LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- The spiritual health of seminary students and their families should precede academics, speakers said at a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary conference emphasizing purity.
Jeremy Pierre, the seminary's new dean of students, introduced the all-day Personal and Family Vigilance Conference, underscoring the importance of students taking care of their spiritual lives while in seminary.
"Following Christ first in your personal life and in your family is not automatic," Pierre said.
"It takes effort and it takes vigilance -- grace-enabled effort and vigilance, but vigilance nonetheless. We don't want any of our students to shipwreck their faith through the negligence of their soul, because following Jesus while studying Him is not automatic," said Pierre, who also is assistant professor of biblical counseling.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Seminary's president, led the first plenary session, exhorting students about the health of their private and spiritual lives. Mohler preached from 1 Timothy 4:12-16, warning about the dangers of ministry and the tragedy when someone leaves ministry because of poor personal and spiritual vigilance.
People learn much about an institution by how it begins its semester, Mohler said. He gave an example of a secular school that began its semester with a mandatory meeting about "safe sex" among the students. In contrast, Southern Seminary began its year by focusing on soul care for its students.
"We need to train ourselves for the pattern of sound steps and the pattern of a sound life," Mohler said. "If we fail in terms of the private life, then we fail utterly."
People are always watching those in ministry to see how they live, Mohler noted; wherever the minister or leader goes, eyes follow to watch if his words match his actions.
Mohler read an open letter from a former student who, instead of graduating, signed divorce papers. The letter, which appeared in a 2011 issue of the seminary's news magazine, Towers, illustrated the importance of the conference and its message of personal and family watchfulness while in seminary, Mohler said.
"All of us together, whatever our age, need to be determined to, right now, feed the virtues and starve the vices by God's grace," Mohler said. "It's in the mirror that doctrine and character meet. The defense of the truth requires the same virtues as the defense of character."
Heath Lambert, associate professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College, the seminary's undergraduate school, led a plenary session directed toward men about the dangers of pornography.
"Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace," a new book by Lambert, who also is executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, addresses the issue of pornography within today's Christian culture. The seminary gave attendees a free copy of the book.
Lambert described pornography as "the most significant problem in the church."
"Today people in our churches have to be vigilant against a phantom," he noted, referring to pornography's anonymous ease-of-access on the Internet.
Purity in the churches begins with the pastor, Lambert added.
"God has raised you up to be leaders in your home and church," he said. "If our homes and churches are to be pure, they are going to be led by men who are pure."
Lambert preached from Romans 6, telling students that the necessary power to be pure is found in the passage, which addresses a believer's deadness to sin and life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
He noted key truths that empower men struggling with pornography: a Christian cannot confess Christ's resurrection and not fight for holiness; the power for purity is found in the fight against sin; and the fight against sin includes the need for Christians to stop resenting sin and to present themselves to God as raised-to-life believers.
Lambert told students to protect themselves by putting protective systems on computers, cell phones and televisions to avoid temptations to sin.
Fighting for purity requires spending time with Jesus, Lambert said, also encouraging men to present themselves to God as instruments of righteousness by service to others and the church.
He encouraged attendees to sing Gospel-centered music when tempted to sin, saying that God "has wired us that there's something about singing that ignites our affections."
And Lambert encouraged men to find someone and tell them the truth, emphasizing the importance of grace and honesty in the effort to fight sin.
The Aug. 22 conference also featured four breakout sessions led by seminary professors. Michael Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, led a session about vigilance in soul care; Pierre led a session about ministering to those who need to confess sin; Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology, spoke to students about how couples can pursue purity together; and Brian Vickers, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, led a session about moving past guilt and toward grace.
The conference was the first to be cosponsored by the Rick Bordas Fund for Student Discipleship, established this year, and the John and Debbie Bethancourt Lectures for Ministerial Ethics.
RuthAnne Irvin writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Audio and video from the conference are available at sbts.edu/resources
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