Among the various educational institutions found among us as Protestant Reformed people, our Theological School occupies, from every point of view, a unique position.
This is true, in the first place, from the point of view of its physical facilities. The Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches boasts no imposing plant consisting of several modern class rooms, a separate library facility, conference rooms, study rooms, and perhaps a chapel of its own. The fact of the matter is that our seminary has to this day never had a place that it could call its own. For many years, prior to the split of ‘53, its meeting place was the large catechism room in the basement of First Church. Scattered through that large room you would find at best a handful of students. The professor had his place at a donated library table on the platform. The library was kept in a few glass-fronted bookcases along half of the west wall of the room. Those were our facilities. After the split our seminary, with its books and mimeographed class notes, was hastily moved to temporary quarters in the basement of the erstwhile Fourth Protestant Reformed Church. From thence it was moved to one of the extra rooms in our Adams Street School – a room that was sometimes shared by articles quite foreign to the scene of a seminary, such as sewing machines and ironing boards which found a place of storage in our room, and a room in which we sometimes were entertained by the various sounds characteristic of the primary grades. Last year we moved out of Adams and back to the First Church basement, where a very suitable room was specially prepared for us by First Church. We also at last have some furnishings which we can call our own. But I am certain that even now our seminary is uniquely different in its facilities not only among our educational institutions, but certainly among all seminaries.
Our school is unique, in the second place, from the point of view of its personnel. And that reminds me too that our Theological School has the distinction of being the oldest educational institution in our Protestant Reformed circle. In our early years we had the late Reverend H. Danhof as one of the faculty members. But he soon turned renegade to our Protestant Reformed cause. Since that time we have had until a couple years ago two faculty members, the Reverends H. Hoeksema and C. J. Ophoff, in continuous service. Full time faculty members they were, although both of them were for many years also full time pastors. Hence, for a long time the Lord has given us men, leaders, who from the beginning stood near to the heart of our Protestant Reformed movement. Recently our beloved Rev. Ophoff has been compelled to lay down his active duties because of illness. And this necessitated the first addition to our faculty in many years: the undersigned is now in the final year of his first appointment as theological professor. To complete the picture of our faculty personnel, we must add that at various times part time instructors have been appointed. At present Rev. G. Vos gives instruction in Dutch, the only pre-seminary subject still taught at our school.
Also from the viewpoint of student personnel, however, our school has been unique in its smallness. Never has the student body been large. Three of four students have often constituted not only one class, but the entire student body. And as you undoubtedly know, at present we have but one student, Seminarian Dave Engelsma. This may seem preposterous at first glance – to have two professors, one instructor, and all for one student. But, in the first place, we have always learned from history that the Lord’s cause is not dependent on numbers. Secondly, while a student body of one is in a way a disadvantage when it comes to discussion in class, we may remember that the curriculum remains the same, whether for one student or for twenty; and the small student body has the distinct advantage of receiving instruction which is so intensive and which demands such thorough preparation that it amounts virtually to private tutoring.
Unique our school is, in the third place, from the point of view of its curriculum and its goal. Our seminary is the only institution for higher education in our churches. And it is a highly specialized one. It is a theological school, devoted solely to instruction in theological branches and to the training and preparation of ministers of the Word. In our school we offer thorough instruction in a complete curriculum of theological subjects. All the various branches of dogmatic theology, practical theology, historical theology, exegesis, and history – these all have a place in the course of study. And I can assure you that those who graduate from our seminary go out thoroughly trained and well-equipped. If you are curious in this regard, you can obtain the newly-published catalog of our Theological School by writing to the undersigned or to Rev. M. Schipper, the secretary of our School Committee.
Above all, our school is distinctive among all seminaries, in the fourth place, in that it is devoted to the maintenance and development of the pure truth of the Word of God and of our Reformed faith. This is, in last analysis, the all-important thing. What profit would it be if our school trained, learned and well-educated ministers, probably even furnished them with a degree in theology, if it boasted a faculty with many degrees, if it had a large library and a magnificent physical plant, and if it was not completely devoted to the cause of the truth and did not train our future ministers to preach that truth? No, I do not deprecate education and adequate educational facilities; on the contrary, I believe that our seminary also in the respect should have the best that can be furnished and that we must strive for its improvement in this regard as well. But all these, without the truth, are of no avail. And with humble thanksgiving we may acknowledge our God Who has privileged us to have and to hold the truth as a Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Finally, let me emphasize that our seminary occupies a wholly unique and indispensable position in the life of our Protestant Reformed Churches. This holds true not only for our churches institutionally, but for all our life as a distinctively Protestant Reformed people. This is an obvious fact on the very surface. Without our seminary we would have no ministry trained and equipped to proclaim the truth. Without such a ministry we would have no pure preaching of the Word. And without the pure preaching of the Word, we can have no Protestant Reformed Churches, no Protestant Reformed people, no Protestant Reformed world-and-life view, no Protestant Reformed way of life, no Protestant Reformed instruction of covenant generations Without the seminary as the main-spring of both our institutional and organic life as churches, we simply cannot exist. Such is the crucial importance of our Theological School.
And do we also have a unique future?
I heartily believe that we do, and that the Lord will provide for us in this respect.
But this is indeed a question to be faced by us all, and especially by our young men.
Consider the need, not only from the viewpoint of the present shortage of ministers, but also from the viewpoint of the fact that in God’s providence the old, original generation of Protestant Reformed ministers will before many years pass from the present scene. Then indeed the situation is critical. We ought to be much in prayer that the Lord will bless our school also by providing us with men who may be trained for the ministry. And our young men ought seriously and prayerfully to consider whether the Lord has supplied them with such talents as would indicate that they belong in the holy ministry, as well as to consider whether the Lord is calling them to that ministry by producing within them an abiding desire to serve Him in that field.
No, materially I cannot hold out to you a bright prospect. You can earn a much larger salary and have a much easier life in many other fields. You face the prospect of a lifetime of hard work and diligent study, and that too, probably in a small and struggling congregation of imperfect saints. But the holy ministry is the highest and most noble calling of them all.
And be much in prayer for our Theological School.