I Love Texas! And I love Texas History!
(The following is generously adapted from an interesting article I recently read by, Al Maxey, #697)
“The Texas Heresy” of Austin McGary
The Sheriff of Madison County, Texas, who impacted Christian thought and doctrine, standing his ground, on the Texas-American Frontier.
Austin McGary was born in Huntsville, Texas on February 6, 1846. His mother, Elizabeth (Visier) McGary, died when he was a young child. His father, Isaac McGary, was well-known in Texas, as he fought in the Battle of San Jacinto in the spring of 1836, a battle often described as the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution, a battle led by Gen. Sam Houston. Isaac McGary further had the distinction of guarding Santa Ana the night after he was captured by Gen. Houston’s army. The young Austin McGary grew up in Huntsville, and not a lot is known about his early years, although he would later characterize his youth as “wayward.” 🙁 ( I figure, folks prolly have too often used the term “wayward” about me through the years, as well )
But, “McGary grew up in a rough, frontier environment. When the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Huntsville Grays” (a unit of the Confederate Army) with Sam Houston, Jr. while still in his mid-teen years. “In 1869, he was involved in what he later called ‘a serious difficulty with two men in Midway, Texas,’ when McGary killed one of them and seriously wounded the other. He was charged with murder, and McGary pled self-defense and was acquitted” [taken from The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 507]. The young McGary had no real religious leanings at all, and remained a “skeptic” until the age of 35.
In 1872, McGary was elected sheriff of Madison County, Texas, a position he held for two terms. In 1877, while still serving as sheriff, “McGary shot and killed a suspect who ‘made a desperate effort to draw his pistol'”. These were rough times in Texas, and Austin McGary was a tough, no nonsense sheriff. After his two terms as sheriff, McGary worked for the state of Texas along the Texas-Mexico border as a conveying agent: transporting “condemned prisoners and desperadoes” to the state penitentiary. It is said that he “never lost a man” during these many transports. McGary was married three times: (1) In 1866, when only 20, he married Narcissus Jenkins, who was only 16. They had two children together. She died in 1872. (2) In 1875 he married Lucie Bettie Kitrell, by whom he had nine more children. She died in 1897. (3) His third and final wife was Lillian Otey, a lifelong friend, whom he married in 1898. Austin McGary died in Houston, Texas on June 15, 1928 and was buried beside his mother in Huntsville, Texas.
Interestingly enough, his view of baptism and how that perspective impacted the Christian bodies of Faith, far beyond Texas, Tennessee and beyond, who were all gathering/denominating into this and or that faction of Christian Faith Families, in the years that lay ahead, is an extraordinary story from Texas History.
“In 1881, a ‘skeptic’ at age 35, McGary determined to study the evidences for Christianity, beginning by reading the Campbell-Owen debate”. It has been characterized by some as “The Great Debate,” and was held in April, 1829 in Cincinnati, Ohio between Alexander Campbell and a Scottish skeptic and socialist named Robert Owen. It was a debate on the evidences of Christianity, and by most accounts Campbell clearly prevailed in this public exchange, which took place in a large Methodist Church building which seated 1200. As a result of studying this published debate, and also after hearing a series of sermons by Harry Hamilton in Madisonville, Texas, he determined to embrace Christ Jesus and was subsequently baptized by Hamilton on December 24, 1881. He then affiliated himself with a Family of Faith known as the Churches of Christ. “Soon McGary began to preach. By early 1884 he was discussing the design and administration of baptism with David Lipscomb (1831-1917) in the Gospel Advocate and Thomas Raines Burnett (1842-1916) in the Christian Messenger”.
To say that McGary developed and championed some very strong views on the nature and purpose of baptism in water would most certainly be a huge understatement. He believed his view was absolutely correct, and that the views of all others were therefore absolutely false. He did not hold back in his attacks upon those with whom he differed, the most notable of his opponents being David Lipscomb. He carried on somewhat of a running debate with Lipscomb in the Gospel Advocate (which was Lipscomb’s publication). However, not fully satisfied with that, he decided to publish a weekly paper of his own. Thus, on September 1, 1884 he founded and began publication of the Firm Foundation. Both these periodicals (Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation), by the way, are still being published by Churches of Christ today.
