The President's Welcome

September 07, 2008

The President's Welcome at the 80th Convocation of Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, PA

Click here to listen to Dr. Peter A. Lillback's Address

September 4, 2008

At this momentous time of our 80th Convocation, we surely need rhetoric that is appropriate for such an auspicious occasion.

So let me borrow from one of America's greatest statesman and begin by saying, "Four score years ago, our theological fathers from Old Princeton brought forth upon this continent a new Seminary dedicated to the proposition that all theologies and all theologians are not created equal."

Believing that the Bible is true and that it is the written and infallible Word of God and so asserting that it is the only infallible rule for interpretation, these theological fathers, under Dr. Machen's leadership made the front pages of the newspapers of the day.

Eighty years later, we continue to make front page headlines as we stand for the Word of God. But this has not come without a price. Even our friends have said in those articles, "apart from the work of God, Westminster cannot survive."

Such concern is understandable given the major votes of our faculty and Board in recent months, and the dramatic financial impact these circumstances have had. And after all, the Scriptures say of human lives - and perhaps by implication of human organizations, that "the length of our lives are three score and ten, and if by reason of strength, four score."

In this context I especially relish the remarks of the octogenarian, the Reverend Jake Eppinga. He was more than a 50 year graduate when we afforded him an honorary doctorate for his long and fruitful ministry. His story will long live on even though he has now entered the church triumphant. He hitchhiked from Illinois to Pennsylvania to visit Westminster at the encouragement of someone named Edmund Clowney. His last few miles to the Seminary were provided by someone who picked up hitchhikers - a professor named Corneilius Van Til! The Reverend Dr. Eppinga said he would never forget the convocation message given by R. B. Kuiper, "Buy the truth and sell it not." With joy in his heart, over 50 years later, Dr. Eppinga said, "this is still true at my seminary!"

Indeed, we are gathered today to consider whether a Seminary so conceived to stand for the truth of God's Word can long endure. So I am pleased to declare to you today, the reports of the death of Westminster, theologically, or financially, are greatly exaggerated! Indeed it is as though our Lord has heard the prayers of men and women and even, both "Dudes" and Discontented alumni, to "Save our Seminary"!

As we seek this year once again to live up to our motto, "The Whole Counsel of God" and to pray with Jesus, "Father, Sanctify them through your Word, your Word is Truth" (John 17:17), allow me to encourage you with the following good news.

In this instance, not the good news of the Gospel, but nonetheless good news indeed.

In the past few weeks we have:

1. Received a 3 year grant of $4.2 million to the General Fund to allow us to begin to dream to build the WTS of the next 80 years.
2. Received a $1 million grant to our General Fund.
3. Received a half million dollar matching grant for our General Fund.
4. Received a grant of $75,000 for our 80th Anniversary celebrations.
5. Are continuing to secure a scholarship grant that could total up to $2.5 million when fully established, intended especially for international students.
6. Secured a trust for $3 million.
7. Received an ongoing grant to fund our new work at Wuhan University in China.
8. Received an appraisal for our campus, that we own, for over $9 million. And, just so there is no confusions here, our campus is not for sale.
9. We are launching a worldwide alumni association to include some 6,000 living alumni of which you are all a part.
10. We are opening the new Loft as our student center; a down payment we pray, for the future campus improvements that are yet to come.
11. There is even more good news in the making but let this be the basis of encouragement for all of us at the start of our 80th year.

Indeed we are grateful and humbled that our Lord has blessed WTS and continues to bless WTS' commitment to the Word of God as His inerrant truth. Remember that Westminster is not named for a cathedral but for our confession of faith ex-animo, to which we as a faculty take a vow.

The apostle Paul said it well, "we have believed, therefore we have spoken." In this context, let me add that it matters not to me how one may have voted on matters, or which documents one may have signed in conformity with conscience. Instead, I call on all of us to stand with our Board as these men seek to guide us with the theological commitments that will guide our Seminary in the years to come.

As we enter this historic year, in that spirit, I call on Professors, staff, and administrators to sit together and visit and encourage our students and one another in the great truths of the Gospel and of our Reformed Faith. In that spirit of unity, I ask you:

1. To rejoice in our continuing strong enrollment for there were predictions of dire consequences for our fall semester given our recent Theological Controversy.
2. Please pray for our Special Board meeting on September 24th. Pray that our Board will continue with divine wisdom to guide the theological direction of our Seminary for the future.
3. Please ask our God for his continuing blessings on our campus development and for his aid in the securing of greatly needed long term financial resources.
4. Please also pray that as we lay the foundation for the next eighty years of WTS, that when the 160th convocation of WTS arrives, that will only be seen by our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, that they too will hear an abiding commitment to the Word of God.
5. Finally work for the unity of our faculty and body. Having already quoted Lincoln, let me do so again. He famously declared, a "House divided against itself cannot stand." But let us also recall that Lincoln was quoting one much wiser and more heroic than himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, may we be well guided by His peaceable wisdom from above.

May our consciences, with Luther be bound by the Word of God. May this be true for more than just Westminster's first 80 years or 160 years.

The Words of our Lord Jesus found in the "Book of Truth" promise that "Heaven and Earth will pass away, (and this includes Westminster Theological Seminary) but my Word abides forever."

It is only as we remain committed to the truth of Scripture, that our Seminary can hope for eternal significance and a long and spiritually meaningful existence in the earthly kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

- Dr. Peter A. Lillback, President