Transcript: Brothers and sisters, it is a joy to be here this morning at this first chapel service of the new semester—what we call Spring Convocation—and to gather on a day that means so much to the institution and a great deal to me personally. Every convocation is meaningful because it signals the dawn of a new semester and all that that new semester entails, and it is a day of unmistakable pageantry; academic regalia—dresses as my kids call them—medallions, processionals and recessionals, high hymns, standing and sitting, and of course, the signing of our Articles of Faith. Even for us common folk, it is a day of pomp and circumstance. But our pageantry is beyond empty things. We are not the British Monarch that celebrates all form and no function, all style and no substance. Rather, the pageantry communicates something. It reasserts our fundamental beliefs. It restates our core values and convictions, and reminds us that this is a day of consecration to dedicate ourselves to God’s task and ask for God’s blessing on students, staff, faculty, and studies, and a reminder of all that we hold true and hold dear.
It is a day of personal joy for me; my first convocation as president. It is an occasion I will no doubt cherish in memory for many years to come, and a day that I have the opportunity to speak to the seminary community a sermon entitled, “For the Church: Theological Education and the Future of Midwestern Seminary.” Now I want to draw our attention this morning to Matthew chapter 16 and read verses 13–20:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.1
This indeed is a day to consider and celebrate the seminary and the local church. And to consider one, one must out of necessity consider the other. It is impossible in any Biblical or rightly logical sense to think of the seminary apart from thinking of the local church. To be sure, the church can exist apart from the seminary, but a seminary could not and should not exist apart from the local church. For the church, theological education and the future of Midwestern Seminary is a comingled title because it is a comingled subject. It is impossible to conceptualize in any right way theological education without the church. So any conversation on theological education must begin with the church. Any healthy understanding of a seminary must first and foremost be rooted in the local church — what the church is to be and to do. There should be an indivisible union, interconnectedness between the seminary and the church. For a seminary to know its mission it must first look to the church and the churches charter in Matthew 16.
Matthew 16 is a paradigmatic passage for the Christian life, and for the church, and of ministry. Therefore, it is for us as well as those who would understand the task of theological education and ministry preparation. And as we look at Matthew 16, it is as though as we hear of the church, we overhear of theological education. As we hear of the church, we overhear what the seminary is to be and to do. As we gaze at the church in this passage, we see at our periphery what a seminary is to be. And so I want us to consider this morning this classic passage on the church, but also consider what it has to say to us who are about the business of training ministers of the gospel.
Even as we consider this passage and this topic, we realize that we do not do so in tranquil times. In many ways higher education and specifically theological education is in a state of crisis. To borrow a phrase from Arthur Schlesinger we might say there is a “crisis of the old order.”2 And we acknowledge—I acknowledge—that crisis is a tired word. We hear of economic crises and geopolitical crises and political crises and cultural crises, so much so that “crises” is a tired word. But it is an appropriate word because any objective assessment of theological education in America today has to conclude that theological education is in a state of crisis. A crisis of resources, not enough funds: even this past week there was another news report about a seminary selling its campus. It is a crisis of commitment to whom it is accountable: the churches of their denomination, accreditors, the Department of Education, a donor base, the loudest complainer? Whom do we serve? More fundamentally, it is a crisis of identity: what is a seminary to be? A crisis of mission: what is a seminary to do after all? These questions and a thousand more are echoing in administrative buildings around the country and beyond as schools like ours seek to figure out who they are, what they are to do, and how they should go about doing it.
Rightly nuanced, we also understand that we gather this morning when the church is in a state of crisis as well. We look around our nation, and we see stagnant churches with little or no growth. We often see weak pulpits, little exposition, shallow sermons void of condemnations of sin. We see a dearth of young men aspiring to the pastorate. Consider even this morning that as we gather in our state of Missouri, there are roughly 2,000 Southern Baptist Churches of which only about 250 are pastored by men aged 40 or younger. That is a crisis! Worldliness in the church, apathy toward the lost, meaningless church membership, subtle undermining of the exclusivity of the gospel—all of this and so much more we see, and it must cause alarm in our soul.
