Accreditation

WCBC makes plans to begin the accreditation process

Academics, Accreditation, and the Local Church Bible College

by Dr. Paul Chappell

Introduction

A Local Church Bible College

West Coast Baptist College opened its doors in the fall of 1995 with one purpose—to train laborers for Christ’s harvest. This remains our sole purpose and guiding mission. Over the past twenty years, the Lord has allowed and enabled us to train almost two thousand graduates who are serving the Lord around the globe.

WCBC is unique in that it operates under the authority and as a ministry of a local church—Lancaster Baptist Church. Since the beginning of WCBC, it has been our desire to please the Lord who is the founder and purchaser of the church and, therefore, of all things done through this local church ministry. We are unapologetically Baptist, local church, fundamental in doctrine, and soulwinning in outreach.

Scripture is clear that God has chosen the local church as His vehicle of ministry today. It was to the local church that He gave His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), and it is the local church to which He has promised His empowerment and protection (Matthew 16:18). Jesus purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28) and has ordained it as the institution that can bring world change and revival. It is our conviction that there is no higher oversight for training in ministry than the authority of the local church.

For these reasons, the college remains a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church, and it is our desire that students who attend receive quality education for the purpose of local church ministry. While there is a need for Christian professionals, our purpose is solely to train young people for full-time ministry.

Because WCBC is an institution of higher learning, however, people—students and supporters alike—have often raised the question of accreditation. Should the college be accredited? What are the reasons we have not chosen accreditation in the past? And would we consider accreditation in the future?

There are arguments and concerns on every side of the equation, and we’ve sought to look at them through the unique paradigm of our local church ministry. I invite you to examine with me the concerns and considerations regarding accreditation as well as the convictions of our ministry that filter our response.

Chapter One

Concerns—Issues Surrounding Accreditation

Over the years, our greatest concerns regarding seeking accreditation have centered around our purpose and mission to train laborers. We have written about these concerns previously, and, while we never have made accreditation a “test of fellowship,” we continue to have concerns with some issues of accreditation as well as the motives that may drive some to seek accreditation. Indeed, there are many wrong reasons an institution may seek accreditation, including securing government funding or gaining acceptance from the world.

Our first priority at West Coast Baptist College is to glorify Jesus Christ. Because He is the head of the church and is to have preeminence over the church (Colossians 1:17–18), we are guarded against allowing another institution or outside organization to have authority over this college. As a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church, WCBC reflects the mission and ministry of the local church which has a pastor and deacons as its governing authority.

As mentioned earlier, our founding purpose was to train laborers for the harvest (Matthew 9:37–38), and we are committed to that sole purpose moving forward. Our mission is to follow the instruction of 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

Over the years, as we have looked at accreditation, we have been concerned that it could usurp local church authority. We have observed other institutions which began as Bible colleges with similar goals as ours that, in the process of or shortly after seeking accreditation, transitioned into liberal arts colleges and today train a small fraction of their student bodies for ministry. While that is certainly their prerogative, we are committed to our founding purpose of training laborers for His harvest. We remain convinced that training men and women for local church ministry is best done under the authority of a local church and independent of the constraints of a liberal arts program.

Another concern we have held regarding accreditation relates to government intervention. To accept Title IV or other government funding could obligate us to government oversight and vetting of our curriculum, staffing, and even beliefs. We recognize that we live in a pluralistic society and with a government, particularly in the state of California, which is increasingly antagonistic toward Christian beliefs. There is no doubt in our minds that, were the government given oversight of our operations, their secularly humanistic paradigm would see our curriculum as unsatisfactory to the pluralistic philosophies of today.

Furthermore, to accept Title IV loans would have a direct bearing on the financial burden our students would accrue, resulting in graduates entering the ministry still strapped with heavy student loans. This is a real and present problem for many Christian liberal arts graduates today. Our students certainly do not expect the government to pay their salary upon graduation, nor do they anticipate having the kind of salary that would enable them to pay back large debts incurred through federal loans. They are headed toward ministry where prayer, relying on God, and personal sacrifice will be the norm. We have met many students recently graduated from accredited colleges with tremendous burdens of debt on their shoulders from student loans, and we do not want to enable this kind of student debt.

Finally, there is the concern that accreditation could put the college in a position where a faculty degree would usurp a ministry-focused hiring process of evaluating a candidate’s personal ministry and ability to transfer truth as a facilitator of 2 Timothy 2:2. We have seen where accreditation has pressured institutions to hire a required number of professors with particular degrees, rather than hiring them based on a philosophy of local church ministry with a commitment to doctrine and soulwinning.

These have been our primary concerns over the years regarding the general subject of accreditation. Each of these centers around vital areas related to our ministry, and we take none of them lightly.

