* The text of the address at the convocation exercises of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary held at the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI on September 9, 1998. The first installment appeared in the November 15 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
—II Timothy 2:1-4
The real war is spiritual, not physical. It concerns the glory of the triune God in the world. The combatants are mighty spiritual lords, the risen Jesus Christ and fallen Satan.
The true church is the host, the army, of Captain Christ. The soldier is the minister of the gospel.
That the minister is a soldier and that his ministry, therefore, is a kind of fighting are clearly taught in II Timothy 2:1-4. Paul describes Timothy as a “good soldier of Jesus Christ.” With reference to the ministry, the apostle states, “no man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” A minister purposes to “please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”
In chapter 1:18 of the first epistle to Timothy, Paul describes the charge, or commission, that a minister receives at ordination as the mandate to “war a good warfare.”
A man who does not care to fight in the ministry, a man who is determined not to fight, has no place in the seminary. If one enrolls anyway, he must be discovered and asked to leave. A pacifist is a threat to an earthly nation; a minister who is a pacifist is a traitor or a coward.
The minister is a soldier in a special, uniquely crucial way. There is a sense in which all the saints are soldiers, who also fight. But the Holy Spirit identifies the ministers as the main fighters. They are the soldiers upon whom the fighting of the rest of the host of Christ depends. The core of the army of God is the body of ministers. The ministers are the special forces.
This is because of their office and its function, namely, the office of the preaching of the gospel.
The warfare of Jesus Christ on behalf of the glory of God and the salvation of the church is waged and won by the Word of God. The risen, living Christ Himself speaks this Word from heaven, routing the foe and defending His church. He speaks it through the office of the ministry.
The weapon in the real war is the spiritual weapon of the Word, that is, the Word preached. The Word preached is the glittering, invincible sword of the Spirit. With the sacraments and discipline, the Word of truth is the spiritual weapon that the apostle contrasts with carnal weapons in II Corinthians 10:3-5:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ….
Similarly, the main weapon of the enemy is the lie, that is, the word that denies or falsifies God. That was the weapon of choice of the Old Serpent in Paradise by which he brought down the king and queen of the original form of the kingdom of God with all their princes and princesses and got the rule for himself. This is the deadly weapon that the Evil One wields nightly by means of television and movies to befool millions, including multitudes of professing Christians. They suppose that they are gods over their own behavior and that whatever pleases them is good. The lie of evolution in the state schools has destroyed many churches by its aggressive enlistment of the churches’ children and young people in the materialistic, humanistic, hedonistic kingdom of the devil.
The most effective form of the lie is heresy—the teaching of a false gospel by false teachers in a false, or departing, church.
What follows in II Timothy 2 makes plain that the army of Christ fights with the Word of God and that the devil’s crew fights with the lie.
“The word of God is not bound,” we read in verse 9. As a good soldier, Timothy must rightly divide the Word of truth (v. 15). Even some who presently oppose themselves to the truth, because they have fallen into the snare of the devil, may be won by the minister’s instruction of them (vv. 25, 26).
On the other hand, there is the warning against heresy, a word in the sphere of the visible, instituted church that eats as a canker, overthrowing the faith of some members of the church (vv. 17, 18).
Such is the importance of the office of the ministry that ministers are hand-picked by Jesus Christ. The minister is a good soldier “of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ has chosen the minister to be a soldier. No minister volunteers for this service, although he is willing to serve. Every minister is summarily drafted by Christ. This is why the Reformed church views the call of the minister as so important. The first 20 articles of the Church Order of Dordt have to do with the call to the office of the ministry.
This is why we tell men that if they can possibly avoid the ministry, they should do so.
And this is why the people of God should receive their minister and the Word that he brings, so long as he faithfully teaches the gospel of the glory and grace of God and so long as he devotes himself to his office, not entangling himself in the affairs of this life.
The reality of the great war and the will of Christ that the soldier be the minister make our seminary a military academy. It is a school that trains soldiers.
