Race Relations – A Lesson from Barton Stone

I am not a member of a Christian Church or the Restoration Movement but that does not mean that I have not learned a thing or two from Barton Stone. In this brief essay, I want to look at what the modern church can learn from Barton Stone regarding race relations. As I point out the term race is used here only because of its popular context and not because I feel there are different races of people.

What can the modern American church learn about race relations from Barton Stone? This may seem to be a simple question and one can ask why it should matter what Barton Stone thought on the topic of race. The rationale is partly because Barton Stone was a founding member of the Stone Campbell Movement which today consists of the Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and the Independent Christian Churches. His influence is felt far and wide around the world. The second reasoning is because he lived in the time of American slavery. His antislavery position at the time of slavery and his voice as a leader in the movement should give one cause to listen to his words and hopefully gain insight into our modern situation.

This essay will seek to first answer the question of what the modern American church can learn about race relations from Barton Stone based on Stone’s view of slavery and service as a Christian. Stone lived during the period of slavery in America and the question of race relations was one of slavery and what, if anything, should be done about it. Second, it will then seek to apply those lessons to the modern world. This will be done by first giving the lesson from Stone and then applying it to the current situation in America and the injustices that many African Americans face.

America no longer has slavery as a law but many other race-related issues divide the country. It should be noted briefly that the term race is being used here but the concept of race is a human concept and not a biological one. The term race is being used because of its connection to the idea of race relations which often means the relationship between white Americans and African Americans.

The question for Barton Stone was not should slavery be done away with, that was a given for him. For Stone slavery was a “moral evil [and] very heinous” and in the early days at least it was enough to disqualify someone from fellowship.[1] At one point during the 1830s, Stone did own slaves but these were men and women who were left to his wife by her mother. Stone decided that because he could not emancipate them where he was, he would move to Illinois which was a free state in order to accommodate their freedom.[2] This is just one example that one can take from Stone. If one has within their power to do something to alleviate the suffering of another, they also have the responsibility to do so.

The answer to the main question is threefold and the first two points can be understood from Barton Stone’s letters titled an Interview Between an Old and a Young Preacher published in 1859 in the Christian Messenger. While these letters were written regarding Christian service as a preacher it should never be assumed that service to Christ and love for others are items that can be separated. Stone makes this clear in the subsequent letters. This is in part because of the universal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5–9) and because all are commanded to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). These letters give an insight into the mind and thinking of Stone.

First one must have a dedication to Christ and an understanding that one can do nothing apart from Him.[3] For Stone charity, love, and service started with Christ. The affection one has towards Christ should move them to lay down themselves and their desires in order to see Christ’s kingdom come. Stone understood that because God has a love for all then slavery with its lack of love could not be Scriptural.[4] This desire to serve Christ was a motivating factor for Stone to leave Presbyterian denomination and seek unity with other Christians. This is mentioned so that one can see Stone was a man who was willing to act and not only speak.

Taking the example of Stone, one must look and see that if they call Christ Lord then they cannot also call another human, created in the image of God, a slave. In the same way today, one cannot call Christ Lord and turn a blind eye to the injustices that African Americans face. Between false incarcerations, a whitewashing of recent history (redlining, the 13th amendment, etc.), and other systematic racism Africa Americans have suffered in America. Christians who call Christ Lord must move in a charity, love, and service in keeping with their Lord. This means acting and not only speaking about what must be done to promote change and healing.

Second, and intimately connected to the idea of Christ being the priority is that one must be filled with the Holy Spirit because “the Lord will have no servants in his Church without this qualification.”[5] While the Stone-Campbell Movement is not typically known as a charismatic movement the early days of Stone’s “Christian” movement was infused with the power of the Holy Spirit.[6] The Cane Ridge Revival saw thousands in attendance and many who came became converted and fell “as men slain in battle.”[7] Even in his autobiography Stone seems to recount with affection stories of those who received the presence of the Holy Spirit. For Stone, the power and need for the Holy Spirit was not just a sight to behold but the power to do the work of God and “penetrate the heart of the sinner.”[8]

The obvious question is how does the empowering of the Holy Spirit that Stone saw as essential relate to race relations in America? The answer is found, partly, in Galatians 5:22-25. In this passage, Paul writes that Christians are to have the fruit of the Spirit and that because of the Spirit they will put away the fleshly desires. The power of the Holy Spirit was essential in his day to help create a new person who was not capable of owning another human being and this is the same Spirit today who causes people to not be complacent while others suffer unjustly.

