It is not generally known that foreign missions is the cause for Baptists being in higher education. Years ago, several missionaries who had recently become Baptists found themselves in a foreign country without support. It was decided that one would return to this country and seek support. Luther Rice was chosen as the man and he came back to America to go up and down the Atlantic seaboard, challenging the various Baptist churches to support Adoniram Judson and others in Burma. The weight of his message was, “Organizing yourself into association and start colleges to train missionaries.” Much of his preaching was done in South Carolina, and so it is not surprising that the oldest Baptist college in the South is Furman University, and that the oldest association in the South is the Charleston Association.
To be sure, other Baptist colleges in the South were started at different times and with different motives, but always there is a similarity. North Greenville was started by a group of men in the North Greenville Association. Perhaps the best known quotation in connection with the founding of North Greenville is that made by Dr. M. L. West on October 14, 1891, at the meeting of the North Greenville Association in Marietta. In thinking of the need for a school, Dr. West said, “We can have a school of high grade equal to any in the country.” The next year North Greenville opened its doors to its first class.
But there are sincere people among us who will admit that all of this may be true, and that there was a time when we needed Baptist colleges, but who wonder if these colleges have not outlived their usefulness. It is not unusual to hear some influential Baptist say that all of our education can now be done in the state schools. Those who work close to Christian schools know that never in the history of our country were they more needed than now. In fact, the very struggle for their survival is proof that they are needed more than ever. If their existence was easy, there would perhaps be less need for them.
What can a Christian college give that cannot be given at a state school? Is not education itself all that we are after? And is there such a thing as education in a secular atmosphere and education in a Christian atmosphere? This is the earnest question in the minds of many Baptists today. To be sure, there is an enormous difference. Every professor teaches in two ways: directly and indirectly. He teaches his subject matter directly, but indirectly he teaches what he is! When a large group of Christian teachers are gathered in one place, and the entire atmosphere in one place, and the entire atmosphere of this place is Christ-honoring, then the indirect teaching is much more effective. This does not mean that he has to preach instead of teaching his subject. It means that he teaches his subject in an atmosphere that is more conducive to learning. Baptists are in higher education because someone needs to send Christians out into society to be a leavening influence, and no institution can bring young people to a Christian maturity quite like a Christian college.
Article written by Dr. T. L. Neely for the Spring 1968 issue of the North Greenville Junior College Alumni Magazine.