A Historical Perspective

One advantage of living to be an octogenarian is that one has had the privilege of living through a ton of history. I’ve gone from using the old clunker of a black carriage typewriter that I learned to type on in the 10th grade; to the sleek Smith-Corona typewriter with liquid correctional fluid or white erasure tape; to computers and word processors, with their auto-correcting features—to cite just one technology that I have seen evolve through the years. For a writer, these changes have been huge. But, in life’s big picture, there have been so many developments that have impacted humanity with incalculable consequences.

In today’s post, I want to share with anyone interested just one slice of history that I lived through—and had a unique, behind the scenes peek into—that few people living today could testify to.

I was a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis from 1965 to 1969. Ellen and I moved to Minneapolis after our August wedding in 1965, followed by a two-week honeymoon. I knew virtually no one in Minneapolis as I entered the M.Div. course of study at CBTS. I chose this seminary because I wanted to round out my education with a degree from a strong Baptist institution known for its separatist position.  Dr. R.V. Clearwaters, founder and president of the seminary, had been awarded an honorary doctorate from Bob Jones University, my undergraduate alma mater, a year or two earlier. That solidified my decision to attend Central Seminary.

Over the course of the next four years, I learned much about the battles with “new-evangelicals” that were still in progress at that time. The Minnesota Baptist Convention was a dominant factor, and Dr. Clearwaters, pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, was a principal player in the Convention. He was also chairman of the board of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota, where Dr. Myron Cederholm had succeeded the first resident president, Dr. Monroe Parker, following Dr. Parker’s resignation in 1964. Dr. Cederholm was a nationally known and respected figure, having been involved as a leader in the Conservative Baptist Association of Churches.  He was a rock-solid fundamentalist who severed his affiliations with the CBA of C because of compromise.

Ellen and I joined Fourth Baptist Church and were thoroughly blessed by the pulpit ministry of “the Doc,” as Dr. Clearwaters was affectionately known. Ellen enrolled in the Fourth Baptist Bible Institute and was one of the first seminary wives to graduate from the institute, taught primarily by seminary professors.  She received an excellent foundation for what she would need to serve as a pastor’s wife for the next 50 years. Mrs. Clearwaters met with and mentored the seminary wives, an invaluable help to Ellen and the other wives there at that time.

So, we were immersed quickly in the Minnesota Baptistic culture.  I attended seminary full-time and worked full-time, and during our four-year tenure in Minnesota, our two daughters were born in the Hennepin County North Memorial Hospital.  We were grateful to God for His guidance and leadership in our lives, for His abundant mercies and faithful provision.

I did, however, have to make some quick adjustments to the “Minnesota politics.” Coffee breaks at seminary often focused on the “who” of the day rather than the “what.” I learned quickly that it was expedient to know who stood where with the Minnesota convention and Dr. Clearwaters’ leadership, and that it was important to have the right friends. Many of my classmates had graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, a feeder school for CBTS, and they were already acclimated to the political landscape.  It was an entirely new world for me—and, at times, somewhat discouraging. I never ceased admiring Dr. Clearwaters for his adamant, unflinching  stand on principles that were Biblical, but his disposition—and sometimes apparently ruthless politics—tended to be discouraging. The same was true of some of those who followed his leadership style.

All of this is backdrop for the story that follows.  In 1968, there was talk of a serious rift between Dr. Cederholm and Dr. Clearwaters.  It boiled down to a disciplinary matter that occurred with a Pillsbury student, which eventuated in Dr. Cederholm’s involvement and ruling on the matter. He was, as noted, president of Pillsbury. Evidently, Cederholm’s ruling conflicted with how Dr. Clearwaters interpreted the matter since—because he was Chairman of the Board of Pillsbury—appeal had been made to Dr. Clearwaters for his review.  A conflict ensued, and there seemed to be an irresolvable impasse between the two leaders and their followers.

As an interested yet somewhat outside observer, I wanted to learn more about the situation, so I and another seminarian made an appointment to meet with Dr. Cedarholm and hear first-hand his version of the story. He and Mrs. Cedarholm graciously received us into their home, and the President proceeded to share with us his insights.  I cannot even remember the specifics, but returning to Minneapolis after our meeting with the Cedarholms, I knew that I was not on one side or the other; it just seemed like a matter that ought to be worked out between these two godly men.

Sadly, in the weeks following, the matter was not worked out and, wouldn’t you know, Dr. Cedarholm resigned as president of PBBC. Soon there were rumors that he would be starting a new Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin, set to open its doors in the fall of 1968! And, it did happen—to the amazement of about everyone. I have since learned that many of my Indiana brethren were ardent encouragers of Dr. Cedarholm  in his efforts to get this new school up and going.  In fact, the late Dr. Don Camp, pastor during those years of Grace Baptist Church in Anderson, Indiana, strongly urged Dr. Cedarholm to make Anderson the site of his new college. But, if one ever heard the “Maranatha Miracle Story,” as Dr. Cedarholm told it many times over, it was clear that God’s hand in the choice of Watertown was undeniable!

So, 55 years ago, because of a leadership struggle, there were in the fall of 1968 two Bible Colleges in these neighboring states—one in Owatonna, MN, which in time would close its doors, and one in Watertown, WI, which still stands strong today in training young people to serve the Lord. As a young man, I saw both the genesis of MBBC and possibly some seeds of the eventual demise of PBBC.  A historical perspective, for what it’s worth.

Takeaways: (1) It would probably be wise for the president of an institution to be given free-reign in mundane administrative matters; (2) If you are the president of an institution, it would be well to remember that you answer ultimately to the board, and telling the chairman of the board to take a walk would be, in most cases, tantamount to a professional death wish; (3) It will always be true: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: