Isaac Massey Haldeman: Part 4 – Engaged in the “Battle Royal”

By the time Haldeman’s ministry had surged into the “roaring twenties,” Haldeman could boast of two other accomplishments. The first was a unanimous call to the prestigious Clarendon Street Baptist Church sometime after the death of A. J. Gordon. A call which he appreciatively declined.[1] The second accomplishment was that of being awarded Doctor Honoris Causis in the form of a Doctor of Divinity from the Baptist Theological Seminary in Liberty, Missouri.[2] This latter accomplishment is confirmed by the newspaper’s use of the appropriate honorific when subsequently reporting Haldeman’s’s disgust with the Interchurch World Movement.[3]

On April 25, 1920, just prior to the newspaper report which was published May 3, 1920, the church minutes record the adoption of the following resolution against the Interchurch World Movement.[4] It bears all the earmarks of Haldeman’s rhetorical style and was neatly handwritten onto the lined paper of the note ledger:

Resolved that the First Baptist Church desires to put itself on record as having no fellowship with the Interchurch World Movement and refuses the invitation of the Northern Baptist Convention to participate herein[sic] for the following reasons:

It is post-millennial in its attitude and teaching.

It is socialistic, educational and ethical.

It preaches an ethical, rather than a sacrificial Christ.

It preaches a moral, rather than the penal sacrifice of Christ.

It preaches a social rather than a personal gospel.

It seeks to save society, rather than the individual.

It makes civilization and not salvation the supreme purpose of the church.

It talks of the teachings, ideals and principles of Christ and not of the atoning blood of Christ.

It substitutes the kingdom of Christ for the church of Christ.

It confounds the gospel of grace with the gospel of the kingdom.

It teaches the kingdom of Christ is to be established by preaching the gospel, while Scripture declares the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ only at His Second Coming.

It preaches regeneration but means regeneration of society.

It seeks to turn the churches into community centers, to be interested in all that may interest the community; while the Scriptures demands[sic] the church shall come out, be separate from the community and be interested in one thing – the preaching of Christ and him crucified.

It holds out the hope that the world is growing better; while the Son of God declares it will grow worse and become as it was in the days of Noah.

It teaches the golden rule intelligently applied, instead of the personal and second coming of Christ will give peace to the world.

It has nothing to say about the joys of heaven and seems to have forgotten to anything about the woes of hell.

It so emphasizes mere ethics that it opens the door for the satanic ministry of a bloodless righteousness.

It threatens pastoral liberty and local church independence.

It is enthusiastically supported by all theological seminaries, professors, preachers and teachers who do not stand for a whole Bible as the fully inspired Word of God.

It is modern theology in disguise of evangelical and missionary appeal.

It has the hands of Esau but the unchanged voice of Jacob.[5]

The fact of this proposal was reported by the Times as well as a prognosticatory remark by Haldeman that “in five years this thing will produce an ecclesiastical autocracy on the one hand and a church sovietism on the other. Have nothing to do with this movement if you are a believer.”[6] This dissension opened up a volley of profuse indignation from both sides. The Interchurch World Movement cabinet voted to answer Haldeman’s attack. The report includes words like “deplorable,” “deep regret,” “too bad, “absurd,” and “utterly false” to describe what these Interchurch leaders thought of Haldeman’s position. Despite these seemingly innocuous circumlocutions for censure, the newspaper reports that Dr. John Y. Atchison, who was director of the movement, stated that the reason why the Interchurch World Movement took the uncharacteristic decision to answer this attack was that Haldeman’s remarks came “at the most critical time of our financial campaign.” He even accuses Haldeman of making a calculated attack on the movement.[7] In less than a week, Haldeman renewed the attack in his Sunday evening sermon wherein he congratulated the Southern Baptist Convention for voting against participating in the movement and reported that he had received letters, since his first sermon on the subject, threatening him with bodily violence if he persisted in his denunciations.[8]

As the controversy surrounding the Interchurch World Movement moved into the background, the essence within it came to the foreground; the issue of modernist versions of Christianity versus fundamentalist versions of Christian orthodoxy. In 1923 the battle raged within the Protestant Episcopal Church. As the PEC dealt with the issue of modernism coupled with the necessities of their own communion’s hierarchy, the newspaper did not miss the connection with Haldeman’s own condemnation of religious modernism. At the end of an article on the controversy with the PEC, the writer inserts that others were to speak on the subject and listed Haldeman as preaching on the question, “Is the Present State of the Faith in the Protestant Church a Sign that Protestantism is Breaking Down?” At neighboring Calvary Baptist Church, fundamentalist firebrand, John Roach Straton was to speak on “The Devil’s Lies vs. God’s Truth About the Bible.”[9] Later, that same year, Haldeman would again be reported as attacking the modernists.[10] The vitriol against modernism would continue from his pulpit until his death. While it cannot be confirmed for certain that this was all his later ministry consisted of (i.e. the denunciations of religious modernism and modernists), from the papers’ reports and his the catalog of his own writings, this seems a roughly accurate picture of the situation.[11]

