Daniel Sommer was one of the most controversial figures to grace the pages of Restoration history. He was an outstanding preacher of the Gospel who was dedicated to seeking after the Ancient Order of Things. In this essay, we want to chronicle his life from 1889 until his death in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1940.
Sommer was the “spokesman” for the ultra conservative brethren who were mostly centered in the Midwest states. He was the editor of the Octographic Review, later called the Apostolic Review. He was able to wield great influence in editing a religious periodical.
Considering the influence that bro. Sommer and other editors like him exerted Carl Ketcherside wrote these words in Restoration Review, April 1977.
“Although I did not realize at the time I was baptized, this historical movement was already fractured into fragments because of the legalistic concept which had captured the minds of its adherents. Divisions do not happen. They are caused. Parties form around men who promote the separation and insist upon the segregation of their adherents. In the movement growing out of the ideal of restoration enunciated by Alexander Campbell, most of the divisions centered around men of prominence. In almost every instance they were editors of journals. They could use their papers as propaganda media and the United States mails as a distribution method. No party could long endure without an editor and a “loyal paper.”
Isaac Errett wielded influence through the Christian Standard. David Lipscomb edited the Gospel ,Advocate. Austin McGary edited the Firm Foundation. Daniel Sommer edited the American Christian Review. The name of this paper was changed at various times to Octographic Review, Apostolic Review, and back again to the American Christian Review. It was into this segment of the ‘disciple fellowship’ represented by the Apostolic Review that I was introduced when baptized. At the time I did not know that there were others. I supposed in my childhood idealism, that all Christians were together, united in a common bond of faith, and that wherever you saw a meetinghouse with ‘Church of Christ’ over the door you would find a welcome hand of fellowship to cheer you.”
The first event we want to mention is one of great importance. The tide of liberalism among Disciples of Christ was rising. Daniel Sommer decided to call the hands of the digressives in Illinois and in all the land. The place chosen was Sand Creek, Illinois. Every year a mass meeting was held there. In 1889 it was estimated that there were close to 6000 disciples present to hear Daniel Sommer.
Sand Creek, Illinois on August 18, 1889 will go down in our history as a day when the lines of demarcation were drawn. One historian, Dr. Leroy Garrett, has even suggested that if we are looking for a date to tell us when what we today call the “Church of Christ” started, then we need look no farther than this date.
West, in Search for The Ancient Order, has this to say.
“On Sunday, August 18, 1889, six thousand members of the church gathered in Shelby County, Illinois at the site of the old Salem congregation in a great mass meeting. Since 1873, large masses of brethren had congregated at this site to enjoy a few days of fellowship, and have the opportunity of hearing prominent preachers. With the passing of the years the general condition of the church had a tendency to reflect itself on this gathering, so they came somberly together contemplating the rising threat of division within the church.
On this Sunday in 1889 the taciturn audience listened for an hour and forty minutes as Daniel Sommer spoke on the condition of the church. Sommer charged the innovators” with being responsible for all the division, discord, bitterness and strife within the church. He claimed they had constantly asked these men not to push their innovations, but they had been refused. The Missionary Society and Instrumental Music were being pushed into the churches, driving a wedge between the brethren. What then was to be done?”
As you will recall, one of the most important of the non-inspired writing was Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. In it he called for recognizing all Christians as God’s children. In contrast, the Address and Declaration given on August 18, 1889 and read by Elder P. D. Warren calls for division. We want to give you the last paragraph of this document. In the Christian Leader, dated, September 10, 1889, we read the following.
“It is, therefore, with this view, if possible, of counteracting the usage’s and practices that have crept into the churches that this effort on the part of the congregations from now on named is made. And now, in closing up this address and declaration, we state that we are impelled from a sense of duty to say that all such as are guilty of teaching or allowing and practicing the many innovations and corruptions to which we have referred, after having had sufficient time for meditation and reflection, if they will not turn away from such abominations, THAT WE CANNOT AND WILL NOT REGARD THEM AS BRETHREN.”
What were some reactions to Sommer’s sermon at Sand Creek and to the Address and Declaration? We want to cite two responses. Writing in the Christian Standard of June 18, 1892, Russell Errett wrote the following.
“The churches should be on their guard. They should know that Daniel Sommer has abandoned apostolic ground and is no more identified with the Disciples of Christ than Sidney Rigdon.”
- C. McQuiddy wrote the following in the Gospel Advocate on June 30, 1892 as a reply to Daniel Sommer and as a reply to the Standard.
“Well for our part, the Advocate needs no second call to express its sentiments on this momentous matter. The Sand Creek manifesto was manifest folly, and the Advocate emphatically denies any sympathy with Sommerism–whatever that is–Sand Creekism, Sand Lotism, Sans-culottism, Standards or any other partyism in religion. The Advocate is for Christ and His Church (chosen ones) and is in ardent sympathy with all who are drawing their life from Him who is the True Vine . . . It is not trying to build a church on the teachings of the Standard’s Fathers, nor is it following anybody’s Fathers.”
