I can remember the day that I graduated from seminary like it was yesterday (May 06!). I can remember all the pictures and the handshakes…the applause and the feeling of relief. I even remember much of the sermon preached by Paige Patterson from 1 Peter 5: 1-4… “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness…not lording it over those allotted to your charge…but proving to be examples to the flock, and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory! I was so juiced to go out and lay my life down for people! It was a wonderful day!! And I am extremely thankful for my time at Seminary, although I don’t think it was the most influential time in my life in regards to ministry.
Let me tell you about another graduation*. Five young graduates of a seminary in Switzerland, all of them in the early twenties, had returned home to Lyons, France after spending a little time in Geneva with John Calvin. On their return, they were arrested and imprisoned. It was April, 1552. There was a series of letters exchanged between these five young men and Calvin. Calvin would write, urging them to be bold and keep the faith. Various appeals are made and the young men are shipped off to a dungeon in Paris, and eventually, in March 1553, they were sent back to Lyons again. During this time, they wrote several letters. In one of them, they say this: “We are bold to say and affirm that we shall derive more profit in this school for our salvation than has ever been the case in any place where we have studied . . . we testify that this persecution in prison is the true school of the children of God, in which they learn more than the disciples of the philosophers ever did in their universities. Indeed, it must not be imagined that one can have a true understanding of many of the passages of Scripture without having been instructed by the Teacher of all truth in this College, prison…”
And they went on: “It is true that one can have some knowledge of Scripture and can talk about it and discuss it a great deal; but this is like playing charades. We therefore praise God with all our heart and give Him undying thanks that He has been pleased to give us by His grace not only the theory of His Word, but also the practice of it, and that He has granted us this honor – which is no small thing for us who are vessels so poor and fragile and mere worms creeping on the earth…”
Of course, putting into practice what we believe and what we have learned is the real test. We can (and should be) be dedicated students of the Scriptures and have a right understanding of God’s Sovereignty (his total control of all things), but applying that understanding is another world all together. It applies to my family, my job, the way I think about major disasters, political elections, and especially salvation. Just like the seminary students, many of us have “class room knowledge” of who God is…but how have we done at the school of everyday life? How does our theological understanding of who God is melt into our everyday practice? Or, are we simply playing a game of charades, merely acting out the silhouette of a Christian? What happens when someone calls off the game and real life begins? I want us to take a look at a real life situation in the early church and notice the real way in which these Christians united their theological understanding with their actual lives. And it begins with a very short, yet profound prayer…
*I owe this illustration to Derek Thomas and a sermon that he preached on Acts 4:23-31 at FPC Jackson, MS.