LIBERTY, Mo. (BP)–Nigerian Baptist Convention General Secretary Solomon Ademola Ishola exhorted graduates to “contend for the faith” during the 45th commencement exercises of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary held at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., May 21.
Ninety students graduated during the ceremony — two were awarded degrees posthumously, James Harshaw Jr. and Freddie Marshall. Both died in January 2005, Harshaw of complications from foot surgery and Marshall from a heart attack.
“Although there are older and larger institutions, none is more important than ours in that we are training people to go to those without Christ,” Midwestern President R. Philip Roberts said. “Graduation marks a significant time for us every year as we release a fresh group of ambassadors for Christ into the world.”
Roberts added that the presence of a Christian leader like Ishola at Midwestern’s graduation helped emphasize the great importance of getting the Gospel to the whole world.
Ishola, in his message to the graduates, said serious Christians, especially ministers of the Gospel, should be more concerned about current attacks against the faith.
“We should be alarmed by the lack of fervency in sharing the Gospel today and in its defense,” Ishola said. “The [Great] Commission of our Lord appears to have become the Great Omission as we seem to have reversed the Lord’s order from ‘go and witness, teach and disciple’ to our own agenda, such as mere presence, social action and building mansions for our comfort and for unbelievers to come.”
Ishola challenged graduates to contend for the faith in six ways from Jude 1-25.
First, he said, Christians should contend for the faith “by holding to the finality of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.”
“The truth once delivered to us is final and is not subject to change by anybody,” Ishola said.
Christians, he said, should contend for the faith, secondly, “by keeping watch for false teachers and their teachings.”
“There are many false teachers today in the so-called seminaries and faculties of religious studies of most of the top universities who twist the truth of God’s Word for their own benefit,” Ishola said. “In other words, they are motivated by personal gain, and sometimes inspired by Satan.”
Ishola said that these false teachers use strange books with esoteric knowledge, instead of the Bible, as their main text — all at the expense of God’s Word. He cited the false teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science and Mormons, among others, as examples.
Third, Ishola said Christians should contend for the faith “by growing in Christian maturity.”
“Just like a solider in an army must be well-equipped and trained for a war, so must every Christian arm himself or herself with the necessary training and spiritual armor in order to contend for the faith,” he said.
Many of the spiritual soldiers in Christ’s army, Ishola said, are unprepared and not engaged in the spiritual war raging in the world today.
“The majority of church members are spiritual pygmies and biblical illiterates who are satisfied with spoon-feeding, satisfied with being spiritual babies, people who belong to the AWOL group –- they are absent without leave in the midst of spiritual warfare,” Ishola said.
He challenged the graduates to be spiritual coaches who are helping to mature other disciple-makers.
Fourth, he said, followers of Christ should be “salvaging victims from Satan and the world.”
“There are still many ‘sinners’ and ‘tax-collectors’ in our world today who need the touch of Christ, and they can experience His touch through the efforts of believers,” Ishola said. “Of course, there are those under the bondage of Satan and the world who need to be rescued, delivered and salvaged.”
After referencing a hymn written by Fanny Crosby titled, “Rescue the Perishing,” he said, “For those who are the so-called professional ministers of the Gospel, we must ask the Lord on a daily basis that He would enable us to be professional soul-winners.”
Fifth, he said, Christians should be contending for the faith “by staying away from sin.”
“I beg of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, please stay away from sin if you want to defend and contend for our faith today,” he said.
Lastly, Ishola said, Christians must contend for the faith “by focusing on God alone.”
“It is His [God’s] power that can keep believers from falling prey to the devices of the evil one,” he said. “He [God] is the only One who can keep His children from falling.”
Defending the faith, Ishola said, is about being available and prepared for the spiritual battle.
“I urge you to make up your mind and settle for the Lord,” Ishola said. “He is ready to make you part of His great army contending for the faith today.”
Following the awarding of certificates and degrees, 17 awards were presented to 13 individuals.
President’s Medallions were awarded to Richard Bott Sr., president and founder of Bott Radio Network, and Jack Vines Sr., president and founder of Television Engineering Corporation.
The Midwestern Professor of the Year award went to Mark DeVine, associate professor of theology.
Among the awards presented to graduating students were:
— Joshua Wagner: Zondervan Greek Award; J.J. Owens Hebrew Award; and Baker Book House Award in Theology.
— Kevin Finkenbinder: William H. Collier Evangelism Award and G. Hugh Wamble Award in Church History.
— Gordon Sidwell and Janel Doll: North American Professors for Christian Education Award.
— Blaine Fye: Wornall Road Baptist Church Award in Theological Field Education.
— Todd Chipman: LifeWay Preaching Award.
— Shayne C. Wessel: Wanda J. Keatley Award for the outstanding graduate, which includes a trip to the Holy Land.
— Katsia Malinouski: Broadman & Holman Seminarian Award for the highest grade point average and Lee Kieser Church Music Award.
— Jeffery Class: Association of Youth Ministry Educators Award.
— Jeff Funderburk: Doctoral Studies Award.