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William Bell Riley, 1861-1947,Pastor, Educator

Written by: Unknown    Posted on: 03/17/2003

Category: Biographies

Source: CCN

William Bell Riley 1861-1947 Baptist pastor and educator. W.B. Riley was born in Green County, Indiana, but soon moved with his parents to Boone County, Kentucky, where they lived in a log cabin. He spent his formative years working the fields from dawn to dusk. In 1880 he completed sufficient schooling at a normal school in Valparaiso, Indiana, and received his teacher's certificate. After teaching in county schools, he attended college in Hanover, Indiana, where he received an A.B. degree in 1885. He served several Baptist churches in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, in addition to studying at Southern Baptist Theo- logical Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.         On March 1, 1897, he began his ministry as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He served as pastor for 45 years and pastor emeritus for five years. A gifted orator and preacher, he championed the cause of funda- mental evangelical Christianity. He conducted large evangel- istic campaigns in which thousands were saved, in addition to building up the membership of his church to more than 2,500. During his entire ministry, he fought modernism, liberalism, and sin. On one occasion he debated against evolution at the University of Minnesota.         In 1942, he retired from the active pastorate to de- vote full-time to Northwestern Schools, which he founded on October 2, 1902 as Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School. Dr. Riley was the author of at least 60 volumes, nu- merous booklets, and single sermons in pamphlet form.

ARTIST'S NOTE: The black-and-white colors emphasize the posi- tion of an out-and-out fundamentalist who takes a clear stand with no middle position. The pinks and whites present his Nordic ancestry.

Ruckman '65



William Bell Riley BORN: March 22, 1861 Greene County, Indiana DIED: December 5, 1947 Minneapolis, Minnesota LIFE SPAN: 86 years, 8 months, 13 days         RILEY  WAS ONE OF THE MOST DILIGENT fundamental- ists  of his day.  For 45 years he was the pastor of the First  Baptist Church of Minneapolis,  Minnesota.  Along with  Norris in the South and Shields in  Canada,  Riley was  the voice of historic Christianity against the  in- filtration  of  liberalism.  His  chief  foes  were  the Northern  (now American)  Baptist Convention and  evolu- tion. Although he stayed to fight from within the denom- ination,  never  withdrawing his church,  his stand will never be forgotten.  William Bell Riley is known as "The Grand  Old Man of Fundamentalism,"  and his  accomplish- ments leave one breathless.         Born  thirty  days  before the outbreak  of  the Civil  War,  he was reared in a Boone County,  Kentucky, log  cabin,  where the family had moved.  Son of Branson and Ruth, he did his share of the chores. At age nine he frequently plowed and worked the fields from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. In 1872 the family moved to Owen County,  Kentucky, purchasing a 120-acre farm. He attended a country school at  Union.  His irregular attendance was due to the farm work which at times kept him home days at a time.         In August, 1878, when he was seventeen he made a public  profession of his faith in Christ at the Baptist church in Dallasburg,  Kentucky,  which was 2 miles from his farm home, and he was baptized in a pond.         Riley  earned  a reputation as a debater in  the public  schools and was torn between a legal  profession and  a call to preach.  After some months of turmoil  he knelt  between  two  rows of tobacco on a  hillside  and said, "Lord, I give over, I give up, I will preach."  He recalls  that this was his greatest experience with God. At  eighteen  he rented his own farm and met  his  first real test in life. Walking out on a field of 24 acres of tobacco one early Sunday morning, he found that half the plants lay dead from the work of cut worms.  Laying down in  the open field,  he wept.  But the next day a  heavy rain made it possible to replace most of the crop and in the  next two years he paid off his bills and had a bal- ance remaining.         With  this  money he went to a Normal School  in Valparaiso, Indiana,  the winter of 1879-80.  Home sick- ness and financial difficulties were part of the agenda, but  he received a teacher's certificate.  An additional year  was spent at home due to family difficulties,  but in  the fall of 1881 he was off to college.  William de- cided upon a Presbyterian school, Hanover (Indiana) Col- lege, because of its spiritual reputation.  He seriously pursued  his  new calling,  majoring in the classics  as well  as being an active debater.  