Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. *This is the text of the Seminary Convocation address at the start of our fall term.
“Brethren, pray for us.”
I Thessalonians 5:25
What have you, the believer, to do with the seminary? Perhaps in your mind, very little. The seminary is governed by the synod of the churches through its Theological School Committee. The professors teach their classes, preach in the vacant pulpits, lecture from time to time, teach catechism classes, and lead Bible Study societies. The students do their assignments, write the research papers, take the tests and exams, and, after sustaining the oral examination before the synod, are declared candidates for the ministry. And you, the believer, pay the bills through the synodical assessments. This is about all you have to do with the seminary.
But there’s more, much more. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the first requirement of the Fourth Commandment is “That the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained . . . .” By “schools” the Catechism means the Theological Schools, the seminaries. How are the ministry of the gospel and the seminary maintained? By the financial support of God’s people? Certainly. By the words of encouragement and, sometimes, admonition? Certainly. But primarily the ministry of the gospel and the schools are maintained by the prayers of God’s people.
As we begin another school year, therefore, the Word of God to us, and especially to you, the people of God, is this: “Brethren, pray for us” (I Thess. 5:25).
Paul the apostle was deeply conscious of his need of the prayers of God’s people. Notice, Paul addresses the brethren. Some commentators say the apostle is speaking here to the elders and pastors, the officebearers of the church. This is incorrect. All through this epistle, Paul repeatedly addresses the congregation as brethren. So also here in the text he addresses the believers, the entire congregation. This, therefore, is the calling of the church always and in every age. Believers must pray for us.
Note, too, that this is an imperative. We have no choice in the matter. This is a command of God to all believers, pray for us. The exhortation is emphatic. We could translate it, “Brethren, always be praying even, or especially, concerning us.” Paul means himself and his fellow apostles and the pastors and teachers, the elders, and the evangelists. And, really, what he is saying is, “Let your prayers encircle us,” or “Bathe us in your prayers.”
Paul is deeply conscious of the absolute necessity of the prayers of the believers. He needs their prayers with respect to his calling. He is a preacher of the gospel. He is busy establishing churches and governing those churches. Paul has a tremendous responsibility before God. He is unable to carry out his task without the prayers of the believers. Remember, too, that Paul is doing all this in a very hostile environment. He came to Thessalonica from Philippi where he had been imprisoned. He was forced to leave Thessalonica prematurely because of the persecution by the unbelieving Jews. Paul went to Berea and was followed by these Jews of Thessalonica. And now Paul is writing this epistle from Corinth, which was a church troubled by all kinds of serious problems.
Thus he writes this urgent command, “Brethren, pray for us.” We desperately need your prayers. This is the calling of the church today as well. You, the believer, must always be praying for us.
The Calling of the Professors
The calling of the professors is explained in Article 18 of the Church Order and the Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology. According to Article 18 of the Church Order the professor’s calling consists of two elements: he must expound the Holy Scriptures, and he must vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors. The Form teaches the same, but in a little more detail. The professor must instruct and establish the students in the knowledge of God’s Word by expounding to them the mysteries of the faith. He must caution the students in regard to’ the errors of the old, but especially of the new day. He must seek to explain to them how they are to shepherd the flock of God. He must maintain order and discipline among the students. To this the Form adds that the professor must be an example to the students, “a living illustration of the power and practice of true godliness.”
Both the Church Order and the Form accurately reflect the teaching of Holy Scripture. II Timothy 2 teaches that the professor must commit the truth of Holy Scripture to faithful and able men in order that they may teach others. He must study and rightly divide the Word of truth, and he must warn against errors and ungodliness. I Timothy 4 requires the professor to be an example of the believers in doctrine and manner of living.
Hence the professor must expound Holy Scripture. This does not mean that he merely interprets the Bible – in exegesis classes, for example. He certainly does this too, and this is a very important part of his teaching. But this means he must teach the truth to the students. He teaches them the doctrines of Holy Scripture, and the history of those doctrines and of the church. He shows how that doctrine applies to the life of the child of God. He teaches the students the principles of preaching and shepherding God’s people. And all his teaching must be rooted in Holy Scripture.
In his teaching, the professor must be antithetical/polemical as well. He must caution the students against all error – the heresies which have plagued the church of the past and the heresies of the new day. He must always present the truth of Scripture as it stands over against the lie.
Still more, the professor must be an example of true godliness to his students. They must be able to see in their professors how they are to conduct themselves as faithful ministers of the Word among God’s people. Never must the professor contradict by ungodly living what he teaches from God’s Word.
Because all this is possible only by the grace of God, brethren, pray for us.
The need for your prayers is accentuated by the perilous times in which we are called to live and work. We too must do our teaching in a very hostile environment, one characterized by terrible apostasy. That apostasy/departure from the truth concerns not some minor/peripheral matters of the doctrine and life taught in Scripture. It does not have to do with doctrinal hairsplitting. The apostasy concerns the very heart/essence of the truth of Holy Scripture as summed in the Reformed confessions. The great falling away we are seeing in our day concerns that fundamental truth upon which depends the whole truth of Scripture and the godly life of the Christian founded upon that truth. In one word, God is rejected!
The result is that our little seminary stands virtually alone. Even those few conservative seminaries left in the world are fatally compromised by a commitment to the error of common grace and the well-meant gospel offer. And that error denies the antithesis between the church and the world and leads inevitably to Arminianism and modernism. The evidence for the truth of that last statement is written in huge, bold letters on the pages of the history of the church.
