Graduates go out to invite the nations in, says Mohler at SBTS graduation
The formal commissioning of hundreds for gospel service is not just a graduation. It is ultimately fulfillment of God’s promise to Jesus Christ that his house would be filled, said President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in his May 17 commencement address.
During the 223rd commencement exercises on the seminary lawn, 304 master’s and doctoral students graduated from Southern Seminary. The ceremony, according to Mohler, is not just a ceremony to honor them. It is a worship service for the God who called them and prepared them for ministry.
“Those who are seated before us, ready to graduate, are ministers of a new covenant. They are ambassadors for Christ. They are servants of the Word. They are heralds to the nations. They are preachers and teachers for Christ's church,” Mohler said. “This is a worship service because worship is the only rightful response to what we are witnessing here. It's not enough to have a ceremony. It's not enough to throw a party. It's not enough to hold graduation. We are here to worship the one true and living God, because he's doing this. He has done this. What we see here is to his glory.”
Mohler's address, “Compel People to Come In, that My House Shall be Filled” was taken from Jesus’ parable of a great banquet in Luke 14:13-24. In this passage, the servants of a man’s house invite people from the far-reaching highways and hedges to the feast. The passage makes it clear that Christ will gather his church from all the nations of the world into his house, Mohler said. Ministers of the gospel — and graduates of Southern Seminary — are sent out into that World, even to the hedges and highways, as Jesus taught.
“I am absolutely confident that Christ’s house will be filled. I know this because Jesus said so,” he said. “Biblically, we come to understand that the invitation to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be answered in such a way that, according to God’s sovereignty, his house is filled. But he means for his workers to go out and to compel people to come in, that his house may be filled. In the going, there is no place too far, too dangerous, too large, too small, too difficult, too hostile, or too challenging. It’s also important to recognize that in our age and era, the highways and hedges are global — as is Christ’s call.”
Preparation for Christian ministry is not like secular fields of study, Mohler said, so the ceremony should not be the same, either. The academic regalia each student wore represents not only a high level of academic accomplishment, but demonstrated stewardship and conviction.
“The Christian ministry is not a mere profession,” Mohler said. “All around us are other ceremonies, and they are important because we need those professions — we need doctors, we need lawyers, we need nurses, we need architects and engineers,” he said. “Those professions have their own standards. They define their own terms and they require certain qualifications.”
But Southern Seminary is different. It is not just a professional milestone — it is a unique call to the life and death proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
“There will be no license handed to these graduates with their diploma. No, it’s God who calls. It’s the Holy Spirit of God who equips. It is a call to ministry, and ministry is more than a profession. If you want to understand why it’s more than a profession, understand that this is the only commencement where we will say to these graduates: ‘Go and serve and die, if you must, for the glory of God.’ That’s not very inspiring at a professional school graduation. But we serve a church, watered with the blood of martyrs.”
The graduation was the 223rd commencement in the 160-year history of Southern Seminary. For Mohler, who last year reached 25 years of service as Southern Seminary’s president, it is his 52nd commencement.
“That tells you something about how many individuals — soon to be 33,000 — have graduated from this institution. You begin to understand the magnitude of what God is doing.”
Among the 304 graduates, 34 were from other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Korea, and South Africa. Graduates from around the world represented six different continents. Additionally, seven students graduated from the Hispanic program.
During graduation, Mohler presented the annual Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Timothy K. Beougher, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and the interim dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry.
The recipient of the 2019 Josephine S. and James L. Baggott Outstanding Graduate Award was Aldert J. Vorster, a Master of Divinity graduate from Cape Town, South Africa.
Mohler’s entire address will soon be available in audio and video format at equip.sbts.edu.