The J Frank Norris
I Have Known
For 34 years
Dr. Louis Entzminger
“What is needed is a school that teaches the whole English Bible. What is needed is a school that will take men from the engine cab, from between the plowshares and teach them the Bible. What is needed is a school that is free from modernism. What is needed is a school that will teach a man how to go out with the Bible under his arms, faith in his heart, and in the power of the Holy Spirit begin in a vacant lot and build a church to the glory of God.”
— J Frank Norris
THIS BOOK IS IN FOUR GENERAL DIVISIONS:
Personal Early Life, Education and Family
Tragic Experiences —
Conflicts With Mayors, Governors, Courts
Denominational Controversies On Evolution,
Ecclesiasticism, Modernism and Communism
Scriptural Methods Used In Building The World’s
Two Greatest Sunday Schools and Churches
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Dr. Louis Entzminger was a giant among Giants… He excelled in many areas and many of his contemporaries considered him to be the best in building aggressive, soulwinning Sunday Schools and in Teaching God’s Word.
In 1949 a careful survey of the 25 largest Sunday Schools on the North American continent revealed that 23 of them had Dr. Louis Entzminger to come and conduct an enlargement campaign and establish his Sunday School system in them. Among those churches and pastors were – 1st Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Dr. J Frank Norris; Temple Baptist Church, Detroit, G. W. Vick; 1st Baptist Church of Minneapolis, Dr. W. B. Riley; Moody Church of Chicago, W. P. Philpot; Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto, Canada, T. T. Shields; Broadway Baptist of Knoxville, Tennessee, Herschel Ford.
Dr. Entzminger was Dean of the Bible Baptist Seminary of Fort Worth, Texas and was considered by many to be the greatest Bible teacher of his day. The simple style which he had in bringing to the surface the rich nuggets from God’s Holy Word still can be enjoyed today in the many books which Dr. Entzminger left behind.
This “man among men” did as much for Baptists as any man in his generation, and paved the way for thousands of Bible-believing Baptists to identify themselves as a spiritual entity to be reckoned with, known as independent, fundamental Baptists.
His personal contacts included interviews with such notables as priests, prime ministers, popes, and presidents. He spoke the language of the commoner and the king, feeling equally at ease with both. In the archives are autographed pictures of Norris and Churchill together with letters from Truman and Speaker Rayburn. Whether he was in the office of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Pope in Rome, or the Prime Minister in London, he was capable of leading the conversation in political and religious topics of international interest. Whether he was preaching in an open air meeting in Detroit or the spacious Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London, he spoke with the same clarion voice, and preached the same glorious gospel. Whether he stood in a courtroom or a state legislation hall, he was listened to as a man who knew his subject and sensed the needs of his audience.
By Bruce Cummins, Pastor Massillon Baptist Temple,
My first few days in Fort Worth, Texas, the first time I met Dr. J Frank Norris, and the first time I heard him preach, all made a lasting impression upon my life to say the least.
With great anticipation I looked forward to that first service in the First Baptist Church, and to hearing Dr. Norris preach.
The morning service – thousands of people – great music by the choir, and a congregation that could make the rafters ring with their singing.
Then, that tall, slim Texan stepped to the pulpit to preach. He wore a steel grey suit that matched his steel grey eyes—he opened his Bible, read the text, and PREACHED! Dr. J Frank Norris was an imposing figure, and a great pulpiteer.
He thrilled and challenged our hearts as he spoke in College Chapel services, and as he expounded the Word in his Sunday sermons from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church.
We left that school with the words of Dr. J Frank Norris ringing in our ears: “You can go anywhere in these United States, or the world, with nothing but faith in God, and this old Bible under your arm, and build a Church for the glory of God!” We had no better sense than to believe it!
Dr. Norris challenged our hearts to stand for God and right, no matter what! He told of his fight against modernism in the pulpits and in the schools of the Southern Baptist Convention – even in his own alma mater, Baylor University. He challenged them doctrinally, and on their questioning the Word of God. One of his great battles was concerning the (false) Theory of Evolution.
