Sixty years ago the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches endeavored to create their own Sunday School curriculum. As they began, they never imagined the extent of their success. An initial print run of 30,000 has grown to over 600,000 today. Their success began with strong convictions about doctrine and has continued because Regular Baptist Press was the idea of local churches. A continued connection with Regular Baptist churches has ensured that Regular Baptist Press remains consistent in its production of effective curriculum that is true to God’s Word.
Early, strong convictions
The conversation about producing fundamental, Biblical, baptistic Sunday School curriculum began as early as 1935, three years after the GARBC’s founding. At the 1935 GARBC Conference, Pastor Louis Entzminger shared his extensive research showing the need for a curriculum that covers the whole Bible from a fundamental perspective. And at the 1936 conference, he preached a stirring message on the Sunday School. The association was growing enthusiastic about starting their own curriculum. At the time, the closest and most widely used material came from Union Gospel Press of Cleveland, Ohio. But with articles like “Eternal Life May Be Lost” in one of its Sunday School papers, it was not a suitable fit.
R. T. Ketcham, then president of the GARBC, saw the wisdom in forming a committee to work with Entzminger to create a Sunday School curriculum that would meet the churches’ needs. It would be a full curriculum for all ages. Ketcham concluded that “when this is accomplished, it will be the first time in Sunday School history that a set of Sunday School literature will be presented covering a whole Bible lesson course, taking the Bible consecutively, presenting the exposition from the standpoint of a Fundamental, Baptistic viewpoint adapted to every age in the Sunday School” (“A New Day for Baptist Sunday Schools,” Baptist Bulletin [August–September 1936]: 11).
- Read more about the history of the GARBC
Entzminger reportedly worked on some of the Sunday School curriculum, with the goal of submitting it to the committee and having it approved and ready for churches in April 1937. Apparently that never happened. Perhaps the personal attacks Ketcham endured from J. Frank Norris, the pastor of the church where Entzminger served as an assistant, led to the project’s demise.
Though the initial attempt at a curriculum didn’t come to fruition, we can conclude that Ketcham’s determination and vision reflected the heart of the young and eager GARBC. He commented in 1936 that “personally we are not interested in putting ourselves or the Association morally back of any new venture into the Sunday School field, unless it is going to be absolutely what Fundamental Baptist churches have been asking for and up to the present has never been produced” (“A New Day for Baptist Sunday Schools,” Baptist Bulletin [August–September 1936]: 11).
Sunday School curriculum was a matter on which Ketcham, and by inference the burgeoning GARBC, was not willing to compromise. But the effort would take God’s servant and God’s timing. Strengthening and organizing the GARBC demanded a great deal of attention from its early leaders. A GARBC-developed curriculum would have to wait.
Precursors to RBP curriculum
By 1942 the Grand Rapids Association of Regular Baptist Churches, led by Robert G. Dice, developed a set of lessons for Baptist churches. Their organization was called Ideal Lesson Publications. Dice said, “Our pledge to the churches is an utter loyalty to the heritage and tenants of our historic Baptist Faith. This means an unswerving maintenance of those distinctive New Testament principles which, in these days of unionistic trends and interdenominational compromise, have been more sidetracked by many so-called churches and which are conspicuously absent from many Lessons” (“New Sunday School Lesson Material,” Baptist Bulletin [June 1945]: 6).
Dice’s mention of “Lessons” refers to the International Sunday School Lessons, a nondenominational Sunday School curriculum that lacked a strong stand on important doctrines such as the lordship of Jesus Christ and the absolute authority of the Word. Many of the churches that had come out of the Northern Baptist Convention had at one time used the International Sunday School Lessons in their churches.
Dice further described the GRARBC’s efforts:
Ideal Lesson Publications make no effort to minimize or soft petal (sic) a doctrine by suggesting that one look up his denominational stand on this or that point, but by faithful exposition of well-chosen units, graciously and fearlessly give the proper explanation. Watered convictions lead to watered faith and in the Ideal Lesson Manual churches may confidently expect to find pure Baptist teachings, as well as the research and proven pedagogy found most needful to evangelize, build and supplement a pastor’s ministry. (“Ideal Lesson Publications,” Baptist Bulletin [December 1946], 9)
The developers of Ideal Lesson Publications recognized the importance of teaching what one believes. Lessons made without a denominational bent are by necessity watered down. And, as Dice said, watered-down lessons lead to watered faith. This problem was identified in a Baptist Bulletin article about the need for the GARBC to enter the curriculum field.
