EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an edited transcript of David E. Hankins’ address at the worship service preceding the inauguration of Joe Aguillard, president of Louisiana College.
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–In Isaiah 8:18-22, who are the children the prophet refers to? His own physical children, Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz? His disciples (verse 16)? This text demonstrates the stewardship we owe to those in our spiritual care.
It has been customary for centuries to refer to one’s university as “alma mater.” In the Latin, the phrase means “nurturing or fostering mother.” The university is depicted as the one who feeds knowledge to the student and shapes and prepares him for life. This is a sacred duty for every institution of higher learning, especially those identified by Christ’s name. It is an awesome responsibility. A college is not the only influencer in a person’s life. There are parents and peers, churches and communities, commerce and culture. But the college has a unique opportunity for inestimable impact on those who receive their formal, professional education in its programs and process of study.
I have often heard it said by educational institutions, “students are our primary assets, and we exist for the students.” The question is, “What will you do with the children God Has given you?” Not just those who are here now, but those who will follow. What will be this administration’s legacy to the university’s posterity?
Let me suggest that the success centers in its faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His kingdom’s work. This institution is, without apology, a confessional institution. The greatest legacy you can leave when you are done is to remain a confessional institution, and to shape the students’ lives and define the students’ mission on the basis of that confession.
How? The prophet admonishes us to seal up the word. Isaiah prophesied during difficult days. King Ahaz was choosing to reject the Word of God in favor of political alliances with Assyria. He was trusting in his own abilities and devices and rejected the Word of God.
The prophet of God, in spite of the indifference, in spite of the rejection, in spite of the unpopularity, and in spite of the danger, continues to be true to God’s revelation. In verse 16, he commits to “bind up the testimony and seal the law among his disciples.” The “law” is the Law of Moses. The “testimony” is the prophecies God revealed to Isaiah. This was not “binding and sealing” in the sense of “hiding it”. It means to “preserve” the law and the testimony by transmitting it to the disciples (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).
Notice the alternatives the people suggest to the Word of God. They counseled, “Consult mediums and spiritists who whisper and mutter,” even though this is expressly forbidden by the Bible. Whispering and muttering probably indicates “charlatanism,” (either ventriloquism or some stylistic speech pattern, like the chirping of bats, intended to convey messages from beyond). Isaiah responds with a battle cry: To the law and to the testimony! Why should we consult the dead when we have life-giving truth? He concludes, if they have an answer that is not from the law and the testimony, they do not have any light.
Baptist colleges and universities are confessional institutions. This heritage must not only be affirmed; it must also be transmitted to the next generation. One of the greatest challenges of a Christian school is to remain true to the Word of God. Every Christian leader is called upon to choose which direction he will follow. Every Christian institution must decide what lessons they will pass on to the children God has entrusted to their care.
A collegiate group cleaning up a house in St. Bernard Parish last week found $30,000 cash which had been hidden since the 1960s by a now deceased man who did not trust banks. All these years his family has not had the benefit of that money. How often has a Christian institution hidden its treasure of Biblical truth from its children, leaving them to fend for themselves in the storms of life?
For too long in too many places, institutions founded for the explicit purpose of training young men and women in the application of Christian truths in their chosen vocations have instead followed the spirit of the age and have persuaded those given into their care to abandon their confidence in the truth of Scripture. We could name a long list of institutions of higher learning that while they continue to confer respected degrees upon their graduates, do not confer upon them a heritage of faith or a commitment to a biblical worldview, even though they were founded and funded for that very purpose. Many of those universities are household names but most of the households of the country have no awareness of the spiritual roots of those now faithless institutions. They have reputations as “academic schools” or “elite schools” or “party schools” but not as godly schools.
How many Christian institutions of higher learning have abandoned the Word of God for the mutterings of men? How many students sent by Baptist parents and pastors to Christian colleges have been disabused of their notion of the veracity of the Scriptures at the very institutions intended to strengthen those commitments? This ought not to be so.
No administration can guarantee an outcome, but it can intend an outcome. The college leadership must well understand that your primary duty is not to seek the approval of the world, or to seek alliances with academia, or to seek great wealth for the institutional treasury. Your charge from Almighty God is to shine the light of truth from this place to all who will receive it.
You will be challenged to listen to all manner of opinions for what ought to be advocated and permitted in this school’s pursuit of quality education. I would remind you, “If they do not speak according to the word of God, they have no light of dawn.” So when they say, consider the consensus of scholarship, declare: To the Law and to the testimony! When they say, we must be tolerant of other traditions and ideas, say: To the Law and to the testimony! When they say, we must think of the financial implications of our views, reply: To the Law and to the testimony! When you are faced with the latest revision of history and the latest fad of hedonism, shout: To the Law and to the testimony! Because this is a confessional institution, Seal up the Word!
