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Dwight L Moody and a church that changed Chicago
by Chad Roberts
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On a cold January day in 2008, I stood outside the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. I was already familiar with the congregation’s history. I have loved many of its great pastors from Ironside to Redpath, from Wiersbe to their current pastor, Erwin Lutzer, who took the church the year I was born! But I have especially loved their founder, Dwight L. Moody. From day one, the church built upon the core value of caring for the poor and needy. However, I didn’t fully comprehend how true it was until I read the dedication plaque on the building itself. “Ever welcome to this house of God are strangers and the poor.” Tears came to my eyes as I thought of the countless people who are now in eternity with God because this local church opened its doors to the ones others would have turned away.

It amazes me that a church of such prestige would welcome the poor and needy. We’re talking about a congregation and a pastor who was a household name in the United States. They were (and are) the leaders in education (The Moody Institute) in publication (Moody Publishing) and in radio (Songs in the night; The Moody Church Hour and Running to Win). I stood there and prayed, “Father, let my church always be a home for the poor and needy.”

The Moody Church was not always so influential. It didn’t even begin as a church, but rather as an outreach to children. In the mid-1800’s at the age of 17, he moved from his home and large family in Northfield, Massachusetts to Boston where his uncle owned a shoe store. His uncle agreed to hire Dwight on the condition he would attend church. It was at the Congregation Church of Mount Vernon that Moody’s life would forever change. His Sunday School teacher, Mr. Edward Kimball, began to talk to Dwight about God’s love for him and how God had a plan for his life. He was soundly converted and would eventually dedicate his life to sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ.

After the Civil War, which he was not able to enlist for, but still served many of the Union soldiers on the front lines, he married Emma C. Revell. They went on to have 3 children, a girl named Emma Reynolds Moody and two sons, William Revell and Paul Dwight Moody. His family moved to Chicago where he felt a deep burden to reach out to the street children he saw every day. He began a “Sunday School” that exploded in growth. By 1860, over 1,000 children and their parents were attending his program

So important was the aggressive work of this evangelist that even President-elect, Abraham Lincoln attended one of the services! It was the most innovative and well known outreach of the day. Naturally because of the growth from God’s blessings, they decided to become a local church. After searching for a permanent location, they built and dedicated a building on the corner of Illinois and Wells Street in Chicago. They named it, The Illinois Street Church and dedicated the building on December 30, 1864.

Moody was a remarkable pastor with an evangelist’s heart and it always showed in his passionate sermons. An anonymous man penned his conversion experience by saying this of Moody, “I went to hear Mr. Moody with no other idea than to have something to laugh at. I knew he was no scholar, and I felt sure I could find many flaws in his argument. But I found I could not get at the man. He stood there hiding behind the Bible and just fired one Bible text after another at me till they went home to my heart straight as bullets from a rifle. I tell you, Moody’s power is in the way he has his Bible at the tip of his tongue.”

On a Fall Sunday in 1871, Moody preached to a regular packed Illinois Street Church. However, no one anticipated the devastating event that was only hours away. To this day, the Great Chicago Fire is not fully known. The blaze began Sunday night October 8th and burned till the next day, October 9th. The devastation included over 300 deaths, 18,000 buildings were burned or destroyed and nearly 1/3 of Chicago’s 300,000 plus population was left homeless. It was one of the deadliest and costly events of the 19th Century. The Illinois Street Church was completely destroyed as well as Moody’s home and the homes of most of his church members.

But Chicago was a unique city. They immediately began rebuilding their city, and Moody’s people did the same. In less than three months, their new church was built. His congregation renamed themselves The Chicago Avenue Church after moving to another location. Their new structure was dedicated in June 1876 and was built to seat 10,000 people. Chicago built itself up in such a way it would become a major city in the United States in both population and economic growth.

The influence Moody had upon evangelical Christianity is hard to express in such a small article. Here are a few highlights of his preaching career. In the Spring of 1872, he did a preaching trip to England. This is when his popularity really exploded. He preached around 100 times on this trip. Many times, crowds of 2,000 – 4,000 people gathered to hear him. In one meeting at the Botanic Garden Palace, there was an estimated crowd of 15,000-30,000 people. When visiting Scotland, he met and worked with the famous Andrew Bonar. Even the “Prince of Preachers”, Charles Spurgeon invited Moody to speak at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Moody also met the world renowned missionary to China, Hudson Taylor and aggressively supported the China Inland Missions. It is refreshing to me to research and read about these great relationships the people of God had with one another (especially in an era where they didn’t have the technology of communication such as phones, faxes, emails or websites). I’m always saddened to hear of one church leader making accusations against another church leader in the media. These men are a great example of Godly relationships to us today.

When Moody returned home to the United States, God’s blessings on his ministry continued to grow at an incredible rate. On January 19, 1876, President Grant and some of his cabinet attended one of Moody’s services. Moody lived and ministered at a time that our nation was healing through the Civil War. Indeed he was born, “For such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Mr. Moody’s final sermon came in the Great Hall of Kansas City on November 16, 1899. Feeling very ill, he boarded a train home to Chicago. He died a few days later surrounded by friends and family. While it’s not certain what caused his death, it is believed to be congestive heart failure.

Moody is famously quoted in one of his sermons as saying, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this cold clay tenement into a house that is immortal – a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.”

The Chicago Avenue Church was renamed “The Moody Memorial Church” in D.L. Moody’s honor 10 years after his death. It continues to be a beacon of light and has stayed true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can learn more about the Moody Church by visiting their website at, www.moodychurch.org.

To learn more about Pastor Chad Roberts, visit www.preachingchristchurch.com

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