Blazing the Trail: My experiences working with Dr. J. Frank Norris is a 50 page booklet written by Claud J. Bonam and published posthumously in June, 1993. Bonam and his wife Viola worked for Norris for about a year and a half around 1944-45. Two events that he was eye witness to are when George Norris resigned (Jan. 26, 1945) and when former rodeo star Jack “Red” Thompson was baptized with his horse on the platform watching (Nov. 26, 1944). Bonam pastored in San Antonio for many years and started the Pot O’ Gold Youth Camp. I attended that camp numerous times in my youth. I do not recall hearing Dr. Bonam speak. It is likely that I did but have forgotten it because he was a friend of my pastor at the time.
What is presented here is not the compete book. There are numerous photographs that I am not including, most of which are found in easier to find books such as Entzminger’s The J. Frank Norris I Have Known. I am also not including the text of the sermon “The Eternal Christmas” which concludes the booklet. No captions or pull-quotes are included here, but otherwise the main body of original text is intact. I am not making these omissions for any purpose other than to simplify the presentation here with the most interesting and relevant information. Most of the text is Bonam or his wife reminiscing, with a few other scrapbook articles included.
Here you will see a glimpse of what it was to work under Norris and an intimate view of the man that few, if any, today can provide. I do not know how many copies of this were printed, but I assume not very many. It took me a few years to find a copy to purchase. – MBG
BLAZING THE TRAIL
My experiences working with Dr. J. Frank Norris
by Dr. Claud J. Bonam, Pastor
Originally Published June 1993
Originally Published by
Huisache Avenue Baptist Church
1339 W. Huisache Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78201
Before this book was completed, its author, Dr. Claud J. Bonam, went to Glory to be with His Lord Jesus on April 4th, 1993. However, with the help of his loving and devoted wife, Mrs. Bonam, and Dr. Jack L. Green, this book was completed and Dr. Bonam’s dream became a reality.
Dr. Claud J. Bonam, Pastor
Huisache Avenue Baptist Church,
San Antonio, Texas
In the providence of God, I was privileged to work with the greatest preacher of his day, Dr. J. Frank Norris. His life and ministry laid the foundation for me and hundreds of others who have answered the call of God to “preach the Word.”
This book recounts much of Dr. Norris’ wit, humor, conviction and stamina as he endeavored to serve his Lord with all his might.
He was for me a trail blazer as he made me to understand the blessing of being free of all denominational control, free to study the whole Bible, chapter by chapter in the Sunday School, free to build a church without the approval of any college or university on earth, free to preach the Authorized Version 1611 King James Bible to a lost and dying world without apology.
When I surrendered to preach, God led me to enter the Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute, located in the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, where Dr. J. Frank Norris was the pastor. Today, I rejoice to see young men from Huisache Baptist Church answering the call of God to the ministry, and I rejoice to recommend that they attend the Norris Bible Baptist Institute housed in the Worth Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, where my friend of many years, Dr. Raymond Barber, is the pastor.
My special thanks to Dr. Jack L. Green for his invaluable help in publishing this book. Also, my special thanks to my dear wife, Viola Bonam, for her fine articles on Dr. and Mrs. Norris. Of course, the final touches would have been impossible without the help of my precious daughter, Rebecca Ann Bonam McDaniel.
Who is Dr, J. Frank Norris?
The 1905 graduating class of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, hardly dreamed that one of its members would become the internationally known, controversial, colorful character, who would become the renowned Dr. J. Frank Norris, pastoring two of the world’s largest churches at one time, the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, and the Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan.
The growth of the First Church of Fort Worth under Norris’ leadership was phenomenal. To this the records testify. By 1928, for example the membership grew from 900 to a weekly Sunday School attendance of over 5,000. Thousands of people were saved and baptized during his more than forty years in Fort Worth.
These were stormy years, characterized by Norris’ fights with the liquor trafřic, and gambling interests, the Communists, the courts, and the liberal theologians. A controversial figure, Norris engendered love and hate, respect and disrespect, regard and disregard as he wielded the “broad axe,” cutting at the roots of the tree of evil, not caring where the chips fell.
The crusading ministry of the handsome preacher, who was “the best dressed preacher in the Southern Baptist Convention” according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, began shortly after the turn of the century. In the pages of the Baptist Standard, and later in the Fundamentalist which began publication in 1927, the fiery sensational crusader attacked everything from “horses to monkeys” – that is, from race-track betting to evolution which Norris uncovered in the curriculum at his own alma mater, Baylor University. In this long and illustrious career as the crusading preacher who carried a broad axe, he earned the reputation of “The country’s most noted hunting dog, scenting out the hiding places of what he considered unorthodox birds roosting under Baptist shelters.”
With his “axe” the crusader went into city hall (Fort Worth) accusing city officials of immorality, graft, and corruption. For example, in a sermon on July 11, 1926, he described the mayor of Fort Worth and his associates as a “two-by-four, simian-headed, sawdust-brained, bunch of grafters.” Furthermore, he accused his enemies of “tampering with the wires” of his radio station, and declared that “some of you low down devils that monkey around with this property arrange for your undertaker before you come around here.”
In his home town, Fort Worth, Norris was no less relentless in his crusading details on sin and iniquity. is well-known fight with the purveyors of iniquity in the city’s sin-laden district known as Hell’s Half Acre earned him the title of “one of the most controversial men who ever lived in Fort Worth.”
Attacking the State Fair of Texas, Norris unleashed a barrage of punctuated opposition against what he termed “high-handed wickedness”. In an editorial arsenal of December 1908, in which no words were minced, Norris unloaded both barrels of his “adjective loaded” shotgun on the racing interests of the Fair, declaring it to be a “gambling hell”. As a result of Norris’ devastating attack, the Robertson Bill outlawing race track gambling in Texas was introduced in the Texas legislature, and after several months of diligent effort it was passed in March 1909.
Norris was unsurpassed in eloquence. In speaking of Norris’ preaching ability, Rev. I.E. Gates, pastor First Baptist Church, San Antonio, wrote in the Baptist Standard: “I was not prepared to appreciate his coming, for I never heard such gospel preaching in my day. Dr. Norris is the greatest Bible preacher that I ever heard. He is familiar with every book of the Bible, and can quote more scripture in every sermon than any man I ever heard. He made all his evangelistic appeals on the Word of God. He preached one whole week on hell, until I could hear the wails of the damned, and smell the smoke of their torment. And upon his first invitation, on Sunday night, one hundred and seven people joined the church. I never heard such sermons on hell.” Thus Norris became “the preacher” of his generation.
I Knew Dr. J. Frank Norris
by Dr. Claud J. Bonam, Pastor
Huisache Avenue Baptist Church
San Antonio, Texas
Once I worked for Dr. J. Frank Norris, the greatest gospel preacher of his generation, the world-famous pastor of the First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas. I would call Dr. Norris’ ministry the very fountain head of fundamentalism in this country.
Recently, Dr. Corbett Mask, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, also head of the Theology department of Baptist Christian College at Shreveport, was the main speaker at our Pot O’ Gold Ranch youth camp June 9-14. When Dr. Mask learned that I had known and worked with Dr. J. Frank Norris, he was intensely interested, and we talked together for a good while about the man whom both of us considered the foremost preacher of his day. Dr. Mask asked, “Dr. Bonam, you simply must share these remarkable experiences of yours with all of God’s people. If you can produce a book of these most interesting views oft he life of so great a man as Dr. J. Frank Norris, we want a few hundred copies to use among our students and faculty. Could you send me an article for publication in our paper?”
So, with a joyful heart that I ever had been privileged to work by the side of so great a Christian warrior as Dr. J. Frank Norris, I began to write my experiences with him. This first article I will title,
I HELPED J. FRANK NORRIS BAPTIZE THE WORLD CHAMPION COWBOY
Jack “Red Thompson, a World Champion Cowboy, had been gored by a steer and was recuperating in a Fort Worth hospital. Mrs. Ollie Baker called Dr. Norris and asked him to visit the great cowboy who had a room full of trophies he had won in rodeos in Ft. Worth, Kansas City, St. Louis, Madison Square Garden, London, and around the world. The cowboy’s wife, Claire, was also a world champion bulldogger.
