Baptist History Homepage

J. Frank Norris and Baptist Fundamentalism
By Robert Ashcraft
      J. Frank Norris contributed most to the rise of Baptist Fundamentalism as a separate stream from Southern Baptists whose resistance to liberalism was sometimes weakened in an effort to present a united front and to avoid schism.

      Recognizing the threat of evolutionary teaching, he campaigned publicly against science professors in Baptist Baylor University, and consequently antagonized some of the more inclusive-minded denominational leaders who sought to quash these trends more quietly and with less sensationalism. Norris felt they were compromising.

      The Southern Baptists launched a "$75,000,000 Campaign" in 1919, assessing churches sums thought possible for them to raise. Norris fought its high-handed, dictatorial “papal demands.” He also refused to participate in the "Cooperative Program," a method Southern Baptists still use for raising proportional gifts for denominational causes.

      Norris founded The Searchlight in 1917, a paper which in 1927 evolved into The Fundamentalist, edited by him until his death in 1952.1

      Believing that Southern Baptist inclusivism and denominationalism was changing the basic character of the Convention and its churches, and that liberalism must be opposed vigorously, Norris formed alliances with others who were holding to "the fundamentals of the faith," including R. A. Torrey from Los Angeles, where a series of tracts on "The Fundamentals" had been published and circulated by the millions through the generosity of the Stewart family of Union Oil Company fame.

      On April 13, 1917, the strong-willed and aggressive Norris sponsored a great "Bible School" to convene at the First Baptist Church [Ft. Worth] -- perhaps the first of its kind to be held in America. Guest speakers included James M. Gray of Moody Bible Institute, R. A. Torrey of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, A. C. Gaebelein, Bible expositor from New York City, A. C. Dixon, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London (Spurgeon's church), and W. B. Riley of First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, MN, who was then emerging as the champion of Bible fidelity in the north.

      As the modernist-fundamentalist controversy raged throughout various denominations in the 1920's, J. Frank Norris carried the banner of fundamentalism in the South, confident that his position was the historic Baptist and biblical position espoused by B. H. Carroll, J. M. Carroll, J. R. Graves, J. M. Pendleton, George H. Pember and other 19th century leaders, including J. Newton Brown, who wrote the New Hampshire Confession of Faith in about 1845. 2

      By 1925, the First Baptist Church was effectively excluded from the Southern Baptist ranks when another Mr. Pendleton and other messengers were refused seats at the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

      By 1931 Norris was ready to call together about 100 sympathetic pastors to form a "Premillennial, Fundamental, Missionary Fellowship," a descendent of the earlier Baptist Bible Union and the direct predecessor of the World Fundamental Baptist Missionary Fellowship and the Baptist Bible Fellowship founded in 1950.

      Through an amazing set of circumstances, J. Frank Norris was called in 1935 to the pastorate of the Temple Baptist Church in Detroit, then running about 700 in attendance, which he took in addition to the Fort Worth church. With men such as Louis Entzminger working with him in Fort Worth, and G. Beauchamp Vick in Detroit, his double pastorate lasted for 15 years, making him pastor of two churches that ran 3,000 or more. The incredible Norris commuted by air to preach in both churches on some Sundays in the 1930's and '40s.

      Louis Entzminger kept advocating the founding of a school in Fort Worth, which Norris did not especially desire. Finally, in 1939, the Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute was founded with a handful of students . . . John W. Rawlings went forth to become a great leader in his own right.

      Fellowship meetings, church planting efforts, the new school and the influence of the two largest Baptist churches in America at that time formed a powerful foundation from which Norris operated to spark evangelistic and missionary efforts in America and over the world. 3

Notes

1. Neal Weaver and James O. Combs, Our Biblical Baptist Heritage, pp. 105-106.
2. Ibid. p. 106.
3. Ibid. p. 106-107.
===========

[From Robert Ashcraft, Contending for the Faith, Texarkana, TX, 2007, pp. 650-651. Numbers of the Notes are changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]




More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage