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Reflections On The Restoration Movement – Daniel Sommer: The Early Years

by Larry Miles

Larry2016The Early Years – 1850-1889

We want to center our thoughts on one of the most controversial figures in Disciple History. Daniel Sommer’s life was coexistent with many events we have been writing about in the last few months.

Daniel Sommer was born on January 11, 1850 in Queen Ann, Maryland, which is about thirty miles from Washington, D.C. His parents were German immigrants and were nominal Lutherans. Daniel was sprinkled as an infant but the family paid little attention to religion. At the age of seven he entered school for the first time. For the next few years he attended school for a few months each year. He first went out to work as a nine-year-old doing construction work near his home. In 1862 he left school to work.

As we said in our previous paragraph, the Sommer family were only nominal Lutherans. In 1864 Daniel Sommer identified himself with the Methodist Church. In 1866 his family moved to Hartford County, Maryland. In 1868 he went to work for John Dallas Everett. Everett was a believer in the teachings of the Ancient Order. He began to talk to young Daniel about his salvation. Daniel countered this investigation by affirming that he was a Methodist and therefore, already a Christian. Everett told him that sprinkling was not baptism and showed him the passage in Acts 2;38 that remission of sins and the Gift of the Holy Spirit come after baptism not before. It was during a meeting held by Elder T. A. Crenshaw that Daniel Sommer was immersed into Christ and added to that Body spoken of in the New Covenant Scriptures. This happened in 1869.

Daniel Sommer, now in his nineteenth year, decided that he wanted to spend his life preaching the Gospel. The brethren encouraged him because of his lack of formal education to enroll in Bethany College in Brooke County, West Virginia. Bethany College, founded in 1840, was one of the most prestigious of the Disciple colleges. William Kimbrough Pendleton conducted the school, the son-in-law of Alexander Campbell.

It was while a student at Bethany that Sommer began what others would call being a “watchdog” for the brotherhood. If he saw, what he teemed a deviation from the apostolic order he felt compelled to attack it. Dr. Earl Irvin West, in Search for The Ancient Order, writes the following.

“…the lady members of the church at Bethany decided to raise money to buy new curtains, a new carpet and to paint the building. C. L. Loos, an elder in the congregation gave a talk to the congregation one evening favoring the plan. They organized a Ladies Mite Society and made the announcement that the hat would be passed that each might give his mite to the work. The Mite Society held frequent meetings, which in Sommer’s opinion degenerated into something very worldly.

It was the custom of the church to invite different preachers among the students to speak in the Sunday evening services at the church. When Sommer received his invitation, he chose the first Psalm as a text, and closed the discourse with a severe blast at the Mite Society. This blow staggered the Society and in a matter of a few days it died peacefully, but the blast shook Sommer’s popularity considerably around the school.”

Daniel Sommer, writing in the Apostolic Review, dated February 2, 1937, recalled the incident.

“I denounced publicly the first deviation from apostolic simplicity that I found among the ‘disciples’ and I have been acting on the same principle ever since.”

In 1871, while a student at Bethany College Sommer first met Benjamin Franklin. The beloved evangelist was conducting a series of meetings at Wellsburg, West Virginia. Sommer received permission to miss a day of classes to go and be with Franklin. Their friendship lasted the rest of Franklin’s life. Sommer considered himself Franklin’s successor as the spokesman for the conservative wing of the Restoration Movement.

Sommer’s stay at Bethany lasted less than three years. He returned to Maryland and on January 28, 1873, married Kate Way. To them were born seven children, six of whom lived past infancy. Daniel and Kate were married for fifty-one years. He preached for a while for one of the congregations in Baltimore. In 1872 he wrote his first article for the American Christian Review. From 1874-1880 he labored with the “saints” at Kelton, Pennsylvania. 1880-84 found Sommer preaching for the brethren in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

In 1883 he began his editorial work. Along with L. F. Bittle, he established the Octograph, a monthly. In 1884 he moved to Martel, Ohio to preach. In 1886 he purchased the American Christian Review. Concerning why he bought it, Sommer wrote these remarks in the American Christian Review, dated March 17, 1887.

“One of our purposes was to save the enterprise of Benjamin Franklin’s grand life from ruin; another was to occupy a position in which we could do the greatest possible good, and in order to do this our purpose was to lift the Review out of its entanglements.”

Later in 1887 he changed the name of the American Christian Review to the Octographic Review. For seven years he published it out of Richwood, Ohio. Concerning Daniel Sommer as a preacher we give you these words form the November 10, 1887 issue of the Octographic Review.

“It forcibly reminded me of the preaching of the pioneer days, when men were ready to spend and be spent in the restoration of the apostolic Gospel and order of things . . . He is so full of the Gospel, that he has thrown everything else overboard–knowing nothing else but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. By doing this, he fills every person so full of the Gospel that all innovations are given up and forgotten where he preaches.”

In 1894 he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. He would live the remainder of his life in the Hoosier Capital, dying in 1940. In 1914 he changed the name of the Octographic Review to the Apostolic Review. It remained so until his death in 1940 when the publishers returned to the name of the American Christian Review. The paper ceased publication in 1965.

As we mentioned in the introduction, Daniel Sommer was involved in many controversies. Lord willing, it is our hope to chronicle his life from 1889-1940 in the next article. We will be telling how he helped cause some divisions we still have today. We will be mentioning, as promised, his views on Christian schools. So, we invite you to be with us next month as we continue the life of Daniel Sommer. Until next time, MARANATHA!

-Larry Miles is Co-Editor of Word & Work

4 Responses to “Reflections On The Restoration Movement – Daniel Sommer: The Early Years”

  1. Ron Bartanen says:

    An interesting and informative article, Larry. Sommers had considerable influence upon churches in this area of central Illinois. In the ’60s I preached for a church that was heavily influenced by him–surprisingly, since I was a graduate of Freed-Hardeman College! It was an uncomfortable fit sometimes. –Ron

  2. John Fulda says:

    Good article, Larry. Wasn’t he the one who first named the branch of the movement “the church of Christ. 1889 and Sandy Creek, Ohio come to mind.

    • admin says:

      Yes, John, It was in IL. The Sand Creek meeting house is still standing near Windsor, IL — I’ve been to the building and cemetery 2 times (did not get to go inside yet) — I’ll have part 2 in the April issue– Larry Miles

  3. Kat Derksen says:

    Thank-you for an interesting article. Daniel was my Great Great Grandfather (His eldest son, Frederick, was my Great Grandfather. Frederick’s second eldest son Laurance was my Grandfather.) I find his life and those of his sons quite fascinating.

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