This preacher, who started out in life as an invalid, then weak, sickly, and frail; sometimes in his early ministry only able to speak for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, is surely an evidence of God’s Grace and enabling power!
Dr. J Frank Norris was, to state it quite mildly, an unusual man.
He was a man with strong will, and great energy and drive. He was a man of great and unusual preaching ability. He was a diligent personal soulwinner. He was a great friend to young preachers.
Dr. J Frank Norris was a man marvelously blessed and greatly used of God! I am so glad I knew him personally, and was permitted to sit at his feet, and hear him preach the Word.
Few men have so impressed my life and helped form my ministry as has Dr. J. Frank Norris.
I thank God for his influence and his memory.
To Be Read
In writing this biographical sketch of Dr. J Frank Norris, I am not trying to write from the commonly accepted point of a real biography.
If I were writing about the average great man it would be an easy matter to trace his life from his ancestry and birth to its end.
But I doubt if there ever was a man in the Christian world since the apostolic days where there is such diversity and variety of experiences and of service.
Then, too, his life necessarily must be presented from many angles, so instead of following the usual lines in writing this biographical sketch; I have used materials from different sources.
For instance, I quoted several chapters from one of Dr. J Frank Norris’ former publications, “Inside the Cup.” These former chapters in the new setting make a very vital part of his life’s ministry.
In the next place, I use several of his sermons and a number of conclusions from sermons formerly stenographically reported and many of them published in his paper, or from former publications of his. These sermons and portions of sermons seep to me to present an angle of his ministry that could not otherwise be presented.
I have also asked Mr. G. B. Vick for the use of several articles he has written about Dr. J Frank Norris at different times, which I consider valuable for the purposes of this work. It is certainly not my purpose to flatter when I say that Mr. Vick is the greatest layman in Christian service I have ever known. His life’s work is a greater testimony to that fact than any poor words of mine. He became associated with Dr. Norris when a mere lad and his intimate association with him enables him to speak about these things that will give the reader an important angle to the diversity of Dr. J Frank Norris’ character and work.
I have had to get Dr. Norris’ assistance on many things presented to confirm things that I knew and yet not in every detail as I wanted to present them. There are some of the stories about incidents and experiences in his life, which I take the privilege of presenting, that might be open to criticism, but when you are writing about a man who has been hounded by the bloodhounds of hell; who has been maligned and slandered, and in many instances by good men whose minds were prejudiced against him, and unjustly so; when the great denominational leaders, many of them truly good men, sought for some reason or other to destroy his life’s work; when the lowest dives and gangsters of the underworld have been used to malign his character and wreck his ministry, I feel that the readers of this volume are entitled to know some of these really tragic things that took place in connection with his long and varied ministry.
There is necessarily some repetition but not without purpose. In certain great addresses made by Dr. J Frank Norris , which I have used, he uses, in some instances, the same incidents and experiences. To cut these out in the connection in which they are used would mutilate the address and the reader would thereby lose the true perspective or the purpose of the address itself.
I may be criticized for some things I say about some great and good men who have contacted Dr. J Frank Norris’ life from different angles. Far be it from me to reflect on anybody’s good name but these different men are so interwoven with Dr. Norris’ experiences and ministry that it would be almost impossible to present to the reader many of the things vital to a true presentation of this story without these personal references.
As to the facts recorded in this work, many of them I did not personally observe but the facts, as I present them, have been confirmed by those who did and in some instances by those who, in former years, were greatly prejudiced against Dr. J Frank Norris.
Most of these great addresses and sermons I heard. Most of these experiences related in this book were occurrences in his life while I was personally associated with him the major part of the last 34 years.
My prayer is that in presenting this work God will use it for the encouragement of multiplied thousands of faithful ministers who know the difficulties, the hardships, the sufferings of a minister of the gospel who is true to the Word of God, and I believe the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be honored and glorified through the influence of these facts in the life of the most unusual man of all my acquaintance and of all my knowledge in Christian history.
