14 April, 2024

W. R. Walker: A Minister and Much More

by | 1 August, 2019 | 1 comment

Most Christian church folks today probably have never heard of W. R. Walker. That’s understandable, since he died 56 years ago. Still, many would recognize the name of his schoolmate P. H. Welshimer, who ministered with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, for several decades. Walker and Welshimer were longtime friends, as you’ll see in this obituary/remembrance published a few weeks after Walker’s death on Feb. 2, 1963.

During his lifetime, this article noted, Walker was known for his “incisive logic,” his “clear presentations of Bible doctrine,” and for his firm grasp of New Testament faith and doctrine.

_ _ _

A Ministry Concluded

W. R. Walker served in the Restoration movement for eighty-two years

p. 3; Feb. 23, 1963

W. R. Walker, preacher, teacher, and Christian statesman, who served for many years as president of the Standard Publishing Company and more recently editorial counselor for Christian Standard, died Saturday morning, February 2, in Columbus, Ohio. Thus concluded a ministry to which the Restoration movement in our day is indebted in a degree not generally known by most of those who benefit from it.

Christian Standard was a little more than three years old when Brother Walker was born in 1869. He was associated with it as writer, officer, and counselor for more than half a century.

The Restoration movement was seventy-one years old from its beginnings in Pennsylvania when Brother Walker identified himself with it, being baptized into Christ by John F. Rowe in 1880. For eighty-two years he served it with his whole heart. Many younger members of this movement do not know him, but if they worship in churches where the gospel is preached clearly, forcefully, and reverently; if they have studied in Christian colleges where sound thinking combines with whole-souled respect for the Bible as God’s revealed Word; if they have benefited from Christian service camps or have been inspired at a North American Christian Convention; or if they have been taught by literature from Standard Publishing, they have drawn, at least indirectly, from his ministry.

Minister to small churches

Wilmer Russell Walker was born in Adams County, Iowa, July 5, 1869, the son of a Christian minister, L. G. Walker. Most of his life and ministry, however, have been associated with Ohio.

His preparation for the ministry was mature and thorough. He studied at Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio; Tri-State College, Angola, Indiana; Hiram College, Hiram, Ohio; Columbia University, New York City; and Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia. While at Hiram he was associated with a younger fellow-student, P. H. Welshimer, with whom he continued to share in common convictions and purposes with admiration and affection as long as both men lived. W. R. received the A.B. degree and was ordained to the Christian ministry at Hiram in June, 1896. Other degrees came later; A.M., Bethany College, 1917; D.D., The Cincinnati Bible Seminary, 1926; S.T.D., Milligan College, 1955.

Mr. Walker was married in 1893, to Miss Ina Day, with whom he was to share life for sixty-three years. He turned in 1896 to serving rural churches in northeastern Ohio. He was for two years at Chardon; for three years in the three congregation circuit of Martinsburg, Bladensburg, and Eden; one year at North Baltimore; and twelve years at Killbuck, preaching also at Glenmont.

Legislator and educator

In 1912 he served a term in the state legislature, representing Holmes County in the Fourth Constitutional Convention of Ohio. An anti-liquor campaign at Killbuck had brought him to public attention. . . . The constitutional convention sat for eight months, [but] Mr. Walker . . . was in his pulpit in Killbuck every Lord’s Day.

Soon after the Phillips Bible Institute was established at Canton, where it used the facilities of the First Christian Church from 1913 to 1917; P. H. Welshimer persuaded his former schoolmate to accept a teaching position there. When the institute moved from Canton, Professor Walker accepted an appointment to teach New Testament at Bethany College, continuing there for three years. When in later years he deplored the liberalism that used the facilities of once-faithful colleges to undermine students’ faith in the Bible, he knew from experience what he was talking about.

Preacher, teacher, administrator

In September, 1920, Brother Walker entered the ministry for which he is best remembered—twenty-eight years with the Indianola Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio. It was a ministry notable in three dimensions—preaching, teaching, and administration. Of his preaching, an Army captain who had heard him for twenty years wrote: “I always liked your sermons because they were Scriptural. You knew your Bible and that’s what you preached. Your presentation was scholarly and logical, yet simple enough for even the smaller children to understand.”

(Courtesy of Indianola Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio)

His teaching centered in a class for college students, mostly recruited from nearby Ohio State University. For a number of years the class averaged ninety in attendance. For it Mr. Walker prepared his lessons with even more care than he prepared his sermons. For it he developed leaders for the Indianola church and for other congregations throughout and beyond Ohio. He took some pride in the results: “It occurs to me that perhaps others ministers might be encouraged to stick to the Bible after knowing how such preaching is appreciated by college men. . . .”

In administration Brother Walker sought to be inconspicuous. He said that the criterion of leadership was the ability of the church to get along without the leader. He took pride in the capable men who surrounded him. No major action was taken in the board of elders without unanimous agreement. Decisions were often postponed, but growth and development were steady and without disruption. . . . From a relatively small congregation in 1920, Indianola grew to a membership of some 1,400, having seen more than three thousand added to its fellowship before Brother Walker’s retirement in 1948.

