvation as though this means that we should achieve it by works of merit in this life."(56)
Moser and Brewer, two men who had shared the burden of proclaiming the gospel of grace, both feared the context of the mid-1950s. Both saw the danger of legalism; both saw the need for trusting in Christ alone for salvation. The 1960s, with the turmoil of the "Man or the Plan" controversy, saw a brotherhood coming to conscious reflection on the doctrine of grace and a renewal of the doctrine of "God's righteousness" as the ground of salvation.
Two Theological Traditions(57)
The publication of Moser's book The Way of Salvation by the Gospel Advocate Company in 1932 was a significant event. Its significance is to be measured by the public outcry it engendered. There was, in fact, little notice of it among the papers.(58) It was as if the book was published and then ignored. The significance of the book, however, is to be judged by the difference it highlighted between two influential contemporaries, G. C. Brewer and Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
Wallace and Brewer
When the book appeared, Wallace, the editor of the Gospel Advocate, commented on it. His tone is noticeably negative though tempered by his brother Cled's preface to the book. "We do not think," he wrote, "that [Moser's] 'approach' to these subjects is more effective than the plain preaching of faith, repentance, confession, and baptism as 'conditions' of salvation, like all faithful gospel preachers have always preached. . . . Such preaching is not to be criticized."(59) Toward the end of his life, Wallace reflected on his editorial in 1932. In an appendix to his last published book, Wallace regretted "having contributed to its circulation" and recalled that his brother Cled regretted having written the preface. Wallace blamed Moser for "indoctrinating young preachers with denominational error on the plan of salvation." Moser's "'salvation by faith' hobby" is contrary to the "gospel plan of salvation" and is "no more nor less than denominational doctrine."(60)
G. C. Brewer, on the other hand, had almost nothing but praise for the book. One year after it was published Brewer wrote an article entitled "Read This Book." In fact, he suggested that it be read "two or three times".(61) It is "one of the best little books that came from any press in 1932," he said. Further, he commended Moser for going to Scripture first instead of first searching for what is taught among Churches of Christ and then going about to establish it by Scripture. Brewer wrote: "The author's independence of all denominational views or brotherhood ideas, or of what the 'fathers' taught, or of what has been 'our doctrine' is the most encouraging thing that I have seen in print among the disciples of Christ in this decade."
Wallace and Brewer had two entirely different views of this book. Wallace believed that it was too critical of brotherhood preaching and offered denominational doctrine in the place of biblical preaching on the plan of salvation. Indeed, he noted that the renowned Baptist debater Ben Bogard flaunted Moser's book in his debates with gospel preachers.(62) Brewer, on the other hand, welcomed the critique of legalism among the Churches of Christ. In his review, Brewer noted that "some of us have run to the extreme of making salvation depend on works" so that some have made salvation "a matter of human achievement."(63) It is apparent that there was a clear theological difference concerning the biblical doctrine of grace between these two pillars of the Churches of Christ.(64)
Showalter and the Texas Tradition
Wallace was not, however, the only one to read Moser his way. xception of two articles, after the publication of his book, Moser never published another article in the Firm Foundation after 1932.(65) The two articles which were published are significant because they highlight the difference between Showalter and Moser. The first article, according to Showalter, was mistakenly printed in his absence, and the second was Moser's reply to the editor's critique of the first article.(66) The upshot of this exchange is that Showalter regarded Moser as a traitor who had sided with the Baptists. It is reasonable to assume that Moser was not permitted to publish, or that he did not want to publish, in the Firm Foundation Due to the correlation of dates, his shift to writing for the Gospel Advocate was probably due to the publication of The Way of Salvation(67) or at least to Showalter's increasing frustration with Moser's themes.(68)
This exchange in 1934 is significant. It reflects the negative response Moser's ideas received in his home state. Showalter regarded him as a traitor who had surrendered to Baptist theology.(69) The exchange molded public opinion in Texas about Moser for the next few decades. Moser no longer published in the Firm Foundation Showalter was the opinion leader in Texas churches. He had the mantle of Austin McGary, the founder of the Firm Foundation and Texas would not receive Moser after the Firm Foundation had condemned him.
