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Holding Fast the Faithful Word

By January 1, 2008June 6th, 2014No Comments

Faithful He who promised life
True is the Word He gave.
Faithful is His blessed Son,
Believing souls to save.

Holding fast the faithful Word
Holding fast the faithful Word
Until He comes again we’ll follow in His train
Holding fast the faithful Word.

On June 5, 1933, the words of this anthem rang through the auditorium of First Baptist Church in Johnson City, New York, as Baptist Bible Seminary began its first graduation ceremony. Penned by Walter Miller and Vera Stilwell, two of the twelve students graduating that day, the school hymn has served as a declaration of faith through the past seventy-five years. As Baptist Bible College experienced growth, challenges, and changes, one thing has remained the same—the faithfulness of God.

“Whenever you have this kind of anniversary, you are looking two ways,” says Jim Jeffery, president of BBC&S. “First, we need to look back and celebrate what God has done, and the second part of our seventy-fifth anniversary is looking forward.”

Looking Back

Baptist Bible Seminary began as an unaccredited school of thirty-five students and has evolved into Baptist Bible College, Graduate School, and Seminary. BBC&S now has over one thousand students and offers degrees from one-year Bible certificates to PhD’s.

A humble beginning

In 1926, as the need for a Baptist school became evident, God was preparing the hearts of spiritual leaders.

“Six people—Richard Murphy, Emery Bancroft, Arthur Wright, Mabel Thomson, Hazel Vibbard, and Elizabeth Fletcher—heard a call from God and came to the Johnson City area to minister,” wrote Arthur Bowser in his 1982 history of the school. “From divergent backgrounds, these six were now to become God’s special instruments in the founding of a fundamental separated Baptist School in New York’s southern tier.”

As Bowser told, the institution began with a business office consisting of one typewriter on a lone table, a library containing a single bookcase, four faculty members, and thirty-five students. The first class was charged only a twenty-dollar registration fee, and requirements for admission were “left to the good judgment and the spiritual discernment of the faculty.” The original staff was made up of the first president, Richard Murphy, and four full-time faculty members—Emery Bancroft, Mabel Thomson, Hazel Vibbard, and Elizabeth Fletcher. Each of the faculty was to receive a salary. But because funds were scarce, they each worked a second job. “Miss Thomson sold insurance, Miss Vibbard operated the Seminary bookstore, and Miss Fletcher spent her summers working at Montrose Bible Conference.”

A lasting impact

Because of the sacrifice of these and other faithful servants of Christ, BBC&S is still influencing students today—through relationships, classes, and God-centered learning experiences. Here, three graduates from different decades share the impact that BBC has had on their lives:

Carl Benson graduated from Baptist Bible Seminary in May 1936. Seventy-one years later, he is the earliest alumnus still living, surviving his classmates, which included James Jeremiah, former GARBC pastor and president of Cedarville University, and Robert Teachout, BBC’s first foreign missionary. Still healthy and energetic at the age of ninety-three, Mr. Benson has a unique perspective on life at the college. In a taped interview with Jeff Broderick, Mr. Benson shared the impact the school had on his life as a student. In the 1930s, BBS did not have any dormitories. Rather, students lived in apartments or homes in the area. “We had it tough,” Benson said. Regardless of how tough it was, God was at work on the campus. “Step back right now and go to Baptist Bible Seminary in the days I went there. I’m quite sure that you would have felt a presence of the Holy Spirit and a power that would have affected your life forever.”

Dr. Friedhelm Loescher, vice president for Student Development, who graduated from BBC in 1959, remarks that the relationships have been meaningful. “Some of my closest friends today are guys I met in college. Chapel is also very special. I guess I’ve been to about three thousand chapel services. The school is more than people or any one person—it’s the Lord’s work. It’s been fascinating to be a part of it. I’ve seen schools come and go, with many losing their spiritual position and conservative theology. BBC has grown, programs have changed, rules have changed, but the mission has remained the same.”

Dr. Jim Lytle, vice president for College and Graduate School Academics, graduated from BBC in 1977. He served as a professor at BBC, a pastor, and a missionary before returning in 2007. Three aspects affected Dr. Lytle as a student. “First, BBC emphasized learning and serving,” he says, explaining how this approach encouraged him to put into practice his classroom education and gain valuable ministry experience. “Second, BBC taught me to appreciate the breadth of ministry,” he adds. While a student, Dr. Lytle learned that ministry is not limited to the pastorate or missions. Rather, real ministry is making disciples, which can be done in any career. “Third, BBC is ministry focused,” Lytle says. “We were always expected to be asking, ‘Where can I use this, and how?’ ”

A commitment to its mission

In seventy-five years, over seven thousand students have graduated; thousands more have attended classes; and many students have echoed Mr. Benson’s words. Even today there is a presence of the Holy Spirit at BBC&S and a power that changes lives forever.

