LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–On Oct. 1, 1859, four young professors and nine students met for the first day of class when Southern Baptist Theological Seminary opened its doors in Greenville, S.C.
One hundred and fifty years later, the seminary ministers in Louisville, Ky., where it moved in 1877. The institution’s faculty now numbers in the hundreds; its student body, well over 4,000.
In a service marking the seminary’s sesquicentennial anniversary June 24 at Alumni Memorial Chapel, President R. Albert Mohler Jr., said the school’s founders James Petigru Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly Jr. and William Williams would be pleased to see their founding vision alive and well in 2009. They would see it as a testimony to God’s sustaining grace, he said.
“In the year 2009, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary stands as one of the leading theological institutions in the world, one of the largest theological institutions in the history of the Christian church, and one of the most venerable and respected institutions of the evangelical world,” Mohler said.
“All of this comes by the grace and mercy of God. A smiling providence marks this school’s celebration of such a consequential anniversary,” Mohler added. “We are a generation most blessed and most grateful.”
The seminary is thriving as a bastion of evangelical orthodoxy even though it was captive to liberal theology for much of the 20th century, Mohler said, noting that it stands as a living illustration of Hebrews 11:1-2: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.”
“Looking backward, we trace Southern Seminary’s history, not only to 1859 or 1845 [the founding year of the Southern Baptist Convention], but to the eternal purposes and assured promises of God,” Mohler said.
“The hopes of those who founded Southern Seminary were hopes worthy of the people of God,” Mohler said. “They trusted God to fulfill His promises to His church, and they established this school in order that those promises might be realized in the faithful ministries of those who would serve the church.”
The 150th celebration provides an opportunity for Southern to commit itself afresh to the vision, convictions, passions and pledges that brought the school into existence, Mohler added.
“Given the scope of opportunities now before us, we must be even more fervently committed to the Great Commission and the task of reaching the world with the Gospel,” he said.
“We must inspire a new generation with passion for evangelism and the joy of seeing men and women come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must train a new generation in the glad calling of the ministry and in the central tasks of preaching and teaching the Word of God.
“We must train this generation to rightly divide the Word of truth and arm them to serve without the compromise of truth or integrity. We must strive to prepare a generation to be sensitive shepherds of the flock of God who are also warriors of the Spirit and soldiers of the cross.”
During the celebration, the seminary honored its seventh president, Duke McCall, by naming its newest campus building the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion.
“I wish all those present here to know that the board of trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recognizing the contribution of Duke K. McCall as the president of this institution for three decades, hereby designates the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion in honor of Dr. Duke McCall and on the occasion of the seminary’s 150th anniversary,” Mohler said during the dedication ceremony in Alumni Memorial Chapel.
Mohler presented McCall, 95, with a certificate to commemorate the occasion, and gave his wife Wynonna a replica of the oil painting of her husband that hangs in the pavilion.
McCall served as Southern’s president from 1951-82 after serving as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Upon his retirement from Southern Seminary, McCall served as president of the Baptist World Alliance in 1982.
“I am both surprised and grateful for this high honor,” McCall said. “I am delighted that this occasion is linked into and seen as a part of the sesquicentennial year of Southern Seminary. A hundred and fifty years of service is a cause for some pride and wonder.
“Not many institutions last for 150 years, whether they be business or academic or otherwise,” McCall added. “Only a relative few such human organizations last 150 years.”
Even though leaders and graduates from different eras in the seminary’s history have differed on points of theology, McCall asked for all Southern alumni and friends to rally around the seminary for its 150th birthday.
“I ask that,” he said, “because there have been diverse currents running through our community and fellowship. We do not always agree with each other on everything, but what I call upon us to recognize is that the hand of God is upon this institution and those with responsibility for her and that we acknowledge that and say, ‘We will continue our own convictions as they diverge from one another. But we will stand together in one common commitment in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.'”
Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.