For the past 40 years, sound evangelical Baptist churches have been dependent upon an undenominational literature for use in the Sunday School. . . . The result of the use of such an educational literature has been that each year our Baptist churches turn out a crop of high school graduates who, because of the lack of distinctive Baptist teaching, are perfectly conditioned for the undenominational field of training and service. Through all of the years, while being processed by a local Baptist church, they were never once told what makes a Baptist, why a Baptist, or the need for the continued preaching and teaching of distinctive Baptist doctrines, principles, and policies. (“G.A.R.B. to Enter Sunday School Literature Field,” Baptist Bulletin [July 1951]: 6)
Ideal Lesson Publications was a good initial step in trying to deal with the problem of watered-down doctrine in Sunday School curriculum. Their ideals captured the essence of the GARBC churches’ beliefs about what they should be teaching.
As Ideal Lesson Publications continued to produce their materials, the American Council of Christian Churches proposed to create fundamental lessons of their own, and the GARBC promoted the ACCC curriculum as a better alternative to other nondenominational curriculum. GARBC churches even had the opportunity to order the curriculum with the GARBC imprint on it. The ACCC offered other imprints as well, including Independent Fundamental Churches of America, Bible Protestant, and Bible Presbyterian. But the diversity of the members of the ACCC meant the curriculum, called Evangelical Sunday School Lessons, stopped short of what GARBC churches envisioned for themselves. The curriculum was not the answer the GARBC was looking for, and the churches’ desire for doctrinally sound material continued to grow. They were hungry to teach what they believed.
The desires of the Ideal Lesson Publication organization matched the desires of the GARBC, but Ideal Lesson Publications’ efforts apparently did not have staying power, and the ACCC’s Evangelical Sunday School Lessons were not Baptistic enough for the GARBC. Within a year of promoting the ACCC lessons, the GARBC decided the time had come to create their own Sunday School curriculum.
Local church connection
At the 1949 GARBC Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, a motion was passed authorizing Ketcham, now the GARBC national representative, to seek the services of Clarence Mason to lead in developing religious-education work. Later that year, the Council of Fourteen enthusiastically adopted a resolution that in part outlined a plan for developing Sunday School curriculum. The first step was to appoint a Christian Religious Education and Publication committee to promote and coordinate the work on religious education. The final point was to make the committee a permanent part of the Council.
The appointment of a committee from within the Council of Fourteen was a monumental decision. That meant the religious-education work was connected to the local churches of the GARBC. The churches were the authority through the representatives they elected to serve on the Council.
Writing about the plan to develop curriculum, R. L. Powell called for the churches of the GARBC to step out in faith and take on the task of developing Sunday School curriculum. He also summarized the overall lack of sufficient curriculum since the forming of the GARBC.
All of our active Baptist churches throughout the entire fellowship are now seeking for the best available information and training along the lines of Sunday School and youth activity, but many of them are seeking it through channels which are in no way officially connected with our fellowship, and in many instances not exactly friendly to what we are trying to do. No doubt all of the sources now being used are reasonably fundamental in their doctrinal positions but Baptists have their own kind of orthodoxy, their own terminology, and their own ecclesiastical approach to every question, hence it is impossible for any agency, other than a true New Testament Baptist agency, created by authority of orthodox Baptist churches, to write our kind of literature in all particulars. This is in no sense a condemnation of other blessed groups or fellowships, nor do we wish to be understood as seeming to be egotistical in this statement, but family affairs are just family affairs, and that is all. I do not want to have to feed my church people good Sunday School literature and other periodicals, although generally sound, if such materials do not fully meet the needs of our kind of Baptist testimony. For that reason, and at least a dozen other good and sufficient reasons, the time has come for us to create our own literature and build our own distinctive educational programs within our own churches. It will never be done until we do it. Interdenominational agencies, although excellent in their fields, can never go as far as we MUST go if we are to have a well-rounded Baptist constituency. (“Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel,” Baptist Bulletin [February 1950]: 6, 20)
The time was right for the GARBC to develop curriculum. The churches were ready to work together and support such an effort. Powell wrote about their eagerness:
Our National Representative, as well as those of us who have the opportunity to contact our churches and pastors, is constantly met with the complaint that the G.A.R.B. is “doing nothing” to meet the needs of its churches. There is a growing dissatisfaction among our pastors and churches with the fact that they are so largely dependent upon “outside” materials and fellowships for any helpful material and inspiration, which will meet the need of their own church. Everywhere the dissatisfaction is increasing in intensity and insistence, and even though we are a Fellowship, together we ought to be able to do something for ourselves, within our own Fellowship and not always have to take the productions of other groups, and by adroit maneuvering, bend them and make them “fit” into our particular and peculiar Baptist setup. Certainly in mutual trust and confidence in each other, and in abandonment to the glory of our Lord, we can work together for the accomplishment of his holy task which confronts us as independent Baptists. (“Striving Together for the Faith of the Gospel,” Baptist Bulletin [February 1950]: 20)
And confront the task they did!
