"SWORD OF THE LORD" ARTICLE ON DR. J. FRANK NORRIS
The “Sword of the Lord” is a magazine founded by Dr. John R. Rice. It is the most well-known fundamentalist publication in America, with the largest circulation. The following statement was given on a calendar printed by Sword of the Lord Publishers in 1998.
J. Frank Norris, one of the most controversial figures in the history of fundamentalism, was born in Alabama, but his family moved to Texas when he was a boy. His childhood experiences included being shot trying to help his father defend their farm from horse thieves.
Norris was saved at the age of 13 in a brush arbor revival. Feeling that God had called him to preach, he enrolled at Baylor University. While Norris was a student, he was pastor of a church on weekends in nearby Mount Calm. By the time of his graduation, the church regularly had 800 in attendance – in a town of 400 people!
After graduating from seminary, Norris was a pastor in Dallas for three years before accepting the call to the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas for the beginning of a 43-year ministry. By the late 1920s the church had an average attendance of 5,200 people.
Norris’ running feud with the Southern Baptist Convention over the issues of evolution, modernism and liberalism and local church independence covered many years. He was excluded from the Tarrant County Baptist Association in 1922 and from the Texas Baptist Convention in 1924.
Trials for perjury and arson in 1912 (related to a fire which destroyed the church auditorium) and murder in 1927 (Norris had killed a man in his office who threatened his life) ended with his acquittal on all charges. Norris successfully forced at least five newspapers to retract statements they made about him during the second trial.
In 1935 Norris accepted the pastorate of a second church – Temple Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. This church too experienced phenomenal growth. By 1946 the combined membership of the two congregations was more than 26,000. Norris commuted by train and later plane between the two churches for some 16 years.
Norris founded the Premillennial Baptist Missionary Fellowship among like-minded independents. A struggle for control of the group led to the formation of the Baptist Bible Fellowship and the World Baptist Fellowship (Norris’ group). Norris died in Keystone Heights, Florida in 1952, having influenced a generation for the fundamentals of the Faith.
Although a rift developed between Dr. Norris and Dr. John R. Rice in 1936, Dr. Rice advised his friends to love and pray for Dr. Norris: “He is a great man, has won many thousands of souls, and has stood for the fundamentals of the Faith in a way that has greatly honored God.”