Early in its history, the Church of God sensed the need for an educational institution where its constituency could be prepared for ministry. The first educational endeavor was the founding of the Bible Training School in 1918, which became Lee College and then Lee University. As its young ministers began to enter the seminaries of other denominations in the mid-forties, the hope that one day the Church of God would have its own seminary began to arise in the hearts of several church leaders. The first formal steps toward the establishment of a seminary were taken on March 2, 1965, when the Lee College Board of Directors proposed to the General Executive Council, “that the Bible College be upgraded to a Theological Seminary.” The Reverend Wade H. Horton, General Overseer of the Church of God, appointed a committee to ascertain the need for a seminary. Although no action was taken to begin a program at that time, this was the first significant step of theChurch of God toward the establishment of its own seminary program.
Another step was taken when Dr. Charles W. Conn, then General Overseer of the Church of God, listed as one of the aims of “Project 70″ the establishment of a Church of God seminary. In 1968, during Dr. Conn’s tenure as General Overseer, the General Board of Education was created and its members appointed. From its very beginning the General Board of Education promoted the idea of starting a seminary. This Board began formal studies of existing seminary programs with a view toward laying the groundwork for the beginning of a Church of God seminary. The study included a look at other seminaries, consortia and sites. A committee was appointed to study possible locations for the Seminary. The members were the Reverend H. D. Williams, Chairman; Dr. James M. Beaty, Secretary; and Dr. R. Hollis Gause. The committee visited Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Nashville, making a thorough study of the advantages and disadvantages of the different sites. In the fifty-third General Assembly (St. Louis, Missouri, 1970), the church authorized the General Executive Council, “to proceed with a study leading to the establishment of a seminary … and if found feasible that the Executive Council initiate the first phase of the program.” On October 13, 1970, a seminary fund was started.
In May of 1971, a subcommittee of the General Executive Council (Dr. Ray H. Hughes, Sr., Chairman; Reverend Wade H. Horton; Reverend Floyd J. Timmerman; and Reverend H. D. Williams, Consultant and Chairman of the General Board of Education) presented a report on the “Projected Cost for the Initial Unit of a Seminary.” It was moved “that the report be received and that the same committee continue its study, giving consideration to the feasibility and cost of a seminary program utilizing in part the facilities of a Church of God institution.” During the tenure of Dr. Ray H. Hughes, Sr. as General Overseer (1972-74), emphasis was given to planning for a seminary. The church applied to the State of Tennessee in early 1975 for a charter to operate a graduate school under the name of Church of God Graduate School of Christian Ministries. This was granted on April 14 of that year.
Under the administrative structure adopted for the School, General Overseer Wade H. Horton became the first President and Dr. R. Hollis Gause, its first Dean and Director. Dr. Gause worked diligently to set up the structure of the new school and make ready the temporary quarters. Reverend F. J. May, a pastor from Louisville, Kentucky, was appointed as the first professor and was on hand for the opening of the first term on September 1, 1975. When it opened in the Fall of 1975, the school offered 2 degrees: the Master of Science in Religion and the Master of Arts in Religion. The offices and classrooms were in a renovated apartment building in Cleveland, Tennessee. It had two full-time faculty members, with one of those serving as Dean and Director. Opening with an enrollment of eighteen students, the graduate school increased to twenty-eight students the second term. At the first commencement on July 27, 1976, three students received the Master of Arts in Religion and two students received the Master of Science degree in Religion under the one-year curriculum. Eight more students graduated on July 26, 1977.
The third term of the Graduate School was marked by another increase in enrollment. This was also a transitional year. The Board of Directors approved the institution of a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree with a graduation requirement of eighty semester hours. In 1976, by virtue of his being elected General Overseer, Dr. Cecil B. Knight became the second President of the Seminary. In 1978, the name of the institution was formally changed to Church of God School of Theology and Dr. Knight was appointed as the first full-time President. Curricular changes that year provided for two new degrees: the Master of Science in Missions and the Master of Divinity. The school relocated to an office building. The President began an aggressive program of student recruitment and devoted much energy to secure scholarships for the rising enrollment. In that year, the Board of Directors also approved the addition of a Master of Divinity degree to the educational programs of the school. Growth in enrollment led to the use of classrooms in a nearby church the following year.
In 1979, the Board of Directors authorized the purchase of property and the building of a new facility. Subsequently, property was purchased at the corner of 8th and Walker Streets. On November 10, 1979, ground was broken for the erection of a facility to house the Seminary. In the Fall of 1980, the Seminary moved into a new building constructed to house offices, classrooms, and a spacious chapel. A new administrative structure was also adopted that fall. A Director of Ministries was added to serve with the Academic Dean of the Seminary to underscore the commitment to the integration of ministry and academics. (In 1988, the titles of the offices were changed to Dean of Academics and Dean of Ministries.) The enrollment reached 175.
