"Christ would have been more honoured by us": a word to Ontario Baptists about theological education

The history of theological education by and for Baptists in this province of Ontario makes for a fascinating story. By the grace of God an overview of this history will form a chapter of a forthcoming book I am planning on seven vital reasons why Baptists need to be deeply acquainted with their history.


In essence, I am convinced that in addition to the much good that has been achieved through Baptist schools in the past 180 years (the first school was actually in Montreal, Canada Baptist College, from 1838 to 1849), some major mistakes have been made that have hurt the Baptist cause here tremendously.


One of the most significant mistakes—and it is still a major problem—goes all the way back to that first school in Montreal: the failure of Baptists to provide financial support for their theological institutions. One of the major reasons why the school in Montreal closed was the lack of support from Baptists in Canada West (the name of Ontario before Confederation). As one Baptist leader said in 1853 about the negative impact that rugged individualism had had upon early Baptist life in Ontario:


“Had the Baptist of Canada laid aside their mutual jealousies at an earlier day, and concentrated their strength in aggressive movements upon the domains of sin and error, not only would our denominational statistics have reached a higher figure, but what is of infinitely more importance, Christ would have been more honoured by us…”[1]


Then there was the Canadian Literary Institute in Woodstock. The school grew to a peak of 253 students by 1874 and was enormously influential in giving shape and cohesion to the Baptist cause in Ontario—some of its key leaders like E.W. Dadson (1845-1900) and its first overseas missionaries, John McLaurin (d.1912) and Americus Vespucius Timpany (1840-1885) came from the school. But it took a heavy toll on the Principal, R.A. Fyfe (1816–1878)—that remarkable Scottish-Canadian Baptist leader, who might well be called Mr. Baptist.


Every school year between 1861 and his death in 1878 from diabetic complications Fyfe regularly taught six hours a day, five days a week. On Sundays he never declined an opportunity to preach and conduct Sunday School classes. And in the summers he would travel the length of the province raising funds for the school. In the entire seventeen years that he was principal he only took two vacations and all but worked himself to death.


And why? Far too many of the churches failed to see the vital necessity of theological education for their existence. It was all too easy to let others support the school or go to the United States for men. Not much has changed in the past 140 years! Baptist causes and churches here in Ontario still have the same mind-set.


What I am about to write may not be well received by some Ontario Baptist pastors and leaders who will read this, but let the chips fall where they may! If you are a Baptist leader in this province and have any interest in the larger cause of Christ and the health of Baptist churches in this province, you need to be ashamed of yourself if you are not making sure your church is behind the financial support of solid conservative Baptist seminaries in this province. And I am, of course, very biased with regard to such seminaries; for me, Toronto Baptist Seminary heads the list.


It amazes me that Baptist churches in this province who are deeply concerned about the advance of the Kingdom of Christ are so utterly blind to this vital issue. To be sure, they want Christian leaders, but they are not willing to put their money where their desires are. It is all too easy to let others do the hard work of financial support. And the reality is that theological education cannot be all that it aspires to be.


And don’t retreat—in Hyper-Calvinistic fashion—to saying that keeping theological schools needy keeps them near the Lord! The words of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) when confronted by the refusal of Baptists to engage in missions are my words to you: God will do this work of theological education but he will do it by means of others who are more faithful in this than you!


Brother, you need to repent, and do the works befitting a leader of a local Baptist church! Remember 2 Timothy 2:2!

[1] “Regular Baptist Missionary Society”, The Christian Observer, 3, No.11 (November 1853), 168.