Pastor Ashbrook is one of the men I looked up to in my first years of ministry. While attending the Bible Institute of Ohio (1990-93), I was able to hear him speak each year during the William Ashbrook Lectures (named after his father). Later, as I worked through the idea of biblical separation, I read through his books and found them to be helpful as I formulated my own understanding of what the Bible said about the subject. I know that these books have been helpful to many others as well.
Because of the impact Pastor Ashbrook has made for the Lord, I asked several of my Bible class students to interview him and write a short biography about him. Those papers were interesting to read, but I wanted to know more. So, after one of our weekly pastor’s prayer meeting, he allowed me to interview him. This article is a combination of that interview and the papers submitted by those high school students. I hope that what is written will be a blessing especially to all who read it.
John Edward Ashbrook was born in Hubbard, Ohio, on May 13, 1926, to the Rev. William and Gertrude Ashbrook. He was the second of four children and the only boy. Having graduated from high school in 1943, “he decided to attend Wheaton College as a chemistry major. When the war broke out [he] decided to sign up while he was still too young to be drafted so he could pick where he’d like to go. In May of 1944 he joined the Navy and went into a V-12 program at [Northwestern] University in Evanston, Illinois” (McLean 1).
“After his discharge he spent one year as a chemical engineer for a research institute. He then realized the Lord was calling him into the ministry. He went back for one more year at Wheaton College and then [attended] Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware [during the years 1948-51]” (Hegreness 1). To put things into perspective, he and Jim Elliot were contemporaries at Wheaton when the school was still a trusted Christian college.
“Pastor Ashbrook became the pastor of Bible Community Church of North Mentor in November of 1952 where he served for forty-six years before retiring in 1998. He remain[ed on staff] as the pastor emeritus. He has been in wonderful association with the Ohio Bible Fellowship since 1968. He [is] also the publisher of Here I Stand Books and the author of New Neutralism II and Axioms of Separation” (Flack 1). He has also written a pamphlet entitled “A Bird’s Eye Tour of the Bible” and a book for families entitled Family Fundamentals. His “ministry in books [has] been shared with people all over the world, including places such as Canada, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Netherlands, and Germany” (McLean 2).
His family has been an integral part of his ministry. He and his first wife, Virginia, were married for forty years (1955-95) and were blessed with two children. Two plaques adorn Section A of Bible Community Church to honor their service to the congregation. The loss was very difficult for him, but the Lord was his special comfort. Several years later, he met June McKnight, a widowed pastor’s wife from Maryland. They were married in 1999. The Lord gave them six years together during which they ministered together in several countries. This was the Mrs. Ashbrook I knew. She was always an encouragement to our young family. We were all saddened when she passed away in 2005.
In his later years, Pastor Ashbrook did not travel as much. However, the people of Bible Community Church were blessed to have him as an adult Sunday School teacher and for at least one message a month. After a short period of illness, Pastor Ashbrook passed away December 20, 2011, at the age of 85.
Pastor Ashbrook allowed me to interview him on a Monday in November of 2005. The following is based on my hand-written transcription of his answers to my questions:
1. Tell us about your salvation.
The Lord saved him at the age of twelve while his father was the pastor of Glen Echo United Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio. He believes it was during an evangelistic meeting. After responding to the invitation, he was counseled in the choir room behind the platform. However, he later came to a crisis point at the age of 18 while he was in the service. After dealing with some personal issues, the Lord gave him peace about his salvation. Over the years, the Lord has convinced him that he was converted at age twelve.
2. The majority of your ministry has been spent at Bible Community Church (Mentor OH). How long have you been here? Is this the only church you have pastored?
After his graduation from Faith Theological Seminary, he did not think that a single man could serve as a pastor. So, he traveled as an evangelist for a short time. An evangelist by the name of Jack Murray had more requests than he could fill, so he passed along the contact information to the young graduate. He noted that most of the contacts wanted Murray not some “newbie” and some of them were churches with serious problems. But these meetings kept him busy for about a year.
In 1951, he was asked to be the speaker for the Odell’s Lake Bible Conference. This was a conference started by Harland Odell of the Gospel Tabernacle in Canton, Ohio. During the conference he met the pastor of the Bible Community Church of North Mentor as well as the Hurst and Miner families. The pastor asked him to speak for their Easter service. But the board refused to pay the honorarium as the pastor had not cleared that with them ahead of time! Fortunately, the youth group pitched in $5 to cover the cost of driving from Columbus. (Gas was only 25¢ per gallon at the time.) He was dating Virginia at the time and told her he was glad he was not called there. Apparently, the parking lot was full of weeds and mud.
