Isaac Massey Haldeman: Part 3 – Early Ministry in New York to Portent of Things to Come

Ministry in New York

Reporting with that same romantic historical interest as he did concerning his first pastorate, I. M. Haldeman relates that “In April of 1884 [he] received a call to become Pastor of the old and historic First Baptist Church of New York City.”[1] Judging by the histories written to commemorate the various anniversaries of the church while he was its pastor, it seems quite certain that he took special pride in John Gano’s connection to the church and his service to the fledgling republic. By May 5th of that same year, the New York Times reported his call to First Baptist from Wilmington where he drew large congregations, that was not yet 40 years old, that he was brought up around Quakers, and that he had a reputation “of being an effective preacher.”[2] By October 5th, 1884, Haldeman was apparently in New York City and commencing his pastoral duties. The report in the New York Times reiterates the remarks about his success in Wilmington and his relative youth. The report adds that “he preaches without notes, has a good voice and much energy.”[3] After his debut, the same newspaper reported that Haldeman is the sort of preacher who promises to attract large crowds. At that time, the church was still located on Park Avenue and 39th Street. The reporter’s description was quite graphic, even if he or she gave a vague report on the content of Haldeman’s sermon:

Mr Haldeman, who apparently about 35 years old, is a tall, spare man, with light hair and complexion and rather angular features. With exceeding fluency and vehemence of speech, he combines remarkable energy of gesticulation, vivid description, and decidedly dramatic action. Many of his gestures are weird and some of them positively startling. His voice is neither strong nor flexible. Still he is one of those pulpit orators that are sure to attract crowds. The subject  of his sermon was the moral force of Christianity and its power to change  the nature of man as no other religion can. This power, he argued, lies in the principle of self-sacrifice for the benefit of mankind, embodied in the death of Christ on the cross for the salvation of sinners.[4]

Not much can be found regarding the installation of the new pastor in the records of the church, but a record exists in the treasurer’s annual report covering the fiscal year of May 1, 1885 to May 1, 1886 that the new and “young” pastor garnered $5000 for his first full fiscal year of ministry.[5]

Early years in New York.

The next decade of ministry bears no record of any significant difficulty or problem. The records of the church business meetings indicate a steady stream of new memberships; enough to warrant a new building. On December 10, 1888, a little more than four years since the church had installed Haldeman, the church resolved to sell their current property and find a new location. Through a series of committees and surveys they chose the West side of Manhattan, purchasing a total of five lots on the northwest corner of Broadway and 79th Street in June of 1890 for the sum of $73,750.[6] A design competition was held to select an architect. George M. Keister of Apollo Theater fame and generally known for his theater and residential design was chosen for the job.[7] The architecture of the church as designed by Keister possessed a great many symbolic allusions to the theology preached by the young Haldeman. This will be discussed more fully below. The church seats about 1000 people with the balcony which was added in 1903.[8]

During this initial decade of ministry, Haldeman began to preach the sermons that, when compiled into a book, have made him known to pastors and theologians even today. In 1893 a small announcement heralds the pastor’s series of messages on “The Jewish Tabernacle and the Priesthood.”[9] This, no doubt, was the beginning of the study that would be published as The Tabernacle, Priesthood, and Offerings.[10] In the following year, the Times reports that they had received his book, Theosophy or Christianity, Which?[11] with an introduction by T. Dewitt Talmage.[12]

The first public fracas that Haldeman appears to have been dragged into concerned the American Proscriptive Association. This organization declared its unmitigated opposition to Roman Catholicism. Apparently they aimed to restrict the religious liberty of Catholics, and they were not above using less than honest means to carry out their aim. They also threatened to “break down” any Protestant minister who voiced concern over their aim or methods. Haldeman, while obviously not positive about Papists, nevertheless rejected having anything to do with this bigotry. Indeed, it must be the only time in a newspaper where his name is listed next to that of a Unitarian ministers with the intent to demonstrate their solidarity.[13] Ironically, just four years later a letter to the editor seems to indicate that Haldeman had voiced his opposition to Christian Science by lumping it together with “Unitarianism, Universalism, and Swedborganism.”[14]

Portent of things to come.

