The modern Bible College movement grew out of the need for trained workers to meet the frontiers of human need at home and abroad. The first was established in England in 1873 by Dr H Grattan Guinness who set up the East London Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (later known as Harley House) to train candidates for work with the rapidly growing interdenominational “faith” missions movement. Rev A B Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was influenced by the success of this college and set up the Nyack Missionary College in 1882, the first of its kind in the USA. The evangelist, Mr D L Moody, focused his attention on the urban centres of America and in 1996 founded the Chicago Evangelization Society which used short-term programs to train young men to go out on the streets and into the shops and factories to take the gospel to the common man. In 1889, it became the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions, being later named Moody Bible Institute and becoming the most famous and influential of all Bible Colleges. Training missionaries for other lands, training evangelists for the lost at home – these two strands were combined in the first Bible Colleges, and in all that have followed them.
Bible Colleges multiplied rapidly in the North American continent and in Britain, and from there spread to every continent of the world. More than fifty per cent of all Protestant missionaries in the world today are graduates of the Bible Colleges. The first function of these colleges, in contrast to existing theological colleges and universities, was to prepare students for Christian ministries through a program of Biblical and practical training. Guinness, Simpson and Moody envisioned the answer to the world’s needs in terms of men and women of spiritual maturity with knowledge of the Word of God, and with communicative skills to serve effectively. This has remained through a century the purpose of all our Bible College training.
The Bible College movement spread to the South Pacific soon after its commencement overseas. The first important college was established in Adelaide in 1893 by Presbyterian minister, Rev W Lockhart Morton, and was named Angas College. In 1914 the second college, the Chapman-Alexander Bible Institute, was founded in Adelaide, in the wake of successful evangelistic campaigns in the preceding years. These two pioneer colleges ceased to operate in the 1920’s due to the effects of World War I, but they were succeeded by a new wave of colleges which have continued to operate right up to the present.
Sydney Missionary and Bible College was founded by Rev C Benson Barnett in 1916, Melbourne Bible Institute (now the Bible College of Victoria) by Rev C H Nash in 1920, and New Zealand Bible Training Institute (now the bible College of New Zealand) by Rev Joseph Kemp in 1922. Others have followed in all states of Australia and in the major island territories of the South Pacific.
They grew, in the main, as independent institutions, taking as their model their forerunners in North America and in Britain. It was only in the 1950’s and 1960’s that the need for working together to help each other and to learn from each other to develop our training programs to a fuller potential became apparent.
The first conference of principals took place in Sydney in 1951. Then the interdenominational missionary societies asked that we consider how best to equip missionaries for overseas, and so a conference was called in Melbourne in 1963 attended by eight Bible Colleges. After a later conference held at the Queensland Bible Institutes in 1967 the official formation of the association of Bible Institutes & Colleges of Australasia (TABICA) took place in Adelaide on May 20th, 1969 with nine foundation member colleges.
At first membership was limited to interdenominational colleges under independent and autonomous boards. They had to offer residential full-time courses of at least two years’ duration, and prepare students for Christian service in various capacities at home or with various Missions overseas. In 1975 a new category of Associate Membership was added to include colleges which were controlled by one denomination or one mission, but held the same aims and fulfilled the same function as full member colleges. With the advent of colleges from the islands of the Pacific, it was also felt appropriate to change our name to the South Pacific Association of Bible Colleges (SPABC). In 1988 the SPABC became a full regional member for the area of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE), under the sponsorship of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) and in 1989 a new Constitution and a fully up-graded accreditation process were adopted. But with the ever-changing education scene the accreditation role of the association became less relevant (this role being taken over by government) and the fellowship role became primary. This led to the renaming of SPABC to SPAEC (South Pacific Association of Evangelical Colleges) in 2009
Each Bible College in our Association has its own distinctive emphasis and program, but there are several features which are common to all. We provide an adult education program. Most colleges have a minimal entry age of 19 or 20, and do not normally accept students straight from High School (unlike many American counterparts). Students range in age mostly through the 20s and 30s, some older still. Many these days are married and have families. Students study and share together in a learning community, where life is lived together as a loving family.
The Bible is central to the curriculum, for all colleges accept it as the inspired Word of God, utterly trustworthy, profitable for teaching, and able to equip the man or woman of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17). All other ancillary studies, Theology, Church History, and so on, are related back to the study of Scripture. Recent trends include the provision of a wider range of academic programs up to degree level and a variety of short-term, evening and practical courses.
The cultivation of spirituality is at the heart of the Bible College program. By personal prayer, by corporate worship and by training in discipleship, we aim to see our students grow in the knowledge and love of God and deepen in their devotion to Christ. There is a strong missionary emphasis in our colleges. We want all students, whether called personally to overseas service or not, to widen their vision and to be concerned for the work of God in Christian mission all over the world.
And finally the training must be practical, with subjects taught to help students understand the world in which they live and to which they must take the gospel, and with training in ways of communicating that message in the modern world. All of this must be put into practice in supervised fieldwork. These features the Bible Colleges seek to hold in balance, so that knowledge and skill are the best each student can acquire, not only in the head, but also in the heart, and in the hand. In addition, full member colleges offer the advantages of study and Christian living in the stimulating environment of an interdenominational community, which brings it own unique rewards.
In 2009 SPAEC (South Pacific Association of Evangelical Colleges) was created by renaming the former SPABC (South Pacific Association of Bible Colleges) which had itself evolved in 1989 from the much earlier TABICA (The Association of Bible Institutes and Colleges of Australasia) which was formed in 1969 by a number of mainly independent Bible Colleges in Australia and New Zealand. SPAEC, like its forebears, has the purpose of promoting and assisting its member colleges to scriptural excellence in preparing men and women for Christian life and service.