On September 3, 2019 Alvin Jennings had his 90th birthday. The next day, about 50 members of the College Hill Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas helped him celebrate after Wednesday night services.
Alvin Ray Jennings was born on September 3, 1929 at Canyon, Texas. He was baptized on June 12, 1941 by Raymond Kelcy.
Alvin first planned to be a dentist, but a fellow student from Canada, Roy Merritt, encouraged him to become a preacher, and Alvin graduated from ACC in 1950 with a major in Bible. In 1951 he earned a Master’s degree in church history from Butler University at Indianapolis, Indiana.
Alvin had studied German in school with a view to working with Otis Gatewood in Germany.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
J. C. Bailey encouraged him, however, to go to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada to establish a new congregation. He was sent by the church in Canyon, Texas, a small congregation that had never supported mission work before.
Alvin preached at Saskatoon from 1951 to 1956. He was active in personal evangelism through which several were baptized. He conducted a weekly radio broadcast which, in combination with newspaper ads, resulted in 800 contacts from various parts of the province. He began a regular publication called “The Saskatoon Star,” with as banner “Leading wise men to their Savior.” Vacation Bible Schools were held.
Alvin persuaded several other men to go to Canada from the US to establish congregations.
With help from other congregations and with much of the work being done by brother Lock, a building seating 180 was constructed.
Young Christians from other places had come to Saskatoon to find employment and to help with the congregation. Among them were Ellen and Ruby Kristianson from Estevan.
Alvin and Ellen Kristianson were married on January 1, 1955 with Jim Hawkins performing the ceremony.
When Alvin left in 1956 the congregation had grown to about 60 members.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
In the fall of 1956, Alvin and Ellen, with their infant son Mark, moved to establish a congregation in Montreal, which is Canada’s largest city.
For several months they lived on the money from selling their house in Saskatoon until the church in Tulia, Texas took on his support and remained his sponsoring church for nine years.
At first in Montreal the church assembled in an upstairs room at the YMCA. Alvin preached in parks, placed articles in newspapers, and went from door-to-door inviting people to services.
Men from other places were invited to come and hold meetings in public parks and in rented halls including Jimmy Jividen, Floyd Davis, Farrell Till, Roy Merritt, H. M. Phillips, Lloyd Bailey and Paul Hall. Stephan Bilak, a Ukrainian, became Alvin’s first co-worker in Montreal and Jerry Davidson joined them later.
Approximately $40,000 was raised for a building. The Montreal work was continued by Jerry Davidson and later by S. F. Timmerman, who knew French having been a missionary to Belgium.
At Montreal Alvin and Ellen had two more children, Steve and Bonnie.
From Montreal, Alvin moved to help a small congregation in Burlington, Vermont, still being supported by the church in Tulia, Texas. He remained there until 1965.
A church building was erected at Burlington in 1961.
A weekly newspaper article was published as well as a weekly and then daily radio broadcast. The Herald of Truth programs began being broadcast on public service television in 1964.
While in Vermont two more children were born to Alvin and Ellen, James and Bethanie.
In 1958 Alvin developed a Bible Slides Library, a collection of 2700 35 mm slides, which included the entire New Testament in the American Standard Version, select passages from the Old Testament and Bible charts. He published these materials under the name, Star Bible Publications. Publishing rights for this package of slides was later sold to Jule Miller at Gospel Services in Houston, Texas.
With the help of seven other preachers in Vermont, a gospel paper was mailed to every address in the State.
While in Burlington, Alvin edited “The Star, A Daily Devotional Guide” that was published by Leon Ramsey of Quality Printing Company in Abilene, Texas. It was published each month for three years until brother Ramsey’s health failed.
In 1963 Alvin and his father formed a non-profit company, Star Bible Publications Inc. in order to publish a pocket NT edition of the American Standard Version.
Alvin prepared a film entitled “Direct Mail Evangelism” that told of the mailings in Vermont to everyone in the State and suggested that the same could be done elsewhere.
To produce printed materials for such a project, Alvin, Ellen and their five children moved to Hurst, Texas in August of 1965.
Over 1,000 congregations distributed more than one million copies in each of the first three quarterly issues. This work continued under the oversight of the elders of the Brown Trail congregation for two years. From 1967 through 2001 it was offered directly by Star Bible Publications without interruption as a quarterly mailing service.
During that time, more than 50 million copies were mailed, with the circulation of a single issue reaching a high of 1.3 million copies. At one time, a small church in Dallas and then the Central church in Cleburne coordinated state-wide coverage of all homes in seven states.
