Central Bible Church has its roots in the 1920s, in the mid-week Bible studies that were known as the Portland Union Bible Classes. The Bible studies were led by Dr. B.B. Sutcliffe in area churches and were mostly attended by members of Portland-area churches.
In 1931, John G. Mitchell was called to Portland to become the Director of the classes. Within a few months, the classes rented auditorium and classroom space at the Behnke-Walker Business College in downtown Portland. Early the next year, they held their first Sunday morning meetings.
By 1933, 80 classes were meeting every week. While the Portland Union Bible Classes had its greatest ministry in Portland, they also sponsored classes in nearby cities and conferences as far away as Roseburg, Seattle, Yakima, and Calgary. They received many requests for classes, but with few qualified teachers, most were turned away.
To train more teachers, Dr. Mitchell called together several ministers and Christian laymen in 1936 to organize the Multnomah School of the Bible.
By 1938, the Bible classes were looking more like a church, sponsoring fewer classes in outlying areas and conducting more ministries in the Portland area. In 1939, its children’s ministry of 46 volunteer teachers was conducting 90 classes a week, teaching over 2,000 children every week.
On November 27, 1941, to prepare to purchase a permanent facility for staff and equipment, the classes incorporated as The Portland Bible Classes. But many people didn’t understand that they were a church, and others confused them with Multnomah School of the Bible, so on November 2, 1942, they made a clear distinction by changing their name to Central Bible Church, affectionately known in town as “CB.”
In 1944, CB purchased the Behnke-Walker building in downtown Portland.
In 1945, the church partnered with Charles Wecks to create a summer camping ministry to children and youth known as Trout Creek Camp. Mr. Wecks provided the property and buildings and Central Bible provided the staff and program. (The camp was donated to Central Bible in 1965 and it became an independent organization in 1988.)
In the early 1950s, sensing a shortage of space was hindering their growth, the church decided to build. They found a six-acre site near Multnomah School of the Bible (now “Multnomah University”) and built the present structure. The new building was dedicated on April 21, 1957.
Dr. Mitchell retired from pastoral work in 1967. (He continued at Multnomah as Chairman of the Board and teacher until his death in 1990.)
Associate Pastor L. Dwight Custis became the new Senior Pastor and continued until 1981.
After an 18-month pastoral search, Dr. Hal Schulz began his ministry. Since its beginning as the Portland Union Bible Classes, the governing group of the church was the Council, elected by popular vote. Under Dr. Schulz, the church reorganized its Council into a smaller Board of Elders, assisted by Deacons, all selected by satisfying the qualifications for Elders and Deacons as listed in the New Testament books of Timothy and Titus.
Paul Anderson, one of CB’s congregants and missional leaders started Skate Church in the church basement in 1987. He has continued to develop it over the years, and now he runs the ministry out of a large warehouse on the other side of our parking lot, ministering to local skateboarders from every walk of life, age 5 to adult.
In 1989, Dr. Calvin Blom, a professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, became interim Pastor. The church so appreciated Dr. Blom’s sensitive ministry that he was asked to be the Senior Pastor. He reduced his workload at Multnomah in order to accept that call. During this time, the skateboard ministry expanded to the shed. In 1999, Dr. Blom resigned in order to return to fulltime seminary teaching at Multnomah.
In 2000, after a 10-month search, Dr. David Stevens was called to be the fifth Senior Pastor of Central Bible Church. His previous ministry was with the missionary organization OC International, encouraging and advising pastors and churches in France. At the end of 2014, Dr. Stevens returned to the mission field in Belgium and West Africa.
Throughout all of this time, CB has experienced the same growing pains and transitional tensions of any long-established church. But the strong biblical foundation has given it a foundation to weather some painful times of church splitting and other difficulties. By the end of 2014, the elders, pastors and congregants alike recognized a need for real change. A time of renewal and revitalization was needed.
In April 2015, we welcomed Ben Tertin (Doctor of Ministry Candidate) as our current Lead Pastor. His previous ministry was with students and young adults at Imago Dei Community in Portland, and he continues as an Adjunct Professor at Multnomah University and Ecola Bible College.
Right now, CB is continuing in that phase of renewal and revitalization, and we are absolutely overwhelmed by God’s love and forgiveness and grace. We are learning to live on mission with Jesus, together, as a group of Christians comprised of every living generation, many different cultures and ethnicities, and all walks of life. It gets pretty wild at times, but it is so good. We are hoping to not only carry on the good work of revitalization in our own context but to also become a beacon of hope for other congregations in Portland and beyond who are working to bring new life into their own churches.
And so, CB continues in the new century, eager to support and serve in new ministries that teach the Word of God to this ever-changing world.