June 5–8 were busy days on the Campus of Calvin College. Some 229 ministers registered for the annual Institute. The alertness of many consistories in encouraging their pastors to attend helped to pack the lecture hall. An ambitious program had been arranged by an enterprising committee under the spirited leadership of Rev. J. Hasper, pastor of the Seymour Christian Reformed Church. Scholarly lectures stimulated vigorous discussion in both the lecture hall and over the coffee cups in the Commons building. There was action and reaction. The church’s leaders appeared alive to their task.
A roster of able scholars opened up new horizons. Dr. H. N. Ridderbos, Professor of New Testament studies at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Kampen, Netherlands, unlocked the meaning of the Kingdom of God as expressed in the Gospels and Pauline epistles. Professor E. Clowney of Westminster Theological Seminary gave fresh meaning: to Biblical theology in relation to the preaching of the gospel. Dr. J. Luchies, associate pastor in the Wheaton Christian Reformed Church, and Professor at Wheaton College, opened up new perspectives for a biblical appraisal of the church’s ecumenical task. Rev. H. J. Kuiper moderated a panel discussion which tried to delineate clearly the church’s role in ecumenical activity. Dr. De Beer, Professor of Education at Calvin College, spoke about new methods to be used in catechetical instruction. Dr. J. Bratt, Professor of Bible at Calvin, gave a detailed analysis and appraisal of such ecumenical movements as the World Council of Churches, the International Council of Christian Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals. The diet was heavy but not indigestible. The activity of four days was wearying but never boring. The discussion was spirited and diverse but never provincially bigoted or confessionally indifferent.
The church ought to reap some good fruit from this Institute. Each one of her ministers can not help but return to his congregation with new enthusiasm channeled by broader understanding of his message and task as a herald in the Church of Jesus Christ. Judging by the long sustained applause which was given to the young professor from Westminster the ministers will want to spend some long and fruitful hours constructing their sermons by trying to ascertain the broad theological and historical perspectives in which their texts occur.
If the ministers are to reap lasting benefit from this institute, some consistories and congregations will have to disabuse themselves of a notion they carry around. Some act as if the time spent by ministers in their studies is relatively unimportant. Theoretically they would never admit as much but practically they assume the validity of such an idea. They busy the minister with trivial tasks which any devoted layman could just as well perform. One minister tells of a consistory which refused to take over the task of typing up bulletin copy just because they felt that this was his task. Precious minutes, not to say hours, are wasted in the minister’s life because he has to perform such secretarial duties which rob him of the time he could be spending in wrestling with the problems of his congregation. Frequently the minister must conduct every society in the congregation. Or his members will insist that he come over some morning to drink a cup of coffee. As these demands increase, and each member conveniently forgets that the other hundred or two hundred families are making the same demands, the minister is compelled to spend more and more time out of his study.
Obviously the pastor must remain in intimate pastoral contact with his people. This is a condition without which he can not successfully carry out his ministry. But intimate pastoral contact is not to be equated with the social cup of coffee, the wedding rehearsal dinner, two rounds of golf per week, one day of fishing with the parishioners or the position of roving news reporter for the congregation. At this point the congregation and consistories have a responsibility to their ministers. We must not forget that the minister’s chief task is that of a teacher cider. The precondition for teaching is the time for learning to say what needs to be said. And the latter is not as easy as many naively suppose. It would be nothing short of tragic if the stimulation and learning received at the Institute were to be lost because the ministers can not find the time to make use of the new perspectives gained. And would be nothing short of wicked if the ministers refused to discipline themselves in learning more in order to edify the household of faith.
As the ministers work to take the time for such reflection and as the congregations help them find the time they will be compelled to deal with some touchy subjects. This became apparent in the last lecture of Dr. H. Ridderbos. He dealt with the subject of the nature of the authority of the Scriptures. During the cOurse of his address within the specific context of those parallel passages found in the Synotic gospels he spoke of historical inaccuracies. One illustration which he used concerned the healing of the blind men (man) at Jericho. Were there two or one? In Matthew’s account of this healing we meet two blind men while Mark and Luke speak of only one blind man. Which account is correct? Is the one inaccurate and the other not? It was Ridderbos’ expressed judgment that a Bible believing scholar has the perfect right to speak of an historical inaccuracy at this point without in any way prejudicing his belief in the infallibility of the Bible.
This whole matter of historical inaccuracies in relation to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible was discussed in connection with the specific nature of the Bible’s authority. It is common coin in the American realm of Reformed scholarship to say that the gospel writers did not intend to write historical biographies of the life of Jesus. But it has seldom been said that therefore we can accept historical inaccuracies in matters of detail within the parallel accounts of the same historical event. ObViously this matter needs earnest, serious, and responsible attention.
This matter relates itself to another discussion now going on in Christian Reformed circles. I refer to the matter of “theistic evolution” in regard to the first three chapters of Genesis. Here again we shall have to study the matter in the light of the specific nature of Biblical authority. The questions involved need precise formulation and the various answers given must be discussed and evaluated by more than a few ministers and scholars who happen to take time or find the time to study the matters. These are matters which concern every minister in a very real way. They touch our pastoral ministry at many points.
With regret I think of a devoted, intelligent member of the Christian Reformed Church who is now wandering around into other church groups just because his minister didn’t know how to deal with the young man’s questions. The minister failed to keep abreast of current discussions and with the typical disinterest of a pastor who thought himself too busy and the young man too inquisitive he gave him a book which was fifty years old and which didn’t face the specific problem with which his member was plagued. Our task is too sacred for such apathetic and mediocre ineptness.
These are vexing questions which demand sober, sympathetic, and critical analysis. It is this kind of study which we need desperately in our circles. This is not the effort of a select few who think they must give intellectual leadership to the ignorant multitudes. It is the task of every one of us. Each new insight can serve to correct and complement the insight of the other. Our theological constructions may not accord with our confessional commitments and then we need the humble grace to listen to the admonition of a brother rather than raise the emotionally weighted cry of “heresy hunting.” This kind of endeavor takes courage, the courage to admit we can be wrong, and the courage which will break through the lifeless forms of traditional cliches. It is this action which keeps the church ever at the task of reforming herself. Such action will help us become increasingly what we are in Christ, a body of Christ through whom the Savior King works today. For this reason we had the Minister’s Institute…1956.
A. C. D. J.