President’s Perspective: Pillars Upon Which SCBC Stands

Our great South Carolina Baptist Convention legacy began small. On Tuesday, Dec. 4, 1821, nine delegates from three different associations met in Columbia “agreeably to a proposal and arrangement for forming a Convention of the Baptists in the State of South Carolina.” Richard Furman was elected the first president, and he was to immediately address the others. In “the good Providence of God,” this group had gathered to consider the “high concern and common interest to the Baptist Churches in this state.” Furman believed that God viewed their new work with favor, since the goals of the new organization were “connected with Immanuel’s glory.” This work was the formal constituting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

Over the next three days, these delegates joined together in prayer and worship, as well as in business. By Thursday, Dec. 6, the group of delegates had agreed upon 11 “general principles” around which they would cooperate. These principles included the official name of the convention and the qualifications for what they called “delegates” at the time. Their enduring legacy derives from the three central pillars of the new convention’s work:

“The grand objects of the Convention shall be the promotion of evangelical and useful knowledge, by means of religious education; the support of missionary service among the destitute; and the cultivation of measures promotive of the true interest of the churches of Christ in general.”

As we look toward the 200th anniversary of the SCBC, the oldest of the state conventions within the Southern Baptist Convention, we can point back to these three pillars as to why we still stand today. Education, missions and cooperation were not anything new to the churches in South Carolina. These three had been established for some time; the convention desired to unite around what had already been important to them. Oliver Hart had instilled in South Carolina Baptists the necessity of training ministers. Among the leaders Hart trained are men like Samuel Stillman, Edmund Botsford, and Richard Furman.

South Carolina Baptists caught the vision of the modern missions movement. This vision came into sharp focus upon the visit of Luther Rice. Rice was the partner to Adoniram Judson. They both set sail for India in 1812, only to be converted to Baptist doctrine on the journey. They had to forfeit their position as missionaries to the Congregationalist church in America. This meant a loss of funding. Rice returned home to resign from the Congregational churches and to appeal to the Baptists to help fund the work of Judson. Rice had some of his greatest success among the Baptists in South Carolina. He toured the state, appealing for funds to help reach the “unsaved millions in other lands.” South Carolina Baptists responded to the call. H.T. Cook correctly noted in 1921 that “the Baptists in South Carolina have an enviable reputation as a missionary minded people.”

As Furman addressed the convention, he pled with the churches that though they were “comparatively small” in number, “great things are presented” and they call for great “exertion.” He argued that “it takes some time for individual workman to build a house, or a single laborer to clear a field,” but “many hands united, give success.” South Carolina Baptists are better together, cooperating for the sake of the lost.

As the meeting closed, the delegates wanted to make one thing clear. The last of their “constitutional principles” stated emphatically that the whole work of the convention stood in “entire dependence upon Divine Grace for success.” As we approach our 200th year, the SCBC exists only because of the grace of God. The pillars that were established in the beginning are noble, they are strong, and they have lasted only because of the faithfulness of God. Over this next year, we want to embrace this legacy anew.