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Convocations mark start of fall semester

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Following tradition, Southern Baptist seminary convocations marked the start of another academic semester.

IORG: DESPITE TENSIONS, PREACH THE GOSPEL — Tension can erupt over the Gospel even in the church, Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, told students at the start of the fall semester.

“It happened in the days of the early church and it happens today,” he said, preaching from Acts 15 and Galatians 2 at the Aug. 27 convocation. “… If tension and dissent occur in your church, you should have the moral courage to stand up and declare the Gospel.”

Iorg said modern-day Christians often are hesitant about sharing the Gospel in church, not wanting to offend, confront or put people on the spot. He encouraged believers to say boldly, “This is the Gospel, will you believe it? Will you submit to Jesus as Lord?”

In addition to being willing to stand up for the Gospel in church, Iorg noted how difficult it is to challenge a church member regarding false doctrine.

“They may talk and walk like Christians,” he said, “but if these brothers have a new definition of Christianity, if there is a conflict over the Gospel, no matter how difficult, you must confront them.”

Potential conflict over the Gospel also could arise among Christian leaders, Iorg said.

“Not all who preach are preaching the Word of God,” he said. “If they contradict the Gospel, you must speak out.”

Iorg challenged students not to compromise the Gospel.

“Stand up spiritually, intellectually and with the skills necessary,” he said. “That’s why you’re at Golden Gate, to develop the skills necessary to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Tension may erupt, but with the Gospel at stake it is permissible to have conflict, Iorg said.

“It may be intense, it may be risky, it may be costly, but I call you to stand up for the Gospel as Paul models it for us,” he said. “The Gospel is worth fighting for: Share it, live it, preach it, teach it. Stand with all your heart for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

MBTS SPEAKER UNDERSCORES INTEGRITY — A challenge to live a life of integrity highlighted Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s convocation, which was followed by the dedication of a new family housing complex and a library collection devoted to the study of cults and other faith movements.

“To be successful in life, we must have a purpose,” said Harold Rawlings, director of The Rawlings Foundation, a former pastor and member of Midwestern’s advisory group, the board of regents. “When we have integrity as our purpose, it enables us to be successful and to avoid sin and temptation.

“We should also have a purpose as parents — teaching our children the Word of God,” Rawlings added. “I’ll tell you, it isn’t what you leave for your children, but what you leave in them that matters.”

Speaking from Daniel 6: 1-17 in his Aug. 25 message, Rawlings shared three lessons for students, faculty and staff at the beginning of the new semester: “Dare to be a Daniel,” he urged, because of Daniel’s excellence in being trustworthy, uncorrupt and unwavering about his belief in God.

A life of integrity, Rawlings said, “will be visible to those around us. They will notice that we’re doing things the right way, and our goal is to influence them to do the same.”

People of integrity know the importance of prayer in their lives, Rawlings said. Those who are steeped in prayer will maintain a close relationship with God and avoid stumbling into areas of temptation, he said.

“Integrity impacts the world around us whether it’s in our homes, at church, in our community or in the classroom,” Rawlings said. “If you do what you say, you’ll become a person of influence. That’s what we need most in our world today -– people influencing others for Christ.”

Guest musician Huntley Brown, pianist for the Ruth Graham and Friends Ministries, displayed a flamboyant, piano-shaking style in playing the processional, recessional and a special arrangement of “How Great Thou Art” that brought the packed chapel audience to its feet. A native of Jamaica, Brown grew up watching his brothers practice the piano and then taught himself to play since his parents couldn’t afford to send him for lessons.

Following the service, MBTS officials and guests dedicated two recently completed areas of the Kansas City, Mo., campus with prayer and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

MBTS President R. Philip Roberts and his wife Anja were joined in the dedication of 16 newly constructed campus apartments by Harold Rawlings and Herbert Rawlings, also of The Rawlings Foundation, and his wife Pat. The Rawlings Foundation is a charitable enterprise also known for its collection of old Bibles and manuscripts.

“Words cannot express our appreciation to the Rawlings family for their generosity and faithful support of Midwestern,” Roberts said. “In naming the housing complex area ‘Rawlings Court,’ it will be a constant reminder of the sacrifice and graciousness this family has shown to the Midwestern family.”

The housing construction project began last fall to provide two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments for seminary students and their families.

The second ceremony of the morning officially opened the Rawlings Interfaith Evangelism Collection, a collection purchased from the Watchman Fellowship’s office in Birmingham, Ala., dedicated to the study of cults and other faith groups that need to hear the message of Jesus Christ. In addition to the Roberts and Rawlings families, James Walker, president of the Watchman Fellowship (www.watchman.org), cut the ribbon.

