In 1906, the year before Oklahoma was accepted into the Union, messengers from two separate Baptist conventions—one from Indian Territory and one from Oklahoma Territory—met in Shawnee to form one convention of churches for the new state. To read of that first meeting of the unified convention stirs the heartstrings. As they gathered in the Shawnee Opera House, the group stood to sing, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” For more than 100 years, this convention, perhaps more than any other in the SBC, has remained unified in purpose and cooperation.
One of the first acts of the new convention was to appoint a committee to study and recommend the founding of a college. It is fascinating that from the beginning, our forefathers desired to build a liberal arts college dedicated to preparing young people for the service of Christ in numerous disciplines. In 1910, Oklahoma Baptist University was founded on Bison Hill. Its storied history is a testimony to the providence of God and the dedication of our Baptist people.
This year, messengers from our 1,798 churches will meet on Bison Hill to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the founding of this outstanding institution of higher learning. Oklahoma Baptist University has grown from a struggling college to become one of the great Christian and Baptist universities in the nation. Young people who attend OBU leave to span the globe in many and diverse professions. Our students score high on entrance exams for post-baccalaureate work and knock the top out of tests required for certification in multiple fields.
While other Baptist and religious schools have lost their distinctively Christian and Baptist moorings, OBU has stayed lashed to her founding principles. The integration of faith and learning stands as a hallmark of our Baptist school. There is a fundamental belief that a student does not receive a full education at our school else he or she is both confronted with the claims of Christ and provided multiple opportunities to become a fully devoted follower of Christ. Developing people of deep faith and dedicated service to Christ is at the center of the OBU experience.
While OBU has been a liberal arts institution from the beginning, central to its mission is the preparation of young people who will serve the churches of Oklahoma and their greater mission to reach the world with the Gospel. The School of Christian Service produces young people ready to serve as pastors and staff for the congregations of Oklahoma. Many of these students will take the next step to attend seminary. Today, Mark McClellan—former lawyer, missionary, pastor, convention staff member and seminary professor and director—leads this school. His passion for developing leaders who have a passion for the truth of Scripture and for reaching a lost world with the Gospel is unparalleled. The school has a renewed focus on missions, expositional preaching and conservative scholarship.
It is altogether fitting that we will close our convention meeting on the OBU campus with a commissioning service for International Mission Board missionaries. OBU has produced more missionaries serving under appointment of the IMB than any other school in the nation.
David Whitlock, president, has brought a renewed focus on academic excellence while underscoring the vital mission of OBU to serve the local church. Whitlock brings a unique gift set and calling to his role of president that serves Oklahoma Baptists well. He is an outstanding academician, having served as a professor, dean and assistant provost. But he also brings the heart and theological perspective of a pastor. He was a bivocational pastor for many years. With the skill of a scholar and the heart of a pastor, Whitlock has in his first two years set a mark for academic excellence and Christian commitment anchored in our Baptist tradition.
Congratulations to the president, staff, and faculty of our Baptist university on celebrating 100 years of preparing young people for service of the Master. We are proud of you and thankful to God for the foresight of our founding fathers to begin this great work. May you forever be lashed to the Word and committed to the mission of the church of Jesus Christ until our Lord returns to call us home.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.