Morris L. Venden, Adventist pastor, evangelist, and author, was widely-appreciated for skillful preaching that emphasized the centrality of a vital, personal relationship with Christ. He championed the message of salvation by faith in Christ alone, which he regarded as including justification, sanctification, and glorification.
The Venden Family Evangelistic Team
Born in Portland, Oregon, on April 5, 1932, Morris was the younger of the two sons of Melvin Louis and Ivy Ruth Venden.1 From his earliest years, his family and that of his uncle, Daniel Venden, traveled as a singing and evangelistic team, conducting six-month campaigns in numerous cities throughout the United States. This nomadic experience began for the Venden family in 1930, the year Morris’s older brother, Louis, was born.2
The traveling continued until the brothers were in their teenage years, ending temporarily in 1943 when Dan Venden became pastor of the College View church in Lincoln, Nebraska, and president of the Nebraska Conference the following year. Melvin and Dan Venden resumed their work as part-time evangelists in the late 1940s and then worked together full-time again from 1950 to 1955 in California, until Dan became president of the Central California Conference.3
Education, Marriage, and Early Ministry
During these years, Morris Venden graduated from Fresno Union Academy in 19494 and then enrolled at La Sierra College (now La Sierra University) where his brother Louis also was a student. Both brothers were active in music, singing in the La Sierra College Collegians, a select choir directed by John T. Hamilton,5 and were leaders on campus. Louis Venden served as president of the senior class in 1950-51,6 and Morris Venden was president of the Associated Student Body in 1952-53.7
While at La Sierra College, Morris Venden met Marilyn L. Moore, and they married on May 2, 1954, at the time of his graduation.8 They would have a son, Lee, in 1955, and two daughters, Lynn in 1957, and LuAnn in 1967.
Both Morris Venden and his brother began pastoral ministry in California. In 1955, the Northern California Conference invited the brothers to serve with their father, Melvin, as pastors in Sacramento, each at a different church, and jointly as an evangelistic team in that city. Their father pastored the Central church, while Morris served the Oak Park church, and Louis, who had been working in Oakland, served the North Sacramento church.9 Louis had been ordained to the ministry in June earlier that year10 and Morris would later be ordained in June 1957, with his father participating in the service.11
The brothers both pursued graduate study at Potomac University, the denominational theological seminary in Takoma Park, Maryland, and returned to California in 1958 to work together as an evangelistic team.12 The following year, Louis, who had completed an Master of Arts degree at the seminary, accepted an overseas position to teach Bible at Japan Missionary College.13 During the next six years while Louis and his family were in Japan, Morris Venden pastored the Oak Park church (later known as the Gateway church) in Sacramento until 1959,when he accepted a position as a district leader in the Oregon Conference.14
Three years later, Morris Venden became associate pastor at White Memorial church in Glendale, California,15 the first of several large churches at which he pastored. These included the Mountain View, California, church for three years16 followed by campus churches at four Adventist colleges: La Sierra College (1971-1974),17 Pacific Union College (1974-1981),18 Union College (1981-1986), and Southwestern Adventist College (now Southwestern Adventist University; 1986-1989). While there, the college awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1987.19
During these years, Venden was in much demand as a speaker for weeks of prayer, camp meetings, conferences, and retreats, both in the United States and abroad. His use of humor, down-to earth approach, and modern-day parables contributed to his appeal as one of the denomination’s best-known and most influential preachers.
