OUT OF THE PAST AND PRESENT
Robert P. ("Fighting Bob") Shuler, D.D., LL.D.
First appeared in the December 1945 issue of
"The Methodist Challenge",
reprinted in 1955 in
"Bob Shuler - Met These On the Trail".
I passed him on Spring Street. He was looking into a window where old books were being displayed. Something about his sagging shoulders and rather frayed clothing shook me. For a moment I felt compelled to speak to him. But a voice within seemed to forbid. I walked on. He did not see me. I had first seen Maurice Johnson in Eastland, Texas. He was my song leader in a tabernacle revival, and God was certainly with us. It seemed as though all Eastland County came the way of that revival.
Maurice had been a taxicab driver in Fort Worth, had been wonderfully converted, and God was using him as few young fellows I have ever known. He could sing like a lark. He could win the toughest to Christ. Nothing was too hard for the Christ of Maurice Johnson.
I, too, was a bit spectacular in those days! So, one Saturday night I preached on "Some Dogs I Have Known." Maurice walked out just before my sermon and sang, "You've Got to Quit Kicking My Dog Around." No Negro in the Old South could sing the Negro songs with more telling effect, and he could mimic a "Hard-shell Baptist" preacher to perfection.
I persuaded him to go to Los Angeles with me. He became my young people's leader and directed the music of the church. It was a departure from all the rules of the game. He had never been trained for any of this work. He was simply God's man. That was enough.
Today, the Leadership of Trinity Church is largely made up of men and women led to Christ and typed in their Christian lives by the influence of this remarkable fellow. No man ever came the way of Trinity who had a more vitalizing and invigorating effect upon the people, young and old.
But Maurice Johnson had what we call a "kink". Most of us have a dozen. His was fatal. He was impulsive and stubbornly insistent when he thought that he was right, but he lacked that something which the really great men of history have had -- a balance! He came just that near to being great as God's prophet. He was so effective that his faults seemed trivial. I recall that once I had an invitation to go to a camp as speaker with a Y.M.C.A. group of picked high school students. At the last moment, I discovered that I could not keep the engagement. I persuaded the Y.M.C.A. secretary, at first very reluctant, to take Maurice. That secretary came back tremendously enthused. It seemed the whole camp had been led to Christ through the personal touch and magnetic messages and singing of young Johnson.
'Where on earth did you get that fellow?" asked my Y.M.C.A. friend. "Off a Fort Worth taxicab," I said.
"But where was he trained?" he insisted. "He got his training, equipment, and everything else from Heaven," I replied.
Had Maurice Johnson been able to hold his balance, it is my honest opinion that he would have become a nationally-known power in the evangelization of this nation. But suddenly he became obsessed with the idea that he must brand all the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites, castigate the false teachers and anathematize, as the agents of Hell, every man who happened to disagree with his thinking.
In almost every position that he took, he was right. He discovered Unitarianism and other poison in the Sunday School literature. Immediately he published a pamphlet denouncing the Sunday School board of the church and quoting Scripture to show that the Sunday School editors of Methodism were the direct agents of the Devil. Time has pretty well vindicated his statements.
But the ecclesiastical heads of our church in California would not stand for such an attack. They brought charges of insubordination against him and moved his location, forcing him out. I fought for him to the last breath. I begged the brethren to give me a chance to talk with him and see if I could calm him down. But just as I had about succeeded in my defense, Maurice got the floor and reiterated all that he had said, and then said a little more. I confess I admired him for it. But his speech in his own defense finished it. They put him out.
He organized an independent church in Glendale, which failed. He tried out an auto, touring about, preaching to anybody who would listen. He got on the radio. He turned his guns on all organized churches. He fired cannonballs at men whom he had held up in his earlier ministry as his idols. He became a spiritual isolationist. So, there he stood on Spring Street, dressed shabbily and looking haggard. His face was the gray of ashes. His hungry eyes read the titles of the mouldy volumes in the window of that secondhand book store. I said to myself as I walked down the street, "Why did it have to happen!"
