It is time for another report on our Theological School, so we made a special visit on Wednesday to give you the opportunity to share with us, A Day In School. That Wednesday, Jan. 24, happened to be the first day of the new semester and was therefore not a true example of regular school sessions, but we found it very interesting and hope that you do.
Wednesdays and Fridays are Prof. Hanko’s days, and Tuesdays and Thursdays have been assigned to Prof. Hoeksema. Prof. Hoeksema teaches poimenics in his first class of the day, which deals with pastoral duties—the word refers to “soul-care.” His next subject is Old Testament History, then Old Testament Exegesis, with Thursday’s schedule substituting Dogmatics Review for Exegesis. Prof. Hanko’s courses are, Medieval Church History, Isagogics and New Testament Exegesis. This semester the Scripture under scrutiny begins with Ephesians 1 for the student to exegete, and James 3 on which the professor lectures and the student takes dictation.
This particular Wednesday, being the first of the semester, was primarily taken up by an introductory preview of what the student can expect in the semester ahead. Prof. Hanko opened the day with devotions and welcomed a committee of two from the Theological School Committee and your reporter to his opening day. Our student body is so small that with the addition of three visitors the Professor’s class was fourfold its usual constituency. Indeed, it is “a day of small things” in our Seminary; if only one student is ill there would be no school that day—he is the student body! Even if that fact is a bit detrimental to a well rounded education, it does offer private tutorship to our prospective minister; he receives all the attention of his instructors. The school room is situated in the basement of First Church, and is well equipped with a growing selection of library books suitable for seminary students.
The visitors that day were impressed with this introductory session and shared with the student much of the instruction given in lecture form. The professor warned him that he would .be responsible for reading two volumes of one author, one volume of another, and the late Prof. Ophoff’s material on Medieval Church History. This history begins at about 590 A.D. in the reign of Pope Gregory the Great, and ends with the year 1074. We learned that this period of history dealt with the missionary work of the church in the countries of Europe inhabited by barbarian tribes, beginning with the Latin tribes of Italy, Spain and Portugal; then north to the Celtic tribes of Britain, the Gauls, the Scots, the Pits and the Irish. The work then progressed to the Teutonic tribes from which we have descended. The church was already at that time split into East and West, and they were sometimes in competition with one another in their missionary work. That work ended with the Christianizing (and civilizing) of the whole country about 1075 A.D. The Capitol of the church was Rome in the Western Division, and, the professors said, this was going to be the chief concern of this semester’s inquiry. We also learned why evangelizing and civilizing is a parallel process. Where the Gospel is preached there is education; there is knowledge; there is reading and development. The monasteries were the center of the activities in each region. The Monks taught the children reading and writing, and led the people in their political development, and actually ruled the continent of Europe in every sphere of life. This developed into hierarchy and the papal rule. This evil of priest-craft inevitably led the church into a condition from which it had to be rescued by The Reformation.
One of the results of Christianizing the barbarians, we learned, was that many of the pagan rites were incorporated into the worship of the church. The missionaries were instructed by the Pope to be ready to adopt their teaching to existing pagan religions and incorporate certain old religious peculiarities into their worship services. Some of our church holidays owe their origin to that practice, of which Christmas is a striking example. The worship of Mary may have had its origin in the service of their goddesses, and angelology, demonology and the superstitious respect for miracles are all due to pagan superstitions of that period.
The professor warned his student that the study of Medieval Church History would not be a happy experience because it is a history of decay and degeneration. In the church of that day one could find all sorts of crime. The truth that Absolute Power corrupts is very evident in the study of that time. Student Moore was advised that church history and secular history are inter-twined; that if he were a bit hazy about secular history he had better brush up on it for he would not be able to understand the one without knowing the other.
