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William Culbertson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 18 November 1905, the only child of William and Lydia Roper Culbertson. He was a quiet child and a good student whose religious interest was strong early in his life. At the age of nine, he went forward during an evangelistic meeting and made a public profession of faith.
In 1924, he enrolled in the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. A month before his seminary graduation in May 1927, the Grace Reformed Episcopal Church of Collingdale, Pennsylvania called him to be their pastor. Aside from his pastoral duties, he also taught at the Philadelphia School of the Bible and at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary. He loved teaching, especially the Pauline epistles and Bible geography. While at Collingdale, Mr. Culbertson married Catharine Gantz on 16 March 1929 and the first of their four children, Joy Anne, was born on 15 July 1930. He was a man who loved his family and enjoyed his homelife.
Mr. Culbertson's second pastorate was the Reformed Episcopal Church of St. John's-by-the-Sea in Ventnor, New Jersey. He began serving there in October 1930, but he also continued his teaching responsibilities. The couple also experienced the birth of William Robert, their second child, on 18 January 1933. He and his family loved living in Ventor and the ministry there received many blessings.
However, in the spring of 1933, an urgent call came from the Church of the Atonement in Germantown, Pennsylvania. This church was experiencing an internal conflict to such a high degree that it was on the verge of closing. Though the position was a reduction in salary, Mr. Culbertson was sure that God had called him to shepherd this divided church in order to make it a strong and united witness for Him again. Therefore, he accepted the offer and was installed as the church's pastor on 21 May 1933. As with the previous church, he was allowed in addition to his pastoral responsibilities, to continue teaching at Philadelphia School of the Bible and the Reformed Episcopal Seminary. This church saw the value of Mr. Culbertson continuing his education and encouraged him to do so. He enrolled in Temple University and received a degree in education in 1939. This was also the same year that his seminary awarded him an honorary doctor of divinity degree.
In 1937, Dr. Culbertson's responsibilities expanded to include being named the Bishop of the New York and Philadelphia synod of the Reformed Episcopal Church on April 30. He accepted his duties with humility and an earnest desire to honor the Lord. His district covered New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. He visited every church in his synod at least once a year to give spiritual counsel to the pastors and to provide oversight to the total ministry of the synod. At age thirty-one, he was the youngest man ever to serve in this capacity and he held it for the rest of his life. After hearing Dr. Culbertson preach on various occasions, President Houghton of Moody Bible Institute invited Bishop Culbertson to speak at the 1939 Founder's Week Conference. Dr. Houghton, impressed by Dr. Culbertson's gift of teaching, believed that the Institute could be a place where Dr. Culbertson could greatly exercise that gift while simultaneously investing in the lives of countless students. He followed through with this belief and extended an offer to Dr. Culbertson to join the Institute's faculty in the spring of 1939. However, Dr. Culbertson declined the offer, not because he did not want to come to the Institute, but because he felt convicted that he could not leave his church responsibilities at that time. Dr. Houghton understood Dr. Culbertson's decision; but he did not consider the matter closed.
Again Dr. Culbertson was invited to speak at the Institute, this time at the 1940 Founder's Week Conference. Another invitation for him to join the Institute's faculty was eventually extended. After much prayer and seeking the Lord, Dr. Culbertson and his wife agreed that the invitation should again be declined. Even though he saw the offer as a golden opportunity, he still could not free his conscience from his church responsibilities.
Undaunted, Houghton continued to view Culbertson as the man for the position. Following Dr. Culbertson's address at the 1941 Founder's Week Conference, Houghton made another offer to him. This time the offer was for the position of dean of education. Dr. Culbertson felt that it was now the Lord's will to accept the offer. Dr. Houghton was elated over the decision and he immediately began to make plans for Culbertson's arrival in the fall of 1942. He was the dean of education for nearly five years. However after Houghton's death in June 1947, he became the Institute's fifth president.
Two additions were made to the Culbertson family during this time when Dr. Houghton was courting him to come to Moody. On 29 July 1939, Paul, their third child, was born and on 1 December 1940, their fourth child, Ruth Catherine was born. God also rewarded his faithful ministry at the Church of the Atonement. Even though this church was on the verge of closing when Dr. Culbertson arrived, his faithfulness as a dedicated shepherd, contributed to it becoming a thriving church when they left Germantown in 1942.
Dr. Culbertson's years at the Institute were years of growth and progress. Academically, the curriculum was revised, and in 1951, the courses were changed from one to three credit hours. The school year was also divided into semesters and the basic program was extended to three years. In addition, the Missionary Aviation program was introduced and a new airport was built for it in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Under Dr. Culbertson's leadership, the Moody Bible Institute experienced stable growth and gained worldwide recognition as an institution of intense evangelical fervor. During his twenty-three years of his leadership, he was more concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Institute than building programs. Students and staff appreciated the solid, expository content of his weekly chapel messages. In addition to the chapel services, he aired a weekly half-hour devotional program on radio station WMBI and several other stations. He also produced the "Man to Man" record series, which was used nationally by pastors and Christian workers. In addition to all of this, he was also a sought after conference speaker.
