GREAT GOSPEL PREACHERS OF THE PAST
(Part 10: E. R. Harper and Jack Meyer, Sr.)
E. R. HARPER (1897-1986). Ernest Rosenthal Harper was born on August 27, 1897 in Enola, AR, the oldest of four sons born to William and Sarah Harper. Following the birth of the third son, William Harper was converted from denominationalism to original, New Testament Christianity. Ernest himself was baptized into Christ in 1914. He grew rapidly in the faith and wanted to attend a Christian college and become a gospel preacher. He rented five acres of land, and with the help of his family he raised enough cotton to enter Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, TN where he laid the foundation for the great work he would to do for the rest of his life. (What a novel idea on how to finance one’s college education, to say nothing of the admirable alternative it provides to today’s student loans and the subsequent massive debt!) In 1923 he was awarded the medal for the college’s Orator of the Year. Early in his career, he taught school in Mississippi and also led singing for some of the great evangelists of his day. (Brother Harper was blessed with a marvelous singing voice and an abundance of musical talent). He served the church in Bemis, TN; the Highland Ave./Allen & Edgewood/North Jackson church in Jackson, TN (where he obtained his B. A. degree from Union University); the 4th and State church (later 6th and Izard) in Little Rock, AR; and the 5th and Highland church in Abilene, TX. When I preached at Allen & Edgewood in Jackson, TN in the early to mid-1960s, brother and sister Harper were frequent visitors, his wife having a sister and brother-in-law who lived in Jackson and were faithful members at A. & E. It was always a pleasure to see brother Harper and to visit with him. Following his regular pulpit ministry with the 5th and Highland church in Abilene brother Harper spent several years as the speaker for the nation-wide Herald of Truth radio and television program, sponsored by the 5th & Highland church. His radio preaching had begun in Jackson, TN on WTJS, the very first week of that station’s existence. Brother Harper was an excellent speaker and an outstanding preacher and was in demand for gospel meetings all across the country, preaching in meetings in New York City, Baltimore, Houston, Sacramento, Memphis, Nashville, and many other cities. He was a featured speaker on the lectureships of most of the colleges associated with the churches of Christ. In 1966 he made a tour of 14 countries, preaching in Rome, Madrid, and Lausanne, Switzerland. On a trip to the lands of the Bible he spoke to the church in Jerusalem. In addition to his preaching, brother Harper also engaged in a number of religious debates with denominational preachers of various hues and stripes, including four with W. H. Hopper, a Baptist of Jackson, TN. He served as moderator for N. B. Hardeman in Hardeman’s highly publicized debate with the well-known Baptist, Ben M. Bogard, conducted in Little Rock, AR in 1938. In 1955, brother Harper and brother Yater Tant engaged in two debates on the scriptural right of the Herald of Truth radio and television program to exist. Kind and always gracious, but nevertheless firm in the truth of God’s word, E. R. Harper never failed to stand for what he believed was right as right was determined by the word of God. He wrote a number of tracts and booklets, including Living Issues, Standing in the Old Paths, The Lord’s Church, Baptist Bolen Answered, Harper’s Debate Charts, Misapplied Patterns, as well as a number of others. In 1973 Freed-Hardeman University bestowed on him their “Alumnus of the Year” award. In 1980 he was honored with an Appreciation Dinner at the Spiritual Sword Lectureship in Memphis. In 1983 Willard Collins, former president of David Lipscomb College, delivered a stirring tribute to brother Harper at the Fort Worth Lectures. When the time came for the response a stately, erect, battle-scarred soldier of the cross whose voice was already decimated by illness, arose and gave a stirring challenge to look to new horizons and to use every modern method within reach and reason to “Preach the word”! On June 15 (Father’s Day), 1986 E. R. Harper passed from this life. His funeral service was conducted at the Fifth and Grape Street Church of Christ in Abilene, TX with Willard Collins and Jerry Yarbrough officiating. Singing was directed by Paul Brown of Nashville. He is buried in Elmwood Memorial Park in Abilene.
