KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) – Two in-person commencement ceremonies marked a return to a sense of normalcy on Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s and Spurgeon College’s campus as the institutions welcomed their spring graduating classes to Kansas City for the schools’ 69th commencement exercises Friday (May 7).
“We are delighted to see our campus abuzz with all the life and enthusiasm that normally accompanies this time of year,” MBTS President Jason Allen said. “By God’s grace, we have weathered the logistical challenges of the COVID season and today’s commencement ceremonies are clear indication that on-campus activities and the regular occurrences of campus life are returning.
“What is more, we are extremely proud of the accomplishments of our record class of 332 graduates, who have worked so hard to earn their degrees.”
Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College awarded degrees to its largest graduating class, as 332 diplomas were dispersed to undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students. Notable among those numbers is the awarding of a record 23 Ph.D. degrees and 61 M.Div. degrees.
Provost Jason Duesing reflected on the day’s events.
“Today is another reminder of the significance of what we get to be a part of at Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College,” he said. “Equipping our graduates for service in churches, for ministry in the workplace, and to the ends of the earth continues to be the abiding joy of our work.
“We are grateful for each of these graduates, their churches, and their families, and we are honored to have them join the growing body of alumni from Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College.”
Allen thanked the students for entrusting Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College with their theological education and shared how proud the schools’ faculty and staff are of them. He then addressed the broader audience, reminding them of Midwestern’s identity and mission.
“This is a Southern Baptist institution, which means we are committed to stewarding the truth of God’s Word,” Allen said. “We are committed to the Word of God, and we are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are committed to the Great Commission. We are, above all else, a Gospel people.”
After a brief Gospel presentation to the graduates’ friends and family members, Allen directed his attention to the graduates themselves, acknowledging the unique situation at hand.
“This is a service of commencement; this is graduation,” he said. “It is a sweet day, and it’s always a sweet day. But this year is, perhaps, the sweetest commencement service of all in my nine years, and that is because of all that we have been through due to COVID over the past 14 months.”
Allen delivered the substance of his presidential address, entitled “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” from 2 Timothy 2:2-3.
“There are many biblical metaphors for the Christian life and for the Christian minister,” he said. “You could use terms such as teachers, athletes, farmers, shepherds, etc., but this morning we think of the soldier.”
Noting the precariousness of Paul’s situation as he wrote to Timothy, Allen shared how the church had suffered intense persecution and especially the fact that Paul was writing to Timothy from prison.
Among Paul’s descriptors of those doing the work of ministry was that of a soldier. Allen said that while the term and imagery used may be considered antiquated, it is common biblical language – the “good fight” and spiritual warfare are persistent themes throughout Scripture.
Paul’s message is both timeless and timely, he said, adding: “We get a sense that Paul is a man whose ministry was one of constant threat and recurring peril. Some, indeed, are experiencing or are about to experience death, imprisonment and deprivation on behalf of Christ. Others, closer to home, will entail ridicule, innuendo, marginalization, vocational limits and perhaps slander. But through all of that, Paul says to Timothy and to us: be courageous and be willing to endure hardship.”
The call to courage is inherent in the call to faithful ministry, he said.
“Why should we be willing to resolve to have a ministry marked by courage?” Allen asked. “I would submit to you that your calling requires it; Scripture commands it; the Great Commission merits it; the church needs it; and other Christians will be emboldened when you demonstrate it.”
Allen said it is easy to engage in hypothetical battles, but it is far more difficult to actually take a stand for the Gospel in our day. Many, Allen said, are willing to “be about the ministry of critiquing others for their tone or their timing, but never get around to actually saying a bold Gospel word themselves.”
The call, he said, is not to pugilism or pacifism, but to “speak the truth in love loudly and as often as necessary” while discerning what are first-, second-, and third-tier issues and calibrating our responses accordingly.
Allen also exhorted graduates through a series of resolutions derived from the biblical text: (1) resolve to have a courageous ministry, (2) resolve to have a focused ministry free from the entanglements of everyday life, and (3) resolve to have a Christ-centered ministry.
Citing Charles Spurgeon, Allen concluded the address with a final resolution: “Resolve that to life’s last breath you will spend and be spent for Christ’s praise. May the Lord grant that there will be many good soldiers of Christ Jesus in the church, and may the Lord grant that there will be many good soldiers of Christ Jesus in this graduating class.”
To view livestream recordings of both commencement services, and Allen’s entire commencement address, visit https://www.mbts.edu/spring21-graduation .