The Southern Baptist Convention is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, serving over 16 million members in more than 42,000 congregations. The SBC became its own denomination in 1845 in Georgia after a regional split with the northern Baptists over multiple issues, namely slavery and missionary work. Although the SBC is still heavily concentrated in the south, it has lost some of its regional identity with 42 state conventions and member churches across the nation. The individual conversion experience is important to the SBC, which rejects infant baptism in favor of a public immersion in water. The SBC has manifested its theological perspectives in the Baptist Faith and Message, which was first written in 1925 but has been significantly revised twice, once in 1963 and again in 2000. Although the BFM is not a creed, and individual churches need not adopt it as a statement of faith, faculty in SBC-owned seminaries, such as the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, must affirm that their teachings are consistent with the BFM. The basics tenets of the BFM uphold the ideals of cooperation; a free church in a free state; the autonomy of the local church; the sanctity of life; missionary work; soul competency; and the equal participation of women in ministry. The BFM also affirms that all laypersons have the same rights as ordained ministers and can freely communicate with God, minister in the name of Christ, and interpret Scripture. Southern Baptists traditionally uphold two ordinances, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. The SBC does not mandate how often the Lord’s Super is observed, and although communion varies by congregation, it is an important and central point to the faith. As previously mentioned, Southern Baptists reject infant baptism and instead adopt Believer’s baptism, wherein candidates profess their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Baptism is only administered to individuals who have reached the “age of accountability” and choose to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, demonstrated through immersion in water. Traditionally, Southern Baptists worship in a less formal manner that does not make use of stated liturgy. Services generally include hymns, congregational prayer, choral music, reading of Scripture, a collection of offerings, and a sermon. The SBC is Congregationalist, meaning that each local church is autonomous and is not held formally accountable or responsible to higher levels of organization and authority. The SBC is a cooperative association in which churches pool resources, not a body controlled by an executive administration.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the oldest of the six seminaries connected to the Southern Baptist Convention, giving it the nickname “the mother seminary.” Founded in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina, SBTS originally had four professors and only a half dozen students who took classes in a space borrowed from Furman University. Over the years, SBTS has become one of the largest and most influential seminaries, boasting over 2,500 students by the 1970s. SBTS is supported in large part by the SBC Cooperative Program, a unified financial support system that distributes the gifts given by congregations to various Southern Baptist institutions. The SBC also nominates and elects the Board of Trustees that oversees the operations of SBTS. Since it was founded, SBTS has been celebrated for its consistently progressive outlook, defined by an overwhelming number of landmark contributions. In 1951, President McCall desegregated the SBTS campus, defying state law and making it the first SBC institution available to all individuals regardless of race. SBTS also hosted Dr. Martin Luther King during the height of the Civil Rights movement, despite many donors withholding gifts and demanding McCall’s resignation. In the 1970s and 1980s, SBTS had the largest accredited Doctor of Philosophy program in religion in the United States and was one of the first seminaries in the nation to offer the degree. SBTS was also the first seminary in the United States to teach religious education courses and is still one of the few seminaries that offers a doctorate in church music. SBTS prospered during its early years in South Carolina, but at the end of the Civil War, it still held Confederate ties and struggled to survive in Reconstruction-era Greenville. For several years, the seminary was forced to suspend classes as it sought adequate funding. Several wealthy Baptists and Kentucky business leaders helped the campus relocate in 1877 to Louisville, where it acquired a three-building downtown complex. Growing enrollment soon overwhelmed SBTS’s downtown location, and the seminary built a second new campus on a 100-acre suburban lot east of the city center. Today, this campus contains 10 beautiful Georgian academic and residential buildings and 2 housing villages for students. The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada accredited SBTS in 1938, making it one of the first seminaries in the country to receive accreditation. In 1968, SBTS also became one of the first seminaries to receive regional accreditation when it was recognized by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Currently, SBTS is divided into four main schools: the School of Theology, the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, the School of Church Ministries, and Boyce College. I am proud to have spent time studying at such an impressive institution and to have engaged with such dedicated faculty members and peers in pursuit of my Doctor of Ministry.