It is an exciting time to be a student at Southern Seminary. We are privileged to sit at the feet of some of the most gifted, world-renowned scholars on the planet. The seminary is growing by leaps and bounds. Our president hosts a daily radio program and is respected by Christians and non-Christians alike. We are treated to some of the greatest preachers inside and outside Southern Baptist life. The resurgence of Reformed theology has revitalized our missionary and evangelistic endeavors, as we follow in the footsteps of the Baptist forerunners of the modern missions movement.
God has blessed us through Southern Seminary, and we pray he is preparing us to be a blessing to our Convention in return. But it is during times of greatest blessing and success that we are often most vulnerable to temptation.
Consider Joseph, tempted after he began managing Pharoah’s affairs.
David, tempted after he had become a military hero.
Elijah, tempted to despair after he called down fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel.
Jesus, tempted in the wilderness after his baptism and God’s heavenly affirmation of his identity.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin writes:
“The parasitic nature of sin accounts for certain facts that otherwise puzzle us. It accounts for the fact that in various complicated and ironic ways, good and evil keep showing up, and even growing up together… How peculiar, then, that sin multiplies right along with goodness… Sin is fruitful just because, like a virus, it attaches the life force and dynamics of its host.”
If we are not careful, brothers, our passion for God’s glory, enthusiasm for evangelism and our love for his Church could be overshadowed by pride. Satan would love nothing more than to transform our joy of attending one of the best seminaries in the world into an intellectual snobbery that renders us ineffective in ministry. We must guard our hearts against this paralyzing pride. Weeds grow next to the flowers. The flowers are blooming among Southern’s best. The question is: will we choke out the weeds of pride in our hearts or will the weeds choke out a lifetime of fruitfulness?
Where might this pride surface?
We might be tempted, as we react against the pragmatic “whatever works to get them in the door” mentality of other ministers, to reject any pragmatic application-focused teaching whatsoever. We might buy into the idea that right theology automatically leads to right practice. We might take our place in a long line of churches with good, orthodox theology failing to be salt and light in the world. Can we not nullify the intention of God’s Word while upholding its inerrancy?
We might be tempted, as we react against some of the legalistic excesses of previous generations, to believe that proponents of alcohol abstinence are just a throwback to an outdated temperance movement, and that the drinkers are the truly enlightened ones who have discovered “moderation.” But is abstinence from alcohol (I like calling it a “boycott,” as my position on the issue resembles John Piper’s and Charles Spurgeon’s) a new “Law” that threatens our freedom in Christ? And is this a hill on which to die?
We might be tempted, as we grapple with the implications of our freedom in Christ, to simply replace some “laws” with others. In an overreaction against entertainment-based preaching, you might be tempted to outlaw all humor in the pulpit. In an overreaction against manipulative evangelists, you might be tempted to do away with all altar calls. We might be tempted to stop reading or engaging in serious dialogue with other writers outside of the Reformed stream, except to prove them wrong. And then legalism rears its ugly head when the presence of different authors on your bookshelf makes you theologically “suspect.”
We might be tempted to enforce a reform of our churches, rather than lead churches into reformation gracefully. So, we must maintain humility in everything, for…
- Reform will not come about if pride causes us to look down on well-intentioned believers who have a vibrant faith in Jesus but not as much theological education as we do.
- Reform will not come about by seeking to institute church discipline and other major changes within the first year.
- Reform will not come from students and ministers that are too proud to submit to the leadership of other believers, yes even believers from different theological streams.
- Reform will not come by embracing good theology at the expense of loving our neighbors.
- Reform will not come to our churches if we wind up replacing the intellectual snobbery of “Old Southern’s” liberalism with the intellectual snobbery “New Southern’s” Calvinism.
Brothers, temptation to pride will come. And pride, if given free reign in our lives, will abort any attempt to reform our churches.
Before we can reform the Church, we must serve the Church.
Before we serve the Church, we must love the Church.
Before we can love the Church, we must abandon any and all pockets of pride that would keep us from leaving the lofty pedestal of our theology and getting dirty by serving with and for the “uneducated,” “uncultured,” but Jesus-loving people in our denomination.
Let us be on guard, brothers. The Enemy would love nothing more than to see the renewal of conservative theology at Southern transform our seminary into an enclave of arrogant snobbery.
May we pray like the Puritans:
“Defend me from assailing foes, from evil circumstances, from myself. My adversaries are part and parcel of my nature; my enemy is within the citadel. Come with almighty power and cast him out, pierce him to death, and abolish in me every particle of carnal life this day.”
My brothers in Christ, let us show others the grace we most fervently espouse.