Doctrine

The Hebrew word for doctrine means "to take, receive, seize"; then it means that which is received mentally: instruction. The Greek has a whole family of words relating to our topic: one means that which is taught; another refers to the one doing the teaching, the doctor or master; the verb form simply means to instruct or indoctrinate. The word doctrine appears fifty-two times in scripture, good evidence of its importance. Strikingly, when we read of doctrines in the plural the reference is always to strange doctrines, the doctrines of men, or the doctrines of devils. False doctrines are legion and contradictory, but true doctrine is one, for it has its unity in Jesus Christ. 

The doctrine of God drops from heaven as rain (Deut. 32:2), it is pure and good (Job 11:4). The people were amazed at the teaching of Jesus, saying, "What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he . . ." (Mark 1:27). But Jesus did not teach new doctrine; it was not his but the Father's, and it agreed with the teaching of Moses (John 7:16–19). The children of God obey from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto them (Rom. 6:17). Since all scripture is given by inspiration of God, it has the primary profit of giving us doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16). Adding to the peril of the times in which we live is the fact that men "will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers; having itching ears" (2 Tim. 4:3). The purpose of God in giving ministers to the church is "that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . ." (Eph. 4:14). Of such central importance is the truth that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is come in the flesh that the denial of this is antichrist, and "if there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" (2 John 10). 

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The Importance of Doctrine

Doctrine is not highly regarded anymore. In many evangelical churches there is such ignorance of doctrine that even the fundamentals of Christianity are not well understood. Even in churches that remain faithful in their teaching and preaching, there is often little interest in learning and understanding doctrine. The youth are, for the most part, bored by it, and their elders are content with a superficial knowledge of the doctrines of the Reformed faith.

Very often the symptom of this lack of doctrine is a constant agitation for more “practical” preaching and teaching along with a greater emphasis on liturgy and on the other parts of the worship service until the sermon is all but squeezed out. On the part of the preachers themselves, one finds less and less biblical exposition and more and more illustration, storytelling, and entertainment.

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The Bible and Israel (7)

Our last blog post on this subject was May 25, 2018. We have proven from scripture that the New Testament church is the fulfillment of—not the replacement for—Israel. One final chapter requires out attention: it is the greatest chapter in the New Testament dealing with God’s purposes with Israel in the New Testament age, Romans 11. Since Romans 9–11 constitute a unit in the epistle, we summarize the contents of those three chapters of God’s word to demonstrate yet again that the Bible promises salvation only to those who believe in Jesus Christ.

Chapters 9–11 then begin a new section of the epistle in which Paul focuses on God’s sovereign purposes with the Jews and Gentiles.

In Romans 9:1–3 Paul expresses his sorrow at the perishing of so many of his countrymen who are his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). He lists their many advantages (adoption, glory, covenants, law, service, promises, etc.), chief among which is that Christ was born of them, who is God blessed, forever (9:5).

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The true church of Jesus Christ—Her marks

The preaching in Christ’s church sets forth the doctrine of the gospel in all its glory and power. It is pure, unmixed with the errors of Pelagius or Arminius that ascribe to man a part in his salvation. It is uncorrupted with Romish or Federal Vision errors that require man to perform works that will in some way contribute to his salvation. The opinions and philosophies of men are excluded. It must be the pure doctrine of the gospel.

Preaching the pure doctrine of the gospel is the chief mark of the true church of Christ. Every sermon, whether it is expounding prophecy, a psalm, an epistle, or biblical history, is the preaching of the gospel. Sermons on Genesis 1 (creation), Exodus 20 (the law), Haggai 1 (God’s rebuke of Israel), or Matthew 3 (the life of Jesus) must set forth the truth of the text in the light of Christ crucified—the gospel.  

—Read more in the article ‘The true church of Jesus Christ—Her marks’ by Prof. Russell Dykstra in the upcoming June 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer.

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The Privilege of Seminary Training: Personal Spiritual Development

Anyone who has talked to a seminary student or asked his pastor about his years in seminary will likely hear stories about the many great challenges of those years. The work is often difficult, and the amount of work that is placed before the students can be overwhelming for even the most gifted students. Seemingly every student of the seminary has some story to tell of a painful practice preaching session or a graded paper filled with a flood of red ink.