The Author and Editor,
From the Most Despised and Defeated Preacher to the Pastor of the World’s Largest Membership J Frank Norris
What is the secret of this, the most remarkable success in the history of modern times?
Dr. J Frank Norris, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, and Temple Baptist Church, Detroit… Following Report of 13 Years’ Joint Pastorate:
Over 25,000 additions to both churches.
Over three million, one hundred fifty thousand dollars raised for all purposes.
Three million three hundred thousand dollars of real estate and buildings of both churches.
Eighteen million, six hundred seventy thousand copies of Fundamentalist, weekly paper, has carried the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.
During the time, 38 years Fort Worth, 13 years Detroit, the pastor has traveled 904,000 miles.
Two largest Sunday Schools in the world judged by the average attendance.
Both Sunday Schools use Bible only as textbook in all classes instead of hop-skip International lesson series.
Both Churches support New Testament World Fundamental Baptist Missionary Fellowship, and have no part or lot in any ecclesiastical machine.
Dr. J FRANK NORRIS’ FAVORITE POEM WHICH HE OFTEN REPEATS FROM MEMORY
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies;
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on.’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”
– “IF” – Kipling.
By Louis Entzminger
I am writing this inside story for several reasons.
First, during the 34 years that I have known and been associated with J Frank Norris I have been asked questions concerning him from coast to coast. And I am going to put down, over my own signature, the answers to many of these questions. It will be no eulogy, it will be a blunt, straightforward, honest review of this remarkable man whose name has received more publicity, pro and con, than any living minister.
Second, what is the secret, the mainspring of a minister’s life who is pastor of the largest membership in the world? He has been pastor of the First Baptist Church for 38 years and of Temple Baptist Church for 13 years, making a total of more than 50 years in these two churches. There’s not another similar pastorate on the face of the whole earth in this generation.
Third, no man since the Apostle Paul has been so maligned and all manner of evil said against him as J. Frank Norris. And when I say all manner of evil, I mean, literally, that has been true.
Fourth, how has he sustained great crowds, the greatest that I know of, in the same two churches, and having increasing results in multitudes saved and baptized?
Fifth, how did he build and maintain what has been, for many years, the two largest Sunday Schools in the world?
Sixth, how did he build from the ground up, without any rich people but from the gifts of poor people, more than two million dollars of most practical church properties?
Seventh, how from broken health 35 years ago, and financial bankruptcy, he struggled on to the finest of robust health, which he has enjoyed for many years.
Eighth, how he won the friendship and admiration of a great city where once he was despised with only a little handful of poor people for him, and all of the business, political and ecclesiastical organizations combined against him – how he not only survived it but how they turned out to be his strongest friends and supporters
July 9, 1913, while secretary of the Sunday School work for the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky I received the following telegram:
‘’Would you consider coming as superintendent of First Baptist Sunday School, Fort Worth, to build the largest Sunday School in the world at same salary you are receiving there? If so will you come to Fort Worth my expense for conference?
(Signed) J FRANK NORRIS
I replied immediately I would come.
I came to Fort Worth, arriving Friday morning about two weeks later.
The storms were raging around this man at that time and, using Dr. J Frank Norris’ own words, “razor blades were flying a thousand feet high.”
I confess that I came with much trepidation and I wondered what kind of man was this that the newspapers were headlining and maligning, but I came.
The church had been destroyed by fire; the membership was scattered. He had a small group under a flat-opped tabernacle at the corner of Seventh and Burnett.
When I walked up to the platform I saw a long, tall, lean, gaunt young fellow and I knew he wasn’t the J Frank Norris I was looking for, and I asked him:
“Can you tell me where I can find Dr. J Frank Norris?”
In a soft-spoken voice he said, “I am he.”
I could not believe my eyes. There we sat and talked thought was, “is this quiet-looking, soft-spoken young fellow the one that has been the storm center of the political and church life of Fort Worth and Texas?”
