August 20, 2017

Comments on Things Not Shaken

Don Johnson

Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.

We would do well to remember that the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was born out of a world of turmoil. We tend to be overwhelmed by the turmoil of our own age, but the 1920 Pre-Convention Conference occurred less than two years after the end of the First World War. Cortland Myers reminds us in his message “Things Not Shaken” as he opens with this:

I question whether there is any word in our vocabulary that would express quite as fully and emphatically the world’s present condition as the word used in this Scripture reference, that verb which is freighted with such deep meaning — “shaken.” There has never been a period in human history in which there has been condensed so much of dynamic element to shake this world as in this recent half of a decade. The guns on the battle-field and on the sea shook it and made it unsteady in its pathway. They shook cathedrals from their foundation. They shook factories into ruins. They shook cities into ashes. They shook fields and forests and orchards into wreckage and ruin. They shook the very rivers until they ran over their boundary-lines and then colored them with crimson. They sent millions of our fellow men into early graves. They shook your world into pestilence and famine and disease, starvation and death. We never dreamed of passing through such a period of shaking as these recent years.

Cortland Myers was no stranger to another kind of turmoil and shaking. He was the successful pastor of a number of Baptist churches, at the time of this Conference, he was pastor of Tremont Temple in Boston. He was known as an innovator. Some of his innovations cause our eyebrows to raise today — he brought in an assistant to specifically focus on men’s ministry, attempting to attract more men into the church. He used such things as Bible classes, piano lessons, gymnastics, a bowling league, and an employment bureau to bring them in. He also raised funds for his ministry by using his church building in an unusual way. The church building was originally a theatre, so the church during Myers pastorate doubled as a movie theatre. Apparently the church paid off a large amount of debt with movie receipts. We would no doubt question that tactic today.

Nevertheless, Myers was also known for his outspoken fundamentalism. He was preached at the Philadelphia Prophecy Conference of 1918 that called for a World Bible Conference the following year. This would become the first meeting of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.[1] The Cambridge Chronicle of Cambridge, Mass., reports on May 4, 1918 that Dr. Myers opposed allowing the local ministerial association to use the facilities of Tremont Temple for their meetings. The cause was a Unitarian minister being allowed to preach in another Baptist church in the area. One Unitarian minister preached a follow-up message against Dr. Myers called “The Kaiser of Tremont Temple.” A Methodist pastor, reacting to the controversy, said, “When chaplains at the front, Catholic, Jew and Protestant, are giving solace regardless of creed, ‘over there,’ it is no time tor Christian ministers to be quibbling over doctrinal differences ‘over here.’”[2]

It is no surprise, then, to see Dr. Myers preaching at the Pre-Convention Conference in support of still-forming fundamentalist movement. I’d like to note a few highlights of his message.

Everything has been shaken. Alas, some men’s faith has also been shaken. But I am rejoicing that in the midst of these world conditions and with no good outlook for the future, there are some things that cannot be shaken, and I am going to mention only those which are fortified and made absolutely secure by revelation.

First of all, the throne of God cannot be shaken. No matter what may take place in the world materially, no matter what may take place in its ultimate destination, no matter what may take place in any of the starry worlds, they may all disappear from their setting forever, and yet the throne of God at the center of this universe cannot be shaken. We have seen other thrones tremble, tumble, and fall. We have seen the crowns kicked around the earth and thrown into the rubbish-heap. We have seen the scepters used by the anarchist used as a walking-stick. We have seen throne after throne fall in the shaking process of these years, and some of them were considered the strongest and most durable thrones in the world. But they are gone in the period of a few days. One, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, all gone. Shaken from their foundation. The thrones of the earth are apparently insecure, seemingly on the increase of insecurity. No matter what you may name them. You may call them democratic it you please, and yet you mark them with instability and insecurity the moment you put them on top of the planet. It is all shaken, but when the thrones of the earth totter and tumble, the throne of God endureth forever. That is what the Scripture says.

~~~

That is what we need. That is what the ministers need. We have almost lost our authority, and when we have lost that, we have lost everything. We have lost the supernatural; and when we have lost that, we have lost everything. What the ministers of God need today is to understand that this thing is not, can not, will not be shaken. This is the authority and the only authority. It is not in any pope, it is not in any rationalistic idea. It is not in any man-made authority. This Book comes from God and is the divine authority and his revelation to men, and I hold it as mine.

~~~

Something else remains. The throne of God, the Book of God, the Church of God. I have my authority for it too. It came from the lips of the Son of God, and he ought to know. I do not, but he does. He said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Whatever he may have meant by that expression, he meant undoubtedly the extreme of all language to express the fact that there was nothing on earth or in hell that could ever shake the foundations of his church. That is a great comfort, is it not? He built his church according to his own statement on the heart of his gospel, that the great central fact of Christianity is in his deity. He said that was the foundation-stone on which his church should be built. Peter made the statement and Christ said, “That is where my church stands.” Not as an example; not as a teacher, good as he was. He walked through this world as no other man walked, but not that. He built his church not on any philosophy. He built it on no books, for he never wrote one. He built his church on the fact that God in the person of Christ came into this world and died on Calvary to save men. That is the foundation, and he said that church will never be budged or moved a hair’s breadth from that foundation.

That makes this true that there is no church in this world that does not rest on that foundation. Christian Science is not a church. It is a farce. It is a fake to call it a church. It is an organization. It is like other organizations, like world organizations, but the Church of Jesus Christ is founded on the deity of Jesus Christ, so Christian Science is no church. The Unitarians are no church. They are a club, because the church is built on the foundation-stone of the deity of Christ. The real church of Christ — I do not mean only the material structure of wood and stone, I mean the real spiritual church, the body of Christ, the men and women who belong to him everywhere in this world, that great organization known to God and cared for by God and waiting for Christ’s coming — that is the church which stands forever, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

I’ve noted that there are some aspects of Cortland Myers ministry that many of us would have some discomfort with today. Interestingly, a few years ago 9Marks published a review of his book, Why Men Do Not Go to Church. The reviewer makes some criticisms of the very things we would not be comfortable with.

Yet we have to say that God uses flawed thinking and flawed individuals to accomplish his purposes. We do well to learn from the mistakes of others, and we do even better to imitate their successes. Cortland Myers was a strong voice for fundamentalism, someone whose preaching America once noted and paid attention to. The Auckland Star (of Australia) published an article in 1926 in which they described him as “unquestionably one of the most famous. and forceful clergymen in the entire United States.”

When you read the message offered in yesterday’s post, you may well be struck by the eloquence and obvious conviction with which it is delivered. The style has almost disappeared from the pulpits of our modern world. While recognizing that every personality differs and no two preachers are called to preach exactly the same way, we could learn a thing or two about courage and conviction from the preaching of Cortland Myers. We sorely need more of it today. May God grant courage as we face the great “quakes” shaking today’s the twenty-first century church.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


Link to Baptist Fundamentals and other works available in Logos format as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives, produced by Maranatha Baptist University.

Baptist Fundamentals series:

Introduction

Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Historic Baptist Principles? … or the seed of defeat in the soil of revival

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (1)

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (2)

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage

Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

Comments on Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

An Unexpected Message

Comments on An Unexpected Message

The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (1)

The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (2)

Comments on The Bible at the Center of the Modern University

The Baptist Program of Evangelism

Comments on The Baptist Program of Evangelism

Things Not Shaken

  1. See David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism since 1850 (Greenville, S.C: Unusual Publications, 1986), pp. 98, 175, 194, 198 for a few more details. []
  2. Cambridge Chronicle, May 4, 1918 []


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