By 1895 and into his second decade as pastor at First Baptist, the newspapers were beginning to report on Haldeman’s views that were running counter to the prevailing popular and theological culture. In one notable instance the newspaper reported on his sermon supporting a bodily resurrection in opposition and support of other clergyman in the city depending on which view they took.[15] In still another article, Haldeman gives his views alongside that of A. C. Dixon, then pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Apparently, the occasion was the reading of a paper by another pastor on the subject of  “Ecclesiastical Hedonism.” The paper denounced the use of ritual and sensationalism in religion. To this thesis both Dixon and Haldeman lent hardy support. Haldeman’s reported comment, “You can’t draw a broken heart with a bass drum. Put God in the individual and the devil will take a back seat in government as in everything else,” was misunderstood to be a negative review of the work of the Salvation Army. When asked, he stated that he did not have them in mind, but Dixon reportedly went on about the need for the gospel to change government, and for government to take a hard line on vice. In all, the report seemed rather confused and comments were collected from the two men across a broad spectrum of topics including ritualistic Romanism and the arrests of gamblers in New York.[16] What does seem to surface is some sort of struggle with what we now call a social gospel. At the time this paper was reporting, Walter Rauschenbusch had been meeting with his Brotherhood of the Kingdom for two or three years,[17] but his first work on the social gospel would not be published until some twelve years later in 1907.[18]

Over roughly the next decade of ministry, from 1896 to 1906, the papers reported little on Haldeman’s ministry. Other than the steady stream of new members and baptisms, the church minutes report little of significance. Haldeman and his congregation had been in a new church building since 1893 and had added more seating in the form of a balcony in 1903. During this decade the newspapers report on his involvement in a home mission society,[19] a complaint against the location of the subway outlet,[20] and the 160th anniversary of the church.[21] Portending the struggles of his later life, the newspaper, after reporting on Charles A. Briggs defense of his higher critical view on the Bible, further reports on Haldeman’s assessment of Briggs beliefs. Haldeman derided Briggs’ denial of the infallibility of Scripture. The newspaper reports Haldeman’s indignation at modernism’s assertion that Christ and the prophets were the products of mere myth. His consternation is evident in this reported statement:

We don’t want ignorance in the seat of supreme intelligence. Some might cry out against depriving “the professor” of his liberty, but if the Church casts out a minister who teaches that the Word of God is uncertain why should it be said we are curtailing his liberty? How gracious it would be if a fire should sweep away some of these theological institutions and scatter their ashes to the winds! What the Church requires today is to put out of our midst all men who teach that the Word of God is not true.[22]

Haldeman continued to be reported on throughout the next fifteen years, although still somewhat sparsely. He writes a book on Christian Science,[23] he “dissected” the Emmanuel Movement and its view of hypnotic healing,[24] he assails the idea that Christ was some sort of socialist,[25] and he opines that the theater is “like an agency of the devil.”[26] With all of this, it seems that Haldeman has carved out a ministry niche for himself against any ‘ism that runs counter to clear biblical teaching. Unitarianism, universalism, modernism, socialism, Christian Science, Theosophy, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Emanuel Movement are more than likely just a sampling of the sort of teachings that Haldeman opposed. Toward the last decade and a few odd years of his life, however, Haldeman would level his sights on one particular ‘ism – modernism,[27] and he would do so as the unabashed protagonist of another ‘ism – fundamentalism.

Before closing out the ‘teen’ years of the then new twentieth century, Haldeman would be given, by his own account, his first significant sorrow; the loss of his only child to influenza in 1918.[28] Haldeman  provides no name or age for the son, and no obituary or record at the church was found in recent research. Apparently he was of adult age at the time of his death because Haldeman writes that he was “a noble son, in the very vigor and hope of life . . . died far away from me in his new home in Riverton, Kansas.”[29] Later, on the occasion of Haldeman’s own death, the newspaper would report that he had two surviving grandchildren.[30] Presumably, these grandchildren were the children of this son. In these waning ‘teen’ years of the twentieth-century, Haldeman’s presence at a most notable event would be a harbinger of things to come in his final decade and a few odd years of life. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association held their first meeting at the Philadelphia Music Hall from May 25 to June 1, 1919. Haldeman is listed as one of eighteen luminaries to lead the conference, but he never figured prominently in the association for its later meetings.[31] At the age of 74, perhaps he felt more comfortable to do this sort of work from home and from his pulpit at First.