While those difficulties and challenges are real, they are only a small part of the story. It’s a shame that the “headline” about seminary training that most everyone sees or hears is “DIFFICULT.” And if that is the only thing that comes to mind regarding seminary, that is an incomplete, and therefore, an unfair perspective.

What’s missing from that perspective is the wonderful privilege of studying in the seminary. If the difficulties, challenges, and sacrifices of seminary are great, the privileges and benefits of studying in the seminary are far greater.

Here are just a few of the personal benefits of seminary training:

  • As with all education, there is much growth in knowledge, and the knowledge imparted in seminary is of the highest quality, a spiritual, life-giving quality. The words of instruction in seminary are the words of eternal life, imparting knowledge of the one true God. There are many people who have the privilege of being students, but not all have the privilege of giving themselves to the study of the very words of God.
  • Seminary humbles The doctrines of grace humble you, showing you your unworthiness. The amount of work humbles you, showing you your frailty and turning your attention to God. The correction of professors humbles you, showing you your errors and ignorance. The truths expounded in the scriptures also humble you, by showing you your sin and leading you to Christ. In these ways and more, the student is humbled, and in this he is prepared to be a servant of Christ and his church.
  • Seminary training is also a wonderful means of sanctification. Sanctification is God’s work of making us holy, and that work is performed by the Spirit through the means of grace. Sitting under the faithful instruction of professors is no different than sitting under the preaching of the word in church. There is the true privilege of seminary training: the daily practice of engaging in the means of grace and growing daily in the knowledge of God transforms the student’s heart. The men who walk through the seminary doors on that first fall morning are not the same as those who walk out four years later. God works powerfully in the hearts of seminary students through their training, transforming their hearts so that they are ready to serve in God’s house.
  • What about those difficulties? They have their benefits too. The student grows in his ability to read and write. He learns how to communicate effectively. He learns how many hours there are in a day (not enough), and how to be most productive in the time he is given. The difficulties and challenges of the work teach the student discipline, perseverance, patience, and trust. They force him to labor with a conscious dependence on the grace of God for the needs of both body and soul.

Prospective seminary students should not be discouraged from pursuing the gospel ministry by the stories of how difficult the training is. Seminary is challenging, but it is such a privilege as well. And while no man should enter seminary solely for the purpose of personal development, it’s only fair that the whole story is told.

The benefits will begin early on in the training. Taking pre-seminary Greek early in the morning isn’t easy for everyone, but as one emeritus professor told me, “The study of the original languages opens up grand vistas of the truths of the scriptures.” He was right, and those vistas are beautiful, even life-changing.

The benefits continued throughout the four years of seminary. Every day, the scriptures were expounded to us. Every day we were confronted by some truth concerning our majestic God and his wonderful works. Every day, we were humbled, corrected, instructed, and built up by truths of scripture and given the tools to do the same both for ourselves and others.

The calling of the ministry is weighty, and the challenges of seminary are significant and sometimes difficult to overcome. But ultimately, the most difficult obstacles are often the most beneficial, for they teach the student to labor with a dependence on the grace of God rather than his own strength. In the end, the seminary student receives four years of heart-shaping instruction. That instruction, the Lord willing, will benefit both the students personally and the churches they serve.

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This article was written by David Noorman who has been declared a candidate for the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.

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Considering the Ministry

You have probably heard it from your own pulpit. You have probably seen the announcement in the bulletin. You have probably read about it in the Standard Bearer. You have probably heard it discussed at Sunday coffee. You may have even prayed about it yourself. There is an urgent need in the Protestant Reformed Churches for more preachers of the gospel.

This is not a new need, but one that’s been around since Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Jesus’ command in response to that “problem” was that the disciples would pray: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” By God’s grace, our denomination, congregation, families, and individual members have heeded that command. Petitions for God to raise up more men to pursue the ministry are uttered regularly throughout our churches and families. And in many ways, we may be thankful that God has already answered those prayers.