I took the call and made the first visit to Jack. The big cowboy readily accepted Christ in his heart and wanted to be baptized.
Of course, Dr. Norris went to see “Red” and began to arrange the baptism that was to attract the largest crowd ever to see a baptism in the city of Ft. Worth. It seemed all of cow-town Ft. Worth was ready to turn out for a chance to see the world champion cowboy baptized.
It was my job to have several thousand cards printed announcing the sensational baptism. At that time, I was in charge of all Seminary visitation and reports, and I arranged for students to pass out cards at every corner of downtown Ft. Worth announcing this spectacular baptism.
The cowboy was to be brought to the church in an ambulance. He would be carried in on a stretcher “borne of four” (Dr. Norris’ subject on that Sunday morning was BORNE OF FOUR, Mark 2:3).
The card copy was prepared and about to be sent out when the telephone rang. Cowboy Thompson asked to speak to Dr. Norris. I heard Dr. Norris say, “Well sure, Jack. Surely you can bring your horse, Hog Eyes, to church with you. He’s a world champion horse. You may bring him with you to see you baptized! We would be glad to have your horse with you in our church next Sunday morning at 11 a.m.!”
Was there ever before or since that time a horse accompanying his rider on such a mission? Who but Dr. Norris would ever stage such a horse show” as this? The “Holier than thou” crowd turned up their noses at such “horse play,” but the Holy Spirit blessed that great meeting with over a hundred souls! We changed the advertising copy and spread the news that the famous world champion cowboy would be carried on a stretcher into the First Baptist Church on Sunday morning. He would make a public declaration of his faith in Jesus Christ as his savior and be baptized before thousands on earth and angels in heaven. Even his horse would be with him in church to see his master happier than he had ever been in all his life.
I was one of the four who carried Jack “Red” Thompson into the baptistery on that great day, and I shall never forget the thrill of what I saw and heard. The crowd overflowed the church; folks were standing up all over the building.
Finally, the moment had arrived for the baptism. The four of us walked into the water carrying the champion cowboy on a stretcher. The big choir was singing the old hymns. Brooks Morris’ violin was playing double stops to the “Sweet By and By.” The crowd began to weep at the very sight of the cowboy in the baptistry with the great Frank Norris.
Suddenly a side door to the church opened, and there stood the most beautiful horse that ever went to church! He looked like he had been to the horse beauty parlor and was a graduate of the horse charm school! The trainer, dressed in a new white uniform, led the sleek animal by anew halter down in front of the great audience.
Dr. Norris said, “Come on up in the choir. Jack, call your horse up close to you.” The cowboy called from his stretcher, “Come here, Hog Eyes.” The horse raised both ears and pointed his face toward his master. The trainer stepped back a pace or two, and the horse walked slowly up the carpeted platform and stood at attention about three feet from his master.
Dr. Norris began to eulogize the horse. I have never seen as many tears in any church before or since that time, and it was all carried live over a Fort Worth radio station. We knew the great cow-town radio audience was weeping, too. They heard the world champion cowboy tell how he had found the Lord Jesus Christ precious to his soul. Dr. Norris had the choir and congregation sing some of the favorite songs of the cowboy. Both Dr. Norris and Jack Thompson spoke of the joy of salvation. Jack would talk to his horse, and the horse would nod his approval of the baptism! That horse could do everything but talk. There was real communication between the famous horse and the famous rider.
Then as Dr. Norris laid his hand on cowboy Thompson’s head and prayed, the audience wept aloud. I saw people using their handkerchiefs all over the church.
After pronouncing the baptismal formula, Dr. Norris told us to lower the stretcher slowly into the water. We did it, and the world champion cowboy, who had won his greatest trophy, eternal life with Jesus Christ, had been granted his heart’s desire – his horse, Hog Eyes, had seen his master baptized by Dr. J. Frank Norris in the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth.
Presbyterian Doctor Baptized
Jack’s Presbyterian doctor, who had given permission for the cowboy’s baptism, came along in case he was needed. The great spiritual power of the service moved upon the doctor’s heart. I saw him rush in and ask Dr. Norris to baptize him and his wife together. Think of it, baptizing a medical doctor and his wife, and that was just a minor incident in so great a service.
Walking out of the water with the happy cowboy Baptist, I felt him grab my hand as he said, “Boy, go in there and get me a bucket of water out of that baptistry.” I said, “What do you want it for, Jack?” He answered, “I want to throw it on Hog Eyes!”
Revival All Afternoon
Many people who had heard the Jack “Red” Thompson baptism over the radio came to the church on that Sunday afternoon to get saved and arrange their own baptism! It was my privilege to lead several ranchers to Christ during that afternoon. All the church staff were busy during the afternoon leading folks to Jesus Christ. As soon as one family left the church, another family would come. And almost all of them came to the church that night, and they were baptized.
Thank God for the blessed memory of the ministry of Dr. J. Frank Norris.
“The Laborer Has Rested From His Labors, But The Work He Did Lives On.”
By: Dr. George L. Norris
In the history of man, in times of crisis, there has always been a man who, produced by the needs of the hour, has risen to the place of responsibility to meet the particular challenge of the hour. In the book of Judges we read time and time again that the condition of the nation Israel demanded one who would rise to the place of leadership in the hour of crisis. These ones were the product of the condition of the time. When there was rest in the land, there was no need for a Judge to rise out of the midst of Israel to lead the people. Crisis produced leaders. These were ordinary people who were made outstanding by the need of the hour. True, they had abilities, but those abilities were not demonstrated until they were needed.
J. Frank Norris was the product of a need. The Southern Baptist Convention, The Texas Convention, The Tarrant County Association represented the “established” church of the day. Dr. Norris and the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth were active in all three of the Baptist groups. “God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world.” There were minor problems however that began to arise. At the time, Dr. Norris was active in many of the projects of the Baptist groups. He had actively supported Buckner’s Orphan Home in Dallas; he had been instrumental in bringing Southwestern Theological Seminary to Fort Worth, and had led the First Baptist Church in generous support of the Convention. In 1919 the Convention launched the most ambitious financial program ever launched by a religious group. The plan was to raise Seventy-five million dollars for Convention projects. The intent of the program was not in question. What Dr. Norris protested was that the Church was given a quota that was to be pledged. Dr. Norris had agreed to give $20,000 a year for five years to the campaign. This was one-fifth of the Tarrant County total. Dr. Norris reported that the Convention leaders “demanded” $100,000 from the First Baptist Church. Norris refused to accede to the demands of the Convention, “denominational despots” he called them, and drew the first issue of separation: “No set of men on the face of the earth has a right to even suggest what the local church should do, much less dictate to it.” This was the first major break with the denomination. The second issue that arose was the use of the Convention literature for use in the Sunday School. The basis for the rejection of the literature was manifold. He accused the Convention of teaching post-millennialism, modernism, centralization of power, ecclesiasticism and liberal interpretation of the Scriptures. It was this decision that led to the program of “using the whole English Bible as the only textbook.” The decision was an unheard of departure from usual Baptist practice at the time.
The third issue of friction between Dr. Norris and the denomination was his establishment of “independent premillennial Bible Conferences.” He brought into these meetings, without denominational approval such men as R.A. Torrey, A.C. Gaebelein, W.B. Henson, G. Campbell Morgan, C.I. Scofield and James M. Gray. These independent, interdenominational meetings placed him well outside the activities of the Baptist Association, representing in the minds of the local Baptist leaders a break with the traditional Baptist position of denominational separation.
The fourth issue that came up was the “teaching of evolution” at Baylor University. In 1921 Dr. Norris engaged in a bitter warfare against the teaching of “infidelity” at Baylor University.
