Holding Fast the Faithful Word

Nov 29, 2021 | Summit Magazine

It was Dr. Richard Murphy, Clarks Summit University’s first president, who suggested the school motto: “Holding Fast the Faithful Word,” taken from Titus 1:9. 

Arthur M. Bowser chose the same phrase to be the title of the book which details the first 50 years of the school: “A Jubilee Chronicle of Baptist Bible College and School of Theology,” highlighting CSU from 1932–1982. In the introduction, Dr. Rembert Carter wrote, “Institutional crises are recorded throughout this chronicle, but Gods’ faithfulness met the needs.”

Faithfulness has been a cornerstone of the university from the very beginning. And the description is not primarily about the people of CSU. We merely cling to His “faithful Word.” We simply trust in our “faithful God.” It’s His grace that incites faithfulness in us.

At CSU, our collective desire is to respond to our Savior in daily faithfulness. This goal is visible in the foundations of the university—the school song and our seal—and weaved throughout the daily student experience—chapels and intentional mentorships—all with the hope of instilling patterns of faithful service and lifelong gratefulness for God’s faithfulness in every student’s life.

Singing of His Faithfulness

During the first semester of the school in 1932, two students of the upcoming graduating class composed the school hymn: Vera Stilwell, who was also the class secretary, and Walter Miller. Miss Hazel Vibbard, one of the founding teachers, recalled hearing “Holding Fast the Faithful Word” for the first time. She’s quoted in Bowser’s book: “I remember the day when Vera Stilwell sat down at the piano and began to play a bit of music that has become very familiar…for it became our Seminary song…as we listened, Dr. Murphy remarked, ‘We are making history.’” 

The hymn was sung at the first Commencement ceremony in 1933 in First Baptist Church in Johnson City, New York, and it has remained an auditory piece of school tradition.

More recently, Dr. David Harris, professor of music, updated the song with a “musical facelift,” smoothing out rhythms to make it softer and more relational for those who sing it. “The music adorns the text of the song,” says Harris. He believes the hymn is helpful because, “It drives us back to the Bible as our fully inerrant and sufficient source for truth.”

Service as Response to His Faithfulness

CSU’s seal depicts primary components of the university’s values. The open Bible at the bottom echoes the sentiments of the school hymn, placing Scripture as the foundation and sole authority. The pitcher, bowl and towel represent service, placing an emphasis on faithfully following Christ and caring for others.

Faithfulness Engrained into CSU Experience

The school hymn is sung a few times each year. The seal appears at formal events. While those elements point to the philosophy of the university, what happens in everyday student life confirms it. 

Bowser writes about the first year of classes at the school, “A steady stream of godly pastors, missionaries, evangelists, Jewish workers, and Christian business men spoke during chapel from 10:00 to 10:20 each school morning leaving an indelible impression on the student body. Several students testified that the strongest impressions of their lives were received during the chapel sessions.” 

Chapel still begins at the 10 o’clock hour, now lasting a full 50 minutes. The “steady stream” of speakers now occasionally includes authors and professional baseball players, but the emphasis is still the same—immersing students in constant encouragement from God’s Word. Today, the mid-week messages reach beyond the student body, as live-stream chapel services are viewed around the world on CSU’s Facebook page. 

Today’s students choose majors in Biology, Accounting and Criminal Justice in addition to the longstanding programs like Education and Pastoral Ministry. Students can study online in different time zones and continents, finding common ground in a biblical foundation for every course—whether they’re studying Addictions Counseling or Biblical Languages.

The Christ-centered focus of every one of our 70+ programs is another reminder for students to remain faithful to Christ in every aspect of life, not just on Sundays or when they accomplish formal ministry. That’s the point of everyday faithfulness. Faithfulness to Christ happens moment by moment, as part of every career and relationship and hobby and pursuit—wherever God calls. 

“God alone knows the fruit of ministry of that first class.” Founding teacher Mabel Thomson is quoted in Bowser’s book. She describes the 12 graduates: Four pastors; two translators; four wives; two business professionals—each one serving faithfully in the work God prepared in advance for them to do. 

God alone also knows the fruits of faithfulness stemming from the nearly 90 years of graduating classes in CSU’s history. Entrepreneurs, parents, ministry leaders, missionaries, CEOs, teachers and countless other roles now describe more than 70,000 alumni. Their success is not measured by those titles, but rather by the sum of their choices to faithfully serve the God of great faithfulness.

As Bowser closed his book, “Expectantly and prayerfully, we look to the future…‘Holding Fast the Faithful Word.’”

By Erika A. Bruckner (’04, ’21)

“Holding Fast the Faithful Word”

By Vera Stilwell and Walter Miller

Faithful He who promised life,
True is the Word He gave.
Faithful is His blessed Son,
Believing souls to save.

Jesus Christ the living Word,
Comforter, Guide and Stay,
Bids us point lost souls to Him,
The Life, the Truth, the Way.

He our Master lives on high; 
Soon He will come again;
Then we’ll go to be with Him,
And with Him we shall reign.

Holding fast the faithful Word;
Holding fast the faithful Word;
Until He comes again, we’ll follow in His train.
Holding fast the faithful Word.

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