An Anniversary Unobserved.
In the September 15th issue of the Presbyterian Guardian the editor, Leslie W. Sloat, calls attention in one of his editorials to a “Happy Anniversary.” In this editorial he reflects on the 25th anniversary of Westminster Seminary, the school of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church located in Philadelphia, PA. He reminds his readers of the very humble beginning and the remarkable progress that institution has made through the years of its existence. He pays tribute to the staff of instructors who have come and gone, as well as to the present staff whom he calls “experts” in their field.
Another article appears in the same issue, written by Robert S. Marsden, entitled: “What’s Next For Westminster,” in which the writer reflects on this same anniversary, more particularly from the view point of the future expectations of this institution.
Westminster Seminary, the reader undoubtedly knows, had its inception in a split in the Presbyterian Church, a movement fathered by the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen.
When we read these articles we could not help asking the question: What is the reason that the 25th anniversary of our own seminary has passed by unobserved? We did not remember that such an anniversary was even mentioned in the Standard Bearer. So we checked back to see if our memory failed us. We regret to say that we found no notation anywhere of this event. How come?
Was the reason perhaps that at the time when this 25th anniversary of our Protestant Reformed Seminary should have been observed that we were so deeply involved in doctrinal debate re the Declaration of Principles? When we paged through the Standard Bearers of the year 1951, we noticed that the giant share of the material was devoted to this subject. Was the reason perhaps that many were at the point where they had the evil hope that our Seminary was about to go out of existence, and that the two original professors would soon be out of the denomination and hence out of our School? I am wondering what happened that this most important department of our history has been so sorely neglected and forgotten.
Last week, I had the privilege to witness the celebration one of our churches gave her pastor who had passed the quarter century mark in the ministry. And one of the speakers of the program reminisced on the years this particular minister spent in our seminary, as well as the early years of that institution. The thought could not be suppressed, how is it possible that the very heart of our denominational existence has been so sorely forgotten?
Those who have graduated from our Protestant Reformed Seminary, and have remained Protestant Reformed, must certainly feel as I do their sincere gratitude to God for that institution, and for the instruction they received in it. Also they must feel the urge to express profound esteem for those professors that have given their all for more than 25 years that we might receive the very best training for the gospel ministry one can find in any school if its kind. Yet, no word of comment, of gratitude has been publicly expressed.
An anniversary has passed by unnoticed and unobserved. I am sorry for this. And I realize that no apology can rectify this neglect. An anniversary that is passed and neglected cannot be observed. But the thirtieth anniversary of our Protestant Reformed Seminary will be here soon enough. Maybe our Theological School Committee will take this cue and bring that celebration to our attention.
The Church’s Task.
In the same issue of the Presbyterian Guardian mentioned above, we came upon a meditation entitled: “The Task of the Church.” It was written by Henry P. Tavares. The so-called meditation was based on Acts 1:8, “Ye shall be my witnesses.” We enjoyed this little article most of all because it set forth what we also conceive to be the only proper task of the Church, and it expressed this in sharp contrast to what is generally conceived to be the Church’s task today, but wrongly so.
In the introductory part of this article, the writer points out that church generally speaking today is of the same mind as the apostles when they were led out by the risen Lord to the Mount of Olives and they sensed that something wonderful was about to take place. So strong was their impression that they dared to ask if now at last their most cherished hopes were to be realized. They were sure Jesus was the Messiah. Would he now restore the kingdom to Israel? The writer remarks: “the question was understandable. But it was not to their credit.” A little later he remarks: “With thought congealed in faulty molds, they dishonored God with beggarly hopes. He promised the inheritance of new heavens and new earth to come. They looked for a national triumph, and the return to the joys of the past. God promised a transformation. They had their hearts on a mere restoration, the joys of a social reform.” Then follows that part of the article which we especially enjoyed and trust our readers will also.
