This final installment (perhaps just for now) remembering the principled stalwart Baptist Historian Dr. Richard Weeks actually harks back to his early days – student days. I find this booklet entitled “The Life Story of Humility” to be fascinating, and so obviously reflective of the character and devotion of a man who most folks only knew as their teacher, professor, and friend.
Please let us know if you enjoy this look into how the grace of God shaped him for years of fruitful service.
Dr. Dick and Uncle Elmer with “Humility”
I have been able to learn from his daughter that there are important facts and information about his pre-seminary days that may be of interest to those who loved Dr. Dick. Stay tuned.
Much later in my ministry I had the privilege of following Dr. Weeks as the teacher of the Baptist Heritage course at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in 1988. In the spring semester of that year Dr. Weeks suffered a stroke that led to his retirement. I came to MBBC as VP of Administration to replace my good friend Jim Munro and was also given the assignment of replacing Dr. Weeks in the curriculum. He had taught Baptist History and Baptist Polity since the founding of the college, but in the fall of 1988 those courses were combined to a single course entitled Baptist Heritage.
I inherited Dr. Weeks’ class notes and benefited greatly from them as I fashioned the combined course. From his class notes I learned of the clear distinction that he drew between the teaching of Baptist successionism, which he rejected, to his view that he called Spiritual Kinship. He believed, from his lifelong study of the historical record, that there were Baptistic like churches down through the ages since the 1st Century churches
Unique to Dr. Weeks’ teaching was that he developed the acrostic BRAPSIS to enumerate the Baptist distinctives. While many teachers have used the word BAPTIST or BAPTISTS to teach the distinctives, Dr. Weeks felt those acrostics did not reflect the logical flow of one distinctive into another.
In 2013 the Maranatha Advantage publication honored and noted Dr. Weeks’ singular contribution to the distinctive Baptistic emphasis of the college:
“He created a list of what he thought the key Baptist distinctives were, without trying to force them into the acrostic grid,” Dr. Saxon commented. “He also established an order to these distinctives, considering not so much that some distinctives are more important than others, but rather that some distinctives tend to flow out of other distinctives.” “From the foundational beliefs—the Bible as the sole authority of faith and practice, and a regenerated and immersed church membership—flow the autonomy of the local church, the priesthood of the believer, and soul liberty,” Dr. Saxon explained. “In essence, these become the pillars for the two ordinances and finally, the two separations (separation of church and state and separation ethically and ecclesiastically).”
Dr. Weeks was quoted as saying, “Yes, true Baptists are different! We are different because of certain important beliefs and certain important doctrinal emphases.”
I remember that in the early 1980s, on one of my visits to Maranatha, I went to Dr. Weeks’ office to ask him a question. Upon entering his office, I quickly realized it was partially a bookstore devoted to selling used books inexpressively to students. Dick Weeks was a certified bibliophile, and he had created a pipeline for British booksellers of theological books to supply Maranatha students at very reasonable prices.
I wanted to ask him a question about a large volume that I had purchased for a few dollars at a used bookstore. I queried, “Dr. Weeks, have you heard of book entitled, A treatise upon Baptist Church jurisprudence, by Marshall?” He immediately shot back, “Does it have an embossed insignia that looks like a star on the cover?” I replied, “It does!” With a twinkle in his eye, he told me that I had made a very valuable purchase. When I retired in 2014 I gave that book to a colleague who is a historian and someone I knew would value the treasure.
Another aspect of Dick Weeks’ personality and contribution was his love for athletics. He was well known for his enthusiastic support for the Maranatha sports teams. In recognition of his steadfast loyalty the Maranatha Athletic Department Hall of Fame posthumously inducted him in 2004. The college publication at that time gave this explanation:
“Though short in height he was large in stature as the legendary cheer person at Maranatha athletic events. No one else could whip up the crowd like Dr. Weeks when he would charge around the gym wielding his “Spirit Sword” bringing the students to their feet. For this trait he was ushered into the Maranatha Athletic Department Hall of Fame in 2004. The citation for his induction includes these words, “Dr. Weeks’ spirit and enthusiasm for Maranatha Crusader sports were contagious. Whether in Chapel, pep rallies, on the field or on the court, Dr. Weeks would cheer faithfully and fervently for the Crusaders. From his stocking cap and letter jacket to his ‘Spirit Sword’, Dr. Weeks exemplified the true meaning and spirit of Maranatha Baptist Bible College Athletics.”