Chapter Two

Considerations—Challenges for Students of Unaccredited Institutions

After twenty years of Bible college ministry, we have found that there are some legitimate problems relating to the needs and challenges of entering ministry in today’s hostile culture that require our earnest consideration.

As we have considered the needs before us and have earnestly, prayerfully, and diligently sought solutions, we have found that the issues raised in the previous pages can be avoided while still answering the challenges before us.

Before listing these considerations, I want to state that these issues are not related to finances for our ministry. We have been blessed, and we have labored to wisely steward God’s blessings. Neither are these issues related to accommodating the earthly whims of students or parents. We have no desire to adapt to students whose only concern is money and scholarships rather than the will of God.

The following considerations, however, are real for young people seeking ministry training who want to glorify Christ in ministry and life:

  • The State of California and our veterans’ right to the GI Bill—There are unaccredited institutions in other states with state agencies friendly to faith-based colleges that have been able to accept students on the GI Bill. These benefits for unaccredited institutions, however, can only be obtained through state approval. As an unaccredited religious-exempt school in California, this government review and oversight of WCBC is something we refuse to allow. We do, however, desire to honor our veterans (and their children) who have placed themselves in harm’s way for our freedom and then, with the calling of God on their lives, come to WCBC to train for full-time ministry. The funding these men and women receive is not “just money.” It is money they have earned—and which they have earned while protecting our freedom.
  • The difficulty of students transferring general credits to accredited institutions should they determine they are not called to full-time ministry—Some students enroll in WCBC with a heart for ministry but without being certain of God’s specific calling on their lives. We believe there is no better place to make that calling sure than at WCBC. Should a student attend for a year or two, however, and sense God leading him into a secular field of service, we desire that his general courses of English grammar, composition, speech, history, computer skills, etc.—which are taught by qualified professors and are as substantial as that which they would learn in a secular school—could transfer to an accredited college.
  • The increasing difficulty of accepting international students—Unaccredited faith-based colleges have faced an increasingly difficult ability to accept international students in recent years. Each year, our foreign students are at constant risk of losing their ability to continue their education at WCBC. Federal government scrutiny is minimized through a college being accredited by a body (even by a Christian agency) that is recognized by the Department of Education.
  • The refusal of earned scholarships—A high school student who earns a college scholarship through academic accomplishments will only be able to use that scholarship toward Bible college tuition if the college is accredited. This is similarly the case for students eligible for the 911 scholarships (granted to dependents of those killed or permanently disabled as a result of the 9/11 attacks).
  • Students whose parents work in large corporations unable to receive educational benefits their parents have earned—Many corporations and nonprofits have private grants and scholarships that are paid out only if a student attends an accredited college.
  • The increasing hostility and encroachment by our government toward religious training—Each year, we see state and federal mandates that affect Christian schools, colleges, and churches. We are open to measures that would protect our ability to operate at current levels. We are also willing to stand and suffer if and when that time comes.
  • Our graduates sometimes having missions doors closed to them—Many missions opportunities require a “creative access ministry” such as a business or education “front.” This is especially true in Communist and Muslim countries. Obtaining entrance into these countries often requires a degree from an accredited institution.

Our response to these considerations holds significant ramifications for our students, including that many of our students would be eligible to receive monies from private funds, grants, and corporate funds if we were accredited. Private funding or earned scholarships paid to a student, of course, attach no obligations to our college like government funding directly to our college could do.

As our administration studied the above realities, we were reminded of the “children of Issachar” in 1 Chronicles 12:32 “which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” In every area of leadership, it is incumbent upon leaders not only to have an abiding, thorough understanding of God’s truth, but also to have an “understanding of the times” and an ability to exercise biblical principles in current situations.

With this in mind, we revisited our original concerns regarding accreditation. What we found was that some of our perceptions regarding accreditation failed the test of further study as we began to understand the various options available.

There are various accrediting agencies, one of which is the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). We understand TRACS to be a ministry recognized internationally as an accountability partner with institutions such as WCBC.

TRACS was founded by creationist Dr. Henry Morris (author of The Genesis Flood) to help Christian colleges and universities. TRACS is not a government agency, but an independent, evangelical agency with a Christ-honoring statement of faith which exists to provide accreditation for Christian institutions. TRACS is recognized by both the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as a national accrediting body for Christian institutions, colleges, universities, and seminaries.

TRACS, as opposed to regional accreditation, understands the unique concerns of Bible-centered ministries. It requires all member institutions to adhere to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11 and to have a solid doctrinal statement that reflects historic, orthodox Christianity. In light of the compromises of our day, TRACS assures us that, were they forced to accept the homosexual agenda, they would close before they would compromise.