Counselor to wider field

. . . Early in the 1920s, W. R. Walker was persuaded to accept a position on the board of the Standard Publishing Company, then in an organizational crisis. Willard Mohorter, who persuaded W. R. to take the chore, recalls that the acceptance plunged Mr. Walker into trouble immediately, but that he “never flinched nor wavered,” but furnished the leadership necessary to save the company’s ministry to the Restoration movement. . . .

Brother Walker had a vital interest in the North American Christian Convention. No one who heard his final message to the convention in Indianapolis, April 29, 1955, is likely to forget it.  . . . [H]e presented a clear and pungent message on the authority of Christ—“Thy King Commands!” Then, assuming that a man already eighty-six years of age would not have another such opportunity, he addressed a personal word of retrospect and admonition to his brethren. He admitted to having had some part in calling the first . . . . [c]onvention in 1927 and in outlining some of the programs for later conventions. . . . He did not say that he had consistently declined convention offices. . . .

He reviewed certain issues in the life of the brotherhood he had known so long and so intimately—issues that demanded a preaching convention devoted to proclaiming Restoration themes. He deplored the increasingly frank avowal of denominationalism among prominent Disciples:

Until my college days I had read or heard nothing in acknowledgment of our congregations’ being denominational. . . . Whenever denominationalism was discussed it was invariably condemned as divisive and as something that should be abandoned. Multitudes of the brethren had done just that. They had laid aside sectarian doctrines and ecclesiastical controls for an unorganized, but vital, fellowship such as obtained in the early church. . . . Some of our earlier ministers lacked college training, but none of them were so illogical as to think that Christian unity, fellowship in Christ, as individuals, could be obtained by uniting denominations—unscriptural units—in either partial or full degree.

Brother Walker spoke plainly on the subject of “brotherhood agencies”:

There is no “brotherhood missionary society,” no educational organization, or “brotherhood publishing house,” owned and operated by “the brotherhood.” When a benevolent brother desired to present a business house to the “brotherhood,” he found it impossible. The reason was simple: . . . there was no one legally qualified to receive his gift. His only course was to form a closed corporation to accept and administer. That body is responsible to no one, electing its members as it wills. Brethren, let us be truthful in our claims!

Friends and colleagues

At Indianola Brother Walker was in frequent contact and constant comparison with P. H. Welshimer. Neither man could be fully understood without the other. So much alike in their convictions and their forthright zeal for the New Testament church, the two were different in many respects. P. H. was a promoter, using imagination, energy, and dominant personal leadership in campaigning for a great church in Canton. W. R. was scholar and teacher, depending on the training of leaders about him to build less spectacularly. Yet neither had anything but goodwill and admiration for the other. They were staunch allies in the common cause, as Brother Walker said in his funeral tribute (August, 1957) to his friend:

In conventions we stood side by side in trying to stem the tide of liberalism that began to threaten our brotherhood—the tide that has not yet receded as we hoped it would. But we had the honor of fighting at least in a cause that we felt was God’s cause, and we stood shoulder to shoulder in that battle.

When on September 1, 1948, W. R. Walker released the Indianola ministry to Harold Scott, with whom he had worked for several years in anticipation of the event, he became a retired minister in a congregation where he had received a life call and where few could remember any other preacher.  . . .

Counselor and correspondent

In retirement Mr. Walker looked to a general ministry of speaking and writing, but soon found himself limited by the illness of Mrs. Walker, to whose care he gave himself with untiring devotion until her death in January, 1956.

He continued to serve through Christian Standard, conducting the popular and helpful “Counselor’s Question Box.” Besides the letters he answered in print, he answered many more, of less general and public interest, by personal correspondence. . . .

The counselor’s final word to Christian Standard came October 10, 1962: “Despite the fact that ninety-three years make it difficult to find words and keyboard to express them, I want to let you know how much I appreciate your editorial work in the Standard.” Brother Walker continued, referring graciously to a project in which he and the present editor [Edwin V. Hayden] had engaged with others in 1940; and the editor remembered that project as the setting for a fatherly, plain, and kind rebuke administered to him by W. R. Walker! The counselor will live in this journal as long as the present editor has memory to reflect the spirit of an elder brother, fervently esteemed!

Most of what W. R. Walker wrote is found in journals like Christian Standard. Three small books—Studies in Acts, A Functioning Eldership, and A Ministering Ministry—have come from his study.

He lives also in the work of his five sons and their children: Dean E., president of Milligan College . . . ; Errett D., of Columbus, Ohio; Donald F., of Apollo Beach, Florida; Waldo R., of Richmond, Indiana; and Barclay, of Miami, Florida.

A grandson, William, is a missionary to Japan, and another, James E., ministers to the Madeira Church of Christ, Cincinnati, Ohio.

_ _ _

Christian Standard editor Edwin Hayden undoubtedly was the writer of this remembrance. Hayden served with both Walker (his “editorial counselor”) and Welshimer (his boss 20-plus years earlier during a stint as associate minister with First Christian, Canton).

Next week we will highlight some of the questions and responses published in W. R. Walker’s “Counselor’s Question Box.”

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

1 Comment

  1. Victor Knowles

    I appreciate you printing these pages from the past so that a new generation “that knew not Joseph” can learn more about their heritage.

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