But we also acknowledge this morning that the church has always existed in a state of crisis. This is nothing new. Whether it was the first-century church, under the persecution of Nero when all of the assault and the evil forces were brought against it; the church in the Middle Ages with the Scriptures removed far from the pulpit; or the church in the modern era with secularism at home and oppressive regimes abroad, the church has always existed in a state of crisis. But we will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. Moreover, we are not despondent because standing before us in Matthew 16 is one of those Mount Everest texts: this promise of our Lord to build his church. Too many churches read this passage and then use it to facilitate their own denial. This is not a passage stating that every church everywhere need not fear about their own survival because Christ will build them. Rather, this is a passage that states Christ’s general assessment that his church will indeed be built, his global, universal church will persist. His people will never be without a remnant.
The passage this morning comes to us in a most interesting context. Jesus encounters the Pharisees and the Sadducees in verse one as they came up to him to test him. They asked him to show them a sign from heaven. They want another sign. Jesus responds in verse two: “When it is evening you say it will be fair weather for the sky is red, and in the morning there will be a storm today for the sky is red and threatening. Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign and a sign will not be given and except the sign of Jonah. Then he left them and went away.” It is an interesting passage, and we find that it is situated in an interesting place within the Gospel of Matthew. The crowd wants a sign. People are speculating about who Jesus is, what he was about. He performed this miracle in the verses immediately preceding verse 13, and then he retreats with his disciples to the region of Cesarea Philippi up to the north as a place of rest and reflection. And he begins to probe his disciples and shift the conversation, shift the discussion from matters of signs and miracles to matters of his identity and what he shall do in the cosmos. Notice as we pick up in verse 13 and we are introduced to the first major movement of this passage:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bajona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”
The first major movement we see in this passage is the fact that the church will be built on truth. Jesus brings this question to bear on his disciples, his associates, his intimates by asking them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Now mind you, there is a sense in which that is a loaded question. Jesus is tipping his hand right there. He does not say, “Who do people say that I am?” But, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” We know from the book of Daniel that that very phrase was an assessment of deity, so Jesus is tipping his hand to his disciples as he asks them this question. And his disciples have been taught since boyhood to expect and to anticipate the Messiah. There was a messianic yearning throughout the Jewish people, and Jewish children were taught from the earliest of ages to look for, to expect, to anticipate, one who would come to liberate their people.
Well you know what happens here, of course. You are familiar with this passage. In verse 14 we get a catalog of answers. Some are saying John the Baptist, others Elijah, evidentially derived from Malachi 4 and 5. Some others say Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. After all, Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Or he was one of the prophets in general. Although the crowd was confused, Jesus is not confused about who he is. Let us remind ourselves this morning why Jesus was put to death. The Jewish people sought to kill him we are told multiple times again and again and again in the Scriptures and especially in the gospel of John. They sought to put him to death because of his claiming to be the son of God. He made himself equal with God. So the crowd is confused, but Jesus is not, and Jesus insists upon clarity from his disciples.
So he sharpens the question now in verse 15, and he personalizes it: “But who do you say that I am?” And this is perhaps the most pointed question in all of the Bible, and it is the most pointed question that we have to deal with as people who would be followers of Christ. Because no one is saved, has ever been saved, or will ever be saved without a right understanding of the person and work of Christ. “Who do you say that I am?” It is beyond a personal statement of belief though, we are about to get a confessional and foundational statement for the church. A shift takes place in this answer where Jesus takes the personalized question, “Who do you say that I am?” and then shifts gears to take it to a public, corporate, ecclesial level: “For upon this I will build my church.” The answer has enormous implications for a person, but also for a church, and this shift from the personal to the ecclesial must not be missed.
