Orrin Root and ‘Sound the Battle Cry!’
Orrin Root and ‘Sound the Battle Cry!’

I was thinking about Orrin Root the other day. He comes to mind quite often.

Orrin Root

Mr. Root was retired when I met him in 1998, but he still was writing The Lookout’s weekly Sunday school lesson commentary, as he had done since 1949. When Mr. Root died in 2003, he was several months ahead on his lesson writing. Oh, and he was 98.

I always thought he wrote like a young man, only with much wisdom.

Mr. Root came to work at Standard Publishing (former parent company of this magazine) in 1945, when he was 40 years old. He became editor in chief of Sunday school literature in 1957, retired in 1970, but returned as interim editor of The Lookout in 1975. After working for that magazine for about a year, he switched to another department before “re-retiring” in 1985.

Former Christian Standard editor Mark A. Taylor took over as editor of The Lookout from Mr. Root in 1976. Upon Mr. Root’s death in May 2003, Mark wrote in the July 20 edition of Christian Standard that year:

I arrived at the editor’s desk in The Lookout office to find file folders full of manuscripts he had edited. Studying those articles and stories gave me a graduate-level course in the art of editing. He had a remarkable ability to understand what the writer intended to say and to help him say it in words the writer might have chosen himself. . . .

Although his thinking was sharp, his demeanor was gentle. . . . He spoke softly and smiled easily. . . . [W]e never heard him speak a harsh or unkind word.

No one in our fellowship has taught the Bible to more people with more grace. He died as he had lived, quietly and without fanfare. His influence will be felt for many years to come.

Mr. Root was a “Reflections” writer during my first year with Christian Standard in 1998, meaning he wrote four articles/columns of his own choosing that year. This is one of those columns.

_ _ _

Sound the Battle Cry!

By Orrin Root
June 7, 1998

“The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Three hundred men of Israel shouted the war cry. They blew trumpets too, and waved torches in the darkness—and they didn’t need to draw a sword after all. Uncounted thousands of terrified enemies broke and ran (Judges 7:19-23).

Any vigorous enterprise is likely to have a battle cry. In the American Civil War, the famous rebel yell invigorated the rebels and terrified the Yanks. Many Americans now living remember a battle cry that was shouted by orators and blazoned on billboards: “Remember Pearl Harbor!” It stirred young people to join the army, and older people to endure the rigors of rationing.

Our religious debates have their battle cries too. We call them slogans, which is Gaelic for battle cries, or more literally, for army cries. Slogans encourage us in the good fight, and we hope they will overwhelm the enemy. Several slogans have been much used by people who are devoted to the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

 

1. Restore the New Testament church!

How that call impels us to action in the sad confusion of Christendom today! What a noble enterprise! But many people are devoted to groups quite different from the New Testament church, and they do not wilt before our battle cry.

One of them scoffs, “Come on, be specific. Which New Testament church do you want to restore? The one at Jerusalem didn’t even share the gospel with the rest of Judea till it was driven out of town. The church at Corinth was torn by sectarian strife. The one at Laodicea was dead. Which of these are you holding up as an ideal?”

So we have to explain our battle cry. The church at Jerusalem finally did go everywhere preaching the Word. The church at Corinth healed some of its wounds. We like to think the church at Laodicea took warning and rose to new life. The church we want to see is the church that ought to be, the ideal that is described in the New Testament.

 

2. Where the Bible speaks, we speak; Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.

Amid the chaos of creeds and cults we shout the authority of God. When something is said in His Word, we proclaim that with all assurance. That is true; that is right; that is beyond controversy. We add no creed that a Christian must accept, no confession that he must sign before he is recognized as a brother. Where the Bible is silent, we say nothing with authority. Thus we limit and define the good fight we will fight. We stand with God. We have no part in the multifarious conflicts of human opinion.

But our noble war cry needs to be understood. Students of R.C. Foster recall with what clarity and humor he pointed out that the exact opposite is equally true: Where the Bible speaks, we are silent; where the Bible is silent, we speak. That is to say, “When the Bible says something, there is no more to be said.” That is the last word. But where the Bible says nothing, we are free to express our opinions.

Consider a plain example. Sending His disciples to “preach the gospel to every creature,” Jesus added, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Nothing can be plainer than that. Jesus said it; we believe it; we proclaim it. But what happens to one who believes and is not baptized. Jesus did not say, and so we are silent. Or are we?

As a matter of fact, some of us speak quite dogmatically: “If one is not baptized into Christ, he is not in Christ. Therefore he is lost.” Others are scarcely less dogmatic in the opinion that God’s grace may reach beyond His promise, and some believers may be saved without being baptized. Thus we find ourselves differing and even debating on a matter on which the Bible is silent.

 

3. Call Bible things by Bible names.

How much confusion would vanish if all believers would join us in this! Proudly we say we are Christians, not Catholics or Protestants or Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians or Pentecostals. Sometimes we call ourselves “Christians only,” though the Bible more often calls us disciples or believers or brethren or saints.