Distribution covering a county in Tennessee sparked interest in the heart of a devoted businessman, a deacon by the name of Horace Burkswith. He resolved to get one of these gospel magazines into every household in America. By the providence of God, funds became available within a short time and practically all the 100 million homes in the United States were covered through what became known as the “One Nation Under God” ministry. It was conducted for several years under the leadership of the congregation in Cookeville, Tennessee.
Millions of tracts, books, films, videos and cassettes were distributed through Alvin and Ellen’s Star Bible Publications, with help of printers and other Christian workers ranging from a staff of one to a high of almost thirty. A listing of services provided was published in a catalog issued each year by Star Bible Publications. After 1980, the organization operated at Grapevine, Texas in a church building that was donated to the ministry when the Dove Road Church of Christ disbanded. The former preacher’s home next door was also transferred to the Star, and became the office building for the work.
By this time, Alvin had authored eight books and fifty tracts besides editing and/or writing hundreds of magazines, articles and pamphlets. Star Bible Publications, was sold in 2006.
Local personal evangelism
In addition to preaching the gospel via mass media, Alvin always remained active in evangelism personally. As a physical exercise program, Alvin would distribute 50 or 60 gospel papers or tracts door-to-door near their home a couple of mornings per week. All 15,000 homes in Hurst were given at least one piece of literature. This material also had an inserted card inviting people to an evening Bible study in the Jennings’ home, something that he and Ellen did for about 35 years. Several from the community attended and the neighbor’s swimming pool has used for baptisms from time to time.
A series of studies that lasted more than five years covered the entire New Testament, one chapter each Thursday night. Ellen and other ladies provided refreshments after each class.
More than 35 people have been baptized as a result of these studies. In one case a lady was baptized within two hours of the time she was first invited to the Thursday night home study.
Alvin has also offered a correspondence Bible course through the years that has resulted in more than 350 baptisms.
Since 2006 Alvin has published what he calls the Paper Pulpit each Sunday in the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper. The $500 per week cost for ten column inches is covered by donations from friends and churches. These articles, that numbered 526 on June, 17, 2018, are also published on the Internet at http://paperpulpitfortworth.com/, and have been printed in book form. People who respond are sent literature and are invited to worship assemblies.
Unscriptural idea about the church
One negative note among Alvin’s many valuable activities was his acceptance of some of the ideas of the Crossroads/Boston movement which he published in a book, How Christianity Grows In The City, a copy of which was mailed to every church of Christ in the U.S.A.
The basic error of the book is that it teaches that there should be only one congregation and one eldership in each city. This idea is incorrectly based on Titus 1:5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.”
This passage does not logically require only one eldership in each city. If elders were appointed in two different congregations in one city, that would also be appointing elders in that city!
Elders are to be appointed in every church. Acts 14:23 – “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
The book of Romans is addressed to “the saints at Rome” and nothing is ever said about “the church of Rome”. In chapter 16 mention is made of “the church that is in the house Priscilla and Aquila” (Rom. 16:3-5), which alone indicates that there were other churches. Also “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them” (verse 14) and “Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them”. Thus three congregations in Rome are specifically mentioned and since Rome had a population of one million, there may have been more.
There was a church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1) although it was only four miles from Corinth where there was also a church! Rome was much larger than four miles across! Thus it is understandable that there were multiple congregations in Rome. And according to Acts 14:23, elders were to be appointed in each church.
If there only may be one eldership in each city, it then becomes necessary to define what is included in a city, which the Bible does not do! It does define a church, however, and by the Biblical definition of a church it is possible to have one in Corinth and another one four miles away in Cenchrea.
Alvin even tried to launch such a congregation in the Dallas – Fort Worth area. Such an impracticable (and unscriptural) idea was of course doomed to fail. Alvin admits: “But after a short time the effort went awry and several from the growing congregation of about 100 moved to be with the ‘Boston Movement.’ The other four evangelists moved to Boston.”
Some of the apostate mega-churches have similar ideas, feeling called to establish “campuses” throughout the city.
Fortunately, most congregations knew the Scriptures well enough that they were not led astray by Alvin’s book.
This writer (who has known Alvin for sixty-six years – since he was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) prays that the Lord will be merciful to Alvin with regard to this doctrinal lapse, in consideration of his sincere zeal for spreading the gospel of Christ. I know of few men, if any, in our generation who have done more to preach the gospel to every person everywhere and to encourage others to do the same!
Roy Davison devotes himself to the gospel in Belgium, as well as being a part-time translator. He is the creator of the Old Paths websites (http://oldpaths.com).