Affiliation with TRACS is not the government controlling our college. It involves the voluntary request of an institution for partnership of academic accountability from peers. From our founding, we have sought to “approve things that are excellent” (Philippians 1:10) spiritually, academically, socially, and physically by providing quality instruction and state of the art facilities. Utilizing an accrediting agency does not need to result in dependence upon such an agency. TRACS provides accountability in curriculum and faculty development, peer reviews, and objective-based outcome. These are educational disciplines that facilitate academic excellence which we welcome—with or without accreditation attached.

Since inclusion in the membership with TRACS is voluntary, local church autonomy is not violated any more than autonomy is violated when a church calls for an external audit or uses an outside agency (such as the Christian Law Association) for legal concerns. In fact, most ministries have some level of review from outside agencies already. For instance, churches with preschools have some form of review even directly with the government. Almost all ministries have fire inspections, etc. Affiliation is also not indefinite, and a member institution can withdraw at any time.

Our discovery is that since accreditation through an organization like TRACS is voluntary and is not through the government (thus, surrendering the school’s autonomy to the government), it is not intervention in our purpose, mission, or founding pillars. If accreditation is voluntary—our request for peer-based review—it is not intrusive in the sense of our original concerns.

Applying for membership with TRACS is a request for peer-based reviews within our current curriculum that would strengthen the academic disciplines that lend to excellence. We believe that requesting this type of non-government, independent-agency accreditation will enable us to better serve our students in fulfilling our founding mission—to train laborers for His harvest.

Chapter Three

Convictions—A Matrix for Local Church Ministry Training

Although some of our initial concerns regarding accreditation were related to perceptions clarified through further study, the concerns were valid in the sense of relating to our core convictions. In other words, if we choose to align WCBC with an accrediting agency such as TRACS, we determine in advance to not compromise our founding convictions and purpose. Furthermore, any threat to these convictions would mean our immediate withdrawal from TRACS.

With the Apostle Peter, we believe, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Thus, if the government were to mandate unscriptural or immoral policies to colleges affiliated with TRACS, we would withdraw. (As mentioned earlier, TRACS leaders have told us that their response would be similar—that if they were to receive mandates regarding employing people living in moral sin, they would fight, and if they did not win, they would disband.)

As we have reviewed the concerns mentioned earlier and the considerations of our present day, we have found it important to create a “matrix”—a list of convictions to be posted which we affirm would not be violated should we choose to apply with TRACS:

  • West Coast Baptist College will remain a ministry of the local church, specifically of Lancaster Baptist Church. God has ordained local churches as the vehicle to carry out the Great Commission, and this college is part of the “training” aspect of that mandate. God’s power, provision, and protection are given to the local church (Matthew 16:18). Our doctrinal statement will not waver.
  • We will not expand our curriculum to the liberal arts. We are a ministry training school. While we are not against a Christian college or university being a liberal arts institution, that is not what God has called us to accomplish. A local church college is best suited to train young people for local church ministry. All courses will be taught with the objective of the student using his training in ministry-related work (Ephesians 4:11–12).
  • We will not allow accreditation to place degrees over ministry heart in our hiring process. The hiring of administration, faculty, and staff will continue to be done by the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and with the goal of hiring people with qualified credentials in their fields of expertise, excellent spiritual character, and a proper chemistry that blends with the overall philosophy of the church and college. No one will be hired for the sole purpose of fulfilling a requirement of accreditation. Our staff must first and foremost reflect the Person of Jesus Christ and be committed to His will individually and ministerially (2 Timothy 2:4). Additionally, we have already implemented a program in which instructors currently on our staff—men and women showing fruit in the local church—are pursuing higher degrees.
  • We will not accept federal funds administered by the United States Department of Education that would enhance the possibility of government intervention upon the college. Furthermore, we do not want our students to graduate and enter ministry under the bondage of debt (Proverbs 22:7). Many a potential missionary or pastor has been temporarily held back or permanently distracted from his field of labor due to paying off student loans before entering the ministry. While students may receive private funds and grants should WCBC align with TRACS, WCBC is not required, nor would we be willing, to receive government funds that would allow for governmental encroachment upon the college. As stated earlier, WCBC is a ministry under the oversight of a local, independent Baptist church. As an institution we believe that it is the responsibility of students and of local churches to provide for the needs of the ministry rather than the government. Other local churches and members of those churches, with the advice of their pastors, are encouraged to support the college financially and help us underwrite the educational costs.
  • We will not be held to any affiliation that will violate these convictions. Any dictates by the government or the accrediting agency that are not in line with the Word of God, the constitution of Lancaster Baptist Church, or the founding principles of WCBC will mean an immediate withdrawal from our affiliation with the accrediting agency.
  • We will uphold the biblical principle of sanctification in both policy and practice. Students will be expected to live lives separated from the world and unto God (2 Corinthians 6:17–18) both on and off the campus of WCBC in accordance with the college handbook. Specifically, we affirm the principle of sanctification in these areas:
    • Personal conduct and character—WCBC students are expected to exemplify Christ in their motives, speech, and actions (1 Corinthians 15:33; Colossians 4:6; Titus 2:8; Jude 1:8).
    • Dress—Men will look like men, and women will look like women. The dress standards of WCBC will not erode over time (Deuteronomy 22:5; Matthew 11:8; 1 Timothy 2:9–10).
    • Music—WCBC will not allow or produce worldly music that is not compatible with biblical principles (Ephesians 5:18–19).

