Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why We Exist

Digging through archives can be fun and often tells us something about our roots. Recently, a staff search of archived documents included Greenville Seminary's original charter, and some words written there were instructive about why this seminary came into being.

James Henley Thornwell
Preliminarily, we noted that the April 17, 1986 charter approved by the State of South Carolina revealed a fact which many have forgotten or never knew: that this seminary was originally called James Henley Thornwell Theological Seminary. That name was commemorative of the great Southern Presbyterian theologian whose work is reflected in our present distinctives. The charter was amended in December of 1986 to change our name to Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. As Dr. Morton H. Smith mentioned during our 25th Anniversary celebration in 2012, this was done because another nearby institution, Thornwell Home for Children (formerly Thornwell Orphanage) in Clinton, S.C., used Thornwell's name and objected to our use of it. The orphanage, which opened in 1875 to care for children orphaned during the Civil War, remains open as a home and daycare center today. An associated school was closed in 2007.

More importantly, the seminary's original charter is noteworthy because of the purposes for our existence enumerated there.
"The purpose of the said corporation is to organize and maintain for religious purposes a school or schools, seminary or seminaries, or other places of instruction, and to undertake or promote Scripturally-directed learning, education and scholarly enterprises and, in particular, to establish, control and develop an institution of theological studies perpetually dedicated to the Reformed Faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Further, the said institution or institutions shall be dedicated to the promotion of Biblical and Confessional Orthodoxy."
We are well aware of other institutions that began well with similar goals but strayed in later years from their biblical and confessional foundations. Some now give only lip service to those foundations; some even make no pretense of allegiance to them. To avoid this, our trustees, faculty, students and staff diligently pray and proactively strive to be "perpetually dedicated" to our founding purposes. Formal faculty subscription to the Westminster Standards as the true statement of the doctrines of the Bible is part of that commitment to orthodoxy. These vows give no quarter to unorthodox innovation or deviation.

As President Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. stated during his 1998 Inaugural Address, “We do not view ourselves as theological innovators, but rather as guardians and defenders of the truth delivered.”

Today, nearly 28 years later, our current Academic Catalog begins with Founding Principles in three sections (beginning on p. 5) outlining our dedication to these concrete commitments. Read or download a copy of the Catalog and study the introductory sections entitled: "Theological Commitments," "Statement of Belief & Covenant," and "Statement of Purpose."

Pray with us that GPTS will be "perpetually dedicated" to the orthodox doctrines and practices of the Reformed Faith and Confessions and the Scriptures from which they spring. "This is what the LORD says, 'Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls'" — Jeremiah 6:16.