The Position and Task of the Professor of Theology

Prof. denHartog is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.

Recently many of us were gathered for a special worship service at Faith Protestant Reformed Church for the purpose of installing Professor Ronald Cammenga as our newest professor. It was a joyful occasion. I was personally again impressed by hearing the reading of the form for the installation of professors. Let me give a few quotes from this form.

It follows therefore that the church has a divine mission to proclaim the Word of God, to collect from the Word of God her standards of faith, to study theology according to these words, and further to advance what is in direct connection with this study.

Later in this same form we read this charge that is made to professors of theology:

In behalf of our church the curators charge thee, esteemed brother, with the task of instructing and establishing in the knowledge of God's Word the students who hope once to minister in His church. Expound to them the mysteries of the faith; caution them in regard to errors and heresies of old, but especially of the new day; seek to explain how they not alone as teachers are to instruct but also as pastors are to shepherd the flock of the Lord. Assist in maintaining order and discipline among the disciples, that our seminary may continue to enjoy the respect and support, the appreciation, the love, and the prayer of the church. Be a good example to the students, that they may not only profit from thy learning, but also find in thee a living illustration of the power and practice of true godliness.

The above is certainly an excellent statement. It speaks of the important formal duties of the professors of theology. It also has a warm spiritual perspective. Professors must not be cold and aloof from the churches. They should not do their theology in an "ivory tower" by themselves. They must do their theology in living connection with the church of Jesus Christ for whom they labor. It is of utmost importance that our professors labor to train men to be sound in doctrine and faithful to the Scriptures. They must teach men with great seriousness and devotion and scholarliness. Our future ministers must be trained to be profound theologians. Theology is important for the ministry. Sound and orthodox theology is the foundation of the true church. 

But our future ministers must be trained also to be pastors of the flock of God. Our professors must be models for future ministers, examples to them of the power and practice of true godliness. It is a good tradition in our churches that one of the requirements for new professors of theology is that they have served for a number of years as pastors of the churches in our denomination. A seminary ideally should have a group of specially-gifted pastors of the denomination as its professors, who are training other men to be pastors. 

The Church Order of Dordt has this statement in Article 18 concerning the office of the Professor of Theology:

The office of the professor of theology is to expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors.

It is rather interesting that this article does not even mention the training of students for the ministry, though of course that is the main task of the professor of theology. The Church Order emphasizes the role that professors of theology have in "expounding the Holy Scriptures and vindicating sound doctrine against heresies and errors." 

We use the terminology "professor of theology" in the broad sense, meaning that we include not only those who specifically teach in the department of theology or dogmatics at the theological school but all the professors of the various disciplines. 

It is the position of our churches that a professor of theology should be an ordained minister, or sometimes also called a teaching elder. He is one who devotes himself to the special aspect of teaching to prepare other men to be teachers.
II Timothy 2:2 is often cited as a passage supporting the calling and need of special training for the ministry. "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." We also have important biblical examples for the need of special training of men for the ministry. There is the classic example of the training of the twelve apostles for the ministry by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Lord and King of the church. There is the interesting example of the school that was established by the apostle Paul in the city of Ephesus, where probably many future ministers of the Word and leaders for the churches of Asia Minor were trained, perhaps by the apostle Paul himself. Later, in the days of the apostolic fathers, schools were established in Alexandria and Antioch and in other places. 

That there should be men devoted to the special task of professor of theology arises out of the fact that the church of Jesus Christ must always be engaged in very careful, profound study of the Word of God. The Word of God is inexhaustible in its depths and richness of meaning, glory, and blessedness. The church of Jesus Christ until the return of her Lord must always be growing and developing in her understanding of the Word of God. The professors of theology have a leading role in helping the church grow more and more in knowledge and love for the Word of God and the discernment of His truth. 