“This library will provide the resources that seminary students need to earnestly contend for the faith against cults, the occult, new religious movements and in debating controversial doctrines and practices in the world today,” Walker said. The collection will enable students “to have the tools necessary to build a bridge of relationship with relatives, friends and others involved with other religious movements. We pray that the result of these relationships will be an ability to share our faith in Jesus Christ in a true and positive way.”

The Rawlings Interfaith Evangelism Collection is housed in the seminary’s Koehn & Meyers Center for Worldwide Evangelism.

KELLEY CALLS NOBTS TO THE SCRIPTURES — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley challenged seminary students, professors and staff to immerse themselves in Bible reading and Scripture memory during his convocation address Sept. 1.

Drawing his sermon from Psalm 1, Kelley launched a seminary-wide emphasis on spiritual vitality for the coming school year, including a plan to read through the Bible between Sept. 1, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2010, and memorize 52 verses. Reading through the Bible, Kelley said, will be an assignment in every NOBTS course.

“We come here to be equipped and made ready for a mission given to us by God,” Kelley said. “But the reality is, even after you have completed your preparation at this place and moved on into the field of service of ministry you are still going to have an unfinished life.”

Psalm 1, Kelley said, conveys a warning about unfinished lives, presenting believers with a “fork” in the road.

“The psalmist tells us quite clearly that one road will take you farther and farther away from the Lord and produce in you a life that is more and more like the world,” Kelley said. “The other road will take you into a life that more and more like God, a life that will in itself become the fruit of what God expects in every life devoted to Him.”

Kelley noted: “On the one hand, we have the image of a tree planted by banks of a river or canal, bearing fruit in due season. Its leaves never wither; that tree is secure, healthy, prosperous as it grows.” The other image in Psalm 1, he said, is that of the dry grain husks left behind after the harvest. Kelley said that farmers would toss the grain into the air to separate the husks from the grain. The heavier grain would fall to the threshing floor, but the husks would blow away in the wind. The husk is a picture of the unfinished life that turns away from God.

“There is one thing and one thing alone that determines the difference in becoming a ‘tree’ and being a ‘dried up husk’ for the wind to blow away,” Kelley said. “That one difference is immersion in the Word of God.

“This is why we are reading the whole Bible though, every page of it,” Kelley said. He said even through students will be held accountable for the reading by their professors, the true tests will come later on in life.

“When the real tests come, you never have advanced notice and you don’t get to study,” Kelley said.

For Kelley, that test came with Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Immediately passages from God’s Word began bubbling up providing hope and strength, he said.

Kelley closed by showing a satellite photograph of Egypt. The photo was dominated by the dusty, brown sand of the North African desert. However, snaking through the middle was a narrow ribbon of green — the mighty Nile River.

“The things planted by that river, in spite of the climate and the sand, they grow through all the centuries of time,” Kelley said. “This is the choice you can make. You can immerse your life in the Word of God and live rooted by the river or you can coast on what you already know, coast on what you’ve already done, coast on where you’ve already been and watch the drought eventually come.”

During the service, Kelley honored eight faculty members for their years for service at NOBTS.

Clay Corvin, vice president of business affairs and professor of administration, and Dan Holcomb, professor of church history, were recognized for 30 years of service.

Seminary Provost Steve Lemke commended Corvin’s work as an administrator and teacher but called special attention to Corvin’s longtime ministry to men in jails and rehab/recovery centers in the city, preaching and teaching the Bible. He currently serves as pastor at Bethel Community Baptist Church in New Orleans.

During Holcomb’s 30-year tenure at NOBTS, his course “Christian Devotional Classics” has become legendary, Kelley said. The course is offered in the master’s, doctor of ministry and doctor of philosophy programs at NOBTS. Kelley and Lemke commended Holcomb for his spiritual depth and insight as well as his commitment to teach with excellence.

Six other faculty members we recognized for their service at NOBTS ranging from 10 to 25 years: Jimmy Dukes, professor of New Testament and Greek and director of the school’s Orlando center, 25 years; Walter Brown, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, 20 years; Darryl Ferrington, professor of music education, 15 years; Allen Jackson, professor of youth education, 15 years; Francis Kimmitt, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, 15 years; and Philip Pinckard, professor of missions, 10 years.