This was the point of “no-return”. Baylor University was the pride of Texas Baptists. Indeed it was THE Baptist university of Southern Baptists. This attack, for the denominational leaders, was the “last straw.” The issues were aired in The Baptist Standard, the paper of Texas Baptists, and in The Searchlight, Dr. Norris’ paper. Issue after issue on both sides was filled with charges, counter charges, affirmations and denials. At this point there was no possibility of turning back. The three previous issues were dredged up and the decisions were final. From Dr. Norris’ point of view, reconciliation was impossible. He would not retract the charges, and on their part the denominational leaders would never forgive Norris for what he had said and done about the Convention programs and the leaders of the denominations. Personality conflicts widened the break and engendered bitterness on both sides.
To evaluate the work of Dr. Norris, one must go back to the period of time fifty years ago when the issues were first stated. At that time, such a thing as an “independent, fundamental, premillennial, Baptist Church” was virtually unknown, certainly one with any influence or hearing. While the controversies were raging within the denomination, Dr. Norris was also building one of the largest Baptist Churches in the South. In one year during this controversy the attendance at the First Baptist never fell below the five thousand mark and the number of baptisms ran into the hundreds. He had demonstrated that an independent church, without the direction, support or influences of the denomination could grow into a great church with nation wide influence.
Every independent Church in the South today owes a debt to the stand that Dr. Norris took a half-century ago. He was God’s “Judge” in that hour.
Dr. Norris soon realized that if the work of the independent Churches were to survive and grow something more was needed. The Annual “Bible Conference” had demonstrated the need for training men in building Sunday Schools and training preachers in the Word. Out of this need grew the concept of the Bible School. Dr. Norris persuaded Dr. Louis Entzminger to start a Bible School in the First Baptist Church. The invitation was given to the “Man between the plow shares, the engineer in the cab to come to learn the Whole English Bible”. The Bible School, which was later to become the Arlington Baptist Schools, started in one “upper room” in the First Baptist Church. It not only survived its birth pangs, but with the blessing of God grew mightily in the first years.
Two things above all else stand out as a remembrance of Dr. Norris work. He successfully demonstrated the viability of the local independent Baptist Church, and he established a concept of the school to train men for the ministry. Both of these two memorials remain unto this day, stronger than ever.
Just as the “Judges” of old were human with all the characteristics of humanity and were mortal, sow as Dr. Norris. His personality was not that for which his life is important. What is important is that when there was a need, God raised up this man to do a particular job. He did it. Many may criticize the methods Dr. Norris used, but Samson’s work was not lessened because he used the jaw-bone of an ass to smite the Philistines. Long after his critics are gone and largely forgotten, there will still be thousands of independent Baptist Churches and thousands of men and women who are serving God, using the training they received at the Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute, The Bible Baptist Seminary, and now the Arlington Baptist Schools.
I would think that if there be any message that Dr. Norris would have left for those who followed it would be, “The laborer has rested from his labors, but the work he did lives on.”
My First Days Working For Dr. Norris
I will never forget the first day that I went to work for Dr. J. Frank Norris. Mrs. Bonam and I left the ministry of Dr. Luther C. Peak who pastored the Central Baptist Church in Dallas, a very spiritual and precious congregation. Dr. Peak and his wife really had a great ministry there, and were very good to me and my family.
Mrs. Bonam and I arrived at the First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, met Dr. Norris and got started. In about two hours my wife came to me crying. Somebody in the church staff had scolded her severely. So I went into the office, looked J. Frank Norris in the eye and said, “I am going back to work for Luther C. Peak. He told me that if at any time I wanted to return to work with him he would create a job for me, so I’m leaving.”
Dr. Norris inquired what was wrong and I told him. My wife was there eventually at my side, and then I said to Dr. Norris, “After all, I have heard so much about how you hire and fire people almost every day, I’ve decided to leave you before it all gets started.”
Dr. Norris got up out of his chair and said to me, “I give you my hand and swear to you that I will never fire you from our employment.” I looked at him and saw that he was serious, so I shook hands with him and after the proper apologies had been made to Mrs. Bonam we stayed on. Praise the Lord.
On the second day of my employ I heard over the grapevine – and I might say the grapevines – I heard that Dr. Norris’ son, George, was leading a group of several hundred who would leave the church the next Sunday! So again I went into Dr. Norris’ office and said, “Well sir, since I am working for you, I thought it my duty to tell you that the news is that your son is going to split the church and take out several hundred members next Sunday.”
Dr. Norris got up out of his seat and said to me, “I appreciate your coming to tell me about this, since it was all news to you, but I tell you now, don’t ever speak another word to me about my son.”
So I said, “Fine, Dr. Norris. I just want to be a faithful employee.”
From then on the blessings were poured out upon me and Mrs. Bonam as we worked with Dr. J. Frank Norris. We will never forget the many hours of blessing we had in Fort Worth with Dr. Norris and his dear wife. Viola would stand with Mrs. Norris every Sunday morning and evening to shake hands with the church members as they came and as they went home.
My Introduction to Dr. J. Frank Norris’ Staff
by Claud J. Bonam, Author
On the first day when all of the staff had assembled with Dr. Norris across the street from the church in a small cafe, we were having dinner on the house!
Dr. Norris had ordered a red soda pop and all of us got some kind of bottled drinks. We were sitting around talking about the things of the church and the Sunday School. I was sitting next to Dr. Norris and I noticed he had picked up his cold drink and was shaking it in his hand. I got the idea that he was going to spray me with it as a sort of initiation, so I moved my hand over toward my bottle.
As soon as Dr. Norris began to squirt me with his red soda pop, I got up out of my seat with my soda pop, and we had a real good time spraying each other. He put it all over me, and I put it all over him as the staff laughed at us. We had a big time.
I would never have done what I did there if I had not known that Dr. Norris had three or four extra suits and shirts and shoes and socks hanging in the closet in his office. He soon got into another suit, and we were off in the new Chrysler visiting the folks in Fort Worth.
Putting Up Signs for Dr. Norris
During my employment on Dr. Norris’ staff, I was in general charge of the visitation program of both the church and the Bible Institute. I had two secretaries and it was necessary to put a lot of time in sorting cards from area census projects. One day Dr. Norris came by and said, “Claud, you and Ed come to my office as soon as you can.”
When we came into the office, Dr. Norris said, “I’m very interested in putting up several signs throughout Fort Worth advertising my preaching ministry. You and Ed go out all day tomorrow. Seek out prominent places where these signs can be erected, and bring in your report about 6 pm. I will meet you here in the office.”
So Ed Alexander and I went out with urgency and zeal to find merchants or private citizens who would allow these signs to be erected on their property. After about eight hours of intense work, we had about ten desirable locations. But I wanted to make a good impression on Dr. Norris, so I typed out the report. When we went to Dr. Norris’ office that evening, he took the beautifully typed report, tore it into pieces before our eyes and said gruffly. “Now tomorrow go out and win somebody to Jesus Christ.” And we did!
Going Visiting with Dr. Norris
When I worked for Dr. J. Frank Norris, my office was twenty feet from his office. Whenever Dr. Norris said, “Claud, let’s go,” I was instructed to be ready with my visitation cards in proper order, the “cream of the crop” of the students’ visitation program at the Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute, which was located at Fourth and Throckmorton in the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth.
I was always ready and grabbed the cards and ran with Dr. Norris to the new Chrysler car, and off we went to visit.
It was my privilege and pleasure to go door to door visiting with the Institute students. One day I knocked on someone’s door in the Fort Worth area with one of the students, and the man who came to the door just cursed and swore that he hated J. Frank Norris. “Don’t ever talk to me about J. Frank Norris.” He made so many hard speeches against J. Frank Norris that I thought I would play a trick on Norris because he had often played tricks on me and others on the staff.
The next day I went with Dr. Norris on our regular visitation. I went by the house where I had met the Norris hater. I knocked on the door, and the man came to the door. I said, “I just wanted you to meet Dr. J. Frank Norris.”
The man said, “Well, come in Dr. Norris, glad to see you.”
So we walked into the man’s house. He was not at all belligerent. He was glad to see Dr. Norris, and in a few minutes he had accepted the Lord and later joined the church!