We call the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s Supper, as the Bible does (1 Corinthians 11:20) or we call it the Communion (1 Corinthians 10:16). Who authorized anyone to call it a sacrament, or even a Eucharist?

How far shall we go with our insistence on Bible names? Some of us vigorously reject the word trinity because it is not in the Bible. Still we all agree that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three; though we cannot explain how that is possible when they are one. Since they are three even while they are one, is it not factual to call them the three, or the trio, or the triad, or the trinity? Must we limit our vocabulary to words found in the Bible, or is it enough to be limited by the truth found in the Bible?

One fine Christian scholar avoids such terms as loyalty and harmony along with trinity. They are not in the Bible. The things they name are highly desirable, he agrees; but he says we ought to call them faithfulness and unity, as the Bible does. However, zealous as he is for the rule of using Bible names, even he limits his application of the rule. Like the rest of us, he calls the Bible “the Bible,” though it is not so called in the Bible.

 

4. No creed but Christ; No book but the Bible; No name but the Divine.

Often these three cries are tied together to emphasize the simplicity of our faith in contrast with ponderous ecclesiastical organizations and their tedious creeds. But these statements are hyperboles. Their application is limited to the truth behind the hyperboles.

“No creed but Christ” does not mean we do not believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Bible. It means we do not write out a creed listing all the things we believe. Our faith is centered in Christ. We believe what He says and what the Bible says.

“No book but the Bible” does not mean we read no other books and write none. It means the Bible stands alone as the Word of God, the voice of authority.

“No name but the divine,” like “Christians only,” does not mean we are not disciples, believers, brethren, saints, and children of God. We accept all the names given to us in the Bible, but we take no divisive name to separate ourselves from others who are Christians, disciples, believers, brethren, saints, and children of God.

This discussion could go on and on, but we’re coming to the end of the page. We need a conclusion.

 

Conclusion

Shall I then abandon my favorite slogan? No, no, no! Sound the battle cry! Be stirred by it, be aroused to action for the right. Use it in our daily dialogue; use it to challenge, to engage, to convert.

But remember what your slogan is. It’s a battle cry, not a creed. It’s our word, not God’s. It may need to be explained, as in section 1 or 2 above. It may have a limited application, as in section 3 or 4. One who questions it, or makes fun of it, or sneers at it is not necessarily the devil incarnate. Patiently explain what it means; admit its limitations. Who knows? Perhaps the skeptic will come to appreciate your slogan and to honor the Christ and the Bible.

_ _ _

As I’ve indicated, Mr. Root didn’t start his career with Standard Publishing until age 40. He could also be termed a latecomer to ministry. According to his obituary (Christian Standard, July 20, 2003), he was born on a farm in Arizona’s Salt River Valley, and he grew up to be a farmer. But at age 21, he became an unschooled preacher with a church at Buckeye, Ariz. Four years later he came to Ohio to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary, receiving his baccalaureate degree in 1935. He then returned to Arizona to serve as minister (while also working, at various times, as a mechanic, janitor, truant officer, and mail carrier).

Orrin Root

I remember him as a rather short man, but sturdy. His features, especially his nose, reminded me of a Native American. All the time I knew him—the final six years of his life—he was living in an apartment at Mount Healthy Christian Home on property adjoining Standard Publishing. (At Mount Healthy, as I recall, Mr. Root always dined with Edwin Hayden, former editor of Christian Standard, and one or two others.)

Mr. Root typically would walk the short, but not insignificant, distance to Standard’s offices to hand-deliver his typed-out Sunday school lesson to The Lookout office. The workers at our sister magazine during the latter years of Mr. Root’s life included, at various times, Mary Gwin, Alva Lee Harley, Pat McCarty, Sheryl Overstreet, Simon J. Dahlman, Mike Mack, David Faust, and Shawn McMullen; all would invariably stop to chat with him for a minute or two. On his manuscript, Mr. Root always indicated places for possible cuts, if necessary.

I don’t know whether it was as part of these trips to and from our offices to deliver his lessons, but coworkers said they saw Mr. Root, at various times, hanging from a low tree branch, as if to do a pull-up, and picking up litter and deadwood after a summer storm.

 I walked with him from Standard to his home one day—I think it took 5 or 10 minutes. I carried for him an electric typewriter to replace the one he had been using for years. (I assume his old typewriter just wore out from overuse.) By that time, Standard didn’t have much use for electric typewriters, but Mr. Root still used one.

It probably was one of my more significant contributions to the cause of Christ.

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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2 Comments

  1. Sandra Ziegler
    January 24, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Jim. I enjoyed the review and remembering this dear soul.

  2. Victor Knowles
    January 30, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Orrin Root certainly lived up to his last name. He was certainly “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and he strove to help all of us become “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7). Thank you for sharing this vignette about Brother Root.

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