In our last article on J. N. Armstrong, we promised you some remarks on Daniel Sommer’s opposition to Christian Schools. Dr. West says that the war against Christian Schools was based on six fronts or arguments. The six were as follows.
- The Christian School comes under the same category as the Missionary Society and must be opposed in the same way.
- The second front was motivation. According to Sommer to ‘glorify’ man.
- The establishment of the schools was an improper use of the Lord’s money.
- Fear was that in time the churches would not use preachers unless they were graduates of the colleges.
- They would create a special privileged class of ministers who would, as in former days, lead the church into another digression.
- Finally, the campaign against Christian schools emphasized that they were church institutions, a spin off of the contention that the schools were like the missionary societies and by that, subject to the ban.”
During his confrontations with the proponents of the Bible School, Daniel Sommer held oral and written debates on the subject. The oral debates were with B. F. Rhodes in 1907. The first was held in Odessa, Missouri and the second in Hale, Missouri. His written debate was held with J. N. Armstrong.
On May 31, 1924, Daniel Sommer’s wife Kate Way died. They had been married more than fifty years. On July 8, 1927, he married Esther Letitia White. She passed away on April 5, 11931 at the age of seventy. During all this time the editorship of the Apostolic Review remained in the Sommer family.
In an effort to help unite the fractured segments of the Restoration Movement, the publishers of the Review (Allen and Chester Sommer), submitted what was to be called the “Rough Draft.” This was published in the June 21, 1932 issue of the Review. It was to meet great criticism. The ones who protested helped start another party. Two of the most vocal of the protesters were Daniel Sommer’s son, D. Austen Sommer and W. Carl Ketcherside. After many years as the “champion” of what Allen R. Sommer called the “Macedonian Faction,” Carl Ketcherside came to realize that he had sinned in helping start a new sect. He came to realize that all of God’s children were his brothers and sisters in the Risen Lord. Nevertheless, we must return to 1932. We realize it is long, but we feel that should get an inkling of what caused the “so-called” controversy. So we give you the text of the “Rough Draft.”
CAN’T WE AGREE ON SOMETHING?
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one: as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.” (John 17:21,22)
“To those of the churches of Christ who desire a plan for Unity, we submit the following for your consideration. We cry ‘Unity,’ and say that Unity can be obtained only on a New testament basis. Yet the New Testament is the Book we disagree on. If we can search out the things we agree on, and unite on them, and work together, we’ll have Unity!
So, we submit the following items of worship which are necessary to a New Testament Church.
- COMMUNION: The Lord’s Supper must be kept every Lord’s Day.
- PREACHING AND MUTUAL EDIFICATION should be decided by each congregation for itself. It knows its own needs.
- “PASTOR SYSTEM”: There are no New testament Pastors save Elders.
- OFFICERS: Only officers recognized for religious work by the New Testament are Elders and Deacons.
- SINGING: No instrumental Music, but honest endeavor to make the song-service as edifying as possible.
- CONTRIBUTION: This is for the support of spreading the Gospel and taking care of the poor.
- DISCIPLING: The course that is fair is the Scriptural plan every time. Conduct that brings reproach on the Church, and heresies, are matters of discipline if persisted in after due warning.
- WORKERS: Safety of New Testament plan demands all such should be under supervision of Elders and mature members of the Church. Al Bible classes must be under the supervision of the Church–not a separate organization.
- PREACHERS: Must be of good character. If they favor ‘Bible Colleges’ or not, let it be an individual matter. Their business is preaching the Gospel and building up churches, not other religious organizations.
- BIBLE CLASSES: As they are not part of the worship, those not believing in them may stay away without censure.
- LESSON-LEAVES: If a Bible-class uses lesson-leaves, those not agreeing may use their Bible without censure by those using lesson-leaves. (Most of us use commentaries of some sort, the place where we use them being the main point of difference. Some use New Testaments with extensive notes at bottom of each page without criticism, even in worship.) Bible classes are not a part of worship.
- BIBLE COLLEGES AND ORPHANS HOMES: Supporting them is an individual matter–the Church Contribution is not for that purpose. We’re saved as individuals, anyhow, not as churches. If anyone must take the risk, let that one do it as an individual. It’s a matter of believing in the efficacy of the Church. If a preacher, or a brother talks to us privately about ‘Bible -Colleges,’ just inform him kindly, yet firmly, that you do not support them, and tell him why. We can’t force them not to believe in them, but maybe we can reason with them.
- FOREIGN MISSIONS: Individual work. There is plenty of work nearby to satisfy those who want to work.
- SOCIETIES: These are all foreign to the Scriptural plan, and full of possibilities for departures. The Church is the only avenue through which to do religious work.
- BROTHERLY LOVE: This is as much a command as ‘repent and be baptized,’ and, if exercised, would be the solution of many problems. ‘Come let us reason together,’ means reason, not quarrel. Ephesians 4:16 speaks of ‘love’ as a means of the church edifying itself. All can take part in this, and make it really ‘mutual.’
