A common quandary for many Christians is our inability to see into the future. Things happen and we often wonder why, sometimes even questioning if God is aware of what is happening. When choosing to begin a degree at an evangelical seminary, one might imagine a peaceful prayer meeting where several individuals are assigned to step out in faith. But sometimes an evangelical seminary begins with a prayer meeting borne out of crisis.
Grace Theological Seminary has such a story, but let’s allow Professor John Teevan, our resident historian, to share the story of how our seminary in Indiana got its start.
An urgent prayer meeting held at a small brick home in Ashland, Ohio resulted in the crucial step in the founding of Grace Seminary. On June 2, 1937, Dr. J.C. Beal, editor of The Brethren Evangelist, invited the two Ashland Seminary professors who had been fired that day to his home on the one-block Fairbanks Street near the college. A number of students and staff attended, all of whom remembered that evening with gratitude for the rest of their lives.
Dean Alva J. McClain and Herman Hoyt were the two seminary professors who were released for disharmony with the arts college. The controversy was far larger than that. Seminary disputes can appear to be arcane events, but not with the Brethren. An “Open Letter from Southern California Churches”, citing nine points and specifically calling out Ashland President Dr. Charles Anspach reflected the concern among both the pastors and the people in the pews two thousand miles away.
Dr. Anspach was the new, younger, and popular president who had a mind to form Ashland College along the lines of the conservative Wheaton College in Illinois. Dr. David Plaster in his 2003 book, Finding Our Focus, A History of the Grace Brethren Church wrote that the bright and sunny days enjoyed by the young seminary in Ashland were soon, and surprisingly, followed by dark storm clouds (p99).
Two board members resigned when President Anspach modified his position and yielded to the urgencies of financial and accreditation necessities. Those two members were Dr. L.S. Bauman of the Fifth and Cherry Brethren Church of Long Beach, CA and Charles H. Ashman, senior pastor in nearby Whittier CA. Bauman had led the missionary arm of the Brethren Church since its awkward founding ‘under the trees’ during the 1900 Annual Conference of the Brethren in Winona Lake. These two men also spearheaded the Letter from Southern California Churches.
A simple approach would assume that some theological points were all that were involved. Surely there were some, mostly about teachings we would call evangelical essentials today. There were, however, other issues such as Dr. Anspach’s decision to have two different campus standards for the college and the seminary. Since the two schools were on the same campus the tension of differences were both obvious and obnoxious. Some issues cited seem negligible today, including tract distribution.
The prayer meeting itself did not include much discussion as all were convinced that something must be done to continue the biblical education for pastors and missionaries. Founding a seminary school might not have been on the agenda, but it was seen as a necessity.
Dr. Beal was known as a man of prayer and his home was a fitting place.
Dr. L.S. Bauman was known as a man of action and he wrote the first check as a gift to help start the new evangelical seminary.
There were eighteen signatures on a paper indicating sincere interest in the new seminary. Only professor M.A. Stuckey hesitated to sign as he was concerned about his position at the college. While he never did sign, there were others who signed the next day and in the days to come. As both the College and Missionary boards were meeting in Ashland that week there was both immediate surprise and much animated discussion.
On a calm June evening, 19 people joined to pray for a continuation of an education for ministry that had abruptly ended that very day with the firing of two seminary professors. Eighty-four years later Grace Seminary…and College continue to see the impact of those prayers both on campus and among the hundreds of well-prepared graduates who have served the Lord around the world.
While the history of an evangelical seminary can be fascinating, be assured that Grace Theological Seminary is most concerned with the future, your future. There continues to be a great need in our society for pastors and ministry leaders to be equipped to shepherd God’s people.
Have you felt the call to a life of ministry? No matter your season of life, we have a pathway for you to receive training. Do you want to get started and experience the present of Grace Theological Seminary? — from seminary.grace.edu