Barrett L. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
Dear Rev. Gritters,
I enjoyed your article in the Standard Bearer relating to “Catechism: Official Ministry of the Church” in the February 15, 1987 issue. However, I have a question which I wish you would address in a future article.
You state,” 1. Teaching catechism is the work of the minister or elders in the local congregation.” Then in the paragraph following “If, for some reason, the minister cannot teach, it is the duty of no one else but the elders to take over.” Again in the following paragraph, “As in the pulpit, we allow only ministers or elders officially called by the church to bring the Word, so in catechism.”
The question I have is this: What then is the status of the Seminary students that teach catechism classes in our churches? I think it is fair to say that all of our ministers taught catechism classes while in seminary. And this was good for our churches especially during periods of vacancy. Good also for our students. But, they are not ordained to office. What should be the position of the elders in the case of a vacancy? . . . . .
Your brother in Christ
Let me say first that, while perhaps it should not have been, the matter of seminary students teaching catechism was far out of mind when the statements were made regarding who ought to teach. This gives you a hint whence I come in this response. My concern in that article was that not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry should instruct our children in this important ministry of the church, if not in the office. God has given this work to the ministers of the gospel, teaching elders. If the minister is absent or the congregation vacant, the ruling elders should take up the task. This happens in most churches. I remember well the times that my father taught us in catechism when our congregation was vacant or minister was ill. The consistory had no question that teaching catechism was the work of the elders.
An answer to your first question is that, being neither ministers nor elders, seminary student teachers have aunique and important status. Unique, because this is the only situation (besides speaking a word of edification) that our churches allow for non-ordained men to lead the official work of the church. Important because, even if it constitutes an exception to the general rule laid out above, the health of the churches requires this exception.
I believe these reasons may be given to support the practice of seminary students teaching:
1. This has been done historically in reformed churches. Reformed people always ask this question of history first. Before they set aside the practice, they ask why the church has done it in the past (see Van Dellen and Monsma The Church Order Commentaryon articles 2, 16, and 20 of the Church Order.)
2. Article 20 of the Church Order says that seminary students “be allowed to speak a word of edification in the meeting for public worship.” One of the grounds attached to this rule is that this is “for their own training.” The instruction in catechism is considered, in reformed churches, preaching for the youth. Thetraining of seminary students in preaching requires some “hands on” practice not only in public worship, but also teaching catechism. That comes most easily .in a catechism room. For those who desire well trained ministers, these practices ought not easily to be discontinued. Therefore, whether a church is vacant or not, if it is in the location of the seminary, it is profitable for the church to let the seminary students take at least some of the classes. There accrues a long term benefit for the denomination with this practice.
3. Closely related to “2” is the fact that the Lord would have the church judge the qualifications of men aspiring to the ministry. For the sake of the student as well as the churches, there ought to be some opportunity given for judgment of qualification beforehe gets to synod or into a church. To find there that he has little aptitude to teach spells grief for all involved. The qualifications for the ministry can be determined in part in these catechism sessions if the elders and professors take the time to look. (Our professors do.)
There are other possible ways to answer this question. This is the way with which I am most comfortable.
Thanks for your interesting question.
Byron Center, MI