Because this is the work of the seminary, our churches insist that the teachers themselves be men with experience in the pastoral ministry. That is, they must themselves be men with combat experience. They may not be mere academic theologians, “arm-chair generals.” Those who are to teach others to fight in the front lines of the real war must be men who have proved themselves to be capable soldiers in the congregations. This has always been the position of the Reformed churches.
The training in the seminary extends to the personal conduct of the future soldiers. Students are taught to “endure hardness,” that is, to suffer hardship in the ministry. They are taught to expect hardship, not only from without the congregation but also from within. The enemies are not only the wicked world of ungodly men and women and false churches but also the sinful natures of the members of the congregation. Besides, there are always hypocrites and the carnal seed in the church. The seminary calls the soldier-in-training to bear up under the “hardness” without surrender and without slackening in the work. Church history gives opportunity for this instruction. Pastoral theology is full of it.
It is also required of the minister that he deliberately avoid entangling himself “with the affairs of this life.” Involvement in business, entertainments, and other aspects of the ordinary life of the citizens is destructive of the calling of the earthly soldier. To the extent that he involves himself in these things, he cannot fight. Therefore, when the soldier is serving his nation in the military, the state supports him.
This is also true for ministers. As much as possible, we must stay clear—and free—of matters of everyday life that are perfectly legitimate for the other members of the church: business ventures; sports; hobbies that take up inordinate time; and the like. Worldly prelates who spent much of their time hunting, making money, and having a good time contributed mightily to the falling away of the church of Rome at the time of the Reformation.
Those things entangle us!
Those things take up our precious time!
Those things exhaust our limited energy!
Those things imperiously demand our attention!
This is why the churches support us financially. It is not to give us a good living, but to free us from worldly cares, so that we can fight, undistracted and unencumbered.
We train men along these lines in our seminary.
Then there is the training of personal conduct that concerns the motive of the men, their motive for abstaining from unnecessary and entangling affairs of this life and their motive for fighting as a soldier: “that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier,” that is, to please Christ.
This is why the minister fights with the Word. It is not because he is personally pugnacious. It is not because he loves the glory of victory in the cut-and-thrust of theological debate (a real temptation!). But his motive is to please Jesus Christ, whose call of him to the ministry, like His call of him to salvation, has its source in the love of the Lord that moved Jesus to give Himself to the cross for him. This is a soldier that fights out of love for his Lord.
This is the motive already of the student in seminary to be hard on himself in his studies.
Primarily, the training by the seminary consists of instruction that gives the students the Word of truth and that teaches them how to use this Word in the congregation. “Commit the things of Scripture and the confessions to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also,” the apostle tells Professor Timothy.
This instruction emphatically includes that they vigorously wield the Word against the lie, particularly the lie of the denial of salvation by grace alone.
The preaching of the minister must be antithetical.
In the Formula of Subscription, every Protestant Reformed minister swears to oppose especially the errors condemned in the Canons of Dordt. Should one fail to do this, he would be guilty of breaking his oath. Congregation and consistory must then make this an issue with him. Not only is he not a “good soldier,” but he is no soldier at all. The soldier fights against the enemy.
The seminary will not knowingly graduate a tolerant minister. If after graduation and installation a man shows himself to be tolerant of the lie, a man who cherishes peace and unity at the expense of the truth, a man who refuses to be negative in his teaching, the fault is his own. The seminary is not to blame.
But the condemnation of error is in the interests of the truth. The negative preaching serves the positive proclamation of the gospel of grace. The condemnation of heretics and of departing and false churches is the means of the salvation of the elect church to the glory of God.
We train them to be soldiers. After four years, that pass quickly, we send them off to the battlefield.
We know how commanding officers feel when they must send young recruits into battle.
The graduates look so young—younger all the time. They do not yet know—not really, not experientially—what the “hardness” of the ministry is, also in the Protestant Reformed Churches, where the ministry is still honored. They will soon find out.
The great war rages, in the congregations, among the saints. And there are ungodly men who creep in unawares.
There is a tug at the heart.
But the war is more important than they. It is worthy of their suffering and death.
And as true soldiers of Jesus Christ, they will be wonderfully strengthened—and rewarded.