August 15, 2018

Historical Backgrounds of “Campaigns” In the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ

By Cecil Willis

(NOTE: The following article was written for publication in a "Special Issue" of the GOSPEL GUARDIAN, and appeared in that paper on June 23, 1967. This "Special Issue" of the GUARDIAN had to do with "Campaigns," and was published just before the Jimmy Allen "Campaign for Christ" which was held in Indianapolis July 3-8, 1967. Slight adaptations have been made to make the article usable in this issue.)

Introduction

Some of the brethren who have been duped into participation in this gaudy display of power in Indianapolis think this is another "first" for the Churches of Christ. Actually, our brethren who gradually digressed to become the Christian Church or Disciples of Christ have conducted many such campaigns in years gone by. This historical article might thus be called "Campaign Prototypes" or "Indiana Campaigns: A Playback." Our brethren are merely aping the sectarians. In fact, the Christian Church prolifically used the campaigns around the turn of the century. But by 1913 it 'was said of some preachers that "in late years (they) have looked with suspicion" upon special evangelistic campaigns (Coombs, CAMPAIGNING FOR CHRIST, p. vii). Dr. Henry K. Shaw, in his excellent book HOOSIER DISCIPLES, said, ". . . interest in such campaigns began to decline in the late 1920's" (p. 282).

The sectarians had tried and discarded this ostentatious method about fifty years ago. Our denomination mimicking brethren are just now picking up the habit. But that is about par for our brethren. About the time the sectarians had decided that their social gospel experiment in maintaining human institutions through which to care for the needy was a total and absolute failure and they began to seek honorable ways to extricate themselves from their abject failures, our brethren decided to get involved in such endeavors. Thus while sectarians who had been building such institutions fifty to seventy-five years ago were closing the doors on their failing institutions, such institutions were rapidly proliferating among our brethren. So it seems about normal that our "progressive" brethren should pick up the campaign habit about half a century after their modernistic counterparts had discarded it.

But one naive preacher over in Indianapolis has been jubilantly writing about the forthcoming campaign as though nothing like this had ever happened in Indiana before. Some of the Christian Church campaigns of fifty years ago would make this one planned in Clowes Hall look like a paper-wad shot from a pop-gun. But most of the innovations now bothering the Churches of Christ have been borrowed from the Christian Church. So it should not be too surprising to learn that the campaign idea was borrowed from the same source.

Some Campaign History

Two of the earliest and most "successful" campaigners in Indiana among the -early Christian Church were J. V. Combs (18481920) and Charles Reign Scoville (18691938). J. V. Coombs was called "one of the most successful recruiting sergeants of his generation in the American division of the grand army of Christ" by George F. Hall in 1897. Commodore Cauble, in his book DISCIPLES OF CHRIST IN -INDIANA, said "Brother Coombs will be remembered for the many evangelistic campaigns he led but probably longer by his famous book on CAMPAIGNING FOR CHRIST" (p. 207). Coombs' book was published in 1913.

Coombs' purpose in writing CAMPAIGNING FOR CHRIST was "to furnish Christians at work with a ready-reference Guide Book in leading men and women to Christ" (p. iii). On page 19 Coombs said, "This plan of work is to be used as a guide-book for all workers in these meetings." He gives very intricate instructions about how to set up a campaign and how to emotionalize the people. And from the reports one hears about Jimmy Allen's campaigns, one might suppose he has memorized the book, or imbibed the principles from some other sectarian source. Before our brethren even got started in these pressure campaigns, the Christian Church had already put out a standardized handbook on how to conduct one. In this article we want to survey some of the recommendations of this hand-book and some of the practices of these experienced campaigners and to compare these with the methods to be employed at Indianapolis and elsewhere in other similar campaigns.

Selection of a Professional Evangelist

Coombs' handbook advises that those in charge of the campaign should secure "the best professional evangelist available" (pp. ix, x). Henry Shaw tells us what a "professional evangelist" is, in case you do not know. Shaw says "a professional evangelist in those days was one step up the ladder above the local pastor" (p. 250). Coombs says the "professional evangelist" should be "a 'general' assigning to each his special work with keen distinction" (p. xi).