[1]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 4.

[2]“Called to a Baptist Church,” New York Times, 5 May 1884, 5.

[3]“A New Preacher in an Old Church,” New York Times, 4 October 1884, 8.

[4]“A Preacher That Will Attract,” New York Times, 6 October 1884, 8.

[5]First Baptist Church of New York City, “Trustees’ Notes First Baptist Church of New York City: 1868–1871,” Handwritten notes in bound volume (1868–71).

[6]First Baptist Church of New York City, “The First Baptist Church in the City of New York: Celebrating 100 Years on Broadway and 79th Street 1893–1993,” copy of booklet, Richard Daniel Burke (New York, 1993), 3.

[7]First Baptist Church of New York City, “The First Baptist Church in the City of New York: Celebrating 100 Years on Broadway and 79th Street 1893–1993,” 3.

[8]First Baptist Church of New York City, “The First Baptist Church in the City of New York: Celebrating 100 Years on Broadway and 79th Street 1893–1993,” 4.

[9]“New York and Roundabout,” New York Times, 9 September 1893, 8.

[10]Undoubtedly, without a running record of Haldeman’s sermons one cannot tell for certain, but the earliest publication date for this volume is usually found to be 1925. The study, however, with respect to Haldeman, may have started earlier and ended much later. (Isaac Massey Haldeman, “The Tabernacle, Priesthood and Offerings,” [Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1925])

[11]Theosophy is an esoteric religious movement that was started through the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatskya. It taught a mystical view of incorporating the same sort of hierarchy of being as seen in the metaphysics of neoplatonism. The study of comparative religions and its attending idea religious evolution was co-opted to explain that different religions may be located at different levels on the hierarchy. They may be at evolved to different levels of perfection, nonetheless they are all headed in the same direction.

[12]“Books Received,” New York Times, 3 February 1894, 3.

[13]“To ‘Break Down’ Clergymen – American Proscriptive Association Extends Its Scope,” New York Times, 8 June 1894, 8.

[14]W. S. Crowe, “Christian Science Defined – Letter to the Editor,” New York Times, 19 January 1898, 6.

[15]“No Bodiless Existence,” New York Times, 6 May 1895, 2.

[16]“Would Like to be a Hornet,” New York Times, 29 October 1895, 14.

[17]Christopher Hodge Evans, The Kingdom is Always but Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2004), 105–10.

[18]Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (New York: Macmillan, 1907).

[19]“Baptists in San Francisco,” New York Times, 2 June 1899, 3.

[20]“Object to Subway Outlet,” New York Times, 18 January 1902, 16.

[21]“Church 160 Years Old,” New York Times, 12 December 1904, 9.

[22]“Would not Admit Dr. Briggs,” New York Times, 8 May 1899, 7.

[23]“New York Book Announcements,” New York Times, 6 February 1909, BR80.

[24]“Clergyman Attacks Emmanuel Plan,” New York Times, 19 April 1909, 9.

[25]“Preacher Attacks Christian Socialism,” New York Times, 26 April 1909, 5.

[26]“Calls Theatres Devil’s Agencies,” New York Times, 26 February 1910, 16.

[27] For the purpose of this paper, the terms, “modernism” and “liberalism” will be used interchangeably. The auther is well aware that some have legitamately distinguished not only between these terms, but also have created a taxonomy surrounding these terms. See Kenneth Cauthen, The Impact of American Religious Liberalism (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1962).

[28]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 5.

[29]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 5.

[30]“1,000 Hear Eulogy of Dr. Haldeman,” New York Times, 1 October 1933, 38.

[31]David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, S.C.: Unusual Publications, 1986), 100–06 For more on the WCFA, Beale has a significant section on the history and character of the early WCFA in these same pages.


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