So the answer comes in verse 16: “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the long expected, the anointed one, the Christ, the one we have been taught to look for,” Peter declares. And again, the Bible—and the New Testament especially—is replete with references to Jesus as the Son of God. This is a central statement, a central confession that if any church neglects, God will neglect them. Of course Jesus has made numerous claims about himself throughout the New Testament—who he is, what he would do. By his works, by his teachings, by all of this and more, he has identified himself as the Son of God. In this statement, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” comes a whole package of confessional conviction: Sonship, Lordship, exclusivity, all of these things.
Notice in verse 17. And here we begin to get into the meat of our passage this morning. Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.” Peter gains his spiritual insight like we all do: illumination of the Holy Spirit: “Blessed are you Simon Bajona, you did not come up with this. This is not of your flesh or your blood or of any human’s. My father has chosen to reveal this to you.”
And then we get in verse 18 this knotty phrase that has puzzled theologians for centuries: “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” What is “this rock?” Our Roman Catholic friends, of course, understand this to be a reference to Peter as the first Pope establishing papal authority in the papacy and a divinely ordained apostolic succession through the papacy. I think that is not at all what is going on. Moreover, if it were, in places like Matthew 18:1–4 and Matthew 20:20–21, Jesus would have clarified and given them such authority.
Some think—and it is a legitimate assessment—and perhaps many, if not most, in the room this morning understand this to be the antecedent to rock meaning “this confession:” this statement that Christ is the Son of the living God. This confessional statement is what the church shall be built upon. I think perhaps the best understanding is that the reference here is to the foundation of the apostles and their teaching in seed form here in this confession, but fleshed out in apostolic teaching and New Testament revelation. Not Peter mind you, but the apostles and what they would teach is the rock. We are told that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. We are told in Ephesians 2 that we are being built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
So the point is this: the foundation of the church is God-given revelation. Jesus is the cornerstone of the church, indeed the church’s one foundation in Jesus Christ her Lord. But notice what is going on here, this comingling of concerns. The identity of Jesus to this confession related to the church, to then Christ’s assurance that he will so build his church on this Rock. It is a dramatic, and at first glance puzzling turn, going from the personal to the ecclesial, from the specific to the ecclesial, from the specific statement to this broader work that Christ shall do. It is a reminder to us that as we would seek to serve the church, the first way we serve the church is by making sure we stand in that great stead of apostolic teaching, teaching the truth of Scripture.
If you think about it, it is a staggering reality, a great irony, an eternal irony that most seminaries in America today, institutions and entities that undertake the training of ministers, not only do they not enhance and strengthen the doctrinal strength and theological faithfulness of their students, they ultimately undermine it; and therefore, the churches these students will serve. That is like going to the doctor for medicine but leaving the office with a jar of strychnine. That is like taking your automobile to the mechanic but leaving with it being more broken than when you arrived. It is a strange and perverse irony. And you see there are so many ways to look at seminaries today and to assess seminaries today, or divinity schools today, and you can categorize them in all sorts of ways: the size of their endowment, the size of their enrollment, the type of campus they have, their geographical reach, all these different things. But really there are only two criteria that ultimately matter: those that are theologically faithful and those that are not.
I was reminded in recent weeks of the horror and the stakes of institutions and seminaries that are not theologically faithful. Of course, we who know our own denomination’s history know that we have lived the tragedies of this with our seminaries, including the one I now am president, of drifting into liberalism in the context of the 20th century. And so a denominational controversy, a donnybrook, erupted in the late 1970s and played out over about 15 years or so. Jerry Sutton, our academic dean, has written a great book documenting that.3 If you have not read it, shame on you. You should. He would say go buy it today.
