The more things change . . .

August 18th, 2010 Post by

I just stumbled across this delightful Lutheran Witness article. I think it might have been written in 1916. I had to share it with you all:

Is This Christianity? — The Rev. Philip Yarrow, of Morgan Park, Chicago, plumped down three bottles of beer on his pulpit lately, explaining that he had bought them in the three country towns of Burr Oak, Mount Greenwood, and Blue Island, contrary to the Sunday closing law.

Rev. H. D. Knickerbocker, of Houston, Tex., announces that “next Sunday” he “will have in the pulpit a deck of cards, a schooner of beer, a hawk, and a shotgun. I am going to use them all,” explains the Rev. Knickerbocker, “in the warmest, the livest, the lightning-strikingest sermon I have preached in Houston. I will also give a $2.50 gold piece to any young man and lady who will give a demonstration of the modern dance in my pulpit.” The title of the series of talks commencing with this effort is: “This Is the Life.”

The same Mr. Knickerbocker announces a “boys’ and their daddies’ night.” The subject of the sermon-lecture will be in keeping, “The Boy and His Daddy.” “The Boy With a Yellow Streak,” “A Batter Cake Boy,” “The Adventures of a Pig,” “A Smart Aleck Is a Sucker,” “Watch Yourself,” will be some of the subheads. “One hundred and fifty boy scouts in uniform will be there. A big delegation of the Young Men’s Christian Association boys will be there. An enthusiastic crowd of newsboys will come in a body. It is expected that a large section of the main auditorium will be filled with just boys. Stereopticon pictures will be shown. A blue ribbon will be given to the boys’ organization or school or class having the largest per cent, of its membership present. Five prizes, consisting of a silver dollar each, will be given to the five boys bringing the biggest gang of boys with them.”

In San Jose, Cal., a Baptist preacher advertises that he will speak on the subject: “Is There a Soul? What Is It?” “Hear it — the largest and finest church chorus choir in this part of the State will sing the new popular church hymns. The beautiful symbolical ordinance of baptism by immersion upon several candidates at both services. Come in, the water is fine. Mr. and Mrs. Ben King, noted violinists, will play a duet. 1,200 free seats if you come in time.”

At the Church of the Messiah, New York City, “two little barefooted dancing girls supplanted last night the solemn gentlemen in cutaways who usually take up collections at the Church of the Messiah; stringed instruments of a sort quite strange to a church took the place of an organ, and the Bev. John Haynes Holmes, the pastor, himself appeared in flowing crimson and white robes and sandals in place of a black ministerial gown.

“The Messiah Players, an organization of men and women connected with the church at Park Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street, were giving ‘The Story of the Prophet Isaiah,’ dramatized by Eleanor Wood Whitman. Three reigns in the history of Judah were presented to symbolize the futility of preparedness for war and the doctrine of nonresistance. Pastor Holmes took the part of King Hezekiah. The Rev. Harvey Dee Brown was King Abaz, and Isaiah was played by John P. Whitman. Mrs. A. A. Oye was the chief dancer, Mrs. Eleanor Wood Whitman was Shelah, and other women’s parts were taken by Miss Ruth Brown, Miss Helen Ashley, Mrs. Otis Keel and Mrs. Forrest Westerfield. The cast included thirty-three persons. At the close of the second act the little dancing girls passed the collection plates, then walked down the center aisle balancing them on their heads in the manner of Syrian water-jugs.” — New York World, .Jan. 4, 1917.

The Episcopal Churchman, commenting upon the tendency towards sensationalism in the Reformed sects, later suggested that the streets may yet be brilliant with everchanging electric signs flashing forth, “The Congregationalistic Casino,” “The Baptist Hall of Joy.” “The Gospel Free Lunch and Picture Show.”

A secular daily, the New Orleans States, contained the following brief and pointed editorial February 1, 1917: —

” ‘Love Affairs of Jesus’ was the title of a revival sermon in New York a short time ago. We don’t know that we are more pious than we should be, but it strikes us that a preacher who can’t attract congregations without resorting to sacrilege should leave the pulpit, and make a living In moving pianos.” G.






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  1. James Sarver
    August 18th, 2010 at 06:27 | #1

    ” … it strikes us that a preacher who can’t attract congregations without resorting to sacrilege should leave the pulpit, and make a living In moving pianos.”

    Piano movers are well paid but not enough to keep up the payments on a private jet.

  2. John E
    August 18th, 2010 at 06:41 | #2

    It was around that time in history that the ALPB was started in the LCMS. They were, and still are, a faction that wanted to be “relevant” under the guise of wanting to change the veneer of the LCMS from German oriented to just good ol’ USA people.

