Time To Consider
This concluding article is motivated especially at this time by two considerations. In the first place, there is the fact that our Theological School Committee, as has been repeatedly announced, will soon be meeting for the last time before Synod. It is at this time that aspirants to the ministry are interviewed. And if, therefore, any young men wish to be accepted for training at our seminary, they should apply at this meeting of the committee. In the second place, graduation time will soon be upon the students at various schools. Eighth or ninth grade pupils will sooner or later have to decide whether they will take a college preparatory course in high school. High school graduates are faced with the decision as to whether they will go on to college; and, if they go on to college, they must make some decision as to what kind of course they must take. If a graduate plans to be a businessman, he will not take courses designed for teacher training. If a young man is going into engineering, he will not take a course in business administration. If he intends to be an accountant, he will not take a pre-seminary course. And thus, if a young man aspires to the ministry of the gospel, he should keep this in mind in his choice of courses,—in college very definitely, but already in high school in a more general way. This is important. Failure to keep this in mind can lead to a situation in which a young man, though he aspires to the ministry, discovers that he is lacking ins so many academic requirements for seminary entrance that it is difficult, if not impossible, to catch up and to gain the ,requisite pre-seminary training. And he may find the prospect of a couple of years of extra pre-seminary training a deterrent to his aspirations to the ministry.
My advice, therefore, would be that our young people should have a little foresight with respect to their education. Don’t just drift. Don’t just go to school because you must. Don’t just “get an education” in general. I realize that all of us are not equally mature in our adolescent years. We do not all reach a definite decision as to our plans and goals in life at the same age. Besides, it is not always the case that we are able to stick to our plans and goals once we have decided upon them. Also in this respect the Lord leads, and we follow. Nevertheless, it is generally true that in our high school and early college years important decisions must be made, and are made, that will affect our life’s course. Steps are taken which are frequently difficult to retrace. These decisions must be made and these steps taken with due seriousness and a sense of our Christian responsibility.
In this connection I call your attention, first of all, to the requirements for entrance into our Theological School. A complete high school education is mandatory, in the first place. And, as is very evident from the other requirements, this means a “college preparatory” course in high school. Secondly, a complete college course is recommended. This is a good recommendation. In my opinion, the time has come that this should be mandatory, not merely optional. A minister of the gospel should have a thorough education, should have a good general background, should be, educationally speaking, well-rounded. Besides, after a young man has completed four years of college, he is from many points of view a bit more mature and ready, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually, for his seminary training. In the third place, however, there are certain courses in which a young man must have credits in order to enter the seminary. The emphasis in these requirements is on languages. A minimum of two years of Latin, two years of Greek, and two years of German is required. And if Dutch is no longer taught in our seminary, that will also be among the entrance requirements. These languages are necessary because they,—some more and some less,—will be your tools both in the seminary and in your entire ministry. You cannot work without these tools. In fact, Hebrew, which is somehow neglected among pre-seminary subjects, could profitably be included also. Another such tool is Logic, a one-semester requirement. And among the background requirements are one year each of Philosophy, Psychology, General History, and Church History. These are all minimum requirements. More is not required, but recommended. Personally, I would also recommend that if a young man takes a four-year college course, he should not take the prescribed pre-seminary course of that college, but a general college course. This gives him more latitude in choosing his subjects and concentrating on subjects that are especially useful to him, such as languages, philosophy, etc. Some good courses in English composition and in literature are also very helpful, of course. And not to be overlooked are practical courses in public speaking. But a general course will allow you to cull out some of the less valuable “survey courses” with which the pre-sem course was loaded in my college days. Strange though it may seem from a practical point of view, I would also recommend, both in high school and in college, some good stiff mathematics courses,—for the exercise of your thinking and reasoning powers.