In the midst of the controversy in the 1980s in the denomination, a book was written by a man named Clayton Sullivan called, Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive.4 I read that book about 10 or 12 years ago. As I read it I had a sickening feeling page-by-page because the book is about Sullivan losing his faith and losing his call to ministry. In Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive—the name should tell you enough—Sullivan talks about showing up at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in the 1950s and walking into a scenario where he was assaulted by theological liberalism. He talks about when he left that day in the 1950s in his car, and his daddy was in the driveway; and he says, “I remember the last words my father said to me that morning standing by the driveway waving goodbye as I was pulling away from the house into the morning light. ‘Son, whatever happens, don’t let ‘em change you.’”5
He grew up in a conservative Mississippi church whose preacher believed the Bible and preached to the lost. But change him they would, and change him they did. He would write about the effects of liberalism on his own belief. He says, “As a seminarian still in my mid-twenties, I found myself baffled. I was more certain of what I did not believe than I was of what I did believe. Southern Seminary had destroyed my biblical fundamentalism, but it had not given me anything viable to take its place. That is the weakness of the historical-critical method. Its power to destroy exceeds its power to construct.”6 He would go on to say of his studies, “By this time, the cart was before the horse. The means have become the end. When I first enrolled in seminary, I looked upon studies as a means by which to prepare to be a preacher. I viewed Southern Seminary as a temporary dwelling place on my way to the pastorate, but to me, an overcooked graduate student, study by now had become and end within itself.”7 Speaking to the condescension the professors had for the local church and the pastorate, he would write this, “My seminary professors tended to look upon preachers as hucksters, denominational drum beaters or dummies. That is why one of my seminary professors remarked, ‘The most brilliant Southern Baptist ministers become seminary professors and college teachers, the rest have to go into the pastorate.’” 8
Brothers and sisters, that will happen in this place over my cold, dead body because we are a people committed to our confessional accountability to this denomination. We are a people committed to the local church. We are a people committed to the pastorate. And we are a people committed to training and to encouraging and to nurturing that call within our students, not to denigrate it, not to devalue it.
We see here this relationship between the church and confessional strength. And then, we move here further in verse 18 and we see the second real movement of this passage and that the church labors with confidence. I love verse 18: “I will build my church. The gates of Hades will not overpower it. “I will build my church.” Let those words sink in. “I [Jesus] will”—not maybe, not perhaps. “Will build…” I love the industry, the activity of that word. He is not passively observing it, he is building it. “I will build my [his] church. I will build my church.” Not my seminary. Not my para-church ministry. Not my Christian camp. Not my Christian business. All those things are fine and good and right and fitting inasmuch as they seek to serve and support and undergird the church. You see, we are reminded in this passage of what Christ’s great cosmic concern is right now, and that is building his church, seeing after his church, being faithful to this promise for his church.
If you do not get enough mail in life, all you need to do is become a seminary president. I promise you the volume of mail you receive will go up. I am flooded with mail on a daily basis and I am amazed and amused and often frightened by what I receive. All of these materials about how to train pastors, all this curriculum about what the church is to be, all these different incentives to buy something or to purchase something or subscribe to something or to attend something. And all of this is just thrown at us. And by the way, those of you who are in the ministry and have a mailing address, you know something of what I speak because you receive much of it as well. And I look at that, and I smile because I am reminded that Christ is building his church. That does not mean that we get to be lazy or passive or silly, but it does mean that we ride on the crest of his wave. Remember the words in Ephesians 4, after all, as they were read earlier. I remind us of these again, for Christ is building his church, and in Ephesians 4 we are told something of how he does this: “He [Christ] gave some as apostles, some as prophets, and now some as evangelists and pastors and teachers.” How is Christ fulfilling his vision to build the church? He is doing this by calling our pastors and evangelists and teachers to labor in the building of his church. Why? He is doing this for the equipping of the saints for the building up of the body of Christ.
You see, my job as president is not just to find a bunch of ambitious young people and polish them up a little bit, and then let them get some managerial skills and then let them learn how to manage some Christian endeavor. It is not my job just find people who, given their own ambition, or their own IQ or their other gifts, would be successful probably at anything they set out to do, and so they have chosen ministry like they could have chosen to sell insurance or to be a school teacher or to be a nurse or to be a doctor or anything else, So we just give them a little bit of Christian teaching, and then we just kind of send them off to do this thing. No. Our job, my job, is to assemble a team of faculty, administrators, and staff to create a culture on this campus that starts at the top and trickles down with a deep and abiding love to serve the church how Christ has indicated he would build it. It is to train pastors and teachers and evangelists—the offices of the church—how to teach and preach God’s word, how to share the faith, understand mission fields, and understand the Great Commission. It is to give them the organs of the New Testament as to what a church is to be and to do, and then send them on their way and watch Christ build his church through them and rejoice and relish in his great work.