The Tennessee Tradition
In 1968, at the age of 91, Stanford Chambers recalled his days at the Nashville Bible School in the mid-1890s. He remembered that Harding proclaimed an especially powerful doctrine of grace. "To Harding," he recalled, ". . . the Holy Spirit was a personality and His help in our infirmities was real. Salvation 'by grace . . . through faith' rather than by 'works' or deeds of merit was a cherished truth."(70) The students, he remembered, were divided into two camps on the issue, but that the leaders of the institution were strong advocates of grace. This can be confirmed by looking at their writings of the period and their influence in the lives of historically significant students.
For example, S. H. Hall graduated from the Nashville Bible School in 1906. There he experienced what he describes as a "second conversion" under the influence of Lipscomb, Harding, and Larimore as he was exposed to a tradition of grace, providence, tolerance and the work of the Holy Spirit different from the Firm Foundation, under which he had grown up.(71) At the Nashville Bible School he became an advocate of the Tennessee tradition of understanding "grace through faith." This is evidenced in his discussion of the faith of Abraham in his 1931 book Studies in Scripture, which was published by the Gospel Advocate Company.(72)
Robert. H. Boll enrolled in the Nashville Bible School in 1895 and eventually came to lead the premillennial segment of the Churches of Christ. In the early 1900s, however, he was a close associate of Harding and Armstrong, and he reflected their doctrine of grace, just as he had sided with them on the issue of grace while at the Nashville Bible School.(73)
R. C. Bell was a student at the Nashville Bible School and later a teacher with Harding and Armstrong at Potter Bible College, and then with Armstrong at Western Bible and Literary College and Cordell Christian College. He would later become President of Thorp Spring Christian College, Dean of Harding College, and a teacher at Abilene Christian College.(74) Bell was one of Moser's teachers and his ally throughout the years.(75) Both J. D. Thomas and F. W. Mattox testify that Bell's friendship with Moser was long standing, and that their views on grace were exactly the same.(76) One of Bell's favorite quips is said to have been, "If you get Romans, God gets you," which was also one of Moser's favorite proverbial sayings.(77) The righteousness of God, according to Bell, is God's gift of righteousness by which he justifies the sinner through faith.(78)
The Nashville Bible School was transformational for the lives of these three men, and G. C. Brewer, an alumnus of the school (1911), could be added as well.(79) They learned the Tennessee tradition of grace through faith from the teaching of Lipscomb, Harding and J. N. Armstrong. The core teaching of the Nashville Bible School was a message of grace where one is justified by faith in Christ rather than by working the deeds of any law--whether human or divine.(80) In defense of Roy Key's 1946 article on the righteousness of God,(81) Brewer reminded his readers that J. W. McGarvey, David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, and especially James A. Harding "knew the truth on this great question and taught it faithfully."(82)
The Lipscomb-Harding tradition is well illustrated in the following paragraph from David Lipscomb's commentary on Philippians 3:
Even when a man's heart is purified by faith and his affections all reach out towards God and seek conformity to the life of God, it is imperfect. His practice of the righteousness of God falls far short of the divine standard. The flesh is weak, and the law of sin reigns in our members; so that we fall short of the perfect standard of righteousness; but if we trust God implicitly and faithfully endeavor to do his will, he knows our frame, knows our weaknesses, and as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities our infirmities and weaknesses, and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. So Jesus stands as our justification and our righteousness, and our life is hid with Christ in God.(83)
Moser's doctrine of grace has historic roots. He proclaimed a doctrine of grace that was especially, though not exclusively, associated with the Nashville Bible School in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Exactly how Moser came to stand in that same tradition is unknown, but it may have been through his teacher R. C. Bell at Thorp Spring Christian College.
The Texas Tradition and the Gospel Advocate
Despite historic roots in the Nashville Bible School, the climate of the east in 1930s was changing. The old guard of the Advocate had died in the 1910s and 1920s (including Lipscomb, Harding, Larimore, and others).(84) Foy E. Wallace, Jr., was appointed editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1930; he resigned in 1934, and his replacement was John T. Hinds, another Texan. oth Wallace and Hinds were regular contributors to the Firm Foundation in the 1920s. In fact, Hinds was the front page editor of the paper. As a result, Wallace and Hinds brought Texas attitudes and convictions to the Tennessee paper. They represented the tradition of Austin McGary and J. D. Tant. Many Texans were afraid that Wallace had gone soft when he went to the Advocate,(85) but he demonstrated otherwise in the premillennial controversy. At bottom, in the 1930s, the Texans moved into Tennessee and turned the Advocate toward a more conservative approach. As a result, the influence of the Nashville Bible School, especially on the doctrine of grace, was curtailed though not extinguished. While Moser continued to publish in the Advocate, presumably because of his relationship with Brewer,(86) he was regarded with suspicion by Wallace, Whiteside and Hinds.