In fact, Coombs' book tells how to run a successful campaign from the -key-note address of the first preparatory meeting to the last "amen." He says that there must be an "abundant" and "judicious use of printer's ink." There must be a host of committees, "after-meetings," dinners, and "good singers and singing." Charles Reign Scoville, in his campaign sermons book EVANGELISTIC SERMONS, speaks of the necessity of having the help of the "faithful chorus choir." Shaw said the successful ones of the early campaigns had to have their "entertainment features," including special music (p. 278).

The campaigns of our brethren today also have to have their "chorus choirs." Our brethren who run these campaigns make the ridiculous pretense to be strongly opposed to choirs in our worship services, but nearly every campaign has its "chorus choir." Sometimes the Harding Chorus is imported for the "entertainment feature," as was done in the big George Benson Stark County campaign in Canton, Ohio a few Years ago (They had eight or ten "responses"!).

Coombs and Scoville are depicted as nearly ideal campaigners, insofar as the "professional evangelist" is concerned. Thus let us note their preaching characteristics and recommendations, and compare them with the great campaigners among us today. Coombs was described by M. M. Davis as "an exhorter . . . (who) is far in advance of any we ever heard. His words have tears in them . . ." (CAMPAIGNING FOR CHRIST, p. 12) George M. Combs said of Coombs, "Though a young man he is already in the very front of our evangelists, and has deservedly a national and enviable reputation . . . He is worth looking at . . . In the large and judicious use of all advertising expedients his work is notable . . . In every legitimate way he seeks and secures attention."

Coombs' efforts to gain attention certainly remind one of the efforts of some of our modern campaigners to get publicity and interviews in newspapers and on television and radio shows. They seek to become mere conversation pieces, and use every advertising gimmick the Madison Avenue crowd can devise with which to sell a Volkswagen or a bar of soap. In fact, one could take the thousands of dollars spent on advertising some of these campaigns and get a big crowd out for any event. Some of these campaigns of a few days duration will have advertising and operational budgets of nearly $50,000. But this is necessary to bring people out to "look at" these campaigners, and that is apparently a major objective with them.

W. J. Lhamon said of Coombs, "I have heard many great evangelists, the greatest perhaps in America and the world. It is not too much to say that in pathetic and tremendous appeal to the hearts and consciences of men our author surpasses them all." (CAMPAIGNING, p. 151) Coombs even tells the would-be campaigners how to run up and down the aisles during the invitation songs in order to high pressure any prospects. All sectarian preachers all ready know how to do this, but some of our brethren are just catching on. Thus in some of the campaigns they have many invitational songs, tear-jerking emotional appeals, and preachers exhorting with tears in their eyes and words,

Someone reported after one of Scoville's campaigns that "Chapman, Mills and Moody are far behind" (Shaw, p. 281). These men were leading sectarian preachers of Scoville's day. And the campaigners among us today have out-done the denominational campaigners like Billy Graham and Oral Roberts in publicity seeking, in the employment of gimmicks; to get attention, and in making dramatic emotional appeals properly filled with the right number of death-bed tales. Indeed, Billy Graham and Oral Roberts might take lessons in the usage of sectarian tactics from some of our campaigners.

Coombs' handbook even instructs the would-be-successful campaigner on what kind of subjects to deal with in his campaigns. He instructs the "professional evangelist" to be sure that he manages to "Keep Sweet" (p. 19). And those who have heard our most successful campaigners report that they surely do "Keep Sweet." Billy Graham would draw but few more hearers than any other Baptist preacher if he preached Baptist doctrine in his campaigns. And our big-time campaigners would have fewer auditors if they laid the gospel on the line like the old-time brush-arbor preachers did. Some of our modern campaigners do not even want the public to know that the Church of Christ has anything to do with their campaign. From the advertising done, one might surmise that some inter-denominational efforts were being made. And since any Methodist preacher could preach many of the sermons delivered during the campaign, we might add that from the preaching done on most nights, those attending would never get the impression that the Church of Christ they have known in the past had anything to do with the effort.