You see, so many seminaries have no idea what they are doing. You say, “Don’t you sound arrogant for a new, young seminary president?” No, I sound certain because I am not lying in bed at night trying to figure out what a seminary is to do. It is so resoundingly clear in Scripture: Christ is building his church, and we are called to be a part of that. We will do a lot of things and a lot of things well, I trust. But unapologetically our best energies and first fruits must be given to these offices of pastors and teachers and evangelists. And as you think about it that is really what we are called to do in ministry, right? We are called to teach the word, to preach the word, to share the word. It is what we do. The confidence Christ exudes in Matthew 16 further reminds us that it behooves us to be tethered to the church because that is what Christ has elected to build, his church. And our future, our justification, our rationale is only as strong as we are aligned to and tethered to his church. It is not a faithful seminary that builds the church. Rather, Christ builds his church through faithful pastors, missionaries, and ministers whom we trust were made more faithful through our work here.
I love the middle of verse 18 here, and I love this expression, “my church,” because we see here something of what I would just refer to as the centrality of Christ’s church in his kingdom work. What is Jesus doing after all, right now? What else has he promised to build? I love this expression “my church.” It indicates governance, yes. But it indicates so much more than that: possession, love, affection, ownership, interest, concern. After all, Christ died for his church. He purchased it with his blood. He is head of his church. The church is his bride. He shall return for his church. He gave gifts to his followers for service to the church. He calls men and women to minister to his church. He is building his church. He walks among his churches. He holds the pastors of his churches in his hand. As a matter of fact, he is so identified with his church that we see when Saul seeks to persecute that church, Jesus shows up, interrupts his life, and says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” because to persecute the church is to persecute our Lord himself.
Beloved, I believe it is hard to overstate—perhaps impossible to overstate—the centrality of the church in the New Testament. To be for the gospel is to be for the church, not just creating anonymous Christians to run about, but those who are going to be organically a part of the church, right? For Baptist identity is to be for the local church. The church is dear to Christ, and it best be dear to us because what is dear to Christ best be dear to us.
Notice what takes place here. We get another just almost strange verse here that is tacked onto the end of this passage in verse 19. Jesus states with certainty what he will do for his church: even death itself or the gates of Hades will not overpower it. But now in verse 19 he speaks to the purity of the church. And again, this affects us and shapes our understanding of theological understanding. What is going on here in verse 19? This talk of keys, of binding, loosing, what is going on here? Jesus is referring to the purity of his church. Time does not permit us, but we go to Matthew 18 and see more of this. It strikes me as more than interesting—I say even gripping—that in this explanation of the church, what the church will be built upon, this confession of Christ, that Christ will indeed build his church. Rolled up in this is this understanding that the church is to be pure and the church has the authority to bind and to loose, meaning to declare what has happened and not happened in relation to sin and confession and repentance. It is a reminder that Christ is concerned about the purity of his Church.
And I say to you especially, that as you envision yourselves leading ministries, pastoring churches, there is a trickle-down affect between yourself and those that follow you that ought to keep you up at night. You show me a pastor committed to prayer, and I will show you a church that is probably committed to prayer. You show me a college student committed to evangelism, I will show you a college ministry that is probably evangelistic. You show me a singles pastor that is given to personal holiness, I will show you a singles ministry that is probably marked by holiness. You show me a pastor that is indifferent to evangelism, I will show you a church that is indifferent to evangelism. You show me a pastor that is shallow, trite, unholy, I will show you a church over time that will likely reflect that. We are to be about the purity of Christ’s church, and as President and as a faculty and staff, we have the injunction here to create a culture and environment that trickles down that sense of holiness, that sense of purity of the church. I cannot, we cannot, create a spiritual panacea here, but we can do our best to graduate students that are more holy, not less; more in love with Christ, not less; more circumspect, not less.
