Take It On Faith with “The Open Door Reporter,” from The Church of the Open Door, Los Angeles, January 1923

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted here before, the Church of the Open Door was founded in Los Angeles in 1916 with the substantial financial support of Union Oil Company founder and leader Lyman Stewart, who recruited the Reverend Reuben A. Torrey, a long-time associate of famed evangelist Dwight Moody in Chicago. to establish the fundamentalist Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) in 1912. A couple of years later, Torrey launched The Church of the Open Door, which operated in the cavernous 4,000-seat auditorium of the BIOLA building at Hope and 6th streets.

Tonight’s featured artifact from the museum’s holdings is the first issue, dated 31 January 1923, of The Open Door Reporter, the church’s official magazine, and which was denoted as the “First Annual Number” with all manner of reports and interesting material on the church and its work. On the title page, the aim for the year was that “Every Member of the Church and Sunday School a Soul Winner,” while the text for 1923 was Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I; send ME.” Listed were the officers including Torrey and associate pastor Thomas C. Horton, as well as deacons, stewards, and elders, along these latter Stewart, as well as officers of the Bible School.


Horton’s two-page essay, with photos of himself and Torrey noted that the church was created “to meet an evident specific need” related to “the recognized fundamental doctrines of evangelical faith.” He observed that, to avoid any issues with other evangelical churches in the area, there would be no competition or proselytizing, that applicants were subject to rigid doctrinal statements and pledge, and that, while members “were not asked to unite with the church,” they were to meet established conditions which, if breached, were to bring a letter of dismissal.

The associate pastor observed that membership was 1,400, but it was not the number of congregants, but the idea of “a united membership” that was crucial. With the doctrinal statement in hand and “with perfect fellowship with every evangelical church,” he continued, “we have sought to be a help to both saint and sinner.” Moreover, there were about 700 Institute students involved with the Sunday School and other work, but “none of them are ever requested to unite with the Church of the Open Door.”

Not only was there no property owned by the church, but BIOLA was not allowed to charge rent for its auditorium, so there were only “incidental expenses” to handle. As no one was asked to be a member, there were no pledges of financial support, though “envelopes are used for weekly contributions, one side being for current expenses and the other for missions” while “each member agrees to give as the Lord prospers.”


With respect to missionary activity, over fifty members were actively involved, including 11 in China, 10 each in Africa, Central America and South America; and small numbers in Hawaii, India, Palestine and “in the Homestead,” while a couple were in Los Angeles on furlough. More than half of the missionaries were given financial support by gifts to the church. There were no missionary societies, though it was noted that “every member is considered a foreign missionary and heaven as his home.”

Outside of three Endeavor Societies (junior, intermediate, and senior), there were no organizations at all and no functions, including secular talks, movies (well, it was added that there were painted mental pictures by the pastors and others were “moving” the people to service! As to the budget, it was set at $74,000 with a modest deficit of $4,000 due to “the extension of the Sunday School work, [which] was given on one Sunday morning, so that the year closes without indebtedness.”


Horton rejoiced that “God has graciously blessed the pulpit ministry” or Torrey so that morning and evening service attendance fluctuated between 2,500 to 3,500 persons, an impressive number to be sure. Among the guest pastors during Torrey’s absences while in service elsewhere in the nation, were Cortland Myers, ex-pastor of the Tremont Temple in Boston; French E. Oliver; A. C. Dixon of Baltimore; and First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas pastor J. Frank Norris—all of whom “insured definitely strong evangelical messages.”

Also highlighted was that, because “the church is centrally located in this favored, sunny Southland,” there was access to thousands of tourists and the ability to minister to them meant that the church was “able to enlarge our usefulness and extend our influence.” Not only this, but “the church has had the privilege of using the splendid chimes on the roof of the” BIOLA structure, so that “the hearts of many people in the park [Pershing Square] and on the streets as they have listened to the old hymns, have been stirred with memories of olden days and refreshed with new impulses for their Lord.”

Additionally, thanks to new technology with far-reaching implications, a radio station “has multiplied by thousands the audiences which receive the Gospel message from our pulpit; and from the hospitals, from the ‘shut-ins.’ from the rangers in the mountains, and from hearers in distant cities and towns come the glad messages of appreciation.” Horton ended by praising God and his “gracious blessing in using us” and that prayers went out from members that “He, Himself, may have all the glory.”