I’m hopeful that none of this is news to you. And the point of this article is not to tell you the need, but to point you, young man, to the logical next step: Considering the calling of the ministry for yourself. Young men, single men, married men, middle-aged men, men with children or without, the time is now for you to consider the ministry. It’s time to consider whether or not the Lord is calling you to pursue that work in answer to your own prayers.

Some may call this obvious, but I say otherwise—from my own experience. During my synodical examination, almost all of my fellow students admitted that they had thought about the ministry at a young age. Some always desired that work, and for others it came and went. My experience was different—I had never considered the ministry. As a boy and throughout my teenage years I heard the discussions, and I listened to the exhortations of ministers and teachers. But, every time the subject came up, I convinced myself that the ministry was a task for other men, not for me.

My perspective changed by a work of God through ordinary means. In my early college years, I continued to hear the prayers of my pastor. I heard every single week as he asked God to raise up more men for the ministry “even from this congregation.” I was also approached by others who asked me if I was considering seminary. Sometimes these comments were made seriously, sometimes in jest. Whatever the case may be, God used those petitions, comments, and other circumstances in my life to move me to consider the ministry. When I finally did seriously consider, it did not take long for me to become convinced that God was calling me, at least internally, to pursue the gospel ministry.

Taking the liberty of applying my own circumstances to others, that is my advice: Men, consider it. Think about it. Pray about it. Talk to others about it. Give some serious time and effort to the task of examining your heart, your gifts, and the need of God’s church.

If you believe you ought to pursue the ministry, or even if you are uncertain, talk to your parents or siblings. Talk to your pastor. Talk to your elders. Stop in at seminary to talk to a professor. Talk to multiple people, and people who know you in different ways. And when you talk to all these people, listen to what they have to say. Whether or not respected brethren believe you should pursue the ministry is important. Professor Gritters’ Suggestions for Young Men Considering Attending Seminary is also a good place to start.

Not sure if this is your calling? Be assured this is not out of the ordinary. Most men take pre-seminary courses and even enter seminary with a great deal of uncertainty. Probably far more men take up an “ordinary” occupation wondering whether or not they should have pursued the ministry further. In either case, be confident that if God has set you apart for that “good work,” he will make it clear to you in one way or another.

Are you convinced the ministry is not your calling? Most will come to this conclusion, and you can still help the cause by encouraging gifted, spiritually-minded young men to consider the ministry. Don't push them into it; just encourage them to consider it. It is also important that friends and family of those who are considering the ministry have a positive attitude about ministry. The pressure of such a pursuit is weighty enough, and I am sure many young men keep their distance from the ministry out of a fear of what their friends and relatives might say or think. Speak positively about the office of the ministry; don't drive them away from it. 

The need for ministers is great, and the work of the ministry is a good work! Continue to pray for that cause in obedience to Jesus’ command. And men, don’t neglect to give serious consideration to this calling for yourself.

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This article was written by David Noorman who has been declared a candidate for the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America.

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The Final Stretch

As I alluded in my last post, it is sometimes suggested that the last semester of seminary is the most difficult semester. After soaring on the internship, the student must again clamp on the chains and manacles of practice preaching and formal class room instruction. I can understand and agree with this sentiment to a point. There is something about the internship—tasting and experiencing the real work that the seminary student anticipates he will soon be doing as an ordained servant of the Lord—which makes it difficult to return to the formality of seminary. The final semester of seminary can feel like a long and dark tunnel which the student must walk through knowing that a steam engine with the words “synodical exam” etched into its side is heading directly toward him at full speed. I think the seven fourth year students returned from the internship shrouded with a bit of gloom which was not helped by the reputation of this final semester.

However, now that I stand safely on the other side of the tunnel, I testify from my own experience that it was not nearly so difficult as I expected. I do not mean by this that the semester was any less rigorous or demanding than the previous semesters—every semester in seminary is accompanied with challenges and difficulties. I only mean to suggest that my experience of this final semester was not so gloomy—emotionally and mentally frustrating—as I had come to expect based on what I had heard or thought was true.