He could have packed the Church of the Open Door, preached to crowds that would have overflowed the great Moody Church in Chicago. He could have done what Appelman did in the great tent in Los Angeles. He could have thrilled the crowd I saw in Hollywood Bowl on the Saturday night of October 6th. Why did it have to happen? Especially when he was so nearly right practically all of the time!
I don't feel good about it. I wonder if somehow I failed God and this fine young fellow who left his taxicab and followed Jesus! Every now and then I tune in on Maurice Johnson, when he can get hold of enough money to buy some time over the air. He is still 90 per cent of the time right! I wonder if I am!
I can hear him now singing, "There's honey in the rock!"
. . . . . . . . . .
Robert (Bob) P. Shuler
1201 S. Flower Street
Los Angeles, California
My Dear Brother Shuler:
Solomon said: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." (Prov. 27:6) He also said: "The legs of the lame are not equal ..." (Proverbs 26:7) It was, therefore, not at all surprising to me to observe the "long and short" of your article concerning me.
I believe no Spirit-taught child of God can doubt that a preacher is "lame" when his "talking-leg" keeps fair step with the "fundamentalists" while his "walking-leg" maintains his place in what he condemns as often as Lot must have verbally condemned Sodom. For instance, in your Bob Shuler's Magazine, Sept. 1925, you thus daringly declared:
"We need not attempt to deceive ourselves longer ... Modernism is massing ... How can we live together if we be not agreed? How can a house divided stand? ... Therefore, I say the clash is certain ... I cannot see how there can come anything else less than a division ..." Then in December: "We Southerners are a loud-mouthed set. If Modernism begins to creep into our Sunday School literature, we talk. If our Mission Board begins to foster a liberal movement in China, we discuss. If the Methodist Review begins to look like one of Bob Ingersoll's books, we remark upon it ... We are hard to silence.""We reserve the right as a Methodist preacher, personally supporting with our money our Methodist schools, and taking collections every year from our people for this cause, to voice our protest when our educational leaders come out boldly and go on record on the side of materialistic philosophies that are wrecking the religious faith and zeal of our young people to right and left ... NOR WILL OUR PEOPLE AROUSE. Many of them recognize the futility of protest. There will never be another formidable stand against modernism in Methodism. The tide is set in against us."(March 1927)
"We can make, my brethren, by turning against the whole church and fighting everything and everybody."(Jan. 1928)
"Thus inch by inch we retreat before the advance of that sure and steady gain of modernism that few men will longer deny ... It is needless that we seek to comfort ourselves with the idea that such retreat will not in the ultimate prove fatal ... Methodism is being steadily, surely, purposely liberalized and modernized ... We are loyal to the church. We will not desert the.: banner of the fathers. We expect to stand and fight to the end." (February 1928)
"As pastor of the leading church within my denomination (So. Meth.), I wish to say that I have never failed to send up to the proper authorities every cent of the assessments laid against my charge." (May 1928)
Now, Bro. Shuler, I am rather ashamed that I "shook" you by permitting you to discover me in front of that Spring Street secondhand book store as my "hungry eyes read the titles of the mouldy volumes in the window" when my "face was the gray of ashes, looking haggard" with "sagging shoulders and rather frayed clothing ... dressed shabbily ..."
"For a moment I felt impelled to speak to him. But a voice within me seemed to forbid ... I walked on," you wrote. Was that the voice, Bro. Shuler, that says in I John 3:17: "Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels. of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" But I was no longer in "the church" to which you are so "loyal" and generous. It is quite true that I am now merely your brother in Christ.
However, I honestly wasn't in actual need of anything at the time unless it was that I was in need of a little more consideration as to my personal appearance in such a public place. You see, just about nineteen years ago, Bro. Shuler, Phil. 4:79 canceled all my earthly insurance policies; 2 Tim. 3:16,17 dynamited all my sectarian straight-jackets; Col. 2:6 and I John I:5-7 provided me with the most intimate fellowship with the Triune God and all Spirit-led saints; and 2 Cor. 12:9,10 with Phil. 4:11-13 have been showing me the wicked extravagance and the obvious poverty of covetously "window-shopping" at Babylon's windows, so, for the life of me, I don't know how I happened to present such an inaccurate spectacle as that which you so minutely and tenderly described.
