How I have Learned that Seminary Inaugurations are Still Important

 

Sunday’s inaugural service and Monday’s Honor the Past, Build for the Future service are now history (And we give thanks to Helen, my assistant, and to our outstanding inaugural committee)!

Someone remarked recently, when he read about my upcoming inauguration, that “we really don’t need these anymore do we?” He said that too much money was spent on such things. Too much time and manpower were devoted to such a dubious exercise both of which could be spent in better ways. I disagreed with him. I replied, “This is a worship service.” I believe that inaugurations are important for our seminary. Inaugurations show the invested authority by the Board of Trustees in a public worship service to Jesus Christ. They mark a movement of the hand of God in our midst. The word itself suggests that this is a beginning of a journey that one man will walk together with many. 

The inaugurations of American presidents are remembered in our country for this very reason. We study Washington’s speech or Lincoln’s famous second inaugural address, or Kennedy’s, or Reagan’s first speech because they tell us something about where we were as a people during those days.

The inauguration of a seminary president is important too, if I may say so. The event marks a new beginning. We renew our Covenant with Christ to fulfill the Great Commission as a “school of the prophets” and to humble ourselves in “sacred assembly” before the Lord of hosts.

For me, it was a time of rejoicing with family. It was a time to thank my wife and son and our larger family for their support and encouragement and their presence in my life. We give thanks for such times because it is an honor to be called to serve as president of a seminary. It is an honor, which no man takes to himself. Honors require gratitude. Gratitude expressed in public ways is as important, though different, than expressing it privately. 

This was a time of joy in seeing my friend and my hero in the faith the Rev. Dr. John Guest of Christ Church in Sewickley, PA. It was a time of solemnity as I took vows from our Chairman of the Board of Trustees Mr. Jim Moore. It was a time of seeing so many from First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. The gathering of members from my former church, with their Christ-appointed and now Christ-called pastor, has deep meaning and in this service it took on an important, if not surprising, play of its own.

We had lived through the first part of Acts 20:37, 38:

And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.

On the night of the inauguration, amidst the festivity of Scripture and vows and sermons, the last phrase was lived out:

And they accompanied him to the ship (Acts 20:38).

They, my most beloved saints of Jesus at my last post, left “Ephesus” to come to me, to hear my vision, and then they “accompanied” me “to the ship,” RTS Charlotte. From here I would now sail into God’s future. They would return and live out the Gospel vision I left with them. This evening was, as my friend and former Executive Pastor Steve Wallace (now COO of the RTS System) put it: “closure.” If ever that term, often overused and thrown about in a sort of therapeutic way, meant anything it meant it here.

The inauguration worship service was important for our seminary community. We were able to come together and celebrate what God has done, at what He is about in His purposes, and to imagine how we might follow Him and find our place for His future. I spoke from 1 Samuel 17:29 where David, with righteous indignation and a burden on his soul, spoke out:

And David said, ‘What have I now done? Is there not a cause?’ (1Samuel 17:29 Authorized Version)

Vision is the place where we are going with God. Burden is the power that drives vision. For David and for us, the burden leads to a mission to slay a giant and to seize an opportunity. For David and for us, the burden leads to a method that eschews the amour of Saul, the weapons of the flesh, and seeks only the ordinary means of grace: Word, Sacrament and Prayer. For RTS Charlotte it means alleviating the burden and fulfilling the mission by faithfully following David’s divine example of picking up the smooth stones of ministry. 

Our methods lead us to His majesty. David said, as that beautiful old King James Version put it, “Is there not a cause?” The cause was the majesty, the glory, and the honor of the name of the Lord. But it was also the honor of God’s people. 

We go forward at this seminary to raise up pastors and missionaries in order to see God’s glory and the saints’ good. I spoke of  “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” from 2 Timothy 2:2 This calls for raising up pastor-scholars who will raise up other pastor-scholars. As Dr. James Montgomery Boice once told me, “The pulpit is worthy of the finest scholarship the Church can offer.” 

We believe that ministers and missionaries should be equipped with the finest preparation to preach the Word of God and teach the whole counsel of God so that “souls will be safe in the arms of Jesus.” That thought, which comes to me over and over again from the passage in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, has shaped and molded my ministry before as it does now:

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1Thessalonians 2:19). 

This is my vision for my work and for our seminary, that we will be faithful in cultivating a community of Scripturally faithful men and women in vocational and spiritual formation that on the day when Christ comes again there will be multitudes safe in the arms of Jesus.

There is a “theologian” who showed me how all this works: of having a burden that leads to a mission and expecting to see Christ’s majesty in our midst. Mr. Lewis is not a theologian in the sense that he has training and degrees in theology. He is a theologian in that he studies the Bible, encourages others who preach and teach it, and prays and lives his faith out day by day. He is an ordinary man, who because of the power of the Holy Spirit in him, is an extraordinary man.

This man, Mr. Lewis, joined with me each Lord’s Day morning and prayed. When he prayed he put his strong hand on my shoulder. When he prayed he always seemed burdened. He was, like David, burdened for the presence of menacing giants and yet burdened for the manifestation of God’s glory. The giant was blinding original sin which holds human beings captive in darkness and inevitable Hell.

He prayed that the manifestation of God’s glory would come as Christ was preached and the Gospel unleashed in that sanctuary. He prayed that the power of the Gospel would shine forth through the supernatural unction of Almighty God and through the narrow and frail instrument of his preacher. He prayed that God would come down and the Kingdom would break through. He prayed that chains would snap, light would flood darkened minds, and spirits would soar in delightful freedom. Jesus Christ would be lifted up as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and Savior of the world.

All of this happened, in his heart, and through his prayers, so that when I stepped out of the prayer room and into the pulpit to preach, I would know: God was with me!

That is my mission and my burden. My longing is for His majesty among us. My prayer is that, somehow, I can put my hand on the shoulders of our faculty, and our students, and each of our staff, and say, “God is with you. Go. Be used of God to slay the giants and release the glory of Christ in our generation.”

Inaugurations are important.

 

Copyright ©2008 Michael A. Milton

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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