In 1993, in the months before Dr. Weeks died, I went to see him at the nursing care facility in Freeport, Illinois, where he was residing. For almost two years I was part of a four-man team that served as rotating interim pastors at a church a few miles north of Freeport. I visited him on two occasions that I remember. The first time he was rather bright and sunny and we enjoyed some good fellowship remembering earlier days. The second time I visited he was in a definite declining physical state.
I remember going back to Watertown and telling Dr. Weniger, President at Maranatha and long-time my boss. “Bud, if you want to see Dr. Weeks you better go soon. I don’t think it will be long before he goes to heaven.” As I remember, Dr. Weniger did take the time to make that trip.
Dr. Weeks’ memorial service was held at Calvary Baptist Church in Watertown, Wisconsin where he had worshipped and served. My recollection was that it was a blessed service of remembrance and rejoicing. Dr. David Cummins, a kindred spirit and lover of Baptist history, was one of the speakers. He told some warm stories about Dr. Dick that brought laughter and fond memories to the gathered friends, colleagues, and former students. It was one of those joyous memorial services I lovingly remember.
Dr. Weeks was a rare blend of genuine scholarship and spiritual mentoring. He was a choice servant of God who was short in stature, but who demonstrated a fidelity and devotion to a big God. He loved His Lord; he was devoted to his wife who was the consummate helpmeet, and to his daughter who has endeavored to faithfully carry on his legacy. But finally, all can say, he poured his life into the students. All of them.
I consider it distinct honor that he was my friend. Ps. 71:18
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1957, my sixteen-year-old life was permanently altered. On that afternoon I returned home from school to find our living room filled with friends of my dad. They gracefully informed me that my dad was taken to heaven the day before in an airplane crash in Northern Ontario.
Included in that group were Myron and Thelma Cedarholm, Pastor Vernon Lyons and his assistant John Musser, and Pastor Richard Weeks. Dick Weeks had been a close friend of my father since enrolling as a student at Northern Baptist Seminary in 1941. That was the year of my birth, and the year my father became Senior Pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church at the age of twenty-nine. This was the seminary church, and where many of the faculty and administration were members and leaders.
Dick Weeks, six years younger than my dad, began to develop a friendship with my father during that time. Fifteen years later that relationship grew when they both served as pastors on the south side of Chicago. My dad was at Marquette Manor Baptist Church, and Dick was at Donald Smith Memorial Baptist Church of Oak Lawn. It was natural for me to see these close friends rally to our home on that traumatic day. I don’t remember too much about that afternoon, but as I reflect over the years, I realize how blessed our family was to have faithful pastoral friends come to our side during our time of need.
(To the right the parsonage at 3411 W. 71st, Place, Chicago, IL.)
After graduating from Northern, Dick Weeks went on to earn a master’s degree in history at the prestigious University of Chicago. He also completed all the residency requirements at Northern for the Th.D. degree. My father had earned that degree in 1943, but by the late 1940s the seminary had fully embraced denominational loyalty. Because Dick Weeks did not remain loyal to the Convention, he was deprived of receiving his degree, although he had fulfilled all the requirements except for the completion of his dissertation.
Recently Dr. Weeks’ daughter, Ruth, wrote these words of explanation to me:
“He had finished all his ThD residence work…and was working on his thesis while pastoring the church plant in suburban Oak Lawn, which he helped start. He was almost done with the thesis, but not quite…….so he applied for an extension, as did others in his cohort. Extensions were granted to the other applicants, but not to him.