Because the Advocate was now a mixture of Texan conservativism and the Lipscomb-Harding doctrine of grace, it reflected both sides of the dispute. Moser and Brewer would publish articles that reflected the Nashville Bible School or Tennessee tradition. Others, such as R. L. Whiteside and Guy N. Woods, would reflect the more conservative Texas tradition that is still advocated in the Firm Foundation(87) The difference between the two traditions may be illustrated by the way the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness is treated.(88) Lipscomb, Harding, Boll, Armstrong, Brewer and Moser all believed that this was the teaching of Scripture. However, Wallace, Whiteside, and Woods all rejected it as denominational and Calvinistic.(89)
I believe there was a shift in the East which was introduced from the West. When Wallace came to Tennessee, the Texas conservativism of the late 19th century moved the Advocate from a moderate to a more conservative position. This involved a shift on the doctrine of grace as well as shifts on other issues such as rebaptism, pacificism, sectarianism, and the personal indwelling of the Spirit.
Moser was Texas born and bred, and preached in the conservative regions of McGary's and Showalter's Firm Foundation. He believed that the preaching he observed assumed legalism, and that this was rooted in a misunderstanding of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. In the 1920s and early 1930s he tried to correct this misperception through the pages of the Firm Foundation and his book The Way of Salvation. His position was rejected, and he was regarded as a Baptist in sheep's clothing. He was ostracized by his preaching brothers in Texas.
Nevertheless, he found a hearing in the East through the Gospel Advocate. The Gospel Advocate Company published his book, and the Advocate made him the head of a department. He found an ally in G. C. Brewer. The keepers of the Lipscomb-Harding tradition welcomed him. But the Texas wing of the Advocate staff was too influential and Moser was dropped. This signaled the rise of a strong voice for the Texas tradition east of the Mississippi.
Moser continued his incessant attack on legalistic preaching. He still had his supporters, like Brewer, who promoted his tracts, but he was in a minority west of the Mississippi. His influence was minimal (except in the persons of Brewer and others) until the 1950s when his work was a breath of fresh air in a decade of institutional squabbling and fighting. It was a message of grace in a time when the church was struggling to determine which segment of the conservative wing of the Restoration Movement was the true church. In 1952 Harding Press published Moser's tract "Christ Versus a Plan." The Gospel Light Publishing Company of Delight, Arkansas, republished The Way of Salvation in 1957. Teachers at various colleges used his 1957 The Gist of Romans in classes.
A new generation was growing up in the midst of bickering and fighting, and this generation was exposed to the Lipscomb-Harding tradition of grace through faith. Woodroof refers to this as the "first wave" of grace teaching among Churches of Christ.(90)
However, it is far from the "first wave." On the contrary, it was the re-emergence of the Lipscomb-Harding tradition within the mainstream Churches of Christ. The work of Moser prepared the ground for this re-emergence. But this view of grace was not new, nor had it been totally absent from Churches of Christ throughout the twentieth century. Moser, Brewer and others represented the old Nashville Bible School tradition in the mid-twentieth century which had been displaced in the east by the McGary-Showalter tradition through the influence of Wallace, Whiteside, and Woods. The late 1950s and 1960s saw the re-emergence of that tradition in the person of younger preachers who had been exposed to the Lipscomb-Harding tradition through the teaching and writings of Moser and Brewer. This was the occasion for the "Man or the Plan" controversy of the early 1960s.