JACK MEYER, SR. (1902-1963). Jack Meyer, Sr. was born on June 3, 1902 in Buffalo, NY and was immersed into Christ by J. Paul Slayden at the tender age of eight. He graduated from David Lipscomb College in Nashville, TN and received his B. A. degree from Abilene Christian College in Abilene, TX. Brother Meyer was a life-long student of God’s word and a most effective preacher of the gospel. He served churches in Charleston-Clarksdale, MS; Friendship, TN; Fourth Street in Tuscumbia, AL; West End in Birmingham, AL; Heights in Houston, TX; 10th and Francis in Oklahoma City, OK; Homewood in Birmingham; Arlington in Knoxville, TN; and the church in Falls Church, VA. He was a church builder (in the spiritual sense of the term) everywhere he served. He married Elizabeth Pittman in 1927 and they were the parents of two children—Jack, Jr. (who also became a gospel preacher) and Joan. Brother Meyer moved to Knoxville to preach at Arlington about the same time I moved to Knoxville to preach at Karns. I had the good fortune of becoming his friend and having him as a mentor. He seemed to take an interest in me and my work and was a great encouragement to me in my early years of local church work. When he left Arlington to move to Falls Church, VA a number of families left the Arlington church and began worshiping with us at Karns. Among them were his daughter and son-in-law, Joan and Alton (Sonny) McKissick, who became very close friends to Jan and me. When I was thinking about leaving Karns to move to Jackson, TN I received a long letter from brother Meyer urging me to stay at Karns. He saw the potential for the church in the community and thought I should stay. (His vision proved to be true, as witnessed by the size and influence of the Karns congregation today). When I nevertheless accepted the work in Jackson he wrote me another long letter congratulating me on moving to such a large and strong congregation at the young age of 24. I still have those letters in my correspondence files. We had brother Meyer to speak on congregational lectureships at Karns and I was always impressed with his knowledge and scholarship. During his ministry in Knoxville he preached in a meeting in nearby Maryville, TN, speaking two nights on the vital theme, “Legalism and Liberalism: Two Fatal Extremes.” I had the pleasure of hearing at least one of these masterful presentations and brother Meyer later gave me a copy of his complete set of notes on both sermons, notes that I have in my possession to this day. At an earlier time legalism (radicalism) had manifested itself in various ways, but by 1960 the specter of liberalism began to rear its head, and brother Meyer was wise enough to recognize it and to warn of its danger, a danger that has become more pronounced with the passing of the decades. In addition to being a great pulpit preacher, brother Meyer was an able writer. He wrote a series of tracts, encompassing a wide range of Bible subjects. He authored the book The Preacher and His Work, first published in 1955, then revised and enlarged in 1959. As a young preacher I devoured this book. He wrote the Introduction to Foy E. Wallace, Jr.’s monumental Bulwarks of the Faith—Part 1 and Part 2. For five years he served as editor of Truth in Love, a gospel publication based in Birmingham. Brother Meyer spoke on the lectureship programs of Abilene Christian College, David Lipscomb College, Alabama Christian College (later Faulkner University), Central Christian College (later Oklahoma Christian College), and Harding College. He delivered a week of Lectures on Preaching to the ministerial students at both Central Christian College and David Lipscomb College. His son, Jack, Jr., later preached for the Houston Park church in Selma, AL where he passed from this life and is buried. When I moved to Selma in 1995 to preach at Houston Park (my last full-time work), I was privileged to get to know Jack Jr.’s wife, some of his children, and grandchildren—grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the subject of this sketch. Jack Meyer, Sr. passed from this life in Falls Church, VA on July 15, 1963 of a massive heart attack. I remember the shock when I received the Falls Church church bulletin of July 16, 1963 at my home in Jackson, TN telling of his death. That issue of the bulletin was in memory of him, with a long and fitting tribute to him and his work in the kingdom. I have kept a copy of that bulletin for all these years. His close friend, Cleon Lyles, went from Little Rock, AR to Falls Church to conduct the funeral on July 18 and he is buried in National Memorial Park in Falls Church. In 1964, on our way to New York City, the World’s Fair, and a subsequent meeting in Allentown, PA, Jan, Bryan (our older but still preschool age son), and I visited Sonny, Joan, and sister Meyer in Falls Church and spent two nights with them. Through Sonny’s arrangement with the Falls Church elders, I spoke at the church’s midweek service. I cherish the memory of this good and able gospel preacher of the past.
May 7, 2019