“They were foolish and slow of heart to learn. But who can reproach them? The Church today is still much in a daze. An earthly kingdom. A new social order. These are too often the love of her soul. And many do not even ask of the Lord, ‘Wilt thou restore,’ for they seem rather sure they can do it themselves.
The hope of the Church is the glory of the kingdom to come, for which she prays. God will be everywhere adored, and righteousness, holiness, and truth will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The unrest and chaos of this age will vanish in, that perfect peace that passeth all understanding, and God will wipe away all tears. There will be no more pain and no more death. And the joy unspeakable and full of glory will flood every heart.
The kingdom is not of this world. It is not like the nations we know. It is the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. It is Godâ€™s order. And it will be divinely established.
Yet the kingdom is not entirely future. The glow of the heavenly city already shows on our horizon. The kingdom is not of ‘this world.’ But it makes an appearance in it. The power of the world to come is already at work among us.
By His word and Spirit, the Lord of all the earth makes captives to ‘the obedience of Christ.’ And Christ, the Lord of glory, rules wherever men obey Him and enjoy His care. Hearts subdued, spirits transformed souls renewed mark the boundaries of his Dominion in this present world. And all the powers of hell cannot overthrow or harm it.
The preaching of the word, and not the power of the sword, is the means appointed to set the bounds of this empire—the word that became flesh and dwelt among us. As he was seen, and heard, and handled, he must be preached by men who saw and heard and handled him. In the power of a divine dynamic they must testify to a historical reality they witnessed.
So the Church’s task is clear. Let her tell the world of Jesus. Let her tell his story—as it happened. A story that can have no other meaning than that which was put upon it by those who saw it unfold and heard it explained by the author himself.
To the churchmen of our day, sold out to politics and propaganda, and anxious to display their gifts for drama, this calling is naive and unworthy of their master minds and massive brains. The big show and the big vote is their concern. How wonderful the words ‘impressive’ and ‘majority,’ and how sweet the adjective ‘worldwide!’ The Jesus of Nazareth is an interesting question. But his importance may be debated.
Unimpressed with the Christ that lived, and preoccupied with an earthly empire, they easily miss their calling. And it is to be expected that just when the feeling of successful Kingdom building is flushing their souls, just then they are pushing the cause of apostacy. And just when they count themselves heirs of the greatest of hopes, they are moving to unspeakable ruin! They have bartered the facts of redemptive history for a barrel of fancies. What can be before them but the reward of fools?
My soul, have thou none of their ways. Count it thy joy to tell the Good News!”
When we read the reports of the church councils lately held, one in Evanston and the other in Elkins Park, PA, we could not help agreeing with this writer that the church has certainly lost her perspective and ignored her specific calling. I use the word ‘church’ rather loosely, of course. For it is a question in my mind whether that which calls herself church really has a right to that name when she has departed so far from her task. I know, they still prate about being the churches of Christ. But strictly speaking they should be called churches of man.
But how about the Reformed Churches and our own? When one sees what is going on in the majority of these churches, one wonders whether the church today has not lost sight of her only task. Is she not so deeply steeped in the throes of her own program and her own troubles that in many instances her specific task is neglected? Many churches are more interested in out-classing one another with beautiful structures. Others are almost wholly devoted to social reform, to community improvements. As one minister told me a while ago, he prided himself in having the biggest Sunday school, and the best facilities for boys clubs to take care of the delinquency problem in his area. While in this same church the preaching of the word has been reduced to a minimum. A twenty-minute talk is the most his audience can stand. And this was a so-called Reformed Church.
We, too, should be reminded of our only calling. “Ye are my witnesses” is a word of Christ that has also been spoken over us. It appears that we were in the past so overwhelmed with our internal difficulties that we even forgot about the School where these witnesses are trained to go out with their testimony. Our Synod has decided that a missionary shall be called. But also this important aspect of witnessing has been sorely neglected, due no doubt to our present difficulties. We have hopes that this mandate of Synod will soon be realized. In this task all our people should be deeply interested. And all should be busy to realize it.