Sand Creek: Immediate Aftermath

May 25, 2006

Reaction to the Sand Creek Address and Declaration was predictably divided. There were the conservatives, whose cause the document had articulated in the most clear and certain terms possible. Their response was essentially “It’s about time!” And then there were the liberals, who were virtually labeled as heretics by the Sand Creek document. The liberals challenged the right of the Sand Creek signers to make such a determination about their status as brothers, as well as challenging that group’s right to forbid them to practice the “innovations” in dispute. While considering this polarized community, it is easy to overlook a third group, those who preferred to work things out rather than divide.

One contemporary response came from The Christian Standard. The Christian Standard was a publication founded in 1866 by Isaac Errett. (Errett died the year before the Sand Creek Address and Declaration). The paper took some of the more liberal positions on the issues of the day, coming out in support of missionary societies and instrumental music. After the 1906 split it followed the liberal wing, and continues to this day as a publication of the independent Christian churches.

The Christian Standard’s response was published September 28, 1889 in an article titled The Sand Creek Chronicles. The tone of the article was decidedly sarcastic, contrasting the issues of missionary societies, church festivals, church organs and the pastor with the issues that moved Luther, Wesley, and Campbell. The writer listed respected ministers and elders of the past who would not be regarded as brethren according to the Sand Creek standard. He closed by predicting that the Sand Creek signers, when they arrive at heaven and see those men inside, would be consistent with their convictions and stay out.

Another response appeared in the Gospel Advocate. The Gospel Advocate was founded by Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb (David Lipscomb’s older brother) in 1855. After an interruption during the Civil War, the paper resumed under the editorship of Fanning and David Lipscomb. The GA was on the conservative side of the spectrum compared to the Christian Standard, opposing such practices as missionary societies and instrumental music. The Gospel Advocate has experienced a few shifts in philosophy over the years but continues publishing today as a quite conservative voice of the churches of Christ.

The Gospel Advocate’s response was published three years after the Sand Creek event, in the November 7, 1892 issue. Apparently it was written in response to some criticism of the paper’s positions on the issues at hand. In the article Lipscomb claimed never to have seen the actual Address and Declaration until shortly before writing the article, having commented only hypothetically on it in previous articles. He stated the paper’s position to be that they opposed all the innovations which the Sand Creek signers cited. However Lipscomb (and the GA) did not support the right of the Sand Creek group “to assemble in a meeting or convention to oppose and provide a remedy for these sins of individuals and churches.” Although he had previously not seen the document, he says “I have now seen it, and do oppose all such unauthorized conventions, to exercise judicial or executive powers to suppress or maintain truth.” To Lipscomb the Address and Declaration was a case of doing evil with the intent that good may result.

The hidden effects of the Sand Creek pronouncement occurred in thousands upon thousands of families throughout America. Quoting from Sam Carter’s article in The Truth magazine in 1975:

While these abstract topics were at the heart of what was done at Sand Creek on this summer day, the personal and human side of the problem should not be ignored. The Declaration had bluntly stated that fellowship was to be withdrawn from those with whom the conservatives could not agree. This meant, in practical terms, that lifelong friends could not worship together unless somebody relented. It meant that women who had spent mornings on the back porch snapping beans or putting up pickles together may never meet again in a house of worship. Men who had shucked corn and baled hay and swapped stories together for years would never share participation in a mutual worship service again. Children who had played and hunted and swam together would never again attend services with their friends because their parents could not agree on how to run the church. It meant that family ties would be strained to the breaking point, and that tears and heartbreak would ensue as a result of hurt feelings and injured pride. Never again would peace reign in the community. All attempts at communication and understanding and compromise was to be halted, never to be resumed again. It was simply finished; forgotten.

In the next article we will consider how views on the Sand Creek Declaration and Address evolved as events continued to unfold, and subsequent history revealed its judgments.

Click for the complete series on Scriptures, Creeds, and Sand Creek


  1. Alan, thanks for this series, it’s been eye opening. It’s easy to look back from our perspective and see the folly in this division. I wonder what things that we are involved in folks will look back at and think “What were they thinking?!?”

  2. Hey Doug,I’m sure we’re stumbling around in the dark on some things. Hopefully we can learn from history, so at least we won’t make the same mistakes they did.Alan

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