It was always a blessing to visit with Dr. J. Frank Norris. He was a spiritual surgeon of the finest order, and he knew how to influence men to turn to Jesus Christ.
Norris Preaching in Fort Worth Department Stores
Fort Worth Department Stores Welcome Dr. Norris Preaching During Business Hours!
The Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute was located in John Birch Hall, a part of the First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Norris came into John Birch Hall one day during 1943, and announced that all the students were going with him into the biggest department stores in Fort Worth to sing and hear Dr. Norris preach! What an amazing, most unusual service.
I was privileged to walk with Dr. Norris at the head of some three hundred students into Monnig’s store, and later into Leonard’s store. The management announced over the public address system that all sales would be suspended indefinitely to give the store staff and all their customers the privilege of hearing the world’s greatest pulpiteer, Dr. J.Frank Norris.
Dr. Norris stood like a prophet of old. When the crowd gathered in close, Dr. Norris said, “Claud, hoist a hymn.” What a joy to lead all the students and most of the store staff and customers as we sang “Amazing Grace,” “Faith of Our Fathers,” and “I’m Glad Salvation’s Free.”
After Dr. Norris preached, several adults were saved. I knelt in the store aisle to pray with many of the converts. They then came to the church on Sunday, openly confessed their faith in Christ, and I baptized them.
Eggs in the Bible Institute Aisle
I had driven Dr. Norris to his beautiful country home, and we stayed overnight. In the morning Dr. Norris told me that he really took very cold showers every morning, but in my shower, that was one time I didn’t try to copy Dr. Norris!
When we had a good breakfast and were getting ready to go to the regular classes of the Bible Institute, Dr. Norris said, “Now Claud, we are going to be a little late this morning. We will get there during Dr. Roy Kemp’s lecture on the book of Ephesians. Here now, I have this big bucket of fresh eggs. I want you to carry the bucket of eggs into Kemp’s class. Enter the class from the back door, walk up as near to the front seats as you can, but place the bucket of eggs in the middle of the aisle.”
And so I did. But Roy Kemp kept right on scraping the star dust. Man, how he could preach. About that time, Dr. D.B. Clapp, one of our dearest professors, opened a door just behind Roy Kemp and peeked out at the eggs. The students began to laugh. Then Roy Kemp said, “You want me to ask you where you got those eggs, and I’m not going to do it. Now, students, turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 1:13.”
And then Dr. Norris opened yet another side door and came in peeking at the eggs. Dr. Kemp threw his arms up in disgust and stomped out of the classroom! But the students really enjoyed the lesson.
World Champion Cowboy Brings Horse to Church
One day while I was in Dr. Norris’ office, the telephone rang. As the caller talked with Dr. Norris, I could sense the excitement and the urgency of the call.
Then Dr. Norris sent me to a Fort Worth address to make a visit. There I met Jack “Red Thompson, the world champion cowboy! Jack had been injured by a steer, and was now recuperating in his bed at his home. From his bed he witnessed to me of his faith in Christ. He had heard Dr. Norris on the radio and had become interested in the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We arranged for the champion cowboy to be baptized the following Sunday morning in the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. The church would provide an ambulance and the cowboy would be carried into the baptistry “borne of four” on a stretcher. We returned to the church with the good news for Dr. Norris.
And the next day Jack “Red” Thompson called Dr. Norris to ask if his world champion horse, Hog Eyes, could come to the church and see him baptized!
“Why certainly, Jack. Your horse can come to the church on Sunday morning and see you baptized!”
The church was filled to capacity – a great crowd gathered outside. The media had advertised it – the horse was coming to church to see his master baptized! I had led all the Seminary students in passing out specially printed invitations to the service, and they were stationed at every street corner in downtown Fort Worth. Also, the whole service was scheduled to be broadcast over the most powerful Fort Worth radio station.
When the time came for Dr. Norris to baptize the World’s Champion cowboy, I was one of four men holding the stretcher, carrying the cowboy into the baptistry. Others so honored with me were Rev. James Norwood, Ed Alexander, and Rev. Aubrey Mitchell.
A side door of the church near the choir opened and in came a fine looking young man in a beautiful white suit. He was holding a white halter in his hand, leading the world champion horse, “Hog Eyes,” into the church.
The horse was led onto the platform, into the choir loft, up three tiers of seats to stand directly in front of the baptistry. Jack “Red” Thompson reached out from the baptistry and petted his horse.
The cowboy said, “We’re not gonna serve the old Devil anymore, are we Hog Eyes?” And the horse shook his head in a sideways negative gesture while he whinnied loudly! Then the cowboy said, “We love Jesus, don’t we?” And the horse appeared to understand, shaking his head up and down, whinnying loudly!
Here is the baptismal scene as it was published by Dr. Norris in a booklet entitled, The Conversion of Jack “Red” Thompson:
The Baptismal Scene
And now, my dear friends, Dr. and Mrs. Dorman, who have been so kind to Red and his dear wife, they are also going to be baptized – Red first, and I’ll ask him some questions that you will be glad to hear. Now, Red, you are happy this morning!
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Dr. Norris: That was a great day the other day when you and I first met and we talked about the Lord, wasn’t it?
Mr. Thompson: It sure was.
Dr. Norris: And when l asked you to pray that prayer, God be merciful to me a sinner, you believed that God heard you, didn’t you?
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Dr. Norris: And you told me the other day that you wanted to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost?
Mr. Thompson: That’s right.
Dr. Norris: You said you believed that was a command, and you told me that horse you rode, if good horses went to heaven he would be there?
Mr. Thompson: Amen. That’s right.
Dr. Norris: Amen, That’s right.
Dr. Norris: Amen, I’m glad you love that horse and he loves you. Red – all the people saw him today. And, Red, the other day after you had given me your hand trusting the Lord, we sang that old song, Amazing Grace – you said you used to hear it.
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Dr. Norris: I want you to hear all these people sing it – would you like to hear it?
Mr. Thompson: Yes sir; let ’em go.
Dr. Norris: He says, let ’em go.
Song: “Amazing Grace”
Dr. Norris: And the other day, Red, we sang another song, “Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow” – and Red spoke up and said, “I used to sing that when I rode the range” – that’s right, isn’t it, Red? And so, we are going to sing a verse of that.
Song: “Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow”
Dr. Norris: Now, Red, you rode in rodeos where tens of thousands of people applauded you, didn’t you?
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir; lots of them.
Dr. Norris: And you won trophies around the world as being the outstanding cowboy and bulldogger in all the rodeos from here to Madison Square Garden, New York, and London, but you have now won a trophy and a crown that shall never, never perish, and that makes you happy, doesn’t it, Red?
Mr. Thompson: Yes sir.
Dr. Norris: Yes, sir, and you have no fear of death, no fear of the future, but you’ll know where you are going. Red, your wife told me that when you were an 8-year-old boy, your father taught you how to read the Bible and that’s how you knew so much about the Bible.
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Dr. Norris: Praise God for that father.
Mr. Thompson: We did not have radios and newspapers but he just read the Bible at home and we sat and listened.
Dr. Norris: He says, we didn’t have radios and newspapers but he just read the Bible at home, and we sat and listened – what a testimony! So, Red, as you rode around the world and through all the rodeos from here to London and back, you never forgot that dear old father reading the Bible, did you?
Mr. Thompson: No, sir.
Dr. Norris: Good! Amen. And it comes back to you today fresher than ever before, doesn’t it, Red?
Mr. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Dr. Norris: And you are going to see that father again, some of these days.
Mr. Thompson: He was a mighty good man.
Dr. Norris: He was a mighty good man, he says, – everybody sing.
Song: “A Land That Is Fairer Than Day”
Dr. Norris: Now, brethren, there are five men here: Brother Mitchell, Brother Alexander, Brother Claud Bonam, and Brother Jim Norwood, and Dr. H.D. Dorman. And the way we will do it, I’ll pronounce the benediction just as we baptize, and then you will gently, as I say, lower him into the water and lift him up. And now, “Jack Thompson, you now trust n the Lord Jesus Christ for your only salvation?”