The McGary-Showalter Texas tradition, however, could not keep a tight reign on its theological development. There were sympathizers with Moser in Texas as well as in Searcy and Memphis. These sympathizers led a shift toward Moser in Texas just as the Lipscomb-Harding tradition was growing weak in the East. One indication of this movement was G. C. Brewer's speech on grace at the Abilene Christian College Lectures in 1952.(91) Hughes noted that J. D. Thomas, who directed the ACC lectures from 1952 to 1969, believes that Brewer's lecture was a "pivotal turning point for Churches of Christ."(92) It shifted a part of the Texas tradition toward the Lipscomb-Harding (and Moser) view of grace and bore fruit at ACC through the teaching of R. C. Bell and J. D. Thomas.(93)
This Texas shift was encouraged by Moser himself in the 1960s as he taught for eight years at Lubbock Christian College, spoke on their lectureships,(94) headlined various mission workshops and wrote four books in The Living Word Series for an Austin publishing house.(95) This shift now pervades Texas even though the Firm Foundation is still the organ of the McGary-Tant-Showalter tradition.
Leonard Allen, then, is essentially correct when he notes that "the efforts of Moser, Brewer and these others stand directly behind some of the theological shifts occurring among contemporary Churches of Christ."(96) The Lipscomb-Harding tradition has taken root west of the Mississippi, and is returning to its origins east of the Mississippi. The mainstream Churches of Christ east of the Mississippi are once again learning the Lipscomb-Harding tradition of grace through faith.
Moser's story is but a single perspective on the history of the Churches of Christ from the 1920s to the 1960s. Yet his story is significant because he represents the rise of a doctrine of grace in Texas that was imported from Nashville but was subsequently muddied there. A theological shift occurred, and it was fundamentally a shift that went east and west. In the 1930s, Texas conservatism spread from Austin to Nashville, and in the 1950s and 60s the Lipscomb-Harding tradition of grace re-emerged west of the Mississippi.(97) Moser's role in importing and promoting the Lipscomb-Harding tradition west of the Mississippi was foundational, and his influence is significant in its revival east of the Mississippi.
1. This paper is a condensed version of my "The Man or the Plan? K. C. Moser and the Theology of Grace Among Mid-Twentieth Century Churches of Christ," presented at the 18th Annual W. B. West, Jr., Lectures for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship on October 5, 1993, at Harding University Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, TN.
3. Towards the end of his life Lemmon's attitude changed. See, for example, "Our Theology," FF 99 (6 July 1982) 418, where he comments on the negativism of "our theology": "Another example is our attitude toward grace and forgiveness. Our historical background has produced a theology of uncertainty on the one hand and a too simple three-step plan on the other. The cardinal doctrines of Scripture demand that we have a better theology. Substitutionary atonement and even imputed righteousness need to be more completely defined."
5. Waymon Miller, "What is Legalism?" FF 79 (22 May 1962) 327. Lemmons replied with "Faith in a Person: Not Faith in a Plan," FF 79 (22 May 1962) 322. Miller replied to Lemmons with "Clarifying the Issue," FF 79 (12 June 1962) 375, and Lemons replied to Miller in "The Man and the Plan Again," FF 79 (12 June 1962) 370.
6. Letter to K. C. Moser, Oklahoma City from Waymon Miller, Fort Worth, dated June 18, 1962. I obtained a copy of this letter from Mrs. Frances Winkles of Abilene, TX, the daughter of K. C. Moser. Used by permission of Waymon Miller.
8. Moser did not originate this concern or language. For example, J. Edward Boyd, "Preaching the Gospel," Word and Work 13 (November 1920) 337, wrote: "Not a 'plan of redemption,' a 'scheme of salvation,' 'steps of induction into the kingdom,' etc.; not any of these nor all of them, although, alas! such has been the emphasis so often placed upon them that the idea seems not uncommon that they constitute the gospel. Now these are by no means to be ignored or treated with indifference; but primarily and fundamentally the gospel is a message about a person, 'concerning His Son . . . Jesus Christ our Lord' (Rom 1:1-4)." This contrasting language is also present in Moser's The Way of Salvation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1932) 107-08.
19. The churches he served were Normangee, TX (1919-20), Longview, TX (1920-21), Wewoka, OK (1921-23), Tenth and Francis in Oklahoma City, OK (1923-26), Frederick, OK (1926-33), Ardmore, OK (1935-37), Morton, TX (1937-40), 12th and Drexel in Oklahoma City, OK (1940-47; 1950-64), Enid, OK (1947-50). The years 1933-35 were a time of severe illness for Moser. He contracted ulcerative colitis and was on the verge of death in 1935. After a trip to the Mayo Clinic and restful time on the farm, he was able to return to full-time work. Cf. Allen, Distant Voices, 168-169. From 1937-40, Moser worked part-time for the church in Morton while he supervised his farm and lived in Lubbock.
