The Basis and Benefits of Seminary Training

Rev. Brummel is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.

Paul writes to Timothy, his spiritual son, concerning the calling that God places upon him and upon the church of Jesus Christ in the world. The ministry of the gospel is essential to the church of Jesus Christ. God has ordained that the gathering of His church take place through the ministry of men. Upon every pastor, Jehovah places this calling: "the same commit thou to faithful men." While the reference is clearly to ministers teaching other men to become ministers, the calling is not limited just to some men. Every pastor has this calling. The pastor teaches his catechism classes and the young people's society in the awareness that God is using him to prepare future ministers and missionaries in the churches. He preaches the gospel with conviction, in all its power, conscious that God is using that Word to speak to men who may be called to continue his own labor. Finally, the minister in the seminary very specifically takes up this calling as he teaches young men and prepares them for the gospel ministry. 

Reformed believers know the importance of the church and of the ministry of the gospel. We understand that the ministry of the gospel is necessary for faithful Sabbath observance, as Lord's Day 38 teaches. We confess that the preaching of the gospel is the chief means of grace that God uses to convert and instruct His children. 
I Corinthians 1:21 teaches that it pleases God "by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." 

Through the ages there has been opposition to the idea that theological training is necessary for the preparation for the ministry. This opposition centered in a false view of the church and the offices of the church as well as a wrong view of the Holy Spirit's work. At the time of the Reformation the Anabaptists did not share the conviction of the Reformation regarding the importance of the church and its special offices. This was reflected in their rejection of theological training. Rather than insisting on a solid theological training, the Anabaptists looked for men who claimed direct revelations from God and were filled by the Spirit. Some boasted about the fact that they were not trained by books, but only by the Holy Spirit. The lack of rigorous training in the liberal arts and in the doctrines of Scripture that is prominent today is not biblical. The Holy Spirit gives gifts for the ministry. He does so through means, and in ways that require development and testing. 

God has entrusted the truth to His church and commands His church to be a faithful steward of the treasures of the gospel. "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (
I Tim. 3:15). Faithful stewardship requires that the churches not only teach and preach the gospel but also make preparations for the preservation of the gospel ministry in her midst. The church that loves God and His Word will see to it that godly men are taught the truths of God's Word and equipped with the tools necessary to divide the Word of truth rightly. 

We admit that a good theological training does not necessarily make a good minister. There are certain qualifications for the ministry that a theological education can never give. A man must be godly, humble, modest, and give evidence of spiritual discretion and gifts of speaking, as Article 8 of our Church Order sets forth. Seminary training may be used by God to develop these gifts, but no training itself can make a man godly, humble, modest, etc. There is even a caution required. It is possible that a thorough liberal arts and seminary training might make a man proud, so that he considers himself to be above the man or woman in the pew. Such an attitude must be condemned. Without the calling from God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit a seminary instruction is vain. 

Reformed churches have always allowed room for admitting to the ministry those who did not have seminary training. There are times in the history of the church when there is a great scarcity of trained men, or when God in His sovereign good pleasure gives some men extraordinary gifts and qualifications for office that the church of Jesus Christ ought not to pass by. These are exceptions to the rule. The rule is sound, thorough liberal arts and theological training. The consistories and the theological schools need to be careful to admit men to the seminary who give evidence of the gifts of godliness and humility. Men who will, the Lord willing, be benefited by solid theological instruction. 

The word seminary comes from the Latin wordseminarium, which is related to the Latin wordsemen, or seed. This word seminarium means " a piece of ground where seed is sown for later transplanting of plants, a nursery, a seed plat." We understand a seminary to be an institution for the training of men for the ministry. The seminary is a greenhouse, a seedbed where young men are prepared to function as ministers of the gospel. They are prepared for later transplantation into our churches, where they function as faithful Reformed pastors. The greenhouse does not produce plants. It only raises them and prepares them and trains them. God alone is able to call men to the ministry of the gospel. Only God produces preachers and gives them gifts. He uses seminary instruction to cultivate those gifts and confirm His purpose in the man who is called. The seminary's purpose is to prepare not merely scholars, but preachers. The whole of the curriculum is united in its purpose to nurture and send out preachers of the gospel. 