Mr. Thompson: I do.
Dr. Norris: Wonderful – therefore, upon a profession of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost – (let him down), Planted together in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. Amen and Amen.
Now I want the whole congregation and radio audience to sing Red’s favorite song, the song that he sang while he rode the range.
Song: “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow”
Dr. Norris: It would stir your hearts to see his tears and hear his testimony. I am now going to baptize his wife. Now, Claire, you have ridden horses around the world the most famous cowgirl in the world, the London papers and others say, and you are happy that you saw your husband baptized, and you are happy to stand in the same waters at the same time with him, and therefore, now, Claire Thompson, do you trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation?
Mrs. Thompson: I do.
Dr. Norris: Are you happy in it?
Mrs. Thompson: Yes, sir.
Dr. Norris: Therefore, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, planted together in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. God bless you.
It is with unusual pleasure that I baptize these two dear friends, Dr. and Mrs. H.D. Dorman who have been so kind. Doctor, will you cross your hands? And now, Dr. Dorman, do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation?
Dr. Dorman: I do.
Dr. Norris: Therefore, upon a profession of faith in Him as your Lord and Savior I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, planted together in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. Now stand here and see your wife baptized. And Mrs. Dorman, do you likewise trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation?
Mrs. Dorman: I do.
Dr. Norris: Therefore, upon a profession of faith in Him, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, planted together in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection.
Mrs. Norris, will you stand up? Please come to the platform – she didn’t know I was going to be present this morning, and I’m going to ask her, if she will, to lead us in the closing word of prayer. Sweetheart, do I speak your sentiments this morning?
Mrs. Norris: Absolutely.
Dr. Norris: Let us stand – I want everybody to remain standing after she prays this prayer, and then I want you to do something.
Mrs. Norris: Our Father, we do feel that this is the greatest hour the world has ever seen. We feel the time is drawing near and we are looking for the return of our blessed Lord and Savior. (Amen). We thank Thee that even in this morning’s lesson we studied anew and afresh that in Jesus Christ The Son we are in Thine eyes perfectly holy and righteous.
Oh, God, help us to desire to live up to that position and as the world is so sick and those around us are in such deep sorrow, oh, God, wilt Thou help us to forget ourselves and put Christ first and follow Him in everything that we do, and keep our eyes fixed upon Him, who is the author and the finisher of our salvation.
May we, as a people, be likeminded with our Lord, may we so love one another that we will bear one another up at all times, every worker, every teacher, every superintendent, and, oh, God, our pastor, bless him (that’s George) abundantly, oh, God. Lead us and direct us and keep us humble at They feet in Jesus’ name, we ask it… Amen.
Dr. Norris: Everybody, quietly, softly sing together. “Blest Be The Tie That Binds”.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love:
the fellowship of kindred minds.
Is like to that above.
Winning a Fort Worth Bad Man to Christ
Bro. Ed Miller and I decided to visit together one evening. We knocked on doors several hours, determined to win someone to Christ. How discouraging it was that day – no victory, but we remembered the Scripture, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9).
It was about 8:45 pm. “Shall we go in now?”
“No, let’s go to that house yonder where the light is.” So we walked over, knocked on the door loudly.
“Who in the hell is it?” came a gruff voice inside.
“No one from hell,” I said. “We’re out to tell ungodly sinners like you how to go to heaven.”
When that ugly fierce-looking man opened the door and saw us, how surprised we were to be invited into his living room.
In a huff the man said, “If you two preachers can make any sense about this being born again, I’ll listen to you. Put it down where I can understand it.”
And so we did. As we began to tell him about Jesus Christ, his wife and mother, who were cooking supper in the kitchen, pulled the frying pan off the fire, so they could hear every word. And the power of God fell on that trembling sinner. He repented of his sin, he prayed to a merciful God, he received Christ, he was SAVED!
He told us that he was in the Fort Worth underworld. At that time bacon and eggs were rationed. Believe it or not, he loaded us down with bacon and several dozen eggs.
We then urged upon him and the family to come to church – the wife and mother were already saved.
He stood up and said, “Yes, we will be there, and I’m going to be baptized. But I won’t come by myself. All my gang will be with me!”
The following Sunday morning, while I was leading the singing in the Auditorium Bible Class of the First Baptist Church, I looked up to see a group of about fifteen adults coming to church together. It was “Scarface” Justice and all his friends.
When Dr. Norris preached and gave the invitation, it looked like all of them came into the church on confession of faith for baptism.
I surely enjoyed baptizing those people. And that duck dinner with Dr. Norris over in the Westbrook Hotel never tasted so good.
Three New Members for Mrs. Norris’ Sunday School Class
One day Dr. Norris called me into his office to talk over the next Sunday morning service at the First Baptist Church, Fort Worth.
“Claud,” he said, “I’m going to be in Detroit next Sunday, and I want you to conduct the services here. You see, it’s Mrs. Norris’ birthday, and I want you to gather all the Sunday School Superintendents together. Get each superintendent to plan to present Mrs. Norris a birthday gift at the 11 o’clock service. No preaching. Just build it up big. You may give an invitation.”
I gathered the Sunday School leaders together and they were thrilled with the suggestion. We planned to have very good gifts with no duplications. And what would Mrs. Bonam and I give?
Well, God gave us an excellent idea. We got to work on it right away. We decided to win some young adult singles and present them as new members to Mrs. Norris’ Sunday School class, as a beautiful climax among all her birthday gifts.
Viola and I prayed it over. We were going to do it, God being our helper. So we went knocking on doors.
What a blessing! In our visiting we found an apartment occupied by three young working girls. In about thirty minutes all three of them had repented of their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior! And all wanted to be baptized. Wonderful!
Then we told them about Mrs. Norris’ class, about her birthday, and what we wanted them to do.
Without hesitation, each young lady agreed. They would be there Sunday, and when I got up to give a gift to Mrs. Norris, they would all come down the church aisle together to join the church, be baptized, and join Mrs. Norris’ Bible Class as our gift to her!
And it happened just like that. Mrs. Norris had received so many beautiful and valuable gifts. Her emotions had been stirred. But when these three young women came to her on the platform, she was overwhelmed, and wept with great joy.
We were so thrilled to hear her say, “Oh, I’m happy today. I want to thank all of you for so many gifts of love. But I must say, I appreciate these precious souls more than all the other gifts combined.”
Fooling the Whole Baptist Convention for 10 Minutes
The Southern Baptist Convention was meeting in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Dr. Norris was preaching two or three nights during that Convention at the Central Baptist Church of Dallas on South Ervay Street. I led the Central Baptist Church choir during the Norris meetings. About one hundred Convention Baptist pastors attended these meetings.
Each day during the meetings of the Convention brethren, Dr. Norris stationed me on the sidewalk at the front door of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. He provided me with his “Latest War Bulletin.”
It was a thrill to pass out such gospel dynamite! The Convention brethren came by. Some thanked me for the paper. Others scolded me. Others said, “Oh, that’s J. Frank Norris bothering us again.”
One day while I was passing out the papers, Dr. Norris came to me and said, “Claud, put up your papers and come with me.” While we walked together into the church he said, “Now Claud, I want you to sit down with me and keep your mouth shut. Don’t talk to me about anything. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir, understand,” I replied, and we sat down.
The crowd was small. Almost all the front pews were vacant. I soon found out why – it was Mission Day! But the platform was full of dignitaries, and they had begun their program.
Then I saw a photographer come in with his tripod and big camera, walking briskly toward the platform.
He looked like a newspaper photographer out for a big story. I knew the man. I had hired him to take pictures in Fort Worth. He was Dr. Norris’ special photographer.
I punched Norris with my elbow. “Dr. Norris, what are you up to?” I said.
“I told you to keep your mouth shut,” Norris whispered.
I watched Norris’ photographer masquerading as a newspaper reporter stop the whole Convention proceedings to take some pictures. Not one picture, not two, but several, just like a photographer at a wedding. After about ten minutes, the photographer loaded his camera, but this time he didn’t take a picture of the platform personalities. He turned quickly and took a fast photo of the empty pews on the front rows!
