Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan
"What's in a name?" In the case of the Reformed Baptist School of Theology a great deal! A brief explanation of our name is, perhaps, the best way to give you an initial acquaintance with what we are.
There is much more content in the words, Reformed Baptist, than the purposes of this prospectus allow us to unpack. These words in the first place serve to identify our doctrinal convictions and commitments. Reformed Baptist identifies us as holding that system of doctrine which combines in itself the view of biblical doctrine articulated at the time of the Reformation and upheld by the Reformed tradition of teaching since that time. It also declares that we hold that system as Baptists. This word unashamedly identifies us with that ecclesiastical tradition which has held that baptism and church membership should only be bestowed on those who make a credible profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. By combining these two words in a single phrase, we make very clear that we believe it is both possible and necessary for sound doctrine to be at one and the same time Reformed and Baptist. Reformed Baptist doctrinal convictions find their historic and classic statement in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. This excellentthough uninspireddocument is the doctrinal standard (under the Scriptures) of our teaching.
The words, Reformed Baptist, also are intended to indicate our relation to the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids. The Reformed Baptist School of Theology is a ministry of that church and exists under the oversight of its eldership.
The words, Reformed Baptist, also serve to underscore our association with those churches and brethren who together have become known as the Reformed Baptist movement. We exist primarily to serve that movement and desire to do so in cooperation with and with the commendation of other Reformed Baptist churches.
Our name also states that we are a School of Theology. This means that we exist for the purpose of providing a theological education. This statement of purpose raises, of course, a number of important questions. Who needs a theological education? Whose task and responsibility is it to provide a theological education? What is a theological education as to its proper content? How and to whom do we propose to provide such an education? How can you avail yourself of this education? It is the purpose of this prospectus to answer these and other questions about The Reformed Baptist School of Theology.
A. The Necessity of Theological Education
Theology is for everyone. It is something everyone needs. Theology is the science of God--the careful and systematic study of what God has revealed about Himself. As such it is and must be of supreme practical importance for everyone. Proverbs 9:10 declares, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." The "knowledge of the Holy One" is theology, and it constitutes the practical wisdom and understanding which the Book of Proverbs everywhere declares is beyond price.
Strictly speaking, then, theological education is a matter which concerns all the people of God. It is not the exclusive domain of some priestly elite or clerical caste, but a subject of intense concern to every member of the body of Christ. Eph. 4:13-15 makes this clear when it says:
... until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.
The importance of theological education for all the people of God constitutes the proper context in which the scriptural calls for special, theological education for the teachers of the church must be understood. 2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic example of such a scriptural call. "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." The charge given Timothy in this text does not imply that only faithful men who are able to teach should be entrusted with the great doctrines and truths which Paul preached. The text is not exclusive but intensive. Timothy is to teach especially (though not exclusively) those men who are qualified to give pastoral leadership to the church. Careful, theological education should especially focus on those men qualified to compose the future leadership of the church. If theological education is important for everyone, it is certainly and especially important for those charged to carefully and powerfully pass on the great deposit of Christian truth to future generations.
B. The Agency of Theological Education
The previous paragraphs answer the question, Who should be taught theology? Now we address the closely related question, Who should teach theology? The New Testament gives a direct answer to this question. Christian theology is to be learned in and taught through "the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). The meaning of the term, church, in 1 Tim. 3:15 is quite specific. It refers to the universal church as it comes to its appointed, visible, and organized expression in local churches like the one Timothy was charged to oversee at Ephesus. "I write," says Paul, "so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God ..." (1 Tim. 3:15). In the preceding verses Paul has laid out specific qualifications for the elders and deacons of this local church. In the preceding chapter he has given specific directions about the conducting of its assemblies. It is clearly the church as it has come to expression in an organized, local church at Ephesus which is here described as "the pillar and support of the truth."
When this definite and definitive meaning of church in this passage is taken seriously, it becomes very plain that the theological education of God's people is to take place within the context and climate of the local church. The native climate in which Christian truth thrives is the climate of the church. It is the institution of the church (not the traditional Bible college or seminary separate from the church) which is entrusted with the preservation and passing on of Christian truth to future generations. There should be no need for the Christian to be sent outside the church for such an education. It is the church that is charged to provide such an education, and it is the church that is best able to do this, because it is the church that is the native climate of and appointed custodian of Christian theology.
Experience shows what this fact would lead us to expect. Where Christian theology has been taught in intellectual institutions divorced from the church, there has been the perpetual tendency for Christian theology to be distorted into error or distracted into irrelevancy. Outside of its native climate in the church, theological education does not thrive or flourish.
