December 18, 2017

The Historical Developments of the Campus Ministry (1)

William J. Senn III

New Testament Days — School of Tyrannus

The Priority of the Church of God

The roots for campus ministry are found in Acts 19:8–10, with the apostle Paul ministering at Tyrannus University (TU) at Ephesus. Tyrannus was either the owner of the school or its most famous Dean of Doom, “the Tyrant.” The result of Paul’s daily teaching at TU was that “all they which dwelt in Asia [Minor] heard the word of the Lord Jesus.” How much did Paul’s choosing to meet at the “hall of Tyrannus” factor into such rapid growth of the church? Are there any parallels in church history that indicate that America’s “learning halls” are the ripest seedbeds for evangelism, revival, and recruiting volunteers for world evangelism? Church history suggests that one of the most strategic sites to target ministry is on the college campus, secular or religious. In fact, the church can trace much of her growth in the past four hundred years to various student movements. It is important to note that whatever ministry Paul had to the students at the “hall of Tyrannus,” it was based out of a local church context. One of the greatest errors in campus ministry throughout the church age is to divorce the campus ministry from the institution of the local church.

Student Movements in English-Speaking Europe

The Primacy of the Word of God

From 1320 to1384 at Oxford University (the oldest English-speaking college in the world), there was a man by the name of John Wycliffe who influenced all English-speaking Christians with his English translation of the Bible. Later the King James Version was produced by the translators at Westminster Abbey, Cambridge University, and Oxford University.

As early as 1523 Thomas Bilney and his friends met secretly at the White Horse Inn at Cambridge University. Such student meetings had at their heart the study of Scriptures, the foundational textbook for any campus ministry. One can imagine Hugh Latimer reading his Greek New Testament in the candlelight and articulating the doctrine of justification as he read from the works of Martin Luther. Why was there the need for Christian students to meet secretly on the campuses of universities that were linked with the church? Why on October 16, 1555, would a godly Hugh Latimer and a faithful Nicholas Ridley be charged for heresy by the Divinity School at Oxford and be burned at the stake? The answer: education, divorced from the Word of God, sharpens the attack on the people of God. Sadly, schools like Oxford and Cambridge have fulfilled the earlier prophecy of Martin Luther, who said, “Every institution where men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.”[1]

The Holy Club at Oxford—1700s: The Preeminence of the Righteousness of God

“A brand plucked out of the fire”[2] was John Wesley who, following his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, marched off to Oxford University in 1721 at the age of 17. While John was serving a curacy at Wroot, his younger brother Charles, a King’s scholar, entered Oxford in 1726 at the age of 19. Charles dedicated himself to “serious thinking” and to pursuing a disciplined, religious life as an ordained deacon, which earned him the name “the Methodist.” Charles was able to influence several of his friends to accompany him in such a disciplined lifestyle, resulting in the inauguration of the Holy Club in 1728 with three members: Robert Kirkham, William Morgan, and Charles Wesley. When John returned to tutor at Lincoln College, he was asked to be the Holy Club’s head. In 1732, George Whitefield was added to the Holy Club.

As Arnold Dallimore summarizes, the Holy Club was not famous at first and was hardly known on campus.[3] It was not evangelical in nature. Members did not preach the gospel but taught a works salvation and adopted a view of the Lord’s Supper that bordered on the heresy of transubstantiation. Consequently, the Holy Club did not produce revival but death, and with the dispersal of its members in 1735, the club also died.

In many ways the Holy Club at Oxford was the schoolmaster that brought the Wesleys and Whitefield to Christ. Often Whitefield would refer to Oxford on his spiritual birth certificate. In a sermon entitled “All Men’s Place” he declared, “I know the place! It may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me and gave me the new birth.”[4] Today, there are still some on the college campus who have enrolled in the Holy Club of self-righteousness and who need to transfer their faith to Christ and mark the spot of their new birth. Two continents were awakened by the ministry of the men of the Holy Club. How many Whitefields are enrolled in America’s state colleges today?