An eight-part program for 1928 included that each member would be “doing something definite for God;” that the church be “a greater missionary church;” that there be “a spirit of personal evangelism that has not yet gripped us;” that there would be a bible school “that will glorify Christ;” that God’s assistance would allow for more efficient ministration to institutions “and to touch them all for Christ;” to “get a master grip on the child life of this city” through Gospel classes to boys and girls; to further the work of the Cradle Roll Department for babies and parents; and to secure more workers in all of the Church’s departments.”

Significantly, it was observed that “there are many nationalities represented in Los Angeles” and that “many of these people know not Christ as Savior.” In addition to asking members to pray that Gold would help the church “to give them the old Love Story,” they were requested to let church officials know “if you have had experience in working among foreign people.”

A photo of church employees accompanied the report of secretary A.J. Johnson, who noted that there were eight new full-time workers added to the roster in the previous year, while the radio station, Sunday School work, the Home Department, the Home Class Department, the Cradle Roll Department, and the Young People’s Societies were continuing the good work of the church. He also lauded the reports of the missionaries, having read their letters, while concluding that “there must be a deeper consecration, more united prayer, and more concentrated effort in the spreading of His Word” in the new year.


A table showed that there were 271 members received in 1922, more than half by letter, with just under a quarter each by confession and reaffirmation. This offset the 194 members who were dismissed, just 16 by death, while 59 were dropped and 119 notified of their dismissal by letter. The treasurer’s report reflected just north of $74,000 in receipts and just above $80,000 in expenses, while the Stewards submitted a budget for 1923 of $65,000 in general expenses and $35,000 for missionary support and work.

Horton and Johnson made brief reference to the radio station and the manager of that department, M.E. Carrier, reported that “the large Radio phone transmitting set has been placed in operation, and the hundreds of reports which have been received would indicate that much good is being done by broadcasting the sermons and musical programs.” The apparatus, comprising 750 watts, was said to be “the largest one in use in Los Angeles today,” and Carrier added, “all praise and glory to the Lord for giving us this wonderful means of spreading the Gospel.” It was added that:

The other day an old lady wrote that her grandson (a small boy) had made her a small Radio [perhaps a crystal set]; that she was able to hear our sermons fine; and that, if she was sure she could depend on our Radio outfit, she would have a large receiving set installed so she could invite a lot of her invalid friends, who are unable to attend church, to listen to our sermons.

The report ended with the note that a change was made so that the church could broadcast sermons on Sunday mornings and evenings and music on Tuesday and Thursday nights. After a choir report, noting an average roster of about 125 people and Sunday service attendance of 100 (with up to 180 for concerts and special services,) there was the Church Visitor report.


Carrie Brooks stated that her duties were not really known, but she said she strove “to be ready for any and every call, no matter what it is, no matter when, no matter where called to go.” These included services, prayer meetings, baptisms, admissions, Bible classes, and visiting the sick, poor, the unsaved and the lonely. A table showed that 774 calls were made, along with another 255 substitute ones with visits including 16 funerals, while 320 tracts were handed out, four lives “fully surrendered,” seven “backsliders reclaimed,” and 14 conversions made by Brooks. Mrs. Charles D. Hope reported that she made almost 1,200 calls, including 28 trips to the County Farm for the indigent and 11 funerals.

The Reverend E.W. Thwing reported that he made over 1,300 calls mostly dealing with Sunday School and Home Classes, while about 3,000 tracts were distributed. A program for schools called “Education in China” was presented to some 25,000 students and a Junior Christian Endeavor Society was expanding with outdoor meetings held for children including at auto camps, a common feature of the era in the area.


A separate Auto Camp Work report noted 70 meetings were held at the Lincoln Park and Lockwood (also in that neighborhood) camps and it was stated that there were “about 25 decisions for Christ” among the travelers. There were also reports of the societies (Converts’ Bible Class, Bell Intermediate, Senior and Junior Christian Endeavor and the Church Nursery.

For the Bible School, it was noted that there was need for more room for growth and an “Items of Interest” section discussed personal stories of children in the classes, including “one of our little girls living in a Mexican district” who brought together children in the afternoons after hearing the lesson Sunday morning and “a little Korean boy [who] is not very far along in school,” but was diligent in his studies and brought a playmate along to classes.


For adults, it was reported that two of the young women’s group “go to one of the jails once a week to help in the work there” and it was joyfully related that, when one woman prayed for success, “God wonderfully answered, for four girls definitely accepted Christ.” A photo also showed the decorations of the Main Auditorium for Christmas, while statistics indicated that average Sunday attendance was just north of 300 persons.

