On July 11, 1976, our nation’s bicentennial, Liberty Baptist Church held its first service at the South Coast Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa, California. Eighty-nine people attended that first service. Some came out of curiosity; others were already seeking a local church fellowship. Less than a year later, the young church relocated to the chapel of the Southern California College, now Vanguard University, allowing them to begin a graded Sunday school program and Wednesday evening prayer service. It was in February of 1977, that God began to work a miracle, beginning with the church’s purchase of eleven acres in the city of Irvine.
Though the early years of Liberty were not always easy, God continued to bless and providentially guide. By 1989, the church had undergone several transitions and, for a moment, the future seemed bleak. As the future became uncertain for those who called Liberty their church home, the attendance and offerings continued to decline. But more and more men and woman began to turn to God in prayer with the fervor of Gideon, and God was faithful to keep Liberty Baptist Church alive.
Miraculously, after being six months behind in mortgage payments, God allowed the church to refinance their debt, enabling them to reduce monthly payments to a more manageable amount. It was also at this time that the church found itself at a crucial turning point with regard to doctrine. Some were questioning whether it was even possible for a strong Baptist church to exist in the seemingly liberal area of Orange County.
In July of 1990, for Liberty’s 14th Anniversary services, Dwight Tomlinson preached as a guest speaker for the first time. The Lord began to quickly knit the hearts of the church members and Pastor Tomlinson together. By September of the same year, God had filled the empty spot of a senior pastor for Liberty Baptist. After starting three churches, the Tomlinson family was now coming to lead a church that had for several years been looking for strong leadership in the pulpit.
The process of restoring the vision that once guided the church soon began. Solid Bible preaching and soulwinning became the emphasis. Biblical principles were emphasized and, most importantly, trust in a faithful God to preserve and build His church was restored. In addition, Pastor Tomlinson began to challenge the members of Liberty Baptist in two new areas. This approach would eventually revolutionize the church.
First, was the area of missions giving. In 1990, Liberty instituted the program of Faith Promise giving, and within a few years, provision and support of missionaries had increased exponentially. Second, Pastor Tomlinson began encouraging members to ask God for a challenging request. Members began to pray for the church’s debt to be removed. At first, this request seemed impossible due to the large amount still owed on the mortgage. But as the church lived by faith, God again proved faithful and honored His Word in Luke 6:38, “Give and it shall be given unto you.” As missions giving increased, God began to miraculously whittle down the debt. Soon, a fundraiser called the “I Love My Church” banquet was instituted, and the extra money was used to pay off the debt.
In 1998, God once again worked a miracle by providing real estate that would enable, greatly needed space to be acquired, as well as location adjustments. A church that was once ready to close her doors had now again received a breath of new life. Throughout all the changes, every miracle has been a picture of the grace of God and a reminder that the church belongs to Christ. He is the only one who can build it, and accomplish what He has called believers to do: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
The story of Liberty Baptist Church is far from over. In January of 2013, the groundbreaking service was held for Liberty’s newest endeavor: a two-phase educational/sports complex. The history of Liberty Baptist is not a success story as men would view it; it is rather a testimony to the faithfulness of God when the Holy Spirit is allowed to reign in hearts. “And where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).