The first amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When you consider the freedom of religion that we have (particularly in light of recent Supreme Court decisions) there are some people we should be thankful for.  Certainly, the founders of our country like Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence, come to mind.  Jefferson also believed the Constitution should include a Bill of Rights for the citizens of the new country.  But he is not the only one we should thank.

We should also be thankful for a man much less well-known—John Leland.  Leland was a Baptist pastor from Virginia who argued for religious liberty in the new country.  Leland even wrote to George Washington about the topic of religious liberty.  Leland and other Baptists were so adamant concerning the new Constitution’s lack of specificity on the issue of religious liberty that he organized Baptists against its ratification.  Finally, Leland convinced James Madison, a representative from Virginia to make religious liberty and indeed an entire Bill of Rights a plank within the new Constitution.  Upon ratification, Madison introduced 10 amendments which formed the basis for our current Bill of Rights and the first amendment above.

Leland, a Baptist, played a significant role in guaranteeing religious freedom for our infant country more than 200 years ago.  Leland believed:

(1)that the rights of conscience are inalienable, not subject to either government permission or restriction; (2) that the establishment of religion by law always damages religion; and (3) that the real motives for establishment are not to benefit religion but to buttress the power of civil rulers and augment the purses of ambitious clergy.[1]

Would that more Baptists, Christians, and U.S. citizens today understood the beautiful privilege and glorious responsibility of religious freedom found in our nation.  Thank God for men like John Leland who spoke up for religious liberty.  And thank God for founding leaders like Jefferson and Madison who listened to the voice of the people.

[1] McBeth, H. Leon, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, Broadman, 1987), 274.

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It’s kind of hard for me to believe, but my Fruitland experience goes back 22 years. It was the summer of 1999, and I was 19. Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (has since been renamed Fruitland Baptist Bible College) was an excellent beginning choice for my higher education. My connection with Fruitland began even before my birth. My uncle James Hefner, also a Southern Baptist pastor, went to Fruitland in the 1960s. When my brother Robert and I, announced our call to vocational ministry, we chose to attend Fruitland because of our family connections, appreciation for faculty such as Dr. Kenneth Ridings and Randy Kilby, and because of its tuition affordability. That decision turned out to be life changing. 

One of greatest benefits of FBBC is the practical theology of its educational curriculum. Most of the faculty are part-time and most were or have been in full-time Christian ministry. Professors who are also pastors help the courses to be both academically sound and ministerially applicable. Students learn first-hand about pastoral ministry. 

My two years at Fruitland introduced me to mentors and professors whose influence continues in my life. As a student, the camaraderie and theological development alongside other students shaped my perspectives and practices. As for academics, the lessons of studying, reading, researching, and writing I learned at Fruitland formed the foundation for my academic endeavors all the way to my Ph.D. studies. 

Fruitland became life changing for me in more ways than academics. Fruitland is nestled in Hendersonville, NC, and while a student, I began an internship at Mud Creek Baptist Church where several members of the pastoral staff taught at Fruitland. The opportunity to learn academically while serving ministerially in part-time and then full-time ministry formed my ministry philosophy. Because of my connection to Fruitland as a student and through fellow pastors, I had the opportunity to substitute in a variety of classes and grew to love Fruitland not just for the education it provided, but for the opportunity to share what I had learned with others. 

Currently, I serve as a professor at Fruitland (Western Civilization, online and Theology, on campus). Having also taught Apologetics, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the impact Fruitland has on students and NC Baptists. It is an honor to look aspiring minsters in the eye and participate in shaping their academic development and ministerial philosophy. 

As a student I didn’t fully appreciated the connection between Fruitland and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, but now I do. Because Fruitland is an entity of the BSCNC, tuition costs have remained affordable. This was one of the primary reasons I attended Fruitland and is a factor for many current students. As an NC Baptist, I want to take this opportunity to thank my fellow NC Baptists and convention leadership for their continued investment in FBBC. I don’t know where I would be without the academic foundation it provided and the opportunities it offered.

NC Baptists, when you give, you support a school that trains ministers to have a high view of biblical authority.  When you give, you provide for the education and development of pastors who will do kingdom work for decades to come.  When you give, students learn how to communicate the unchanging gospel to an ever-changing culture. When you give, you help students develop their ministry philosophy that will impact eternity. 

For me, Fruitland is more than an entity of NC Baptists. Fruitland Baptist Bible College is the ministry lifeblood for Baptists across North and South Carolina. 

To the faculty at Fruitland, thank you for investing in the lives of students who will go on to be pastors, missionaries, and denominational leaders. 

To the leadership at the BSCNC, thank you for your continued support for FBBC to remain an academic and ministerial foundation for NC Baptists. 

To NC Baptists, thank you for giving. Your giving influences kingdom work right here in our state and throughout the world. 

This article was originally posted here for the Biblical Recorder, the Baptist paper for North Carolina. Find more information here about how to subscribe to the Biblical Recorder and get more stories like this one each month.

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