Perhaps one of the primary reasons for my positive evaluation of seminary’s final semester is the confidence I had gained coming off the internship. The Lord used the internship to strengthen my conviction that I was truly called to this work, and to strengthen my resolve going forward. Thus, coursework became less of a burden that I had to lift off my shoulders every day and every week, and more an opportunity to grow in my ability to perform in the calling I was certain the Lord had given me.

We entered back into the world of formal instruction with an interim course entitled “The Reformation of 1953,” taught by Professor Dykstra. Kindly, Prof. Dykstra later informed us that the church history portion of our synodical exam would cover the history of the PRC, about which the history of 1953 plays a central role. Thus, our interim class doubled as preparation for part of our exam.

The course load for the Spring semester consisted of Reformed Symbols (this time treating the Canons of Dort), New Testament Exegesis, Old Testament Exegesis, World Religions (or Foreign Missions), Old Testament History, and New Testament Isagogics. This final semester also included a couple of shorter new classes, each of which lasted a period of seven weeks—Advanced Hebrew and Advanced Homiletics. All of these classes I profess to have enjoyed thoroughly, but in this final semester I discovered a much deeper appreciation for the work of exegesis. Now that I had more experience writing sermons, especially in the context of a living, breathing congregation on the internship, my exegesis papers became much more “sermonic” in their structure and in their content (especially regarding applications). Under the guidance of our professors, the practical knowledge we students gained on our internships was solidified and developed during our final class hours.

Another reason for my positive evaluation of the final semester is simply the people with whom I was surrounded every day. Of course, my wife and son provide love and support every day no matter where I am, for which I am profoundly thankful to the Lord. But the people to whom I am especially referring at this juncture are the people at the seminary. I already mentioned in a previous post the camaraderie which developed among the students over the course of our years together—a camaraderie which continued through our final semester together. All of us gained from the internship experiences of the others as we reflected and shared insights together. I think our discussions in and out of the class room were livelier than ever before due to our mutually increased confidence and ability. Some of us even got together regularly to prepare for the synodical exam which was still looming over all of us. We also continued to profit from the quiet and faithful service of the seminary staff, Mrs. Judi Doezema and Mr. Chuck Terpstra. The cheerfulness and smoothness of seminary in my memory is in large part due to the contribution of these two saints, for whom we give thanks to the Lord.

But in this post, I especially want to highlight the relationship between us students and our professors. I hesitate only briefly to say this because I am not sure if it was only my individual perception that the relationship with our professors underwent a slight shift in the last semester, or if this sense was the experience of all the students. I think the shift is analogous to the change in a father’s behavior toward his children from the time of their childhood to the time of their teenage years. A father treats his young children with love, and in his love for his children he talks down to them, i.e. he does his best to speak on their level. He talks down to them with a view to being able to talk on the same level with them when they mature in their understanding. When his children reach their teen years, a father begins to speak to them as adults. The fact is, those teenagers are not adults—they are still children who still have a lot of growing to do—but they have also advanced beyond their childhood and have shown themselves capable of handling greater responsibility. The analogy is apt, because from a spiritual and vocational point of view these professors are the fathers of us students, and we their children. This is how the apostle Paul opened his second epistle to his student Timothy, with whom he had no blood relation: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, . . . To Timothy, my dearly beloved son. . .” (2 Tim. 1:1, 2). When my class first began our seminary instruction we were just little children—perhaps we did not know it, but it was true nonetheless. By the time we finished our internship we had matured significantly regarding our knowledge, experience, and ability, and the professors treated us accordingly. Now that we have graduated from seminary we have “left the nest.” By the grace of God, in the pastoral ministry the lessons afforded to us by our “fathers” will continue to bear fruit as we continue to grow. On behalf of the class of 2017 I would like to say thank you to our faithful professors, and thanks to the Lord for providing them. May the Lord continue to sustain you as you train our “siblings” for the ministry of the Word and sacraments.  

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This article was written by Rev. Joseph Holstege who was recently ordained into the gospel ministry and is now pastor of Zion Protestant Reformed Church, in Hudsonville, Michigan.

