The Baccalaureate Service is a collegiate tradition where the senior class gathers with professors, friends, and relatives in a worship service several days before Commencement. I’m reading Wikipedia here – apparently the tradition began in the 1400’s when each Oxford graduate would give a sermon, and apparently recent separation of church and state judicial rulings have meant that any state-school Baccalaureate’s must be student organized rather than official school functions.
But it is not that Erskine can officially hold a Baccalaureate Service that makes it so different, so special. The Baccalaureate at Erskine College is the last time that a class gathers together to corporately worship God. That is a profoundly beautiful statement, I think – though maybe its just because I’m in an emotional mood – because it shows how Erskine is more than a mere academic institution that passes out diplomas, she is a community of Christians – and non-Christians – who are here to give glory to God.
It is beautiful because this service tonight was just the symbolic last corporate worship of a class. There have been many before, from the first Sunday of Freshman Orientation where they barely knew each other and thought college was for sleeping in, and through four years of chapels they dragged themselves to before lunch for convocation credit. And there will be many more in the future. This class will go their separate ways and, though bonded for a lifetime by friendships and memories, will never again assemble together.
But Erskine is just part of a larger authentically Christian community, her Christians are just a small part of the Church of Christ, and so this class – in two years time, my class – will assemble again to worship God, every Sunday across the globe, and every moment in a heavenly church where faith will become sight.
“How good and how beautiful it is for leaders like the Erskine community to dwell together in unity.”
Pastor Andy Lewis of Mitchell Road PCA in Greenville gave the Baccalaureate Address on “Learning to Live.” The central Biblical text to the address was John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Lewis went one direction with the text, but my mind kept going another. Yes – I was that bad of a listener. Critical Thinking is a core of academia and was a core of Dr. Bill Crenshaw’s approach to my Freshman Seminar. In fact, a question on Erskine’s teacher evaluations asks whether a teacher effectively taught us to critically think. A person who critically thinks evaluates the world with – well – a critical eye, a mind that accepts ideas and beliefs only on the basis of evaluated and thorough evidence.
And critical thinking is truly a necessary thing to learn in college and to possess in life – too few people in this world critically think. But over the last year of talking with Dr. Norman he has convinced me – I swear through some Obamaian idealism – of the necessity of creative thinking. Critical thinking destroys, but creative thinking builds. Creative thinking evaluates the world to improve it, to make tomorrow’s world not our world, to build not just ideas but lives.
And I think (okay, Norman has convinced me that) creative thinking – maybe like critical thinking – can only truly be done through the lens and with the wisdom of Jesus Christ.
Here at college it is so easy to let critical thinking steal and kill and destroy our ideas and our groundedness in the world in which we live, it is so easy to climb into that ivory tower of academia these four years (and beyond) and forget the poor (of spirit and material) for whom we receive our diplomas, and it is so hard to learn that Christ has come to give us and the world life and that it is only through Him that we may flourish.
If Erskine is anything I think it must be a community that worships our great God together – as the senior class did tonight – and an institution that builds in us the creative thinking to live and to build that life in others.
This is Erskine College, my college, my home, and I thank God that this is who she is.