Thirdly one can take from example of Stone to not turn away from the pain of their fellow brother and sister when their distress is presented before them. Stone recounts in his autobiography that while on his way to Charleston he rested for a few days with a man and witnessed first-hand the condition of the slaves near him. He saw them chained, abused, lashed, and abused. This he states was the “exciting cause of my abandonment of slavery.”[9] When presented with the truth of how slaves were treated Stone chose not to look away but change the way he looked at the people in bondage.

How many times today do white Americans turn a blind eye to the injustices and suffering of African Americans. In the modern world, there is no shortage of news reports, social media posts, and other instant headlines that can awaken people the sufferings of their neighbors. Yet all too often it is easy to change the channel or keep scrolling and ignore the truth before us. Stone witnessed the oppression of slaves and it caused him to change his mind concerning the issue. Today people have the opportunity to learn and become educated about the issues facing their brothers and sisters, but all too often they chose to remain ignorant in the face of evil and oppression.

The idea of Christians should be at the forefront of the discussion regarding race relations is not a new idea. Stone was an ardent abolitionist and not only preached against the evils of slavery but as witnessed acted on his beliefs as well. In his own words, he was “ignorant of the means by which” it would be done but his lack of knowing the full answer did not stop him from persisting.[10] Christians should never allow not having all the answers stop them from calling out evil.

Looking outside Stone, the most vocal groups opposing slavery in the 1830s were religious groups.[11] It was those who studied the Scriptures, were devoted to Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and witnessed the evil that called out against it. While some in favor of slavery attempted to use the Bible to justify their position the truth was that “slavery in the Bible and slavery as it existed in the American South” were not the same thing. Biblical slavery was permitted but with limits while Southern slavery was barbaric. Neither has their place in a Christian world but one is far worse.

Today as mentioned we do not have legal slavery, but we do have other issues. African Americans have never been dealt a fair hand in America and while they have the same legal protection under the law they are marginalized and often regarded as second class citizens. They are arrested at higher rates, have higher conviction rates, and are often forced to take plea deals instead of fighting. The news shows how some African American males are killed by police during routine stops or questioning. This is not something that Christians devoted to Christ and filled with the Spirit should be ok with. This is not something that we should turn a blind eye too.

American Christians can take the example of Barton Stone and show their devotion to devotion to Christ by caring for those who are treated unfairly. It does not seem to be a far stretch to think that Stone would support the idea that black lives matter (not the organization but the idea and truth that black lives indeed matter and they have not always been seen as people who matter). That is not to suggest that he would attend a rally or anything of the like, but it does seem that he did in fact believe that black lives mattered which is why he argued for their freedom in the name of Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

[1] David C. Roos, The Social Thought of Barton Warren Stone and It’s Significance Today for the Disciples of Christ in Western Kentucky, (DMin thesis, Vanderbilt Univ, 1973), 83.

[2] Douglas A. Foster, Paul M Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, D. Newell Williams, “Stone, Barton W., Support for Colonization of Free Blacks and Move to Illinois,” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, (William B. Eerdmans Publ Co. Grand Rapids 2004), 717.

[3] Barton W. Stone, “Interview between an Old and Young Preacher.” Christian Messenger (Georgetown, KY), vol. 14, no. 2, June 1844, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9j&AN=53341343&site=eds-live.

[4] D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, A Global History, (Chalice Press; St Louis 2012), 14.

[5] Stone, Interview between an Old and Young Preacher.

[6] Stone-Campbell Movement hereafter referred to as SCM.

[7] Douglas A. Foster, Paul M Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, D. Newell Williams, Cane Ridge Revival, 164.

[8] Stone, Interview between an Old and Young Preacher

[9] Voices from Cane Ridge, edited Rhodes Thompson, A Short History of the Life of Barton W. Stone
Written by Himself (1847), Barton Stone, 146.

[10] Barton W. Stone, “An Explanation, Christian Messenger,” 1835.

[11] Jonathan Olson, “Abolitionism and Antislavery.” Encyclopedia of Religion in America, edited by Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, vol. 1, (CQ Press, 2010, pp. 1-4). Gale eBooks, https://link-gale-com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/apps/doc/CX1725800013/GVRL?u=tel_a_jbc&sid=GVRL&xid=32e45c8c. Accessed 19 June 2020.