He graduated with  an A.B.  degree  in  1885 and received his M.A.  degree  in 1888.  His father died while he was in college,  but was greatly  pleased  to know his son was called to  preach. Riley  started  as a once-a-month preacher from 1881  to 1883 supplying in North Madison, Indiana. In 1883 he was made pastor of his own churches at Carrolton and Warsaw, Kentucky,  preaching  two Sundays a month in each place. Riley  was  ordained a Baptist minister on December  25, 1883 at Dallasburg.         Riley  completed  his  education  at  Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky,  graduating in 1888.  While  here,  he  had a student pastorate at  the Tabernacle  Baptist Church of New Albany,  Indiana 1887- 88.  In 1887,  D.L.  Moody held a campaign in Louisville and  Riley  was one of the personal  workers.  In  June, 1888,  Riley gave his Seminary graduating address in the Broadway  Baptist  Church of Louisville on  the  subject "The Triumph of Orthodoxy."         That  same  month he was installed as pastor  of the First Baptist Church of lafayette, Indiana, which he pastored  until  1890.  He was instrumental in  bringing Moody  to town for a union campaign.  It was here he met and fell in love with Lillian Howard and six weeks after their marriage in December, 1890,  he baptized his young bride  into  the Baptist congregation as she had been  a member  of a local Methodist church.  They were the par- ents of six children: Arthur (December 2,  1892),  Mason (March 16, 1894), Herbert (1895--killed in a hunting ac- cident at age 19),  Eunice (October 14,  1901),  William (November 29, 1904), and John (December 26, 1906).         In  mid-1890  he accepted the pastorate  of  the First Baptist Church of Bloomington,  Indiana,  which he served  until early 1893.  Here,  because of his protest against gambling, some 250 convictions were secured.  He took the gamblers' written threats to the newspapers and defiantly  published them,  daring the senders to lay  a hand on him.         Next, a new work,  the Calvary Baptist Church of Chicago, called him. There were sixty members, a mission work of the First Baptist Church. By the time he left in 1897, the church had grown to about 500.  Here his first determined fight against liberalism began.  His frequent contacts  with  the  professors  of  the  University  of Chicago  soon  gained  him  the  reputation  of  being hopelessly orthodox.  During the Chicago World's Fair in 1893,  corruption and lawlessness mushroomed in spite of the efforts of D.L. Moody in his campaign for souls dur- ing  those days.  Riley and others joined the fight  and kept some of the saloons closed on Sundays. Again he was threatened  and  this time he read the threats from  the pulpit charging "criminality is cowardice," assuring his congregation  there was no danger.  During these days he often  spoke for Billy Sunday at his noonday meetings in a  Chicago Y.M.C.A.,  where the latter was the religious director.         A  period  of depression followed and money  was very tight.  The pastoral work became very difficult be- cause  of  the severe living conditions of  many.  Riley gave  so much time to visitation and aid in the  daytime that  his  studying had to be done late  at  night.  The church  decided to merge with a Presbyterian and  Chris- tian congregation to pool their resources.         Now  Riley  began to pray for a smaller town  to minister  where he could influence a whole area for  God as he felt he couldn't touch the entire city of Chicago. A confessed liberal, Dr. Charles Henderson,  of the Uni- versity of Chicago, recommended him to the pulpit of the First  Baptist Church of Minneapolis because he was  un- able to fill an invitation. Riley preached there in Jan- uary of 1896. When he got off the train to candidate, he forgot  one of his grips--the one containing the suit he was  to  wear.  He had to preach that morning in an  old sack  suit--which  was  not  taken  very  well  by  the aristocracy of the church!  After the church heard about 25  other candidates,  Riley was called there and  began his ministry on March 1,  1897.  The church roll was re- vised and cut down to 585 members. Then the church began to  really grow.  This growth was disturbing to  certain elements  in  the  church.  Riley decided  that  certain things had to be changed and set out to accomplish them. Stormy sessions arose as young Riley proposed to discon- tinue  pew rent,  church "fairs"  and money-raising sup- pers.  Some  members left,  but the church prospered and became the denomination's largest with thousands of con- verts baptized there.  Soon he was in the midst of civic reforms  also--demanding adequate enforcement of  liquor laws.  