Eye of the Storm – A Story of Elder Benjamin Franklin, Earl West
Each fourth Monday in the month of May is set aside by our nation to honor citizens who died defending our beloved country. This observance includes visits to cemeteries, parades, and honorary services in churches and other public places. Indeed, it is fitting that citizens of the United States should honor, remember and reflect on the great sacrifices that have been made for our freedom—freedom is not free.
While those honored on Memorial Day are honored for the participation in physical wars, there are those who have fought in a war that is greater in every detail—the war between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of Satan. The apostle Paul wrote of such a comparison to Timothy, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:1-4, NKJV.) While those being honored on Memorial Day are worthy of such, there is another group that I fear is often overlooked—the spiritual soldiers who have laid their armor down and wait for the Resurrection.
Recently, this writer made a trip to the city cemetery in Anderson, Indiana and was honored to visit the grave of a different type of veteran soldier. The “name” of the person is famous; however, the “name” often is associated with another, more prominently known, figure in history. This person was the great nephew of Benjamin Franklin. More often than not, when the name “Benjamin Franklin” is mentioned in connection with the church, people look puzzled and wonder what the kite-flying revolutionary patriot had to do with the churches of Christ. Many fail to realize that there was a man named Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878) who was probably the most popular leader among churches of Christ after the death of Alexander Campbell. Benjamin Franklin fought extensively against the introduction of mechanical instruments in worship, and he was in the middle of the battle over the missionary society. Indeed, Earl West’s biography about him is well titled—Eye of the Storm – A Story of Elder Benjamin Franklin. (Lord willing, this writer is planning a lecture on the life of Benjamin Franklin for the 2008 West Virginia Christian Lectureship.) The biography of this great restoration soldier will deal with the period where the issues of instrumental music, missionary societies, and slavery where tearing the brotherhood and nation apart. It chronicles the events that led to a faction broke away from churches of Christ and taking land and property with its digression.
How many of us are surprised to learn that there was a key figure in church restoration history named Benjamin Franklin? Of course, God remembers the sacrifices that this Christian made for the cause of Christ (Revelation 14:13), but do we owe these soldiers any less? Often there is a comment made about those hypercritics who know nothing about the military—“they are not worthy to lace the boots of the ones they criticize.” Tragically, we have those among us who berate the spiritual soldiers of yesterday with false assertions of “they never preached Christ” or “they never preached on God’s grace”. Indeed, those who make these false assertions are “not worthy to lace the boots of the ones they criticize.” Even more tragic is that an uninformed brotherhood is ill equipped to rebuff these false assertions. Some attempt to excuse their willful ignorance with “well, they were not inspired…they made mistakes.” Indeed, all men have sinned except the one Man. We do not allow our children to exempt themselves from the study of history because of the imperfections and mistakes of the people involved. Do we?
As a suggestion, why not make the commitment to learn more about the men and women who fought on the battlefield of good versus evil? We should seek to learn about the spiritual veterans who have gone on to their reward such as: Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, Raccoon John Smith, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, J. W. McGarvey, Foy E. Wallace, C. R. Nichol, R. L. Whiteside, David Lipscomb, James Harding, A. G. Freed, N. B. Hardeman, H. Leo Boles, T. B. Larimore, Gus Nichols, Guy N. Woods, Joe Warlick, J. D. Tant, et al. If these names are unknown to us, then we need to invest time in the study of restoration history of the church. As my father often says, “we are standing on the shoulders of giants.” Hugo McCord wrote in a letter that the examples of good preachers & defenders of the faith show us how to be good ourselves. With a look at the confusion and defections from the truth around us, the expression of George Santayana rings clear & true--“Those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.” Why not encourage preachers to include articles in our bulletins about restoration history? Why not encourage the leadership at the congregation devote some lessons (whether from the class lectern or the sermon pulpit) on figures and events in church restoration history? Why not have a gospel meeting with the theme of restoration history? This writer has been greatly enriched by those who have devoted time to research and writing along these lines especially those who can make history seemingly “come alive”.
Originally printed West Virginia Christian, Vol. 14, No. 6, June 2007, p. 6. Reprinted by permission.