Joe Bower began serving as a GARBC pastor in 1943, meeting and learning from Robert Ketcham, Paul Jackson, and Joseph Stowell—the first generation of GARBC leaders. Now in retirement, Dr. Bower celebrated his 90th birthday on Jan. 22. Read his insights about our next generation of leadership, along with comments from younger pastors about the value of learning from the older leaders in our fellowship.
“Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psalm 78:1–7).
This psalm is one of instruction. It was given to keep the people of Israel faithful to David, and to check their tendency to place themselves under the leadership of the tribe of Ephraim. It was also written to keep them faithful to God, by reminding them of their sufferings as a result of unfaithfulness.
The key word in the passage of Scripture under consideration is “generation.” The first and second generations are sug-gested in verse 3: “Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” In verse 4 we read of the third generation: “Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.” The fourth generation is suggested in verse 6: “The children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children.” With all this in mind, I would like to consider the need to transmit orally our great heritage from generation to generation, that each succeeding generation might understand and declare what the Lord has done in and through the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.
In 1959, Dr. Robert T. Ketcham called me to visit him in the hospital at Decatur, Ill. There were many things on his heart, and we spent some precious moments together. At the conclusion of our visit, he raised up in bed and in his usual manner said, “Joe, I’m concerned about the second generation of GARBC preachers!” I remember answering, “Doc, I don’t think you need to be concerned about us [for I consider myself to be in the second generation], because we have been taught well at your feet. You have told us of the struggles. You have allowed us to learn from you the necessity of standing true, regardless of the cost. I believe our concern needs to be for the third and fourth generations who will not have the privilege of your instruction and example.”
As I move among our churches and pastors, I discover the truth of my statement. The third and fourth generations of Regular Baptist preachers who did not have the privilege of sitting at the feet of Dr. Ketcham, Dr. Paul Jackson, and Dr. Joseph Stowell—along with other great spiritual leaders who have passed into the Lord’s presence—find it difficult to take a stand and set proper Biblical priorities because we of the second generation have not been faithful in instructing them as to our glorious heritage. We should not hide from our children the things we received from our ancestors, but should endeavor to hand them down to our children, and they in turn to their children’s children. Our children should be inflamed with great zeal and an eagerness to learn.
A great number of younger preachers are struggling. They are confused as they become involved in secondary issues. They find it difficult to stand upon the finality and fidelity of the Word of God. Have we of the first and second generations failed to help them understand our glorious heritage? Have we softened our position? Have we become accustomed to presenting several sides of issues, doctrines, and practices without saying, “But this is where we stand”?
As Dr. Ketcham was approaching his 69th birthday, he wrote, “We must constantly remind ourselves of our own position on the matters which the Lord led us to take and to incorporate into our Constitution twenty-six years ago. I am sure that none of us realized at that time just how insidious and pronounced the battle would become; but if our position was right twenty-six years ago, it is right today. If it was to be abided by then, it is to be abided by now. Granted the cost is getting higher and higher with each passing year, but obedience is still obedience and is the price of a good conscience before God and men” (from Portrait of Obedience).
From my own files, I quote the following statements made by Dr. Ketcham that helped me stand true to the Word and to the position of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches:
- “You don’t have to knuckle under. Drive your stakes, strengthen your cords and stand.”
- “To you younger men, do not betray your trust and your heritage. This fellowship cost us too much.”
- “Stand fast in the faith. Don’t doubt in the dark what you believe in the light.”
- “This is no time for personal opinions; we have always been people of the Book. We cannot fool around on the perimeters.”
- “The world never needed us more than it needs us now. ‘If we walk in the light, as he is in the light,’ we shall have fellowship with one another; but if we substitute man’s opinions for the plain teachings of the Word of God, we shall substitute confusion and discord for light and fellowship. This blessed fellowship was raised up by God for you and yours. Be loyal to it, and in so doing you will be loyal to God.”
Our first-generation fathers were men of Biblical convictions who separated themselves from the modernism and rationalism in the schools of theology and in the churches associated with the Northern Baptist Convention. They were men who did not compromise their Biblical convictions for community convenience. They were men who believed in the inerrancy of the Word of God; the total depravity of man; soul liberty; the sovereignty of God; a pure, regenerate church membership; sovereign, independent local churches; the separation of church and state; the priesthood of all believers; two ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Supper; two officers—pastors and deacons; the imminent, personal, pretribulational, premillennial return of Jesus Christ for His Bride. And, like the apostle Paul, they exhorted their young Timothys: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:12–16).
They were men who believed in Biblical separation. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:14–17). “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). And again, like Paul, they exhorted us, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Thus, the command was given for ecclesiastical separation that demanded no cooperation with modernists, apostates, or liberals.
They were men who believed in personal separation and practiced the same; men who believed that born-again Christians should be holy men and women. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11, 12). They were men who believed in total abstinence from intoxicating beverages, for “wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
As churches and pastors within the fellowship of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, we have a great heritage. We do not worship men, but we praise the Lord for Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled men who testified along with Paul, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
As a member of the second generation, I call upon my younger brethren of the third and fourth generations to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch” (Acts 20:28–31).
Joe Bower wrote this article for the May 1983 issue of the Baptist Bulletin. He ministered as a GARBC pastor in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. In addition to many years on the GARBC Council of Eighteen, he served on the boards of Cedarville College, Faith Baptist Bible College, Grand Rapids Baptist Bible College, and Baptist Mid-Missions.