|President Pipa (l) and Dr. Johnson lead processional|
The graduation ceremony took place at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, S.C. on Friday, May 20.
Dr. Johnson's address "Discipline for Godliness," was based on I Timothy 4:7-16, in which, he said, the Apostle Paul urges ministers of the gospel to "put what remains in order."
Paul here and elsewhere called for a high degree of uniformity among the whole church, based on "universal" practices of biblical worship — regulated worship that has been normative throughout the ages, Dr. Johnson said, adding that this requirement was echoed by the early church fathers and the later leaders of the Reformation.
To maintain continuity with the teachings of the past, today's ministers will require discipline and commitment to these ancient practices, he said, noting that the vast portion of contemporary worship and church practice has abandoned these historically received principles.
He warned that the practices of prayer, preaching, hymn and psalm singing, and administration of the biblical sacraments in faithful churches will be seen as "strange to our civilization." So maintaining these practices will require active discipline by pastors, even if their churches constitute but a small remnant, he said.
He enumerated a number of disciplines to which the graduates should commit themselves as they pursue their calling as ministers of the gospel and shepherds of their churches. These included:
- Personal devotions — "secret communion with God" — including daily prayer and Bible reading. He recommended also reading of Puritan scholars of the 17th century.
- Private study. He recommended "thorough preparation" of at least one sermon per week by writing out a carefully constructed manuscript, then reducing that manuscript to an outline for taking into the pulpit. He said this will help prevent rambling "stream of consciousness" sermons.
- Thoughtful preparation for worship services, including a studied selection of hymns and points for public prayers. He lauded the use of the church's rich heritage of hymns, which he said are laced with 2,000 years of profound theology and significant melody.
- Maintaining the practice of two public worship services per week. He said this gives the minister 104 opportunities to meet face-to-face with his congregation, and he questioned why any pastor would want to cut those opportunities in half by conducting only one service per week.
- Commitment to the practice of reading and preaching through the whole Bible in an orderly fashion, using the expository method of preaching which, he said, helps the preacher to avoid "riding your hobby horse" by basing sermons on favorite or contemporary topics. People are saved and sanctified by the preaching of the Word of God, and the contemporary church's abandonment of expository preaching has been "catastrophic," he said.
- Long pastorates. He said ministers who stay for long years with a single congregation have the opportunity to minister to the "whole span of life" of many members.