Riley's  ministry was one of preaching the gospel as well as fighting foes of the gospel,  and he was sym- pathetic  to  other  evangelists engaged  in  this  same fight,  providing  help and support to R.A.  Torrey  and Gipsy  Smith.  He was chosen secretary to prepare for J. Wilbur Chapman's campaign in Minneapolis.         Riley's influence grew steadily across the coun- try in four ways:  his addresses delivered at metropoli- tan centers across the land; a series of debates involv- ing most of the outstanding advocates of evolution;  his writing--numerous books,  newspaper,  and magazine arti- cles; and by the lives of his students from Northwestern Schools.         His addresses were given, for the most part,  in connection  with  the founding of the World's  Christian Fundamentalist  Association  which he was used to  bring into existence.  The aim of this movement was to declare war on modernism. In 1918 Riley and A.C. Dixon asked six biblicists to meet them at R.A.  Torrey's summer home to consider  the  possibilities  of  organizing  disturbed evangelicals  into a world fellowship.  A day of  prayer and  discussion started a foundation for the new  group. Riley  called  for a meeting in Philadelphia on May  25, 1919 and 6,000 gathered--due, for the most part,  to the labors  of J.D.  Adams of Philadelphia.  Riley gave  the opening and closing addresses and was elected president. The  meetings  continued through June 1st.  Nine  points were  drafted  into  a Confession of  Faith,  with  R.A. Torrey's mind dominating the final draft.  The planks in essence included:         (1)  Scriptures verbally inspired.         (2)  One God existing in three persons.         (3)  Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary being true God and true man.         (4)  Sinfulness of mankind.         (5)  Christ dying for our sins.         (6)  Resurrection and High Priesthood of Christ.         (7)  Blessed  Hope,  personal premillennial and imminent return of Christ.         (8)  All who receive by faith the Lord Jesus be- come children of God.         (9)  Bodily resurrection of the just and unjust, and  resulting everlasting blessedness of the saved  and punishment of the lost.         The word Fundamentalist came out of this confer- ence. Lyman Stewart,  founder along with R.A.  Torrey of the  Bible  Institute of Los  Angeles  (BIOLA),  offered $300,000.00  for the publication of a series of  volumes on  The Fundamentals.  Nearly 3 million copies of  these volumes  went  out to laymen,  ministers and  missionary workers  around the world.  Conferences in major  cities followed and the movement went overseas as well.  Annual conventions,  confined  for the most part to the  United States and Canada, drew great speakers and great crowds.         Riley  resigned  as  president in 1929  and  the movement was led by Sidney Smith for two years, followed by Paul Rood for many years. Riley later served as exec- utive secretary.         William  Bell Riley's addresses across the coun- try  were not only on defending the faith,  but he  also excelled  as an evangelist,  holding many city-wide cam- paigns  with  thousands being  converted.  In  February, 1912,  a  great crusade was held in  Duluth,  Minnesota, with between 500 to 1,000 converts. In Peoria, Illinois, a  three-week crusade was held in the City Armory and in Seattle,  Washington,  a  tabernacle  was  built  for  a month's campaign, with many saved. In Dayton,  Ohio,  66 churches  constructed a tabernacle seating 5,000 and af- ter a four-week meeting,  some 1,200 were added to their memberships. In 1933, at Worcester, Massachusetts,  some 25 churches participated with 400 professions of faith.         He also held individual church campaigns,  a no- table  one  being  at the First Baptist Church  of  Fort Worth,  Texas.  Three  hundred and fifty two people were converted in the twelve-day crusade.         Nor  was  he confined to  America--his  overseas ministries  started  in 1911 when he went to England  in response to the invitation of A.C. Dixon,  the pastor of Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle.  One Sunday there he saw  some 60 people accept Christ.  He spent four  weeks there  and another four weeks in other cities in England and  Scotland.  In 1929,  in response to a call from the Bible  League  of England,  Riley brought his  wife  and ministered in England, Scotland, Ireland,  Belgium,  and France. In 1936, he returned, this time sponsored by the Advent and Preparation Movement. He preached one week in Wales,  one  in  Scotland,  two in Ireland,  a month  in England, and a week in Belgium and France.         The  teachings of evolution were a hot issue  in those  days  so his debates became another phase of  his ministry.  