A mis-understanding or mis-application of the centrality of the church in theological education must here be anticipated. 1 Timothy 3:15 does not teach that each, individual local church is independently sufficient to be the pillar and support of the truth. As stated above, "the household of God which is the church of the living God" is not in the first place a reference to the church at Ephesus or any particular local church. It is a reference to the church universal. The Bible, indeed, makes clear that the only appointed, visible expression of the church universal is the church local. Thus, it is certain that theological education is the task and business of local churches. It is not, however, the case that every individual local church is equally capable or independently capable of prosecuting its task of theological education. No local church (since the spread of the church from the mother church of Jerusalem) has ever existed as an isolated society. Every local church has always existed as a part of the universal church composed of all their sister societies throughout the world. The task of being the pillar and support of the truth is given to particular churches only as the local expressions of the universal church. It is clear, therefore, that this task must be carried on with a clear sense of the inter-dependence of local churches and the need for cooperation between local churches. Such cooperation is illustrated every time one church invites a pastor-teacher from another church to address them on a theological subject1 which it believes that man is gifted to address. Thus, this cooperation should and does come to expression in the general, theological education of the whole church.1 Every proper ministry of the Word of Godno matter how practical or pastoralis a "theological subject" as I intend this phrase. If it is not "theology" (as properly defined), it has no business being taught in the church.
If, however, the importance of this cooperation is clear with regard to the theological education of the whole church, it is even more evident when the special, theological education of its future leadership is under discussion. It does not take much thought to discern in 2 Timothy 2:2 indications of this principle. The command, "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also," is given to Timothy. Timothy occupied in two respects a peculiar place which significantly underscores the need for local churches to cooperate in the work of theological education.
First, Timothy was the Apostle Paul's personal represen- tative to the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). As such he occupied a peculiar place of privilege and responsibility. He had been granted a peculiar exposure to and knowledge of the teaching of the Apostle Paul. This is the plain implication of the phrase, "the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses". Timothy's peculiar position and gifts made it peculiarly appropriate for the Apostle Paul to call upon him to take up the theological education of the future leadership of the church. In spite of the fact that Timothy had the unique position of being the personal representative of Paul, there are abiding lessons to be gleaned from this charge to Timothy. Still today providence appoints to some men a peculiar position and gifts for the special, theological education of the future leadership of the church and, therefore, a peculiar responsibility for this task.
Second, when Timothy was commanded to take heed to this task, he was acting as a leading pastor of the large and strategically located church at Ephesus. It is clear from Acts 20 and 1 Timothy that this church had a multiple and gifted eldership. Is it far-fetched to draw the conclusion that still today larger churches with multiple and gifted elderships have a peculiar responsibility in this matter?
These considerations manifest how serious and important cooperation is between local churches in the special, theological education of the future leadership of the churches. Practical considerations might be mentioned which would further strengthen this conclusion. The theological education of pastors is clearly a task which is often, if not usually, undertaken (not for the benefit of the training church itself, but) for other churches or churches yet to be planted. What could make more sense than for such a task to be a matter of cooperation between churches? Furthermore, the theological education of such men when properly understood involves practical components. For instance, such men need opportunities to exercise their gifts of preaching and teaching. The cooperation of local churches may be essential in this regard. Additionally, such men may require financial support which the training church cannot provide without great strain on its resources. Here again the biblical solution is the cooperation of local churches.
Our consideration of the importance of the cooperation of local churches in this matter has already led us to touch upon the peculiar agents of this theological education. It is plain that the special instruments or agents by which this theological education is to be imparted are the pastor-teachers Christ has given to His church (Eph. 4:11) and especially those pastor-teachers who may have been peculiarly gifted for this task (2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 5:17). What vast implications this simple and obvious scriptural fact has! This means that (normally and with rare exception) the instructors of future pastors should be pastors themselves.
If theological training is to be carried on in the local church context, then as a general rule, the instructors will be men actively involved in the work of the ministry. They will be pastors, as Timothy was. The importance of this is evident. Men are not trained in theory alone. They must know how the principles work in real life. And who is better equipped to show them the relationship of theory to practice than men who are presently involved in the day-by-day grind of the Christian ministry?
I worked for a man who was a tree care specialist. The job at times was mundane and routine, but at other times involved real danger and very precarious situations. As I was trained for the job, how thankful I was that the man training me was an expert in the field, not through mere book-learning, but through many years of hands-on experience in all kinds of situations. He knew, and he taught us to know, that in the felling of a massive oak tree, the difference between success and devastating failure could be nothing more than a notch or back-cut improperly placed by a fraction of an inch. He knew his work because he was doing it every day. At times I truly marveled at his wisdom.
If such was the case in learning to care for insensible trees, then how much more so when men are being trained to care for the precious, never-dying souls of men. Even the world would not tolerate the idea of someone being trained in a certain field of endeavor by a man or men who were for all intents and purposes inexperienced in that line of work. How is it that the church has come to tolerate a lesser standard in its holy work than the world would tolerate for the sake of filthy lucre?1
Gardiner Spring sums up our conviction on this matter in this simple declaration: "Let the teachers of those who are being educated for the ministry be men of no inconsiderable experience in the pastoral office."2