  3. fisharmor
    August 18th, 2010 at 07:21 | #3

    Hey, this article is nothing like today. People today have no conception of what it’s like to use commodity money. ;)

    John E :
    It was around that time in history that the ALPB was started in the LCMS. They were, and still are, a faction that wanted to be “relevant” under the guise of wanting to change the veneer of the LCMS from German oriented to just good ol’ USA people.

    I can’t help but wonder what this group has to say about Spanish language ministries. 1914 to me seems a little early to have started cutting off German-born people from their mother tongue, and I wonder if they support doing the same with today’s immigrants. Such anti-German bias makes as much sense to me as anti-Hispanic bias.

  4. Carl Vehse
    August 18th, 2010 at 08:42 | #4

    Check out the Index to Vol. 36 of The Lutheran Witness. It’s a treasure trove of synodical thinking right at the beginning of WWI.

    And on p. 327 of Vol. 36, there’s an address, “Three Centuries of American Lutheranism,” delivered by Prof. A.L. Graebner at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) on “Lutheran day” in the summer of 1893.

  5. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    August 18th, 2010 at 08:59 | #5

    If you can find an Episcopalian who’d be willing to be called a ‘church-MAN’ he might have a thing or two to say about sensationalism, but it would be going on in his own parish.

  6. elnathan the younger
    August 18th, 2010 at 10:03 | #6

    What is just as interesting is the educational and informative article in the Witness. It’s difficult to find such today in any church publication including congregational newsletters. Like the sermons derided in the article, church publications today seem focused on entertainment and largely cutesy articles, having little substance.

  7. August 18th, 2010 at 10:04 | #7

    Mollie,

    Just yesterday someone asked me how the LCMS became as liberal as it had been in the 70s, before the walk-out. Your little find here answers the question.

    TW

  8. Mollie
    August 18th, 2010 at 10:08 | #8

    Isn’t it interesting that the Houston example of a sham preacher was titled “This is the Life”?

    Doesn’t that sound just like another Houston preacher of today?

  9. August 18th, 2010 at 10:49 | #9

    I need moar coffee. I read Knickerbocker’s sermon as “The Boy With a Yellow Cake.”

  10. Anonymous
    August 18th, 2010 at 11:22 | #10

    These anecdotes remind me of my pastor once telling me of his fund raising idea, “I know it’s a gimmick, but it works.”

  11. Rev. Roger D. Sterle
    August 18th, 2010 at 11:48 | #11

    @Carl Vehse #4
    Carl,

    Contact me off list [Norm supply him with my address please] about how you were able to find the LW index. I would like to read some of the old issues at my leisure!!

  12. JOHN HOOSS
    August 18th, 2010 at 12:00 | #12

    Hey all,
    I had some time to read some of the “witness” of 1917″ during lunch. Sheet 85 has an interesting comment on memorizing scripture texts.

    How strange things keep going in a circle.

    Thanks Mollie .

    John

  13. Carl Vehse
    August 18th, 2010 at 13:58 | #13

    Beside the 1917 volume of The Lutheran Witness (http://books.google.com/books?id=meIpAAAAYAAJ ), here are some other available volumes, thanks to Jojakim Dettmann posting them on LutherQuest (http://www.lutherquest.org/cgi-bin/discus40/show.cgi?tpc=84399&post=214090#POST214090):

    The Lutheran Witness 1915
    http://books.google.com/books?id=_pksAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1914
    http://books.google.com/books?id=K5osAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1913
    http://books.google.com/books?id=dposAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1893-94
    http://books.google.com/books?id=2ZgsAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1891-92
    http://books.google.com/books?id=2cMpAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1890-91
    http://books.google.com/books?id=lKopAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1887-88
    http://books.google.com/books?id=aqopAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1887-88
    http://books.google.com/books?id=aqopAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1886-7
    http://books.google.com/books?id=iaspAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1884-85
    http://books.google.com/books?id=mMspAAAAYAAJ

    The Lutheran Witness 1882-84
    http://books.google.com/books?id=9acpAAAAYAAJ

    FYI – From March 19, 196 post on the Wittenberg List:

    “THE LUTHERAN WITNESS began publication in 1882 with financial support from the Cleveland District Conference of the Missouri Synod. It’s [sic] initial purpose was to be an English-language response to the Ohio Synod’s magazine, the Lutheran Standard, in the predestinarian controversy. Eventually, the English Synod, organized in 1888, took the magazine as its official periodical. When the English Synod joined the Missouri Synod in 1911, it offered THE LUTHERAN WITNESS to the Missouri Synod. The offer was accepted, and THE LUTHERAN WITNESS became an official periodical of the LCMS, _alongside_ DER LUTHERANER.

