The Saga of Daniel Sommer (II)

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

In this article, as in a previous one, we speak of the role played by Daniel Sommer among the Lord's people in the North. Sommer exerted tremendous influence among saints north of the Mason-Dixon line.

His Writing

Though Sommer was a powerful preacher, without doubt his greatest influence was through his writings. Through writing, he could reach thousands. For more than half a century, Daniel Sommer visited in the homes of thousands of brethren through his journals, tracts, booklets, his dozen or so volumes. Being a man of strong convictions and articulate in expressing these convictions, he by his efforts made great contributions to the spiritual conscience of multitudes of his brethren.

In 1856 Benjamin Franklin established a paper which he named AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW. The historian Louis Cochran, said that this "journal was to play a significant role for twenty years in shaping the thought of the Movement" (CAPTIVES OF THE WORD, p. 142). Cochran correctly reported that the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW carried "the loudest voice" among the-more conservatively inclined brethren (p. 158).

Young Daniel Sommer began to write for the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW in 1878, the year that its editor, Benjamin Franklin, died. From some remarks that Franklin bad made to him, Sommer thought it was the intention of Franklin' that be should become editor upon the death of Franklin. But when Franklin died, John F. Rowe of Akron, Ohio was chosen as editor.

In 1883 Sommer began to publish a journal which be named the OCTOGRAPH, from the fact that there were eight writers of the New Testament. In January, 1887 be became owner' editor and publisher of the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW, having purchased the paper from Non-Christian Edwin Alden, who owned the paper and used it as an advertising media.

Sommer opposed the usage of the "word 'Christian' to designate a religious journal" (DANIEL SOMMER, p; 196), or any other human enterprise. Having merged his paper OCT0GRAPH with the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW, Sommer changed the name of the paper to the OCTOGRAPHIC REVIEW. The name "American" he regarded as "too secular for a religious enterprise and the name 'Christian' I regarded as too sacred for a human enterprise" (p. 200). Papers with names like THE CHRISTIAN STANDARD, THE CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST, and THE CHRISTIAN, he regarded as "presumptuous, irreverent, and sacrilegious!" (p. 201).

His OCTOGRAPHIC REVIEW he later changed to APOSTOLIC REVIEW, since few of his readers could remember where he got the name OCTOGRAPH. Strangely, in view of his belief regarding the usage of the name "Christian," the REVIEW was later renamed the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW.

Interestingly, Daniel Sommer had at least a passing notion of willing the AMERICAN CHRISTIAN REVIEW to Foy E. Wallace, Jr., who had been virtually kicked out as editor of the GOSPEL ADVOCATE. On a scrap of paper left by Sommer was this scribbled note: "Last Will and Test. of D.S - I will that the REVIEW be pub. a year or longer as now and as publishers may choose. That what's then left of REVIEW be offered to Foy Wallace with understanding that it will double by the year the influence of the one who may use it for the purpose of the gospel" (p. 273). What he meant by the last part of that will, perhaps you can determine. I do not understand what he said.

From 1887-1940 Daniel Sommer was the owner and editor of one of the most influential papers. Particularly was his an influential paper about the tam of the century. For forty-six years (1894-1940) this paper was published from Indianapolis, Indiana.

His "Extremes"

Many brethren felt that Daniel Sommer went to extremes in certain positions he took. For example, he often referred to "lesson leaves of human origin" in a derogatory manner (p. 215). It is difficult to see how he could take such a position, and at the same time regularly distribute his own "lesson leaves of human origin" published in his REVIEW.

He also was strongly opposed to what has come to be called "located preachers." Many of the old-time brethren opposed full-time preachers. Sommer spoke against those who never preached beyond the smoke of their own chimneys (p. 145). He referred to such preachers as "the one-man preacher-pastor" (p. 143). He sometimes called such preachers "hired imported pastors", (p. 148), or the "one-man imported preacher-pastors" (p. 304).

Austin McGary, founder of the FIRM FOUNDATION, shared Sommer's fear of the "pastor system." On March 9, 1915 McGary wrote Sommer, "You call the Bible College of today a 'preacher factory,' and it is. It is a veritable 'pastor' factory. And the devil is right now knocking at the door of every church in the land with his 'pastor' system under his armThe Bible Colleges are the incubators of the one-man 'pastor' system" (p. 287).

As an alternative to the "pastor system," Sommer advocated what was called "mutual edification," which in many instances was much more mutual than edifying. In order to try to edify brethren so that they could participate in "mutual edification," Sommer initiated what he labeled "Bible Readings." Sommer later referred to this effort as "the most serious mistake I ever made as a preacher of Christ" (p. 178). He said that instead of "Bible Readings" benefiting the churches, "I found a considerable number of ambitious young men regarded such Readings as convenient arrangement for them to go into the pulpit and pose as preachers" (p. 179). Having started "Bible Readings," he said, ". . . I soon saw my mistake, confessed it and turned from it. The last mention of such Readings in the Review was not with my consent" (p. 223).

Many of the churches which opposed a church using a preacher in its work regularly substituted for the "pastor system" the regular weekend appointment preacher. To this practice, Sommer was as opposed as he was to a full-fledged "pastor system." Many of the churches who to this day berate "full time preachers" use regular weekend preachers. About the appointment preachers, Sommer said: "what is the difference between having a sermon from the same man all the time and having a pretended sermon from a different man once a month, or once in two months, or once in three months?" (p. 184).

It would be very interesting to hear those who oppose located preachers, but who use weekend preachers with stated frequency, attempt to answer Sommer's pertinent question.

In articles to follow, I want to speak of Sommer and the college question, and of the "Sand Creek Declaration" and the "Rough Draft."


October 1, 1970