The last seven years of Haldeman’s life seem punctuated by honors, illness, and attacks on the usual suspects – religious modernism, Romanism, and the new demon of bolshevism. In 1926 the church celebrated his fortieth year as pastor at First Baptist. The paper reports that a gift of $15,000 was awarded the pastor who planned on using it to pay off the mortgage on his home at 389 West End Avenue.[12] His connection to “Fundamentalism and the ‘Blessed Hope’ of our lord’s imminent pre-millennial return” is reported clearly by the papers through the words of fundamentalist luminaries such as William L. Pettingill and William E. Blackstone, who are reported as sending accolades to the aging preacher.[13] That same year, Haldeman’s and First Baptist’s connection to the broader national fundamentalist movement would be highlighted when, the “Texas Tornado” and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, J. Frank Norris, shot Dexter Chipps. The paper’s article reported that, according to First Baptist of Fort Worth’s own J. J. Mickle, Chipps was part of a three man conspiracy to kill Norris. The connection to the New York City church came out because Norris had been invited to speak at Haldeman’s church four months earlier for the last two Sundays in August. Haldeman himself was on vacation out of town at his farm in the Catskills[14]. The sexton averred to speak for the church, stating that the invitation to speak would not be rescinded “until his case is fairly presented.” Others in the church were reported as stating that the decision to continue the invitation to Norris would be made by Haldeman. One stated that the members of the church believed that Norris would “withdraw from the engagement.” Clearly, the news that Norris shot Chipps was sensational even as far north as New York City.[15]

Beginning in 1926, Haldeman would begin to experience illness that kept him from the pulpit. An illness kept him out of the pulpit at least six months, ending in November of 1926, perhaps coinciding with some of his usual summer vacation.[16] Again, in March of 1928 at 84 years of age, he experienced another illness that kept him out of the pulpit at least a week.[17] In  October of 1931, Haldeman reveals to his congregation that he must immediately seek surgery to remove cataracts from his eyes. He used this setback to admonish his congregation concerning the infidelity and impotency of modernism.[18]

Then, in October 1932, he returned to the pulpit after an illness which lasted five months during which time “his life had been despaired of several times.” He used the occasion to preach the imminent return of Christ and that his depression served to somehow ready him for that day.[19] Another illness would precede his terminal illness by a matter of months.[20]

Between these illnesses and toward the end of March 1930, the newspaper reports in several articles concerning the celebration of Haldeman’s forty-sixth anniversary at First Baptist and his sixty years overall in the pulpit. One article reported that at the age of 85, Haldeman preached twice on Sunday and taught a Bible class, that he said more words per minute than Billy Sunday, and that he still usually preached to a crowded church.[21] Another article reporting on the festivities tells of him spending his five month summer vacations writing books, his satisfaction in the amount of ministry-ready young men in First Baptist’s Young People’s Union, his prohibiting women from the pulpit, and his rule that no social functions were allowed in the church.[22] Two more articles would report on the event.[23] Evidently, the Times editorial staff felt that this was a story worth covering well.

The last article, in which the Times reports on Haldeman’s ministry while he is yet alive, speaks of Haldeman’s returning after yet another illness of several weeks and preaching on Christ’s humanity and deity – that he is “co-equal and co-eternal with God.”[24] On September 27, 1933 I. M Haldeman expired. On the following day the papers reported his death with a portrait of the Rev. Dr. I. M. Haldeman and a brief review of his life and career. The church clerk minutes note with an asterisk and an entry on Wednesday, September 27, 1933: “Our Pastor, Rev. Isaac Massey Haldeman after a serious illness of long duration, departed to be with the Lord after an uninterrupted ministry of over forty-nine years.”[25] An entry concerning a baptism intervenes on the following Friday before the description of the funeral services on Saturday, September 30, 1933:

Funeral Services for Dr. Haldeman were held at 8:00 P.M. with an audience which filled the church to capacity. Dr. Cortland Meyers of California had charge of the service and the sermon was preached by Dr. Curtis Lee Laws Editor of the Watchman-Examiner. The body lay in State in the Church until the internment which was at Woodlawn Cemetery, Monday, October 2, 1933.[26]

The papers also note the size of the crowd and the speakers. They report Laws as eulogizing on Haldeman by means of the Apostle Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy, “I have fought the good fight. I  have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”[27] A little more than two weeks later the Southern New York Baptist Association sent a note of condolence to the members and friends of First Baptist.[28]

Thus ended the earthly life of Isaac Massey Haldeman and the record of the observances to follow. Perhaps Curtis Lee Laws’ summed up Haldeman’s life quite well and succinctly in his  invoking 2 Timothy 4:7. Haldeman certainly seemed to display all the traits typical of a fundamentalist, and, judging by his death very early in the movement’s history, it might even be considered that he was the archetypical fundamentalist. But, was there more too this giant of early fundamentalism than just fighting, finishing, and fidelity?