In 1989, Venden returned to California where he pastored the Azure Hills church near Loma Linda until 1998. During those years, the congregation grew to the largest membership in its history, requiring three worship services each Sabbath.20 When he retired from full-time pastoral ministry in 1998, Venden joined the Voice of Prophecy radio program as an associate speaker. He also continued to be a popular speaker at large convocations such as the World Ministry Council held at the 2000 General Conference session in Toronto.21
Venden’s first book, Salvation by Faith and Your Will, was published in 1978 while he was pastor of the Pacific Union College church and teaching at the college. He continued to write, penning over forty books about salvation, grace, faith, and how a trusting relationship with Christ is central to having a rewarding and successful Christian life. The following from a 1982 article in the Australasian Record conveys the heart of his message:
The Bible does not teach that salvation is by grace alone—it is always by grace through faith. Faith on the part of the sinner is essential. However, faith involves more than simple mental assent, or belief. Saving faith insists on trust. And trust involves two parties, one trusting the other. When the sinner trusts Jesus for salvation by faith there is more than a legal declaration in heaven. There is the beginning of a relationship with God, followed by ethical results and expectations.22
Many of Venden’s books began as sermon manuscripts or transcriptions, and thus the same traits that drew overflow crowds whenever he spoke helped make his books Adventist best-sellers. While some of his book titles, such as Love God and Do as You Please, Hard to be Lost, It’s Who You Know, and God Says, But I Think, made some church members uneasy, they were designed to arouse interest. His best-selling book was Faith That Works.23
Major books included a three-volume series on doctrines of the church published by Pacific Press in 1985. Foundations for Faith: Common Ground discussed doctrines shared with all Christians; Higher Ground, doctrines shared with other conservative Christians; and Uncommon Ground, doctrines unique to the Adventist faith. A 384-page distillation of his thinking, 95 Theses on Righteousness by Faith, was published in May 1986.
The Brothers Venden
Through the years, Morris and his brother Louis appeared together on several occasions. In 1977, for example, they spoke about “Salvation by Faith” at the North Dakota camp meeting.24 Two years later they conducted a week of prayer for the theological seminary at Andrews University,25 and in 1980 they both spoke for the religious meetings at the Southern Union Conference Medical-Dental Congress in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.26
In 1982, Morris Venden was the featured speaker at a birthday celebration for H. M. S. Richards, where Louis Venden was master of ceremonies. Both brothers acknowledged the important role Richards had played in their lives.27
Morris Venden was living in Walla Walla, Washington, when he died on February 10, 2013, at age 80, after a decade-long struggle with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), also known as Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia.28
Lee Venden, an Adventist minister and revivalist who had a close relationship with his father, observed at the time of his father’s death, “Dad will be remembered for the one string on his violin that he consistently talked about, Jesus, and the privilege available to everyone to have a meaningful friendship with Him. At this point it seems clear that Dad will sleep this disease off, the long sleep from our perspective; the short sleep from his.” 29
“A. S. B. Elects 1952-1953 Officers.” Pacific Union Recorder, June 16, 1952.
Blacker, W. J. “Ordination.” Pacific Union Recorder, June 24, 1957.
“Daniel E. Venden obituary.” ARH, October 25, 1973.
“H. M. S. Richards Recovering from Stroke.” Southwestern Union Record, September 30, 1982.
Lukens, Melvin A. “Elder L. C. Osborn Leaves La Sierra After 16 Years.” Pacific Union Recorder, July 5, 1971.
“Melvin Louis Venden obituary.” ARH, October 27, 1988.
Morris, Derek J. “A Passion for Revival: An Interview with Lee Venden,” Ministry, February 2012. Accessed January 15, 2020.
“Morris Venden Pastors PUC Church.” Pacific Union Recorder, August 5, 1974.
NAD Committee Minutes. General Conference Archives. Accessed January 15, 2020. http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/Forms/AllItems.aspx?RootFolder=%2fMinutes%2fNAD&FolderCTID=0x012000F14CCE0E47CC244BB8EA93FE785ED8BE00941CF68C17217C4CA49DE1E876677255.
Oliver, Ansel. “Remembrance: Venden’s Preaching, Books Focused on Righteousness by Faith.” Adventist News Network. February 14, 2013. Accessed January 15, 2020. https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-02-14/remembrance-vendens-preaching-books-focused-on-righteousness-by-faith/.
“Pacific Union.” ARH, July 28, 1955.
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 1940 United States Census. Digital Images. Ancestry.com. February 26, 2020. https://www.ancestry.com.
Powell, George A. “The 1980 Medical-Dental Congress.” Southern Tidings, December 1980.
“SAC Awards Doctorates to Landers and Venden.” Southwestern Union Record, April 24, 1987.
U. S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014. Ancestry.com. Accessed February 26, 2020. https://www.ancesetry.com.
The Venden Story. Unpublished manuscript, 1975. Copy in author’s possession.
“Venden Accepts College View Pastorate.” Mid-America Adventist Outlook, June 10, 1981.
Venden, Morris L. “What Jesus Said About Faith and Relationship.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 18, 1982.