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The Internship

Once again, I walked out of Professor Dykstra’s office with mixed emotions. I had just been informed that the seminary faculty had granted me an internship, and that mine would take place in Hull, Iowa at Calvary Protestant Reformed Church. Mixed emotions. Of course, I was tremendously excited. For several months all the third years had ruminated, speculated, and discussed—would we be granted internships? And if so, where would they be? Now I knew definitely: the Lord had opened yet another door to the ministry. Now I could make definite plans. Now I could look forward to getting to know a concrete, real group of people and their pastor. I had heard all about the benefits of the internship, and I could hardly wait to get started.

On the other hand, the imminent prospect of something new in my seminary training conjured up the old fright and nerves I referred to in a previous post. I would argue that the internship is the ultimate test whether a man has the necessary gifts to be a pastor. On the internship, seminary students put the knowledge they have been gaining in the classroom into practice. What previously had remained mostly in the realm of theory turns into real faces, real consistory meetings, real problems. Furthermore, in my case, I knew I would be living in a completely new environment for half a year. I did not know a single soul who attended Calvary PR Church, and I knew very little of her pastor with whom I would be working closely.

To give you an idea of what seminary students face on their internships I will point out the various requirements—but keep in mind that each internship is unique, as each one takes place in a local congregation with her pastor and her council. The students have the duration of the six months to read and review ten books assigned by the professors. These books all treat some aspect of what we would call practical theology, but the content ranges from homiletics (i.e. sermon preparation and organization) to missions. As the internship puts theory into practice, so the books we were required to read on the internship were decidedly practical in nature. The students must also prepare and deliver a minimum of nine sermons (most pastor mentors actually require at least ten or eleven). Three of these sermons must take a Lord’s Day from the Heidelberg Catechism as the text, and two of the sermons must be developed for a special service. The student has more liberty with the rest of the sermons—he may preach a short series as I did, or he may simply pick several texts which strike him as significant and appropriate. The student must also teach catechism—preferably at least one bible history class and at least one doctrinal class. He must lead two bible societies, attend consistory and council meetings, and conduct pastoral visits.

In addition to the required labors, if there are any special opportunities that his internship affords him, the student does well to take advantage of them. For instance, as my internship took place in Northwest Iowa, I had the opportunity to attend some of the meetings of the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) and thus become better acquainted with the work of that denominational committee and with missions in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA). I also had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Young Adult’s retreat which was held in Northwest Iowa that summer. The other students had opportunities that were unique to the congregations in which they had their internships.

At the conclusion of the internship, the students must write reports on their labors to be evaluated by the professors. The mentor pastor and consistory also submit a report on the labors of their intern.

Now, having expressed the tick of fear that I initially experienced when I heard about my internship, I can confidently report that my internship went amazingly well. I think my six classmates would make the same confident assessment regarding their own internships. In fact, the Lord used my internship in a powerful way to confirm in my soul that he was indeed calling me to the ministry.

Calvary PR Church did an excellent job hosting me and my family. It was amazing to see the entire congregation stand up to support us not only financially for six months, but also spiritually with their prayers and encouragement. The saints at Calvary have a love for the Protestant Reformed seminary and for the pastoral ministry. Consequently, any fears I may have had in connection with moving to a new place for a time seem silly when I look back on the experience. My wife Lisa and I are thankful for the relationships we developed with the saints and with Rev. Griess and his family while in Calvary.

Furthermore, the fruit of having an internship in Northwest Iowa meant we had opportunity to get to know and love the church of Christ as she is manifested in Calvary PR Church, but also in the other four local congregations in the near vicinity. While at Calvary I had occasion to bring the Word to all those congregations. One of the advantages of being a seminary student is that one gets to see and meet many of the congregations in the PRC. The only other time I had been in the area was for a convention when I was 15 years old; now I have six months of experience there as an adult. Even if the Lord never calls me to serve a congregation in Northwest Iowa, I now have a better understanding of the people and churches which exist there, which knowledge I believe will serve me well going forward.

The only difficult aspect of the internship was the imminent prospect of returning to seminary for one final semester. Rumor had it that this return to seminary was difficult for students who had just tasted the joy and freedom of serving a local congregation. In addition, we were all painfully aware that at the end of this final semester would be what seemed the mightiest obstacle of all: the synodical examination.