And in the next issue of The Fundamentalist, Dr. Norris printed several pictures of the Convention brethren. He called special attention to Wallace Bassett as “the big baboon combing his auburn hair.” And Dr. Norris published pictures of the empty “fine oak pews” on the front rows on Mission Day!
That night Dr. Norris preached again at Central Baptist Church in Dallas, and I drove him home in his new Chrysler car. We laughed and laughed at the big trick he had played on the whole Southern Baptist Convention. Mrs. Norris was waiting for us. She prepared fresh steak dinners, and Dr. Norris and I enjoyed an Ovaltine drink. For about an hour we told Mrs. Norris of the fun we had with the preachers that day.
For You I am Praying
In the year 1919 the Southern Baptist denominational officials became alarmed because J. Frank Norris would not use the denominational Sunday School literature in his Sunday School and church in Fort Worth.
And the brethren wanted to raise $75,000,000 in a big campaign to support their schools and mission projects. The denominational bosses came around Dr. Norris and suggested a $100,000 quota for his church to provide. Dr. Norris would not allow any church headquarters to dictate to him and his congregation, yet he did give $20,000.
In 1922 Dr. Norris was expelled from the Tarrant County Baptist Association. About that time, L.R. Scarborough published a tract, “The Fruits of Norrisism.”
The Convention brethren got on the Fort Worth radio and promoted a real hate-fest. Dr. Scarborough and J.L. Ward of Decatur Baptist College broadcast attacks on Norris. Ward even claimed that one day he would look over the parapets of heaven and see Frank Norris frying in the pits of Hell!”
On Fort Worth radio, Norris was called “liar”, “thief”, “corrupt” “perjurer”, and “reprobate”. But Norris kept on preaching the truth and prayed for his misguided brethren. Dr. Norris bought radio time following the Convention broadcasts. His theme was the old song, “For You I Am Praying”. The people flocked to his ministry in spite of all the attacks from the Convention preachers.
Despite such antagonistic broadcasts and hate propaganda, the record will show that Norris’ ministry forced the Convention to pass anti-evolution resolutions, and eight faculty members at Baylor University were dismissed.
Southern Baptists Today
The Southern Baptist Convention had flirted with the old International Council of Churches. But Dr. Norris kept the Convention out of the International Council of Churches, the Federal Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches. Dr. Norris took a bold stand for the Word of God as he challenged Southern Baptist leaders. He did a great job of “cleaning up” the Convention.
His verbal blasts shook the Devil out of some Southern Baptist preachers, drove out some of the monkey professors, and led hundreds of preachers to freedom from the cooperative program of Southern Baptists.
I was with Dr. Norris one day when the Southern Baptist Convention was meeting in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. I passed Norris “Latest War Bulletin” to the “messengers” as they arrived. The brethren came to hear a preacher who had written a book denying the miraculous destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by “brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Genesis 19:24). The great and honored Southern Baptist preacher wrote that it was simply the eruption of an oil well nearby! Norris went after that infidel with holy zeal. And I’m glad he did. I was there. I saw it all.
Who but a mistaken novice would even suggest that Norris would now lead any First Baptist Church into that religious organization that is far worse theologically today than it ever was in the past? Just look at their Interpreter’s Bible. There is hardly any scripture that the “Interpreter’s” and most Southern Baptist believe. Take a look at all their “new Bibles” that are just so much Devilish propaganda, robbing God’s people of the truth.
Just a few years past, Dr. Sam Morris and I challenged the pastor of Parkview Baptist Church of San Antonio, Texas. That Southern Baptist pastor had been trained in a Southern Baptist school. One Sunday morning he told his congregation he did not believe there ever was an Adam and Eve, he did not believe there ever was a Noah and the Ark; he could not trust the book of Genesis! There you have it – the finished product of the Southern Baptist Convention schools. And all the hullabaloo today has not removed even one of the infidel professors in the Southern Baptist seminaries. I suppose they are waiting until the infidels die, and then they will put “sweet little co-operating’ preachers” in their place.
Three Southern Baptist preachers came to me when I first arrived to pastor Huisache Avenue Baptist Church. They told me I could never make it outside their association! I told them to wait and see what one man could do with the help and blessing of Almighty God. And for forty-four years God has blessed and blessed and blessed again.
Favorite Poem “If”
Dr. Norris often repeated from memory Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Two Books that Dr. Norris Recommended…
Occasionally the brethren would get into arguments about the Second Coming of Christ. Dr. Norris always recommended the book Jesus Is Coming by W. E. Blackstone.
I was very close to Dr. Sam Morris, Sr. during his lifetime. We used to preach on the same platform. Both of us went to Washington D.C. to speak on the platform with Dr. Carl McIntire. Dr. McIntire had several successful mass meetings in Washington D.C., trying to get our boys home from the war or allow them to win the victory!
While riding on the plane with Dr. Sam Morris he told me about the book Jesus Is Coming by Dr. Blackstone. He told me how he had been converted from post-millenialism to pre-millenialism by reading that book. Also he told me that he gave that book to Dr. J. Frank Norris and Dr. Louis Entzmenger and both of them became ardent pre-millenialists well settled on the doctrine after they had read the book Jesus Is Coming. When the brethren got to arguing about Calvinism, Dr. Norris recommended a book entitled Election Made Plain, by L.S. Ballard. In a fellowship meeting back in 1937 with Dr. Norris, Dr. Norris recommended that all the brethren purchase the book and learn the truth about Calvinism.
Dr. Norris never would have dreamed that in the school which he started, a professor would teach the students, “You were not born again because you believed; you believed because you were born again!”
Mrs. Bonam and I shed a few tears over that teaching, and I went after that heresy with all my power. Who knows how much that doctrine is still taught among the brethren?
Death Takes Frank Norris, ‘Stormy Petrel of Pulpit’
FORT WORTH, Aug. 20 (UP)- Rev. J. Frank Norris, 74, whose stormy career as a Texas Baptist minister included acquittal on charges of murder and of arson and perjury, died unexpectedly early Wednesday in Jacksonville, Fla.
Norris, who resigned last fall as pastor of the First Baptist Church here because of failing health, flew to Jacksonville Tuesday to attend a youth camp.
He had been particularly ill although in failing health the past two years. Norris, who would have been 75 next month, died at 12:30 a.m.
A world traveler who at one time served as pastor of Baptist churches in Fort Worth and Detroit, where he commuted, Norris had made more than half a dozen trips abroad. His latest was early this year. On one of the tours, he helped in founding a church in Jerusalem.
Norris, who became known as the “stormy petrel of the pulpit”, gained national prominence when he was charged in 1926 with the fatal shooting of D.E. Chipps, a wealthy lumberman. He won acquittal on a plea of self-defense in one of the most sensational trials in the Southwest.
Newspaper stories at the time related that Chipps had called at Norris’ office to remonstrate him for pulpit attacks against the mayor of Fort Worth. Chipps was shot three times. Norris testified he shot Chipps when the latter returned to his study the second time after threatening to kill him.
Norris subsequently was dismissed from the county and state Baptist associations and organized his own church. For the second time, however, his church and his home were destroyed by fires of unknown origin, and he again began the task of rebuilding.
He was indicted on two counts of arson in 1912 after fire first destroyed his home and later his church. Additionally, he was charged with perjury growing out of the church fire. But he won acquittal on the church fire charge and the other indictments were dismissed. Norris declared that his enemies had started the blazes.
Once in Fort Worth, he was ordered to leave town. Instead he barricaded himself in his home and defied his assailants with a sawed-off shotgun. In 1916, a bullet believed fired by a gangster barely missed his head and lodged in the wall of his study. Another time, a friend knocked a revolver from an attacker’s hand, saving Norris’ life.
Besides his wife, Norris is survived by three sons, Rev. George Norris, a Fort Worth Baptist preacher; Jim Gaddy Norris, Fort Worth attorney; and J. Frank Norris Jr., Greenville, Miss.; and a daughter, Mrs. Charles D. Weaver, Glen Elyn, Ill.