Not only is this college a confessional institution — that confession must shape the lives of those we serve. Therefore, we must sanctify their world. In verses 21-22, the prophet describes the dismal future of those who reject the Word of God in favor of their own devices. The reason for maintaining fidelity to the Word of God is not merely to be orthodox, or to be loyal to the past, or to magnify some cultic purity. It is indispensable to survival.
It would be easy to regale you with all the evidence that demonstrates that a culture, or an individual, which rejects the Word of God has no future other than destruction. Has the sexual revolution or the normalization of homosexuality brought health and peace? Has rampant divorce strengthened society and blessed families? Has materialism brought satisfaction and a sense of well-being? Has the “self-esteem” movement resulted in maturity and wholeness? Has secularism and the gospel of tolerance meant a richer, fuller, more blessed existence? Has any disobedience to the Word of God proven to be beneficial?
We would have to have been on another planet not to recognize the collapse and decay endemic in our society. People are distressed physically, socially and spiritually. And only the Word of God contains the answer. It is the duty of this institution of Christian higher education to speak that word clearly and forcefully.
A generation ago Peter Berger declared that too many Christians are “listening to an entity known as ‘modern man’ in the expectation that thence would come the redemptive word.”
The church doesn’t need to hear from the world. The world needs to hear from the church! Berger decried Christian leaders “who have been falling all over each other to be ‘relevant’ to modern man” and concluded, “Ages of faith are not marked by dialogue, but by proclamation.”
This institution can be a reservoir and a repository of high octane spiritual and philosophical fuel that can ignite a culture-reforming, life-transforming, society-saving revolution. I pray our students, in turn, having been taught well, will be salt and light to a gloomy and distressed culture.
Not only does our confession shape their lives; it also defines their mission. Therefore, the prophet exhorts us to send out the witness through the children the Lord has given. “Here am I and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty.” In what way were the children signs and symbols? By their names and by their presence: The names of Isaiah’s children are prophetic messages from God. Maher-shalal-hash-baz is a message of coming judgment (hasten the booty — speed the spoil). Shear-jashub is a message of coming salvation (a remnant shall return). Every time the people were introduced to these guys, the names conveyed a message about judgment and salvation. And every time they saw them with their father, their mere presence reminded them that God has spoken. Perhaps Isaiah was no longer welcome in the royal palace — no longer respected by polite society. Perhaps he had been booted out of the ministerial alliance. The leaders no longer welcomed the Word of God but Isaiah was committed nonetheless to bearing witness to God.
Our confessional commitments are the platform from which we are to bear witness to God. We, too, as the church today give messages of both judgment and salvation. This college stands as a sign and a symbol from the Lord Almighty. Your best work will be the witness you give of Christ. Some might argue that witnessing is the task of the church, not the college. I would argue that this college is the expression of the church. You are not here to serve academia but to serve the ecclesia. Every time the community hears the name of this institution, they ought to be reminded of the judgment that is coming to every person and of the remedy that is found alone in Christ.
Our confession of faith not only defines our mission corporately; it defines the mission of the “children the Lord has given.” Some have worried in recent days whether this institution was going to become a Bible school. It is not. But I must tell you, I can think of a lot worse things for a college to become. For example, a “nominal” Christian college — in name only is but a white-washed sepulcher. God deliver us from that.
We, also, are not intending to turn this school into a preacher college, although I pray that every young person in our state whom God calls to vocational ministry would end up on this campus. Why? So they would sense on this campus such an affirmation of their call to ministry, and such an anticipation of their preparation for ministry and such a stirring in their spirit that they couldn’t stay away.
While this may not be a preacher college, it is a missionary college. What if every student enrolled here — whether they are preparing for medicine or law or education or science or business — understood their call to be a sign and symbol from God? One of your greatest duties and opportunities is to develop these young disciples into thorough-going missionaries who will herald the Gospel in the marketplace where God sends them.
Every revival of consequence in the last 200 years was fostered by and among young people. May the “children God has given” this institution be the catalyst for the next great movement of the Spirit. May they relish their confession, may they recognize their calling, and may they ratify their commitment which says, “Here am I! Send me.”
About four months ago, one of God’s choice servants, Dr. Adrian Rogers died. I am indebted to him, as are most Southern Baptists, for many things. Nearly 25 years ago, he shared this truth which I attempt to practice in my life. I commend it to you, “If you please God, it doesn’t matter if you displease men.”
The Lord said to Isaiah in this chapter, verses 12-13: “Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it … The Lord Almighty is the one you are to fear.”
You have a God who is greater than any challenge. So, above all, please Him.
Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.