But as I talked on – he said very little – he gave one of his characteristic quick turns of his head and looked me squarely in the eye and I said to myself, “Oh, there is somebody at home” for I could feel his piercing steel-grey eyes going through me.
At the close of our first interview he said:
“Now, Entzminger, you can hear all manner of evil things about me, and I want you to hear them all to start with. Therefore, you take your time, talk to everybody and anybody, especially my enemies.”
I went to Dallas and I talked to several of the denominational leaders and found many very sharp criticisms, but I also found a very strong friend in the person of the greatest statesman Southern Baptists ever produced – Dr. James B. Gambrell!
I went out to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and talked to some members of the faculty and students and then I went incognito and interviewed many business men and newspaper men, and I found everybody in Fort Worth was either ready to hang him or deify him – nobody was neutral.
Sunday morning he asked me to speak. I suppose there were approximately 250 to 300 under the tabernacle. But there must have been at least ten thousand people in and around the Tabernacle at night.
On the opposite side of the street there was a Methodist church and a Methodist preacher trying to conduct a service. But part of Norris’ audience was actually sitting on the steps of the Methodist church and leaning up against the wall and filling all vacant space between the church and the street.
He had advertised that he would give the record of ten of the biggest devils in Fort Worth and had written registered letters inviting them to be present to answer any charges he made and to defend themselves. They were all prominent men.
There was only one question in my mind. He wanted just exactly the thing I wanted to do. I had prayed for several years for some church that would give me enough financially to live on so I could demonstrate to my own satisfaction some important and vital things about the modern Sunday School. I knew very little about it and had had very little experience, and still I was lecturing all over the country on how to build and run the Sunday School. I wanted an opportunity to test some plans and methods I had in mind and prove their worth. The only question in my mind about coming to Fort Worth was the question of his character and integrity.
I never heard, in fact I never dreamed, of such a thing as the way he exposed that bunch of big, outstanding business men that night. It was the most terrific exposure of corruption and immorality conceivable. The biggest man among the bunch happened to be there when Dr. J Frank Norris got through and took the platform to defend himself. He did the unwise thing of asking Dr. Norris a question.
Dr. J Frank Norris answered it and then asked him a question that put him to shaking like an aspen leaf. He had to admit certain charges Norris had made against him and his paper that set the crowd in an uproar of applause. Many of them simply yelled, because for several years the charges he admitted were true had been vigorously denied.
J Frank Norris
The Storm of Battle the First Sunday Night
He was in a terrific battle with the leading top men of the city, county and city officials, Chamber of Commerce and they were after him to run him out of the city. They had already dragged him through the courts, and, as I recall, there were a couple more indictments hanging over him. He fought back with everything at his command – he had no paper then, no radio, no influential members, and all this situation, conditions I found puzzled me, amazed me.
Here I was to cast my lot with a man who, humanly speaking, was at his row’s end, who was not about to be put out of business but the majority of people I talked to said “He is already finished and out of business.”
What I wanted to do was to build a great Sunday School and how could I do it under such adverse conditions?
But That First Sunday Night
He had written ten of the supposedly top men of the city a registered letter telling each one that he was going to give publicly their records and connections.
The newspapers would not publish his announcements, not even paid advertisements, but he had a crowd that was faithful – they were Gideon’s three hundred – and that’s about all he did have.
He sowed the city down with circulars containing a copy of this letter together with the names of the ten top men.
I confess it made me tremble for I had never read nor heard of such daring.
Talk about a crowd – only a part of the vast multitude of thousands got on the block – the streets were filled all around.
The ten men had held a conference and agreed to ignore this meeting, and nine of them did; but one of them, the main one, came.
This man was sitting on the front porch of the Elk’s Club across from the tabernacle, surrounded by a group of his friends, and, as we learned afterwards, they were imbibing rather freely.
Norris carried out his full announced plan on all ten of them, calling the roll and giving their records.
