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* 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.

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

This address on the occasion of the beginning of another year of instruction and study in our seminary proposes that among other ways of viewing the seminary is that of viewing it as a military academy.

By military academy is meant simply a school that trains soldiers.

“Academy” could be misleading, as though the instruction of the seminary were purely intellectual and had as its purpose to train high-ranking officers who remain safely behind the line of combat giving orders to other men who do all the fighting. This academy—our seminary—trains soldiers, the actual combat-troops. Every one who graduates and then is ordained in the office of the ministry fights as a soldier, is in the front line of battle, handles the weaponry, is direct object of enemy fire, endures the “hardness” of war, and personally destroys the enemy.

I considered using the phrase “boot camp” in my topic, “Our Seminary as Boot Camp,” but decided against it. I feared that the announcement of that topic might be met with an unseemly outburst of enthusiastic agreement by our present recruits.

Our seminary is to be viewed by us as a military academy because this is what it is. This is not all that it is. There are other ways of viewing the seminary. But this belongs to what our seminary is, and all of us who are involved in the school must know this—the students, the professors, the synodical committee that supervises the seminary, the support staff, and our people.

Our interest is particularly the Protestant Reformed Seminary. But the address is not intended to describe our seminary exclusively. Every theological seminary ought to be a military academy. Every seminary that is faithful to its mandate from God to train ministers is a military academy.

The seminary is a military academy by virtue of the fact that ministers, whom, of course, the seminary trains and prepares for the ministry, are soldiers. This is clearly taught in the passage of Holy Scripture which more than any other establishes the seminary in the life of the churches, II Timothy 2:1ff. Verse 2 is recognized, and often used, as the classic biblical basis of the seminary: among the duties of the minister Timothy is that he commit the truth to faithful men, who then will teach the people of God.

What is not always noted is that in the immediate context of this demand for the training of men for the ministry is the comparison of the minister to a soldier. Verse 3 exhorts the minister to “endure hardness, as a good [noble] soldier of Jesus Christ.” Verse 4 warns the minister not to entangle himself with the affairs of this life, giving as the motive that he please him who has chosen him “to be a soldier.” The force of the extended comparison is the insistence that the minister of the gospel is a soldier.

One important model of the ministry is that of soldier.

It is worth noting that our Reformed form for the ordination and installation of ministers employs this model. The exhortation to the minister calls on him to “bear patiently all sufferings, and oppressions, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The prayer beseeches God to endue the minister “with wisdom and valor to rule the people aright over which he is set, and to preserve them in Christian peace.”

The Real War

War demands soldiers.

Our churches, with the true church everywhere and always, are at war. War is not a possibility. War is not a likelihood. War is not even imminent. But war is raging. It has been raging for some 6,000 years without any truce or letup. The war was declared in a garden east in Eden and has spread until today it is a world war.

Even though the outcome of this war is life and glory for the people on behalf of whom the ministers fight as soldiers (and this outcome—victory—is assured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that the apostle speaks of in verse 8), the war means suffering and hardship especially for the soldiers. It means death—eternal death—for some who seem for awhile to be part of the victorious people, the church.

As he wrote II Timothy, Paul was a prisoner, facing death at the hands of the foe. This hardship befell him as a soldier. He warns ministers and aspiring ministers to expect similar hardships.

Experience shows that, as in all wars, there are casualties in this war, particularly among the ranks of the ministers. Some defect to the enemy. They become the bitterest enemies of the true church. Such, in the apostle’s own day, were Hymenaeus and Philetus of verse 17. Others are tripped up or so weakened that they can no longer fight as minister-soldiers. When this happens, the people ask in amazement, “How could this happen?” The answer is that there is a war going on, and in a war there are casualties.

Some members of the visible church (though not of the elect body of Christ) have their faith overthrown by the enemy, according to verse 18, so that they perish everlastingly.

The stakes are high in this war, the very highest. The issues are the gravest: eternal life and eternal death.

The reality of this war, our seminary holds before all the students. Of all the failures that a military academy might be guilty of, surely none is worse than keeping the students ignorant of the war that is raging.

The seminary must keep before the students the fact of war. It must also explain to them the nature of the war.

The Nature of the War

The war in which we are engaged is the spiritual conflict over the glory of the triune God in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, by the salvation of the elect church. It broke out with the promise of the gospel of Genesis 3:15 by which God called Adam and Eve out of their unholy alliance with the devil unto fellowship with Himself. By this, He put enmity between them as the church in Christ and the devil.

