28 graduate from Fruitlandby Mike Creswell
Fruitland Baptist Bible College presented diplomas or certificates to 28 graduates in a historic commencement service Dec. 13, 2013, at its Hendersonville campus.
Spirited applause broke out from the several hundred people attending when President David Horton announced this is the first group of Fruitland graduates who will have "college" on their degrees instead of "institute."
The school's name change to Fruitland Baptist Bible College was approved by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in its annual meeting in November and earlier by the convention's Board of Directors. Approvals were required because the name change required changes in both the school's constitution and the convention's by-laws.
Fruitland is owned and operated by the state convention and was established in the rolls outside Hendersonville in 1946. The school's primary funding comes from the Cooperative Program, though currently school leaders are mounting a fund-raising campaign to pay off a $1.2 million loan from the convention to construct its new 600-seat chapel and remodel the former library.
"The day the theological truths of the gospel no longer excite you is the day your ministry is useless," Scott Thompson told the graduates as he delivered the baccalaureate sermon, based on the first two chapters of First Samuel. Thompson is Fruitland's vice president for academic affairs; his message was warmly received with "amens" and frequent affirmations.
In another first, Thompson's sermon was translated into Spanish by Robert Fernandez, who leads the school's Spanish teaching program. Ten of the 28 graduates were Hispanic students who received Certificates of Christian Service.
Fruitland has offered teaching in Spanish for several years and recently has opened four Spanish satellite centers to make that teaching more accessible to North Carolina's growing Hispanic population. Some 200 Hispanic congregations are now affiliated with the Baptist State Convention and Hispanic pastors have served on the Convention's Board of Directors.
Fruitland is seeking accreditation and plans to have two new degree tracks in church planting and apologetics. The name change was part of these new initiatives, which point to a greater role for Fruitland as the school partners with the Baptist State Convention to impact lostness by leading more churches towards disciple making. Already some 800 Baptist churches in the state are served by Fruitland graduates.
Thompson told of an atheistic gathering in Australia which helps the poor and celebrates life. But, he said, emphasizing only the practical is not enough. "If theology is not important, then you have wasted your time," he told the graduates.
"If there is a unique ministry in this world, it is the Christian church, or should be," he declared. "The church should show our uniqueness and difference from an atheist church or any other church. I submit to you students you have not wasted your time studying theology, the Word of God and teaching the Word of God."
Thompson based much of his message on the prayer Hannah prayed after God granted her request to have a child; her first-born son grew up to become Samuel the prophet.
"The church should be rejoicing because of the salvation of the Lord," Thompson insisted, adding, "The salvation of the Lord is the reason we rejoice."
"The salvation of the Lord is exclusive and unique," he said, recalling how Hannah said in her prayer that there is none holy like the Lord.
Laughter erupted when Thompson said he had gotten special dispensation from the English teachers to put his point plainly: "There ain't no god like the one we got!"
More laughter followed when Fernandez announced in English, "And there ain't no Spanish translation!"
"God is not controlled by anything, ladies and gentlemen. God didn't evolve. God exists eternally. God sustains Himself. He has no needs. He needs nothing. He exists by His own power. He needs no other power. There is no God like our God," Thompson continued.
"The church of Jesus Christ can rejoice more strongly if we realize that being born again and being saved is something we cannot do," he said. "I have been born again. That was God who did that, not Scott."
"I was saved Feb. 6, 1966. I have not stopped rejoicing since," explaining that it was "Grace! Grace! Grace!" which enabled him to maintain his love for the gospel.
Thompson also expressed concern for what the graduates might face in the future. "I wonder what lions' den God may put some of you in," he said.
Despite Fruitland's plans for growth, President David Horton said earlier this year he does not foresee changing the school's purpose of helping equip local pastors with limited opportunity for formal training.
For more information, go to www.fruitland.edu