The St. Andrews Seven: The Participation with the Spirit of God

Scotland’s oldest university is St. Andrews. While Oxford emphasized the classics and Cambridge emphasized mathematics, St. Andrews’s forte was philosophy. Such an academic setting was conducive for the life work of the St. Andrews Seven, which comprised its famous six students and their faculty advisor: Alexander Duff, John Urquhart, John Adam, Robert Nesbit, William Sinclair Mackay, David Ewart, and Professor Thomas Chalmers.

The St. Andrews Seven had intellect on fire. They had received a solid academic base in research, analysis, and synthesis and had made the Bible the touchstone of all truth. The vehicle for applying their Biblical knowledge was the formation of the St. Andrews Missionary Society on December 6, 1824. These students knew that it was their responsibility to preach the gospel. The question for them now was where to direct this gospel machine. They heeded Chalmer’s suggestion to study the missionary model of the Baptist missionary William Carey. Urquhart, the president of the society, then challenged eighty of the students to surrender to foreign missions. After his heart-stirring message Urquhart took ill and died. Six months after Urquhart’s death, Robert Nesbit departed for India. The second of the St. Andrews Seven to sail to India was John Adam, then Duff, followed by William Sinclair Mackay and finally by the last of the St. Andrews Seven, David Ewart. By 1857, over five hundred British missionaries had gone to serve in India. One-tenth of such missionaries were Scottish Presbyterians who could trace their roots back to the St. Andrews Seven. Alexander Duff became the most renowned missionary in India’s history after William Carey. Duff started a college in Calcutta, which became the model for missionaries to follow. Who was Duff’s model for such a school? It was none other than Thomas Chalmers of St. Andrews!

The Cambridge Seven: The Promotion of the Work of God

In the late 1800s, D. L. Moody had tremendous spiritual freedom to preach to the college students at Cambridge University. As a result of the revival at Cambridge, one of the students converted during an evangelistic service with Moody founded a student organization called the Cambridge Christian Union. This student, Stanley Peregrine Smith, was a man’s man, the captain of the Cambridge rowing team and a man of high energy. Alongside Stanley Smith stood a revived C. T. Studd, the captain of the cricket team. Another member of the Cambridge Seven was “Will the Silent” Wharton Cassels, an ordained Anglican minister who was a “Holy Club” man but with the indwelling Spirit to match. Dixon Hoste was another member on the Mission Dream Team who loved order and precision. He too had been converted during the Moody revival. Then there were two brothers, Cecil and Arthur Polhill-Turner, a lieutenant in the Royal Dragoons and a priest respectively. Completing the team was Montague Beauchamp, who was as rich and colorful as his name.

These seven men, known as the Cambridge Seven, volunteered to go to China and departed for Shanghai in February 1885. In Shanghai they met Hudson Taylor, who divided the team and delegated responsibilities to each.

As a result of the Cambridge Seven’s willingness to go to China, the China Inland Mission (CIM) was catapulted from obscurity to “almost embarrassing prominence.”[5] The example of these visionaries led hundreds of other students and volunteers to give their lives to world evangelism. In 1885, when the Cambridge Seven arrived in China, the CIM had 163 missionaries; by 1890 the number of CIM missionaries reached 800, and by 1900 one-third of the entire Protestant missionary force was represented by the CIM. The Cambridge Seven not only impacted missions to China but also directly opened new doors to India and Africa.

To be continued tomorrow.


From 1984 to 2002 Dr. William J. Senn III was the pastor of University Baptist Church in Clemson, South Carolina, establishing Spurgeon Foundation Campus Ministries in 1986. Currently he serves as senior pastor at Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster, Colorado, where he continues to be involved in campus ministries.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Rockville, MD: Assurance Publishers, 1979), 159. []
  2. Zechariah 3:2. []
  3. Whitefield, 71–72. []
  4. Ibid., 77. []
  5. Alvyn Austin, “Missions Dream Team,” Christian History, no. 52 (Fall 1996):19. []


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