After that pastor left the church, he and Bill Fulton (one of the first graduates of Fuller Theological Seminary) took turns filling the pulpit. During the summer of 1952, he conducted a joint Vacation Bible School there with the nearby Plains Gospel Church in what is now Mentor-on-the-Lake. That fall, he was asked to become the pastor. His father told him that he should try it for six months to see what he thought. That trial stage lasted forty-six years. The Lord blessed during those beginning years by saving some people rather quickly and establishing them for the work.
3. What was the driving force that motivated you to start writing books and pamphlets? How did that affect your ministry (good and bad ways)?
He was a member of the IFCA when the administration decided to be less vocal about separatism. The members of the Ohio regional fought this change but eventually withdrew to form the Ohio Bible Fellowship. This conflict opened his eyes to the problems of new evangelicalism and a lack of separatism. Some time later, Bob Jones University invited him to teach in their Doctor of Ministry program. He was paired with Dr. Stenholm (one of the original BJU men) to speak about biblical separation for one week. After putting so much effort into those class notes, he decided to convert them into the text of his booklet, Axioms of Separation.
He helped his father to complete the last editions of The New Neutralism. So, when his father passed away, he decided to continue the book in a second edition, The New Neutralism II. He wrote most of the book in his spare time, but did spend two weeks doing research in the fundamentalist files at Bob Jones University. He had the pleasure of staying with Dr. David Beale, author of In Pursuit of Purity, during that time.
4. Your father was a militant separatist. Did you ever doubt your father’s convictions? And what led you to become a separatist?
His father, William E. Ashbrook, seemed too extreme in his views to the young Ashbrook. But time revealed to him his father’s wisdom. Toward the end of his schooling at Wheaton, he narrowed his seminary choices down to Dallas Theological Seminary and Faith Theological Seminary. The decision seemed so important that he skipped classes and prayed all afternoon. The Lord made it clear that Faith was the right choice. His training at that fundamental institution strengthened his convictions. One of the courses he took, “Modern Religious Problems,” was taught by none other than Carl McIntire.
It was later, after a period of time in the ministry, that he was forced to take a stand on certain issues. He was confronted with the ecumenism of organizations such as Youth for Christ. And after a while, he began to see that his father was not as extreme as he had once thought. His father had always said, “Where is this thing going?” That statement has been helpful to him in discerning the direction of movements and organizations. It doesn’t look so bad now, but what about later?
5. You define fundamentalism as “the militant belief and proclamation of the basic doctrines of Christianity leading to a Scriptural separation from those who reject them.” Why do you consider separation as part of the definition? Does this include secondary separation?
He said that anybody who is militant in his defense of the fundamentals will eventually be forced to separate. The key passage for him is 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Secondary separation to him is nothing more than consistency. Several churches in the area have supported the Billy Graham crusade. If our church did not support it but continued the fellowship, he believes the church would eventually weaken its position until they were supporting the crusade. You can tell your boy not to swear (primary separation) but also tell him not to run with the boys who swear (secondary separation). Consistency may involve third or fourth steps. But if someone is disobedient, don’t join the disobedience.
6. Because you talk so much about separation, some consider you to be an imbalanced, hyper-sensitive separatist. How would you answer those allegations?
He believes that a church is built on consistent Bible preaching. When that happens, people will know the Word of God. His father was known as a separatist, but he built Calvary Bible Church (Columbus OH) on the Bible not a separation message every Sunday. He has been “branded” because he is often asked to speak regarding separation. But if you looked over his sermon file, you would find that he has not been imbalanced.
7. Who are some of the “famous” fundamentalists you have met?
He has known Carl McIntire (as a professor at Faith Seminary), Robert T. Ketcham (who would visit his father’s home in between train trips through Columbus), J. Oliver Buswell, Harold S. Laird (whom he considered to be one of the greatest exegetes of Scripture), Merril MacPherson (pastor of Church of the Open Door in Philadelphia; he baptized William Ashbrook), and Charles Woodbridge (who was the lawyer for McIntire’s trial).
8. What makes for a successful ministry?
The preacher’s basic job is to preach the Word. He believes that the church people should hear the Word of God in an interesting way. “Where there is hay, the cows will show up.”
9. What are the most significant challenges that face younger pastors today?
Every preacher must adjust his preaching to the time he is facing. Knowing what to say will dawn on you as you preach. While preachers should keep up to date with the times, some young men have tried to update the gospel. There are different problems and applications but the gospel has not changed. Post-modernism with its philosophy of no absolutes is also a problem. It has led people to speak what they think without any need for evidence. But God’s absolutes are eternal. Though some don’t like absolutes, they will be judged by them one day. So, young preachers should preach the absolutes of the Scripture no matter what the others do.
Flack, Ben, “Pastor John E. Ashbrook.”
Hegreness, Jeff, “Pastor John E. Ashbrook.”
McLean, Rachel, “Pastor John E. Ashbrook.”
Rupert, Andy, Interview Notes, November 2005.
Obituary of Rev. John E. Ashbrook as viewed on 3/30/2019.