Believers may often miss seeing God’s hand when He allows barriers and roadblocks in life’s journey. Ignorance of God’s ways can lead to despair, bitterness, and doubt. Conversely, believers may not be conscious that the same God Who showers us with victories and success sometimes carefully allows hardships and disappointments as a means to reach a better end. A poet’s commentary on the human tendency to miss seeing God’s hand in everyday life is described succinctly:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Those who were involved in Maranatha’s journey to gain regional accreditation mentally remove their shoes in worship as they reflect on God’s provision of strength to meet the rough, demanding road and reach success at the journey’s end.
The Situation: 1984
After incredible opening years of Maranatha’s history, the school was facing difficult times. When Dr. Arno Weniger (the president at the time) appointed me as the Vice President for Academic Affairs in 1984, Maranatha was a college in crisis. With the ascension of several new fundamental Christian colleges, our enrollment was sharply declining. Affording college was, as it always has been, challenging.
Maranatha attempted to help students stay in school with a self-funded loan guarantee program that was well-intentioned but unsuccessful. Additionally, graduates who sought employment outside of compensated ministry found many doors closed to graduates of an unaccredited college. This problem was exacerbated by the reality that Maranatha was small, unknown, and relatively young.
Our administration went into overdrive to stem the hemorrhaging of money and students. Action of some kind was a matter of survival. The best remedy was for Maranatha to become accredited by a US Department of Education (USDOE) approved accrediting agency. Being accredited would cure the two biggest challenges: 1) obtaining access to financial aid programs for taxpaying Maranatha students and parents, and 2) gaining external academic credibility for degrees earned at Maranatha. Accreditation was an obvious path, but was it the right one?
Within the community of independent fundamental churches and colleges, accreditation was not a positive concept. Arguments against it ranged from loss of autonomy to violations of Biblical separation. This apologetic was widely accepted by Maranatha’s constituency (including alumni).
Our administration was totally committed to biblical obedience above pragmatic convenience. The first step in the accreditation journey, then, was to conduct an honest evaluation of accreditation and its opposing arguments.
False Starts, Opposition, and Disappointments
During the 1985-86 school year, the administration carefully evaluated accreditation, focusing on facts rather than anecdotes or assumptions. After examining the legitimacy of common objections among our constituency, we then explored the accreditation process itself.
The conclusion: we could not confirm many of the concerns and objections and consequently began to explore requirements for accreditation with the American Association of Bible Colleges (AABC), with a goal of presenting our findings to the Board of Trustees.
AABC, a USDOE-approved agency, seemed to be an achievable, trustworthy option for accreditation. In 1987, the Board of Trustees authorized us to pursue accreditation through the AABC.
While students and staff on campus received news of the approval with excitement, many among Maranatha’s constituency ardently opposed accreditation. Letters were written, pamphlets published, and sermons preached proclaiming the dangers of accreditation. While often not named, Maranatha was the only college in our circles actively pursuing accreditation.
The pressure was palpable. Some churches dropped support. Outside sources began contacting administrators and board members to voice their objections. And when the Board of Trustees met for the next annual meeting, they reversed their prior approval and voted to discontinue accreditation through AABC.
Word of the reversal quickly spread. Students were stunned. We on the administration were embarrassed and discouraged. We had to tell AABC that Maranatha was terminating the relationship. Had Maranatha’s leadership misread God’s will?
Picking Up the Pieces
Faith in God is not a mere platitude. Believers learn through experience that God has a plan far better than human intellect can envision. Believers are to walk by faith.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
While all we could see was a “frowning face,” God was actively working out His designs. Shortly after the dust settled, members of the Board of Trustees informed the administration that they were not opposed to the concept of accreditation, but to the particular religious associations that may have followed a partnership with the American Association of Bible Colleges. Such identification could compromise Maranatha’s historic separatist position. Board members continued that they would be less concerned if the accreditation association was non-religious.
We on the administration wholeheartedly agreed. A secular organization would be less confusing and less likely to lead to awkward religious affiliation. At the time, however, the only secular accreditation organizations conducting institutional accreditation were the mammoth regional accrediting associations.
Our tiny institution would need to apply to the North Central Association (NCA, now the Higher Learning Commission), the largest accrediting association in the world. NCA spanned 17 states from West Virginia to Arizona. In comparison with other schools, Maranatha was unknown and under-resourced. Could God be funneling us in such an audacious direction?
“Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.”
Dr. Weniger’s authorized exploration of accreditation with the NCA began a series of startling events that still amazes me at every remembrance.