I confess it scared me for I wouldn’t have been surprised at what might happen at any minute.
But Norris was perfectly calm and as the crowd would break out in applause he would quiet them. There was perfect order throughout until the final tragic climax.
This man, the top one of the ten, who had succeeded in getting all of the other nine not to come to this meeting – when Norris came to his name he proceeded to give his record.
I was sitting on the platform and trying to take in the whole situation, and suddenly I saw the group of men, about a dozen, come bolting in through the crowd and down the aisle, and there was commotion throughout the audience.
This man and his crowd came rushing up to the platform and Norris stood there very quietly while the crowd began to yell, “Put him out,” “throw him out,” et cetera.
J Frank Norris beckoned to the crowd and obtained order and said:
“I invited this man, (calling his name), to be here tonight. He is my guest and your guest and I want you to give him a respectful hearing.” And then he walked over and touched this man on the shoulder and assured him, “You will be given a full, free hearing, and you can say anything you wish in reply to the charges I have made.”
That amazed me still more and I wondered still more.
This man was very nervous and began to talk in a high, keen voice. Again the crowd interrupted and J Frank Norris stepped in front of him and made a passionate appeal to give this man a free and undisturbed hearing.
Then this man proceeded and when he had finished his harangue Norris stepped forward and quietly pointed his long finger in his face and said, “Now, you have had your say and I want to ask you some questions.”
The man started to walk off the platform but Norris very gently but firmly took him by the arm and said, “Just a minute.”
It is unnecessary to go into all the questions, but I remember one of them very distinctly. It pertained to the ownership of the morning paper. The issue was whether the breweries owned it in whole or in part, and Norris was fighting the liquor interest tooth and nail, and he wrung from this man a confession that the breweries owned no small part of the stock. When this man made that confession the crowd rose and roared and this man walked away, head down, and that ended the most dramatic hour I had ever witnessed in a public meeting.
Well, I wondered still more, but that meeting that night, the way he handled his chief antagonist and that multitude caused me to say to myself, “I am not afraid to tie my life to a man that has such courage, such convictions, and they have nothing against him and will never be able to defeat him.”
That meeting settled the matter for me. I knew that a man who had a single skeleton in the closet would never do what J Frank Norris did that night. And I was convinced, even as Dr. Gambrell said he was, that the whole conspiracy against Norris was a frame-up, and my appetite was really whetted to join in the battle with him. Therefore I accepted the work to begin the first of September.
I wanted to visit several Sunday reputation. I spent the first week
Schools of national in September going to New York and Chicago and several other places and arrived in Fort Worth September 9, 1913 to begin work as superintendent of the First Baptist Church Sunday School.
That was the beginning of 34 years’ relations that have been strenuous, sometimes tragic, sometimes dark, not a star in our. Sky, sometimes on transfiguration heights, sometimes in the nadir of despair, sometimes, and often times, the most glorious soul winning campaigns I have ever witnessed, and going to this hour more glorious than ever.
I suppose Dr. J Frank Norris has been lied upon more about money matters and financial dealings than possibly any other one thing. I have been amazed at things that men have said about reports of his financial dealings.
As an intimate associate of 34 years I do not know of one single time where he hasn’t measured up on the highest principles of honesty.
He has always, on every occasion and in every transaction, paid me more than he promised and I know of a large number of others who have worked with him whose testimony is the same. He gives with a generous hand.
I know personally of many sums of money he has loaned to befriend people which were never paid.
The first salary I ever drew for the first month’s work I did with him in September, 1913 when the church was poverty stricken and he was worse than broke, that first salary was money he borrowed from a friend in Dallas personally to pay my salary.
Time and time again in those first four years of my association with him after all the wealthy people were gone I have known him to go and hold meetings and come back with offerings from $500 to $1,000 and $1,500 and $2,000 and put every penny of it in the hands of the church treasurer to pay bills.
If there ever was an honest soul in financial matters, I believe J Frank Norris is one.
J Frank Norris