20. This biographical information is pieced together from the first two volumes of Preachers of Today, (ed. B. B. Baxter and M. Norvel Young; Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1952, 1959), H. Leo Boles, "K. C. Moser," GA 84 (6 August 1942) 746; and personal interviews with relatives and friends of K. C. Moser. See also his obituaries in GA 118 (11 March 1976): 175 and FF 93 (23 March 1976) 190.
21. Hughes, "Are Restorationists Evangelicals?" 125. Hughes cites an interview with Mrs. K. C. Moser. It was her understanding that Moser was banned from participating on the Abilene Lectures for forty years. However, J. D. Thomas, long-time director of the lectures, was not aware of any such ban (interview with Thomas, August 2, 1993).
27. Moser, "Spiritual Wickedness and the Work of the Church," FF 38 (15 November 1921) 2-3. "Most modern churches have rejected the principle that demands Bible authority for their practice. . . . Most of the modern churches have given themselves over to idolatry, leaving the Church of Christ sadly in the minority, persecuted and scorned, to hold fast the form of sound words and to preserve the standard of morality inviolate. . . . The modern church baby is just now learning to crawl."
29. Moser, "Brother Kidwell's Position Reviewed," FF 42 (16 June 1925) 2-3; "Final Criticism of Brother Kidwell's Position," FF 42 (8 September 1925) 3; "The Spirit of Adoption," FF 46 (8 October 1929) 3; "Brother Colley Seeks Information," FF 47 (10 March 1930) 3; and "Reply to Brother Colley," FF 47 (6 May 1930) 3. He also published "The Earnest of the Spirit," GA 66 (7 January 1926) 7.
30. Moser, "Mission of the Church," FF 39 (30 May 1922) 2-3, and "What of the Church," FF 42 (12 May 1925) 3. In "Strong in the Faith," FF 39 (30 May 1922) 2-3, he condemns those who "enthusiastically" watch the sects skinned, proclaim baptism for the remission of sins and oppose instrumental music, but who have not "been to worship in six months." Rephrasing James, he concludes: "Ye see then, brethren, how that by works a man is 'strong in the faith,' and not only by skinning the 'sects' on the street corners."
31. This is in contrast to Hughes who maintains that in the "late 1920s and early 1930s" Moser had a change of mind on the doctrine of justification ("Are Restorationists Evangelicals?" 124). Hughes may be alluding to Moser's admitted change in the way in which he preached Christ. Cf. Moser, "Christ Versus a 'Plan'" (Searcy, AR: Harding Press, 1952) 1. However, based upon his early contributions to the FF, this must have occurred early in the 1920s or while he was at Thorp Springs Christian College.
33. Moser, "How Faith Saves," FF 40 (17 July 1923) 3; "The Righteousness of the Law Versus the Righteousness of Grace," FF 42 (6 January 1925) 2-3; and "Eight Ways of Being Saved," FF 42 (17 February 1925) 2-3.
40. For example, R. L. Whiteside, "Lessons on the Romans Letter," GA 75 (15 June 1933) 558; (6 July 1933) 630; and (13 July 1933) 654. "These were some things that I thought needed to be said at this particular time" (p. 558). This series was later published as A New Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Saints at Rome (Denton, TX: Miss Inys Whiteside, 1945) 91-93, 98. R. L. Whiteside's opposition to Moser's view of grace was not a reactionary one. He had long held the position which he outlined against Moser. Cf. Whiteside, "A Righteousness from God," Gospel Herald 1 (19 December 1912) 1.
45. I say this in the light of the personal and theological differences which existed between Wallace and Brewer. The premillennial controversy, which Brewer believed should not be made a test of fellowship, but which Wallace did, was raging at the time. R. H. Boll's endorsement of Moser's book did not help matters (see footnote 58). See William Woodson, Standing for Their Faith: A History of Churches of Christ in Tennessee, 1900-1950 (Henderson, TN: J & W, 1979) 123-27; and Robert E. Hooper, A Distinct People: A History of the Churches of Christ in the 20th Century (West Monroe, LA: Howard , 1993), 142-4.
