Men Who Knew They Weren’t “Great”

An advertisement for a W.B. Riley meeting in Owensboro, Kentucky, in April 1940, was emblazoned with the words, “Hear America’s Great Pulpit Statesman – 14 Great Days with Dr. W.B. Riley!” He liked that and had his photo taken standing beneath the banner. J. Frank Norris published an advertisement for First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, that depicted him as a giant towering over the church sanctuary. The great man syndrome was carried on by John R. Rice’s Sword of the Lord and by Jack Hyles’ Pastor’s Schools. They promoted the greatest Sunday Schools, the greatest churches, the greatest preachers, the greatest heroes of the faith, the greatest bus captains. In contrast, when Gypsy Smith saw that the Peoples Temple in Boston had put up a sign advertising him as “the Greatest Evangelist in the World,” he made them take it down (Ed Reese, Rodney “Gypsy” Smith Evangelist). After D.L. Moody refused to meet a group of prominent women who supported his work, he told a fellow evangelist, “If I had shaken hands with those women, I wouldn’t have been half through before the devil would have made me believe that I was some great man, and from that time I would have to do as he bid” (Chapman, The Life and Work of Dwight Lyman Moody). Robert Ketcham said of his association of churches (GARBC), “[We are] sold out to the one proposition that Jesus Christ is the only One worthy of prominent mention, and that there are no ‘great men among us.’ We are all little men with a great God” (“Important Changes at Waterloo,” Baptist Bulletin, July 1938). Prominent Bible college dean, author, and Bible conference speaker William Blackstone concluded his letters with “I am but an errand boy for Jesus.” John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Peter didn’t refer to Paul as “the great Paul” but rather as “our beloved brother” (2 Pe. 3:15). God will not give his glory to others. Jesus taught His disciples to call themselves “unprofitable servants.” “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lu. 17:10). When the disciples clamored as to who would be greatest, Jesus reproved them (Mt. 18:1-4).

(Friday Church News Notes, December 18, 2020,,, 866-295-4143)