Baptist Colleges and What Might Have Been

There have been dozens and dozens of colleges and universities connected to American Baptists at one time or another. Some of these schools are still committed to Baptist principles to this day. Some of them closed their doors well before the 20th century. And a great many of these schools are still around, but many people have no idea that their roots are in the Baptist tradition. I was taking a look today at Thomas McKibbens and Kenneth Smith's The Life and Works of Morgan Edwards (Arno Press, 1980). In the section that discusses the contributions Edwards made in the founding of Rhode Island College (the first Baptist college in America, now Brown University) I was reminded of how important this school was to early American Baptist and even general American history. The following paragraph is especially noteworthy:

The founding of Brown University was one of the most significant landmarks of early Baptist history in America. The early graduates and leaders also made an indelible imprint upon American history. Since that story would require another book, we shall mention only the most prominent names and events. Both James Manning, the first president, and David Howell, the first tutor, later became members of the Continental Congress. Stephen Hopkins, a Quaker and a trustee of the college, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John Gano, pastor of the Baptist Church of New York City and a trustee, was asked by George Washington to offer prayer on the day peace with England was proclaimed (April 19, 1783). Isaac Backus, trustee of the college and a famous Baptist historian, helped to organize the Warren Association in 1769 and exerted great influence for religious liberty. Both Hezekiah Smith, pastor of the Baptist Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and a fellow of the college, and William Rogers, a member of the first graduating class and Edwards’s successor as pastor of the Baptist Church in Philadelphia, served with distinction as chaplains in the Revolutionary War. f648 The college was used as a barracks for American troops and as a hospital for French soldiers during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington visited the college in 1790 to offer thanks for its contributions to American independence. A later graduate of the college was Adoniram Judson, whose influence upon the Baptist denomination in general and the promotion of foreign missions in particular is universally recognized (The Life and Work of Morgan Edwards, p. 113).

What a tragedy that Brown University is no longer a Baptist college. What a tragedy that schools like the University of Richmond and Stetson University abandoned their Baptist roots years ago. What a tragedy that schools like Mercer University and Furman University remain Baptist in name only. What a tragedy that dozens of Baptist schools in America bought into a misguided understanding of Baptist freedom that sent them on a secular or post-Christian tailspin. What a shame.

Praise God for those Baptist schools that have never strayed from their gospel (which means genuinely Baptist) roots. Praise God for those Baptist schools that have been returned to their conservative roots in the last 20 years. And pray to God that as the battles rage in state Baptist conventions, that we would not lose any more of our schools to the prestige of the world but the hatred of God's word and his church.

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