The South Carolina Baptist State Convention became the first Baptist convention in the South when it was founded in 1821 at First Baptist Church, Columbia, under the leadership of Richard Furman. The convention headquarters was still in Columbia as of 2004. From the beginning, the convention followed an organizational form brought to the state from Philadelphia by the Baptist minister Oliver Hart. In 2004 there were approximately two thousand churches affiliated with, but not governed by, the convention. Most, but not all, affiliated churches were also members of the Southern Baptist Convention and local associations of Baptists. Identification with any of these bodies was primarily to facilitate cooperation in missions and ministry, and not ecclesiastical control. Messengers, appointed members of affiliate churches who can be either clergy or laypersons and who are free to vote their own convictions at convention meetings, convene annually to do business and debate resolutions of contemporary importance.
Through the contribution of funds, member churches of the S.C. Baptist Convention engaged in missions and shared in the work of seven institutions. In 2004 the list of institutions included three colleges: Anderson College (Anderson, 1911), Charleston Southern University (Charleston, 1964), and North Greenville College (Tigerville, 1892). Previously, from its founding until 1990, Furman University was also associated with the convention. In addition to the colleges, the convention operated Connie Maxwell Children’s Home (Greenwood, 1892), and through the South Carolina Baptist Ministries for the Aging, it supports two facilities for the elderly: Bethea Baptist Retirement Community and Health Center in Darlington; and Martha Franks Retirement Center in Laurens. A newspaper, the Baptist Courier (Greenville, 1869), and the South Carolina Baptist Foundation are also operated by the convention. Each institution has its own board of trustees, which are appointed by the convention. Other ministries of the convention include a variety of evangelistic programs, the camps LaVida and McCall for children, White Oak Conference Center, various college ministries, the distribution of spiritual and practical resources, assistance in “church planting,” résumé services for ministers, migrant and other social ministries, and internship programs.
The historical significance of the South Carolina Baptist State Convention in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention and other state conventions should not be ignored. Major architects of Baptist life in America—Oliver Hart, Richard Furman, Basil Manly, and William Bullein Johnson, among others—did their creative work in South Carolina. Here, national models for sending missionaries and providing education for clergy were developed. In South Carolina the state convention that became the paradigm for all others in the South was so strong and stable that it was virtually unscathed by nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Baptist controversies that were quite destructive elsewhere—the anti- mission controversy, the Landmark controversy, and the Whitsitt controversy. Indeed, not until the fundamentalist controversy of the late twentieth century, which resulted in the formation of the South Carolina Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in response to growing fundamentalism among convention leadership, was there a major division, and even that did not result in significant decline in convention membership.
Baker, Robert A. “The Contributions of South Carolina Baptists to the Rise and Development of the Southern Baptist Convention.” Baptist History and Heritage 17 (July 1982): 2–9.
Clayton, J. Glenn. “South Carolina Shapers of Southern Baptists.” Baptist History and Heritage 17 (July 1982): 10–19.
South Carolina Baptist Convention. http://www.scbaptist.org.