Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Memories of Dr. J. Frank Norris ... by Dr. Louis Arnold

I did not know Dr. J. Frank Norris intimately, but our paths crossed a few times. I shall never forget those few brief contacts.
In my early ministry I ordered a book Dr. Norris had written, entitled, Inside the Cup. From that book I learned much of his ministry as pastor of two great churches, First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas and Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan. Although these churches were 1,300 miles apart, he pastored them simultaneously and still managed to travel and preach in many parts of the United States and in several foreign countries.
When he returned to one of his churches after an extended absence, it was widely advertised that he would preach both morning and evening in the church on Sunday. Record crowds always attended the services when he preached.
From Dr. Norris’ book I learned something of the battles he was fighting. He had declared war on communism, liberalism, evolution, organized crime, gambling, the liquor interest, and corruption in high places. He was fighting battles on many fronts and winning more than his share of victories.
I subscribed to The Fundamentalist, Dr. Norris’ weekly paper. I soon learned that, in addition to his other battles, he was making war on Southern Baptists, and many of their preachers were leaving the convention. Some were bringing their churches out, and others were starting new independent Baptist churches. Eventually I learned that Dr. Norris was to preach in the Lockland Baptist Church in Lockland, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Ben Hillard was then pastor of the church. Lockland Baptist was a great church at that time, but it had not attained the size or influence that it did later under the leadership of Dr. John Rawlings. Dr. Rawlings moved the church to its present location and renamed it Landmark Baptist Temple. He pastored there for many years, and under his leadership the church reached an average attendance of more than 4 thousand. They frequently had 7 thousand on high days.
I was pastor of a church I had organized in Warfield, Kentucky when I learned that Dr. Norris was to preach at Lockland Baptist, and I drove to Lockland to hear him. Because of the distance and bad road conditions, the service had started when I arrived. Every seat in the auditorium was taken, and I had to stand in the vestibule to hear Dr. Norris preach.
After the service the pastor was scheduled to perform a wedding. Most of the congregation stayed, but Dr. Norris came out and stood in the vestibule while the wedding was in progress. I introduced myself to him and told him where I was pastoring. We talked briefly, and I did not see him again until I visited his church in Detroit a few years later. Apparently he never forgot a name or a face, for he called me by name when I entered his office.
In the spring of 1944 I boarded a train for Detroit, Michigan without knowing why I was going there, where I would stay, or what I would do when I got there. From the human viewpoint, that was the craziest thing I had ever done.
That Saturday morning I had been busy with plans for Sunday services in the church I was pastoring near Lexington, Kentucky. I was to teach a Sunday school class and preach morning and evening. Then there had come a strong impression that I should catch the noon train and go to Detroit. The impression made no sense to me. My people were expecting me to be in my pulpit on Sunday, and had no reason to leave my responsibility and go to a strange city with nothing to do and no one to see. Besides, I really could not afford the expense of the trip.
The impression that I should go to Detroit became stronger, and I became convinced that God must be leading me to go. At last, I told the Lord that I would go, even though I did not know why, if a preacher I knew could preach for me on Sunday. I phoned a brother preacher hoping that he would tell me he was scheduled to preach elsewhere. To my dismay, the brother said he would be glad to preach for me.
I packed hurriedly, rushed to the railroad station and boarded the train. I rode all night, sitting up in a day coach, and finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. At dawn, as the train was pulling into the station in Detroit, a man shook me awake.
“We have to get off here,” he said. “This is the end of the line.”
I awoke, not knowing what to expect. I did not know why I had come to Detroit or what I was supposed to do. I knew that Dr. Norris preached in Temple Baptist Church part of his time, but I had no reason to believe that he would be in Detroit at this time.
“My name is Sam Jesse,” the man who had awakened me said, demanding my attention. “I am pastor of an independent Baptist church in Burton, Kansas.”
“My name is Louis Arnold. I am pastor of South Elkhorn Baptist Church near Lexington, Kentucky,” I replied.
“I suppose you have come to the fellowship meeting,” he said.
“I certainly have. Where is it?” I responded.
“Temple Baptist Church. Dr. Norris will be there. Preachers will be coming from all over. The meetings will go all week. We are going to have a great time.”