46. Moser, Are We Preaching the Gospel?" (Ardmore, OK: Privately Published, 1937). Charles M. Neal, ("'Are We Preaching the Gospel?'" Word and Work 31 [July 1937] 138) endorsed the tract and wished "for it a wide reading."
51. G. C. Brewer, A Story of Toil and Tears of Love and Laughter: Being the Autobiography of G. C. Brewer, 1884-1956 (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff, 1957) 91-101. Part of this appeared as "Confession and the Plan of Salvation," GA 87 (26 April 1945) 233.
52. I have discovered only one article between 1952 and 1957. Cf. "The Issue of the Gospel Invitation," GA 98 (29 March 1956) 302-3. This theme appears in The Gist of Romans (2nd ed. ; Oklahoma City, OK: Privately published, 1958) xvii-xxi.
57. By "theological traditions" I mean the positions of the "Editor-Bishops" of the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate. These leaders held a specific understanding of the nature of grace, faith and works which both felt was in contrast to the other.
58. I have failed to find a review article of it (except Wallace's and Brewer's mentioned in the text), and I did not find any advertisements for it in contemporary papers. The only exception to this is a single paragraph of endorsement by R. H. Boll, "Obliterating Distinctions," Word and Work 26 (Jan. 1933) 27. He believed Moser's book taught "some much needed truth."
62. Wallace, This Present Truth, 1036. G. H. P. Showalter records an incident where Ben Bogard asked him: "What are you folks going to do with Moser?" Cf. "The 'Faith Alone' Idea," FF 51 (3 April 1934) 4.
65. This is based upon my examination of the pages of the Firm Foundation It is quite possible, perhaps probable, that I have missed any subsequent article he may have published there. There is at least the notable absence of Moser's name in the 1930s. The publication of a CD-Rom edition of the Firm Foundation in the near future will provide a reliable means of checking my research here.
66. Moser, "Can the Gospel Be Obeyed? 51 FF (6 February 1934) 2; G. H. P. Showalter, "Obedience and Salvation," FF 51 (13 February 1934) 5. Moser ("Reply to Bother Showalter," 8) and Showalter ("'Faith Alone'," 4) exchanged replies in the FF 51 (3 April 1934).
67. Moser's "Are Children Gospel Subjects?" FF 49 (12 April 1932) 3 was published the week before Wallace's publication notice, and it is the last article to appear by Moser in the FF except the two noted above.
68. Moser had apparently planned a series on Romans in the FF, but he was able to publish only two articles. Cf. "Thoughts on Romans--Introductory (The Readers)," FF 47 (23 December 1930) 5, and "Thoughts on Romans--Introductory (The Gospel)," FF 48 (6 January 1931) 3. It is possible that Moser himself discontinued the series in order to write his book. It is also possible that he wrote the book partly because he could not fully express himself in the FF. I have been unable to determine which possibility, if either, is the case.
73. Hughes, Churches of Christ, forthcoming. See R. H. Boll, "Word and Work," GA 56 (14 March 1914) 513; "Grace and Works," Word and Work 25 (August 1932) 196-98; and "God's Part and Man's Part," Word and Work 25 (November 1932) 266-67.
75. Hughes, "Are Restorationists Evangelicals?" 134. Bell was President of Thorp Spring Christian College during Moser's first year and a teacher during the 1917-1918 academic year while Moser was still a student. In Bell's autobiography "Honor to Whom Honor is Due," FF 68 (6 November 1951) 6, he emphasizes the tremendous impact Harding had on his life and thought that the church as a whole needed the kind of life-changing experience of Harding's teaching to revive it. For example, he believed Harding's doctrine of special providence, personal indwelling of the Spirit and empowerment of the Spirit as a divine-human encounter are "needed to save the church from changing divine dynamics to human mechanics." As with R. H. Boll and S. H. Hall, Harding's influence on R. C. Bell was transformational.
76. Interview with J. D. Thomas, August 2, 1993, and interview with F. W. Mattox, August 2, 1993. See also J. D. Thomas, "Law and Grace (2)," FF 100 (23 August 1983) 579, where he notes that R. C. Bell and G. C. Brewer were among the few who had a "good comprehension of grace" in the mid-twentieth century.