There is no direct mention made among the entrance requirements of the average grade which you must maintain in the required courses; you must merely produce evidence of credit for these courses. However, it is well in this connection to remember that you must maintain an over-all “C” average in the seminary; and also that pre-seminary students receiving aid from the synodical Student Aid Fund must maintain an over-all “B” average and have not less than a “C” in any subject.
This brings us to the next aspect of our subject.
It is very evident that all these requirements presuppose that an aspirant to the ministry must have various natural qualifications. And among these a goodly degree of intellectual ability is primary.
This ought to be clear to anyone. Moreover, we must bear in mind that it is in part through the bestowal of various natural abilities that the Lord calls us and makes plain to us our calling to occupy a specific position in life. It is well, therefore, that we remember that these “qualifications” are divinely bestowed. Whatever talents and abilities we have, they are gifts.
This does not mean, of course, that a person can, on the basis of these natural abilities alone, pass judgment on himself, come to a very definite conclusion, and, as it were, say, “This is the finger of God, pointing me unmistakably to the ministry.” No, this is but one aspect of the picture. Nevertheless, on the other hand, a young man must not ignore the fact that the Lord has bestowed upon him various talents and abilities.
Thus, speaking quite in general, when the Lord gives a young man a brilliant mind, a retentive memory, keen reasoning powers; the ability to think originally, the gift of a good voice, the ability to express himself clearly, and that young man, ignoring all the gifts which the Lord has given him, devotes himself to a task in life which makes little or no use of these abilities, he is very plainly squandering the many good gifts which the Lord gave him.
The Lord speaks through the gifts which He bestows upon us.
He also speaks through the lack of gifts which He bestows upon us.
Thus, for example, if the Lord bestows upon a man a very limited mental capacity, but gives to that man tremendous physical strength, such a man may be certain that he is not called to the ministry or to any other task in life which requires a goodly degree of intellectual ability, but rather to some task which requires great physical strength. To be more specific, if a young man cannot possibly master the languages that he will have to use in the ministry, he may consider it as evidence that he is not called to the ministry. As one of my professors put it rather succinctly in my college days: “God speaks mightily through the Greek department.” Or, if the Lord has given someone a good mind, but an insurmountable handicap in his speech, he may be sure that he is not being led in the direction of the ministry, where he will have to speak all his life long. Or again, if a man does not have the ability to study long and hard hours, he may question seriously whether he is intended for the ministry, where he must study every day.
Thus there are more aspects of a man’s natural abilities and make-up which enter into the picture. One who is nervous and emotionally unstable will not be able to stand the stresses and strains which a minister must often face in congregational life. Even from the physical point of view one must consider the matter, as is very evident from the fact that an aspirant to the ministry must present a statement of good health from a reputable physician before he is allowed to enter the seminary.
Hence, there are many questions in this regard which a young man must very seriously and prayerfully face as he stands before the question of his life’s calling. And to these questions he must give conscientious answers, so that he is able to say that he is occupying the place in life which God wants him to occupy.
Finally, for a young man who aspires to the ministry the way must also be opened. Also in this respect the Lord leads. If the Lord, for example, makes it financially impossible for a young man to get an education, or if through various other circumstances of life it is made impossible for him to go to school, this is the Lord’s leading; and it must be accepted as such.
In this connection I may call attention to the fact that the churches also have a responsibility. This is stated in our Church Order, Article 19: “The churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.” In obedience to this rule of our Church Order, our churches maintain the Student Aid Fund. From this fund qualified students may obtain financial assistance during their three years of seminary training, and even for the last two years of their four years of college. Our last synod liberalized the provisions of this fund by deciding to extend aid to married students as well as unmarried students. Any young man, therefore, who aspires to the Protestant Reformed ministry, but who has need of money to finance his education, will be liberally supported by the churches. Nor need a young man who has honest needs be ashamed to apply for this support. The funds are available, and the churches consider it their duty toexert themselves that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.
However, let all our churches exert themselves also in more than the financial sense. Let us pray earnestly, “Lord, give us men!”
It is with that prayer, too, that these few articles have been written.