More on this final semester of seminary next time, the Lord willing. 

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This article was written by Rev. Joseph Holstege who was recently ordained into the gospel ministry and is now pastor of Zion Protestant Reformed Church, in Hudsonville, Michigan.

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Noble Bereans

It’s been some time now since I addressed the subject of active church membership, but I’d like to return to a consideration of those basic responsibilities that fall to us as members of the church of Christ. So far we’ve established two duties: becoming (and remaining) a member of a true, instituted church; and faithfully attending the worship services of that local congregation.

Another responsibility of church membership is that we listen carefully to the preaching.

It almost goes without saying that the lively member will do this. Throughout a long week of physical labor and spiritual warfare he has longed for God’s house, and when Sunday finally arrives he’s eager to hear God’s Word proclaimed. He listens carefully for his own edification and refreshment. His attentiveness is borne out of the consciousness of his own need for the good news.

What I want to emphasize here is that it is important in our careful attention to the preaching that we are judging the content of the sermon to be a faithful exposition of the scriptures.

This calling is laid upon us in 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

The well-known example of this is the noble saints in Berea. While on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul was forced to leave the city of Thessalonica by a band of unbelieving Jews. He came to the neighboring city of Berea and began preaching in the synagogue. Acts 17:11 says, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

This is our calling: as we receive the preaching, to judge whether the things that are being taught are in harmony with the scriptures. And if they are not, to bring the matter to the attention of the minister and elders.

There are two warnings that have to be issued here.

The first warning is directed to the church member: do not listen with a critical spirit. It’s possible that an individual comes to church not for his own edification but with the sole purpose of nitpicking and criticizing. He delights in roasting the minister each Sunday noon. This is not proper. He ought to listen carefully, but also worshipfully. He must adopt a similar attitude when he believes he has a legitimate objection to something said in a sermon. With humility and carefulness he brings the matter to his pastor and elders.

The second warning is directed to me and all other ministers of the Word: be humble. It’s possible that as a minister I refuse to listen to questions that members have about my sermons. I can create such an environment in the church that people are deathly afraid to approach me. This is not proper either. As painful as that may be, the minister must be willing to listen patiently, give clarification where needed, and even apologize when he has not presented the truth clearly or accurately.

I want to follow these two warnings with two encouragements.

The first encouragement has to do with the ability of ordinary church members to carry out this calling. I can imagine that some reading this have thought: “I’m not really sure I can do this. I’m just a simple church member, after all. I haven’t gone to college and seminary like my minister has. How would I be able to tell if what he is saying is right or not?” The fact of the matter is, you are able to do this! From a child you have known the holy scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). You have been anointed with the Holy Spirit, so that you are a prophet capable of knowing and speaking God’s Word. There is, of course, room for growth in all of us. Members can grow in this ability by the study of God’s Word and the Reformed confessions, as well as reading solid, Reformed books and magazines that help us understand God’s Word. But you can do this!

The second encouragement has to do with the importance of this responsibility. In an earlier post, we described our calling as church members in terms of building God’s house. God’s house is built through the means of faithful preaching of the gospel. And one of the means that God uses to ensure that there is such faithful preaching in the church is by the attentive listening of the members.

Be encouraged, therefore, noble believers! You are privileged to be used by Christ in the grand endeavor of the building of his house! Receive the Word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily, whether those things are so!

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Previous posts in this series:

  1. Lively Stones in God’s House
  2. Time To Build!
  3. Bound to Join
  4. A Hard Day’s Rest

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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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Third Year

In preparation for writing this post I sat back and tried to think about the things that made the third year of seminary distinct from the other years, and I have concluded that part of my challenge now relates to the fact that third year was very similar to second year. The first year of seminary is distinct in my mind as the time when everything was exciting because it was the beginning—everything was new. I distinguish second year as the proving grounds, when we were first introduced to practice preaching and began our regular, weekly cycle of writing exegesis papers. But from many points of view, third year was simply a continuation of second year, with the exception that now many of us were or would soon be licensed to speak a word of edification in the congregations (a significant landmark in our training upon which I reflected in my previous post). During our third year we continued practice preaching, we continued our regular coursework, and we continued to write exegesis papers regularly.

