By Daniel H. King
I was saddened by a phone call this morning, informing me of the death last night (June 5, 1983) of brother Herbert E. Winkler, aged gospel preacher. He left his mortal frame just over a month away from his ninety-fourth birthday. This obituary is being written prior to the funeral, but it is to be held in Nashville on Wednesday, June 8, 1983, with brother Ronnie Webb (preacher for the Hillview church of Christ in Nashville) presiding at the services. His body is to be laid to rest in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville.
My wife Donna and I first became acquainted with brother Winkler in the fall of 1968 when we moved to Nashville, Tennessee and placed our membership with the Franklin Road church of Christ in that city. I was a junior in college at Lipscomb at the time, and soon became acquainted with brother and sister Winkler at worship. They were what we considered a very old couple even back then. But they were so friendly and outgoing that Donna and I came to love them dearly. They were always smiling and cheerful, unlike so many that we have known who have grown bitter with life and with their fellow men in their old age. Because they knew that I aspired to preach the gospel of Christ, they quickly befriended us. When we moved to work with the Hillview church in July of 1975, we were delighted to find that in our absence from Nashville they had placed membership at Hillview in order to avoid a long drive to worship. He and sister Winkler were always present at services and made it a regular practice to visit the sick in the hospitals up until the time of her death in 1979.1 shall always remember the prayers that he led in the public assemblies. I have often thought as he prayed that these were the prayers of a man who had lived in close communion with God for nearly a century and who had obviously talked with Him often.
We moved from Nashville in December of 1977, but we kept in contact. Many is the time since then that my wife and I have stopped in (most often unannounced) at his big white house atop the hill on Charlotte Pike in West Nashville and enjoyed his amenity and geniality. We shall miss him. But we thank God for his life of faith and for the scores of pleasant memories of happy times together and conversations about the Lord’s church in Nashville. To hear him speak, as he so often did, of the giants of yesteryear – about whom I had read so much in books was an educational experience I would not trade for anything.
About two years ago I stopped in one afternoon, notepad in hand, and talked with him about his life. As best his memory could serve to accomplish the task (and that of his daughter Carrie), he supplied me with the following account.
Brother Winkler was born on July 15, 1889 at Goodlettsville, Tennessee. His parents, Payton Herbert Winkler and the former Caroline Alice Lassiter, were originally from Pleasant Shade, Tennessee. He was baptized around 1908 by brother L.M. Jackson at the Spruce Street church of Christ. His parents were originally Methodists, but were themselves converted in Cheatham County.
He attended the Nashville Bible School around 1912 for one school year. During that year he studied under such noteworthies as David Lipscomb, S.P. Pittman, H. Leo Boles, and brother Sewell. He started preaching around 1909. His first sermon was preached at the North Spruce St. church at the insistence of L.M. Jackson. For a number of years he worked as a carpenter, spending a considerable amount of time on the buildings of David Lipscomb College. He began regular preaching through Eastern Kentucky after a time, spending his summers in meeting work and winters in carpentry. Most of his labor was concentrated around Glasgow, Bowling Green and Tompkinsville.
He did some writing for the Gospel Advocate during the period when H. Leo Boles served as editor for the paper. He produced two books: The Eldership (1950), and Congregational Cooperation of the Churches of Christ (1958; revised editions in 1961 and 1972). His work on the eldership proved very controversial, in that he took the position that Philemon 9 afforded an unmarried man the opportunity to serve as an elder in the church. Although he entertained this notion (which has been rightly rejected by almost all), yet he did so with grace and latitude toward those with whom he disagreed. On one occasion the two of us discussed it and I discovered that even his wife (Eula Boyles) disagreed with him. She blurted out with a laugh, “Why he believes an old bachelor can be an elder!”
His work on congregational cooperation actually involved a study of more than just that topic. He analyzed “church sponsorships, centralized power and control, orphan homes, and Herald of Truth.” He stated as his reason for producing such a work, “The fact that the religious journals, the Chrisian schools and most of the churches in middle Tennessee have closed the door to information and refuse to let our side of the issues be presented therein” (p. 2). He further decried the state of things with this explanation of his motivation: “hundreds of congregations have become the prey of various religious enterprises parading under the Banner inscribed `GOOD WORKS’ and thereby many unsuspecting and unedified members have been ingeniously deceived into following the trail of this `GOOD WORKS’ monster . . . . Brethren, if you are interested in the Glorious Church of the Lord and your own peace with God and want to know what all this alarm is over, then, please read this pamphlet” (p. 3). The amount of good accomplished by this booklet, written, financed, and largely circulated by Herbert E. Winkler is known only by the Lord and those brethren helped by it in the Middle Tennessee area.
Brother Winkler conducted several public debates during his preaching years. He debated three Baptist preachers and one Methodist that he could remember. One meeting at Glasgow resulted in two debates with Baptist preachers. He also debated Richard Pigg in Hillham in East Tennessee. The debate was held in a grove. During the course of the discussion someone in the audience squeezed a pig that had been brought in for the purpose; its piercing squeel brought the house down with laughter. J.W. Shepherd traveled from Detroit to moderate for brother Winkler in this debate. A gospel meeting held after the discussion saw many sectarians converted.
At the time of the Hardeman Tabernacle Meetings, brother Winkler was serving as an elder of the Charlotte Ave. church of Christ. It was he that suggested the name of N.B. Hardeman to do- the preaching for the series. Some had opted for T.B. Larimore, but brother Winkler had not been that impressed with Larimore, and besides, Larimore himself had confided to brother Winkler that none in the brotherhood could hold a candle to Hardeman as a public speaker. The ultimate decision, of course, is a matter of history.
Perhaps the saddest episode in his life was his resignation as elder at Charlotte Ave. The pain of those days yet lingered when we spoke of them. The problem was with a new generation of men who had come to have control of David Lipscomb College. As he put it in his own words to me: “They were dictating to the churches; and the churches were letting them have too much control.” His resignation at Charlotte Ave. led him to distribute to Christians throughout the area (from funds out of his own pocket) copies of his book on congregational cooperation.
H.E. Winkler was married three times. He married Roberta Pearl Goodman on December 23, 1909; she passed away January 5, 1952. Seven children were born to this union: Francis, Earnest, Wilmont, Carrie, Dora, Roberta, and Charles. Hazel Ruby Johnson became his wife on March 12, 1954, but died in January of 1962. His last wife was Eula Boyles, whom he married July 15, 1962. She died tragically on June 18, 1979. After the death of his last. companion, brother Winkler’s health failed steadily until his own death last night.
Our condolences are extended to the Winkler family. My family and I will carry memories of him and Eula always, and pray that we can be together once more in a land where death is fittingly and finally robbed of its awful power.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 407-408
July 7, 1983