His  first  encounter was in  Raleigh,  North Carolina, when six professors from the State College who believed  in  evolution  attacked the  message  of  J.C. Massee  at a Bible Conference there.  He met a Professor Metcalf and, although no decision was rendered, debating (in  which he had excelled in high school)  was back  in his blood. William Jennings Bryan had died in 1925,  and his mantle for fighting evolution passed to Riley. Bryan had referred to Riley as "the greatest Christian states- man in the American pulpit." Riley's next debate in 1925 was  scheduled  for the Church of the Open Door  in  Los Angeles.  At  the last moment the antagonist backed out, conceding  defeat leaving the building filled with 4,000 who were eager to view the proceedings. He led in a cam- paign  against the exclusive teachings of evolution  and Darwinism  in 1926 at the University of  Minnesota.  His debates  there  opened a series of contests  across  the country between Riley and the leading evolutionists.         Maynard Shipley, president of the Science League of America, agreed to four debates with Riley. Riley won the  first two by a ten-to-one margin and a  substitute, Edward  Cantrell,  was  engaged for the last two in  the place of Shipley.  He was field secretary for the Ameri- can  Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The debates all went against Dr. Cantrell.  He was easier yet to defeat,  the Chicago  vote  being  1800 votes  to  twelve.  Then  Dr. Birkenhead, Unitarian pastor from Kansas City, went down in three overwhelming defeats. Finally,  in desperation, the  evolutionists imported from England Professor  J.B. McCabe,  author  of many rationalistic books and  ardent advocate  of the evolutionary hypothesis.  The first de- bate was about a tie, but the next three Riley won hand- ily. In Toronto,  Riley met McCabe again and now won ten to one.  Riley took on McCabe in New York before a crowd of rationalists and atheists, but the verdict was seven- teen  to  twelve  in favor  of  Riley!  After  defeating Charles Smith, president of the American Association for the  Advancement of Atheism,  and Henry Holmes,  head of the  philosophy department at Swarthmore  (Pennsylvania) College, it was hard to find opponents.  Clarence Darrow was  challenged  several times,  but he refused to  meet Riley.         William  Bell  Riley's influence was  felt  also through  his  writings.  He was responsible for some  90 books and many pamphlets and was renown for his fearless literature as well as his fearless preaching.  His book, The Menace of Modernism,  expresses his deep-seated con- tempt  for university professors who slander the  Bible. However,  on  a  personal basis he sought to maintain  a friendly  spirit to the enemies of the faith and  always acted as a true Christian gentleman.         In  July,  1923,  Riley started on the  colossal task  of  taking his church through the entire Bible  in consecutive Lord's day studies.  He did just that,  com- pleting  this project ten years later on July  1,  1933. These  sermons were published in forty volumes under the title  The  Bible of the Expositor and  the  Evangelist. This  work is an exposition of the text and of the  spe- cial  use of certain portions of scripture in  soul-win- ning  appeals.  The  Perennial Revival (1933)  was  also widely  received as was The Preacher and His  Preaching, written  just before he died.  Other books include  such titles  as:  Revival  Sermons;  Wives of the  Bible;  My Bible, an Apologetic;  Seven New Testament Soul Winners; Seven  New Testament Converts;  Conflict of Christianity with Its Counterfeits; Rethinking the Church;  The Prob- lems of Youth; The Philosophies of Father Coughlin; Pas- tor  Problems;  Saved  or Lost;  Is Jesus Coming  Again? Nearly  one  million of his books have been  circulated. His  own  personal  library  consisted  of  some  3,000 volumes.         His work as an educator also endeared him to the Christian public.  It was back in 1902 that seven laymen came  to  him requesting additional instruction  in  the Bible  so  that  they  could  preach  in  nearby  closed churches.  On October 2,  he called together representa- tives  of several denominations and with their  coopera- tion organized the Northwestern Bible School.  The seven original students grew in number until it became the se- cond  largest  Bible School in the world at the time  of Riley's  death,  with some 1,200 students enrolled.  The Seminary (opened October 5,  1935 with 47 students)  and College (1943) were organized in later years.         In 1938, a recap was given covering the first 35 years of existence: Student numbers had grown from seven to  815;  teachers from two to 24;  from no property  to four beautiful buildings; from no money to an $84,000.00 expense account. Riley never took a cent of salary, but, on the contrary,  was a constant contributor to its cur- rent expense.  