Delivered as an address to the faculty, students, and friends of Colorado Christian University at the Inauguration of President Eric Hogue on September 27, 2023.
For 109 years, Colorado Christian University (CCU) and its heritage schools have been a light in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. We’ve recently been referred to as “the lantern of the Rockies,” an image harkening back to the role of the Elgin Cathedral in medieval Scotland, called “the lantern of the north,” located on the edge of civilization, whose light shined out to the chaotic, unconverted, still pagan, highland Celts. Today, I’d like to point us to a slightly different image, an image that comes from Scripture itself — the image — of a lampstand. Israel was to be a light to the nations, symbolized by its ever-burning menorah. But it is the church of Jesus Christ that is pictured as a lampstand in the New Testament. You will find this in the book of Revelation, chapter one.
We are gathered here today to inaugurate a new president, President Eric Hogue, as we step into a new chapter in the life of Colorado Christian University. However, before we do, let’s take a moment to honor our past, celebrate our present, and remind ourselves of our future calling, by way of this potent image of a lampstand.
FIRST, WE WANT TO HONOR THE PAST
It was Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher who said, “life can only be understood backwards…..but it must be lived forwards.” Friends, we are here because of yesterday—the distant past, i.e. the prophets, apostles, martyrs and faithful through the ages, and the more recent past, i.e. the 109 years of our own institutional history. Most people do not get the opportunity to work for a company that has been around for over 100 years. But we do! (In fact, only 0.8% of the companies in the US were even around 100 years ago!). Today is the fulfillment of the faithfulness and endurance of thousands of people over the past century who shaped who we are today. We are grateful to them all.
Back in 1914, CCU was a little school in an over-grown mining town, turned cow town, in the young state of Colorado. It started with one teacher and two students in a one room schoolhouse. A man named Clifton Fowler sensed need for trained Christian workers. He had observed Bible institutes being established in other cities. So he founded the Denver Bible Institute (DBI). DBI would supply the growing number of churches in Denver with Christian workers. At DBI, students would learn the Word, solidify their foundational beliefs, and nurture their faith. Many students would help fill church pulpits in Denver with ministers. DBI was part of the Bible Institute movement, which developed as a response to the secularization of American higher education as philosophes of naturalism and relativism embedded themselves in the established colleges and seminaries. Overtime Denver Bible Institute developed into Denver Bible College, then later renamed Rockmont College. By 1949 there were 230 students. In 1985 Rockmont would merge with Western Bible Institute and then later, in 1989, with Colorado Baptist University.
Along the way there were lean seasons and seasons of plenty. There were times when it looked like the school might have to close its doors because they could not make payroll. There were seasons of leadership failure and theological drift. It took vision, faith, endurance, prayer, and courage to go forward. CCU was never, and is not now, a one person show. Leaders like Clifton Fowler, Sam Bradford, the Harwood family, Archie Yetter, David Beckman, the Donnithorne and Armstrong families, and many, many others, stepped into the gap, and for some reason, God continued to show favor on CCU.
All of CCU’s heritage schools shared some common convictions—that, there is a sovereign creator God, that He sent his only Son Jesus Christ into the world to redeem lost and sinful people, that the gospel of Christ is the best message in the world, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we must train a new generation of students to be champions for Christ.
So today, we honor our past. For us, our past is not a hitching post but a guide post. We dare not ignore the Christ-centered vision that gave birth to Colorado Christian University. Not because we care to get lost in nostalgia. And not because they were perfect—they weren’t. But because the Lord was at work back then.
SECOND, TODAY WE NOT ONLY HONOR OUR PAST, WE ALSO CELEBRATE THE PRESENT
Did you know that in 1914, the year we were founded, and had only two students, enrollment at Harvard University, the oldest college in the US, was 537? Enrollment at the University of Denver, the oldest college in Denver was 1,159. No one then would imagine that that tiny little Bible Institute would someday have more students than those two institutions together had in 1914. Nor could they imagine a campus like the one we see here today. They could not imagine that CCU, over 100 years later, would still be a Christian, conservative, evangelical university with a growing national voice, with over 1,000 students doing ministry hours all over Denver, and hundreds of CCU students going on mission trips around the world. They could not imagine CCU having one of the largest counselor training programs in the nation. They could not imagine our digital platform, our graduate programs, our doctoral programs, or our high school academy, or a student body of almost 10,000, not including the CCU Academy.
What happened in 1914 reminds me of that tiny mustard seed Jesus spoke of in Matthew 13. That seed is so tiny and easily underestimated. But Jesus made the point that in his kingdom, huge things can come from small beginnings. The ministry of twelve fishermen would defy imagination and lead to the overturning of the Roman Empire. His kingdom is like that. Today CCU has over 24,000 living alumni. This past May we had our largest graduating class ever, with 1,400 graduates. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked CCU as the sixth fastest growing private master’s degree granting college in America. In August the Wall Street Journal for the first time named us as one of America’s best Colleges. US News and World Report recently ranked CCU among the region’s best regional universities.
The early staff of DBI could not imagine CCU’s growing national reputation, that we are not only training pastors, missionaries, Bible translators, counselors, but also Christian nurses, doctors, engineers, business leaders, public policy analysts, teachers, artists and journalists.
WE REMEMBER OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO TEND THE LAMP STAND
In Rev 1:12-13, we see John, the aged apostle, banished by Rome to a desolate Aegean island called Patmos. This was his punishment for his courageous witness for Christ. In his pastoral ministry, John had endured much persecution and now eagerly awaited the Lord’s return. During his exile, he had a vision. He writes, “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man.” What did he see? He saw these lampstands, and heard the voice of the risen, ascended Christ. Each lampstand represented a church. The light of each lamp was needed because of the surrounding cultural darkness, caused ultimately by the one who deceives the whole world. Each church is pictured as embattled by the great dragon, that ancient serpent. But in the midst of the lampstands walks Jesus, the Son of Man. He set up each lampstand. If they are not faithful, he says he will remove them. Each of the seven churches is at a decision point as the culture presses in. Jesus calls them to hold fast, be faithful, and to not abandon the light. How do they remain faithful? The book later reveals it is by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their faithful testimony that they conquer (12:11).
Friends, this is an important image for us today. CCU is not a church. But we are a servant of the church, the academic arm of the church, and in that sense we too are a lampstand. We are called to bear witness to the light as well. We are called to tend our lamp stand in the moral, spiritual and intellectual darkness of our own era. Because the great dragon is again on the move. His deceptions in our own age are many. We too are at a decision point. Will we hold fast to him? In its 109 years, CCU has endured two world wars, a depression, multiple recessions and two great pandemics. But will we continue to honor him in our season of growing national recognition? Will we remain faithful in the second hundred years with new pressures and assaults on faith-based institutions? Or will we become proud and go the way of so many schools that have secularized?
President David Beckman’s voice echoes from the past—we heard him say, “hold on to the Word of God.” President Armstrong’s voice echoes from the past—we heard him say “the world does not need another secular university.” And John’s voice comes to us the loudest of all—He reminds us that we are not alone in this fight. He said, “(You) will conquer him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of (your) testimony.”
President Hogue, your greatest task is to make sure that we do. Tend the lampstand. Today we celebrate God’s grace in your life, we pray his blessing on your leadership in this new beginning. Tend, that is, uphold, give attention to, the lampstand. As you help us become a great university, tend the lampstand and exalt the king.
God bless you and God bless Colorado Christian University.