When I joined the faculty of the Religion Department at Campbell University in 1994, I believe it was the late Dr. Don Keyser who first mentioned the name “Charles Howard” to me. Dr. Keyser, first occupant of the “Charles Howard Chair of Religion,” always spoke with love, respect, and admiration for his former teacher.
As current title holder of “Charles Howard Professor of Religion,” I’ve always had an interest in knowing more about this legend among Baptists, Charles Barrett Howard.
Charles Howard was born in Salemburg, Dec. 2, 1900. Both his parents, two brothers, and one sister died of tuberculosis when Howard was a small child. Although stricken by tuberculosis himself, he survived and was raised by his maternal grandparents. When he was 17, he attended North Carolina State University for one year. In 1918 he became a Christian, and very shortly thereafter, influenced by his grandfather’s prayers, he accepted a call to preach. Salemburg Baptist Church licensed him to the ministry and the next day, June 10, 1918, he preached his very first sermon. With further education at Wake Forest College, Charles Howard embarked on a career behind the pulpit that would last for 70 years.
I refer to him as a “legend” because his influence can be seen in three areas.
First, he was a preacher. He served as pastor of 26 different congregations in North Carolina but he had an understanding with his churches that when an opportunity to preach a revival presented itself, he had to take it. Consequently, he led 1,263 revivals in 700 different churches.
He preached more than 20,000 sermons in 23 different states. He preached revivals in five different churches whose pastors had been president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Furthermore, he preached at state-wide evangelistic conferences, state conventions and Southern Baptist Convention meetings. He preached at associational events, BYPU events, and Baptist Training Union events. He preached 87 times on college and university campuses.
For seven decades Charles Howard was a household name among Baptists in the south. I can’t tell you the number of times when I have been introduced as the “Charles Howard Professor of Religion,” only to have one or two people come up to me at the conclusion of the service with a Charles Howard story.
Second, Charles Howard needs to be remembered as the first religion professor at Campbell University. In 1934 he became the pastor of the Buies Creek First Baptist Church, succeeding J.A. Campbell, the university founder. A few years later he began teaching Bible at Campbell.
This became a full-time position in 1946. In 1959 he became “professor emeritus” and entered evangelism full time, but did not end his service to the university. He remained active in the life of Campbell College for the rest of his life. When he retired from evangelism in 1973, Campbell once again recruited Howard into service as “director of denominational emphasis,” a position he held until his death in 1988.
Charles Howard was a thorough professor. I have a file that contains some of his tests from his Bible class. Here are some questions from one of his final exams in May 1958:
“List the six most prominent characters in the Life of Jesus”
“List the six most prominent characters in the Book of Acts, putting parentheses after each name and the number of the chapter in which it appears.”
“List the six most prominent characters in the Life of Paul, putting parentheses after each name and an identifying phrase.”
“List in chronological order the six persons and groups most largely responsible for the persecution of the early Christian Church.”
“On the third blank sheet (of paper included) define, at top of sheet, “Pre-Existence,” “Logos,” “Incarnation,” and write a paragraph on the birth of Jesus.”
He was demanding as a professor, and his students knew the Bible when they completed his class.
The intangible part of the story about Howard’s influence as a professor, is the tremendous love and respect he received from his students, a reciprocation of the love that he had for his students. Working in the Charles Howard Papers in the N.C. Baptist Archives at Wake Forest University I found a folder of correspondence between Charles Howard and our late president Norman Adrian Wiggins. Wiggins had Charles Howard as a professor in 1942. His love and admiration for Howard was obvious in the correspondence.
At the bottom of one letter, as Wiggins was prone to do, he scribbled a personal note: “You and Miss Alma mean more to Millie and me than you could possibly know. We will continue to pray for God’s blessings upon you.” Don Keyser once wrote, “I never felt closer to God than when Charles Howard prayed.” Clearly, Charles Howard had that unique ability that all of us who teach college students desire: the ability to challenge both the heart and the mind and gain the love and respect of the student at the same time.
A third reason that we should remember Charles Howard concerns his work as a philanthropist. Although he and Mrs. Howard never earned a salary of more than $3,000 per year together they were able to establish and manage a fund called the Howard Memorial Christian Education Fund, named after his parents Betty Cooper and Henry Bizzle Howard, which provided aid to students, faculty, churches, and other Christians who found themselves to be in need. The fund began in 1926 with a $25 gift from Charles Howard to a student who didn’t quite have enough money to enroll at Wake Forest College.
Perhaps the most famous loan was in 1928 to J. Winston Pearce. Howard had finally saved up $132 to buy his fiancé, Alma Dark, an engagement ring. He received a letter from Pearce who was working three part-time jobs but didn’t have enough money to stay at Campbell. He needed a loan of $130. Howard decided to loan the money and forgo the ring.
Such were the meager beginnings of the fund. To date the fund has distributed more than $4 million in loans, scholarships, and gifts to more than 4,000 students and other Christian workers. The fund endowed two chairs at Campbell University, the Howard Chair of Religion and the Alma Dark Howard Chair of Church Music. There are also a number of endowed scholarships which bear the name “Howard.” The fund provided low interest loans to churches for buildings, faculty and staff for mortgages, and to faculty to pursue further education. It supported prison ministries, handicapped ministry, counseling services and the daycare center at Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek.
Charles Howard died 20 years ago this past Feb. 27. Back in March, at our annual Department of Religion lecture series, we dedicated a portrait of Charles Howard which now hangs in the outer office of the Department of Religion at Campbell. It is a fitting tribute to a man whose life was so closely tied to Campbell University for more than 50 years. In 1968, Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, Howard’s home church, held a special 50th anniversary celebration of Howard’s ministry.
In his sermon that day, Howard summarized his ministerial philosophy in words still relevant today:
“When broad knowledge meets holy fire in the heart of a preacher, one of God’s great miracles happens in our world. Knowledge without spiritual fire may make a mere pulpit technician. Spiritual fervor without knowledge may make a fanatic. The marriage of the two may make a prophet of God. "