As much as any other word, vision captures the 300-year spirit of Baptists in South Carolina, the 181-year spirit of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and the future of Baptist work in the Palmetto State. The Bible calls for Christians to have vision. In Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people fall away."
In 1696, William Screven of Kittery, Maine had a vision for religious freedom when he uprooted a small congregation and moved them to South Carolina's Low Country. From that move came the First Baptist Church of Charleston, the mother of Baptist churches in the South.
In 1751, Oliver Hart, pastor of the Charleston church, had a vision of churches joining members and resources to reach pioneer settlements and Native Americans for Jesus Christ. That led to the organization of the Charleston Baptist Association, the South's first cooperative association.
In 1759, Philip Mulkey, a Separate Baptist, had a vision to move from North Carolina to South Carolina on a mission to start new churches. These "New Lights," known for their urgency for evangelism, spread across the Upstate of South Carolina and founded churches in many communities.
Led to Christ by a Separate minister - Joseph Reese - in 1771, Richard Furman joined Oliver Hart in the Charleston area in a vision to petition for religious freedom from Anglican Church. After the war, Furman's vision for missions and education led to a love for foreign missions and educational opportunities for pastors. In 1821, Furman's vision for statewide cooperation between churches led to a "convention plan," pulling three state associations together under which all benevolent causes could operate. That year, South Carolina Baptist Convention was organized at First Baptist Church, Columbia. It was the first Baptist Convention in the South.
In 1811, Hepzibah Jenkins Townsend's vision for women to be organized in an effort to support missions, led the Wadmalaw and Edisto Female Mite Society - the South's first - on Edisto Island. In ovens there, the women baked bread, which was sold to raise money for foreign missions already supported by Furman.
In 1845, William Bullein Johnson, present at the organization of South Carolina Baptist Convention, took Furman's plan to Augusta, Ga., the site of a "consultative convention" to discuss a cooperative organization of Baptist churches in the South. Johnson's vision for this organization was supported in the adoption of 12 of 13 articles in Furman's plan. Johnson was elected the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 1875, the women of South Carolina - led, in part, by Martha McIntosh - had a vision for organizing missionary and mite societies into a statewide women's missions organization. The Central Committee of the Baptist Woman's Missions Societies (Woman's Missionary Union) was launched at Welsh Neck Baptist Church in Society Hill.
During the past 100 years, many South Carolinians have seized upon the vision of early shapers. These men and women worked to create Baptist colleges and universities, retirement centers, a multi-use conference center, a children's home, a foundation, a statewide Baptist newspaper, resort ministries, camps for boys and girls, missions partnerships, and innovative programs and strategies for church growth.
During this century of growth, South Carolina Baptists began focusing on the local church and its role in reaching the unsaved and unchurched. In 1992, a new vision was cast for South Carolina Baptist work. Through the General Board (now Executive Board) of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, a commitment was made to intentionally serve churches based on the needs of each individual church and God's vision for its ministries. This powerful vision, Empowering Kingdom Growth, is a recommitment to the Great Commission and to help churches grow the Kingdom of God, both spiritually and numerically.Vision. Since Biblical days it has been God's call to arms for Christians and churches. It has been lived out through three centuries of work in South Carolina and will continue to be the driving force behind state Baptist work into the 21st Century.