What Does it Mean to Affirm the Church?

Al Mohler | President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary | Thursday, May 14, 2015

What Does it Mean to Affirm the Church?


"Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” [1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV]

 

To affirm the church is to affirm the Trinity. The church is a sign of the redemptive reciprocity of the Father and the Son, as the Father gives a redeemed people to the Son and as the Son will one day present the church without spot or blemish to the Father. The church exists by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the power of the Holy Spirit. These facts and these facts alone explain why the church has come to be, why the church has survived to this day, and why the church will be preserved throughout eternity to the glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

To affirm the church is to affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ, for without that gospel there would be no good news, no message of salvation, no redemption of sinners, and thus no redeemed people of God. Every true church is a gospel church and without the gospel there is no church. The church has received from Christ the commission to make the gospel known to all people, everywhere, with the confidence that whoever hears the gospel and believes will be saved.

 

To affirm the church is to affirm the authority of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. As Martin Luther rightly noted, the church is where the Word of God is rightly preached. Where the Word is not rightly preached, there is no church, plain and simple. Where the church is found, the Word of God is honored, preached, taught, cherished, obeyed, and believed.

 

To affirm the church is to affirm the ministry. God has given ministers to his church in order that the redeemed people of God may be fed, taught, counseled, instructed, edified, encouraged, corrected, and led. The Christian ministry was not an organizational invention of the early church, but the gift of God. The New Testament reveals that God calls ministers for his church and gifts them according to his call.

 

As Charles Bridges put the matter perfectly, “The Great Head of the Church has ordained three grand repositories of his truth. In the Scriptures he has preserved it by his Providence against all hostile attacks. In the hearts of Christians he has maintained it by the Almighty energy of his Spirit—even under every outward token of general apostasy. And in the Christian Ministry he has deposited ‘the treasure in earthen vessels’ for the edification and enriching of the Church in successive ages.”

 

With a vast array of graduating ministers before our eyes, I want to amplify this affirmation of the church and the special calling of its ministers by turning to 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. This great text points us to the coming Day of the Lord — that great day of God’s perfect judgment that was known already in the Old Testament and is further explained in the New Testament. Today, I want to look from this text to three great truths that will frame the calling, the ministry, and the future faithfulness of Christ’s church, and, especially, of these who will serve as pastors, missionaries, church planters, and other workers in God’s vineyard.

 

Identity

 

The first of these great truths is identity. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are identified in this text as children of light, children of the day. We are not, says Paul, children of the night or children of darkness. It is hard to imagine a more basic or primary biblical metaphor than the contrast of light and darkness. In the beginning, God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. Jesus identified himself as the Light of the world, and he also described his disciples as lights in the world. The Psalmist declared, “The Lord is my light, and my salvation” [Psalm 27:1].

 

The Word of God is a light unto our paths. The promise of the Messiah was to a people who dwelled in deep darkness. On them would shine a great light. To be saved by the power of Christ is to be “called out of darkness into his marvelous light” [1 Peter 2:9] and to be delivered from the “domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” [Colossians 1:13] God is light, and in him is no darkness at all [1 John 1:5].

 

In this text, Christians are described as “children of light, children of the day.” The contrast of the children of light and day with the children of darkness and night is as clear as any we might imagine. We are children of light, children of the day, precisely because in Christ we are safe on that great Day of the Lord. We are his, and he is ours. We are children of light because he is the Light of the world, and we remain in the world as lights for his glory — children of the day.

 

Much is expected of the children of the day. We are to be sober, ready, alert, aware, and, most of all, awake. Sloth and complacency and drunkenness mark the children of the night, the children of darkness. In this sense, we are not to sleep, at least not as others do.

 

The Christian minister, above all, must be awake and sober minded and serious — alert to the imperatives of gospel ministry and the needs of Christ’s people. Those who teach will be held to a stricter judgment, reminds the Apostle James. The children of the day must be served by ministers of the light, who are faithful undershepherds of the flock of God.

 

The calling of the Christian ministry is a call that comes to a child of the day to serve the children of the day. We cannot call ourselves, gift ourselves, transform ourselves, or even keep ourselves. But we are children of the day by God’s grace and for God’s glory, and we are called to serve the children of the day by the light of Christ. Our identity is clear — to belong to Christ is to be children of the day, so let us minister as children of the day.

 

Destiny

 

Here is the greatest news a human being can ever hear: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The children of the day are destined for glory, for salvation, for adoption, and for the eternal redeeming promises of God.

 

The great dividing line in humanity is not merely between the children of light and the children of darkness, but between those destined for wrath and those destined for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in Christ will be saved, and this salvation is not our work, but the gift of God. The entire plan of salvation is the outworking of the eternal purposes of God, as Paul described in Romans 8:28-30: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

 

We are told in no uncertain terms that the only alternative to our destiny of salvation through Christ is to be destined for wrath. This should lead to the unceasing gratitude of the church throughout eternity, but it must also lead to the most eager preaching, teaching, and taking of the gospel to the nations and to all people everywhere.

 

Ministers of Christ’s church serve in the knowledge that we are serving those who are destined for salvation in Christ and that Christ’s church is not, thanks be to God, destined for wrath. We minister, knowing that our destiny, and the destiny of all those who are in Christ, is secured by God, and not by ourselves. Thus, nothing the world can do can thwart our ministry in an eternal perspective. The church is safe in the purposes of God, destined for salvation, and thus we preach.

 

Urgency

 

Back in my teenage years, a staple of youth ministry was the showing of the film, “A Thief in the Night.” Quite honestly, it remains one of the most sobering messages I have ever heard or seen. And yet, the real message of this text is not less sobering than the film, but much more so. Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians of what they already know, and show themselves confidently to know, and that is that the day of the Lord, that great day of judgment, will come as a thief in the night.

 

Look at verses 2-4: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”

 

There is a biblical urgency to the Christian ministry. Jesus reminded his disciples with these words: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” [John 9:4]. While the world declares peace and security, sudden destruction will come — even like labor pains come upon a woman in childbirth.

 

The children of the day know the eschatological urgency that comes from knowing that the day of the Lord is coming, that the time is short, and that this age will end. This does not mean that we give ourselves to passivity in the light of Christ’s coming, but rather that we be found deployed and faithful when he comes. If this is true for all the children of the day, it is certainly most consciously true of those who are called as ministers for the children of the day. The times and the seasons cry out the urgency of our calling — most of all, the urgency of the preaching of the gospel.

 

A commencement day comes with a flood of reflection and the splendor of hope. The Spring 2015 graduating class of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is gathered here in space and time for one great moment. Right before our eyes, they are about to be flung to the four corners of the earth, sent into the churches and into the nations. On this sparkling day and on this historic lawn we see them in their graduating gowns and regalia. We rightly feel that they are ours, but they are not ours to keep.

 

Graduates, you have no earthly idea how loved you are and how many hopes are invested in you. The hopes and prayers of a host of Christ’s people go before you, with you, and after you. Go serve the children of the day, and minister so that Christ’s glory will be more evident in his church. Take the gospel to the nations and look together with all God’s people to that great marriage supper of the Lamb.

 

Take your place in line and fulfill your ministry with eyes wide open, knowing your destiny in Christ. Go into the world of darkness as brave children of the day.

 

 

This is the commencement address delivered by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at the school’s 215th commencement ceremony, Thursday, May 14, 2015. The entire ceremony may be viewed live at www.sbts.edu/live

 

Publication date: May 14, 2015

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