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Criswell College affiliates with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

DALLAS (BP)–Trustee boards of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies (CCBS) and Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) have unanimously approved an agreement that places the college in the budget of the state convention and provides SBTC access to the facilities and consultation resources of the school.

Representatives of the two institutions gathered June 7 at the offices of Criswell College to formally sign affiliation papers.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards heralded the cooperative effort as providing a resource for the new convention’s commitment to a structure that resists bureaucracy. “The SBTC is committed to a small and efficient staff that will network with the SBC, churches, organizations, institutions and individuals to provide services for churches. This partnership allows SBTC to access the consultation resources of the college for our churches and use of facilities for conferences, training and other events.”

Criswell College President C. Richard Wells referred to the action taken by the school’s board of trustees, stating, “I am proud to say that the Criswell College is part of the SBTC family. And we are ready and anxious to foster the kingdom ministry of the convention in every way — all to the greater glory of God.”

Both CCBS and SBTC are free to enter into other formal relationships and will review the agreement at five-year intervals. SBTC will contribute more than $600,000 over the next three years through its budget, state missions offering and a Colleges and Seminaries Day Offering beginning in 2002. SBTC will nominate three individuals to serve on the CCBS board, while both Richards and Wells or their designees will serve as ex-officio members of the other’s board.

CCBS agrees to limit solicitation from churches to those having made prior commitments to the school as well as churches not affiliated with SBTC. Discounted tuition will be offered to SBTC employees and staff members of member churches while SBTC will promote the college locally and to the SBC. The convention also will refer graduates to ministry positions and assist with missions and internship opportunities for students.

Since its founding 30 years ago, Criswell College for Biblical Studies has operated independently of any formal denominational ties, having been founded by First Baptist Church of Dallas. Unlike other Southern Baptist colleges, it has received no funds from any denominational agency other than designated contributions from local churches or the SBTC.

However, CCBS has maintained an explicit and unapologetic Southern Baptist identity, Wells related. All professors and administrators are required to hold membership in a Southern Baptist church. Professors and trustees annually subscribe to the school’s Articles of Faith which consist of the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted in 2000.

“CCBS played a significant role in the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention over the last generation,” Wells said, “not only by giving leadership to the movement, but by training many key leaders. While CCBS has never been a denominational school, it has been in the forefront of those whose convictional base is the evangelical faith of today’s Southern Baptist Convention.”

As representatives from both CCBS and SBTC gathered June 7 for the signing of the agreement, Wells expressed gratitude to CCBS Chancellor W.A. Criswell who “dreamed there would be established here a college that would teach the Word of God without apology as the inerrant revelation of God. We’ve done that for 30 years.”

Richards recalled that Criswell had summoned him two years ago to urge development of a relationship between the new convention and Criswell College. After hearing Wells and Richards outline the terms of the agreement, the 91-year-old Criswell responded, “Amen and glory to God.”

In preparing the rationale for affiliation with SBTC, the trustees of CCBS acknowledged that recent developments among Baptists in Texas served as impetus to consider denominational affiliation as a means to foster its historic identity and mission. “The 20-year drift of the Baptist General Convention of Texas away from the convictional base of the Southern Baptist Convention has reached a Rubicon,” the document reads. “Proposals now before the BGCT effectively establish a new Baptist denomination, and effectively remove eight colleges and universities from the Southern Baptist family in Texas.”

Trustees regard the SBTC as “the only cooperating Southern Baptist convention in the state,” emerging as an alternative for churches desiring to continue full support for the SBC. The affiliation of CCBS with SBTC offers a program of education to meet the ministry training needs of member churches, trustees noted. “At this moment in history, therefore, forces have conspired to create an opportune moment for the college to reconsider its denominational relationship.”

The school’s board anticipates that the agreement will enhance opportunities for recruiting, practical internships and program expansion. Affiliation will also build a stronger base of support among Texas churches and encourage accountability to them, the rationale declares.

Richards said the state convention’s commitment to theological accountability requires that affiliating churches and entities affirm a commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message. “Theological agreement was something that was very easy for Criswell College and Southern Baptists of Texas to come to a place of commonality.”

Through SBTC’s commitment to missiological activity, Richards said the convention wants to be an equal partner with Criswell College in the venture of educating young ministers. SBTC’s methodological approach insists on giving through the traditional historical Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was formed in November 1998 by 123 local churches in order to “facilitate, extend, and enlarge the Great Commission ministries of the SBC and Southern Baptist churches and associations in Texas, upon the authority of God’s inerrant Word, to the glory of God the Father, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit,” according to its constitution. Since its founding, the SBTC has grown to more than 800 Texas churches, with 70 percent of them uniquely affiliated with the new convention. Offices are located in Irving, Texas.

Criswell College is based in Dallas, providing bachelor’s level studies and master’s level coursework. More than 1,300 alumni serve on every continent in local churches, missions and other ministry settings.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter