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Mohler urges Southern grads to ‘boast’ only in God’s grace

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–As graduates confront the challenges of new ministries, they should remember “the whole point of grace is that there is no ground of boasting … for we did nothing and Christ has done it all,” President R. Albert Mohler Jr. reminded graduates during the 181st commencement exercises of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Speaking May 22 to the 129 graduates of the Louisville, Ky., school representing 30 states and seven countries, Mohler assured the class of 1998 that they, like the Apostle Paul, would experience adversity.
“Sometimes the greatest danger to our ministry, to your ministry may seem to be the hardness and suspicion of those you most want to reach,” Mohler said.
“Insinuations will be made, motives will be questioned, visions will be scrutinized … and even convictions will be assailed,” he said. “So the question is, ‘What shall we do?'”
Mohler exhorted the new graduates to follow Paul’s example by learning in the face of difficulty where one may boast in ministry. Noting the stormy relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth, Mohler cited 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 as delineating three areas for boasting.
Ministers may first boast in the testimony of a clear conscience, Mohler asserted. Throughout his ministry to the Corinthians, Paul knew his motives had been pure and his conduct right.
However, Mohler cautioned graduates not to trust in conscience alone. “Paul is not writing with the same advice given by Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio, ‘Let your conscience be your guide,'” Mohler said. “No, he is speaking of a regenerate conscience. That conscience which is shaped by the Spirit of God. That conscience which has been renewed by the grace of God. That conscience which is informed by the Word of God.”
Some people have clear consciences even when their actions are evil “because their conscience is so warped by sin,” Mohler said.
“Paul reminds us that our boasting must be in this: that our conscience before God, before ourselves, before our families, before our spouses, before our congregations and, most especially, before God must be clear,” Mohler said.
A ministry marked by holiness and sincerity is another area in which ministers may boast, Mohler said.
“Personal holiness is a missing theme in so much contemporary church life and contemporary preaching,” Mohler lamented. “But personal holiness is not an elective. It is not an accessory in ministry. It is absolutely necessary … and a lack of personal holiness will show most profoundly where it counts.”
Citing Hebrews 12:10, Mohler reminded graduates that the discipline of God comes so that believers may share in his holiness. A holiness best demonstrated in sincerity.
“A transparency of heart, a condition of heart in which there is no duplicity … no mixed motives … no manipulation” describes the kind of sincerity to which Paul referred, Mohler said.
“There are some who establish their ministry upon artistry and rhetoric and power and charisma and ability and eloquence,” Mohler acknowledged. “But at the end of the day, Paul would remind us that all that is left is godly sincerity and holiness, when everything else passes away.”
Finally, ministers may boast if the course of their ministry is set by God. In this third area of boasting, Mohler said the Apostle Paul declares that ministry should be directed by the grace of God and not by worldly wisdom.
Finding advice on professional strategies for successful ministry “seems to be completely foreign from Paul’s concern,” Mohler said. “He is not trying to get ahead. He wants to be found faithful.”
Mohler assured graduates that faithfulness to God’s leadership in ministry is likely to bring criticism. But, just as in Paul’s case, the Corinthians’ problem was with God, not the apostle, since God had set the course of his ministry, Mohler noted.
Mohler recounted to the commencement audience the dismissal of Jonathan Edwards from the church at North Hampton, Mass., after 23 years of ministry. Edwards was deposed from his congregation because he insisted church members should be regenerate.
“Why would a seminary president chose to tell the story of a pastor dismissed from his pulpit on the occasion of commencement?” Mohler queried. Because “Edwards’ ministry did not end in failure. It ended in faithfulness.”
If ministers will keep a clear conscience, pursue a ministry marked by personal holiness and godly sincerity and be faithful to a ministry guided and guarded by the grace of God, Mohler said such ministers can take comfort in Paul’s promise that in the day of judgment “you will be the ground of pride and boasting by those to whom you will minister and they will be your pride and boasting as well.”
The seminary awarded degrees to candidates from its four graduate schools of theology, Christian education and leadership, church music and worship and the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. Degrees granted included diploma of theology, diploma of Christian education, master of arts, master of divinity, master of Christian education, master of church music, master of theology, doctor of ministry, doctor of music ministry, doctor of musical arts and doctor of philosophy.
At the graduation banquet on the eve of commencement, O.S. Hawkins, president of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, addressed the graduating class and their families. Reflecting on his lifelong friendship with Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Hawkins urged graduates to find an accountability partner upon whom they can rely.
Hawkins described the four concentric circles of human relationships as the private life, the personal life, the professional life and the public life. Building a solid foundation in one’s private life, the place where only God knows our thoughts, is the key to achieving a godliness that will be reflected in the other three areas of life, Hawkins said.
In other commencement activities, William P. Cubine received the Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence. The award honors Edge, former professor of Christian education at Southern, and the recipient for their efforts to improve teaching. Cubine, the eighth recipient of the award, came to Southern in 1991 as seminary pastor and served in that capacity until becoming senior professor of pastoral ministry in 1995.
In a separate ceremony, 35 degrees were awarded by the seminary’s Boyce Bible School. The May 22 ceremony was the last commencement before the school begins operations Aug. 1 as the James P. Boyce College of the Bible. Retiring Boyce dean Bob Johnson gave the commencement address, “The cost of ministry,” from Luke 14:25-33. Boyce was founded in 1974 to provide ministerial training for persons who do not have college degrees.
In January 1998, Theodore J. Cabal was named the first dean of the new college which will award associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in biblical studies. Cabal is currently assistant professor of philosophy of religion at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
During commencement services, Johnson introduced Cabal to the Boyce community and joined students in welcoming the new dean to Louisville. Cabal officially begins his duties June 1.

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  • Craig Christina