We think of JOHN ROACH STRATON (1875-1929), pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City from 1918 until his death in 1929, during the “Roaring Twenties.” He was called “a crusader, a two-fisted hard-hitting man of God, always the defendant at the bulwarks of Christianity.” Calvary Baptist was founded in 1847 and had prominent pastors, including John 6Dowling, author of The History of Romanism.
Straton was the son of a Baptist preacher, but when he was 18 he attended law school and embraced humanism and evolution and was on a moral spiral downward. He visited services at First Baptist Church of Atlanta and was born again. He attended Mercer University and Southern Seminary. He started preaching, and by the end of World War I in 1918, he rejected postmillennialism for premillenialism. That was the year he was called to the pastorate of Calvary Baptist.
Straton published The American Fundamentalist (later called The Calvary Call) to broadcast his preaching and warnings. The New York Times reported regularly on his hard-hitting sermons, sometimes on the front page and sometimes publishing his entire Sunday sermon, which reminds us of how dramatically America has changed. The media was not universally positive of course. “Hostile journalists and cartoonists dipped their pens in acid and satirized Straton as ‘the Fundamentalist’s Pope,’ the ‘Witch Doctor of Gotham,’ and the ‘Meshuggah (Yiddish for crazy) of Manhattan’” (“John Roach Straton,” Baptist Bible Tribune, Jan. 25, 2013).
He was a tall, distinguished looking man, but he preached on the streets, and he preached against things. He designed and built a pulpit platform on an automobile from which he preached to crowds in the city (David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, p. 213). He aimed to call America to repentance. He preached against Unitarianism, theological modernism, German skepticism, the social gospel, denominationalism, and communism. He preached against the popular press of his day for “engaging in a plot to ruin moral forces and bring them into national contempt” (George Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America). What would he say today when the press is promoting free sex, pornography, homosexual rights, sex education for children, and abortion on demand!
Pastor John Straton named names. He called the very popular, very liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick “a religious outlaw--the Jesse James of the theological world.” He called out S. Parkes Cadman, president of the Federal Council of Churches, for saying there is no hell. Straton said that Cadman was one of those who were “sprinkling cologne upon the putrid iniquities of a rebellious race.” He preached against liberal Baptist historian H.C. Vedder of Crozer Seminary. He preached against the budding tendency for American courts to capitulate to humanistic psychology and to coddle criminals rather than punish them. He said God is “not a mollycoddle ... and the present wave of crime and vice that is simply devastating America is the direct result of this false and flimsy teaching.”
Straton also preached against worldliness. His books included The Menace of Immorality in Church and State (1920), The Scarlet Stain on the City and How to Wipe It Out (c. 1921), and Satan in the Dance Hall (c. 1925). Chapter titles in the latter included “Flappers and the Dance of Life” and “The Devil’s Music and the Scopes Trial.” There were 750 dance halls in New York City in Straton’s day. Of female fashions, he said, “When it comes to women’s dress today there is not enough to talk about.” What would this warrior pastor say today! He preached against church dances and the use of theater stars and starlets to attract a crowd. He reproved parents who let their children choose between the picture show and Sunday School. He said the result of worldly homes was “the cigarette smoking boy who develops into the girl-ogling, sap-headed dude who would not recognize a sound thought or a sound ethical principal if he met it in the street; and the female flapper and flirt who knows more at 16 than her grandmother knew at 60, who hasn’t a speaking acquaintance with the art of sweeping a room, sewing a dress, or making a biscuit, but is past mistress with the lip-stick, the powder puff, and the bunny bag” (from Straton’s sermon “New York as Modern Babylon”). (A bunny bag was a small bag for cosmetics and other female accouterments.)
Straton took on prominent skeptics and heretics in public debates. The interest was so large that they were held in Madison Square Garden. He also debated at Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, and other leading schools.
At the Northern Baptist Convention in 1923, Straton stood from the floor and denounced W.H.P. Faunce of Brown University as an infidel who was unfit to deliver the keynote address.
There isn’t a prominent “conservative evangelical” alive today who knows anything of the fundamentalist prophet-warrior spirit. There are no A.J. Gordons, no John Stratons, no William Bell Rileys, no J. Frank Norrises, no Bob Jones, Srs., no Marion Reynoldses, no Robert Ketchams. The spirit of these old fighters does exist today, but it doesn’t exist anywhere in conservative evangelicalism.
The essence of Fundamentalism was its warrior spirit, and that was biblical and right and good and godly, though the fighting wasn’t done with any perfection. Poor redeemed sinners haven’t done anything with perfection since Adam’s fall.
The warrior spirit was right, and from the warrior spirit flowed testing, reproofs, rebukes, warnings, and separations.
But conservative evangelicals don’t believe in fighting after this manner. They don’t even like fighters. If they find a fighter battling against sin and error, it is far more likely that they will attack him than join him.
The essence of “fundamentalism” was, and is, its warrior spirit, and may the Lord multiply that spirit ten thousand fold today, regardless of the label! When living in such a wicked, apostate age, if a preacher doesn’t get worked up like Enoch of old and start firing off a bunch of well-aimed “ungodlys” (Jude 1:14-15), something is seriously wrong with him. The man of God who wrote Psalm 119 couldn’t see sin and error without being deeply affected. “Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law” (Ps. 119:53).But conservative evangelicals don’t believe in fighting after this manner. They don’t even like fighters. If they find a fighter battling against sin and error, it is far more likely that they will attack him than join him.
The essence of Fundamentalism was, and is, its warrior spirit, and may the Lord multiply that spirit ten thousand fold today, regardless of the label! When living in such a wicked, apostate age, if a preacher doesn’t get worked up like Enoch of old and start firing off a bunch of well-aimed “ungodlys,” something is seriously wrong with him.
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