WCBC was founded on biblical convictions, and we affirm and teach these same convictions to our students. To change these convictions in any way would be to change our reason for existence as a ministry. Thus, even as we consider TRACS accreditation, we affirm that should that process or affiliation with the accrediting agency at any point compromise these convictions, we will be unwilling to continue the process or to remain in affiliation with that agency.

Conclusion

Maintaining the Center

While most pastors reading this booklet have already sent students to Christian colleges and Bible colleges with some form of accreditation, we wanted to make a statement peculiar to our educational journey.

Our interest in the accrediting process through TRACS is to ensure that WCBC does the best it possibly can in the training of laborers for the harvest. We want to be challenged to continue to strive for excellence, and we want to help students reach the needy harvest fields of the world. Our core mission, purpose, and philosophy remain the same.

The best way to picture our approach to TRACS accreditation is a wheel. The hub—the center—of our wheel is our biblical mandate to train laborers for His harvest. This was the hub when WCBC opened its doors twenty years ago with forty-seven students, and it remains the hub today with almost two thousand graduates.


Over twenty years of ministry, we have added spokes to our wheel. From the early faculty and limited facilities of our first year, we’ve added (and continue to add) significant improvements to our program. These spokes in our wheel have included experienced faculty, expanded classes, and enhanced facilities. We see accreditation through TRACS as yet another spoke we are adding to our wheel while maintaining our founding purpose as the hub.

As with every other spoke added, we are not interested in changing our mission or our philosophy in accomplishing that mission. If accreditation requires a sacrifice of just one of our biblical beliefs or principles, we will choose to obey God rather than men.

And thus, as we pursue God’s direction for WCBC, we once again affirm, that it is not man’s approval but God’s that we covet and need. “What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Faqs

  1. What organization is West Coast applying to for accreditation?

    Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) is a Christian accrediting agency that is recognized by Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and United States Department of Education (USDE). This organization is committed to accrediting only institutions that affirm the infallibility of scripture, biblical creationism, and fundamental doctrines.
  2. Will my credits transfer?

    While receiving institutions are the final authority on what transfers, courses and degrees from TRACS are received favorably by most schools.
  3. Can I use my GI Bill?

    Yes. The state of California recognizes accredited institutions as eligible to receive GI Bill.
  4. Can I access student loans?

    WCBC has opted to not participate in Title IV funding. However, attending an accredited institution does allow students to access many private grants and scholarships.
  5. Why is WCBC now pursuing this?

    Both the nature of, and need for accreditation has developed in the last two decades.
  6. What is the benefit for students?

    Creative access points are created in which ministry can take place in closed countries. Transferability of credits to other accredited institutions are enabled in most cases.
  7. Can I pursue additional degrees? (Grad schools)

    While acceptance into a program is dependent upon each institution, graduate programs have often required an accredited bachelor’s degree upon acceptance. Pursuing accreditation keeps this door open.
  8. What about government interference?

    Accreditation is not from the government and does not require government oversight. In some instances, private Christian accrediting organization such as TRACS can shield a college from government intervention. Furthermore, this relationship is completely voluntary and West Coast Baptist College would end its accreditation status if continuing in it would require us to compromise in doctrine, philosophy, or mission.
  9. What’s expected of WCBC instructors?

    West Coast has always sought to employ well-trained instructors who are knowledgeable in their field, active in the local church, and consistent in personal evangelism. Accreditation will allow us to continue in this philosophy and guarantee a high level of expertise in our faculty. Our teachers hold recognized graduate degrees in their fields and many are actively pursuing additional credentials.
  10. Will WCBC offer non-Bible degrees? (Liberal arts)

    West Coast was founded with a specific passion to train laborers for the harvest. This mission has remained our purpose for two decades and will remain unchanged in the future. As a result of this mission, our degree programs will not grow to include liberal arts, but will instead be focused on training meant to be used in a local church setting.