I told Brother Jesse that I probably could not afford to stay for all the meeting, but he assured me the church would furnish all meals and that lodging would be provided in the homes of the members.
“Then I’ll stay,” I told him.
The train screeched to a stop, and we collected our bags and got off. Two men came out of the crowd that was waiting for the train to arrive and asked if we were preachers. We pled guilty.
“We have come to take you to the church,” one of them told us. There were other men looking for preachers who needed a ride. Our driver found another preacher who needed a ride, then led us to his car.
We were soon driving through the early morning traffic on our way to Temple Baptist Church. When we reached the church we were ushered into a large dining room where breakfast was soon to be served. What a welcome we received. Preachers were shaking hands, talking, getting acquainted and having a good time.
I still remember the hot biscuits, bacon, eggs and coffee we were served for breakfast. After breakfast we were registered and assigned to homes where we were to lodge. Then there was more visiting and fellowshipping until Sunday school time.
Soon we preachers crossed the street to the main auditorium of the Temple Baptist Church. There I attended the largest Sunday school class I had ever seen. There were about 2 thousand adults, including the preachers who had arrived for the meeting. Dr. G. B. Vick taught the class, and it was a blessing to hear him.
I can never forget the service that followed, the great crowd, Dr. Norris’ commanding presence, veteran missionary, Fred Donnelson and family, Oscar Wells and others who had miraculously escaped from Communist China, Dr. Norris’ exceeding tenderness as he brought them to the platform and presented them to the great audience, the great singing, the sermon Dr. Norris preached—and the invitation. I had never seen so many people saved in one service. More than 70 people confessed faith in Christ in that one service. I was overwhelmed. I thought Dr. Norris had preached an average sermon. The invitation had seemed almost indifferent, yet more than 70 people had been saved. The service that night was a repeat performance, great singing, an average sermon, a poor invitation, and more than 30 people made a profession of faith. Again I was amazed. I had never seen such results before.
That night I went home with the church family I was to stay with. I could hardly wait until I was seated in the living room with my host so I could ask him the questions that were clamoring for answers.
“Do you have people saved in your church every Sunday?” I asked as soon as we were seated. He told me that the numbers were not always as great, but that they did indeed have people saved every Sunday.
“How do you do it?” was my next question.
“Let me take myself as an example,” he replied. “I work for Ford Motor Company to pay expenses, but my business is serving God. There are hundreds of others in our church who do the same. They work in various places, but their business is serving the Lord.
“In our church something goes on almost every night. Sunday night and Wednesday night we have services. Other nights people meet for prayer. Then they go out two by two from door to door to win souls. When someone gets saved they follow up and get them in church the next Sunday if at all possible. Then they sit with them, or near them, and pray for them while the pastor preaches. When the invitation starts, they say to them, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ and they lead them down the aisle to make their public profession of faith. That is how we do it.”
That week I learned more about winning souls and building a church than I had ever learned before.
The third and last time I saw Dr. Norris was in the chapel of Bible Baptist Seminary at First Baptist Church in Fort Worth. I did not go to Fort Worth with the intention of seeing Dr. Norris. In fact, Fort Worth was not in my travel plans. But God rearranged my schedule so I would see him.
Dr. Mordecai Ham had given me the broadcast he had been conducting on radio station KWBU, a 50 thousand watt station, in Corpus Christi, Texas. After doing the broadcast by recording for some months, I decided to go to Corpus Christi and do the broadcast in person for a time. I thought that preaching live and making some personal appearances in the area would help build the listening audience.
I started to Corpus Christi in my own plane, but after refueling, in Jackson, Tennessee, the engine started icing up every time I attempted to climb the plane above 400 feet. I couldn’t fly on to Texas at that altitude, so I decided to leave the plane and go the rest of the way by bus. When I returned from Texas I learned that the plane had been refueled with gas that was unsuited for it. If I had not had the problem, I would not have gone by Fort Worth, but the bus schedule took me that way.
When I reached Fort Worth, I decided to spend the night and visit First Baptist Church while I was there. I had no idea that Dr. Norris would be there, but I wanted to see the church.
