FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Why would a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a successful theologian and accomplished seminary president resign his position as the head of one of the fastest-growing seminaries in the world to move to Texas where the weather is hot and the controversy among Baptists hotter?
Mark Howell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., answered that question in a sermon during the inauguration of Southwestern Seminary’s eighth president, Paige Patterson.
Such an occasion would be intimidating for any preacher, but Patterson is Howell’s father-in-law.
Flanked on his right and left by the best preachers and scholars in the Southern Baptist Convention, and standing before denominational executives, seminary faculty and students, Howell launched into an expository sermon from Acts 20:17-21.
During the course of his message, Howell noted that a biblically grounded ministry defies any notion of regard for the personal popularity of a preacher, pastor or seminary president. A true minister is never concerned about his own life in the face of death, he said. Neither does he compromise his message for any reason.
Quite simply, a minister is concerned only to obey and preach the whole counsel of God, no matter the cost, Howell said.
“Why do we do what we do when our motives are questioned, when our messages are critiqued [and] when our ministries are criticized? Why do we do what we do when our best friends forsake us and when our enemies fight against us? Why do we do what we do when we proclaim with great passion a message of love and are accused of preaching a message of hate?”
The answer to these questions can be found in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, Howell said. Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 reveals more than any other text his heart and motivation for ministry.
“We get a sacred glimpse into the heart of the Apostle Paul as he shares with them about his service and submission to the Lord. And yet he quickly points out that his service and submission were no guarantee for a trouble-free ministry. Someone has suggested that when the Apostle Paul went to a town … there was either a riot or a revival and sometimes both.”
But the reality of spiritual resistance in the supernatural realm or physical resistance in the natural can never dissuade a man of God from performing his ordained ministry, Howell said. Neither is a man of God motivated by anything less than the call of God.
“We do what we do not because it’s a job we choose, or a career we pursue or for a position we hold. Not at all. The fact is we do what we do whether for no pay at all. It’s not about a paycheck … it’s about a passion.”
But a man of God also is motivated in ministry by the message he has to proclaim, Howell said.
“Much of what we see in [the text] smacks in the face of contemporary preaching theory … themes of repentance, faith, the Gospel of grace and the Kingdom of God. Paul was not concerned with making the message more palatable, popular or presentable. Nor did he seek to make the Word relevant. He simply took an already relevant Word and made it come alive in the pulpit.
“His preaching was grounded in revealed fact, not recent fads. It was based upon proclamation and not pragmatism. It is interesting to note that his preaching was not limited to the pulpit on Sunday, but from house to house throughout the week,” Howell said.
Many people are asking today what the most practical method of preaching is to reach a postmodern generation, Howell noted. “Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear about some new thing that is guaranteed to revolutionize our preaching and to bring new life to the church.”
But the obsession with a contemporary model of preaching that is divorced from the whole counsel of God is little better than an attempt “to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Howell said.
Furthermore, the life and ministry of Paul serves as a model for contemporary ministry in that he had a mission to pursue.
“It was clearly in the mind and heart of the Apostle Paul that he needed to go to Jerusalem. Despite the pleading of his friends and the confirmation of the Holy Spirit that trouble and heartache awaited him, he was set to go to Jerusalem. … [He] knew that it was one step closer to going to Rome. And Rome was one step closer to reaching the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Why was [Paul] so determined, knowing full well that it would only lead to greater trials in his life? The answer is surprisingly simple and profoundly complex. … [We] are not called to stand on our feelings. We are called to die for our convictions. People don’t lay down their lives for their feelings, but people will lay down their lives for their convictions,” Howell said.
Concluding his message, Howell told the story of one of Patterson’s favorite historical figures, Anabaptist reformer Balthasar Hubmaier. After receiving a doctorate in theology, Hubmaier became an immensely popular preacher. But in the year 1522, Hubmaier came to understand that salvation came by faith alone and was subsequently baptized on Easter Sunday, 1525.
But on March 10, 1528, Hubmaier was extradited by the Hapsburgs to Vienna and burned at the stake for preaching the Gospel. Three days later his wife was drowned in the Danube.
“He was tied to the woodpile and his hands and feet were tied with cords. Sulfur and gunpowder were rubbed into his beard. And with a single match, the earthly ministry of Balthasar Humbmaier came to an end. … [Why] would anyone willingly accept such a fate? Because he knew that they might be able to rid the world of one more Christian, but they will never rid the world of the truth for which he died.”
Just as Hubmaier signed each of his literary works with the affirmation, “Truth is immortal,” the ministry of Paige Patterson at Southwestern Seminary will also stand the test of eternity to the degree to which it is based on the inerrant and infallible Word of God, Howell said.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ALL IN THE FAMILY.