1 Randy Thornburg, "Theological Education for the Ministry," Reformation Africa South, Second Quarter, 1991, p. 31.
C. The Content of Theological Education
In the key passage which has guided our thinking at a number of points in the previous discussion there is a reference to the content of theological education also. 2 Timothy 2:2 refers to "... the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also ..." The things to be entrusted to faithful men have been the subject of Paul's concern already in the first chapter of 2 Timothy. 2 Timothy 1:13 and 14 says, "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." "The standard of sound words" and "the treasure which has been entrusted to you" are descriptions of the things that Timothy is to entrust to faithful men. (Entrust is the identical Greek word in both 1:14 and 2:2.) As Fairbairn says "the standard of sound words" refers "to the whole scheme of doctrine and duty taught by the apostle ..."1
1 Patrick Fairbairn, Pastoral Epistles, (James & Klock, Minneapolis, 1976), p. 332.
Now with regard to this scheme of doctrine and duty Paul emphasizes two things in 2 Timothy 2:2. First, he emphasizes that it is well-attested to be of divine authority. It was heard from Paulliterally"through (The Greek is dia.) many witnesses". However this difficult prepositional phrase is exactly to be understood, the reference to many witnesses is intended to emphasize the fact that these things heard from the Apostle Paul are well-attested as the Word of God. Second, he emphasizes that it is this very scheme (without addition or subtraction) which is passed on or entrusted to the faithful men. The things which the Apostle taught and which were confirmed by many witnesses as the things of divine revelation, "these things" (tauta) are to be passed on.
Paul exhorted Timothy, you will recall, to commit or entrust to faithful men the same body of revealed apostolic truth which he had received from himself. This truth ought to serve as a guideline with respect to the necessary content of theological education. At the heart of such education is to be the passing on of unchanging, non-negotiable, fixed biblical truth..... There will be a concern to pass on orthodoxy, and not every heterodox novelty which washes up on our shores.1
1 Randy Thornburg, loc. cit., pp. 32, 33.
These emphases speak volumes to the situation with regard to theological education in which we find ourselves today. The all-consuming purpose of theological education should be to pass on or entrust to men the well-attested and assured truths of divine revelation. This rebukes a theological education which leaves men with more questions than when they started, rather than entrenching them in and deepening their understanding of the great truths of the Bible. It exposes as hopelessly misguided a theological education that is more interested in passing on church-growth strategies, missiological methodologies, and administrative approaches than entrusting to men the scheme of doctrine and duty taught by the Apostles. Furthermore, it corrects even a conservative, theological education which loses its way by focusing on a thousand technicalities of church history or biblical exegesis for their own sake, rather than engaging in rigorous, academic disciplines for the purpose of illumining "the treasure" of gospel truth which has been entrusted to the Christian church.
Now the fact is that the task of the church today in passing on this treasure to future generations is not so straightforward as it was for Timothy. At least the sacred writings of the Apostles were in the language of Timothy and the church in Ephesus. Today, we are in a situation analogous in some respects to that in which Ezra and the people of God found themselves after the Exile. During the Exile the language and concepts of the law of God had become somewhat unfamiliar to the covenant people. Thus, we read in Nehemiah 8:7 and 8 that Ezra and the Levites "explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading." Apparently, the task of passing on the truth of God at this stage in redemptive history took on a difficulty not previously confronted. The Word of God had to be translated into a slightly different language and its unfamiliar concepts explained. The appointed teachers of Israel undertook this responsibility.
What was true in Ezra's day is even more true in ours. The biblical record of the apostolic scheme of doctrine and duty must be translated into our language and explained. This requires the disciplines of Exegetical Theology. One especially who would give himself to teaching this scheme must ordinarily and normally learn the major languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek. He needs to study the unfamiliar customs and history reflected in the Bible. He needs to study the rules of biblical interpretation related to this unfamiliar grammatical and historical background. He needs to study the historical origin of the books of the Bible. He needs to study in detail the meaning of different representative books of the Old and New Testaments. He needs to study how through all these different books there was a progressive revelation of God's Word in biblical theology.
There are other factors unique to our age necessary to a thorough, theological education today. Since the time of Paul 20 centuries of church history have passed. The Bible clearly teaches that God in Christ has been at work building His church during those centuries. Christ has given teaching gifts to His church during those centuries. Major, doctrinal controversies have occurred, and heresies have been refuted in those long centuries. Thus, through this process the meaning, applications, and implications of the apostolic scheme of doctrine and duty have been greatly clarified. No theological curriculum or course of theological study would be complete, then, which did not give the student a detailed acquaintance with what is called historical theology or church history.
Systematic Theology is built upon Exegetical Theology and Historical Theology and is the heart of the theological sciences. Its goal is to take the raw materials of Exegetical Theology and the experienced advice of Historical Theology and comprehensively present the apostolic scheme of doctrine and duty. The result is to give the theological student a biblical, balanced, systematic, and logical understanding of the major themes of the Bible which may be clearly communicated that he may "be able to teach others also".
Practical Theology is the last and culminating of the theological sciences. This science focuses on how the apostolic scheme of doctrine and duty is to be biblically and effectively communicated to the church and through the church to the world.
A thorough, theological education in our day must, then, normally and ordinarily include a thorough acquaintance with all these departments of the theological science: Exegetical Theology, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology, and Practical Theology. Each of them is important to passing on the apostolic scheme of doctrine and duty to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.