The discovery of a long, lost video of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary’s year-opening Bible conference brings us a rare glimpse into life during the early years of the seminary. The year is 1986 and Mid-America is fourteen years old. The school is in its third location and second state as it seeks to find a more permanent home. In fact, at this time Mid-America is as much of a movement within the Southern Baptist Convention as it is an institution. The denomination did not need another seminary (it already had six) but it did need a stronger emphasis on the inerrancy of Scripture, practicing personal evangelism, and carrying out the Great Commission. All of the original Mid-America faculty had teaching experience at other Southern Baptist educational institutions. Dr. B. Gray Allison not only had the experience, he also had the conviction that the Lord wanted “the right kind of seminary.” These first-generation faculty members and their families sacrificed greatly to make Mid-America happen. For them, they knew that once they joined the movement, any denominational aspirations they may have had, could well be over.
Watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/697211874
As our video opens the camera closes in on the organ loft and the brass quartet. Playing trumpet, second from left, is MDIV student Wes George, who will go on to pastor some of the most significant churches in Arkansas. The trombone on the right is played by Mike Spradlin (yours truly), in my third year as an MDIV student. I had been told by most of the important people in my life not to come to Mid-America. One college professor warned me about the leaven of the Pharisees. One pastor I served under said that he would never attend Mid-America even though Gray Allison had led him to Christ. He said I was ending my career in the SBC. Even the pastor that led me to Christ said that I was disqualifying myself from missionary service by going to Mid-America (at that time the International Mission Board would not directly appoint MABTS graduates as missionaries). Nevertheless, here I am.
The opening hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus is led by T. Huel Moseley, one of the greatest ministers of music I have ever met. As students, we loved his incredible energy and called him “Jet Fuel Moseley” behind his back. The seminary has purchased the Temple Israel building across from Bellevue Baptist Church in midtown Memphis, Tennessee and this is the setting for this worship service.
7:14 Dr. Allison calls on the Associate Pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia, Rev. Louis Satterwhite, to lead in prayer. Rev. Satterwhite is my father-in-law and encouraged me to attend Mid-America when almost everyone else counseled against it. He asked Dr. Adrian Rogers to write me an encouraging letter about Mid-America. Dr. Rogers wrote to me and said, “any church that would not want you as a pastor simply because you attended Mid-America is a church you would not want to pastor anyway.” He said I should seek the will of the Lord Jesus and follow His will wherever He led me.”
11:07 Dr. Allison mentions Sam and Connie Stallings as being in the building. They are some of the first Mid-America graduates appointed by the International Mission Board and their service will go a long way in seeing the IMB change its policy to appoint MABTS graduates directly.
14:20 The Faculty Quartet sings May God Depend on You. T. Huel Moseley is back along with Dr. Richard Melick, Professor of New Testament and Greek. Dr. Melick will go on to be President of Criswell College and be a top leader at Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary in California. Dr. Tom Nettles will go on to serve on the faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and retire as one of the most well-respected of all Southern Baptist church historians. Dr. T. V. Farris, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew was a brilliant scholar with a miraculous testimony. He survived a plane crash and pulled himself through the woods with a broken back until he was rescued. Dr. W. A. Criswell came to his bedside in the hospital to pray for his healing. I was a new faculty member when Dr. Farris died and his funeral service was one of the most powerful worship services I have ever attended. His funeral would replay in my life at a crucial moment, years later.
24:57 After Dr. John Floyd, Professor of Missions, prays Mrs. Voncille Allison sings The Ninety and Nine. As students we thought that this was her favorite hymn so it is fitting that she sings it here. As soon as she is done, Dr. Allison tells the congregation, “We don’t clap here. We say Amen.” You clap for performances and Amen for the Lord’s work. Next Dr. Allison tells the story that will become known as The Miracle of Mid-America. As students we know that theology professor Dr. Jimmy Millikin thinks the word miracle is overused by Christians and we wonder if he and Dr. Allison have ever talked about this.
1:27:00 During the signing of the Articles of Religious Belief we see Mr. Roland Maddox and Mr. Gene Howard signing as members of the Board of Trustees. Both men will serve on the Board for over forty years and will steady the school through many stormy seas.
1:38:00 Rick and Nancy Gilley sing and Rev. David Miller preaches. Here Dr. Allison calls him a young preacher. A fixture at Founders Days, Preacher Miller’s memory for Scripture is amazing and through the years he will preach some of the best sermons I have ever heard. His sermon on the local church is my personal favorite.
2:12 The evening closes with the original quartet singing The Old Ship of Zion. Young Dr. David Shackelford has replaced Johnny Jackson but Walter Davis, T. Huel Moseley, and Cary Worthington are still there to sing. Dr. Shackelford will go on to serve on faculty for over thirty years at both the Northeast and Memphis Campuses of Mid-America. In the days of this event, Dr. Shackelford grades papers for Dr. Philip Allison and he will give me a B- for one of my New Testament papers. The day I became his boss was indeed a happy one for me. Through the years at Founders Days we learn that many sacred songs about ships and stormy seas exist. We wonder if a course should be taught about the great ship songs of the faith called, Nautical Zionist Hymnology. Oh well, I guess with the change in music tastes, that ship has sailed.