“Vendens Choose Salvation by Faith as Theme.” Northern Union Outlook, May 2, 1977.
“Week of Prayer at Theological Seminary.” Lake Union Herald, May 8, 1979.
“Well-known, Beloved Adventist Preacher Morris Venden is Dead.” Adventist Today, February 12, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2020, https://atoday.org/well-known-beloved-adventist-preacher-morris-venden-is-dead/.
U. S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, “Morris L. Vendon,” Ancestry.com, accessed February 26, 2020, https://www.ancestry.com; 1940 United States Federal Census, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, enumeration district 51-518, roll m-t0627-03702, page 4b, digital image, “Venden, Morris,” Ancestry.com, accessed February 26, 2020, https://www.ancestry.com.↩
“Venden Papers,” in The Venden Story, unpublished manuscript, 1975, 8, copy in author’s possession; “Melvin Louis Venden obituary,” ARH, October 27, 1988, 30.↩
“Daniel E. Venden obituary,” ARH, October 25, 1973, 23.↩
“Fresno Union Academy Alumni Home-coming,” Pacific Union Recorder, March 11, 1968, 3.↩
“The Collegians,” Pacific Union Recorder, April 4, 1949, 8; “Collegians Give First Concert,” Pacific Union Recorder, November 11, 1950, 16.↩
“Elder Louis Venden Presents LSC Spring Week of Devotion,” Pacific Union Recorder, May 1, 1967, 8.↩
“A. S. B. Elects 1952-1953 Officers,” Pacific Union Recorder, June 16, 1952, 8.↩
Morris L. Venden, California, Marriage Index, 1949-1959, Ancestry.com.↩
“Pacific Union,” ARH, July 28, 1955, 27↩
“Pacific Union,” 26.↩
W. J. Blacker, “Ordination,” Pacific Union Recorder, June 24, 1957, 13↩
“Welcome to Northern,” Pacific Union Recorder, November 10, 1958, 5.↩
E. W. Dunbar, “From Home Base to Front Line,” ARH, October 29, 1959, 21.↩
NAD Committee Minutes, December 17, 1959, 111, General Conference Archives, accessed January 15, 2020, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/NAD/NAD1959-12.pdf.↩
NAD Committee Minutes, August 16, 1962, 73, General Conference Archives, accessed January 15, 2020, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/NAD/NAD1962-08.pdf.↩
“Morris Venden Pastors PUC Church,” Pacific Union Recorder, August 5, 1974, 8.↩
Melvin L. Lukens, “Elder L.C. Osborn Leaves La Sierra After 16 Years,” Pacific Union Recorder, July 5, 1971, 3.↩
“Venden Accepts College View Pastorate,” Mid-America Adventist Outlook, June 10, 1981, 7.↩
“SAC Awards Doctorates to Landers and Venden,” Southwestern Union Record, April 24, 1987, 5.↩
Ansel Oliver, “Remembrance: Venden’s Preaching, Books Focused on Righteousness by Faith,” Adventist News Network, February 14, 2013, accessed January 15, 2020, https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-02-14/remembrance-vendens-preaching-books-focused-on-righteousness-by-faith/.↩
“Well-known, Beloved Adventist Preacher Morris Venden is Dead,” Adventist Today, February 12, 2013, accessed January 14, 2020, https://atoday.org/well-known-beloved-adventist-preacher-morris-venden-is-dead/.↩
Morris L. Venden, “What Jesus Said About Faith and Relationship,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 18, 1982, 6.↩
Lee Venden, email to author, April 25, 2019.↩
“Vendens Choose Salvation by Faith as Theme,” Northern Union Outlook, May 2, 1977, 10.↩
“Week of Prayer at Theological Seminary,” Lake Union Herald, May 8, 1979, 5.↩
George A. Powell, “The 1980 Medical-Dental Congress,” Southern Tidings, December 1980, 4.↩
“H. M. S. Richards Recovering from Stroke,” Southwestern Union Record, September 30, 1982, 12B.↩
“Well-known, beloved Adventist preacher.”↩
Derek J. Morris, “A Passion for Revival: An Interview with Lee Venden,” Ministry, February 2012, accessed January 15, 2020, https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2012/02/a-passion-for-revival:-an-interview-with-lee-venden.↩