New Year, New Word

Happy New Year Y’all! I just back from an 11-day vacation and it was wonderful. Where did I go you ask? Nowhere. We took a one-day shopping trip out Walmart and everybody picked a couple of small items from some money that was sent to us but other than that we just relaxed at home. No work, no striving, no busyness, just relaxing. It was not my first choice of how to spend my vacation because I would like to have done more but we are a little broke at the moment. The first month of having a new foster placement always drains us a little more than expected, but I am so thankful we are tight on money right now because taking some time at home with the family was just what was needed.

I am not just being all rose-colored glasses either. It was wonderful. We could not go out and be busy, so we took time to just be. To just be relaxed and present. To enjoy each other. To just be still.

It reconfirmed a few things and one of those things is my new word. Every year our family picks a word for the year because it is a little easier to live out a word than a resolution. My favorite word was stronger and that was for 2011 (I think). My least favorite was word was inspire. Stronger was great because I was both physically stronger and all my relationships were much stronger. Inspire on the other hand was a failure. Mostly because there was too much emphasis on me to do great things instead of trusting on God to build something up in me. So, this year I am going back to relying on God.

The new word is Shalom. You might be wondering why I did not choose peace and that is a good question. The word Shalom means peace but it also means so much more. Peace is the absence of striving but Shalom is the absence of striving and completeness or soundness. My vacation was more than just absence of striving it was contentment and completeness. God took care of what was needed and gave so much more. I was a reminder that what is needed is Him and His peace (shalom) in order to feel refreshed and restored. My wife and I were able to think through some things and refocus ourselves on what we want out of life and what is important.

I want, no I need God’s shalom in my life. I need His peace that surpasses all understanding. I need shalom within myself. I need shalom in my relationships. I need that because without it I run around trying to be something I cannot be. So, for 2018 I will try and be at shalom (peace and total soundness) with God, myself, and those around me. I have no idea what the year will bring but I will not try to control it either.

Shalom,

Mike

Peace Beyond Understanding

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God’s Peace comes through

  1. Rejoicing always and in all things
  2. Letting your gentleness be evident to all
  3. Not being anxious but laying all things down before the King

“Rejoice in the Lord always again I say rejoice” Philippians 4:4. This is the first step as it were in receiving the promised peace. The first thing Paul tells us is to do is rejoice, and rejoice. How do we rejoice when everything seems to be falling apart? How do we rejoice when it seems like all hope is lost? How are we to rejoice when there does not seem to be anything to rejoice about? It starts by understanding why we are rejoicing. We are not rejoicing because of what God does for us. We do not rejoice because circumstances are favorable to us. We do not rejoice because of any material thing. We rejoice because God is on the throne, and we rejoice because Christ came and gave His life as a ransom to redeem us from sin. We rejoice because Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the reason we rejoice.  If we can only rejoice because of things in the material world then we will lose heart and not be able to rejoice. We must look past the circumstantial, past what our eyes can see and say I will rejoice because I am in Christ, I will rejoice because God saved a sinner such as me and if I lose all I will still rejoice, and I will rejoice in Christ my comfort and hope. We do not praise God because of what He can do, instead, we praise God because He is God and He is worthy of praise. Praise and rejoicing go hand in hand as they are inseparably one and the same. We must get to the same place that Paul was in when he said: “whether in want or plenty I have learned to be content.” We must be ok with whatever God sees fit to give us. We must be able to say as Job did “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” I cannot look at my present situation and look for reasons to rejoice or praise I must look past them and say by faith it is well with my soul. Rejoicing alone is not enough, however, it is only part of the answer.

The second part is to let others see in us what Christ has done in you“Let your gentleness be evident to all” as Philippians 4:5 says. You might be tempted as I was to say what does this have to do with receiving God’s promised peace. How is letting others see how Christ changed me bring in Gods promised peace? This gentleness is our patience in life, our gentle spirit, and our forbearance with others. We must show how we have been changed into a new creation, and are not the same old man. This is the fruit of the work the Spirit has done in us. How are we to expect to receive God’s promised peace if we are not being gentle with others as He commanded us (1 Cor 13:4 love is patient). It is a matter of obeying Him. The absence of patience brings in strife and where there is strife and quarreling there can be no peace. If we want Gods promised peace then we must also allow an atmosphere where peace can flourish or we would never know it was there. But rejoicing and showing my gentleness still are not enough to bring in the fullness of God’s promised peace.

