My Charge to the 2023 Graduating Class of Asbury Theological Seminary

May 20, 2023

Every year I give a brief charge to our graduates as part of the graduation ceremony. Here is the charge I gave this year.

2 Cor. 4:8-10 says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (NIV).

Today in 2023, at our centennial year and 100th graduating class, we cannot help but recall that first graduate 100 years ago. We had only one graduating student, Samuel Maxwell. One hundred years later, we have 365 graduates and 13,742 who have gone forth to spread scriptural holiness. So, on this historic occasion, it seemed fitting to recall the founding charge of our beloved H.C. Morrison when asked a hundred years ago why he was starting Asbury Seminary. He said, “There are not a few ministers in our day who are entertaining the church, not teaching her; who are amusing their people, rather than warning them; who are comforting them in their sins rather than calling them into holiness; who are making their churches places of play and pastime, instead of places of repentance and worship; who are busy with many things, and entirely neglecting the one thing, “holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord;” that consecration of life and purity of heart, without with the church cannot be fruitful & be the nursing mother of the true kingdom.”

Graduates, you face, as your distant colleagues did 100 years ago, a seriously compromised church. It is marked by powerlessness, a minimalistic vision, and a loss of confidence in the word of God. It is filled with a shocking lack of clarity on what is the gospel. Prayers are casual. Sins are personal preferences. Judgment is unimaginable. You and your generation are called to stand up and be part of this great restoration of the faith that H.C. Morrison envisioned 100 years ago. You are the vanguard of the great project of the recovery and even rediscovery of apostolic Christianity. You must rebuild what has been torn down. Recapture that desperation for God that so gloriously visited us during the Asbury outpouring in February. No more casual prayers, no more domesticated church, no more culturally compromised message. This was H.C. Morrison’s founding hope for each of you. Yet, this only comes through the cross.

When the Jesuits sent out their missionaries to the Far East in the 17th century, the journey was so perilous that they gathered the entire group on the deck prior to leaving port. The Jesuits gave the missionaries a charge that included the ominous fact that 20% of them would die at sea before they even reached the mission field and 30% more would die in the first year on the field due to disease. They were then made to look to the left and to the right and recognize that half of their number would be dead in a year. They were then given a final opportunity to get off the ship.

As it turns out, the Jesuits were only half right. Look left and right, in front and behind: we must all die, every one of us—die to our unholy ambitions and our strivings. We must die to our longings for recognition and status. We must, to use the words of St. Paul, go forth carrying around in our body the death of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:10). The radical grace of the gospel that flows through you to a lost world comes only through the power of the cross! Paul says, quite shockingly, that “we have redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:7). That means the life of the whole world is predicated on the death of Jesus Christ. We become sights and symbols of the cruciform life. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). This is why Dietrick Bonhoeffer, the famous 20th century martyr who wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” So, echoing our beloved founder 100 years ago: 2023 graduates: go forth into the world as ambassadors of radical grace and glorious redemption, as those whose own life has passed through the cross, so that his life might truly transform the world. Amen.


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