SBC Life Articles

Charles Kelley Inaugurated New Orleans’ Seminary President

The inaugural service for Charles S. Kelley, Jr. as he officially became the eighth president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, Oct. 29, was, more than anything else, a time of worship.

"We have come into His house and are gathered in His name to worship Christ the Lord," said C. Ferris Jordan as he welcomed representatives from fellow academic institutions in the Association of Theological Schools and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, seminary trustees, executives from Southern Baptist Convention agencies, Kelley family members and local dignitaries, as well as the faculty, staff, and students of New Orleans Seminary and others.

"This is a time when we reaffirm our commitment to … the Lord of this school, and when we acknowledge Dr Kelley as the servant leader who is serving under the lordship of Jesus Christ," said Jordan, chairman of the inaugural committee and professor of adult education at NOBTS since 1978. He also occupies the J. M. Frost Baptist Sunday School Board Chair of Christian Education.

The invocation was given by the new president's father, Charles S. Kelley, Sr. of Beaumont, Texas who has been acquainted with the seminary since its days as the Baptist Bible Institute in New Orleans' Garden District in the early 1900s. He has been on the seminary's foundation board for many years.

Marc H. Morial, mayor of New Orleans, greeted guests to the city and the inaugural service, told of his thankfulness For the seminary and presented Kelley with a key to the city.

"I grew up not too far from this seminary … and I remember the days as a child when the seminary's gymnasium was open to us so we could play basketball," Morial said. "This is indeed an impressive, beautiful campus, and I want to thank the seminary for what you do as a good citizen in our community but most importantly what you do to train and prepare religious leadership, not only for New Orleans … but for the entire world."

Modal thanked Landrum P. Leavell II, NOBTS president 1975-95, for his leadership and service in the city

To Kelley, Modal said, "I salute you today. … You take over the helm of an institution for which people have great expectations, but I simply want you to know that I am here and the city is here to work with you." Modal asked those in attendance to pray that Kelley would have the wisdom "to do what is right to continue to lead this institution as we begin the new millennium."

To several rounds of applause, Morial commended Kelley for marrying a New Orleans' native, the former Rhonda Hanington who grew up in the lakefront area and who completed the doctor of philosophy degree in special education and speech pathology at the University of New Orleans in 1983.

Roy H. Glapion, councilman for the district in which the seminary is located, presented a proclamation of recognition to Kelley on behalf of the city council. "New Orleans is a city of churches. … Where there are differences among us, there is also community," Glapion said. "bough our city is troubled by poverty and crime, by hate and indifference, we come together in peace in the commitment our citizens find in their churches."

Greetings also were presented by the president of the NOBTS Student Body Association, J. Randall Driggers, a third-year master of divinity degree student from Birmingham, Ala.; by the president of the NOBTS National Alumni Association, David F. Meacham, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention; and by the president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, Morris H. Chapman, who brought congratulations on behalf of the nearly 16 million Southern Baptists in the United States in nearly 40,000 churches.

"There is a great heritage here at this wonderful institution, and there is an even greater future," Chapman said. To Kelley, he said, "I am grateful this morning, on behalf of all Southern Baptists, that God has brought a man of your dedication, your giftedness, your burden for lost souls, your anointed and powerful preaching, your leadership, your vision. … I know that I speak for Southern Baptists who support this seminary with their gifts and with their prayers as we pray for you in these coming days … and we believe your future is as bright as the promises of God."

William M. Hamm, Jr., chairman of the NOBTS board of trustees and a layman from Shreveport, La., performed the official installation and presentation of the president, saying, "Dr. Kelley was unanimously and enthusiastically elected by the board of trustees on Feb. 23, 1996. He has loved this seminary since his days here as a student over 20 years ago. The presidential search committee and the trustees feel that the guiding hand of God was with us in leading us to a strong unanimous decision that Dr. Kelley is God's man to lead this seminary into the 21st century."

The presentation of the presidential medallion was made by the immediate past president of the seminary, Landrum Leavell, who served as president and professor of evangelism for 20 years.

Martha Ann Powell of Liberty, Miss., president of the seminary's foundation board, read the dedication Scripture, Matthew 28:18-20, known as the Great Commission, and Matthew 22:37-40, known as the Great Commandments. Kelley's mission statement for New Orleans Seminary is for the school "to equip leaders to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandments through the local church and its ministries."

The Kelleys' pastor, David Crosby of New Orleans' First Baptist Church, presented the dedication prayer as the Kelleys knelt together at the front of the platform.

The inaugural address was presented by Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and husband of Kelley's sister Dorothy Titled "On the Retrieval and Employment of Mantles," the sermon referred to 2 Kings 2:8-14 and the account of the prophet Elisha taking up the mantle of the prophet Elijah after Elijah went up into heaven by a whirlwind.