The physical appearance of the Institute changed significantly while he was president. Houghton Hall, the women's dormitory, was built in 1951 with the Torrey-Gray Auditorium and the Doane Memorial Music Building being completed in 1955. The final campus improvement during his years as president was the construction of the new men's residence hall in 1970. Against his objections, it was named Culbertson Hall in his honor.
Dr. Culbertson had a conviction in his heart that God had chosen his successor as president. On 19 November 1970, he had lunch at Chicago's Union League Club with Dr. George Sweeting, the senior pastor of Moody Memorial Church. Dr. Sweeting was a man who seemed to possess all the necessary qualifications for the presidency. In January 1971, the Institute's board of trustees met and extended an official invitation to Dr. Sweeting, which he accepted after much prayer.
In mid-April 1971, the trustees announced that Dr. Culbertson would be promoted to chancellor. The congratulatory letters began to pour in for Dr. Culbertson. The president of the United States, Richard Nixon, sent a letter personally thanking Dr. Culbertson for his faithful service as Moody's president. The students, whom he called his "sons and daughters," also poured out their love and affection for him. They sent him numerous thank-you letters and they also planned 19 May 1971 to be designated as being "Culbertson's Day," a day to honor their retiring president. Dr. Culbertson stepped down as president on 31 July 1971 to being serving as chancellor the next day.
On 6 October 1971, Dr. Culbertson was hospitalized at Swedish Covenant Hospital due to lung cancer. On 16 November 1971, he went to be with the Lord he served so well. His last words were "God-God-Yes!" A memorial service was held on 18 November 1971, his sixty-sixth birthday, in Torrey-Gray Auditorium. He was laid to rest in Memory Garden in Arlington Heights, Illinois. His lifetime prayer had been answered: he had ended well.
The Major Writings by or on Dr. William Culbertson
- Culbertson, William. Christ the Hope of the World: The Promise of His Coming. Chicago: Moody Press, 1954.
- _______. God's Provision for Holy Living. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957.
- _______. Great Fundamentals and Their Implication. Chicago: Alumni Association of the Moody Bible Institute, N. d.
- _______. The Offense of the Gospel. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1967.
- _______. Our Faith Faces the Future. Chicago: Moody Press, 1950.
- _______. For Times Like These: Personal Glimpses. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972.
- _______. The Reformed Episcopal Heritage and Sacred Trust: An Address by Bishop William Culbertson. Philadelphia: The Reformed Episcopal Publication Society, N. d.
- Wiersbe, Warren. William Culbertson: A Man of God. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.
Culbertson's life timeline
1905, November 8
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Graduated from West Philadelphia High School and entered into the Reformed Episcopal Seminary, Philadelphia.
Takes his first pastorate, Grace Reformed Episcopal Church, Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
Graduated from seminary and ordained as deacon.
Started teaching at the Philadelphia School of the Bible and also at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary.
1929, March 6
Marries Catharine Gantz.
1930, October 1
Begins at his second pastorate, St. John's-by-the-Sea, Ventnor, New Jersey.
1933, May 1
Begins at his third pastorate, Church of the Atonement, Germantown, Philadelphia.
Elected as the Bishop of the New York and Philadelphia Synod, of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
Graduated from Temple University with a degree in education.
Awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by the Reformed Episcopal Seminary.
1942, September 1
Became the dean of education of the Moody Bible Institute.
1947, June 19
Appointed as the acting president of the Institute.
1948, February 4
Elected by the trustees as president of the Moody Bible Institute.
1948, May 3
Officially inaugurated as the president of the Moody Bible Institute.
Takes first trip to the Holy Land.
Started ministry at British Keswick.
Went on the first missionary trip.
Underwent surgery for colon cancer.
1970, June 14
Underwent surgery for lung cancer.
1970, September 22
Dedication of men's dormitory as Culbertson Hall.
1971, May 19
"Culbertson's Day" recognized by the students.
1971, July 31
Stepped down as Moody Bible Institute's fifth president.
1971, August 1
Became Moody Bible Institute's first chancellor.
1971, September 28
Inaugurated as chancellor with Dr. Sweeting installed as Moody Biblie Institute's sixth president.
1971, October 6
Last trip to the hospital.
1971, November 16
Passed away at the age of sixty-five.
1971, November 18
Memorial service and burial.
Biographical files. "William Culbertson." Historical Collection. Henry C. Crowell Library. Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Ill.
Wiersbe, Warren W. William Culbertson: A Man of God. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.