Thinking Out Loud

February 28, 2017

Oswald J. Smith: Not Made for Defeat

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:32 am

While we were on holiday, I sat by the pool and read an out-of-print book, Not Made for Defeat, Doug Hall’s biography of Oswald J. Smith the founder of The Peoples Church in Toronto. I more or less read the book in a single sitting. I’ve mentioned him in passing here before such as,

The Peoples Church was Canada’s first and for many years only megachurch, and this long before the term existed. The Toronto church was also independent, a rarity in its time. It was founded by Oswald J. Smith whose ordination was Presbyterian and had also founded an earlier church with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Smith had been turned down by several missions agencies because of his health, but ended up living to 96 and traveling all over the world.  You can read more at Wikipedia.  (As a young child, I attended Oswald Smith’s funeral, where Billy Graham spoke.)

as well as one time mentioning his philosophy when he would be gone on mission trips:

Oswald J. Smith built Toronto’s Peoples Church into Canada’s first — and for a long time only — megachurch. When he was away on missionary trips, some of which encompassed months at a time, his philosophy was to always book guest speakers that he felt were better than himself.  If you’re an aspiring teacher or preacher, I can’t stress the value of listening to great speakers; of going out of your way to hear the best, especially hearing them in person.

oswald-j-smithCertainly attendance never waned while he was away.

I also included a number of quotations by him at Christianity 201, such as:


Give according to your income lest God make your income according to your giving. 


So long as there is a human being who does not know Jesus Christ, I am his debtor to serve him until he does.


The church that does not evangelize will fossilize.


We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.


No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.


This was the church where I spent the extremely formative years from when I was 11 to age 21. I continued to have contact for many years after. Peoples Church has only ever had five pastors — Oswald  J. Smith, son Paul B. Smith, John Hull, Charles Price and now Brett McBride — so I grew up hearing the stories about the church’s founding and although the torch had been passed to Paul Smith, I got to hear Oswald on a few occasions. In the later chapters, there were several names I recognized. 

For those reasons, the book may not have held the interest of others, but for me it was a page-turner. A few quick takeaways as I’ve actually misplaced my copy as I write this:

  • The idea of calling: Smith’s was cemented at a very early age when he took a train trip from rural Ontario to hear an evangelist at Toronto’s Massey Hall.
  • The idea of vision: Smith experienced success early on, but would walk away from pulpits in Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles to pursue a vision for a particular type of church.
  • On non-denominational churches: Smith had seen abuses of the idea of church membership and wanted a place not governed by the denominational requirements to have such.
  • A megachurch apologetic: Smith believed if you want to see many people converted to Christ through preaching, you need to preach to many people.
  • A maverick spirit: Churches weren’t air-conditioned in those days, so one summer Smith erected a tent on a vacant property for an entire summer. Followers were told to bring a chair they weren’t using and leave it there, leading to people clogging the buses and streetcars of the pubic transit system carrying seats to the first meeting.
  • An understanding of media: Smith’s Sunday night “Back Home Hour” was an unscripted radio program for parishioners to end their worship day at home, though they could stay after the evening service for the broadcast. Not only did many stay, but people started arriving from other churches, stretching the Fire Department’s approved capacity for the building.
  • On marriage and ministry: Smith’s wife Daisy freed him to take worldwide mission trips, yet strangely, despite being away extensively, he didn’t want ministry immersion to damage his home and family life.
  • On church leadership: Smith was an iconic leader but was neither autocratic nor a micro-manager. He would return from overseas and discover new innovations initiated in his absence and would be moved to tears.
  • Legacy: Though known for the independent Peoples Church, Smith was a major force in the early years of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
  • The Faith Promise Offering: Smith’s then unique contribution to the fundraising component of missions conferences; only once did actual annual missions giving not exceed the amounts pledged; though pledged is the wrong word, people committed “in dependence upon God.”

Oswald J. Smith was a man for his times but with an approach to ministry that would work in our times as well, even if the fine tuning of the methodology would differ today. We need a lot more like him.

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July 17, 2009

Charles Price on True versus Truth

Charles Price is the senior pastor of The Peoples’ Church, Toronto — once Canada’s one and only megachurch — and the host of the Living Truth TV and radio broadcasts.  Charles is a the former head of Capernwray in the U.K. and author of several books.

1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  12But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.   ~ Hebrews 10: 1, 11-12 (NIV)

TrainTimetableExtract2

The message that came through the prophets, through the priests, through the angels and through Moses was all true but it was not the truth.  Remember Jesus, in the upper room said “I am the truth.”  John 14:6 records Jesus saying, “I am the way and the truth.”   These previous messengers spoke truth, but Jesus was the truth.

Perhaps you travel frequently by train.   You may have a timetable that tells you a train will leave the station and ten o’clock on Saturday morning and arrive at your destination at two fifteen.   That may be true,  and if you’re planning to catch the train, you hope it is — but the timetable, although it’s true, is not the truth.  The timetable bears witness to the truth.   What is the truth?   The truth is the train.   A timetable won’t get you anywhere.   You can read the timetable, underline it, memorize it, sing it:  it won’t get you anywhere.   It’s true, but it’s only true in the sense that it bears witness to the truth which is the train.   That’s the truth, that’s what the timetable is talking about.   God’s revelation through the prophets, through the priests, through angels, through Moses is true but it’s like the timetable, which is pointing to the train.

I could paraphrase Hebrews 1:1 “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the timetable at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He’s given us the train.”  Does that make sense?   Everything that went before, pointed to Christ, but it didn’t take you anywhere.   The priests could tell the people there was someone to go to, but they could not take them because the message of the Old Testament is that one day the train is going to pull into the station.   But the problem is that when the train came, they did not receive him.   They did not catch the train.

There’s nothing wrong with the law at all, but it’s only a shadow, it’s not the substance, it’s the timetable, it’s not the train.  It won’t get you anywhere as Hebrews 10:1 explains: “it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”   Was it a waste of time?   No, it was preparing people for what was coming.

One day the train will come.

Charles Price writing in the Our Journey
devotional booklet for August 2, 2009

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