In all his references to the old church history one point stood out in the professor’s lecture, that though apostasy abounded in the Medieval Church one could not therefore draw the conclusion that God does not at all times preserve His Church. The very opposite is true; the worse a church becomes the more evident it becomes that God does preserve His people. This preservation, we were told, was accomplished through the work of individual theologians, some of whom succeeded in preserving Augustianism in spite of the Hierarchy. It was preserved in the monasteries which had become the centers of learning and religious zeal. Even though heresies also invaded these islands of peace there remained a great deal of dedication to God and His Truth. Because of the monasteries in which the true religion was kept the center of the church came to be in Europe. That fact leads to the other patent truth that it necessarily became the center of Anti-Christianity. Even as true doctrines have come to our country from Europe, so heresies are also immigrating to America from Europe. Right nowAmerica is about twenty years behind our fatherland in heretical teachings in such errors that lie behind the “God is dead” and “The Bible is not the Word of God, but the Word of God is in the Bible” theories.
After the above instruction and assignment of Medieval Church History a short recess was declared before taking up the next subject. A thermos of coffee and cookies (wife-packed at home) is the highlight of recess, not unlike the coffee break enjoyed by the factory or office worker.
If you have not gone home during recess and are still with us, let us sit in on the next course which is New Testament Isagogics. This course, under that hard-to-pronounce title is the study of an introduction to the New Testament. The word literally means, “a leading into.” It serves to lead the student into a thorough understanding of the New Testament without an exegesis thereof. It serves to inculcate knowledge which will serve as a basis for exegesis. The scope of this course is, in general, to come to the understanding of the canonical significance in the organism of the entire Scriptures. This organic characteristic of the New Testament (and of the whole Bible) the Professor found to be of major importance. This truth presupposes organic inspiration. Our instructor described the Scriptures as a portrait of Christ. He said it must not be viewed as a jigsaw puzzle of 66 pieces with one or more pieces missing, or defaced, or obliterated. Though Scripture does not exhaust the depths of God, it is a true portrait of Christ as the Face of God, and is all we need to know to be saved (cf Belgic Conf. #7). The professor was quite emphatic in his assertion that there are no extraneous parts of Scripture; none of them are merely scientific, or peripheral, or old fashioned and out of date. He insisted that every part was important and belonged to the whole portrait. Our Lord’s “jot and tittle” cannot be taken from it without marring the whole picture.
All the while the professor was discussing the above he would interrupt himself with statements like these: “I want you to pick that up when you study this,” or, “I want you to read that book,” or “I want you to fully comprehend this,” until the visitors began to rejoice they were visitors and not students. In a single morning visit (of which Student Moore has four each week) one might come to the conclusion that there is one house on the one street (119 Fitzhugh Ave., S.E.) in Grand Rapids where the days are 48 hours long and each week has 10 work days!
Noticing a quick glance at the clock by his student the professor awoke to the realization that it was past time of adjournment. Our school is not equipped with an automatic bell system and the student seems to feel his calling to call the right signals when it seems that his instructor is lost in his assignment-giving-instructions.
One of the Theological School Committee delegates was asked to close this session with prayer, and the first-day-in-school of this semester came to an end. Everyone went his own way, and it was probably only our imagination that we thought we detected a little weaving in the walk of Student Moore as he went to his car at the curb.
If you have enjoyed this Day In School you may well believe that we did, too. But one must have a deep desire to be a minister and be firmly dedicated to this pursuit to be able to enjoy it day after day. It is a grueling ordeal, or so it seemed to us.
We were also informed that the Spring issue of our Seminary’s Theological Journal is past the planning stage. This issue will include a paper on “Melancthon” by Rev. D. Engelsma, pastor of our Loveland, Colorado church; a comprehensive review of Prof. Berkhower’s book on The Holy Scriptures by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema; and a scholarly treatise on, “The Synoptic Problem” by the editor, Prof. H. Hanko. All in all, this Journal promises to be well worth while reading and owning. There is no cost affixed to this magazine which may be had for the asking. If you are not already on the mailing list you can still have your name placed on it by writing to Professor H. Hanko, 4665 Ju-le-on Drive, S.W., Grand Rapids, Mich. 49504.