Our Own Training for the Ministry - Why?

This article contains the first part of a speech held on 26 March 2011 at the presentation of the Training for the Ministry of the Word in the Zuiderkerk at Zwolle and published in De Bazuin of 27 April 2011.

Church Order Article 18:
Training for the ministry
The churches shall maintain a theological university for the training for the ministry of the Word. The task of the professors in theology is to explain Holy Scripture and to defend the pure doctrine against heresies and error.
Ministers who are selected for the training for the ministry of the Word retain their bond, in the manner of minister emeriti, to the church they have served and hold the rights of a minister of the Word. The collective churches are bound to provide for their proper support, as well as to their widows and orphans.

Dear brothers and sisters
A memorable moment, this first presentation about the Training for the Ministry of De Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands. In this series of presentations, we want to focus on the character and importance of this Training. When I say “we” then I mean the faculty formed by the tutors, the brothers T.L. Bruinius, A. van Egmond, Rev. P. van Gurp and myself.

The churches maintain a school

Our own theological training ? why? Are we not too small for this? When answering this question, we must consider that it is an essential matter for the churches that there is continuance in the ministry of reconciliation, the proclamation of God’s Word and the administration of the sacraments. The churches shall therefore endeavour that there be students of theology. Training and competency for the ministry of God’s Word is needed for those who qualify for this. This training is something that churches themselves are obligated to do. Obligated to the one Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. He requires that of His church, but He also gives the means for this.

It speaks for itself that especially ministers of the Word, as ambassadors for Christ, are primarily chosen for this task. That is why the Churches also formulated this in their church order since Dordrecht 1618. We read this in article 2:
Some ministers are selected and set apart for the training for the ministry of the Word.
Then article 18 C.O. says the following:
The churches shall maintain a theological university for the training for the ministry of the Word.
Thereby, the Church Order responds to what the Lord grants ? and thus demands. What the LORD has entrusted His congregation with is His Holy Word. Furthermore, He equips her with gifts of the Holy Spirit. He also calls to the office those whom He wants to use for this. In this, the churches must obediently follow their Lord. And thus there has to be a school for and by the churches, for the pure preaching of the Word.


In this way, the Church Order of Dort filled an essential need. The churches needed their own Theological School. However, when the Secession of 1834 occurred, the churches lost their scholarly training. However, they quickly set up their own. That already took place prior to the training at the Hogeschool (‘seminary’) at Kampen, which started later, in 1854. At first, local schools came into existence, set up by ministers. The first was started by Hendrik de Cock who, by permission of the Regional Synod Groningen in 1839, received the official instruction to do this, thus 5 years after the Secession. Every 2 weeks he instructed a group of about 20 men in the most important ecclesiastical subjects. That resulted in the so-called Groningse Hogeschool which was later continued by Rev. T.F. de Haan in a Gronings-Friese training.

In this manner, under our Lord Jesus Christ, they worked on the Training for the Ministry of the Word, with the limited means that were available. In all humbleness and with limitations, but yet under His blessing and His providence. That is worth more than all human scholarliness combined.

An Own Training

We are now confronted with a similar task. We lost the theological university at the liberation. But we did not lose God’s Word, nor students, and there are still suitable workers. Additionally, we have a wealth of useful reformed literature at our disposal.
At our first synod after the liberation, that of Mariënberg, we were directly confronted with the question: can we use another existing theology training for our students in the Netherlands or elsewhere, with our necessary mentorship?

We then chose the Theological University at Apeldoorn, of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken. Other possibilities were eliminated. By closely monitoring the training in Apeldoorn during the coming period, it would become apparent to us whether this was a right choice. In the meantime, over a number of years, experience has been gained, and momentarily there are three students (in 2011) from our churches studying in Apeldoorn.

At the General Synod at Emmen a proposal was accepted to formally take on the responsibility which the churches have for the education, and to set up training instead of mentorship. With an annotation that many of the courses will be followed at the university of Apeldoorn, but that the own Training has final responsibility.

