In the midst of 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 address marking his 20th anniversary as president of The 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.
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 of the Southern Baptist Convention. He argued that the school 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 school — 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.
Speaking to the seminary community Tuesday, 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, where 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 gives 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,” he 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, Mohler said, 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,” he said.
But preaching God’s Word is often unpopular, Mohler reminded 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,” he 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.
Still, 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 to 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 stressed 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 many hang in the balance.”
Writer: Aaron Cline Hanbury
Audio and video of Mohler’s address are available at the Southern Resource Web page: video [http://www.sbts.edu/resources/chapel/dont-just-stand-there-say-something-the-sin-of-silence-in-a-time-of-trouble/]; audio [http://www.sbts.edu/resources/chapel/dont-just-stand-there-say-something-the-sin-of-silence-in-a-time-of-trouble-2/]. Mohler’s two previous milestone convocation addresses are also available: “Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There” [http://www.sbts.edu/resources/articles/dont-just-do-something-stand-there/]; “Don’t Just Stand There: Do Something” [http://www.sbts.edu/resources/articles/dont-just-stand-there-do-something-2/]