Bethel Baptist Church, formerly named Westside Baptist Church, was organized in a little run-down house in the 2700 block of West Gore, Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1955, under the leadership of Brother J. M. (Jake) Minnick.
In December 1957, the church purchased property at 19th and Columbia. According to the best memories of the church members, the old building on this property had been used as a laundry, an automotive garage, and a battery shop. Since the new location made “Westside Baptist” unsuitable, the name was changed to Bethel Baptist Church, at the time of the move.
The original purchase, 1957 (left); and the first remodel, 1961 (right):
In late 1959, Brother Minnick accepted the pastorate of the New Testament Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a few months later Bethel called Brother Forrest Keener, a young preacher, out of their congregation. Brother Keener’s ordination service was held in April 1960.
Under the leadership of Brother Keener, Bethel Baptist experienced a slow, steady increase and maturing. Over the next forty-three years, hundreds of people were converted to Christ and added to the church. The extremely transient nature of Lawton kept the number relatively small during any given period, but the ministry constantly grew.
From the church’s beginning, constant remodeling of the building was an absolute necessity. Holes were plugged up to make the inside usable at first, and then work progressed with stuccoing and shingling the old building. By mid-1961, the church had tile on the floors. The ground-breaking for a new auditorium was held in October 1963. It was completed in April 1964, and was able to seat over 400 people. In 1968, two parsonages were constructed in the western section of Lawton, and were sold in 1974 and 1975 at a good profit. In 1971, construction began on the Sunday School wing, removing part of, and completely encompassing, the original building. When completed in early 1972, it provided over 13,000 square feet of worship and teaching space. In 1973, the church purchased property at 19th and Dearborn, on which a parsonage and print shop were constructed. The next four decades saw the monthly publication of “The Baptist Watchman”, as well as printing of thousands of Gospel tracts and booklets ultimately reach every state in the nation and many foreign countries.
In February 1976, the auditorium that was built in 1964 was remodeled to include laminated arches, new ceiling, new carpet, and new shingles. Ceiling fans were installed in the 1980’s to improve air flow. In 1990, the church building was again remodeled to incorporate the print shop and a new library, and the auditorium got a fresh facelift with new wood paneling. To remedy a persistent leak, a pitched roof was constructed over the Sunday School wing in 2008, which gave a fresh look to the building exterior, as well. These improvements are appreciated by the congregation today, and God continues to bless Bethel Baptist Church materially.
Under the leadership of Pastor Keener, what began in the early 1980’s as teaching in response to requests from men in the church, including military members, and other pastors for deeper studies in Theology, ultimately became The Bible Institute of Correspondence (BIC). The major mission of the BIC is to support one of Bethel’s primary goals: missions. This Institute was designed to provide students with instruction in the areas of Theology (proper), Biblical Theology, Practical Theology, and Historical Theology. The Institute’s approach is an interdisciplinary one encompassing Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Theology, and Bibliology. BIC was designed to provide audio instruction, in conjunction with supplemental reading assignments, and then to test the effectiveness of that instruction with an extensive and comprehensive series of written tests. BIC is structured on a semester format, following a sixteen lesson progression for each of the four interdisciplinary subjects, and has an academic value of 96 college hours. Through the years Pastor Keener was the President, and David Pitman was the Dean.
In his 40th year as Pastor, Brother Keener sought a replacement for his unique ministries of writing, printing, and preaching. He led the church to bring in Brother Dean Robinson, who served as Associate Pastor from July 2001 until January 2003, when he assumed the role of Pastor.
Under the leadership of Brother Robinson, Bethel continued to have a robust evangelistic and Bible teaching program in the city of Lawton. He carefully maintained the church’s original vision by teaching people first to trust Christ as their personal Savior, and then to follow Him in scriptural baptism. He further endeavored to teach obedience to all things God has commanded. The BIC continued, as well as the tract and tape ministries. Bethel continued to support missionaries scattered over every continent throughout the world, preaching and teaching as commanded by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
In late summer of 2012, Brother Robinson resigned, and the congregation began a period of searching for a new pastor. Previously they had the guidance of a sitting pastor, but now, with only the Word of God and the church’s Constitution and By-Laws for guidance, they elected a pulpit committee to find, interview, and recommend candidates for the pastorate. During this period, the church also voted to begin a three-phase renovation of the church buildings, including a new nursery and an upgraded audio-video system. Ultimately, the congregation voted to call Terry Basham, II to be the fourth Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, and he officially began his ministry in April 2013. Under his leadership, the church has begun a new ministry of Active Evangelism in the city of Lawton.
Bethel Baptist Church is an independent, Calvinistic and careful church. Even with a modest number of members, the current congregation of Bethel provides monthly support to over forty mission projects and missionaries located throughout the world. The future of the Lord’s church on the corner of 19th and Columbia is bright, and the Work of God continues.
To God be the Glory!
*Special thanks to Patrick Wilkinson for the research and groundwork,
and to Mrs. Cheri Burnsed for further updates to this history of Bethel.