John Vincent Upton, Jr.

John Vincent Upton image

Dr. John Vincent Upton, Jr. who has been elected to a five-year term as President of the Baptist World Alliance from 2000 – 2005 has a connection with Danville through Averett College (now University) from which he and his wife, the former Deborah Leigh Wyatt, received BA degrees in 1974. They were married on February 1, 1974 in West Main Baptist Church by Dr. John Dever who was a professor at Averett at that time. John Upton had served as an interim youth worker at the church. The Uptons now have three adult children, John Christopher Upton, Richard Jeremy Upton and Emily Elizabeth Upton Jacobs. Deborah has been an Associate Pastor at several Baptist Churches in Richmond, Virginia.

Dr. Upton is a native of Tidewater Virginia with a heritage reaching back to Camden County, North Carolina. Although he received an appointment to West Point, feeling a call into the Christian ministry, he declined it and entered Averett College to begin training for that call. After graduation from Averett he attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where he received a Master of Divinity degree in 1977. He studied spoken and written Mandarin Chinese at the Taipei Language Institute in Taipei, Republic of China from 1986 – 1988 and was a graduate of the Chinese Language Institute of the Taiwan Baptist Mission in 1987. He served as a missionary with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Taiwan, Republic of China from 1986 – 1991. He received a Doctor of Divinity degree from the India Baptist Theological Seminary in Kerrala, India in January 2000. Both he and his wife, Deborah, have received the Mary Jo Davis Outstanding Alumni Award from Averett University.

Before and after his missionary service John Upton, Jr. served in a number of pastorates including at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas as Associate Pastor from 1976 to 1981, Colts Neck Baptist Church in Colts Neck, New Jersey as pastor from 1981 to 1984, Urbanna, Baptist Church in Urbanna, Virginia from 1984 to 1986 as pastor and again from 1991 to 1995. During those pastorates he served on many local and State boards and committees, led retreats and conferences and had many speaking engagements. From 1995 to 2001 he was a group leader of the Mission Mobilization Group of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) after which he was elected Executive Director of the BGAV in 2001, a position he continues to hold. Prior to his election as President of the BWA he was active in the work of the Alliance and served in many leadership positions within it.

The Baptist World Alliance was formed in Exeter Hall in London during the first Baptist World Congress in 1905 and today is a fellowship of 219 Baptist conventions and unions in 120 countries throughout the world whose members claim over 37 million baptized believers.

Unlike some other denominations Baptist churches are autonomous with congregational governance and no church hierarchy. Whenever Baptist churches wish to join together to do things, such as world missions, which would be difficult for individual churches to do on their own they form associations, conventions and unions voluntarily and on a mutually acceptable basis. Some churches and groups of churches may decline to join a larger group if they feel that they are not compatible with it. On the other hand, the larger group may not accept into its membership any church or group of churches with which it does not feel compatible. An example of this freedom to associate or not associate may be found in Virginia where most Baptist churches, associations and conventions chose to be members of the Southern Baptist Convention for many years and were accepted as members of this body, although there were also independent Baptist churches. In recent years some Baptist churches began to differ with the SBC on Bible interpretation, the position of women in churches and other matters and withdrew from the SBC and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) continued to accept both SBC and CBF churches, but some SBC churches withdrew from the BGAV and formed the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV). Some formerly independent Baptist churches joined the SBCV. When the BWA agreed to accept CBF churches the SBC withdrew from the BWA on June 15, 2004, but the BGAV applied for membership in the BWA on its own and was accepted, thus continuing the long-term relationship of most Virginia Baptist churches with the BWA. Dr. Upton has been instrumental in guiding Virginia Baptists through the period of changing relationships which they have experienced in recent years as well as being a leader for Baptists worldwide through the BWA. Although not currently a resident of Danville, he maintains a relationship with many people, churches and institutions here.