Since its inception, BBC&S has stood firm upon the mission of providing excellence in Biblical training to equip students for effectiveness in ministry leadership. “The fact that the school has remained strong doctrinally and our mission has not changed for seventy-five years is impressive,” President Jeffery says. “But then to say that there’s been growth in terms of students and alumni, quality of education, and accredited programs while staying focused doctrinally—to me, that is something that you look back on and say, ‘God, You have been faithful to this school.’ ”

Looking Ahead

Warren Wiersbe once said, “History ought to be a rudder to guide us, not an anchor to hold us back.” President Jeffery has been careful throughout his presidency to allow the past to direct, rather than dictate, the school’s actions. While many wonderful changes have taken place during President Jeffery’s six-year tenure, he has worked to carry on the tradition of Biblical truth. “I have the incredible responsibility to lead the administration and the trustees to ensure that the doctrine and mission remain strong.”

A visionary president

Since Jim Jeffery became president in 2001, he has instituted many positive changes. “It was my goal that every faculty member would have the best teaching tools possible, and that every classroom would be a high-tech learning environment,” he says. Under President Jeffery, every classroom on campus has been outfitted with an up-to-date personal computer, the best software available, and a video projector—all connected to a network. “A goal that I had when I came was that we would have the best and that we wouldn’t say, ‘We’re only a Bible college,’ because, to me, that demeans the mission.”

“I really wanted a handicapped accessible campus,” says Jeffrey, noting that BBC&S now has handicapped-accessible dorms, ramped parking lots, and an elevator in Jackson Hall. “I believe there are only two classrooms on campus that a person in a wheelchair couldn’t get to without assistance. I think that’s a significant landmark for us.”

President Jeffery also cares about the appearance of the campus. Improving the entranceway and grounds was important “so that people’s first impression when they come to campus is that this is a place of beauty, which reflects the Creator of beauty. If any place ought to demonstrate that, it should be on a Christian campus, especially one that is training people for ministry.” Also, the dorms have been renovated, the pond now includes a fountain, and the lower student parking lot has been paved. Still, the improvements are not complete, and Jeffery continues to plan for the future.

Future Plan

Within two years, BBC&S hopes to break ground for a large building project, to be completed in two phases. The first phase involves construction of a new student center containing a gym with basketball courts, a running track, a climbing wall, an aerobics room, and new locker rooms. This facility will also be temporarily used for chapel during the week, moving services out of the cafeteria. This will enable food service to improve.

In the second phase, the old gym will be renovated into a full auditorium for dramatic productions, chapel services, conferences, graduation ceremonies, and summer ministries such as Teen Leadership Conference and ladies’ LYFE. In the future, more classrooms, a student lounge, and the campus bookstore will be located between the new gym and the auditorium. The school also has plans to build more dormitories, renovate the old bookstore into a new music building, and construct a new graduate school facility near the seminary building.

Other improvements will be increased enrollment, improvement in distance education, and a growing commitment to training spiritual leaders. “I would like to see the school be a leader in missions, equipping missionaries for a vastly changing world. We also want to prepare pastors to teach the Word with clarity, to lead effectively, and to minister with shepherds’ hearts. We are asking, ‘What is God doing in the world? How can we partner with local churches and missions?’ and then saying, ‘Let us help you by preparing students.’ ”

President Jeffery also is concerned for the financial welfare of students. He hopes to provide more scholarship dollars so students are able to graduate with less debt. “I am more burdened about scholarships than I am about facilities. I also want to take care of our faculty and staff financially because we want to maintain the best faculty possible. What I think makes BBC great are the godly and gifted people that have served Christ on this campus.”

Although each of these improvements will take time and money, BBC&S is not worried about the cost. As the first president, Richard Murphy, wrote to his first class of students, the school will remain in “complete dependence upon the God of grace to move upon the hearts of his children to meet the needs.”

An unforgettable reminder

President Jeffery recently summed up his vision for the BBC&S student body: “When I look out over the students at chapel, I see the incredible potential for the future, and I pray, ‘God, help them to love Christ more than themselves. Help them to understand that ministry is about Your truth and grace being real in their lives and then communicating that grace to others.’ When that happens, lives are changed. And nothing is more important than glorifying God and seeing lives changed.”

Since Richard Murphy chose Titus 1:9 as the school’s motto, BBC&S has been “Holding Fast the Faithful Word.” From its inception to its anniversary, God has been faithfully blessing and prospering the school. So this year, as it celebrates seventy-five years of training students for ministry, BBC&S also celebrates seventy-five years of God’s faithfulness.

Karis Vogel is a recent graduate of Baptist Bible College in the Communications: Writing program. She currently resides in Elgin, Illinois, with her family.

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