Staying True for a Century

–Winter of 2000

Staying True for a Century

In 1899 General William Booth of the Salvation Army made the following prediction about the Twentieth Century: “I’m of the opinion that the dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”

I don’t believe anyone who has kept abreast of mainstream Protestantism in America would argue with the accuracy of General Booth’s prophecy.  The truth is that many Protestant denominations have drifted much further into apostasy than even General Booth predicted.

But it is also true that there are churches, organizations, institutions and individuals who have held true to vital Christianity and the fundamentals of the faith.  It would be a profitable study to trace the road to apostasy and ruin that so many have taken.  However, I believe it to be an even more profitable study to trace the steps of those who have remained true over the years.

God’s Bible School and College is celebrating 100 years of service to the holiness movement this year.  For 100 years this school has remained true to its original mission, purpose and doctrinal statement.  That is, indeed, a great accomplishment!  The question I’ve asked myself so many times is how and why did this institution stay the course for 100 years?  As I’ve given it some thought, I believe there are five basic reasons why GBS has remained true to its God-given assignment over this last century.

God has retained ownership

When Martin Wells Knapp purchased the original property, he had the deed made out to “God the Father.”  The early camp advertisements listed the workers as “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.”  Some of the earliest school brochures listed the superintendent of the school as “God the Father.”  The earliest mission statement read, “This is a home for God’s children where they may come and find His will and then equip for His service.”  This language was not the mere spiritual prattle of a group of religious fools touting their piety.  They meant every word of it!  From the earliest days to this very day, there has been on this campus a keen sense of God’s ownership of this institution.

I well remember early in my presidency how God taught me a lesson that that was His school.  I found out from the business office on Wednesday that the following Monday we would have to have around $88,000 by 5:00 p.m.  The daily cash sheet showed that we had around $2,000 in the bank.  We were in the heart of the summer slump, and I had no idea what to do.  When the men left my office, I walked out from behind my desk, got down on my knees before God with the intention of praying and fasting through the noon hour.  No sooner had my knee touched the rug than God spoke, saying, “Stand still and see My salvation.  Get up from here, go home, wash your face and lighten your countenance.  I’m going to meet this need and show you this is My school.”  God did exactly that.  Before Monday at 5:00 p.m. every penny of that money was in our hands.  I couldn’t tell you the times that I’ve received a note from a faithful constituent telling me that God spoke to them about giving a particular amount to the school and it would be just exactly what we needed to meet a need.

There are events in our history that were not God-ordained or God-honored.  The foolishness of men brought the school down to the very brink of closure.  As a matter of fact, the courts had already appointed an officer to liquidate the assets and close the doors.  But God had other plans and He gave saintly Sister Peabody the promise of Joshua 1:3 while in prayer.  She left her room and started walking the campus, reclaiming it for God.  The rest is history.  During those dark days God kept doing His work on campus, turning out students like Jewel Stetler, Grover Blankenship, Arthur Travis, Earl Weddle, Wingrove Taylor, Paul Lucas and Arnie Sypolt, along with some of the largest classes in the school’s history.

Those who have been involved in the life of this institution over the past 100 years would agree that there has been an unusual sense of God’s ownership and presence on this campus.

GBS has been able to maintain a balance between an emphasis upon spiritual life and academic excellence

There is probably no other school comparable in size that has turned out more preachers and missionaries who are clearly marked by an emphasis upon prayer, faith and the leadership of the Holy Spirit than GBS.  In interview after interview, GBS students will tell you about miraculous answers to prayer while here on this campus and in the years that followed through their ministry.  They will talk to you about an emphasis upon faith that they learned here as a student.  They will share stories of the leadership of the Holy Spirit that brought them here, that kept them here and sent them forth.  They reflect upon their student days as a time when they were instructed as well as mentored in what a real vital prayer life should be, how to discern the voice of the Spirit and how to have faith for the smallest necessities of life.  Our students are interested in homiletics, but they are also challenged and shown what it means to wrap their heart around a text of Scripture and let it burn until the congregation knows their heart is on fire.  They are trained to take certain tools and exegete a particular passage, but they also must know what it means to get into the Word of God until they meet the Living Word.  They know the value of training their voice so as to sing in an acceptable manner, but they also know the value of preparing their heart until when they sing, they do so with the anointing of the Lord.

