September 29, 2014

Straining Forward to What Lies Ahead

            Recently I have been studying the history of Central as we prepare to launch a capital campaign.  I am amazed at the resiliency of the school, and I am even more amazed by God’s providence in its 113 year old history.  There were seasons when it appeared that the school could not survive despite the best prayers and efforts of the board and seminary administrators.  Yet, by God’s mercy, it did.

            Often a school will have a motto or key text that sums up its mission or core values.  Since 1927 the watchword of Central has been: “ . . . but this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).  The single-minded pursuit of the Apostle has reminded generations of seminarians and seminary leadership of the grace and effort that sustain our work

            No hardship or failure of the past will keep Paul from following God’s call to him.  He knows that God is crafting a future full of promise, and he pours out his life to that end.  As I read of the witness of my forebears at Central, I am amazed at their relentless will to see God’s purpose accomplished through this school.  Each epoch has held distinctive challenges, and resourceful leaders and generous donors conspired to seize what lay ahead.

            The good work of the school is always about the kind of ministers we are preparing.  Last evening I had the privilege of participating in the ordination of three of our graduates at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church.  For the first time in its venerable 119 year history, the church was recognizing the calling and gifts of women as ordained clergy.  What struck me about each of the candidates was how long they had practiced “but this one thing I do.”  They were seasoned servants of God, and they had kept the goal in view.

            It was a holy time as the congregation gathered around two men and two women to “stir into flame” the gifts of the Spirit.  Singing, praying, blessing, anointing, laying on hands, and exhorting, laity and clergy set them apart.  As the people of God, they recognized that God has not ceased to supply good ministers of Christ Jesus who will help lead the church to what lies ahead. 
            Central lives to serve the church, and an ordination service highlights our unique partnership with congregations as we share the work of nurturing vocational callings in ministry.  This “one thing” is best done together, and we rejoice in our common cause.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

September 22, 2014

Humbling Ourselves

            Few passages in the New Testament rival the great Christ hymn of Philippians, which offers a three-stage Christology: pre-existence, incarnation, and exaltation.  [Theologians just love this kind of symmetry!]  In just a few verses of Philippians 2, Paul spells out the downward mobility of Jesus and invites us to embark on the same pathway.

            The very Word of God, the living Christ, takes the form of a slave, after the likeness of humanity.  He does not cling to equality with God, although in God’s relational self-giving both Spirit and Son are fully personal and fully God.  Rather, he empties himself for our sakes.  The Greek word kenosis carries rich meaning, and it discloses how God is present in Jesus.
            A key phrase in this passage is “ . . . he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death . . .” (v. 8).  Paul goes further to say “even death on a cross,” which was the most excruciating and tortuous death he knew.  There is no atonement theory offered in this text; it simply delineates the extent of his mission: serving others even at the risk of dying.

            Humility is the master virtue according to the ancient Abbas and Ammas of the desert monastic tradition.  As Roberta Bondi writes: “Humility accepts our human vulnerability and the fact that we sin.  It is not so overwhelmed by human weakness that it is left paralyzed, thinking over its inadequacy.”
When one no longer has to preserve a heroic self-image, he or she can begin to empower others with collaborative insight.  Humility requires a generous hospitality, not simply thinking about one’s “own things,” but capacious welcome, creating space for others.  When one understands his or her role within the larger body of Christ, there is less anxiety about being “solely responsible,” which allows a greater humility.

            Jim Collins, researcher and writers about great organizations and great leadership, names humility as the key quality for effective leaders.  In his study of those companies who moved from “good to great,” he identifies the essential quality of “extreme personal humility” for effective leaders.  One who understands incorporation in Christ knows that he or she must also follow the pathway of humility.
            Humility helps us find those tasks that no one else is eager to do.  Humility listens to stories recounted again by our elders.  Humility prompts us to “regard others as better than ourselves.”  Humility helps us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (v. 3).  Humility allows us to be patient with children, even when they prove contrarian or in the crass calculus of the economy, insignificant.

            Humility reminds us “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s own good pleasure” (v. 13).  For this, we give thanks.

            Molly T. Marshall

           Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.