“He felt it was because he had left the ABC (Convention), and helped start the CBA of A. There was no way for him to start over – he thought God’s call to be a seminary professor was forever lost to him. It was a tough time. Sometime in the early 60s, Central Seminary published his thesis in a little booklet, entitled “The Keys to the Kingdom.” Around that same time, Pillsbury gave him the D.D. I’ve always looked at that conferral as the righting of a wrong, rather than an “honorary” degree. I think many of those in the CBA felt the same.”
Many years later I became aware of a little booklet that supplied invaluable insight into the formative ministry years of Dr. Weeks’ life. That publication, entitled The Story of Humility, came into my possession and it tells the account of his summer ministry exploits while a seminary student. The story told by classmate Elmer Strauss begins with this introduction, “It was a cold January evening in 1944 when Dick knocked on my dormitory door. He came in, ‘plunked’ down on the bed, and said, “Elmer, do you have any plans for the summer?”
The booklet then unfolds the adventurous tales of summer ministries by a team of Northern students, led by Dick and Elmer. For several summers they tramped all over the sparsely populated western Dakota regions as a gospel team. Especially intriguing is the account of how they acquired a 1931 Model A Ford automobile they named Humility as their transportation to traverse the rough dirt roads of the still wild Dakota west of the WWII years.
It is hard to believe that on U.S. Highway 18 the pavement abruptly came to an end and became a single lane of mud ruts. They recount this incident, “Two cars on the edge of the pavement had stopped and their drivers were putting ‘ice chains’ (better known as mud chains in the Dakotas) on their rear tires.” They go on to say, “Actually we didn’t have to steer the car because the ruts were so deep, we couldn’t get out of them.” As they journeyed westward, they would often need to get out and literally push the car forward in excessively muddy spots.
Their ministry escapades are worth reading. (Dr. Dick – Part 3 will be a link to “The Story of Humility.”) Their summer ministry of several years grew into a Bible teaching and memorization organization for children called The Challenger Club that lasted for many years. It was conducted by several members of the ministry team via old fashioned snail mail correspondence.
Years later I became involved in a noteworthy experience with Dr. Weeks during the week when Dr. Cedarholm resigned from the presidency of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in April of 1968. On Thursday afternoon of that fateful week, Fred Moritz and I were going about the campus listening to the many people milling about asking questions and discussing the events of the week. Fred and I had been dorm mates in college and were reconnecting after being in the ministry for several years. Fred said to me, “Let’s go see what Dr. Weeks has to say.” I thought that was a great idea and so we headed across the campus to the little gym where Dr. Weeks had been assigned his office. We were familiar with that building because part of one semester it was our temporary dormitory while Clearwaters Hall was being built.
We entered the small hallway and knocked on the door of the only office in that building. We heard a “come in” and opened the door to find Dr. Weeks behind his desk, and Dr. Peter Mustric sitting in a chair in front of the desk. We said something like, “Oh, excuse us, we did not know you were busy,” but Dr. Mustric said, “No, come in boys. We are about to call Dr. Clearwaters, and we’d like to have some witnesses.” Or something to that effect.
I knew Dr. Mustric well. In fact, my pastor, Bud Weniger, and I were house guests at that time with him at Cedarholm’s presidential residence on campus. Dr. Mustric was an interesting individual. He was an optometrist, hence a Doctor of Optometry, who then went into the ministry. In addition, he was a bachelor, and pastor at the First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois, which was an influential church at that time.
He was tall, dignified, and professional, but always friendly and gregarious. He proceeded to place a call to Dr. Clearwaters while Fred and I sat in on one side of the phone conversation. All I remember was that Dr. Weeks kept writing out questions for Peter to ask the good doctor on the other end of the line. After a while Doc Clearwaters evidently got rather animated and raised his voice so that Peter pulled the phone from his ear, and pleaded with Doc to calm down. He explained that he was only asking questions to gain an understanding of the disagreement.
It was a surreal experience for two young guys in the ministry. Fred was pastor in Oregon, Illinois, and I was an assistant pastor in Normal. Illinois. We never forgot that encounter. As weeks and months played out Dr. Mustric and Dr. Weeks wound up on different sides of the issue that brought Maranatha Baptist Bible College into existence. I know that on that day they were just two friends trying to find common ground for service in the Lord’s work.