Revivals and evangelism dominated early Nazarene life. General Superintendent Phineas Bresee, one of the church’s principal founders, envisioned the Nazarene movement as a network of urban “centers of holy fire” spanning North America. His colleague, Hiram F. Reynolds, called the church to world evangelization. Their visions differed, but evangelism links them. Theodore and Minnie Ludwig were among those who moved to the rhythm of this evangelistic impulse.
Theodore Ludwig was raised among German-Americans in Illinois, and he was 6 years old when the Salem German Methodist Episcopal Church was erected on his father’s farm. It proved a sound investment. Ludwig later wrote in the church’s pulpit Bible: “in this Salem Church all of the 11 children [of my parents] were saved in childhood or early youth. I, Theodore, was saved at age of 10 years [sic] in a revival, Oct. 1880.”
Theodore was graduated from Central Wesleyan College, Warrensburg, Missouri, and studied one year at Garrett Biblical Institute near Chicago. Bishop Stephen Merrill ordained him in 1902, and his early pastorates in German-speaking churches in Illinois and Missouri included the Salem of his youth. It was at Salem in 1903 that his son, Sylvester Theodore, was born; the infant was baptized in the very church where Theodore had first professed his Christian faith. But tragedy marked those years too. Ludwig’s first wife died in 1905, leaving the busy pastor alone with his small son.
Minnie Brink, meanwhile, was born in 1877 in Nashville, Illinois. She was converted just before age 20 in St-Louis and testified to the grace- of entire sanctification the next year at a southern Illinois camp meeting. She worked several years at the Lighthouse Mission in St. Louis, serving two years as a city missionary and-sharing the gospel with people in their homes.The Free Methodist Church licensed her to preach in 1904, and she spent a year conducting revivals with Blanche Smith. Friends introduced her to Theodore Ludwig, then a pastor in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and they married in 1906. A few weeks after the wedding, Theo was led into the grace of entire sanctification through Minnie’s influence.
Minnie devoted several years to raising Sylvester and assisting Theo’s ministry. Together they conducted occasiopal revivals. In 1908 Theodore was appointed to a German Methodist church in Boody, Illinois. There a layman gave them copies of The Christian Witness, the weekly paper of the National Holiness Association, and their knowledge of the wider Holiness Movement grew.
Impressed by reports of C. E. Cornell and Chicago First Church of the Nazarene, the Ludwigs secured and studied a Nazarene Manual. Hiram Reynolds received them into the Church of the Nazarene in 1912 at Hastings, Nebraska, and they pastored home mission churches in Nebraska the next few years.
In 1914 Phineas Bresee ordained Minnie at the Nebraska District assembly. That brought a turning point for the Ludwigs, who devoted the next 40 years to public evangelism through revivals in 40 states and Canada. Revival meetings typically lasted two or three weeks, and the Ludwigs shared the preaching. Near the end of their lives it was estimated that Minnie and Theodore had preached over 8,000 and 9,000 sermons respectively.
Evangelist C. T. Corbett noted their contrasting styles in his book Our Pioneer Nazarenes. Theodore was a teacher-preacher, while Minnie “was of the more fervent type. As a stirring preacher she plowed deeply into the soul need of the people. . . . She usually dressed in white, being very feminine, yet forceful in her delivery. Together they lifted up a Christ that could save.”
Theodore served as president of the General Orphanage Board and as a district superintendent, but evangelism remained the heartbeat of their ministry. While he was the Nebraska District superintendent, Minnie was the district evangelist, and they planted 16 churches across the state in three years. Their son wrote: “The burdens of administration were always secondary to the primary task of winning souls. . . . [The] method was simple. He and Minnie would pitch a tent or rent a store building and begin a meeting, often staying until a church was organized.” In Broadwater, Nebraska, they preached nightly for five weeks, organizing a 75-member church at the conclusion of the meeting (The Preacher’s Magazine, April 1958).
They used the printed word as well. Theodore’s The Life of Victory (1929) presented a simple structure: “How to Get and Keep Saved” and “How to Obtain and Retain Entire sanctification.” Minnie wrote His Guiding Hand (1941), a narrative of her Christian experience and call to the ministry. Her best-known book, At the Crossroads (1928), and other books they wrote drew from their reservoir of ministry experiences.
In his later years, Theodore rejoiced over the creation of Nazarene Theological Seminary (“I’ve been praying for this for years”) and the “Showers of Blessing” radio broadcast. His son also brought him joy. S. T. Ludwig was president of Bresee College in the 1930s and the denomination’s general secretary from 1948 to 1964 (The Preacher’s Magazine, April 1958).
Theodore Ludwig died in 1957, Minnie the year after. They are buried near her childhood home in Nashville, Illinois.
Other sources: Various materials in the Theodore and Minnie Ludwig Collection and the S. T Ludwig Collection, Nazarene archives, including obituaries, clippings, publications, and personal notations in Theodore and Minnie Ludwig’s 1908 Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.
—Stan Ingersol is denominational archivist for the Church of the Nazarene.