Three new faculty members — Bayne Pounds, assistant professor of Christian education, Jerry Pounds, professor of discipleship, and Greg Woodward, assistant professor of conducting — signed the school’s doctrinal statements, pledging to teach within the parameters set forth by the Articles of Religious Belief and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The book signed by the professors actually predates the original Baptist Faith and Message (1925), when the original Baptist Bible Institute (New Orleans Seminary) faculty wrote the Articles of Religious Belief in 1918.

SEBTS VP WARNS OF UNDERMINING SCRIPTURE — David Nelson, an administrator at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, does not fear outsiders undermining the sacred writings of Scripture as much as those who claim to believe the Bible while preaching a false Gospel from the pulpit.

Nelson, senior vice president for academic administration, in an Aug. 24 convocation address on the dangers of undermining the authority of Scripture, said, “I fear treating the Bible as a tool to be used or as a guidebook, instead of the sacred word it is. In so doing, we undermine the sacred writings. When you take up the Bible like this, you take into your own hands life and death.”

Nelson referenced 2 Chronicles 34 in which King Josiah sought God and ordered the temple to be cleansed. As they cleansed it, they found the long-forgotten Book of the Law, the Torah.

“So moved was Josiah that he tore his clothes and proclaimed that Israel was under God’s wrath for having forgotten the law,” Nelson said. “My purpose today is to remind us that God has spoken — both through Jesus Christ and through the sacred Scriptures.

“Therefore, if He did write it, there are truths which cannot be disobeyed. If it is true, then perish the thought of what will happen if we mishandle the Word of God.”

Nelson listed a variety of ways that believers undermine the authority of Scripture, including:

— failing to preach the Gospel message after claiming to believe it is inerrant and infallible.

“When you read the Bible, and then set it aside and give your opinion about the Bible, you give little attention to what the text actually says,” Nelson noted. “If you’re going to just give your opinion, I’d ask you to not read the text at all.”

— insisting that what is not in the Scripture is actually scriptural.

“Be careful about what you claim the Bible teaches. Don’t become so adamant about what is in dispute,” Nelson said, citing such examples as the commonly disputed age of the earth and thoughts about pre or postmillennial rapture.

“Claiming these issues are definitive undermines the authority of Scripture,” Nelson said.

— taking a social agenda and claiming that it is biblical.

“We’re pitting ourselves against brothers and sisters in Christ as saying we are biblical and they are not,” Nelson said.

— paying undue attention to certain things in the Bible and giving those issues more weight than they carry biblically.

“We pay attention to the things of minor importance and ignore the things of major importance,” Nelson said. “If we are committed to the authority of Scripture, we will handle it rightly so we see the world turned upside down for Jesus Christ.”

— failing to love one another, which Jesus said would be the mark of His disciples.

“Your life may undermine the authority of Scripture if you say it and don’t live it,” Nelson said.

For those who lead churches, Nelson counseled caution in making sure their goal is to serve the church and see it grow, rather than make a name for themselves.

“And for those of you sitting under these pastors, don’t follow one who loves himself more than he loves the church.”

“So why do we preach the Word?” Nelson asked. “It is through the sacred writings that you are able to see Christ. … It is the word that is inspired by God, and it is the word that equips us to do the good works that God has called us to. It is the book of God’s plan for this world, so we must read it, preach it, teach it and obey it.”

The convocation service also featured a signing ceremony as Benjamin Merkle, associate professor of New Testament and Greek, signed the Baptist Faith and Message and Abstract of Principles, Southeastern’s confessional statements. Also, Mark Liederbach, associate professor of Christian ethics, was honored with the Faculty Teaching Award for 2009.

MOHLER BEGINS SBTS REVELATION SERIES — Amid a world of confusion, turmoil and suffering, Christian ministers will only be able to stand as they look to the sovereign Lord Jesus Christ and His imminent return, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Southern Baptist Theology Seminary’s fall convocation.

Mohler, president of Southern, preached from Revelation 1:1-20, kicking off a semester series on the seven letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation. God calls His people to take an eternal Gospel to the lost in a confused and fallen world, Mohler said.

“The backdrop and background of ministry is its end,” Mohler said. “The foreground of ministry is a time of tremendous conflict, controversy, change and opportunity to [spread] the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The ministry is a place where the Gospel intersects with the strangeness of this world,” he said. “We look around and observe poverty and war and pestilence and famine and confusion — what are we to think?”