Brethren, if the Church is as supreme with us as we would have people think, WHY NOT DO ALL OUR RELIGIOUS WORK THROUGH THE CHURCH, so the glory for such a work will go where the Book commands! If YOU wish to support a Missionary Society or an Education Society to do Church work, go ahead–that is between you and the Head of the Church. But, keep your hands off the Church Treasure! Don’t touch a penny of that and send it to another organization to do Church work! Maintain purity of the worship! Couldn’t we worship with the Christian Church if they’d cut out the mechanical music and not touch the Church funds in the interests of human societies to do church work? And raise money for the work by giving as the Lord has prospered. We can worship together with our College brethren if they will keep their hands off the church funds and do not try to divert them for the aid of a college to teach the Scriptures. For, that is the Church’s work. Bro. Srygley, of the Gospel Advocate, says no organization other than the Church’s elders and deacons is Scriptural for religious work. Bro. H. L. Boles, of late president of David Lipscomb College, says this president, secretary and treasury stuff in church work is wrong! So this brings us right back to the one institution through which the manifold wisdom of God is to be made known: the Church of Christ. We must jealously guard her worship.
Brethren, let us be just as jealous of her work! If you wish to support the Y.M.C.A., or a missionary or education society for preaching or teaching the Scriptures–go ahead; that’s between you and the Founder of the one organization with Heaven’s approval for making known the Gospel. You must settle with Him! But don’t touch the Church’s funds in the interest of any human religious society!
If the preacher we employ wants to give part of what we give him to aid a human society, that is his personal affair and risk! The Head of the Church will settle with him in the last day for helping a rival institution. But, retain the Church funds strictly for Church work, and we will have a glorious reunion! And our preachers, editors, and the whole ran and file can show the world what a people who put first things first can do–the Church before any other society for making known “the manifold wisdom of God.” Then we all can joyfully and truthfully sing: ‘For her my tears shall fall, For her my prayers ascend; To her my cares and toils be given Till cares and toils shall end.’
Brethren, are you with us for the Church supreme? Let us hear from editors, preachers and the employees.
This is a rough draft, but it is written in behalf of the thousands who desire to reach that Better Land, and who never will know, and can never understand ‘the fine points’ in our arguments for and against some things that have disrupted us. We desire very much to afford a place for such to worship after the New Testament plan. We solicit suggestions and close analysis of these items.” -Review Publishers
In 1933 Daniel Sommer, then eighty-three years of age made a preaching tour of the South. He spoke at David Lipscomb College and at many churches in the Southland. The time was coming when Daniel Sommer was beginning to realize that he should not force his opinions on others. This is not to say that he changed his views on anything, only to say that he put them in their proper perspective.
In the ’30’s and ’40’s there were efforts made to unite the parties of the Restoration Movement. James DeForrest Murch and Claude Witty led theses. They held Unity Meetings in many cities. Daniel Sommer was among the speakers. In his old age he still had all his mental faculties, although he was blind. Allen R. Sommer, writing in the American Christian Review, dated January, February, March 1965, writes the following.
“He had attended a Witty-Murch unity meeting of several days in this city (Indianapolis, Indiana, 1939). Spoke along with Morris, Murch, Boles, Witty, Errett and McMillian. Jorgenson led some singing. No instrumental music. It was in a Christian Church building, too. Some free-for-all discussions livened the occasion. When one such seemed getting out of control, Don Carlos Janes brought order when he pleaded, ‘Brethren, let us pray.'”
So, Daniel Sommer ended his long and fruitful life pleading for the unity spoken of in the New Testament. He died in 1940. Dr. Frederick D. Kershner, Dean of the College of Religion at Butler University, wrote the following in Shane Quarterly, dated April 1940.
“Daniel Sommer was the last of the great pioneers of the Restoration Movement. Born in 1850, only twenty years after the dissolution of the Mahoning Association, his life stretched back to the days of the Campbells and spanned almost the entire circle of the growth and development of the movement. As the successor of Benjamin Franklin in the editorship of the American Christian Review, he became a dominant protagonist of the Right Wing among the Disciples and was usually regarded as the very tip of the wing . . .
When we reflect upon the fact that Alexander Campbell died after Daniel Sommer was sixteen years of age and that both Thomas Campbell and Walter Scott were at least partially contemporary with Mr. Sommer, we can understand something of the extraordinary character of his life. Isaac Errett and Benjamin Franklin were full contemporaries of this pioneer and his career stretched back to within two decades of the Mahoning Association which marked the real beginning of the historic career of the Disciples. Daniel Sommer was, therefore, almost a living epitome of the history of his communion. The fact that he belonged to the extreme Right Wing has nothing to do with his importance as a historical representative of the Movement. Nobody would question his loyalty as a Disciple or his interest in the cause to which he devoted his life.”