This article is the text of the address of Prof. Dykstra at the Seminary Convocation held at Trinity PRC on September 2, 2008.
The purpose of the speech tonight is to exhort all of us to faithfulness in our respective callings. That is one of the main reasons for a convocation. It is a calling together to remind us of the purpose of a seminary. A convocation ought also to hold before us the goal of the instruction, and of the learning. In addition, a convocation should set before us incentives to be diligent as we set our hand to the plow.
When I speak of faithfulness in our respective callings, I have in mind, first, the more obvious calling of professors and students. Professors are called to instruct. They must do so with diligence. They must give lively instruction. Above all, their instruction must be true to the Reformed faith. Accordingly, their calling is to defend Scripture and maintain the confessions.
The calling of students is also obvious—they are in seminary to learn. The admonition comes to the students not only to study diligently, but also to take heed to the instruction. They are not merely to listen and take notes, but to be doers of the word of instruction.
In addition to the God-given responsibility of professors and students, we focus attention on another calling. This calling involves all the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches and all supporters of the Protestant Reformed seminary. They likewise have a vital calling in the support and maintenance of the seminary. The title of the speech is “Seminary and Saints: A Reciprocal Sine Qua Non.” The goal is to demonstrate the essential relationship between the believer and the seminary.
Everyone recognizes the fact that the believers support and maintain the seminary financially. Though significant, that is not the most important aspect of the relationship. The relationship is deeper, and it is reciprocal. The believers serve the seminary by maintaining it and overseeing it, and the seminary serves the believers by preparing men for the office of minister of the Word. That is a reciprocal relationship.
However, added to the title is sine qua non. This Latin phrase means “without which not.” The phrase indicates a certain relationship between two objects. That relationship is this: if one object is the sine qua non of another, it means that if the first does not exist, the other cannot either. For example, good seed and goodly amounts of rain and sunshine are the sine qua non of a good harvest in the fall. The sine qua non of a profitable year for a businessman are the customers who purchase his product.
The burden of this speech is that the seminary and the saints are so mutually dependent on each other, that without the one, the other cannot exist—at least,
not for long.
The Seminary Serves the Saints
What is a seminary? In short, a seminary is the church through her ordained ministers instructing men in preparation for the gospel ministry.
We must be explicit in this regard. A seminary is not the building. Nor is the seminary the professors. This is obvious from the fact that the Protestant Reformed Churches had an active, solid seminary for almost ten years before the churches officially appointed the Reverends G.M. Ophoff and H. Hoeksema as professors in the seminary. And the seminary existed in the basement of First Protestant Reformed Church for almost fifty years before a seminary building was erected.
The essence of a seminary is captured in Paul’s inspired exhortation to the minister Timothy—”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” (II Tim. 2:2). The essence of a seminary is a minister teaching faithful men, training them for the gospel ministry.
Paul himself practiced this in his ministry—he trained men for the ministry as he went about preaching, and Timothy is a prime example of that. That is the essence of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary—ordained ministers, called by Christ through His church to teach other men, and by so doing, preparing these men to be preachers.
When we consider the Protestant Reformed Seminary, we gratefully acknowledge that God has given us much. This begins with a heritage of 84 years of faithful instruction of ministers. In 84 years, not one of the professors has even been under suspicion of heterodoxy. Although some graduates have departed from the Reformed faith as the Protestant Reformed Churches maintain it, the cause of their departure was not that the professors taught them false doctrine.
The heritage of this seminary includes the fact that the professors were polemical—they actively rejected the lie in all forms that they encountered it. In addition, they actively developed doctrine. They were not content to restate the same truth in tired expressions. Rather, to the extent that they could, in harmony with their God-given ability, they set forth the truth in clearer, more precise, more exciting form.
The seminary is a rich part of the heritage of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In addition, God has given us a seminary building that is not only beautiful, but also eminently functional; thousands of books on the library shelves; and three ministers who can devote their lives to the work of theological professors. These men need not make two sermons a week, deal with pastoral problems, teach catechism, chair consistory meetings and periodically attend meetings of classis and synod, and, then besides, somehow find time to instruct students (as did Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff).
Nonetheless, even if we had no building, no books, and no installed professors of theology, it would still be the calling of the ministers in the PRC, somehow, to train men for the ministry. That instruction is the heart of the seminary.
