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Convocation Address: Heirs of the Reformation

September 8, 2017

To watch a recorded version of this address, click here.

One of the most significant duties entrusted to me as president of Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School is to lead our entire college community in dedicating ourselves and a new academic year to the purpose and glory of God, to assure we seek Him first. Each academic year begins with a convocation ceremony for this distinct intent. It is a noble yet humbling experience as I realize the enormity of bringing students, faculty, staff and administrators together as one body in heart and mind to pursue one mission “to educate Christian students to think and live a biblical worldview and to proclaim Christ by serving Him in the Church and society.”

It is not uncommon for students entering college for the first time to wonder about the meaning and background of a convocation. Its roots and meaning are so profound that it is worth taking time to explain.

The ceremony of an opening convocation is rooted in the practice of the medieval universities of Europe. Faculty and students would gather formally for a service of worship and dedication at the beginning of a new academic year. The cathedral church, customarily associated with the university, would be filled as scholars came together for worship and to remind themselves of the task they now assumed, and the divine resources necessary to accomplish that task.

At the first level, the medieval convocation was a worship service intended to praise and glorify God, for the one true and living God was acknowledged as the source of all true knowledge and wisdom. The scholars also gathered because they understood the gravity of their calling—the tasks of teaching and learning. These scholars understood that God would hold professors accountable for their teaching and students accountable for their learning.

In the convocation ceremony, the assembled scholars sought to glorify God and praise Him for the gift of learning; to thank Him for the opportunities of scholarship; to ask for discernment; and to dedicate themselves before God to their calling. Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School gathers together for these very same reasons as we observe the opening of each academic year. Our fervent prayer and hope is that God will be glorified in all we do, in all we teach, in all we learn, in all we write and in all that we apply to the high calling of service in the Church and society.

Our past as Christians is a rich heritage. We see that especially this year when Christians around the world will commemorate the day 500 years ago on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses – 95 arguments to support his point – to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. No one could have ever anticipated the breadth of impact and change his singular action would make in Christian teaching and practice right up to today at LBC.

Luther’s main concern prompting his act was to correct a practice that eclipsed the gospel of Christ by leading people to think they could purchase pardon for sin and forgiveness of guilt by buying an indulgence - a piece of paper officially authorized by the pope—rather than through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. But the sale of indulgences was symptomatic of other problems in the theology and practice of the established church of their day (known to us as the Roman Catholic Church) that had been growing over the previous century. For example, the pope had been named head of the Church, displacing Jesus Christ as the rightful Head; prayers were being made to the saints and to Mary, distracting worship from God; and an unbiblical use of the sacraments was replacing the preaching of the Bible.

Luther was not the only person who was concerned. When Luther’s 95 Theses or arguments for debate were printed and distributed throughout Germany and Switzerland, they sparked a controversy in Europe that would eventually erupt into the Protestant Reformation. Men like John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland, and William Tyndale in England joined Luther to help point the Church back to Scripture, and Scripture alone, as the infallible authority for faith and life.

The Reformers broke with the papacy not because they wanted to divide the Church or begin a new one, but because they wanted to correct its blatant abuses and bring the Church back to her original, biblical identity. Luther and others were willing to lay down their lives for their conviction that the Church must build on the absolute authority of Scripture in order to be faithful to God and to be the true Church.

As the Protestant movement developed, several distinct branches emerged throughout Europe, with the common concern revolving around the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The distinctive emphases of the Reformation have been summarized in five statements, known as the “five solas,” so named because each statement begins with the Latin word sola, “alone.” These are:

  • Sola Scriptura, “Scripture Alone,” which affirms that the inspired Scriptures are the ultimate authority and norm for all Christian doctrine, not the proclamations of popes or other human authorities.
  • Sola Gratia, “Grace Alone,” which affirms that salvation comes to us only by God’s gracious work in Christ, and is not earned by any human works of merit.
  • Sola Fide, “Faith Alone,” which affirms that we are justified solely by believing in Jesus Christ, without any work on our part, and receive as a gift Christ’s righteousness credited to us before God.
  • Solus Christus, “Christ Alone,” which affirms that we are saved entirely by Christ’s merit and mediation, and not through the mediation of saints or sufferings in purgatory after death.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, “For God’s Glory Alone,” which affirms that all of a Christian’s life is lived in and for God’s glory, as stated in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”
  • Five hundred years later, these truths are still vital for the Church of Jesus Christ. Since they run counter to fallen human thinking, the temptation is always present to compromise these truths and allow the gospel to be eclipsed by a theology of human works and glory. That is why LBC | Capital remains committed to upholding these truths as we educate you students “…to think and live a biblical worldview and to proclaim Christ by serving Him in the Church and society.”

Since our founding 84 years ago, biblical authority - Sola Scriptura - remains our only infallible authority for faith and for life. It is our true north, unshifting, fixed and reliable. We trust the Bible to guide us correctly in all circumstances and in everything we teach and do. That is why our college verse is “The Word of the Lord endureth forever” (1 Peter 1:25). It is the only authority for salvation - grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Since our founding in 1933, biblical authority has governed everything about Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary and Graduate School - academic programs, faculty, campus activities, lifestyle standards, admissions and hiring decisions. Biblical authority is central to what we teach as it shapes our worldview, our perspective on all reality - what is true, what is good, what is right. In other words, virtue. Unlike victimization which is selfish, virtue is selfless and perfectly describes our Savior, the quiet and celebrated victor who went through those bloody three days to change human destiny; His death, crucifixion and ultimately His resurrection. All for us. Never once the victim but always the victor, in virtue.