From its inception, the Seminary has shared library resources with Lee University. In the Fall of 1981, the Seminary doubled the holdings in religion with the purchase of 27,000 volumes. ThePentecostal Resource Center houses the William G. Squires Library and serves both the Seminary and Lee University. It is also an archive for the Church of God and the international Pentecostal Research Center. The library currently contains approximately 154,000 volumes. Following the election of Dr. Cecil B. Knight at the 1982 General Assembly as Assistant General Overseer, Dr. Lewis J. Willis was appointed President. The enrollment continued to grow in the Fall.
In August 1984, upon the resignation of Dr. Willis, Dr. Ray H. Hughes, Sr. became President. From 1980 to 1985 the faculty increased from two to nine full-time members with a number of persons serving as adjunct instructors. Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was achieved in December 1984. In June of 1986, the Seminary became an associate member of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS). On March 15, 1985, the Seminary chapel was dedicated to the memory of Milo P. and Lettie L. Cross and is now known as Cross Memorial Chapel. This was made possible through the efforts of the Presidential Task Force and many interested friends. The memorial established serves as an endowment fund for the Seminary; persons who desire to contribute may still do so.
In August of 1986, after Dr. Hughes’ election as Assistant General Overseer, Dr. Robert White became the Seminary’s fifth President. In the Fall of 1986, the Seminary opened with ten full-time faculty. In June of 1987, the Commission on Accrediting of ATS granted the Seminary the status of candidate for accredited membership. In the Fall of 1987, the Seminary began an eighteen month self-study in order to renew its first five year accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and to receive accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS). In the 1988 General Assembly of the Church of God, President White was elected as Assistant Director of World Missions and Dr. J. Herbert Walker, Jr. was appointed President. With his past educational experience and insights, Dr. Walker began a promising term, which was ended by his untimely death four months later. In this short time he directed the completion of the studies needed for the visitation of the two accrediting associations (ATS and SACS). In January of 1989, Dr. Cecil B. Knight resigned from the General Executive Committee to assume the Presidency. The Visiting Committee from ATS and SACS came as scheduled in March. In June of 1989, the Seminary received its first accreditation from ATS and in December had its accreditation with SACS renewed for ten years. During the following two years, the Seminary did a self-study for ATS and several of the faculty members who had doctoral degrees pending, completed their theses. In January of 1992, the Seminary received accreditation from ATS for the next seven years. In 1990, the Church of God General Executive Committee inaugurated the January Overseers In-Service Training. The uniting of the ministries of administration and teaching promised further mutual enrichment and blessing for the entire denomination. At a time when many seminaries regrettably were at odds with their sponsoring denominations, God brought about this exciting new partnership. After adoption of a long-range plan by the Board of Directors in preparation for the challenges of the next century, in April 1995 the Seminary launched a five-year capital campaign. This campaign sought not only to fund the newly constructed 24,000 square footThurman J. Curtsinger Center, but allowed for endowment scholarships, new programs and faculty acquisition.
With the dedication of the Thurman J. Curtsinger Ministry Center on September 28, 1995, the Seminary effectively doubled its campus workspace. This accomplishment speaks to the honor of a noted churchman who endowed the project, to the leadership that has brought it to pass, and to the passion, dedication, and reputation of a highly qualified faculty. In 1997, the Board of Directors, in keeping with the earliest rationale for the school and its unique denominational mission, changed the name of the school to Church of God Theological Seminary. In May of 1998, Dr. Donald M. Walker, a Seminary alumnus, was selected as President. He and his wife, Jacquelyn, gave themselves tirelessly to secure finances and a record enrollment at the Seminary. President Walker arrived at the Seminary in the middle of the self-study for reaffirmation of accreditation and worked to make this a reality. During his tenure, ATS and SACS reaffirmed the accreditation of the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Discipleship and Christian Formation, and the Master of Arts in Church Ministries degrees for ten years, and approved the Doctor of Ministry degree. Along with his wife, they increased endowment scholarships to $6 million, making it possible for more ministers to be fully equipped for ministry in the twenty-first century, and established 3 new endowed chairs.
Dr. Steven Jack Land was appointed the ninth President of the Church of God Theological Seminary at the 70th General Assembly of the Church of God in San Antonio, Texas, and inaugurated on October 14, 2002 in a ceremony at the North Cleveland Church of God. He is the first President to be selected to lead the Seminary from within the faculty and administration, having served as Professor of Pentecostal Theology, 1979-1990, and as Academic Dean from 1991 to 2001. Dr. Land, a third generation member and ordained bishop for the Church of God, came to the Seminary from Mission Church of God in Atlanta, an outreach he established to minister to the urban poor and destitute of that city. He has brought that passion and concern to his presidency and brings together the pastoral and academic with special emphasis on Pentecostal distinctives, urban mission, and personal and social holiness. Under his leadership, pastoral covenant groups have grown to over 1000 ministers, the Center for Pentecostal Theology (with its press) has been inaugurated, the school’s finances have been stabilized, with endowment scholarships more than doubling, and the seminary’s name changed to Pentecostal Theological Seminary. A native of Jasper, Alabama, he is married to Peggy Goude Land, and they are blessed with three children: Alanna, Laura and Jonathan.