Coombs' handbook further instructs the would-be-successful campaigner to "never enter into controversy," and our campaigners surely follow that bit of advice. When have you heard of Jimmy Allen entering into a debate, or Batsell Barrett Baxter, or Willard Collins? We cannot even get one of them to defend this state-wide campaign under one eldership practice.

The Campaign Objectives and Procedures

The Christian churches that were instrumental in conducting the earlier campaigns had the same objectives that our Indianapolis brethren have. Henry Shaw says that the time of the big campaigns (1897-1913) "has been designated as a time of struggle for, status and numbers on the part of Hoosier Disciples," but the fact is that during this very period the membership of Hoosier churches decreased from 120,000 to 84,000 (p. 312). In 1899 an important meeting was held in St. Louis by some preachers who were "interested in projecting a more scholarly image for the Christian Church movement" (Shaw, p. 296).

You will note that they were interested in, "status" and in their "image," and these are among the main announced purposes of the Indianapolis fiasco. They are going to try to improve the image of the Church of Christ by a display of strength. Those responsible for the daily advertising and promotion have been instructed to be sure and get pictures of those big cars driving tip to Clowes Hall, and of those well-dressed and fur draped women getting out of those big cars. We want to make an impression on the public! In fact from the very beginning, this seems to have been a prime objective of these campaigns.

Coombs' 1913 handbook tells what procedures to use to convey this better image and status. He tells the campaigners to emphasize that the church has 1.300,000 members, 7,000 churches, 6,000 preachers, 40 universities and colleges, 30 papers, 20 publishing houses and 100 missionaries. And thus in Coombs-like fashion, our most successful campaigners give emphasis to our statistics.

The handbook says that proper display should be made of & fact that many influential people are members of the church. Coombs reminded the "professional evangelists" of his day to casually drop the fact that 11imothy Coop (noted Philanthropist of England) was a member of the church, and that James A. Garfield, President of the U. S., had been a member of the church. If that did not completely bowl them over, then they could tell of Jermy S. Black (Secretary of State), Ira Chase (Governor of Indiana), and of various congressmen who were members of this important church. Be sure and get in the fact, Coomb advises, that the Disciples are growing faster than any other religious group, and predict that by 1963 there will be 40,000,000 members! That prediction ought really to give status! Of course Coombs missed his prediction by considerably more than 35.000,000 members, but who back then would live to 1963 to know he erred? It helped to gain the image and to attain the status just to say it.

Thus our big campaigns have a liberal sprinkling of the celebrities that are members of the church. We have our Pat Boone to lead the singing, and our Byron Nelson, or Bobby 'Morrow, or Judge Sam Tatum to put in a timely appearance. We use our State Senators and Representatives in a proper way to convey our status. We give special attention to our millionaire members, and feature choruses from "our schools" to let the public know that we do have schools, and that we amount to something. So the Indiana campaign has as its announced intention to improve our image, just as every flamboyant sectarian affair has as its objective the same intent. These brethren get a little mixed up at times. On the one hand they do not want anybody to know who is conducting this affair until they get there, and then they want them to go away thinking what important and impressive people these "Church of Christ folk" are.

Responses and Attendance

One of the Indianapolis preachers said the other day that there never had been anything done by the sectarian churches that was going to be the success this forthcoming campaign was going to be. Henry Shaw said, "The campaigns were big business, usually so well organized, advertised, and administered, that success in terms of converts . . . could almost be predicted, if not guaranteed" (p. 278). Our Indiana brethren wanted to use the luxurious new Clowes Hall partly, it is reported, because they wanted to have an overflow crowd every night. If they secured one of the available large auditoriums in the city and then did not fill it, it would reflect upon the image they sought to convey.

Clowes Hall will only seat about 2500. Very likely it will be filled each night. A very small percentage of the church members in the state could overflow the auditorium nightly. The usual procedure is to assign different churches a night to attend, until they know exactly what night what congregations will bring what number of their members to fill the auditorium. The Terre Haute churches are seeking to raise $750 to pay for the buses to transport their members to Indianapolis on their night. Oh, they will fill the auditorium all right. They almost know right now who will be seated in what seat each night, so highly organized is this effort.

