Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.—Habakkuk 2.4.

 Show Menu 
Hide Banner

MINISTERIAL QUALIFICATIONS.

Excerpted from:

THE

REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN.

VOL. XVII.

JANUARY, 1854.

No. XI.

IT is an old remark and one which has been often repeated, that a graceless ministry is a curse to the church.  Most right minded men, especially the pious, have received this as almost self evident, and it has had many painful illustrations in past times.  Another remark equally true, though not so generally acknowledged is, a badly educated, unqualified ministry is an injury to the church.  If a man be badly educated, whether from want of due preparation, or from a wrong bias given to his mind in course of training, he is unqualified for filling the sacred office.  Let the ministry become despised or degraded, and the entire interests of religion necessarily suffer.  On this subject we extract {337} the following seasonable and appropriate article from the Christian Intelligencer:

The universal complaint of the American churches now is the want of ministers and candidates for the sacred office.  It is not a local, or partial, or temporary difficulty, but one which pervades all parts of the country, which is felt by every denomination, which is repeatedly discussed in the religious press, and which finds a prominent place in the formal documents of ecclesiastical bodies.  This frequent consideration of the fact has led to many inquiries and speculations as to its causes, among which the scantiness of ministerial support has usually held the first place, and has been treated with great ingenuity and unction by certain popular writers.  But our attention of late has been called more to the consequences than the causes of the fewness of the Lord’s laborers in his vineyard.

These are very plain and very lamentable.  Ministers must be had.  The call for them is loud and always increasing.  Good men hear it, and are moved.  The long years of preparation which now must intervene between a young man’s dedication of himself to this work and his actual entrance upon it, is scanned with a jealous eye, and pastors feel sorely tempted to abridge it, in order to bring the new supply quicker into the field.  So far has this extended, that in the Episcopal Church a formal attempt was made, in the late General Convention, seriously to lower the literary qualifications required of the candidates for orders; and we believe, though we are not sure, as the newspaper reports of the proceedings were imperfect and confused, that the attempt succeeded.  We do not think this could be done in our own or any Presbyterian body.  As our churches consider the great function of the ministry to be rather preaching Christ than reading prayers, they are not apt to relax the formal requisites which experience has shown to be the ordinary conditions of a successful and permanent ministry.  Yet what is not done directly may be as fully and certainly accomplished indirectly.  And this there is reason to fear is not unfrequently the case.  Young men are hurried through the academy, the college, and—no, not through the Seminary, for our fundamental law forbids that—but through all the preliminary stages, so that even three years’ thorough training in the Theological school does not enable them to compensate for previous deficiencies, but they enter on their work embarrassed from the very start.[1]  Now the blame here is to be {338} put, not on the candidates themselves, but on their well-meaning but injudicious advisers, who ought to know and act better.  It is no kindness to any man to hurry him into the sacred office with inadequate preparation.  On the contrary, it is a wrong done to him and to the Church.

It is a wrong to him, for it exposes him to much painful embarrassment, and puts it for ever out of his power to repair former neglects and lay anew the foundation of a thorough education.  It is a wrong to the Church, for badly prepared ministers, as a general thing, do her no good, but the contrary.  It is often thought that because half a loaf is better than no bread, therefore a half-minister is better than none at all.  We doubt the propriety of this transfer of kitchen economics to the gospel.  The half-loaf is as good as the whole, so far as it goes, but just here is where the comparison halts.  The half-minister is imperfect in whatever he undertakes; he does not suitably fill the functions of his office, and he keeps somebody else, better qualified, from doing it.  He is ignorant, rash, dogmatic, crude, and intemperate.  He does not build up Zion, nor advance the gospel.  If he wins some to the truth, he prejudices more against it.

It is true, education is not always a security against incompetency.  There are dunces upon whom years and years of tuition have been thrown away.  They have been brayed in a mortar with a pestle, and come out just as they went in.  But generally a thorough course of training leaves its mark, and guarantees the fitness of those who have enjoyed its blessings.  It teaches humility, it adds polish, it imparts discrimination.  But to put it shortly, if nine years’ training leaves a man rude, unskillful and inefficient, what, oh! what would he have been without such training?

This matter should receive careful attention.  The temptation is strong, almost irresistible, to lay hands suddenly on any and every man who is at all situated so as to render it possible for him to seek the ministry.  Some clergymen[2] have a mania on this subject; they seem to think every pious youth called to serve God in the pulpit, and they urge him accordingly.  Others, more sober, yet overcome by the wants of the fields white unto the harvest, shut their eyes to obvious defects, and say of some good but weak man, he may answer in some obscure position; let us help him forward, and trust the Lord to make him useful.  This is all wrong.  Such men are an injury to the ministry, the church, and the hopes of the world.  Once degrade the ministry, lower generally and permanently the standard of its qualifications, and all other religious interests are in like manner deteriorated.  Zion is struck at once in head and heart, and no long space of time will be requisite to unfold the mournful results.


Footnotes:

1. If this be so in the Dutch Church, what must be the condition of young men who never spent an hour in college, who have been taught that a great part of the literary course which the wisdom of ages has sanctioned, is not only unnecessary but hurtful, and who, instead of “three years’ thorough training in the Theological school,” have received little, if any, training to which the word ‘thorough’ would apply?

2. Concerning the impropriety of the distinction between the clergy and laity, as these terms are commonly used, see George Gillespie’s Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland, chapter 1.


Final Note:

The present editor would suggest that the above chain, “Academy, College, Seminary,” when taken as the standard rule of preparation, cannot be right.  As an occasional sequence, or the path of some men, notably gifted and evidently called to early service, it may be an excellent rule.  But the standard process of preparing men for the ministry ought not to be one which leaves the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3.4,5, (or any other scripture qualifications,) nullified.  Would we count a man patient, whose patience was never tested?  Would we count a man of “good report” whose life and activity have never been tested beyond the classroom?  These considerations are offered in addition to what is above, with the hope that together they will combine to point out a better direction for providing stable ministers, well prepared for the broadness of responsibility pertaining to this office.  They should be found especially agreeable to every Presbyterian.  The rule of our church is not maintained by Elders and Youngers, but by Elders which teach, and Elders which do not teach.—JTKer.