Of course, this is not an exaggerated issue, in which we want to puff ourselves up, but it is a matter of responsibility that we have as congregations of our Lord Jesus Christ. The development and guarding of a Scripturally reformed training is our aim. In the time of Hendrik de Cock the entire training was done locally with one or two minister(s), today we have set this up differently, with the means that we have now. But primarily we have the same responsibility.

Interaction School ? Church

The necessity of an own Training becomes enhanced by what we see elsewhere in developments in the field of theology. The situation in the churches has had its effect on the quality of theological training. How could it be otherwise? After all, the training is provided by ministers of those churches. There is interaction between the training and the churches. But that interaction works in two directions.
When things go wrong in the churches, then it also goes wrong in the seminary of those churches.
But often we see that decline in the churches is steered by decline in the seminaries. And this too is logical. For when you are educated with erroneous thoughts, that will work through in the place where you will serve in office.

In this manner, churches who have given up their pure reformed character for pluralism can be called ‘post-reformed’ ? we will come back to this expression later. This has its effect also on the training. This concretely means that not only must we be very careful with respect to the Theological University of Kampen, but likewise to that of Apeldoorn. I will try later to shortly describe what we learned from it.

Thetic and Antithetic

Firstly this. Our task is not only reactionary. We have the Gospel especially as a positive message, with a rich and full content. In order to convey this, a rich reformed heritage of Scripturally sound theological works are at our disposal. These are not only antithetic, but also thetic. That is to say, not only disapproving towards others, but also positively up-building. Both are necessary. We need to build and to preserve, also with respect to the own training.
The Church Order also gives these two directions for the task of the tutors ? in the C.O. they are still called ‘professors in theology’:
Firstly, the positive aspect, the building-up. Art. 18 calls this ‘The explanation of the Holy Scripture’. That is primary: explanation of God’s Word, as it must be worked out in all kinds of subjects. Which subjects do we include? You can find this in our new study guide.

I will now mention the most important ones:
Exegesis of the Old and New Testament, i.e. the translation and explanation of Scripture.
Hermeneutics, the method of exegesis being exercised. I will say something more about this later.
- Then we also have a subject known as Historia Revelationis, or the History of God’s revelation. You probably know this name from the well-known books by Rev. I. de Wolff, (“De geschiedenis der Godsopenbaring”). This subject provides us with Scriptural lines and relations in the individual Biblical histories or with regards to the work of Biblical persons.
- Then we also have the subject of Dogmatics, which explains the doctrine of Scripture in depth. That is a very broad subject.
- Related to this is Ethics, which examines how we should deal with God’s will in our practical lives.
- Then there is the subject Symbolics, which details and studies the content of the confessional documents.
- Practical ministerial subjects are homiletics, which is the theory of preaching; Liturgics, which studies the worship service; Poimenics which studies pastoral care; Evangelisation; Catechetics.
- Then there is Church History, in which not only the facts must be taught but lessons must be learned and lines drawn from the past.
- Finally, we mention Church Polity. Very important for the functioning of the church federation.

You will understand that in all these subjects positive matters can be dealt with that are neglected or even omitted at other universities. But besides the building-up, there must also be preservation, in the sense of refutation and the defending against erroneous thoughts.
Art. 18 of the Church Order provides for this in the second part of its instruction for teachers, which says: ‘to defend the pure doctrine against heresies and error’.
Therefore, our task is summarized as follows:
1. To explain Holy Scripture in depth and breadth, and 2. To defend the pure doctrine against errors and heresies.
To build and preserve. To explain and defend. A beautiful task, but also a difficult task, especially with regard to the second point of preservation and defence.
We will discuss this last point in more detail in the second article.

1) Please note the Church Order used in De Gereformeerde Kerken differs in numbering of articles and content from the Church Order (Book of Praise, 1984) as used in e.g. the Liberated Reformed Church at Abbotsford. In these articles we use the translated wording and numbering of the Dutch Church Order.