You were right when you said that I speak over the radio "when he can get hold of enough money to buy some time." Frankly I think that's all the radio speaking a Christian should do - only what he can pay for. By-the-way, Bro. Shuler, did you ever hear me asking for money over the radio? Nor has anyone else!
But how in the world do you suppose I "get hold of enough to buy" radio time for six weekly programs now in four states, Ohio, Kansas, Washington, and California? To be exact, the answer isn't "in the world" but in the WORD - the Word of God. Remember that you said: "He is still 90% of the time right." (Of course, you couldn't KNOW that I was 90% of the time right unless you were likewise right so as to know right from wrong. It is possible, I admit, for one to be a hypocrite, knowing better than he is doing.)
By the grace of God, ! believe that "no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly," (Psa. 84:11) Incidentally, every penny of the money that I invest in radio time, renting halls, etc, is voluntarily placed in my hands without any stipulation as to what I do with it, so, you see, Bro. Shuler, I COULD buy better clothes and PINK powder for my face (now "ashen gray"). Indeed, my "hungry eyes" could have read more than "the titles of the mouldy volumes in the window" of that secondhand book store!
Don't let your conscience bother you too much, Bro. Shuler, for having obeyed that "voice within" that forbade you to speak to me (or even slip me 15 cents to satisfy my "hungry eyes" for I think I later went in and bought one or more rapidly moulding books that were Methodist "best sellers" a couple or more years ago.
You see, there are others besides "we Southerners" who are "loud-mouthed", therefore, their yesterday's writings are quickly discarded to make room for their today's mouthings. I am thus enabled to keep just "a second-hand-book-store" behind you "men of the cloth" who buy the first-hand modernist mouthings before they are obviously "mouldy". I only read those by BIG men "of the cloth", however. And there is some value, at least, in the light Bible prophecy, to see what the "black shirts", the black coats, the black vests, the "silver shirts", the silver tonguers, the "brown shirts", the Popish lock-steppers, the modernist high-steppers and the fundamentalist side-steppers are doing. (I'm speaking of the systems rather than the individuals.)
"He became a spiritual isolationist", you wrote of me. I pray that you are right for that would mean that I am separated ONLY to the spiritual. I can now sing: "Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love" and sing it with understanding and satisfaction that I never knew nor could I know before I became "spiritual isolationist". "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from out from among the dead and Christ shall give thee light." (Eph. 5:14) "And the Lord said unto Abraham, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it ..." (Gen. 14:14,15) I would to God, Bro. Shuler, that you saw the inverted pyramid that your whole man-made Methodism is. You apparently don't dream that TIME and SENSE are the greedy Mortgage Co., from which you have so largely borrowed in building yourself up as a BIG preacher Fighting Bob Shuler. And when that heartless pair, TIME and SENSE, foreclose on you it will be the most sickening and frightful awakening you have ever known. Your fight has NOT been "the good fight of faith", but of sight. It has been the confused and confusing bluffs and wild swingings of a blood-bought, fearless and fervent soul that somewhere back in his life became an orthodox "Front" for that immense "holding company", TIME and SENSE, the silent but controlling partners.
I believe the day will come when your two usually talented boys, Bob Jr. and Jack, will all but curse you for not pleading with them to forsake their father's religio-political appeasement policy; your "magnanimous-back-slapping" with your denomination modernists and your "Good Friday" orthodoxy with inter-denominational fundamentalists. I say these severe things ONLY because I love your soul and believe they may be used of God to arrest you before you bluff away the rest of your earthly opportunities..
Later, I expect to go more into the subject of just what is a "great man". Suffice it now for me to say that I firmly believe you would rather have had your son, Jack, appear on the platform, as he did, at that "Youth For Christ" mass meeting in Hollywood Bowl than to have had him be alone with John the Beloved on the Isle of Patmos or caught up to the third heaven with Paul, to have: him, or yourself, DIRECTLY called by an angel of the Lord, as was Philip, to LEAVE the city and "go to Gaza, which is desert" (Acts 8:26) would suggest a "kink" or spiritual "isolationism" to you, I cannot doubt.
A servant of Christ,
/signed/ Maurice Johnson
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