This article is the text of the address of Prof. Dykstra at the Seminary Convocation held at Trinity PRC on September 3. 2008. Previous article in this series: January 15, 2009, p. 172.
[Introduction: The stated goal of this convocation speech was to demonstrate the essential relationship between the believer and the seminary. The first part demonstrated the crucial importance of the seminary for believers. This second half will establish that the saints are equally essential to the seminary, and then will call all to faithfulness in their respective duties. RJD]
The Saints Serve the Seminary
How are the saints the sine qua non of the seminary?
The name saints is a descriptive biblical term for God’s people. Paul addressed the believers in Ephesians and in Romans with that title. Saints are holy ones. By nature they are dead in sin, totally corrupt. However, they have been made alive by the Spirit, who gives them life, sanctifies them, and renews them in the image of Christ. Because these have the anointing of the Spirit, they rightfully bear the name Christian (anointed one).
As Christians, they have an office, namely, the office of believers. As is true of all offices, it gives to believers a certain authority, and a certain responsibility. As every teenaged catechumen knows, this is a threefold office, that of prophet, priest, and king. All believers hold the office of prophet, and have the right and ability to understand the Word of God and to speak it. As priests, they are holy, consecrated to God, and have the right to go directly to God through Jesus. As kings, they fight against sin, the world, and Satan, and they reign with Christ.
This office is related to the special offices of the church (minister, deacon, and elder) in this way: The office of believer functions through the special offices. Let us notice how this is true, starting with the minister.
The dependence of the minister upon the office of believer begins with the call to the office. The minister may not take the office on himself—he must be lawfully called (Rom. 10:15 “And how shall they preach except they be sent?”). The man’s call comes through the church, that is, the local congregation, and that through the office of believer. (The first question that the Form for Ordination of Ministers demands of the minister is this: “I ask thee whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s church, and therefore of God Himself, to this holy ministry?”) God gives His church the command to preach the Word of the gospel. The church calls a man, ordains him, and commissions him to preach.
That is not all. Believers are responsible for the preaching. They are required to see to it that the Word is preached. They are responsible also for its content—on the one hand, that it contain no errors; and on the other, that it does contain good and sufficient food for the soul. Accordingly, in their office, believers pray for the pastor, encourage him, and support him financially so that he can carry out the duties of the office. Wise believers take care also not to burden the minister with work that does not belong to his office.
At the same time that they support and oversee the office of minister, believers must submit to the preaching. This indicates the reciprocal nature of their relationship. Although the congregation calls the minister, gives him the commission to preach, pays his salary, and prays for and encourages him, the congregation must hear and submit to the preached Word. For the minister is the ambassador of Christ. His word carries the authority of Christ.
In a sense, the congregation preaches to itself.
The same reciprocal relation is seen in connection with the elders and deacons. Elders are called by the congregation, and thus by God Himself. The congregation approves the nomination; the confessing male members select the elders and deacons. The members must demand of the elders faithfulness. Faithfully the elders must watch over the congregation—ruling and guarding the saints.
Yet the work of elders is the work of the congregation, as, for example, in the exercise of Christian discipline. Elders involve the congregation in this work, directing the members to pray for and admonish the unrepentant in the congregation. And these same members must submit to the elders as ambassadors of Christ, their King!
Likewise deacons’ nominations are approved by the congregation. The deacons are selected and installed into office. And the congregation must give the deacons the means to care for the poor, and demand that the deacons do the work. Yet, the members must submit to the deacons’ authority!
Obviously, these special offices depend upon the office of believer.
The same is true of the seminary.
Seminary professors are ministers who have come out of the homes of the church—usually born and raised in the churches. The church calls these professors (“…lawfully called of God’s church, and therefore of God Himself to this office”—Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology). “God’s church” consists of the believers. The church calls the professor through the synod.
More significantly, the men currently preparing for ministry in the churches have come from the families of the church. That is not always the case, obviously. God can draw a man out of unbelief, bring him into the sphere of the church, and convict him of the call to the ministry. Especially this happens on the mission field. But the more ordinary way is that sons of believing parents occupy the desks in the seminary classrooms. Thus it was with Timothy, whom Paul took from the home of believing Lois and Eunice.
Do you see the significance? The saints produce the future ministers. Thus the spiritual character of the saints will determine much about the future generation of ministers. If the church is spiritually weak, this is disastrous for the seminary. If the saints do not live as saints, but are carnal, earthly minded; if their treasures are on this earth; if they are immersed in the entertainment of the world; if their garments are polluted with the filth of the world—this spells disaster. It should be obvious that the young men who enter the seminary will be much affected by their upbringing in this environment. They will arise out of a generation that does not know the Lord, neither the mighty works that He has done, as was true of the generation after Joshua (Jud. 2:10).
For, although God’s grace is sovereign, and God can preserve young men from corruption, and although out of a spiritually weak generation God can raise up spiritually minded men—exactly the kind of men who should be in seminary—God is also just. In His judgment upon impenitence and spiritual indifference, He gives to a church the spiritual leaders that they deserve. One cannot send a carnally minded Saul into seminary and expect that a Solomon will emerge. One cannot send weak men to seminary and expect that spiritual giants will materialize for the ministry.
