The doors of our Seminary have closed! Closed for the summer, that is! Closed for an all too brief respite from hard work on the part of the students, a vacation from studies but not from work. The students will utilize this time to their utmost to earn money to carry them through the coming school year. Some will work at landscaping, some a construction; but work will be their lot. Closed are the doors to the professors to give them a bit of respite from their day to day teaching in order to provide time to make preparations for next year: time to prepare the ’69-’70 curriculum, this year with more assurance than a year ago when they were beginning a new set-up where pre-sem students were to be enrolled! But now they have had a year’s experience, and a joyous year it has been. The faculty and students agree that “it was good for us to have been here.”
The Theological School Committee is also very pleased with the results of that trial year. Predictions were fulfilled, promises were realized, expectations were outdone! Good, sound Biblical instruction was faithfully given and assiduously received. Our students are one year closer to the pulpit! The Committee assigned committees of two—a minister and an elder—to pay periodical visits to the school. Would you like to hear about the visit made April 22?
On that day the first scheduled class was “Practice Preaching.” A class in which our lone seminarian was to try his skill in preaching a sermon. Mr. Miersma was assigned this practice session only one month after the first one. At 8 o’clock the fledgling mounted the pulpit, opened the service with prayer and. read the Scripture portion for the day, and announced his text. His congregation consisted of two professors, two visitors, and the other six students. This was not the ordinary congregation an ordained minister faces; this was one made up of critics! Two of the students had been assigned to criticize the preacher’s delivery. This they did, criticizing his pronunciation, his enunciation, the pitch of his voice and its range, his vocabulary, his gestures, his eye-contact with the audience, etc. Two other students offered their critique of the sermon and its proposition and outline. The minister-visitor, Rev. Schipper, was also given opportunity to offer his criticism, which centered around the introduction of the sermon.
If this were not enough, the student-preacher’s sermon was then opened to the official criticism of Prof. Hanko and of Prof. Hoeksema. Of course, you understand that such criticism (though it might at times sound destructive) is designed to be constructive. There is as much room for commendation as for condemnatory remarks. In this case the seminarian had taped all the criticism on his portable recorder in order to replay it in his study as often as he liked, to receive the most profit from his critics. In that way he could write down the thoughts worth emphasizing and thus be able to edit, correct, elide, and rebuild his sermon according to the suggestions given. To a mere layman, who has never made a sermon, this criticism seemed somewhat severe; but’ we understand from the ministers present (who also suffered under like critique) that this proves to be the best means to build good preachers. In their chosen vocation the best is none too good; for it involves the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the very best vehicle for this purpose must be sought!
We were singularly impressed with the fact that pre-seminary students (who are also, by the way, receiving part of the seminary training simultaneously with their pre-sem instruction) were allowed to criticize a seminarian! This privilege is of great advantage to them in that it gives them an acute awareness of the pitfalls they will have to try to avoid in their sermonizing. It is safe to say that ifRev. R. Miersma in the future should preach on the text of Isaiah 43:21, it will be a revised sermon that had been delivered by Seminarian Miersma!
After the practice-preaching session a short recess was in order. Then, at 10 o’clock, we visited the class of Church History conducted by Prof. Hanko. The class was finishing their study of the second period of Medieval Church History, covering such subjects as the sacerdotal system, the apostolic succession, the church institute; and the students’ thinking was in this class directed to the contemplation of the Eucharist. It was learned that the R.C. priesthood makes a non-bloody repetition of the sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice made by the priest for the people, as he stands between God and His people. In this study the idea of “transubstantiation” was examined; the claim of the ubiquity (omnipresence) of Christ was questioned; and the matter of the doctrine of purgatory (for whose sufferers many sacrifices were made) was under scrutiny. The discussion led to the subject of penance and the resulting fallacy of the dispensing of indulgences by the ordained priesthood. It was pointed out that penance consisted of four parts: contrition—sorrow of soul over sin; attrition—sorrow over sin out of fear of punishment; satisfaction—made by prayers, money, and good works; absolution—by the word of the priest. This teaching developed into the claim that certain persons could earn in excess of their own debt, which could be deposited in the Bank of Heaven. This bank account in its further development became an account of infinite value. This class lasted for an hour, so you can see that we have only touched upon some of the highlights of the discussion.
At 11 o’clock the class of Church Polity was called to order; and Prof. Hanko instructed his charges in the study of Articles 69 and 70 of our Church Order, the two articles probably most ignored in the way of strict observance. Article 69 lists the songs whichshall be sung, mentioning the Songs of Mary, Simeon, and Zechariah (which may be found in ourPsalters), the Ten Commandments and the Twelve Articles of Faith and the morning and evening hymns (of which none of this generation knows the whereabouts). Article 70 speaks of the propriety of having the marriage state confirmed in the presence of God’s church, attended to by the consistory. Class discussion on this subject became quite lively and somewhat informal, even drawing upon the experiences of the committee delegate, Rev. Schipper, who was considered to be an authority because of his many years of service.
The Theological School Committee is truly grateful to the consistory of First Church for the two basement rooms provided for our school. With the enrollment of pre-seminary students, more rooms are desirable; but these will have to wait the erection of a seminary building. The 1968 Synod mandated the Committee to report to the ’69 Synod with plans that may happily be realized before 1974, when we hope, D.V., to celebrate our 50th anniversary. A special Seminary Building Fund has been started with two separate gifts—one from an individual and one from a society.
And now we shall also go on vacation: no more reports until next fall!