Over My Shoulder, Part 1

Part 1: Pre-Bible College Days

Editorial Note: As the late Dr. L.C. Johnson prepared to step down from his long tenure as president of Welch College (then Free Will Baptist Bible College), Contact magazine asked him to write a five-part series of articles. In these short accounts, Johnson traced God’s hand in forming, building, and keeping the denominational college.

The Free Will Baptist denomination has a very checkered history. Merger with Northern Baptists in 1910 left the denomination fragmented. Even though the southern branch of the denomination was not directly impacted by this merger, I feel certain that the effects of it were felt in non-obvious ways.

From 1910 until 1935, no national organizational structure unified the churches that refused to take part in the merger. What organizational structure existed was local, which in most instances, meant any projects of a denominational nature were doomed to failure because the strength of the local structure was most often very weak.

To illustrate this point: during the years in question several educational efforts had local sponsorship. But because of the weak base of support these educational efforts had, they all failed to survive. During this period, the lack of trained leadership began to take its toll.

Also during this same period, other denominations began making great strides to establish colleges and seminaries, turn out leadership, and build great churches. Free Will Baptists, in contrast, had no training institutions. Any young man receiving training for the ministry had to look to other denominational schools for training. And many ended up finding a place of service within the denomination that trained them.

A spirit of hopelessness became our greatest enemy during those lean years. After a number of educational failures and instances when other denominations preyed upon our churches and siphoned off many into their movements, we reached a point where the main ministerial force of our denomination was comprised of older men who could not meet the pastoral needs of our churches due to their age and a changing society.

However, God gave us enough men of vision who realized we must have a denominational structure to pull together all the isolated pockets of Free Will Baptist churches into a united, working force. Thus, the National Association of Free Will Baptists was born in 1935.

A new wave of hope swept our denomination and out of that encouragement, movements were set in motion to undertake an educational program on a national level. While it took a number of years for this hope to be realized, the beginning of any movement stems from a spirit of hopefulness and some individuals who dedicate themselves to the realization of that hope.

L.C. Johnson, president, Free Will Baptist Bible College
(Adapted from Contact magazine, January 1979, page 31.)