As part of the Aug. 25 convocation, Mohler installed Southern professor Eric Johnson as the Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care. Johnson previously taught psychology, theology and Christian worldview for nine years at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., and has served as professor of pastoral theology at Southern since 2000.

Additionally, two professors — Carl Stam and Brian Vickers — signed the seminary’s Abstract of Principles. Stam serves as associate professor of church music and worship and director of the Institute for Christian Worship at Southern, while Vickers is associate professor of New Testament interpretation and assistant editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

Mohler said the sovereignty of Christ over time, over the rulers of the world and over the church should define the way Christians approach the world. Those in Christian ministry should have a yearning in their hearts that comes from living with eternity in mind, he said.

“The sovereignty of Christ over time is a theme that is repeated in Revelation,” Mohler said. “As we look at the Book of Revelation we see the things that must soon take place. We see that the time is near, but let’s be honest: It doesn’t feel that near. Most of us have IRAs, long-term investments and mortgages. Do we really believe that these things must soon take place?

“In Romans 16:20, we read that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Not soon according to our chronological reflection looking backward, but very soon in terms of time and the promise that time will be no more,” Mohler said. “Time is reflected against the timelessness of the One who is identified as the One who is, who was and who is to come. Jesus Christ is sovereign over time and that is the only assurance you have that our times are meaningful.”

Also in Revelation 1, Jesus Christ is described as the Ruler over the kings of the earth, Mohler said, and just as the world does not live as if the end is near, neither does it live as if Christ is King of the earth. But the power of nations and strivings of people do not threaten the rule of Christ, he said.

“The apocalyptic message of God delivered through Christ to John is the relativization of all earthly powers,” Mohler said. “It is here that all kingdoms, empires, businesses and governments meet their end. The powers that be, whether it be military or politics or the cultural powers — they are all relativized by the fact that Jesus Christ is the Ruler of the kings of the earth. The powers that be will one day be the powers that were; they will be judged and they will be found wanting.”

And, Mohler noted, Jesus is sovereign over His church — a kingdom of priests, people who have been bought by His blood. Mohler noted that he would preach through each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation this semester — letters that God means for all the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the ages to know until He returns.

“To John, Jesus communicated the message, ‘Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last. I am the living one and I was dead. I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of death and of Hades. You are not dead. Do not be afraid. Therefore, write the things which you have seen.'”

SWBTS’ PATTERSON ASSESSES CULTURE — Believers should not concern themselves with incorporating culture into the church, Paige Patterson said during the fall convocation chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We have wholesale chasing of the culture right now on the part of the church of God,” Patterson, the seminary’s president, said in his Aug. 20 message. Many people encourage churches to incorporate the culture into their congregations in ways that are contrary to Paul’s message in Philippians 2, who described the culture as “a crooked and perverse generation.”

“In the church of God, don’t try to figure out how much you can be like the culture; try to figure out how you can have the mind of Christ and minister to the culture,” Patterson said.

Believers who do this will “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15), Patterson said, noting that the believer’s testimony in a dark world is the last of seven attributes characterizing the mind of Christ as listed in Philippians 2:5-18, following humility, obedience, working out one’s own salvation, absence of complaining, blamelessness and holding fast to the Word of God.

Christ expressed His humility by His incarnation and death on the cross, Patterson noted. “Now do you get this?” he asked. “Do you understand it? Here is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Here is the eternal God. Here is the Lord Christ. And He who is greater than all empties Himself into the form of a human being. What a humiliation. What humility. What an act of graciousness.”

Not only did the Lord of all make Himself nothing by becoming human, but He also took on the cruelest form of death possible: death on a cross. But more humiliating and painful than this, Patterson said, was that Christ “took every sin that you have committed. He took every evil thought. … And this One, who knew no sin, took it all on Himself on the cross.”

Earlier in the convocation chapel, Craig Blaising, executive vice president and provost, introduced the seminary’s newly appointed and elected faculty and staff members: Kevin Ensley, elected vice president for business administration; Waylan Owens, elected dean of the school of educational ministries; Michael Whitlock, appointed instructor of theology in the College at Southwestern; and Adam Groza, director of admissions granted faculty status in the College at Southwestern to teach world religions and philosophy.

Additionally, newly elected faculty member Karen Kennemur signed the seminary’s book of confessional heritage, affirming agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Kennemur, who will serve as assistant professor of children’s ministry in the school of educational ministries, formerly served as an instructor of children’s ministry at the seminary while completing her doctorate.
Based on reports by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; T. Patrick Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Garrett E. Wishall of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Benjamin Hawkins of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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