headstone of lewis sperry chafer

The Chafer Heritage

Lewis Sperry Chafer descended from immigrants from northern England. The Chafer family settled near Cincinnati, Ohio, as farmers. Chafer's parents shifted from being full-time farmers to pursue education and evangelism. His father, Thomas Chafer, was a pastor. Thomas and his wife, Lomira Sperry, ultimately created a stable and religious home for their three children. The couple guided their children toward completing their education. Lewis Sperry Chafer was the third child, born on February 27th, 1871.

Musical and Evangelical Education and Career

After his father's death, Lewis Chafer attended New Lyme Institute and focused on literary and musical studies. From there, he entered the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College but did not finish. He pursued missionary work as a singing evangelist. Chafer continued his vocal training under Florence Harvey, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Then, he entered Moody Bible Institute and studied voice. His goal was to teach music in a formal setting. In 1892 he began working full time as a musician. Over the next ten years, Chafer performed as a singer, directed a choir at a local Baptist church, taught music at Downers Grove in Chicago, instructed private voice lessons, and organized a minuet club in Chicago. In 1895 he briefly served as the business manager for Ithaca Conservatory of Music. In 1896, Chafer shifted his focus from music to evangelistic teaching. He served as an assistant pastor at the Congregational Church of Painesville, Ohio.

Lewis Sperry Chafer celebrating his 80th birthday.

Pastor and Missionary

He and his wife, Ella Loraine Case, served as an evangelical team—Chafer, a singer and preacher and his wife, the church organist. While employed as an associate pastor at the Congregational Church, he traveled with A. T. Reed, John B. Koehne, and Wilbur Chapman and preached multi-denominationally. They held union meetings with Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist participants. In 1900, Chafer became an ordained clergyman of the Congregational Church, Western New York Association.

The Impact of Scofield

In 1901, Chafer and his wife relocated to Northfield, Massachusetts. They joined the Trinitarian Congregational Church of Northfield, pastored by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield. Chafer shadowed Scofield during several conferences in Northfield, Scofield deeply impacted Chafer by making Scripture easy to grasp and come alive within Chafer's personal life. They ultimately developed a father-son relationship in creating a legacy that would directly impact the entire Christian world for generations to come. Chafer worked very closely with Scofield, traveling to various conferences and establishing the Philadelphia Bible School in 1914. Upon the passing of Scofield in 1921, Chafer carried the mantle of his mentor. Chafer traveled to Dallas, Texas, for a conference at the First Presbyterian Church. In that same year, he relocated to Dallas and became the full-time pastor of First Congregational Church—a church established in the 1880s by C.I. Scofield. The church voted to withdraw from the First Congregational Church denomination and changed the name to Scofield Memorial Church.

Lewis Sperry Chafer teaching a class at Dallas Theological Seminary

Founder of Dallas Theological Seminary

Once Chafer settled in Dallas, his vision of a seminary began with the Evangelical Theological College. This idealistic platform would depart from evangelical conservative program principles to focus on preparing young men for ministerial careers. He, along with several prominent residents of Dallas, Texas, from First Presbyterian Church, established the school doctrinal statement, curriculum, location and acquired the Bibliotheca Sacra from Xenia Theological Seminary. In 1936 the name was officially changed to Dallas Theological Seminary. Chafer states in 1944, “The Dallas Theological Seminary is, as you know in a very real sense, my own child. It was born in my mind at least fifteen years before it became a reality. It stands for certain unusual ideals, and because of these, it is not just another seminary.”

It has been seventy-seven years since Chafer spoke these esteemed words. His vision to improve his generation's traditional seminary curriculum goals has impacted thousands of men and women across many ethnicities and cultures. His flame for Christian education propelled the impact of the body of Christ by ensuring a training ground that would equip believers with the theological and biblical tools to bring Christian ministry into everyday professions and lives.

This article is sourced from An Uncommon Union, Dallas Theological Seminary, and American Evangelicalism by Dr. John D. Hannah (ThD, 1974), pages 47-110.

About the Contributors

Rebecca Walton

Rebecca Walton

Rebecca S. Walton (MBTS) serves as editor of “DTS Magazine” and content manager for voice.dts.edu. As a native to Houston TX., Rebecca began her seminary journey at DTS Houston.  In 2018 she transferred to Dallas to complete her Masters in Biblical and Theological Studies. Rebecca loves to travel and exhort God’s word.  She loves people and is passionate about communicating Christian doctrine and Christian Living stories.