I received an interesting hand-written letter just a few days ago in the mail from a lady. Nothing in the letter said that she was little and old, but for some reason in my mind I just have the picture of a little, old lady who wrote this letter. She had read an article about my graduation sermon, and I made the comment at graduation about tossing your résumé to the wind, grabbing a six-pack of Red Bull, drinking it, and preaching the gospel to anything that moves. Well, she wrote me a very sweet letter, but she chastised me for encouraging our students to drink alcohol. Okay? I stand corrected if Red Bull is an alcoholic drink, but insofar as I knew it was only a caffeinated drink. But her letter was really sweet, and she spoke about the influence I have over students. And though she was off in what a Red Bull is, she was right in what we are to be about.
I received a magazine a while back, and time does not permit me to get all into this, but a seminary was promoting one of their students who was, and is, engaged in an active homosexual lifestyle. He was telling his story about how accepted he was at the seminary where he attends, and he said this: “I was pleased to find a seminary that would not judge me based upon my lifestyle or my character, but would simply appreciate me for my call.” Let me be clear, there is no way to disaggregate your character from your call, none whatsoever. What does this mean for us? What does it mean for confessional integrity? What does it mean for us—the certainty of Christ’s church and of his building his church? What does it mean for us regarding the centrality that Christ and his church holds? What does it mean for us, the purity with which Christ is concerned for his church?
In the weeks ahead, I will be releasing a series of essays spelling this out more, but let me just enumerate some things for us this morning quickly. What does this mean for Midwestern Seminary, a seminary that is absolutely committed to the local church? The sermon title did not happen by coincidence. It has festered in my soul for years: “For the Church.” This seminary will exist without question, without apology, for the church. That is a vision I intend to implement over every square inch of this campus and that is a message I intend to carry to every corner of this denomination because that is who we are and that is what we must and should be.
So what does this mean? Let me suggest a few things. As I mentioned, I will enumerate this more thoroughly in some forthcoming essays, but number one it means this: we intentionally nurture a culture on campus that cherishes, loves, values, and esteems the church. It is attitudinal. It is effective. It is intentional.
Number two, it means that every decision at the programmatic, administrative, and personnel levels we must ask how does this decision, this event, this initiative serve the church? How will this help us fulfill our mission to serve the church? We intentionally bend our institutional energy toward this end.
Thirdly, it means at the curricular-level, the classroom, it is a commitment to envision every class and every lecture in light of the question of how it intersects with the church, how it strengthens the church. And I thank God for a faculty behind me that shares this passion. Ethics is taught in bringing the word of God to bear in the milieu of cultural issues that we have and that the church faces. Counseling is first and foremost soul care for those in the church. Church history must be seen through the prism of what God has done in his church. Evangelism is a part of enlarging the family of God, the family of the redeemed, and his church. Missions is toward building globally, in helping to fulfill the Great Commission and building global churches. Leadership and administration concerns how we structure ourselves to lead and administer rightly-ordered churches. Pastoral ministry is to shepherd the church. Theology is to equip the church. Languages and exegesis classes are to divide rightly the word of truth for the church. Apologetics classes are to defend the truth, the church’s foundation. Preaching classes are to bring God’s word to bear, to exposit God’s word, to strengthen the saints in the church, and win the lost for the church. Philosophy is to bring clear thinkers for our church. And on-and-on the list goes, but all of it taught with an eye toward the church.
Fourth and quickly, I believe it means we live with a Romans 10 mandate. Meaning, we—the seminary—do not call out the called. The Spirit calls out the called and the churches affirm that call. But we speak of it. We hold it high. We esteem the office of the pastor. We lift these things up because we understand that without a preacher, how will they hear?