GBS has always had a staff and faculty that saw the advancement of God’s cause more important than their own material gain

In the early days of the school, no one received a salary.  And since the days that salaries began, no one has ever been remunerated their real worth.  Faculty and staff who have gathered here on this Hilltop have had one unifying conviction, namely, God called them here and God would provide for their needs.  When I look back over 100 years and see all the thousands of students that have been trained by such a sacrificial faculty, I recall the words of Winston Churchill when he said, “Never in the course of history has so much been owed by so many to so few.”  Those words are so true when you think of the faculty and staff who have labored here for so little.  They gave themselves to something that was bigger than their own personal needs and God has used their commitment to keep this institution on course.  Probably there is no greater reason for the continuation of this school than its godly faculty and staff.

GBS has been able to preserve its core identity

The leadership of this institution has had the ability to understand who we are and why we exist.  The school has been able to change without changing.  GBS is a Bible college in the holiness tradition and has been for 100 years.  Many things have changed on this Hilltop—facilities, programs and methods of operation—but our core identity and values are the same as they were 100 years ago.

I believe there are three reasons we’ve been able to maintain our core identity: The first is, at the heart of every degree is a solid Bible core.  That has not changed and will not change.  Second, GBS has always been strong in its emphasis on solid Wesleyan theology, particularly from a systematic approach.  A systematic theology class here is not a class that tosses out a number of ideas about God and allows students to choose the theory they prefer.  Nor is it a class to guide them into what they want to think about God.  It is a class on what they should think about God.  It has been the philosophy of the theology teachers here over the years, particularly Dr. Wilcox, that there is a body of truth that needed to be imparted to young preachers and theologians, and it was the job of the teacher to impart that body of truth.  Some have called it mastering the minimum.  Consequently, GBS graduates have left here with an outstanding grasp of what Wesleyan theology is all about.  Some have ridiculed that approach and said GBS just turned out cookie-cutter preachers who didn’t know how to think for themselves.  To the contrary, I accept that ridicule as a compliment.  GBS has consistently turned out more holiness preachers than any other school, hands down.  Another interesting fact that has been the result of this emphasis is that GBS has had an unbelievably low attrition rate into denominations of other theological persuasions.  GBS has sent pastors into all sorts of denominations within the Methodist and Wesleyan tradition, but hardly any have filtered into non-Wesleyan denominations.  When a student left GBS, they left an adherent of holiness doctrine.  The final reason is that GBS has always had a faculty and staff that role modeled and mentored the students in holiness ethics, values and lifestyle issues.

GBS has been able to remain focused because it has consistently promoted personal evangelism as the very heart of the Christian life

No one has ever remained a student at this school for four years without being confronted with the claims and the cause of personal evangelism.  The unique location of GBS in Cincinnati and at the heart of the holiness movement has kept it at the forefront of outreach in many areas.  Those students in the early days well remember the street meetings, the home visitation teams, marching down the street with placards and meeting in Cincinnati Gardens for mass evangelistic campaigns.  They remember loading up a large truck and going out for personal work, the old Salvation Boat, Thanksgiving dinners, and the G.I.’s of the Cross.  More recent students remember the inner city missions, the traveling quartets and gospel teams, street meetings, Good News Clubs, personal witnessing teams, jail ministry teams and home Bible studies.  President Standley is probably the one most responsible for breathing a passion for personal evangelism into the very fabric of GBS.  That passion lives on!  If you visited our campus this week you would still witness students going out in any of a half dozen ministries, sharing the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

I don’t have the prophetic ability or the clear eye of a General Booth to tell you what the Twenty-First Century holds.  But I do know this, by the grace of God, I want to stay focused on what really matters so that when the Twenty-Second Century rolls around, whoever is writing on the President’s Page can look back and say that GBS is still true to the faith after 200 years.

2 thoughts on “Staying True for a Century

  1. Dr. Avery,
    We drove past Spring Grove Cemetery this past week and I mentioned to Philip that I thought Martin Wells Knapp was buried there. I’ve searched most of the afternoon trying to find out if this is correct and wondered if you could help me. It looks as though some other professors from GBS are buried there. Thank you for any help.

  2. Hi, Marianne,

    Yes, Martin Wells Knapp is buried there. The experts on the various connections between Spring Grove Cemetery and GBS are Rev. Larry Smith and Mr. Kevin Moser. They have both been to the grave of Rev. Knapp, and I believe Mr. Moser has a map with a route designating where the various points of interest are in the cemetery.

    Blessings,
    Mike Avery

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