Through the years Riley edited The North- western Pilot.         Riley  also  found  time  to  found  the  Anti- Evolution  League with three others in 1923.  Also,  the Baptist Bible Union started in May, 1923 in Kansas City, meeting  in a tent rented from Walter  L.  Wilson.  Some 3,300 were present with T.T. Shields being elected pres- ident.  O.W.  VanOsdel  asked Riley to lead a separatist group out of the Northern Baptists, but Riley turned him down about 1927.         One would wonder how a man could find time to do all  of that which has been described and yet have  time left to pastor his church. Well, pastor he did--and most successfully!  The  visit  of  Louis Entminger  in  1920 revitalized  the Sunday School resulting in the  dedica- tion  of Jackson Hall--a $350,000 educational  building, on April 15, 1923.         Work  was  begun on a new 2,634-seat  auditorium for  his church which was dedicated on January 6,  1925. It  was usually packed out,  especially when he preached on  evolution or modernism.  The two buildings and prop- erty had a value of one million dollars.  The missionary budget  and  membership at the church continued  to  in- crease  also.  He baptized 4,000 into the church and re- ceived  another 3,000 by letter.  It must be  remembered that  Minnesota  is  not  Baptist  country--indeed, Lutherans, Catholics,  and Methodists dominate the popu- lation. There were only 35,000 Baptist church members in Minnesota  during his days and he had one-tenth of  them in his church.         His  position  in his denomination was a  unique one.  As  stated,  he  never withdrew from the  American Baptist Convention,  but it is believed that he did more than  anyone  else in slowing down the take-over by  the liberals.  He  opposed the apostasy but he was unable to reverse  the trend.  Riley as an individual did withdraw from the convention shortly before his death.         Horses, dogs and fishing were avid hobbies.  All his  life  Riley was healthy and strong,  except for  an eight-month bout with insomnia in 1911, and in 1925 when he  had  a serious illness which threatened to take  his life. Upon recovering from this, he preached the funeral of  Charles  Blanchard,  fundamentalist  president  of Wheaton College, in early 1926.         Riley's wife died on August 10, 1931,  following surgery  eight  days previous.  He was later married  to Marie R. Acomb on September 1, 1933.         He  retired  from the church in  1942,  becoming pastor emeritus,  and devoted his remaining years to his schools.  He  became president of the Minnesota  Baptist State  Convention  1944-45.  The phenomena of Youth  for Christ  was sweeping the nation and Riley became an  ar- dent booster.         On  March 22,  1946,  he was honored on his 86th birthday  at  a  civic luncheon at the  Radisson  Hotel. Present were Governor Luther W.  Youndahl,  Mayor Hubert H.  Humphrey,  and speaker Dr.  John E.  Brown of Siloam Springs, Arkansas.         The following day, Sunday, March 23, the corner- stone of Memorial Hall,  the new administration building of  the  Northwestern Schools was laid.  Riley hoped  to raise one million dollars for a new set of buildings and saw  the dynamic young Billy Graham as the man who could do  it.  So Graham was asked to succeed him as president upon  Riley's death.  He had also hoped Graham would use his  influence  to get the  schools  accredited.  Graham headed the schools until 1952.         Shortly  before midnight,  on December 5,  1947, William turned on his sick bed to say, "Goodbye,  dear," to  his  wife  at  their  home  in  Golden  Valley, Minneapolis--and he was gone. Billy Graham conducted the funeral  services.  Riley's close friend and  associate, Robert  L.  Moyer,  was  called  to succeed him  at  the church,  but  Moyer's untimely death in 1944 was a shock to all. An assistant pastor, Curtis B.  Akenson,  became pastor.  The  church  has  continued to  belong  to  the Convention, despite all the warnings along the way.         Northwestern  Seminary was discontinued in  1956 and taken over by Richard Clearwaters,  continuing today as  Central Baptist Seminary of Minneapolis.  The  Bible School program was also phased out. Soon the College was out of business. It was reopened in the fall of 1972.         Riley  also helped to popularize the daily vaca- tion  Bible  school  movement and was one of  the  early pioneers  in it.  One summer he sent 403 of his  student body into this work.  He was the editor of The Christian Fundamentalist from 1891 to 1933.

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