The Saga of Daniel Sommer (V)

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

An understanding of things that happened in the past gives one a better perspective from which to understand the happenings of the present. There were many incidents that involved Daniel Sommer that yet cast their reflection upon current events.

Daniel Sommer was preeminently a controversialist. His unique place in history is attributable to the major controversies which centered on him, or at least in which he played an important role.

The "Rough Drafft"

Most younger Christians today never heard of the article entitled "Can't We Agree on Something?", but move commonly referred to as the "Rough Draft." Yet it had a very definite bearing upon the present religious scene. Daniel Sommer, in the minds of most people, got the "credit" for writing the "Rough Draft" which appeared in the APOSTOLIC REVIEW in 1932. Yet Daniel Sommer did not actually write the document. One of Daniel's sons, Allen, told me, that he wrote about half of the paper and that his brother Cheater wrote the other half. But when the document was "unscripturally and I may say outrageously denounced I (Daniel Sommer speaking - CW) proposed to defend it as scriptural" (DANIEL. SOMMER, p. 296).

This controverter document received its name from the fact that it purported to offer a basis upon which the many divisions among brethren could be healed. It was intended to be "a rough draft" for unity.

This document discussed the various positions that had alienated the Sommers and the APOSTOLIC REVIEW men (and those who thought like them) from other brethren. Regarding preachers, the "rough draft"said: "PREACHERS - Mast be men of good character. If they favor 'Bible colleges' or not, let it be an individual matter. Their business is, preaching the Gospel and building, up churches, not other religious organizations." It is obvious that this document was conciliatory. It proposed that so long as support of colleges be kept on an individual basis, division need not result over them. This position constituted a moderation from Sommer's previous position.

On the subject of "Bible Colleges" and Orphan Homes, the "rough draft" said: "Supporting them is an individual matter the Church Contribution is not for that purpose. We're saved as individuals, anyhow not as churches. If one must take the risk, let that one do it as an individual. It's a matter of believing in the efficacy of the Church. If a preacher, or a brother talks to us privately about 'Bible colleges,' just inform him kindly, yet firmly, that you do not support them, and tell him why. We can't force them not to believe in them, but maybe we can reason with them."

The document farther proposed: "We can worship together with our College brethren if theyll keep their hands off the Church funds.

If you wish to support the YMCA, or a Missionary or an Education Society for preaching or teaching the Scripture -- go ahead; thats between you and the Founder Of the one organization with Heaven's approval for making known the Gospel. You must settle with Him! But DONT TOUCH THE CHURCH FUNDS IN THE INTEREST OF ANY HUMAN RELIGIOUS SOCIETY... But, retain the Church funds strictly for Church work and we'll have a GLORIOUS REUNION!"


The Sommers really never got a chance to see what reaction their "College brethren" would give to their "rough draft" for unity. Immediately there were reactions among themselves. Some denounced the "rough draft" as a human "creed." Others said the "rough draft" should be "opposed 100 per cent."

Even Daniel's own son, D. Austen Sommer, opposed very stringently the "rough draft." Eventually D. Austen's opposition to the "rough draft" ruptured his fraternal and felicitous relationship with his father and other brothers. This "rough draft" controversy ultimately resulted in D. Austen Sommer gathering about him some other "hard-liners" and they founded a rival paper called MACEDONIAN CALL. Among this "hard-core" were E. M. Zerr (who wrote the six volume commentary on the whole Bible), Roy Loney (who now edits and publishes a paper called THE GOSPEL MESSAGE), and Carl Ketcherside (who now edits and publishes the MISSION MESSENGER). That which had been intended to unite had further divided.

Sometime later, D. Austen Sommer got into some kind of problem with the elders at Newcastle, Indiana, where he then had his membership, and was disfellowshipped. D. Austen Sommer died in the mid 1950's without any reconciliation having been made with his family.

Mission Messenger

As a consequence of the disciplinary action which was taken toward D. Austen Sommer, Carl Ketcherside and a few others (notably E.M. Zerr and Roy Loney) separated from him and formed the MISSOURI MISSION MESSENGER which later was renamed just the MISSION MESSENGER.

Shortly before 1960 Carl Ketcherside began to advocate his now-held concepts on fellowship. While he had been instrumental in effecting division over the "rough draft," he now advocated a much, much looser concept on fellowship than that which formerly had so rigidly opposed.

It might be added, however, that Roy Loney and E.M. Zerr (who soon thereafter died) opposed Ketcherside with the same fervency which had characterized their opposition to Daniel Sommer and the "rough draft" which Sommer defended. It was this split with Ketcherside over fellowship which caused Loney to establish THE GOSPEL MESSAGE.

Those brethren closely associated with Brother Roy Loney and THE GOSPEL MESSAGE still defend what they call is evangelistic oversight," mutual edification, and they are opposed to colleges in which the Bible is taught as a part of the curriculum, whether these colleges are privately supported or receive contributions from churches. At one time these brethren could number among them perhaps 300 or 400 congregations. But they do not now have that many congregations, and probably do not have much over a dozen full-time evangelists.

Meanwhile, Ketcherside has gotten progressively looser in his concepts on fellowship. It is going to be interesting to see how he averts fellow8hipping the "Pious unimmersed," if indeed he can consistently refuse to accept them into fellowship. Much of his work is now done among the more conservative Christian Churches. Most of his "evangelistic oversight anti-college" brethren have deserted him.

It was this division over the apparently innocuous "rough draft" that wrecked the efforts of the Sommers in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Southern Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. It seems that the churches in which their influence held sway are slowly disappearing from the face of the earth.


In the judgment of this reviewer, Daniel Sommer was extreme on several positions he took. He went too far with his "mutual edification" position, and he advanced beyond where either scripture or reason would substantiate him in his argument on the so-called "Bible College." He was dead wrong on "evangelistic oversight."

Yet the overall conservative influence that surrounded Sommer's efforts could have been helpful in stemming the current tide of institutions which have attempted to bed themselves down in the church budgets. But the division which resulted over the "roughdraft" wrecked the effort which Sommer had made, and to a considerable degree negated any salutary effects which Sommer's work might have had on the current institutional controversy.

It remains exceedingly paradoxical that Carl Ketcherside has now appropriated, and even gone far beyond, the basic tenets of the "rough draft" which he formerly opposed to the point of further division.

Daniel Sommer, in this writer's opinion, was a great man, in spite of some extreme positions which he held. Like a mighty rock, he stood against the incoming waves of digression which threatened to engulf the churches seventy-five years ago. In the wake of whatever criticism might validly be made against his efforts, let us not forget the very effective and Herculean war he waged against innovations in bygone years. If for no other reason, his memory should be one of fond appreciation. It will be impossible for any future historian to write regarding our past without ascribing a significant role to the work of Daniel Sommer, at least in the churches north of the Mason-Dixon Line.


October 22, 1970