19 March 2021

Celebrating 99 Years

In the years following World War 1, a group of Christian businessmen (including Robert Laidlaw, founder of the Farmers Trading Company) noticed a need for a Bible Institute that offered sound, solid Bible teaching. Many men had returned from war, matured by their experience, and hungry for biblical and theological instruction. There was an urgent need for young people to fill the depleted ranks of missionary societies post-war, but no place where lay trainees could be equipped for Christian service. One of the strong reasons for establishing a Bible Institute was to provide a place where students could study the Bible seriously, yet without having their faith undermined by destructive criticism of the Bible; where the word of God was loved and believed, not downgraded and doubted.1

The arrival of evangelist and pastor, Rev Joseph Kemp, to the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle in 1920 provided the impetus needed to see such a training establishment become a reality. His ministries in England and later New York had seen revival break out. He was a gifted evangelist and pastor whose preaching drew crowds to the Tabernacle. He launched a mid-week Bible study, which gathered a weekly audience of 600 people from all denominations. The businessmen approached Rev Kemp and, after weeks of earnest prayer for divine direction, they made the decision on 18 July 1921 to establish the Bible Training Institute to train men and women in the Scriptures and theology.

Lectures started on 1 March 1922, with 10 students – five men and five women. The College’s first home was an unpretentious 10-roomed wooden house in Ponsonby, Auckland. One large room served as a lecture room, with the men living in residence and the women attending daily classes. A hostel for women opened in Mt Eden in 1924. The first Superintendent of the College was Mr Charles Rolls (Bible teacher and former missionary to India), and he and Joseph Kemp shouldered the majority of the teaching in the early years. 

The Ponsonby building was soon bursting at the seams and the directors began to look for a new site – with Joseph Kemp stipulating that the doors would not open until the full sum needed to build was received. On 20 August 1927 a purpose-built building in Queen Street, adjacent to the Tabernacle, was opened free of debt.

By the time of Joseph Kemp’s death on 4 September 1933, 100 students had headed overseas to serve as missionaries.

In 1961 the College moved to its current site at Henderson. In 1975 the College’s first regional college opened in Christchurch.

From those small beginnings in 1922, thousands of graduates have gone on to serve in all spheres of work and ministry within Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond. As we look ahead to our Centennial year in 2022, we give thanks to God for those people of faith and vision who have gone before us, and pray that he will continue to use this College to train students to renew their communities – in light of and by the power of Christ.

1 The history of the early years of the NZ Bible Training Institute are recorded in Expanding Horizons by J. Oswald Sanders (Institute Press, Auckland, 1971)