His body will be returned to Fort Worth for services and burial.
(San Antonio Evening News, Wed., Aug. 20, 1952)
Memories of Dr. Norris
by Viola Bonam
Years back, The Reader’s Digest offered a series of articles in which the writers used the topic “The Most Outstanding Person I Ever Met”.
Dr. J. Frank Norris could have met the “outstanding requirements” easily in the minds of many of us. Some have written of him, but always there are the personal memories that many of us have shared with others. I pray you will enjoy this account of some of the good times my husband, Claud, and I had with this outstanding giant, J. Frank Norris.
A very vivid memory lingers to bless and encourage our hearts when the hours get black today. It was right after Dr. Norris’ son, George, and the First Baptist Church Sunday School man, Jerry Miller, had left First Baptist and Dr. Norris, taking around 300 others with them. We had not been working for Dr. Norris for too long a time, and yet he took each of us by an arm one morning and said, “Come with me.” He led us off some where to a far away upstairs, darkened room in the church building. A pale light came through a window somewhere near, but the general air in the huge place was of somber semi-darkness, (tho’ it was mid-morning). We sat down, one on each side of him, on the planked board benches. He said simply, “Sit here with me.” I do not know how long we sat thus – at the time it seemed endless. Finally, he spoke, slowly and emphatically, as much to the open area around us as it was to us. “To believe Romans 8:28 when the sun is shining – that is one thing – (he paused) anyone can do that – (pause) but to believe it when the hour is dark and not a star in the sky – that’s when it counts! That’s the test as to whether you really believe it or not.” As I said, I don’t know how much time had gone by – whether 30 minutes or an hour – but after he spoke of Romans 8:28 he arose; we went down the stairs into the day’s activities where he was his usual laughing, teasing, joking self.
Dr. Norris liked for people to be busy, have a goal, and know where they were headed. I can hear him yet call out as I passed by one morning, “Vi-la, come here. I want you to go on the radio with me and tell about the children’s work.”
It didn’t occur to me it might be wrong, it was just really true fact when I called back, “I can’t right now, Dr. Norris, I’ve got to get this Sunday School material to the printer right away.” It tickled him pink. He told the Bible Institute students that day, “She’s the only one around here who’s got sense enough to tell me she’s busy!” He liked to tease that I had eyes in the back of my head, too.
Dr. Norris took great pains to train his staff of workers. We met each day at noon, just before lunch. No one dared complain of the weather or feeling bad! The penalty was a dollar bill put into a box and since none of us ever had a dollar to spare, there were no complaints. You dared not speak of being tired, or needing rest! “REST” he’d thunder. “You can rest when you’re six feet under! Now is the time for work!” Time has proven that he was right! Lots of mileage has been covered. There’s time for rest when we’re six feet under.
Dr. Norris recognized the importance of his church ladies’ work. He took us (Claud and me) each Tuesday to the luncheon at church where Mrs. Norris had gathered her ladies after a morning of visitation. He was very proud of her and would usually have words of praise for her as well as bits of church or Institute news and instruction for the ladies present. I remember, too, that one of the favorite foods the ladies brought to the luncheon was the delicious rum-flavored cake bought at the old Leonard Brothers’ Store!
Statistics tell us that John Franklyn Norris was born in Dadeville, Alabama, September 18, 1877 and came to Hubbard, Texas with his parents when he was 11 years old. He was graduated from Baylor University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Dr. Norris came to Fort Worth in 1909 after serving as a pastor in Dallas and as editor of the Baptist Standard, official publication of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
At one time, Dr. Norris served as pastor of the Temple Baptist Church at Detroit and the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, 1,300 miles apart. The combined membership of the two churches was more than 22,000, said to be the largest membership in the world under one pastorate.
Dr. Norris died suddenly and unexpectedly at a youth camp near Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday, August 20, 1952, at 74 years of age.
He was the greatest preacher of his day, an amazing Bible teacher and evangelist. He once said, “If a preacher is not stirring up the devil, he is dead – already sold out.”
I Remember Lillian Norris
by Mrs. Claud J. Bonam, Sr.
I thought of her again today. I remembered her philosophy about the weather. San Antonio, in South Texas where I live, is just coming out of its second winter snow-storm. This last one was a record breaker with 13.5 inches. Now, South Texas is just not prepared for all this soft and lovely but troublesome white fluff. To make matters worse, the climactic snowbound day fell on Sunday! Only with God’s help did some fifty or so of us make it to church. At least our church was open to God’s glory while most others announced on television they’d be closed. It was hard to take – all our church buses grounded, no choir, no aisles and pews filled with people, only the tithes and offerings of the few present to wink at the bills due that week. The two small services were blessed and holy times, but the frustration remained.
Then I remembered what she said. “Viola, it’s God’s work and it’s God’s weather.” That was Lillian Norris for you. When we were in school and I cared for Dr. Norris Junior Department there would come Sundays when the rainy or frigid climate would wreck havoc on the week’s hard work of planning, visiting, telephoning, and writing cards. Naturally, we’d all fume and fret how the weather had ruined all our effort.
Then would come her calm reminder, “It’s God’s work and it’s God’s weather.” Thus she sought to instill in us a “faith that would not shrink.” She taught us the results were in God’s hands; the service is what He had committed to us.
Our years at school were in the early forties – the war years. One occasion stands out as an example of Lillian Norris’ tender and wifely care of her husband. Claud, my lord and husband (as Sara says in 1 Peter 3:6), had driven Dr. Norris to Dallas for a Southern Baptist Convention meeting. It was their missions’ day and Dr. Norris had hired photographers come, supposedly as news-men, and to take pictures of all the empty seats on such an important day. He had Claud and Ed Alexander handing out pamphlets labeled “Latest War News”. Of course, the “war” was concerned with Dr. Norris’ stand for the fundamentals of the faith as opposed to the Convention’s stand.
When Claud drove Dr. Norris to his home at Eagle Mountain Lake that night, Mrs. Norris was still up and eager to hear each detail of his day’s “fun”. She had supper waiting with coconut cake and Dr. Norris’ favorite hot Ovaltine. She laughed and chuckled as they told about the day’s antics.
I remember how she helped me with that idea I had of trying to please everybody. I had shed tears (as I look back, how foolish they were!) when someone would criticize my words or actions. Dr. Louis Entzminger, our spiritual father, and Miss Jane Hartwell had talked to me about this sensitivity, but Mrs. Norris finally came across to me. “Viola, you can’t do it,” she said. (When she spoke my name she stressed all three syllables – “Vi-o-la”; Dr. Norris shortened it to “Vila”.) Then she emphasized, “you just won’t always please everybody. No one does and you must not expect to. Do your best, but let it be God you are seeking to satisfy.” Her strong teachings to a touchy young woman have insured peace and victory for me in many a trying situation through the years as a pastor’s wife.
Lillian Norris taught, as did her husband, that the blessings and victories of yesterday could not suffice for today. When we workers were prone to glory in the good things of the past, we would hear, “But that was last Sunday – next Sunday is out ahead.” They taught us to have a “holy discontent”, cautioning us never to get in a satisfied state, or house a feeling that we had attained or finally “made it”.
What a challenge that spirit holds out for us today!
Thank God for the memories of Lillian Norris. Let all her spiritual children “arise up, and call her blessed.”
An interview with Dr. Bonam By Russell Insurance Agency
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. – Proverbs 3:5,6
Forty-one years ago, a train carried Dr. Bonam back to San Antonio to visit his family and to preach at Huisache Avenue Baptist Church. Asked to try out for the position as permanent pastor, Dr. Bonam found the offer did not exactly pique his interest, especially since the church had a reputation for regularly replacing pastors. But as Dr. Bonam tells it, “I was on the train coming here and when I got to about New Braunfels, I got to shaking. It was Sunday morning. I thought this: Maybe I’m supposed to go to this church. I said to the Lord, ‘If you want me to go to this church, I’m going to ask them to buy a new gospel tent so I can get away from that church where so many pastors have met their Waterloo.’ When I arrived, they already had a new setup. So, I went into it with all the power that I could for I knew that was what I was supposed to do.”