Consider the fact that God as the sovereign Creator is denied. The Bible’s plain teaching that God created all things by His Word in six days is rejected. And various forms of evolutionism are openly taught in the churches and schools. This is a rejection of God and of His Christ, by whom and for whom all things were made.
God as the sovereign Redeemer of the elect in Christ is rejected. God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation is denied. Jesus, whose Name is the only Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, is denied. In place of these cardinal truths universal salvation is openly taught. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and other world religions are, along with Christianity, ways to salvation.
The God of Scripture who sovereignly causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, those who are the called according to His purpose, is denied. Lewis Smedes, a wellknown, highly-respected, evangelical theologian who taught at Calvin College and Fuller Theological Seminary, according to a recent article in the Banner, disagrees with the view that God plans bad things with a good purpose in mind. Said Smedes, “I don’t believe there will ever, ever .be a good purpose in the Holocaust, and if there is I don’t want to hear it; and if God did that because he had good in it too, I don’t know if I like God anymore…. To me, the answer to the problem of pain and suffering is hope – not a philosophy of the all-controlling God but a hope that an all-loving God will rescue the world.” This is rank heresy!
God the sovereign Holy Spirit, who gave us sacred Scripture by the wonder of infallible inspiration, is rejected.
The rejection of these fundamental truths affects the worship, ethics, and life of the Christian. In worship, anything goes. No longer is worship governed by the teachings of Holy Scripture. Worship has become entertainment. The chief means of grace, the preaching of the Word, is replaced by liturgical dance, drama, dialogue, and individual testimonies. Sabbath desecration is widespread. If people go to church at all, they go only in the morning, and then use the rest of the Lord’s Day for their own pleasures. Worldlimindedness has won the day. Nothing is regarded as sinful anymore. The Law of God, the teacher of our misery and the rule for our life of gratitude, is not even read, much less obeyed, in many a church. There is divorce for any reason, and the remarriage of divorced persons. And the worst of it all is the approval of homosexuality and lesbianism.
In the midst of this kind of society and church world we must prepare men for the gospel ministry. Brethren, pray for us!
The Calling of the Seminarians
And in those prayers pray for the seminarians. They must receive the instruction. They must know the doctrine of the Word of God as summed in the Reformed confessions. They must know it thoroughly so as to be able to refute on the basis of Scripture the errors of the past but especially of the new day. They must know the history of the church and the battles she has fought over the centuries. They must acquire the skills necessary to interpret Holy Scripture correctly. They must be adept in the original languages of the Bible. They must be able rightly to- divide the Word of Truth. They must develop their God-given talents for preaching and teaching the Word of God. And they must develop their God-given talents so as to be able to shepherd the flock of God with the compassion of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus.
To this calling the seminarians must give their all. They must let everything in their lives be subservient to this. They must work very, very hard at this, for God is not pleased with mediocrity. God demands our very best efforts.
But there’s more. The instruction given in the seminary is not merely academic. It is a special aspect of the preaching of the Word by the church. And this means that the seminarians must receive the teaching with believing and obedient hearts. The Truth of God’s Word must be the burning conviction of their hearts. Only thus will they be faithful pastors and teachers in the church of Jesus Christ.
Brethren, pray for us, the seminarians!
The Calling of the Believers
That is the believers’ calling, your calling! Pray always, especially concerning us. Pray earnestly, fervently, that the professors may be obedient to their calling to commit the truth to faithful men who shall be able to teach others. Pray that the seminarians may be obedient to their calling to receive the instruction with believing hearts and minds. Pray that in this way the churches, our children and children’s children, may continue to receive from the seminary able and faithful pastors, men who will continue the great tradition God has so graciously given us.
This is the Word of God to the congregations. This means that the ministers in the congregational prayers must lead the congregation in petitions for the seminary. I know that in some instances, I hope they are few, this is not done. This ought not be. The ministers, in at least one of the congregational prayers, ought to pray for the seminary. Further, they ought to instruct the congregations to pray for the, seminary. This, as we noted earlier, belongs to obedience to the Fourth Commandment of God’s Law.
This means we must be praying for the seminary in our family devotions. Parents ought to instruct their children to pray for the seminary. We are called to pray for the seminary in our personal devotions as well. We ought not let one day pass without praying earnestly for the seminary.
There is urgent necessity here! What we do at the seminary, what we will be doing- this academic year, shapes the future of our churches. Brethren, pray for us. Church history shows that denominations last for only a hundred years or so. Our churches are already making plans for the celebration of our 75th anniversary in the year A.D. 2000.
Will our churches continue to manifest the marks of the true church of Christ in the world? Will our churches continue to send out faithful, Reformed missionaries to preach the blessed gospel of sovereign and particular grace in Christ to the nations? Will your children and grandchildren attend a faithful Protestant Reformed congregation? Will they be worshiping just like you are now? Will they be singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs as you do? Will they hear faithful Reformed preaching which will enable them to live sanctified lives to God’s glory just as you do? And, should the Lord tarry, will their children be faithfully catechized just as your children are now?
The answer to these questions is, yes! Yes, if the seminary remains faithful to its calling. Will the seminary remain faithful to its calling? The answer is, yes! Yes, if you the believers remain faithful to your calling to pray for your seminary.
Brethren, pray for us. Be assured God will hear and answer’ those prayers. God gives His grace and Holy Spirit to those who continually ask them of Him and are thankful for them. By means of your fervent, faithful prayers, God in His mercy will preserve His church.