As an academic institution striving for excellence, each course we offer maintains a commitment to biblical authority. That is why you will hear us talk a lot about “biblical integration.” Your professors this semester will teach you how the Bible’s authority and sufficiency affect their discipline. Biblical integration demonstrates how the authoritative truths of the Bible guide our thinking.

One of the truths the Reformation recovered is the biblical concept found in 1 Peter 2:5 of the priesthood of all believers and the principle that all our lives are lived before the face of God. How to live before God is found in the Bible, the sourcebook for wisdom, not just on how to be saved, but on how to justly govern, how to understand work, and how to raise up godly families. This is biblical integration.

About a third of Americans (35%) say they read the Bible at least once a week . We take it for granted that every believer has his or her own Bible and can read and study it as one chooses, but that was not the case 500 years ago in the 16th century. Having God's Word available to the public in the language of the common man, English, would have meant disaster to the church in Rome. If people were able to read the Bible in their own tongue, the church's power would crumble as people recognized the contradictions between what God's Word said, and what the priests taught. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone would be understood, the need for priests would vanish through the priesthood of all believers, and their practices called into question.

Think what the Church and society would be like if the Bible remained only in the hands of church leaders. It is inconceivable for us and yet that’s what was happening in the 16th century. We are here today, 500 years later, at a Bible college made possible in part by the Reformation. The programs we offer are in a way also a result of the Reformation.

The return to biblical worship gave us first and foremost the reading and preaching of the Word. (2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction.”) Those of you in the Bible and Theology Department will appreciate that.
It also gave us music. Congregational singing had been banned by the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther re-established congregational singing to the center of church life, which gradually took root over the next century. It was one of the ways he made the church service an active experience, as opposed to the previously passive experience in which the congregation had no voice. He also collated a collection of chorales with the basic conviction that people should rehearse the gospel in the songs they sang to one another. Those of you in our Worship & Performing Arts will appreciate that!

The Reformation eventually led to new ways of viewing work, government, economics, education and more. God has a vocation for every Christian to a specific kind of service in the church and in society. He prepares us for these vocations by gifting us for ministry and through ordering our lives so that we are trained and equipped for work that builds up others. Every vocation is working unto God. Those of you in our Arts & Sciences, Counseling & Social Work, Health & Physical Education and Education Departments will appreciate that!

We have gained much from the Reformers, and we are deeply grateful for their sacrificial labor of love. But it is important for us to recognize it was not persuasive arguments or strong commitment that won the day; it was the truth of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit at work through faithful men and women who God used to accomplish His sovereign will.

Every generation, including ours, is called to the work of the Reformation. The arguments might be different, but the issues remain very similar to those 500 years ago; God’s rule, man’s depravity and enslavement to sin, and the insatiable desire of sinners to control the grace of God will always be present. The authority of Scripture is at the forefront today, just as it was then. “The need for the Reformation will end when the church no longer faces foes inside and out who seek to distort her purpose, her mission, her message, and her authority [the Word of God].”

As we observe the injustices in the tragedy of our day, most recently represented in Charlottesville, Virginia, we see the pervasive nature of our fallen human state. Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary and Graduate School condemns racism in all forms, and we firmly believe that racial reconciliation is a critical ministry of the Church. We believe that God created all persons and that in the greatest commandment Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Church Christ is building is by nature a community of every people, language, tribe, and nation, making the ministry of racial reconciliation inherent in our calling as the people of God.

As Christians, we can be the ones to lead culture in a new way, a counter-cultural and counter-intuitive response born of our Savior’s example. We can affirm virtue and value, to the glory of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit; informed, governed and grounded in the Bible. The Bible teaches that the road to restoration is marked by the guide rails of humility and repentance, not pride and defensiveness. The Bible refers to love as a defining characteristic of God, and love is particularly needed today in the ministry of racial reconciliation. May we follow our Lord Jesus Christ in this way especially this year of celebration the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

This is why Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary and Graduate School is committed to standing on the infallible authority of Scripture. It is why we seek to be faithful in our generation for the sake of future generations to do our best to present ourselves to God as ones approved, workers who have no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is why we stay true to our mission “…to educate Christian students [YOU] to think and live a biblical worldview and to proclaim Christ by serving Him in the Church and society for the glory of Christ and the good of His Church.

This semester, may we humbly submit to the reforming truth of God’s Word and the power of His Holy Spirit to renew our minds, transform our hearts, and change our lives Soli Deo glorius—for the glory of God alone.

We are standing on sacred ground, drinking from wells we did not dig and living in a city we did not build. Gathered here are God-called students, serious in your academic pursuits, God-called professors committed here to teach, God-called administrators and fellow-servants dedicated here to the purposes for which this institution stands.

And now I commend professors to students and students to professors and all members of this community to each other. “And now I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). We will stay about the task, we will keep the faith, and we will care for each other.

We will study and teach and serve and learn together in what I pray will be a true community of consecrated scholars all around the most unique book ever written - the Bible -the Word of God forever settled in heaven.

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Lancaster Bible College|Capital Seminary & Graduate School is an equal opportunity institution that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex (except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification), ancestry, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or genetic information. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, admission to and enrollment with the College.