The Separatist Heritage of the Ohio Bible Fellowship

feature-article.gifMany people, myself included, went through school not having a great interest in history. Names, dates, events, and places of long ago were drudgingly memorized for tests and then soon forgotten. Yet during the last dozen years I have gained a greater love for history, specifically the history of fundamentalism. John E. Ashbrook, the editor of this paper for decades said, “When people understand where they came from it will help them see where they need to go.”


A Biblical Basis
The epistle of Jude is known for its ringing call to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Why was this call made though? What motivates the need for aggressively standing for the truth? Look what he writes about: “sanctification,” “preservation,” “calling,” “mercy,” “peace,” “love,” and “salvation.”

In order for God to give these wonderful blessings of salvation a gospel message must be given. Jude’s readers were warned about “certain men” who had “crept in unawares,” who were actively “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4). Jude buttresses his call with historical examples of such apostates. The presence of those who called themselves Christian teachers but who promoted soul-damning doctrine should cause all those who revel in God’s mercy, peace, and love to contend earnestly for the faith.

Where did the Ohio Bible Fellowship come from? What are its purposes? Why does it speak out so strongly for separatism? Answering these questions is important for us to understand where we came from so we will see where we need to go in the years ahead. The OBF came into existence in January, 1968 when the Ohio Regional of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) formally severed ties with the IFCA. In order for us to have a correct understanding of the OBF’s character, we need to find out what the IFCA was originally like and what brought about the Ohio Regional’s separation from the IFCA.

For Such A Time As This

In 1923 an organization called the American Council of Undenominational Churches was started that became the IFCA in 1930. This was during the height of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. Many men, churches, and organizations saw that apostates like those in Jude 4 were spreading their leaven throughout the various denominations. These believers recognized that what was being attacked was the very gospel that brought God’s love, mercy, and peace to lost sinners, and so after unsuccessfully trying to clean the house they separated from the denominations.

A good description of what the IFCA was like in its early decades of existence is found from the pen of its first President, William McCarrell. In the March, 1934 issue of the IFCA Voice, he wrote the following:

“Today’s crying need is aggressive fundamentalism. Believing that present-day uncertainty, doubt and unbelief expressed from many pulpits and tolerated by many denominations warns of fearful fruitage in the lives of coming generations and also that it is the primary cause of present-day doubt, confusion and lack of spiritual conviction and standards, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America follows a two-fold course:

“FIRST, It joyfully serves as shock troops, an advance guard, that aggressively leads orthodox forces in attack on citadels of unbelief and infidelity that hide under the misnomer of Modernism…Apostasy forces saved ones to occupy positions of either compromise, traitorous silence, sinful neutrality, or aggressive attack.
“SECONDLY: The I.F.C.A. encourages return of the true Church to the constructive life and methods which characterized the Apostolic Church…The Church born at Pentecost triumphed over religious deadness, worldliness, unbelief, apostasy, persecution and sin…one of its most effective weapons was separation from apostasy as regards service, money and name. The very name ‘Church’ signifies separation”

 

This sounds like the Ohio Bible Fellowship! Why did the OBF pull out of such a group then?

Eroding Growth

Beginning in the early 1960s, the men of the Ohio Regional of the IFCA saw the position of their national fellowship eroding, such erosion being most evident in the Voice magazine. The old cry for separation from apostasy began to diminish, and the challenge to withdraw began to be less vocal. In its place were constant calls to get along as brethren, show an interest in being more inclusive, increase the size of the organization, take in more people, and be more palatable to a greater number of folk. These themes began to be more evident in the Voice magazine with proportionately fewer warnings and protests against apostasy and compromise. The Ohio Regional passed a resolution in April 1963 to strengthen the Voice magazine.

This resolution was given to the National Resolutions Committee (NRC), which was to turn it over to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for discussion and action on the Convention floor. Instead, the resolution was rejected and the NRC suggested submitting a resolution passed the previous year!

Following this attempt other regionals came to the fore with the same purpose in view. It was not just the wild-eyed Buckeyes who were trying to rock the boat. There was a concerted effort on the part of the separatists, but they all received the same treatment of politicking and pietism.

