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Eastern’s religious history

Eastern has evolved in many ways since being founded in 1925 as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The makeup of the faculty and student body has become much more diverse, but the commitment to Christ has remained prevalent.

The student body of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary was made up of mostly American Baptists with the faculty being composed entirely of Baptists, according to Dr. Frederick Boehlke, the university’s historian and archivist. As college degrees became necessary to attend seminary, Eastern began offering college courses and eventually formed a college separate from the seminary in 1952.

In the early days of Eastern Baptist College, the majority of the students were still Baptist, and the Board of Directors was uniformly Baptist. The student body became more denominationally diverse, and by 1969, only 55 percent of the students were Baptist, with 19 denominations represented. This caused the Board of Directors to make the decision to allow non-Baptists to be board members. There were two Boards of Directors, one for the college and one for the seminary, and one Board of Trustees for both. Only three quarters of the Board was required to be Baptist, but the doctrinal statement was still required to be written by Baptists and be based on Baptist principles.

In 1972 the name changed from Eastern Baptist College to Eastern College in order to sound more inviting to non-Baptists. Eastern maintained a close relationship with the Baptist Church until the late 1980s. Then in 1987, Eastern hired its first non-Baptist president, Dr. Roberta Hestenes. The college and the seminary voted to have one common Board of Trustees in 2003.

All members of Eastern’s faculty are required to abide by the doctrinal statement and accept an orthodox position, but they do not have to conform to specific Baptist beliefs, Dr. Boehlke said. The doctrinal statement says, “We believe that a New Testament church is a body of believers thus baptized, associated for worship, service and the spread of the Gospel and establishing of the Kingdom in all the world.”

Eastern continues to have a covenant relationship with the American Baptist Church. The denomination as a whole does not financially support Eastern, but individual people and churches do. Eastern maintains its Baptist ties through its doctrinal statement.

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