But nothing new will occur in Indianapolis. The Churches of Christ are planning to bowl the world over by the fact that we have 2500 to attend a meeting. But the Jehovah's Witnesses have nearly 100,000 at some of their big meetings, and I have not thereby been caused to want to join them yet! In fact, the brethren who think 2500 attendance is going to be so impressive are just unfamiliar with some of the earlier campaigns. For instance, in July, 1905, during the hey-day of the campaigns, they had one here in Marion, Indiana. The attendance was 20.000, when the entire population of the city was only about 20,000. And this campaign only cost $1000, which will not be a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands to be spent on the Indianapolis display. If the brethren succeed in getting 2500 to attend in Indianapolis, they will have about one-tenth the numbers that were attending such showy sectarian efforts half a century ago.

And they had responses back then. The 'Marion campaign saw 130 to respond: 214 responded at the campaign in little Butler, Indiana~ 234 in the Evansville campaign and 347 in the Noblesville campaign. And these were all rather small cities back then. During one of Scoville's campaigns at Allegheny City-Pittsburgh, there were 667 responses, and when he went to Des Moines, "The great auditoriums of Des Moines were not sufficiently commodious" to house the crowds, and 1114 responded. We have not yet had anything like that Des -Moines campaign, and likely will not have at Indianapolis. Of course Scoville only had 573 "accessions" out of 1114 responses. And the Jimmy Allen campaigns regularly have more "confessions, re-commitments, and rededications" than baptisms. One preacher said that at some of these big meetings if a fellow gets up to close the door, they count him as a response!

Our motley crews of campaigners are strictly amateurs when they are compared in nearly any way with the campaigners of fifty years ago. Scoville got 19 calls for campaigns the very first week after he, completed his first three with 70 additions. He had 10,000 converts in 9 years. None of our boys are even close to matching that record yet. Their campaigns were so methodical we would say they were nearly computerized. One campaign report for one year showed that the 1131 "accessions" for the year only cost $1.07 each! Now you will have to admit that's a pretty cheap member. Now let's see the Indianapolis campaign boys match that.

Conclusion

But it was not long until the brethren back then became disenchanted with the campaigns. It seems that their most noted campaigners would not preach the distinctive doctrine they had been accustomed to hearing. It was not long until their most popular "professional evangelists" had become so professional about the matter that they were holding inter-denominational campaigns, and with equal success. They could as easily take "accessions" for one denomination as for another.

And such an occurrence may awaken some of the brethren today to the trend of the big campaigns. Several of the most prominent campaigners believe in the direct operation of the Holy Spirit in about the same fashion as sectarian preachers. Brother Jimmy Allen is not sure that we have the truth on a good many matters, and does not believe that all of God's children worship in meeting houses with "Church of Christ" over the door, which is to say that some of God's children are in sectarian churches. So he is about ready to become an inter-denominational campaigner. The liberal preacher, W. L. Totty, recently has written several bulletin articles attacking doctrinal positions taken by campaigner Jimmy Allen to show why he and the Garfield Heights church will have nothing to do with the Greater Indiana Campaign. So the disenchantment apparently all ready has begun.

But meanwhile the brethren must go through with the forthcoming Indianapolis campaign. That means the churches throughout the state must send their money to the Indianapolis brethren to bail them out. Back in 1851 the Indianapolis brethren bit off more than they could chew on a project. So a letter was addressed "to all the churches in our State, requesting them to lift contributions, for the purpose of assisting the brethren in Indianapolis in liquidating the heavy expense incurred by them . . ." (Shaw, pp. 279, 280). And now that the Franklin Road church in Indianapolis has appointed itself to conduct a campaign for the whole state of Indiana, "all the churches in our State" are being asked to "lift contributions" to bail these brethren out.

And so on and on we go. History really has a way of repeating itself, doesn't it? But some brethren are learning, and others will never learn!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 3, pp. 3-7
December 1967

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