Huisache Avenue Baptist Church is an Independent Fundamental Pre-millennial Old-Time Bible-Believing Church. Pre-millennial means they believe Jesus will come for his own before the millennial reign of Christ. They worship with the AV1611 King James version of the Bible in hand.
Dr. Bonam has been at Huisache Avenue Baptist Church for 41 years. “The wonderful thing about it is my whole family is in the church working with me.” His two sons work full time at his side. Claud Bonam, Jr. manages the Pot O’ Gold Youth Camp in Comfort and serves as the Superintendent of the Young People’s Department. Fred Bonam keeps the books for the church and teaches the young adult class. “Without my two sons, I’d never have been able to build the church or the youth camp.” His daughter, Becky, a “super-pianist” and polished musician with a master’s degree in music, co-authored “A Guide To Hymn Playing”, the text currently being used to teach hymn playing at Bob Jones University and other Christian schools. Helping train the choir, she frequently writes the arrangements herself. She also teaches piano to the young church members. “I’ll have so many good piano players here in a few years I won’t know where to use them all.” Just as Dr. Bonam cherishes his children, Becky eagerly declares smiling affectionately at her father, “He’s a good father and a good pastor.”
At the back of the Huisache Avenue Baptist Church hangs a broad and sweeping map of the world. Interested in evangelizing the world, Dr. Bonam marks every location with a red light where missionaries represent the church. “Having toured the world,” he reflects, “I feel happy to have been born in this country.”
Born just two blocks from his church, Dr. Bonam spent time in other parts of this country serving the church, too. Starting his calling in Fort Worth at the First Baptist Church, he ministered for one-and-a-half years with the greatest Baptist preacher of his time, Dr. J. Frank Norris. Together, they baptized the world’s greatest cowboy, Jack “Red” Thompson and his wife in 1945. And like any good cowboy, “Red’s” horse had a front row seat! Dr. Bonam did his first solo pastoring in Anthony, Kansas, where he waged a “liquor fight deluxe” and could have gotten elected mayor.
Dr. Bonam will tell you that when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, he confounded the world. And he adds, “I’m very grateful for the reformation because I don’t think I would be here now in this church if it hadn’t been for that,”
Twice Invited to Speak at First Baptist Church – Twice Denied
Once during the last few years of Dr. Norris’ life, he apparently installed our mutual preacher friend, Dr. Luther C. Peak, as pastor of the great First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.
One day to my great surprise, Dr. Peak telephoned me and invited me to speak at the First Baptist Church the following Sunday! I said, “Dr. Peak, does Dr. Norris know you have called me?”
“Claud, I am now pastor of this church, and I want you to preach here. Do you understand?” said Dr. Peak.
“Yes, Dr. Peak,” I said. “But it seems too good to be true, but I’ll be there, Lord willing.”
I was all set to preach in the greatest church in Texas, and all of a sudden the telephone rang. It was Dr. Peak, and he said that Dr. Norris had decided to preach in “his” church the next day, so I unpacked my bags and stayed home!
A few short years ago, I got a call from the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. He wanted me to come to Fort Worth on a given Sunday and preach for him in the great First Baptist Church! I just knew I was soon to be privileged to meet many of the friends of the long ago, many of whom I no doubt had baptized while I was working for Dr. Norris.
Then came the Saturday before I was to go to Fort Worth to preach in that historic church. The telephone rang. I could hardly believe my ears. It was the secretary of the pastor. She said, “There has been some mistake. You cannot preach here Sunday; we made a mistake in scheduling.”
I told the secretary to tell her pastor he was not fooling me. I knew he was simply canceling me for some reason, and he didn’t have the guts enough to tell me.
Well, it appears the joke was on me both times!
Today all that seems the same about Dr. Norris’ great church is the name. The church has been taken into the Southern Baptist Convention and lies snuggled in the arms of its former adversary.
What Dr. Norris stood for still remains in many other churches, institutions, hearts and lives to the glory of God.
He blazed the trail.
“The Preacher” – He Liked Apples, Had Gun in Desk
by Jack Gordon
Press Amusement Editor
We knew the Preacher. Covered his trial at Austin, and several times after trying days in court he would invite us up to his room in the Driskill Hotel.
There we would eat apples together. The Preacher loved apples.
To the people who worked with him at First Baptist Church, Dr. J. Frank Norris always was The Preacher.
He was a born leader, and so necessarily had some of the cockiness that must be in the make-up of such a man. He once said: “I could tell my congregation that Lake Worth was on fire and 5000 of them would be out there with buckets of water, to put out the fire.”
We always liked to listen to the Preacher on the radio, but had not seen him for a long time until he asked us to come by his office earlier this summer.
He had a written statement for the paper, giving the itinerary of what was to be his last trip to the Holy Land.
It was off our beat. Still, we were glad to handle the story.
The Preacher looked well enough, but he walked stiffly and with difficulty. It was a shock seeing him that way. To one who had known him as a vigorous, fire-eating crusader, it was hard to believe that he had grown old.
But he was 74. And he was not to have another birthday.
As the Preacher moved in his halting way, we could see him on another afternoon more than 20 years before.
He had called us to his office then. He was in the middle of the controversy that, a few days later, was to turn the ante-room outside his office into a shooting gallery.
We felt then that he had hit a bit below the belt in his attacks on the enemy. He asked what we thought, and we said so. He disagreed.
He said he was ready for any trouble. He reached into the old roll-top desk he favored and pulled out the biggest gun we ever saw.
“If they want it this way, Im ready,” he said.
The Preacher’s mouth tightened. It was like a scene out of a western movie… it was unreal… and then, several days later, it became all too real.
A man died in that ante-room outside the pastor’s study.
The murder trial that followed was a world sensation. Moved to Austin on a change of venue, the trial was covered by newspapermen from coast to coast.
The London Times even sent a man across the ocean to Austin.
Testimony was introduced to show that the victim was not armed. But the defense put on witnesses who said that he had made a pocket move.
The Preacher was acquitted.
During the trial, the Preacher attended Sunday church services regularly. One Sunday night, he agreed to take this reporter with him. We bowed our head with him; we heard him pray; and it was the prayer of a man at peace with his Maker.
Several years ago, the Preacher stopped us on the street, said he wanted us to write the story of his life. The book never got beyond that.
If it had, what we have written above would have gone into it.
The Preacher was an extraordinary man. He could be a trouble maker and he could be an inspiration. He was hated by some, adored by many. And he preached a whale of a sermon.
If thunder ever again shakes the heavens over Texas, it well could be the Preacher. He’ll never quit.
In the sere, the yellow leaf, J. Frank Norris had mellowed no little. A man whose personality, utterance, acts had been combative issues in religion and politics for decades in Texas had attracted little notice in the last few years that preceded his death early Wednesday at seventy-four.
Norris long was as controversial a figure within his own Baptist church as outside of it. He regarded himself as a fundamentalist and gave that name to the paper he founded and edited. In the pulpit and out of it he was a throwback to the days when the weapons of religion were more likely to be the pike and arquebus than the Bible. He would have been at home with the grim dogmatists who preached Cromwell’s Ironsides to victory at Marston Moor or Monmouth’s peasants to their deaths at Sedgemoor.
As ready to fight as to preach, Norris left his imprint on Texas in rigid laws of moral restraint, some of them still on the statute books. He fought race track gambling and open pool halls when both were an everyday part of Texas life. He battled for prohibition and against Sunday trade and amusements.
Norris thrived on controversy. His name was probably familiar to more Texans for thirty years than that of any man in the state. His career included arraignment on such serious indictments as perjury and murder, but his trials were capped by triumphant acquittal, secured him more adherents than enemies and made what was almost his personal church a record congregation in size and enthusiasm for its locality in its day.
J. Frank Norris had a genius for arousing high adulation and deep hatred. In finality he outlived most of his foes and the causes for which he and they fought.