When I arrived at the church the next morning, I found a fellowship meeting in progress, and I decided to stay and attend the meeting that day.
The meeting was being held in the chapel. I went in, found a seat, and heard one preacher after another preach, but, to my disappointment, Dr. Norris was not to be seen. I kept wondering where he was and if he would make an appearance. At last they presented the final speaker of the morning. When he finished we were to be dismissed for the noon meal.
Just as the brother arose to preach, a door opened behind the pulpit, and 15 or more seminary students burst through the doorway, walked across the platform, down the center aisle, and out the front door of the chapel. Each one of them had a large bundle of The Fundamentalist, Dr. Norris’ paper, under his arm. Of course the brother could not begin to preach with all that commotion going on.
When the last of the students had left the chapel, Dr. Norris came through the door and walked to the pulpit. He pushed the brother aside, cleared throat and said, “Those young men you saw are students in our seminary. The papers they are carrying are copies of the latest issue of The Fundamentalist.” He held up a copy of the paper. On the front page was a picture of a preacher.
“The picture is of Dr. . . ,” Dr. Norris said, pointing. (He gave the preacher’s name, but I have forgotten who he was). Dr. Norris continued, “He’s a modernist. He doesn’t believe the Bible. He’s an infidel, and he’s speaking out on Cemetery Hill.” (He was referring to the Southwestern Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). “Our boys are going out there to pass out copies of The Fundamentalist to people as they go in to hear this infidel. In this article I exposed him for what he is.”
Dr. Norris reached in his inside coat pocket and pulled out a telegram. “Here is a telegram I received from the people out on Cemetery Hill. They say that if any more of our boys come out there to pass out copies of The Fundamentalist, they’re going to have them arrested.”
“I called judge, so and so, a personal friend of mine, and said, judge if they arrest any of our boys and haul them into court, I want a public trial in a place large enough to hold our crowd. The judge said, ‘Dr. Norris, the only place I know of that will hold your crowd is First Baptist Church. If they arrest any of your boys, we’ll try them in the First Baptist Church.’”
Dr. Norris paused, then said, “The old cat has got her tail caught in the crack under the door. She’s scratching the varnish off the floor, but it’s her tail.”
Dr. Norris turned and walked back through the door behind the platform, and the brother who was to preach had to try to go on with the service. I cannot remember what he did or what he said.
What shall I say of Dr. Norris? Certainly he was controversial and flamboyant. He has been called, “The Texas Tornado.” l have heard that he could be harsh, caustic, even mean. From personal observation, I know he could be very tender and compassionate. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of preachers who knew Dr. Norris far better than I knew him. However, this I know. Dr. Norris had much to do with the fundamental movement we have today.
Dr. Norris went to his reward in 1952. Regarding his home going, Walter M. Moore wrote, “Your friend and my friend has been promoted to Glory, “To Die Is Gain” was a favorite text of his. On Wednesday morning, August 20th, 1952, Dr. Norris laid down his Bible and slipped away to be with the Lord. He was a great preacher and Christian statesman. He fought a good fight. He finished his course. He kept the faith. He loved the cause of righteousness. He loved men. He counseled with presidents and kings. He mingled with the common herd. Dignitaries sought his advice, and common people heard him gladly.”
Dr. Norris left the earthly scene at 2:15 in the morning after preaching for Dr. Bob Ingle in Jacksonville, Florida the night before. Dr. Ingle had organized and built a great church in Jacksonville. Dr. Norris had had a tremendous influence on Dr. Ingle, and they had become good friends.
A few years after Dr. Norris’ death I preached for Dr. Ingle. After the night service, Mrs. Ingle told Mrs. Arnold that it was almost as if Dr. Norris had planned his home going from their city. He had preached a great sermon on Sunday night. After the service they had gone to a restaurant with Dr. Norris. He had been in high spirits, and they had had no idea that the next morning he would be gone.
A few years after Dr. Norris had gone to his reward, I attended a fellowship meeting in Fort Worth. In that meeting, one speaker after another said, “From Dr. Norris I learned to weep over souls. From Dr. Norris I learned how to lead people to Christ. I owe the ministry I have to the influence of Dr. J. Frank Norris.”

Copied with permission by Dr. Louis Arnold

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