Our course work for third year consisted of the following:

In the Fall semester, we took classes on Poimenics, Old Testament History, New Testament History, Dogmatics (Christology), History of Dogma, and Old Testament Exegesis. The word “Poimenics” comes from the Greek verb “to shepherd; tend to the flock,” which provides a clue to the course material, which concerns such things as family visitation, pastoral counseling, conducting funerals and weddings, and so on.

In between the two semesters we took a two-week Interim course on Reformed Covenantal Ethics, taught by Professor Gritters. Then we plunged into the Spring semester and the following classes: Reformed Symbols, Dogmatics (Soteriology), New Testament History, Missions, Old Testament Isagogics, and New Testament Exegesis. Reformed Symbols is the study of the Reformed confessions, this time focusing on the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. The word “Isagogics” comes from the Greek that means “to lead into,” which again indicates the subject matter of the course, which introduces each book of the Old Testament especially by examining the main theme(s) of the books.

Each of these classes requires reading, most of them require writing, and all of them require diligence. The student who works hard in his courses is rewarded with greater knowledge and understanding in the scriptures, which is a tremendous blessing!

Though in many respects third year was similar to second year, it was in part the sameness and regularity of it that made third year such an enjoyable year of seminary. Along with the similarity, regularity, and development in our coursework came similarity, regularity, and development in our relationships.

I am very thankful to God for the opportunity I had to go through seminary with a large class. Of course, seminary work requires initiative, hard work, and growth of the individual student—he must face each text that he is required to exegete, he must take each test alone, he must do his own reading. If the student relies only on the insights of others, the danger necessarily arises that he sinfully fails to do his own work and violates his own conscience. Nevertheless, when several students regularly face the same texts together, take the same courses, and read the same material, they cannot help but discuss the various challenges they face and the insights the Spirit gives them. Far from being detrimental, I believe God used this interaction in powerful ways to shape each one of us for our calling. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of a friend” (Prov. 27:17). So, on Friday noon when we fired up the grill for our weekly brat lunch (a long-standing seminary tradition), several of us would discuss some matter that came up in class that day, or the text we had all studied for exegesis that week, or any other matter that struck our interest at the time. Sometimes discussion would spring up spontaneously during the afternoons in the libraries—sometimes these discussions would go on for too long, with the unfortunate result that some of us were forced to forgo sleep in order to get our daily work finished. I have many fond memories of my classmates, and I thank God for the friendship and ability to cooperate with each other that we all now enjoy. May the Lord grant that these friendships continue long into the future now that we no longer spend regular time together in the same building.

In addition to my large class of third years, this particular year of seminary included the addition of three first year students. Three more students meant three more minds to contribute in our discussions and three more hands to hold three more ping pong paddles after lunch every day. Naturally as upper classmen we considered it our duty to inform the new students about the “horrors” of seminary, but we were easily seen through. Now these three students are in their third year, and I very much hope the experience is as wholesome and beneficial as it was for me.

One final incident that contributed to the uniqueness of third year was our January trip to southern California. Every so often the seminary makes a trip in order to attend a theological conference put on by Westminster Seminary California (or Westminster West) in Escondido, roughly twenty miles north of San Diego. All the seminarians with Professor Cammenga flew to California for an extended weekend stay which provided a nice opportunity for fellowship and interaction with our Hope PR Church in Redlands, CA. We spent some time sight-seeing in San Diego, attended the conference, and worshipped in Redlands on the Lord’s Day. In San Diego we could not resist attempting to “reproduce” an old picture we had seen of a previous seminary class—see the two pictures here for your evaluation regarding how well we did.

Next time, the Lord willing, I intend to reflect a bit on a tremendously important and beneficial aspect of seminary training, namely, the internship.

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This article was written by Rev. Joseph Holstege who was recently ordained into the gospel ministry and is now pastor of Zion Protestant Reformed Church, in Hudsonville, Michigan.

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