McGary stated that his purpose in publishing the Firm Foundation was “to oppose everything in the work and worship of the church for which there was not a command or an apostolic example or a necessary Scriptural inference.” This, of course, is the interpretive methodology embraced by many conservative Christian Families of Faith. Austin McGary also had another goal in mind with this publication: “to counter the influence of the publications of the Advocate and Messenger on the issue of baptism”. Through the publication of this paper, and his tendency to write mostly on controversial subjects and in an extremely confrontational and combative style, McGary became very well-known among the leaders of conservative Christian Families of Faith, and his impact upon the Christian movement in America became widespread, even as a number of “big name” preachers in the Movement stood strongly against McGary’s views: men such as David Lipscomb, James A. Harding and J.W. McGarvey, just to name a few.
Lipscomb, for example, believed that a baptism should be considered valid if the person being baptized did so simply out of a love for the Lord and a desire to follow His instructions. There was no need to fully grasp a “deeper” significance or purpose of baptism; it was enough just to know that the Lord desired for those who believed to be baptized. This was not good enough for McGary, who declared a person must also understand that baptism in water was specifically for the purpose of washing away one’s sins, and that those sins could only be removed in the very act/moment of immersion in water. Those who didn’t know this, and who didn’t verbally confess this, before being baptized would thereby invalidate their baptism, and thus would die in their sins unforgiven. “Lipscomb and Burnett opposed McGary’s view of baptism, arguing that any persons baptized to obey/in obedience of God, even if they were ignorant of the “fuller” design of forgiveness of sins, were still acceptable to God. Lipscomb and Burnett sometimes accepted those who had been immersed in other denominations such as, Baptist churches, without requiring that they be re-immersed. McGary called this practice ‘shaking in the Baptists.’ On other fronts McGary attacked the use of musical instruments in worship and excoriated missionary societies. Over time many of the most conservative Families of Faith such as the Churches of Christ embraced McGary’s rejection of Baptist baptism and Disciples ‘digressions'”. The theology of McGary with respect to baptism came to be dubbed among his detractors: “The Texas Heresy.”
As the debates about the ‘significance and emphasis” of baptism, in Christian Faith communities continued through the years, it also intensified. In keeping with his rough style, McGary called Lipscomb “insincere, dissembling, double-dealing, and Janus-faced.” He further wrote, “Charity demands that I shall brand him as a willful perverter of the truth he pretends to love, and a religious reprobate of the most hypocritical cast”. Ironically, however, the accuser soon found himself the accused. In a “snake oil” scandal concerning Dr. Burlington, who had been peddling a medicinal remedy in the religious periodicals called “Burlington Treatment,” it was discovered that this “medicine” was nothing more than tar water, and “Dr. Burlington” was Austin McGary! “This scandal damaged McGary’s reputation … but did not diminish his devotion to his causes”.
Austin McGary was convinced that salvation began at the precise point of baptism in water, and not a second before! He was also convinced that if the person being baptized did not know/confess that it was specifically for the forgiveness of sins, then the baptism did not count. He thus became the champion of those who taught, and who would teach in the future, a largely knowledge-based and performance-based salvation which was only realized at the point of immersion in water. McGary, in reaction to the practice of Lipscomb and others, refused to accept any baptism performed by Baptists. To this day, the “ultra-conservative” factions of Christian Families of Faith gathering across these United States and beyond, that split off from the Stone-Campbell Movement continue to proclaim the convictions of Austin McGary as “Gospel.”
There has been a steady adjustment, over the past few decades from some past ideas and reasoning’s about God’s Word, that all too often have been used as a destructive and divisive weaponry against those who would disagree with us, in an effort to conform “us all” to what “we” have decided is right. Disciples of Christ/Families of Faith, are more and more re-examining Christian doctrine and practices, in light of God’s Word, and we are often finding that the views of such men as McGary, and others, have not always been as accurately emphasized, applied, practiced or proclaimed, as the Word of God may have fully intended.
May we all as believers continue to grow in our grasp of God’s grace and His Word and in our fellowship with one another, as Families of Faith, who believe First And Foremost, in our relationship with and our love for The Father, His Son and The Holy Spirit.
God Bless Texas! And the rest of ya’ll, too! 🙂Share on Facebook