77. J. D. Thomas, Romans (Austin: Sweet, 1965) 3. This was also a favorite quip of K. C. Moser, according to Times 5.17 (2 May 1971), a bulletin of the Burke Road Church of Christ in Pasadena, Texas, and former students, including Evertt Huffard of Harding University Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, TN.
79. G. C. Brewer, Christ Crucified: A Book of Sermons Together with a Lecture on Evolution (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1959; repr. of 1928 ed.) 144-5. See also his article "How We Reach Perfection," GA 97 (10 November 1955) 1012.
80. Cf. James A. Harding, "By Grace Through Faith," The Way 1 (23 February 1899) 18-19; and "Questions and Answers," The Way 4 (17 July 1902): 122. Cf. J. N. Armstrong, "Who Then Can Be Saved?" The Way 3 (15 August 1901) 155-156; "The Blood of Jesus," The Way 1 (1 August 1900) 123; "The Faith That Saves," Gospel Herald 1 (25 September 1913) 1-2.
82. Brewer, "'The Righteousness of God'," GA 88 (7 March 1946) 224. Brewer also noted the historic roots of this position in his "Grace and Salvation," in Abilene Christian College Bible Lectureship (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1952) 112-14 where he emphasized Harding and T. W. Caskey. His speech was also printed in the GA96 (30 December 1954) 1029-31 and 97 (17 February 1955) 124-5.
83. David Lipscomb, "God's Righteousness Saves," Gospel Advocate 38 (29 October 1896) 692. This quotation is also found in David Lipscomb, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, 4, ed., with additional notes by J. W. Shepherd (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1957) 205-06.
85. J. D. Tant, "In the Lower Rio Grande Valley," FF 50 (21 March 1933) 2: "I feared when he went to Nashville that he was wandering from his earlier training. But Foy tells me he still holds the Bible ground he always has held. . . . Since C. R. Nicol, R. L. Whiteside, and John T. Lewis have been added to the staff--men who have always stood firm against sect baptism--it may be they will yet bring the Advocate out on Bible ground along all lines."
87. There was a period, of course, where the FF changed directions in the mid-seventies through the early 1980s. But the paper was purchased by a conservative group and has returned to the original McGary-Tant tradition. H. A. (Buster) Dobbs and William Cline purchased the paper and began editorship on August 30, 1983.
88. It is unnecessary to think specifically about the doctrine of "Christ's righteousness." The difference is illuminated if we understand what each tradition means by "God's righteousness": Is it God's gift of his righteousness to us (a divine righteousness), or is it God's plan for making us righteous through obedience to his new law (plan)? The specific issue of the righteousness of Christ is, in some sense, superfluous, but it is an indicator.
90. Woodroof, 19. It is interesting that now Woodroof is facing the same charge as Moser. Cf. Wayne Coats, A Review of Another Liberal Digressive Effort: As Proposed by James Woodruff (sic) to Change the Church of Christ (Mt. Juliet, TN: Privately Published, n.d.) 32. "He now espouses the same old worn out theory about grace which the Baptists and others have advocated."
93. J. D. Thomas is grateful for the influence K. C. Moser had on his thinking. Two of Thomas' books demonstrate that he drew his theology of grace from Moser's well. Cf. The Biblical Doctrine of Grace (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research, 1977) and Romans (Austin: Sweet , 1965).
94. Moser, "Preaching the Conditions as Responses to the Atonement," 67-72, in The Unfinished Restoration: Eighth Annual Lectureship, Lubbock Christian College (Lubbock, TX: Lubbock Christian College, 1965); "Faith Principle," 130-40, in Power for Today's Living: Ninth Annual Lectureship, Lubbock Christian College (Lubbock, TX: Lubbock Christian College, 1966); "How to Teach Hebrews," 167-174, in The Church in the Twenty-First Century: Tenth Annual Lectureship, Lubbock Christian College (Lubbock, TX: Lubbock Christian College, 1966).
97. The rebaptism issue is another piece of this evidence that reflects a west to east shift. The McGary position came to take up residence at the Advocate in Wallace and has remained a stable position there; whereas the Lipscomb-Harding tradition is now strong in Texas. Harding University, the heir of Harding and Armstrong, has remained consistently opposed to McGary's position on rebaptism. Cf. Jimmy Allen, Re-baptism? What One Must Know to Be Born Again (West Monroe, LA: Howard , 1991) 10, 98-108, 114-19.
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