A Line In The Sand

This began a series of conflicts that continued for five years, culminating in 1968. The Iowa Regional proposed a constitutional amendment identifying ecumenism, neo-orthodoxy, and new evangelicalism as movements that the IFCA was against. Prior to these apostasy was the sole concern, and the IFCA’s preamble declared itself as a group separate from modernism. These men thought the preamble needed to be upgraded to contain a stand against these new threats. The Ohio Regional agreed and decided that a line in the sand needed to be drawn somewhere. If the amendment passed, the Ohio men would continue in the IFCA believing that there was a majority going the historic direction of the Association. If it failed, they would return home and form a new organization.

Upon arriving at the convention an unannounced debate as to whether the IFCA was heading in a new evangelical direction was forced upon the Ohio men. From our vantage point such a debate would seem to have been welcomed by the Ohioans! However, this was not the case as they recognized that it would bring only talk and no action.

This debate was essentially the NEC vs. John Ashbrook. Ashbrook’s team found out about the debate when they arrived at the convention, so their notes and files were left at home and they did not have sufficient time to prepare for a debate of this magnitude. During the debate the men arguing the separatist position quoted the Scriptures, spoke with grace seasoned with salt, and gave factual information, but the others used words and phrases such as “red herrings” and “radicals.” Men of such stature as John F. Walvoord (who had been pushing to soften the IFCA) called for an end to the debate as it was getting embarrassing for the NEC.

By parliamentary maneuvers, the NEC made sure nothing official was done as a result of the debate. While there was no vote taken identifying the victor, men from both sides said that they had never seen a debate where one side was so soundly whipped. The moderator said that a vote should be taken as to the winner of the debate, but the other side of the issue got up and said “No vote, no vote, no vote!” No vote was taken. But the next day when the decision regarding the constitutional amendment was made, the Ohio men were on the losing side and all the leadership was on the winning side. That is when they came home, made plans to withdraw from the IFCA, and change their name to the Ohio Bible Fellowship.

The IFCA came into existence to maintain and herald a clear cut position of separation from apostasy and unscriptural alliances. But during these years there were definite attempts made to “change the image” of the IFCA. The Ohio Regional made attempts to get the IFCA to go in the right direction, but all such attempts were thwarted through power politics, false piety, ignoring appeals, and rejection of unanimous appeals by various State Regionals.

Carrying The Baton

The Ohio Regional’s reason for withdrawal was the IFCA’s departure from its historic separatist position. The OBF exists to carry on McCarrell’s two-fold purpose for the IFCA: (1) carry on an aggressive defense of the faith and (2) encourage biblical methodology and practices. The OBF thus promotes biblical preaching that proclaims the gospel that God uses to bring His love, mercy, and peace to lost sinners. It gives clear warnings about the dangers to that gospel and Christ’s church. It provides a means for rich fellowship of like-minded believers.

These purposes are accomplished through regular meetings, Peniel Bible Camp, and this periodical, the Visitor. In the Visitor the OBF seeks to do what was desired of the Voice magazine, ringing out a clear sound regarding current issues and alerting our constituency and like-minded brethren of problems faced as we stand for the Lord.

History not only faces the problem of our indifference but of an over-nostalgic response about “the good old days” or a satisfied smugness that “we’re right.” If we only reflect back on our history we miss the point in studying it. There are specific challenges and responsibilities we have in light of our history.

Staying On Track

With the passing of the founding generation and the influx of new men who did not fight the battles, our position can be abandoned. A loss of purpose through neglect or getting sidetracked can occur. A biblically aggressive stand for the truth on the basis of God’s mercy, peace, and love can be softened.

Such challenges can be met by fulfilling our responsibilities. We must continue to give biblical, factual, specific, forthright warnings about the dangers of the hour. We must foster biblical fellowship. We must not allow a desire for growth, influence, or a “more positive image” to control our objectives. We must continue to give clear-cut biblical preaching to meet the needs of human hearts in our churches, OBF meetings, and in the Visitor. The biblical and historic position of fundamentalism must continually be set forth and called for.

We must do everything we can to encourage others to take and hold this position. Do we believe we have a biblical, Christ-pleasing, and honoring stand? We must do all we can to contend for the faith that brings God’s mercy, peace, and love. We must encourage others to take this same stand.

“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 20–23).

July/August 2006

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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.

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