Throughout history, a principle has repeatedly been the motivation of the people of God: God has bestowed on us a treasure! Paul talks in
Romans 3:2 of this treasure as "the oracles of God." The Word of truth takes hold of us, and our desire as faithful stewards before God is to preserve that Word. "These things which ye have heard of me ... commit to faithful men!" God has entrusted us with a treasure. He has placed His Word in our hearts, giving us to know and to embrace the wonder of salvation. He gives His saints and His church a desire to see that gospel taught to their children and grandchildren. 

But there is more. It is the doctrine of election that serves as the motivation for a trained ministry. Our Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology makes reference to that.

Since our God, who is rich in mercy, has chosen in His great love a church unto Himself for the inheritance of eternal life, and will gather this church through His Spirit and Word to the fellowship of His Son in the unity of true faith and to the increase of the knowledge of His will, so it pleases Him to call men by His Holy Spirit, who as ministers of the Word are to preach the glad tidings of salvation among those who already belong to the church, and among those outside, who are yet without the knowledge of God's ways.

God is pleased to gather His church through the ministry of men. Men must be trained so that they can go forth, called by Christ and His church to preach the authoritative gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The man who believes himself called by God to the ministry must look at the seminary training as necessary and good for his preparation. God uses the whole of his upbringing, but especially his years in the seminary, as a means to prepare him for the ministry. Some of you young men in junior high and high school feel God calling you to the ministry. You need to give yourself to your studies now. Don't be lazy. A lazy student will be a lazy preacher. Give yourself to your studies now in grade school and high school and in college, and be confident that God will use these studies to prepare you for seminary. It seems like a long process and many years of instruction, but it is a necessary preparation. You will never have another opportunity to be students. Using the greenhouse analogy, the plants are not grown in the greenhouse to stay there. They are raised to be transplanted. The purpose of the greenhouse is to grow the plants as quickly as possible so that they can be sold. Similarly, God uses your training, concentrated in a few early years, to prepare you as rapidly as possible for the time when you will receive the final confirmation in a call from the churches and will be ready to be transplanted into the churches. 

There are many blessings for the students who undergo seminary instruction. First, they learn the physical and spiritual discipline necessary for the work of the ministry. The ministry is the hardest task to which any human being can be called. There are no shortcuts. In the way of faithfulness to God, there are rewards that are also richer and sweeter than the rewards of any other vocation known to man. 

Second, the young men are taught to learn who their enemy is and to know how to use the weapons that they will need to use to fight against all the spiritual foes that threaten the gospel. 

Finally, you will learn to see God as a God of holiness and righteousness. Through their seminary training, young men are brought to their knees as they are brought to see the glory and the faithfulness of their God. Every school day they hear about the glory and greatness of God, whether in Greek, in Hebrew, in Exegesis, in Church History, or in Church Polity. 

There are also benefits for the churches. First, when the churches themselves provide the means of instruction for their own students, the churches will receive men who have enjoyed a uniform course of instruction. While each man brings into the ministry his own unique gifts and abilities, they can be expected to agree in the truths of God's Word as embraced and confessed by the churches. All have been taught the same theology and the same approach to counseling, to catechism instruction and Bible study, and to the confessions of the churches. 

Secondly, there will be fellowship and friendships among the ministers that bind them together in mutual trust and assistance of one another, which will be for the good of the churches. 

Finally, the churches will have confidence in the ministry of the gospel. We live in a day when the credibility of and respect for pastors is not what it should be. Much of this is brought on by pastors themselves, who are not adequately equipped for the ministry. They are not willing to take on the difficult day-to-day labors of counseling, instructing prospective members, visiting the aged and sick, leading societies, teaching catechism, and making two sermons a week. The result is that the credibility of the pastorate is at stake. We hold high the position of the minister, deeming it to be the highest of callings that God places upon men. We show that by taking seriously the need for thorough, careful training to equip such a man for faithful labor. 

We count it a privilege to have and to support such a seminary. The saints of God love the truth and love the church of Jesus Christ. We do not want to see a famine of the Word, but we want to see that Word feed and nourish our children and grandchildren. Cheerfully give your money, your time, your prayers, and your sons for this work of God!

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