The reason why ordained ministers train other men for the ministry is that God uses preaching to prepare men for this office. In his first epistle to Timothy (4:14), Paul admonished the pastor Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy.” The “gift” is God’s work in Timothy that qualified him to be a minister.
The root of the word “gift” is the word “grace.” This indicates that the gift is the product of grace working in Timothy. That grace had operated in Timothy exactly through prophecy, i.e., preaching! The Reformed church confesses that preaching is the chief means of grace. Timothy had sat under faithful preaching. It was grace to him. The gift indispensable to being a pastor—that gift was a work of God’s grace.
And that is seminary work, i.e., training men for the ministry through preaching. Seminary instruction is a form of the authoritative proclamation of the Word, that is, of preaching. That preaching is grace to the students. By it the Spirit molds and equips them for the ministry.
That kind of seminary is a sine qua non for the saints.
A merely intellectual training is not sufficient. No matter how biblical is the instruction. No matter how enlightening it is; and how theologically correct. A merely intellectual training is not a sufficient training for the ministry of the Word.
Rather, in proper preparation preachers commit the truth of God to faithful men. They commit to the men the Scriptures—God’s infallible revelation of Himself, and then demonstrate how rightly to divide it. They commit to the students the true theology—the knowledge of God. These preachers (i.e., professors) set forth the history of God’s dealings with His church. They teach students the best way to bring the Word of God to the people so that it edifies, exhorts, and comforts. And they teach antithetically by exposing lies and refuting heresies.
Why is the seminary, then, the sine qua non of the saints? Simply because the spiritual life of the believers and the very existence of the church depend on preaching. Preaching is the power of God unto salvation. This is true for preaching that is biblical, preaching of the truth, and preaching that is antithetical. Preaching is the chief means of faith, according to the Heidelberg Catechism.
Thus, without preaching, faith withers, becoming dry and lifeless. Believers become very weak. They soon cannot stand for truth or godliness. They cannot live faithful, obedient, and godly lives. They fail to live up to their name—saints—holy ones and those dedicated to God.
Rather they will mingle with the world, like Israel of old. Judges 2:10 describes the dreadful situation that the people of Israel no longer knew Jehovah, nor the mighty works He had done. As a result, they took to themselves the gods of the heathen. Thus it would be with the church without preaching. Without preaching, it would soon diminish, and eventually cease to exist.
No, it would not happen overnight that with no seminary there would be no saints. But if a seminary ceases to give faithful instruction, it will ultimately result in the destruction of the church.
If a seminary is not giving orthodox instruction, ministers will be ordained who believe not the truth. They will teach the lie, undermining the foundation on which the church is built. They will lead people away with their damnable heresies. Thus churches will not only be corrupted, they will become ever weaker spiritually. Eventually they will lose their candle and cease to be a church of Jesus Christ.
If the seminary merely dilutes the instruction, the result is that students are not as well prepared. They graduate not knowing theology, church history, proper exegesis, and all the rest. They cannot give a thorough exposition of the text nor a solid refutation of the lie. Over time, with such ministers, churches will suffer. They will lose their spiritual vitality, and eventually fade away.
The same will result when a seminary neglects the spiritual aspect of the instruction. A seminary could give orthodox, rigorous, Reformed instruction, but fail to give it in such a way that it builds up the students spiritually. This is instruction that is heady intellectualism with ivory-tower research. Instruction that is not designed to prepare preachers and pastors, but merely scholars. Professors who care only that the students can answer the questions correctly, not whether the truth is in their hearts. Such instruction teaches the definitions of theology, the facts of church history, the mechanics of sermon making, but not a love for the truth, a love for the church of Christ, and a zeal for preaching. It does not apply the truth to the students’ souls. It does not seek to mold the prospective pastors and to correct their spiritual weaknesses. Such a seminary will produce ministers with fatal spiritual flaws, such as pride, selfishness, greed, and licentiousness. Ministers who cannot apply the Word of truth to the people because they themselves do not live the truth. Ministers who labor for the money, and not as slaves of Jesus Christ, serving the needs of the sheep. These men will do great damage to the churches they serve.
No faithful seminary … no church, and no saints.
But the saints—how are they the sine qua non of the seminary?
… to be continued.