In the history of Old Testament Israel, the war heated up. This was true especially during the reign of David, when Israel was attacked by the ungodly from every quarter and when Israel itself attacked and subdued its enemies. Those battles, bloody as they may have been, were not the real thing. They were merely typical of the battles that the church is fighting today. They do indicate the reality, the prominence, and the ferocity of the warfare of the New Testament church.

No one who knows the history of the old covenant can be surprised that the church of the new covenant is at war and needs her military academy.

This great war over the Godhead and glory of God culminated in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Satan and his forces came up against Him personally, as the apostolic church confessed in Acts 4:25-28. Rightly, they saw in this the fulfillment of Psalm 2:

Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,

Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us (vv. 1-3).

Jesus Christ on His part went on the offensive against Satan and the reprobate, ungodly world. This is how he began His ministry (Matt. 4:1ff.). By His death and resurrection Christ defeated the foes of God and gained the victory—the decisive victory—for Himself and the people of God.

This is part of the training of the minister-soldier in our seminary. We do not simply instruct him concerning a great war, but we instruct him concerning a great war that has been decided. The churches do not simply send him out to fight, but they send him out to fight in a war that has been won.

Still, Christ did not conquer in such a way that the war is over. It continues, as the persecutions and struggles that loom large in church history demonstrate. Indeed, the war becomes more furious until at the very end it climaxes in the gross lawlessness, deep apostasy, and great tribulation of the little season of Satan’s loosing, to erect the kingdom of the beast.

The truth about war to the very end is taught in our seminary in that part of Reformed dogmatics known as eschatology.

The Opposing Forces

The opposing forces are the church of Jesus Christ on the one side and the ungodly world in league with the false, or departing, church on the other side.

The church, the true instituted church, is the host of the LORD God in the world. Of her it holds, as the Scottish Presbyterians loved to confess, that she is “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (Song 6:10). In her sound, orthodox, biblical confession, she flies the glorious banner on which is emblazoned, “In Jesus Christ the Lord, God is God.”

Is it not a privilege to be enlisted in this army? Is this not balm for our wounds in the battle? Is this not encouragement in the time of weariness and disappointment?

Pitted against the church are the wicked world of ungodly men and women and the churches that have fallen away and thus gone over to the other side—traitors. This dreadful army also has a banner: “Man is God.”

Soldiers must know the enemy. This is a first principle of war. Ignorance of the enemy is fatal. In the Protestant Reformed Seminary, we teach men to know the enemy.

The world outside of Jesus Christ is the enemy of God, of Christ, and, therefore, of the church. It is the avowed, determined enemy of the God and Father of Jesus Christ. The world is not a friend by virtue of common grace. The world showed its colors at the cross.

The Roman Catholic Church is an enemy, hostile to the sole Lordship and Mediatorship of Jesus Christ, opposed to the sole authority of Scripture, hateful against the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Her hands are red with the blood of multitudes of God’s saints. Rome is not a “co-belligerent” in the war.

Denying all the cardinal truths of divine revelation, theological modernism is an enemy.

Arminianism is an enemy, more dangerous than some of the others exactly because its attack is more subtle. Speaking and singing enthusiastically, and even emotionally, of Jesus, sin, grace, and salvation, Arminianism denies that Christ saves and affirms that man saves man. God’s will, Christ’s cross, and the best efforts of the Holy Spirit fail. Human free will accomplishes salvation.

The charismatic movement is an enemy. It replaces Christ with the “Spirit,” faith with feeling, and doctrine with “life.”

These imposing battalions are not the real enemy, but only his minions. Both of the opposing hosts are commanded by a powerful, spiritual prince and lord. The captain of the hosts of the triune God is the exalted Jesus Christ. Over the forces of darkness is Satan.

The warfare of the church, then, is both offensive and defensive: aggressively, she promotes the kingdom of Christ in all the earth and among all peoples, and she defends Christ’s kingdom against every assault.

It belongs to our seminary’s instruction about the reality of the battle that in this great war God is sovereign. He is sovereign not only in that He will win, not even in that He always wins, but also in that He decreed the war from eternity for the fullest revelation of His glory. Since God is truly God, there is no dualism. In no way does this detract from the gravity of the war, or from the seriousness of fighting the good fight as a noble soldier. On the contrary, it lends urgency to our work as a military academy. God wills to glorify Himself in the way of this warfare.

The war is spiritual, not physical or political. It concerns the glory of God and the salvation of elect sinners, not the improvement of social conditions for the earthly advantage of man. This too our seminary teaches.

The soldier in this war—the fighter, therefore, is the minister of the gospel.

(to be concluded)

—DJE