This Week in AG History — November 2, 1958
By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 03 November 2022
James Robert Ashcroft (1911-1995) served God, family, church, and community with unwavering integrity in every opportunity he was given. Known as a man of prayer, the Scriptures, and the Spirit, he served the Assemblies of God as pastor, evangelist, director of the education department, and as president of four schools before his death at age 83.
Born to Scotch-Irish immigrant parents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ashcroft spent his childhood traveling the nation with his family as Pentecostal evangelists. Due to this nomadic lifestyle, he attended between 25 and 30 schools and developed an ability to adapt and learn in varied circumstances.
As a teenager, Ashcroft felt his own call from God for ministry and began holding meetings. Ordained by the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God in 1932, he served his first pastorate a year later in Chicago, where he stayed until 1944. There he married Grace Larson in 1935. They later became parents of three sons: J. Robert Jr, John, and Wesley.
During his Chicago pastorate, Ashcroft taught under P.C. Nelson at Great Lakes Bible Institute in Zion, Illinois. This early experience of shaping students preparing for future callings lit a passion within him. After accepting a pastorate in West Hartford, Connecticut, Ashcroft received his own higher education — a bachelor’s degree from Connecticut State Teacher’s College and a master’s degree from New York University.
In 1948, the Ashcroft family moved to Springfield, Missouri, to invest their lives into the students of Central Bible Institute. This led to also serving with the National Christ’s Ambassador’s Department (now National Youth Ministries) and then, in 1953, the directorship of the newly formed Education Department of the Assemblies of God, giving Ashcroft oversight of all the Assemblies of God higher educational institutions.
While serving in this position, the General Council passed a resolution to create a liberal arts college for Pentecostal students. Ashcroft served as chairman of the committee tasked with drafting the first constitution and by-laws of what became Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri.
In 1958, the two national schools located in Springfield, Central Bible Institute (CBI) and Evangel College (EC), were placed under one administration to provide further integration and organization, with CBI providing ministerial and theological training and EC serving as a four-year liberal arts school. Ashcroft was tasked to serve as president of both schools, serving a combined 817 students with 61 faculty members. The inauguration service was reported in the Nov. 2, 1958, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
General Superintendent Ralph Riggs gave the commission to the new president, charging him to remember that “we require of you, sir, that you shall maintain the spiritual life and the moral atmosphere of the schools in a way thoroughly consistent and consonant with the teachings and high moral standard of our church … We ask you likewise to make a contribution to the life of the community in which we are situated, as well as of our nation. Then, sir, and essential to all the rest, we call your attention to the necessity of personal integrity, personal spiritual experience, high example in every regard, that the faculties and students of these schools may follow you in all safety as you follow Christ.”
History confirms that J. Robert Ashcroft was the man for this moment. His response to Rigg’s charge, “Sir, I pledge to God, to the Church, to the colleges, and to you” that he would serve with integrity empowered by the Spirit of God. Testimonies of those who served under his leadership confirm that Ashcroft’s dedication to the principles of Pentecostal higher education, combined with a continuous application of prayer, gave the Springfield schools respect and influence in their community.
The administration of the two schools separated in 1963. Ashcroft continued to serve as president of Evangel College, leading it through the accreditation process, erecting seven buildings, launching a school publication, The Vision, and seeing enrollment triple.
After retiring from the Evangel presidency in 1974, Ashcroft served as a pastor in Brussels, Belgium, and as president of Valley Forge Christian College and Berean College. After retiring from the presidency of Berean College, he began to focus his energies on encouraging the church in the ministry of prayer. He traveled the country conducting prayer seminars and wrote articles and books on the subject, while also starting an inter-faith prayer meeting in Springfield and serving on numerous community boards. In 1991, at age 80, he was appointed chairman of the National Prayer Committee where he actively coordinated a large prayer ministry for the Assemblies of God.
In 1995, Ashcroft’s middle son, John, was elected to represent Missouri in the United States Senate. Although he was struggling with health issues, Ashcroft was determined to travel to Washington, D.C., for his son’s oath of office. As family and friends gathering to pray over the freshman senator, John noticed his father struggling in his chair and remarked, “Dad, you don’t have to struggle to stand.” The elder Ashcroft responded, “Son, I’m not struggling to stand. I’m struggling to kneel.” As he knelt to anoint his son with oil, tears flowing freely, a final prayer was offered that God would equip a new generation to serve in their calling.
J. Robert Ashcroft died the next day, Jan. 5, 1995, on his return home from Washington. At his funeral, General Superintendent Thomas Trask confirmed that Ashcroft fulfilled the vows he made nearly 40 years earlier to General Superintendent Ralph M. Riggs: “J. Robert Ashcroft has distinguished himself within the Assemblies of God as a true Christian statesman, one who exemplified the attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Read the article, “New President Inaugurated at Evangel College,” on page 24 of the Nov. 2, 1958, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Protestant Church in Communist Russia” by Nicholas Nikoloff
• “The Purpose of God in the Pentecostal Movement in This Hour” by J.A. Synan
• “1958 Korean Assemblies of God Convention” by Robert L. Johnston
And many more!
Click here to read this issue now.
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.
Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
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Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
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