Fifth, in light of Matthew 16 and Ephesians 4 and the Pastoral Epistles, we unapologetically give our best energies to training pastors, teachers, and evangelists. If you think about it, that really is the defining threshold of a call to ministry. Is it not a ministry of teaching and preaching the gospel and the Word? This incorporates classic disciplines and contemporary concerns and all the rest, but that is—students listen—that is why you are here. That is why sometime down the road you packed up your belongings, you left a comfortable environment, and you came here. It was not just to nibble around the edges of ministry, not just to dabble with the idea of ministry, but to immerse yourself in God’s call on your life to ministry for the church.
Sixth, it means we leverage institutional assets and strengths to be the very best seminary we can be in serving the church. Most especially, we think of the Spurgeon Library in this regard. After all, we have the library of the greatest known preacher and the greatest known pastor in the history of the English-speaking peoples perhaps.
Seventh, it means we serve with a self-determined accountability to the church. It is a confessional commitment, a commitment to Baptist churches where we carry a confident and winsome Baptist identity, a denominational accountability in letter and spirit. We are not a government bureaucracy that exists to perpetuate itself, we are a seminary of a denomination that exists to serve the churches, and we have a right to exist insofar as we do that. We have an aspirational accountability knowing our churches needs and desires. I do not intend to guilt our denomination, our supporters, or our churches. I do not intend to try to guilt them into sending us their students or their money. That would be a losing strategy, but it is also an unnecessary one. Rather, I desire to lead and to build and to serve a seminary that so self-evidently serves and strengthens the church that churches will reflexively look to us to serve them.
Eighth, it is a commitment to train the whole person. Mind, heart, and hand—the church gets the whole person.
Ninth, it is a commitment to a prophetic witness in a culture of decadence and depravity where day-after-day-after-day, we get another news report of how our society is walking against biblical truth.
Tenth, it is a robust commitment to the Great Commission because the end to which the church labors, reaching the nations for Christ, is the end to which we labor.
And eleventh, it is a heart for revival in the church. I want the “amen” to sound from his people again. Is there anyone in the room today that thinks that right now the church in America is actually enjoying and abiding under the evident power of God at work? No. We want the “amen” to sound from his people gain.
This is a glorious task to which we have been called. No other place, no other time would we want to be. And everything we will do and aspire to do is predicated upon the local church. For the Church: that is my vision, and I trust it is our vision. I trust it is the vision and time.
This came home to me in a very real way a number of months ago. I had an occasion to visit Harvard University, and you know the story of Harvard. It was the first college chartered in America in the 1630s. It is a school now that boasts the largest endowment in the world—depending upon the market these days, between 30 and 40 billion dollars. It is a university with resources untold with a campus of unspeakable beauty and of unsurpassed history. But you know the story: it was founded to train ministers of the gospel. And when you enter Harvard at the north panel leading into the main campus, there is a gate called the Johnson Gate. And there written in stone is some wording from New England’s First Fruits published by Samuel Elliott Morrison. It is the earliest account of Harvard as it appeared in London in 1643. The document cites the rules and precepts of Harvard: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore, to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” As you stand at that gate, and there emblazed on the side of it for every passerby to see is this, the founding statement, first fruits: “After God had carried us safe to New England and had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and to perpetuate it to our posterity…” Why? “…Dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” We have come a long way since then, but what an incredible founding statement.
The room bustles with young people this morning. You, I say, bring me joy. You, I say, bring me confidence because Christ is building his church, and it is not just a theory. He is doing it through people like you, and he is calling a new generation to do it because soon and very soon the present generation will lie in its dust. But we must be ready to serve the church. That is who we are, and that is why we exist: For the Church.
The full audio can be downloaded here.
1 All Scripture is cited from the NASB.
2 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Crisis of the Old Order: 1913–1933, The Age of Roosevelt, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956).
Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000).
4 Clayton Sullivan, Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive: The Education of Clayton Sullivan (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985).
5 Sullivan, Called to Preach, 68.
6 Ibid., 79.
7 Ibid., 81.
8 Ibid., 85.topicsBible, Education, Featured, For the Church Series, Other