Practical Theology

Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Some may think that the title of this article is a contradiction in terms. By theology we mean the doctrine of God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and the last things. In other words, the true doctrine of Holy Scripture, summed in the Reformed confessions and taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches and their theological seminary. By the term "practical" we mean that which pertains to our everyday living, our lifestyle, and our morals. How can theology be practical? What have, for example, God's attributes or Christ's two natures or any other doctrines have to do with how we live our lives? How can theology be practical? 

It is our contention and firm conviction that theology is eminently practical and thus has everything to do with the Christian life! In fact, we are convinced that there is a fundamental principle involved in this whole matter. The theology revealed in Scripture is the foundation of the Christian life. Sound, true theology comes to expression in a Christian living that is in harmony with the will of God expressed in Scripture and summed in His law of liberty. Or we might describe true theology as the tree (or vine) that produces the fruit of good works in the life of the child of God (cf. 
Eph. 2:8-10John 15:1-8;James 2:14-26). 

Theology is practical. The Christian life is impossible without the sound foundation or healthy tree of sound theology. Hence, in our seminary we teach a number of classes in a department called Practical Theology, and it has been the undersigned's privilege to be the professor of Practical Theology for thirty-two and one-half years. 

To practical theology belongs the class Homiletics/Liturgics. Homiletics refers to the art and science of preaching. That preaching is an art means that the preacher is born with certain gifts from God that will enable him to become a preacher of the gospel. He must have a deep love for God and His truth, he must love God's church, and he must live an exemplary, godly life (cf. 
I Tim. 3:1-7Tit. 1:6-9). If one lacks these gifts he cannot be a preacher. Preaching as an art cannot be taught. It is a unique, collective gift from God. Preaching is not merely public speaking. It cannot be described to a layperson. It can be experienced only by a faithful preacher. But preaching is also a science. By this we mean that there are certain rules and guidelines that must be followed in the producing and delivering of an acceptable sermon. 

Among the more important of these rules are the following. The content of the sermon must be nothing more or less than the Word of God. The sermon must be Theocentric and Christo-centric ("Christ crucified"). The main thought of the text must be expressed in the theme or title of the sermon and then developed logically and along the lines of the text. God's people must not be given a "jumble" of unrelated thoughts, butthe message of the text as it apples to their daily living.

The ability to preach in the manner described above is also a gift from God. This means that the most a professor can do is help the student develop his God-given abilities to construct a sermon and deliver it properly. In addition, the student must preach ten sermons before the faculty and student body in Practice Preaching, as well as a number of sermons during the sixmonth internship required of every student who intends to enter the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). When a man is lawfully called by Christ through the church and succeeds in preaching properly, God's people do not hear a preacher, nor do they hear about Christ, but they hear Christ Himself and are taught by Christ Himself (cf. 
John 10Eph. 4:11, 20-21). 

Liturgics is the study of the biblical principles of the worship of the church. God will be worshiped as He has commanded in His Word. Proper worship will, therefore, be "in spirit and in truth" because "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (
John 4:23-24). Included in this seminary class is a study of the liturgical forms used in the Protestant Reformed Churches. 

To Practical Theology belongs Church Polity. This is a study of the biblical, Reformed principles of the government of the church institute. We also teach the students how these principles are implemented in the Church Order of Dordt as used by the PRC. We do this by taking the students through the Church Order article by article. 

The Principles of Missions is another course taught in Practical Theology. In this class we concentrate on the biblical basis for mission work, the definition of mission work, and the necessity of mission work in the present day. The textbook used by the undersigned for this class is the excellent book An Introduction to the Science of Missions, authored by Johan Bavinck. Perhaps some of our people and officebearers (especially the calling churches for missionaries) might wish to purchase and read this volume. In addition to this class, we also teach two elective classes in missions: Cross-Cultural Missions and Contemporary Trends in Missiology. 

Closely related to missions is a required class in World Religions. We study the history, main teachings, and practices (ritual or worship) of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. We also study the Chinese religions: Confucianism, Taoism (sometimes called Daoism), and the three versions of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. These are critiqued in the light of Scripture and our confessions. Our conviction is that the gods of these religions are idols of man's making. We also insist that the name Jesus is the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (
Ex. 20;Acts 4:12).

Catechetics, as well, is taught in Practical Theology. We study the principles and pedagogical methods to be followed in the teaching of catechism. Our prayer is that this extremely important class will contribute to the PRC's understa
nding of the critical importance of catechism instruction for the children and youth of our churches. A sound curriculum and faithful catechism teaching is a rich blessing of God used by the King of the church to preserve and maintain His covenant in the lines of the generations of believers. May God preserve in our generations His truth and a commitment to maintain faithful catechetical instruction of our children. 

Poimenics is also a part of Practical Theology. This class emphasizes preparing the students to be faithful, competent undershep- herds of the great, good, and chief Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The biblical principles and methods of pastoral care are taught in this class. The students gain invaluable practical experience in these areas when they serve their six-month internships in the churches. How ought a minister to instruct, admonish, or comfort a troubled member, a depressed/ anxious saint, a member who is sick and in the hospital or facing serious surgery, a new mother and father, a couple having marital difficulties, a member suffering the infirmities of old age, a shut-in who cannot attend worship services, an alcoholic or a drug addict, a wandering member, or a member who is mourning the loss of a loved one. These are just some of the areas we cover.

In his pastoral labors the minister must not attempt to be a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. He must not give medical advice. He must do two things in all of his pastoral work. Remembering that he is a servant of the merciful High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin (
Heb. 4:14-16), the pastor must bring and apply the Word of God to the specific spiritual need of each suffering member, and he must bring them boldly to the throne of grace in prayer! 

This is his sacred calling! 

Are you praying daily, and is your pastor praying in the congregational prayer, that God will give the PRC able, spiritually-minded men to give themselves to the highest calling to which any man could ever aspire, the ministry of the Word and sacraments?