[1]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 5 Apparently, Haldeman could not remember the year, but only seems to remember the century as he provides only “19” with extra blanks to follow.

[2]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 5 See comment on not 52 above. The same applies to this record.

[3]“Assails Interchurch Drive,” New York Times, 3 May 1920, 12.

[4]For a brief treatment on the Interchurch World Movement see (George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870–1925 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1980], 166), or for a new edition: (George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, Second Edition [New York: Oxford University Press, 2006], 166) . For a more in-depth description and its relation to the Northern Baptist Convention see (Robert George Delnay, A History of the Baptist Bible Union [Winston Salem, N. C.: Piedmont Bible College Press, 1974], 20–25). Delnay points out that it was the issue of Northern Baptist cooperation in the Interchurch World Movement with its own New World Movement that triggered the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy among Northern Baptists (p. 22).

[5]First Baptist Church of New York City, “Church Clerk’s Notes 1883–1993,” mixture of handwritten and typewritten church business notes (1883–1993), 213–15.

[6]“Assails Interchurch Drive,” New York Times, 3 May 1920, 12.

[7]“Answers Attack on Church Drive,” New York Times, 4 May 1920, 10.

[8]“Threatens Dr. Haldeman,” New York Times, 10 May 1920, 13.

[9]“Modernists Renew Attack on Bishops,” New York Times, 30 December 1923, 1.

[10]“Attacks the Modernists,” New York Times, 31 December 1923, 5.

[11]The following articles make reference to Haldeman’s tireless polemic against religious modernism and liberalism: “To Discuss Doctrine in Many Pulpits,” New York Times, 2 May 1924, B2; “Many Preach Today on Church Dispute,” New York Times, 20 January 1924, E2; “Fosdick’s Initial Sermon,” New York Times, 31 May 1925, E3; “Pastor Sees Signs of Modernist Plot,” New York Times, 5 October 1925, 24; “Assails ‘God of Science’,” New York Times, 11 November 1929, 23; “Haldeman Scores Baptist Liberals,” New York Times, 8 December 1930, 24; “Pastor Assails Moderns,” New York Times, 27 April 1931, 25; “Dr. Haldeman Urges Spiritual Values,” New York Times, 13 October 1930, 34; “Congregation Rises to Back Haldeman,” New York Times, 19 October 1931, 18; “Haldeman Upholds Jesus as Deity,” New York Times, 30 November 1931, 20; “Christ as Man and God,” New York Times, 6 March 1933, 11; “Haldeman Calls Liberals Infidels,” The New York Herald, 24 December 1924, 4.

[12]This appears to be about a block west and a half of a block south on the west side of West End Avenue. With only a visual reference and without research into re-zoning and renumbering of the residences on the street, it appears to still be standing and used. It is a red brick row house type structure.

[13]“Topics of Interest to Churchgoers,” New York Times, 12 June 1926, 12.

[14]It was the practice during Haldeman’s pastorate, for Haldeman to take a sabbatical from June through October/November. More than likely, Norris was to fill the pulpit in Haldeman’s absence.

[15]“Plot to Kill Norris Charged by Church,” New York Times, 20 June 1926, 9 Of interest also in this article is the reported telegram text from Fort Worth to New York, reading “Case of absolute self-defense. Men came to Dr. Norris’s study to kill him and he defended himself. The church of one mind, heavy hearted but with faith strong.”

[16]“Lays His Recovery to Prayers of Flock,” New York Times, 15 November 1926, 24.

[17]“Haldeman Back in Pulpit,” New York Times, 26 March 1928, 24.

[18]“Congregation Rises to Back Haldeman.”

[19]“Dr. Haldeman, Ill 5 Months, Resumes Pulpit; Tells Flock Depression Has Divine Purpose,” New York Times, 24 October 1932, 13.

[20]“Christ as Man and God,” New York Times, 6 March 1933, 11.

[21]“Baptists to Honor Dr. Haldeman Today,” New York Times, 26 March 1930, 29.

[22]“Dr. Haldeman Marks 60 Years in Pulpit,” New York Times, 27 March 1930, 22.

[23]“Baptists Honor Haldeman,” New York Times, 29 March 1930, 24; “Marks 46 Years’ Service,” New York Times, 31 March 1930, 14.

[24]“Christ as Man and God.”

[25]First Baptist Church of New York City, “Church Clerk’s Notes 1883–1993,” 359.

[26]First Baptist Church of New York City, “Church Clerk’s Notes 1883–1993,” 359.

[27]“1,000 Hear Eulogy of Dr. Haldeman.”

[28]First Baptist Church of New York City, “Church Clerk’s Notes 1883–1993,” 362.

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