    “The[y] were separate magazines and generally did not duplicate the content of the other. For a period, however, (I don’t have the dates at my fingertips) both were edited by Theodore Graebner. I can tell you, though, that from 1914 to 1949, Graebner co-edited THE LUTHERAN WITNESS with Martin Sommer, who was president of the English Synod when it became the English District of the Missouri Synod in 1911.”

  14. Carl Vehse
    August 18th, 2010 at 14:09 | #14

    Here are links to some Theological Quarterly volumes, Jojakim Dettmann posted on Luther Quest:

    The St. Louis Theological Monthly (1881-2)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=AbknAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1898)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=AUsoAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1899)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=fi8bAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1900)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=hnwiAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1901-2)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=vwAhAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1902)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=cxsRAAAAIAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1903-4)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=H-MkAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1905-6)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=FAggAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1906)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=WhsRAAAAIAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1907)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=IxsRAAAAIAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1908)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=9hoRAAAAIAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1907-8)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=7fskAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1909-10)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=qvIfAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1911-12)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=Sx8gAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1913-14)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=VeokAAAAYAAJ

    Theological quarterly (1915-16)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=6-okAAAAYAAJ

    Theological Quarterly (1917-19)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=ReskAAAAYAAJ

    Theological Monthly (1921)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=7QApAAAAYAAJ
    http://books.google.com/books?id=wxlKAAAAMAAJ

    Theological Monthly (1922)
    http://books.google.com/books?id=sBpKAAAAMAAJ

  15. Joe
    August 18th, 2010 at 14:34 | #15

    You gotta love the kind of writing that comes up with lines like the one about “The Gospel Free Lunch and Picture Show” and (elsewhere in the linked file):

    Sanctified Sneak-Thieves. — There are several denominations distinguished for their thieving propensities, and among these the most accomplished are the …, the …, and the …. Their methods are about as ethical as those of the Associated Porch-Climbers’ and Safe-Blowers’ Union, though not quite so raw.

  16. Mark Latham
    August 18th, 2010 at 18:10 | #16

    I grew up in Blue Island (as is mentioned in the first paragraph of the article) I never knew that little town was so famous (even though our house was just a half a block from the “Trackside Tap”!

  17. Mrs. Hume
    August 18th, 2010 at 20:04 | #17

    @Mollie #8

    I don’t know a thing about Osteen, but a boy on my son’s team attends there. Anyway, my son told him how disappointed he was that Obama was elected. The friend replied that he was as well, but God was still on his throne and still in charge. It was a pretty interesting conversation between two eleven year olds in the backseat that November. I don’t know if his sentiment reflects his home or what he learns at Osteen’s church, but it was interesting. Osteen is very popular. I have Catholic friends and Baptist friends who attend there occasionally or listen to him and say he is a good speaker even though they are members elsewhere.

  18. Helen
    August 19th, 2010 at 07:13 | #18

    @Mrs. Hume #16
    Osteen is very popular.

    I have a Hindu colleague who watches him on TV.
    She wanted to know if I did.

  19. GaiusKurios
    August 19th, 2010 at 09:34 | #19

    John E #2
    Good point about the ALPB. It is an organization whose time came and has long since past. It is the “buggy whip factory” of today.

  20. helen
    August 19th, 2010 at 10:26 | #20

    @John E #2
    a faction that wanted to be “relevant” under the guise of wanting to change the veneer of the LCMS from German oriented to just good ol’ USA people.

    Still do… now it’s good ol’ American civil religion people. :(

  21. Don Kohls
    August 19th, 2010 at 21:37 | #21

    @Carl Vehse #14
    Thank you for posting the links to the Lutheran Witness and the Theological Quarterly there is a lot of good information to read. We need to learn all we can about the history of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
    We should be thankful to God for all the good He has given us in the past history of the Missouri Synod. We need to learn from history and learn from the past events in other churches. If we do not the Missouri Synod will go down like the ELCA.
    God has given us new leadership in the Missouri Synod but we should not set back and think we can be ” carried to the skies On flowry beds of ease While others fought to win the prize And sailed thro’ bloody-y seas?” The new leadership needs our prayers and support and not let them fight the battle alone. The power is in the Word of God but if we think we can win the battle with our own might we will fail.

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