"Dr. Kelley, you cross Jordan today to begin a new phase of your ministry among God's saints," Patterson said. "You also inherit a mantle — the mantle of precious scholars, presidents and prophets who have preceded you here." Patterson presented Kelley "five modest challenges for the use of your mantle in the discharge of the sacred duties to which you are now called in the guidance of this seminary."

"First, never pass a burning bush that is not consumed. Moses' decision to turn aside from shepherdly duties to spend time with God was not optional if he were to have God's anointing in his life. …

"Second, as you direct the teaching mission of the seminary, choose Jesus as your pedagogical example. Being a seminary president in the contemporary milieu is a complex assignment. Distance learning, compressed interactive video, computer technology, you need it all — and you must have it all. But someday when the sun sets on your own ministry, be warned that these matters of contemporary concern will be of little consequence. What matters will be the lives you touched, the faculty you trained and the students you taught and inspired.

"Third, see to it that the theology written and expounded at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is 'church theology' rather than 'cloister theology' Let it never be the 'history-of-religions' approach, hedged about from any touch with the heart. …

"Fourth, every era presents its own uniqueness. Theology has to be written afresh in every generation, not because theology changes, but because the pertinent questions of each era vary Theology must address the new situation. You, Mr. President, must pay the price to be cognizant of the rise and fall of popular culture-mystiques. You must know the waterfront and insist that your faculty and students are similarly aware. You must be constantly alert to the inroads of process theism, post-modem cynicism and other contemporary vacuous alternatives to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. …

"Fifth, Mr. President, your primary task is not the preparation of a coterie of research scholars, though such must be a determined adjunctive function of the seminary. It has little enough to do with the granting of degrees, the publishing of journals and books, or the building of libraries. Your assignment is to prepare a generation of men and women to reach the world for Christ."

At the end of his sermon, Patterson made a surprise presentation to Kelley, an old cane once belonging to evangelist Gipsy Smith. "In the concluding 20 years of Gipsy Smith's life, the cane went with him to every crusade and revival and was by his side when he died. It is one of my most treasured possessions," Patterson said. "Since I cannot leave you today a tangible mantle from those who have preceded you here in New Orleans and since I happen to 'mow that you are a collector of canes, I have decided that the influence of this cane needs to live on after me. …

"I give you today the cane of Gipsy Smith as a perpetual reminder of what you must be. You have been a gifted preacher; you are a well-known and greatly loved professor of evangelism; and now for the immediate future, you will be the president of one of America's great seminaries."

In his response, Kelley said, "It is time to get to the task. … We will judge the health of our seminary by the health of the churches our graduates lead."

In reference to his repeated call for revival across the country, in the city of New Orleans and at the seminary, Kelley said, "I believe there is an awakening left before Christ returns. … I believe if we hold up the candle, God will strike the match."


The Presidents' Challenges

Scriptural challenges were presented to President Charles Kelley by the presidents of the five other SBC seminaries. Here are remarks from their challenges.

Paige Patterson
Southeastern Seminary

"Although some might call us institutions in competition, the truth of the matter is that we are institutions deeply committed to one another and to the success of each of the other." Reminding Kelley there would be times he found himself in a battle, Patterson read from Revelation 12:11, instructing Christians not only on how they enter into conflict but also how they can overcome and conquer.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Southern Seminary

Reading the closing verses of the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, Mohler said, "May you be armed with the full armor of God and may those who go from this place under your leadership here carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God."

Kenneth S. Hemphill
Southwestern Seminary

Reading from the sixth chapter of Ezra, Hemphill reminded Kelley that the king granted Ezra all his requests "because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him, for Ezra had set his heart to study the law of God and to practice it and to teach his statutes and ordinances. … May you set your heart to study, to practice and to teach God's Word."

William 0. Crews
Golden Gate Seminary

"Ten years ago, I sat where you sit; ten years have flown by. … You need to know, Dr. Kelley, the years will go by in a hurry. There will never be a dull day because there will always be a challenge." Crews read a verse of Scripture, Philippians 4:13, from a Bible given to him 50 years ago for memorizing the books of the Bible. "That's important, because it reflects the heritage I had as a boy growing up in church, where people cared that I loved the Bible, that I knew the Bible, and you have that heritage, too."

Mark T. Coppenger
Midwestern Seminary

Reading from Isaiah 62:6-7, Coppenger created a word picture of God sitting and say-ing, "When will you call on Me?" Isaiah replied, "You, who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest and give him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth." He then admonished Kelley, "Let us resolve to give the Lord no rest in our prayers."

    About the Author

  • Debbie Moore