Overall attendance was nearly 1,100 on an average Sunday and with over 57,000 for the year and about 1,400 persons enrolled in the school. Under the heading of “Personal Evangelism,” it was stated that there were 70 Auto Camp meetings, the distribution of above 166,000 tracts, more than 4,400 calls made to some 34,000 people, and over 10,500 “professed conversions” and the reclaiming of 30 “backsliders.”


The Home Department had its own magazine, The King’s Business, issued quarterly to some 3,800 persons and its work went to the fire department, streetcar barns, hotel lobbies, doctors’ offices and other locations in the region, which included fourteen auxiliaries in outlying areas. “Items of Interest” noted work with the Spanish, Greek and Italian populations of the Angel City, as well as the fact that “some of our greatest work is done in the City Jail” with a report that:

The services are held in the open tank, and the atmosphere is often electric with spiritual power. The strained look on the faces of the men and the tears that come, when they hear the hymns they sang in Sunday School, evidence the work of the Holy Spirit. These men are sick of religion. They want Christ, and when they find that they can have Him without consulting any religious organization, they are much more ready to respond.

Membership was just under 1,800 at the beginning of 1922, but leapt to over 3,750, accounting for about 750 who withdrew during the year. There were 625 meetings held, over 168,000 calls made, 140,000 tracts handed out and some 200 persons who “professed conversions.” The Department of Home Classes worked with children in homes after school, with ages of the participants ranging from 6 to 15 years. “Items of Interest” included “a Jewish lad of eleven years [who] attended a Home Class and accepted Christ as his Savior.” Though he was forbidden to return, he told a classmate, “tell that lady I am still trusting in Jesus.” There were 143 total classes, with 250 more outside, and almost 2,400 meetings held for over 31,000 participants. Almost 100,000 tracts were distributed and there were 522 “professed conversions.”


The Cradle Roll was the enrollment of babies in a list so that, “the aim of the Cradle Roll is to win the parents to the Lord Jesus Christ through the baby,” especially through a Mothers’ Class and a Kindergarten Department. When a Jewish woman was informed about the program, she was said to have uttered, “that’s a good thing. I wish our church {?] had a department to take care of the children, but it does much more for the men than for any one else.”

A woman, whose baby had died, but whose husband was unsaved while she did not attend a church, was quoted as saying that “I did want the minister of the Church of the Open Door to preach at my baby’s funeral service, as he was on the Cradle Roll there.” There were 100 enrollments as of September and 1,205 members added, with 62 withdrawn because of death or removal. Ninety volunteers made 860 calls, wrote over 9,400 letters, and distributed 255 tracts, with five professed conversions.


There were “Delightfully Interesting Excerpts” and statistics from missionaries. Goldie Gee wrote of her work in the Congo, saying there were 33 Christians at the Kana mission when she arrived but 34 have professed since. The Van Dusens corresponded from Aba, Sudan to say that their class grew from 12 to 55, with residents growing from 100 to 165. Mrs. F.H. Kenrick wrote from Kijabe, Kenya and observed that “the problems are great and the demands on time and strength are heavy” even as “a number of young men and women have taken their stand for the Lord, and twelve . . baptized.”

In China, Mrs. Allyn Cooke reported that at the Talifu Yun mission, there were four baptisms, three more accepted for the sacrament in 1923, 3,000 tracts disbursed and a dozen who professed their belief in Christ but were not accepted for baptism quite yet. At Fukiang, Ralph Scoville reported that 1,500 tracts were handed out, 25 street meetings held, 150 “persons dealt with,” and 30 souls won.


James A. Ker wrote from The Tamil region of southern India, which mission also included Sri Lanka, and noted that among 80,000 persons, there were three Sunday Schools and 60 baptized believers. The Vromans wrote from San Pedro, Bolivia and noted “the terrible soul sickness” of the people there who farmed as was the case in Palestine in the age of Christ. For the year ending September 1922, there were 100 Sunday School classes taught, 14 sermons in Spanish, a dozen trip to homes, 125 tracts issued, but no report of converts. The Hummels were at Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua and stated that, despite a revolution and the persecution by Catholics of other Christians, the year’s work through September included handing out over 35,000 tracts and reporting 100 “testimonies of conversion.”


All in all, a reading of this inaugural issue of The Open Door Reporter is a fascinating look at the operations of a major evangelical church in Roaring Twenties Los Angeles. As another post on this blog related, the Church remained at the BIOLA building downtown, even as the Institute moved to its current La Mirada campus in the late Fifties, but, in the late 1980s, relocated to a 40-acre campus in Glendora, where it operates today, while the BIOLA building was razed after damage was sustained in the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake.

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