Oh, but if the church is spiritually strong! If the saints love the truth and walk in it; if they are interested in doctrine and love to talk about the Reformed faith; if, as saints, they live antithetically over against the world, keep their garments unspotted from the world, and have their treasures in heaven; if they also raise their children in the fear of the Lord—the advantage for the seminary is obvious.
Then the young men who seek admittance to the seminary have been raised on Scripture. They know the Bible stories; they have sung the Psalms and memorized Scripture. Such men have been nurtured on Reformed doctrine. They sat under solid preaching from infancy. They received sound catechetical instruction. Most were privileged to receive nine or more years of covenantal instruction in Protestant Reformed schools. Their parents demanded of them that they live the antithesis.
That is an obvious way that the saints, the believers, affect the seminary in this reciprocal relationship. The saints produce a godly seed, from which come, by God’s grace, solid ministers.
But there is more. Another duty of the saints is to hold the special offices accountable. They must demand of the officebearers, in this case the professors, that they do the work God calls them to do. The saints expect solid Reformed instruction in their seminary. They demand thorough training in all areas, so that every man who graduates has a grasp of and commitment to the Reformed faith, knows the Bible, knows Reformed theology, and gives every evidence that he loves the truth. Every graduate must be able to preach well, to teach catechism effectively, and to give good pastoral instruction and counsel. And those who have discernible moral flaws must not be allowed to graduate.
Saints must keep the seminary faithful in this regard. That does not mean that the saints watch the seminary with suspicion, expecting that the professors will go astray. That is not healthy, nor is it right. The saints do not watch the elders in their congregation with suspicion, for the saints have put their approbation upon them. Likewise with the seminary, the churches, through synod, appointed the professors, because they knew that these men were thoroughly committed to the Reformed faith, the precious doctrines and practices maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
However, unfaithfulness in office may not be tolerated.
What is the guard against this? The Theological School Committee is especially appointed by synod to oversee the seminary, including the instruction. But in addition, the saints themselves are the guardians. They have the right to visit the classes and to audit full courses. And, very important, the saints hear the preaching from the seminary. Professors are not ivory-tower theologians hidden away in the seminary building, so that no one has any idea what they teach. They preach in the churches, so that the saints hear their preaching and can judge whether or not it is Reformed, and Protestant Reformed. Besides, the saints hear the students speaking a word of edification, and can judge what they are being taught—orthodoxy or heterodoxy.
The final safeguard against error is an official ecclesiastical examination. At the conclusion of his seminary training, the student is examined publicly before synod. This exam must be passed, before the churches declare a man a candidate for the ministry.
Without the watch on the seminary by the saints, the seminary will not continue indefinitely to produce godly, Reformed ministers. Relinquishing the watch and the work merely to the doctors of theology and the ordained ministers would mean the eventual demise of the seminary.
Hence, a reciprocal Sine Qua Non. On the one hand, the saints make the seminary possible. They call and ordain the ministers and appoint them to teach prospective ministers. The saints raise their children in the fear of the Lord, and send their sons to the seminary. The same believers hold the special offices accountable. Without these activities, there will soon be no seminary—at least, no faithful seminary.
On the other hand, the seminary serves the saints. By means of writing, speaking, and teaching, the professors defend the truth against the lie, develop the doctrines more fully and clearly, as well as warn and instruct the churches. In addition, the seminary sends out candidates for the ministry. They are equipped to preach, to defend the truth, to expound the Scriptures, and to proclaim the Reformed faith boldly. In short, they warn and instruct the people of God. Without the seminary and this training of the ministers, preaching will cease. Without preaching, the saints cannot long survive.
The Clear Calling for Both
Seminary and saints must simply do what God calls them to do.
I take the opportunity to convey to the saints, that we at the seminary are profoundly grateful for the strong support that the churches give to the seminary. We exhort you to continue encouraging both professor and student alike, so that they do not become weary. Your attendance at convocation is exactly that. In addition, we urge you to pray for the seminary throughout the year. Be watching, and in prayer. Prayer is effectual. Evidence of that is found in recent history. When a few years ago the Protestant Reformed Churches had a number of vacancies and few students, the churches began to pray the Lord of the harvest for students. He answered with the much enlarged student body. The Lord also gave us several foreign students—a great privilege and blessing to the seminary.
Professors and students, you know what your calling is. It is a high calling and a great privilege. Your duty, professors, is to teach, pass along the rich tradition of the Reformed faith. Your solemn duty, students, is to learn, and through the training be prepared to preach the gospel. This is exciting work!
We conclude with thanksgiving. And thanksgiving excludes boasting. It is not of any of us that God has kept the seminary faithful—not only in properly training preachers, but also faithfulness to the truth. It is all of God. Every year that the seminary remains faithful is God’s work, His gift to the churches.
We thank God for the privilege we have. As saints, we rejoice to have a seminary of our own that, under God’s blessing, sends forth faithful preachers. As seminary professors and students we delight to teach and to learn the Reformed faith.
We live in evil days. How long will a seminary that uncompromisingly maintains the distinctively Reformed faith be allowed to continue? Only the Lord knows. It could come to an end much more quickly than we think.
But the Lord has given us yet a little time. So let us, as saints and seminary, labor zealously for the cause of Jesus Christ.