Clarence Mason declined to take the position offered to him by the Council of Fourteen, but Larry Ward eventually agreed to fill the role. From the beginning, the purpose of RBP’s leaders has been to “seek in every way mutually desirable to further the whole life of our fellowship, unifying our brotherhood in doctrine and practice as far as may be done without trying in any way to interfere with the autonomy of our churches” (R. L. Powell, “Working Together for the Good of All,” Baptist Bulletin [April 1950]: 24).
In 1952 the long-awaited first installment of Regular Baptist Sunday School curriculum rolled off the presses. The name Regular Baptist Press was chosen to closely identify the material with the GARBC and the doctrine its churches stood for.
The GARBC’s decision to make a connection between local churches and the curriculum they used was wise and is still being followed today. A publications committee from the Council of Eighteen meets once a year with the leadership of RBP to discuss the development of Sunday School curriculum and other publications. The committee is also available throughout the year to interact with RBP and give wise direction. As the director of RBP, I give a report to the full Council of Eighteen as well as to the churches at the annual GARBC conference.
Still true to the Word
In the last 60 years, Regular Baptist Press has remained unwaveringly true to its doctrinal roots. What has made the difference? In large part it has been the connection between RBP and local GARBC churches. This was the GARBC’s intent from the beginning, and it remains the intent to this day. RBP is a local church–based curriculum written by Regular Baptists for Regular Baptists. Powell pointed out that such an arrangement is vital to the continuation of our doctrine and beliefs. “Movements which have not been authorized by the churches, and are divorced from them organically, can never do our work among the churches” (“But without Faith It Is Impossible to Please Him,” Baptist Bulletin [March 1950]: 4).
The local church is God’s program for this age, so RBP serves churches and provides them with doctrinally sound and complete ministry resources. No other curriculum publisher answers to the churches of the GARBC. In fact, many other publishers direct their content according to the volume of sales they want to generate. The less specific they are in doctrine, the broader their appeal will be to churches.
RBP has also stayed away from overemphasizing doctrinal hobbyhorses, choosing instead to be true to all of God’s Word and treating each part of the Bible from creation to eschatology as important. RBP believes the answers God’s Word gives on such topics as how to live the Christian life and how to organize a local church are just as important as the answers it gives about the origin of the universe. For this reason, RBP does not leave doctrinal holes in its curriculum.
Since all curriculums are not created equal, choosing curriculum is one of the most important decisions in a church. RBP has always believed that to be so. “There isn’t any phase of our church life where workers need to know what they believe and why they believe it than in the teaching staffs of our Sunday Schools. They are the agents for establishing our people in their doctrinal convictions” (Powell, “But without Faith It Is Impossible to Please Him,” Baptist Bulletin [March 1950]: 4).
Sunday School curriculum captures what a church really believes in the present, as well as what it will believe in the future. For this reason the choice of Sunday School curriculum in the local church should be considered at the pastoral level, with serious consideration of the curriculum’s doctrine and practice.
RBP is committed to serving the churches of the GARBC and welcomes thousands of other churches who hold strongly to the GARBC’s fundamental, Biblical convictions. RBP’s continued connection to the local church—God’s program for this age—will ensure its doctrinal balance and integrity. By God’s grace RBP will remain the premier curriculum for churches for the next 60 years and beyond!