The final part of this is to trust in God for all things “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God” Philippians 4:6. Jesus says what man by worrying can add one cubit to his life. We have a saying in my house when someone is fretting and being anxious about something they cannot control “are you going to get any taller” and “whose hands” ok so we have two sayings. What do I gain by being anxious? The simple answer is nothing, the slightly longer answer is I actually lose things by being anxious. Anxiety steals any peace that is there, it robs you of any good thing you have. It is only a negative there is no positive side to this. If I am anxious what I am saying is this problem, this thing is too big for me and too big for God. He who made the universe and all that is in it by His Word, my problem, is just too much for Him. There is nothing that He cannot do and nothing that cannot be brought to Him.  

In everything by prayer and petition make your request known unto God. We must bring everything and I mean everything to God. We are children of the King we have access to the throne of grace and we can and must come boldly to it. God of the universe, maker of heaven and earth the King of kings and Lord or lords says to us come to me with all your problems. He wants us to bring everything to Him there is nothing that will be too big or small to bring to Him. 

Just a quick word on how you can bring the big things to God without hesitation; bring the small stuff.  If you are not trusting God with the small things in your life how can you expect Him to handle the big stuff? We must start by coming to Him and saying, Father, I have a headache please help. Or Lord I can’t sleep please help. I have heard of and have myself prayed for things that may seem absolutely absurd to you and others but those things have strengthened my faith in a way that I cannot explain. We must get in the pattern of bringing all things to Him who sits on heaven’s throne. We must train ourselves to rejoice in all situations, to let our gentleness show before men, and to not be anxious but to give our concerns to the Lord. 

What does this look like when we are able to do this? What does it look like when we are able to live a life that is grounded in those principles? In 1873 the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’ was written. It was written after the greatest tragedy in Horatio Spafford’s life. His four daughters had recently perished at sea and passing the place they died he wrote these words

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

 

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

 

For me, be it, Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

 

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,

The sky, not the grave, is our goal;

Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!

Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

 

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

Reading the words we can see that he lived a life that understood what the Bible taught about rejoicing, patience, and casting our cares on the Lord. These things have a real practical application and a real practical result when they are followed through on. We have to be able to understand that the things God calls us to do are for our benefit. The precepts He has laid down work for our good as those who love Him. If we love God we do the things He asks us to do and we can rejoice in Him, we can show or gentleness to others, and if we love God then we will cast our cares on Him and receive His promised peace.

Biscuits and Gravy

Peacefulness and thankfulness go together like biscuits and gravy.  Sure you can have them separately but when you put them together you have a dynamite combination.  

In Colossians 3:15 Paul says “Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful.” (NET Bible)  If you let the peace that comes from Christ control or rule in your heart you will have peace.  You will have a true peace that passes understanding in the midst of everything.  In turn you can be thankful.

Now before you start in on the “if you only knew what I was going through you would understand” speech let me tell you something, I am not at peace right now. I have not been at peace for awhile either.  My wife and I are trying to find a place to live and are not having much luck finding anything we can afford (and would want to live in).  We are trying to figure out how to pay off most of our debt, and a few other issues.  Because of these things I have not been at peace.  I mean as long as nothing else happens I can keep it together but as soon as the dog barks or the little one cries I start to feel like I am going to lose it.  That is not peace, but holding on.  I do not want to just hold on, I want peace.  

So how do I get this peace?  How do I get to a place of thankfulness and ultimately rest?  Simple answer is I let the peace of Christ control my heart.  Mind you that is the easy answer.  The hard part like all things is walking it out.  So here are some simple things I think will help you and me let His peace reign over our hearts.

First, stop looking at the check book so much.  You’re broke and need to pay bills, but if you check the account in the morning it will more than likely be the same way in the evening.  So here is what we can do.  Check your account in the morning and then pray.  Ask God to help you get what you need to get through the day.  Notice I did not say ask God for the money (not that it is wrong to do so, I am praying for 50k), but instead ask Him to provide.  I have had groceries show up on my porch, toy for Christmas, and a ride when I was walking.  You need a new job, house, etc.  Same solution.  Take a look in the morning and again in the evening.  Other than that just ask Him to provide.  He knows your needs and will meet them.

Second, is be thankful for what you do have.  Maybe you are flat broke but you still have something to be thankful for.  Time with your kids, time with your dog, time with your pillow….  Whatever it is, enjoy the things you do have.

Third, feel free to cry.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with crying out to God.  Read the book of Psalms; a good portion of that was David crying out to God for help.  Look at Elijah he cried out to God, Jesus in the Garden cried out to Father to let the cup pass.  Nothing wrong at all with crying out to God and saying please help me I cannot do this and I am so tired.

Again remember I am writing this to me as well as you.  I need to remember and do these things.  My hope is I can take my own advice and let the peace of Christ control my heart.

 

Just a thought,

Mike