LOUSIVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Ministers who avoid confrontation and conflict likely are also avoiding the truth of the gospel, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told graduates at the institution’s 186th commencement Dec. 15.
Nearly 100 graduates representing 26 states and four foreign countries listened as Mohler spoke on “Why Christian ministry is not for the faint-hearted.” Using Acts 17:1-9 as his text, Mohler said the Apostle Paul is an example of how ministers should have confidence and conviction amid conflict. It is in that passage that Paul goes into the synagogue in Thessalonica and proclaims that Jesus is the Christ.
“If at the end of your ministry you can look back and say, ‘I have avoided all controversy,’ you have probably avoided dealing with the truth,” Mohler told the graduates. “You have avoided proclaiming the gospel, and physically and metaphorically you have avoided the synagogues. Confrontation is certain if the strongholds of unbelief and gospel resistance are addressed with biblical truth.”
Graduates were granted degrees from the schools of Theology, Christian Education and Leadership, Church Music and Worship, and the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. Seven degrees were granted. They were: master of divinity, master of arts, master of church music, master of theology, doctor of musical arts, doctor of ministry and doctor of philosophy.
Mohler reminded the graduates that they will be proclaiming a gospel that is anathema to a postmodern culture. He said ministers who are afraid of confrontation will go through their ministry living in “fear and failure and falsity.”
Conviction, Mohler said, is essential.
“Conviction is the bedrock of our confidence,” he said. “If indeed there is a ministry that is marked by a lack of confidence … it must be marked by an absence of conviction. We are living in an age that is particularly lacking in conviction. Conviction is lacking in many pulpits, and conviction is lacking in the pews as well.
“The true preaching of the gospel – in all of its simplicity (and) in all of its wholeness – is unacceptable in many sectors. It is simply too abrasive a truth. It is simply too audacious a claim.”
Mohler said the controversy comes when ministers claim that Christianity is the only true faith.
“There is no controversy and there is no confrontation in going into the marketplace of ideas and competing gospels in this culture and saying, ‘I have another worldview to put alongside what you believe,'” Mohler said. “The confrontation comes in this culture when you say, ‘I proclaim to you that this Jesus is the Christ.’ The confrontation comes when we say, ‘There is no other name under heaven and earth whereby men must be saved.’ The confrontation comes when we say, ‘This is not a truth. This is the truth.'”
Mohler pointed out that there were some in the synagogue crowd who were offended by Paul’s message of salvation through Christ. Although a large number of those in attendance were persuaded by Paul’s message, a group of Jews became jealous and started a riot in opposition to Paul and Silas. The mob searched for the two men, saying, “These men who have upset the world have come here also.”
Mohler said Paul faced Jewish resistance and Roman emperor worship, “And yet he did not trim his sails, he did not accommodate the gospel, he did not try to market the truth. Instead, he proclaimed the gospel in all of its simplicity, in all of its glory and in all of its truthfulness.” Mohler added that today’s world is similar to what Paul faced, since today’s Christians “face secular indifference, moral and doctrinal laxity, New Age nonsense, the postmodern worldview and generalized confusion …”
For a minister to have confidence and conviction, his ministry must be grounded in the truth of God’s Word. Mohler said that Paul is such an example.
“We are told that he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, and there again we have the apostolic model that Christian ministry is a Scriptural ministry. (It is) the authority whereby we speak and the authority we preach …,” he said.
Mohler said Paul “underlines without equivocation the centrality and the necessity of the cross and the resurrection. He explained to them that the Christ, the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead.”
If Scripture is the basis for a ministry, then confrontation and conflict will inevitably come, Mohler said.
“I would suggest to you this morning that we are not called to avoid confrontation,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the Bible in both the Old and New Testament is full of confrontational demonstration. True ministry is so often seen not in avoiding controversy but in allowing controversy for the sake of the cause of the truth and gospel.”
Mohler told of a recent conversation he had with a military recruiter. Mohler asked the recruiter if enlistees were sometimes hesitant to sign up, knowing that they may someday be pledging their life in a time of war.
“He said, ‘We’ve been in such a time of relative peace … that I don’t think they really [believe] anymore that someone is going to shoot at them.'”
Ministers, though, should not have such an attitude, Mohler said.
“I wonder how many of those who respond to the gospel call of ministry service realize that someone is going to shoot at us,” he said. “It may not be real bullets. It may be a lot worse than that. The ministry is going to bring conflict.”
Mohler challenged the graduates to stay true to the gospel during their ministry.
“We desperately need a generation of Christian trouble-makers,” he said. “I speak on behalf of the trustees and the faculty of this institution … to say that we would rather bail you out of jail [for preaching the gospel] than counsel you out of compromise.
“Christian ministry is not for the faint-hearted, but for the those who are ready to put their all on the line for Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the sheep.”