The professor of theology devotes himself to labor in the science of theology. The word science has many bad connotations for us because of the prevalence of humanistic and ungodly science in the world. But this word can be properly used in respect to theology. In fact, it has been rightly taught in the churches that theology is the "queen" of all the sciences. The science of theology has to do with the true knowledge of God. There is no greater, more glorious, and wonderful knowledge than this knowledge. The reason why there can be such a science called theology is that Scripture contains a grand and glorious unified system of doctrine. This doctrine is one organic whole. The Scriptures are not a compilation of many disconnected truths. As God is one, so His truth is one. The professor of theology studies Scripture as a whole. He labors to compare Scripture with Scripture. He does not write about "the theology of Moses" and "the theology of Paul." The Bible contains one organic, beautifully harmonious and consistent revelation of the truth of God. This is a very important labor in our day, when many contradictory and conflicting doctrines are promoted in the churches. Clearly contradictory systems of doctrine are defended on the false premise that the Scriptures are an incomprehensible mystery and apparently illogical to the human mind. 

Professors of theology have the calling to lead the churches in maintaining sound doctrine. Many times there arise in the church "the same old heresies that have arisen over and over again through the age." Our confessions speak of old heresies arising again out of hell. The devil works ever so hard at trying, if possible, to destroy the doctrinal foundation of the church. In our day we unashamedly say that sound doctrine has the name "The Reformed Faith." We believe that God restored sound doctrine to the church through the mighty work of the Reformation. The doctrines of the Reformed faith are outlined by the Reformed confessions. The professor of theology must be well acquainted with the history of doctrine through all the ages of the church. He must be faithful to the historic confessions of the church. For our churches, these are specifically the three forms of unity. The professor of theology must have a thorough knowledge of the heresies that have arisen in the churches in the past, to help in keeping these same heresies out of the churches today. He must also be well acquainted with the subtleties and deceptiveness of modern-day heresies. There are always many of these. 

The professor of theology ideally must do a tremendous amount of reading and study both of past and modern theology. This kind of labor takes place most often away from the notice of the community of the churches. These labors take a lot of time and discipline and intense study. The members of the churches must have a great appreciation for the many hours that professors must spend devoting themselves to the study of doctrine. There have been countless times in the history of the Reformed churches when heresies have actually arisen in the seminaries. What a shocking thing! We must guard that this never happens, but rather that our theological school leads the churches in maintaining sound doctrine. 

Professors of theology have the calling to lead the churches through writing and through public teaching and lecturing in the churches. Professors of theology need to stand strong and courageous against popular heresies of the day. For the strong stands they take they will often be ridiculed and hated by leaders and acclaimed scholars in the apostate church of our day. 

The church of Jesus Christ has the important calling to defend and preserve the true doctrine of God established in the past in the history of the church. The church also has the calling to be ever growing and developing in the knowledge of the truth. Even the church that is sound in doctrine must always be on her guard against the great evil of dead orthodoxy. History has proven what appalling effects 'dead orthodoxy' can have on the churches, destroying her spiritual life and zeal for true godliness. The truth of God must live in the minds and hearts of God's people. She must have a living and spiritual appreciation of the truth of God. Professors of theology must labor to maintain this perspective in the churches. 

The above-mentioned aspects of the calling and role of the professor of theology mean that professors of theology must do their work well and energetically and zealously. They need to give large blocks of time to prepare class courses, enriching these courses again and again over the years. They may not just present the same thing year after year. Doing theology often takes place for them as they are preparing class lectures. Many of the greatest theologians of the past have developed theology in connection with preparing their class lectures. 

There is a common evil desire in the church for that which is new and different. There are times when such desire in the church has led the church away from the historic basis of her faith. The doctrine of God is, after all, unchangeable from age to age. The church has, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, been developing the doctrine of Scripture for many centuries. Each new generation must build on the knowledge of the truth from the past generations. The faithful church is founded on centuries of developing of understanding of doctrine. When in these last days someone comes out with a new doctrine never before heard, the church rightly views such with a healthy measure of caution and even suspicion. Often that which is new is heretical. 

On the other hand, there is the need in the church to give new expression to the wonderful unchanging truth of God in new books and new systematic theologies. We ought to be very thankful to God when our professors can write new books on various important doctrines of the Word for the benefit of the churches in general. By doing so, the professors of our seminary serve to encourage the members of the churches always again to study the Word of God with fresh interest and excitement. 

The strength and faithfulness of our theological school, the high standard of training that is given there, the depth of theological study engaged in, will play a very large role in giving the churches ministers of the highest caliber, well prepared to preach the Word and shepherd the churches of Jesus Christ. This in turn, by the grace of God, will keep our churches strong and steadfast in the truth, serving the glory of the Lord and the cause of His kingdom in the world.

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