LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Amid cultural pressures to remain silent, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told ministers to speak the truth because souls are at stake during an Aug. 20 convocation marking his 20th anniversary as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We are called to be, as scripture describes us, stewards of the mysteries of God,” Mohler said. “We are called to preach that which has been revealed. We are called to preach the Word in season and out of season. … We are living in a time that may well be described as increasingly out of season. Thus, we speak of the sin of silence in a time of trouble.”
Mohler’s address, “Don’t Just Stand There: Say Something: The Sin of Silence in a Time of Trouble,” follows in the tradition of two previous convocation messages at significant moments in his presidency at the Louisville, Ky., seminary.
The first, in 1993, “Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There,” set his agenda to reclaim the seminary – a central concern during the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. He argued that the seminary had lost its way theologically and needed to commit with integrity to its foundational doctrinal confession, the Abstract of Principles.
Ten years later, Mohler called the seminary – in a message oppositely titled, “Don’t Just Stand There: Do Something” – to re-engage in the task of the church by taking the gospel to the nations.
SBTS photo by Emil Handke
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks Aug. 20 to the seminary community in Alumni Memorial Chapel. The convocation address marked his 20th anniversary at the seminary’s helm.
Speaking to the seminary community on Aug. 20 at the beginning of a new academic year, Mohler said, “We know what we believe; that’s what we confess. We know what we must do, as the Lord Himself has commissioned us. And may we ever be faithful to speak what we’ve been commanded to speak.”
Mohler preached from Ezekiel 3:16-27, in which God gives the prophet responsibility for those to whom God calls him to speak. In the passage, God says to Ezekiel, “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
Mohler asserted that the message God gave to Ezekiel is as applicable today as it was for the ancient prophet.
“The portrait given to Ezekiel is [one] we must hear and we must heed and we must own for our own time,” Mohler said.
Confronting a fear of truth-telling, Mohler said the scriptures present only two conditions that require silence: when in the presence of God and “when we do not know what to say because the knowledge is too far from us.” But, he noted, calls to speak are “far more prevalent in scripture” than calls for silence, noting that the call to speak is not generic, but a specific call to preach God’s revealed truth.
“Our task is not theological speculation; we are not called to doctrinal creativity; we are not summoned to invent a message; we neither market nor test this message, nor modify it. We receive it. And as we receive it, so we preach,” Mohler said.
But preaching God’s Word is often unpopular, he reminded the seminarians.
“The increasingly secular culture of the West, and specifically the United States, is poised to present the seriously Christian minister with serious challenges. And challenges bring temptations. One of the greatest temptations is for us to remain silent,” Mohler said.
“We are tempted to speak in terms that will be better received, we believe, than the terms of the gospel that scripture require. We are tempted to lower our voice when we should raise it, and to raise our voice when it should be lowered. The truth dies a thousand deaths of equivocation and is buried in a grave of evasion,” he said.
Even so, ministers cannot avoid trouble, Mohler said. “We will be in trouble with someone. So let us choose this day those with whom we will have trouble. The world says, ‘Remain silent,’ and God says, ‘Speak.’“
Mohler emphasized his desire not to spark a “new belligerence or a posture of defensiveness,” but to call the church to obedience to all that scripture teaches. “My concern is the mandate given to us by God and my concern is the church,” he said.
Silence in times of trouble is sin, Mohler said, noting the increasing cost of speaking the truth. “It will cost more every year to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the exclusivity of that gospel as a radical cause of outrage in this culture, to the moral teachings of God’s Word,” he said.
Mohler emphasized that consequences of speaking God’s truth span beyond cultural discussions of morality. The call to speak the truth in times of trouble today, as in Ezekiel’s day, carries eternal consequences.
“This is not merely about some cultural conflict over moral questions; it is about an eternal conflict over the souls of men and women. Nothing less is at stake,” he said.
“Together, may we be determined never to remain silent when we are called and commissioned and given opportunity to speak. May we end our days free and innocent of the blood of all men,” he said. “May Southern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention and all of God’s people learn new skills of truth-telling and draw courage to speak the truth in love and resolve to speak as best we know in the time we are given to the people whose eternal destiny may hang in the balance.”
Audio and video of Mohler’s address, “Don’t Just Stand There: Say Something: The Sin of Silence in a Time of Trouble,” are available at the Southern Resource webpage: video and audio. Mohler’s two previous milestone convocation addresses also are available: Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There and Don’t Just Stand There: Do Something.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Cline Hanbury is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)