This Week in AG History -- Sept. 16, 1973
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the long-awaited Assemblies of God Graduate School now known as the AG Theological Seminary.Fifty years ago marked the opening of the Assemblies of God Graduate School (AGGS, now Assemblies of God Theological Seminary). The Sept. 16, 1973, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel included a cover story about the launch of the school.
There was excitement in the air when the AGGS opened its doors for the first time. Approximately 450 guests attended an open house hosted by the school’s administration in July. Seventy-seven students enrolled in a special missions session over the summer and made initial use of the chapel, classrooms, library, and other facilities.
Over the next couple of months, a number of groups touring the national offices of the Assemblies of God (AG) were able to visit the school, which was located on the sixth floor of the Distribution Center on the back side of the complex. The school later expanded to include the fifth floor. The fall semester of classes started on Sept. 4, 1973.
Education has always been an important core value of the AG. However, AGGS was not launched overnight. Over several decades, AG leaders grew to realize that providing graduate school education in an AG context would aid the mission of the church. The growing trend for Bible college graduates to pursue graduate theological training was perhaps the greatest factor that led to the founding of AGGS. Increasing numbers of pastors, missionaries, and educators felt the need for advanced education in order to better fulfill their callings. In addition, after World War II, there was great need for military chaplains. The government required that chaplains hold a graduate degree from a seminary or divinity school in order to be endorsed. The endorsement of military and institutional chaplains became a strong motivator to establish a graduate education program within the AG.
The Educational Department of the AG, created in 1945, addressed the need for graduate level training. The first attempt at AG graduate training took place at Central Bible Institute. From 1951 to 1957, the school was called Central Bible Institute and Seminary. It featured a fifth-year degree (Th.B.). Beginning in 1958, that program was phased out, and the school then offered an M.A. in Religion. Due to inadequate funding and accreditation issues, the graduate level training ended in 1963. About this same time, Northwest Bible College (now Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington) began offering an M.A. which reverted to a Th.B. within one year.
Building on these initial degree programs, the concept of a graduate school on the national level was approved at the 1961 General Council. Part of its stated responsibilities included training for ministry in the United States and specialized training for foreign missionary service. It took a few years for plans to fall into place.
A preliminary constitution and bylaws was approved in May 1972. The school was incorporated in December 1972. It was first known as the Assemblies of God Graduate School. Since the school was established by the General Council, the general superintendent served as the school’s chief executive for the early years, and the president of the school went by the title of executive vice president.
Cordas C. Burnett was named the first executive vice president of the school, serving under General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman. Burnett laid the groundwork for the infrastructure of the school, helping to get it established on the sixth floor of the Distribution Center of the AG national office. He also drafted academic policies, course descriptions, and other necessary documents.
In August 1984, the school changed its name to the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS). In March 1996, the school broke ground for a new building on the northeast corner of the Evangel University campus. The new AGTS building was dedicated in September 1997. In 2013, as part of a consolidation of residential schools in Springfield, AGTS became the embedded seminary of Evangel University.
In the past 50 years, additional Pentecostal graduate school programs have been established, helping to meet the growing need for education within the Pentecostal tradition. However, AGTS is the only national Assemblies of God seminary and, with over 200 students pursuing doctoral degrees in theology, ministry, and missiology, it has one of the largest doctoral programs among peer seminaries. Thousands of AGTS graduates have served as pastors, educators, missionaries, chaplains, and in numerous other fields around the world. AGTS has become both a training ground and a proving ground for servant leaders in the Assemblies of God.
To learn about the opening of the Assemblies of God Graduate School, read “A/G Graduate School Officially Opened on September 4” on page 29 of the Sept.16, 1973, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Bible Evidence of the Baptism of the Spirit,” by Smith Wigglesworth
• “One is Taken; One is Left,” by Stanley M. Horton
• “South Texas WMCs Honor Founder,” by Ann Ahlf
And many more!
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Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.