JACKSON (BP) – We’re celebrating our bicentennial at Union. For 200 years, Union University has stood as a model of excellence in Christian higher education. A place where learning is integrated with our faith in Christ, where it is infused with the hope of Christ, and where it is transformed by the love of Christ.
Remembering the past
From a small-town academy to one of the nation’s premier Christian universities – the story of Union University is one of faith, Christian commitment and dedication to excellence. And it is the story of how faithful people in faithful churches help sustain God’s ongoing work of educating our young people.
Union stands as a testimony to God’s faithfulness, and we remain committed to our mission of providing Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to Church and society. That’s what Union University has been about for 200 years. Many schools have come and gone. Other schools have lost their biblical bearings and drifted to the siren’s song of the wisdom of the age.
But Union remains as resolute and committed to its biblical foundation as ever. At Union, we believe God has spoken to us through the Scriptures. We believe the Bible is trustworthy, reliable and true. We believe Jesus Christ is our only hope for salvation. And we believe that pursuing him and loving him with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is what God has called us to do.
Union traces its origins to Jackson Male Academy, the forerunner of West Tennessee College, which opened on Feb. 3, 1823. Madison County had been chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1821, and its county seat, Jackson, was created in 1822. As with other frontier communities, its people immediately began to establish the types of institutions that they had left. The good people of Jackson wanted the best education possible for their children. To obtain that objective, they established “a College of high standing and extensive usefulness,” relying on the “cooperation and patronage of the citizens of West Tennessee.”
The story of Union is the story of how two institutions – West Tennessee College and Union University at Murfreesboro – merged into one college, Southwestern Baptist University, and then Southwestern Baptist University changed its name to Union University and incorporated a third college, Hall-Moody Junior College of Martin, Tenn.
God has proven Himself faithful to Union University, time and time again. Through war and peace. Through fire and storm. Through prosperity and want. Through blessing and trial.
Looking forward to the future
As we celebrate our bicentennial this academic year, Union University stands on the brink of its third century. At the same time, we find ourselves in an increasingly secular, post-Christian society that disdains many of the beliefs and convictions Union holds dear. The higher education environment has never been more competitive, and institutions like Union must be equipped with the resources necessary to successfully navigate the cultural waters in which we sail.
Despite the challenges before us, we are confident that God has great things in store for Union. As we look to the future, we see the ways God has used the university over the past 200 years, and we dream of what He will do in the days ahead.
We dream of a campus that continues to attract students from all over the world – students who come to be taught and mentored by world-class professors who are skilled at instructing their students in how to think about their subject matter through a biblical lens. We dream of providing students with state-of-the-art facilities that will equip them to be excellent in their fields. We dream of being a campus, based in West Tennessee, that is a beacon to the world and that showcases the glory and the beauty of Christ.
We dream of Union alumni who will be the hands and feet of Jesus in every context imaginable: pastors, nurses, teachers, business owners, doctors, social workers, scientists, parents, community leaders, missionaries, musicians, engineers, coaches, accountants, artists, church members, and on and on the list goes. They will join the Union alumni around the world – now 21,000 strong – who are serving the Church and society and making a difference for the kingdom of God.
Ultimately, we dream of how God will use Union University to send out an army of alumni to be salt and light to a lost and dying world – alumni who will take the Gospel with them to every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
Let us never say that we failed to dream big about what God can do through Union. Let us never say that we doubted the urgency or the importance of our mission. From now until Christ’s return, the mission of Union University will be vital and necessary in making disciples, in equipping students to serve, in supporting churches, and in reflecting and proclaiming the glory of the Lord to the world around us.
As we celebrate, we look back to what God has done in Union’s past, and we look forward with anticipation to what He will do in Union’s future.
Psalm 16:6 says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Union University does indeed have a beautiful inheritance. The Lord in His kindness has richly poured out blessing after blessing upon Union over the last two centuries. As we reflect upon God’s goodness to us, and as we dream about what God can and will do through Union in the days ahead, we pray that He will move the hearts of people during this pivotal moment in Union’s history to pray for us, to partner with us, and to help us sustain the mission of Union in the days to come.
In December 1874, a committee of Tennessee Baptists reported, “Thus far the School has more than realized our highest expectations and the future is hopeful.” Almost 150 years after that report and 200 years since our founding, we can say the same.
The minutes from that meeting go on to say something important to emphasize today, “but let us not forget that in building up the University we are laboring not for our own selves alone but for the whole Baptist denomination … and let us hope that we are laying the foundation of an institution which we hope by the blessings of God to continue for the ages to come.”
May we never forget how important it is to continue to build up this institution for the glory of God and the good of mankind.
Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.