|We Missouri Baptists have witnessed numerous forms of debate, struggle, conflict and disunity within our Convention over the past several years. Some issues have been enormous and others were perhaps not so urgent in the light of eternity. Even now, on an annual basis, we continue to struggle with the “breakaway agencies” that decided to ignore both the will and the authority of the Convention to pursue each institution’s own vision, goals and direction. Missouri Baptists vehemently disagreed with their decision and voiced this through votes time and time again, but the agencies have nevertheless defended their right to do so. In 2010, Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG) approached the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) with its own vision and sought approval for it. There was disagreement, but unlike previous years, there was no disunity.|
The nearly 1,500 attendees of the convention in Springfield witnessed something unexpected – an agency that was more concerned with what the messengers thought than what the trustees and administration had planned. Although some messengers may have voiced concern over HLG’s direction, these concerns were quickly addressed when solidarity and unity were chosen over preference, even when the messengers opted not to support the specifics of HLG’s own vision.
The event that saw Hannibal-LaGrange College become Hannibal-LaGrange University is not only a lesson in Southern Baptist polity, but in genuine Christianity. I, like every other Missouri Baptist in Springfield, had a conviction, or at least an opinion. However, one’s view of the name change was quickly upstaged, not by an amendment, nor by a debate, nor by a vote or tally, or a passionate speech, but rather by a compromise reached in the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, it was an act of both benevolence and cohesion. No doubt, the name HLG University had been considered previously by the trustees and administration and University of Hannibal was the favored direction. Without a doubt, President Burt’s biblical reaction made it clear that the name was the secondary issue and that moving forward with the school’s future mission for Christ was the primary concern.
Plainly, the “ball is in the court” of the MBC, so to speak. Now is our time to reciprocate by responding biblically. The next “right move” is to demonstrate our solidarity with the University and to genuinely thank our Lord that Missouri Baptists can still depend on a system that has proven itself worthy over centuries. More specifically, Missouri Baptists should applaud and support an institution that cares more about its relationship with Missouri Baptists than its own preferential vision.
The name change was a personal issue for me, as both a teacher and an alumnus of the institution. HLG was used by God to change my life. When I entered the campus as a freshman in 1990, I did not know the difference between a theological liberal or conservative. Many Christian schools devoured such students by attempting to “enlighten” them through modern teachings. However, what I learned under the instruction of HLG’s professors in theology and in life literally brought me to where I am today. Since the early 90s, HLG has only grown more committed to God’s Word, the furtherance of His Kingdom, the training of young men and women with “Knowledge for Service” and, of course, to the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Few other institutions are as worthy of credit, admiration and support as is HLG University. The reality that God blesses humility gives us all reason to believe that a bright future lies ahead. Now is the time for MBC churches to “step up to the plate” for HLGU. Burt and the trustees demonstrated that the future of the University and the future of the Convention are inseparable. What follows should not just be appreciation, but an urgency to join in on what God has been doing through this institution for over 152 plus years.
JEFFREY BROWN / Associate Professor of Christian Studies, Hannibal-LaGrange University