Seminary Training, Useful Preachers, and Faithful Pastors

The history of American Presbyterianism has many examples of an emphasis on training pastors for ministry. From the early American colonists to the expansion Westward to the post-civil war period, Presbyterians in America have stressed seminary education for pastors. The history of religion in America is full of false teaching, unorthodox teaching, and heretical teaching, so the Presbyterian church has historically understood the need to train pastors biblically so they can preach the truth, defend the truth, explain the truth, and live out the truth in a biblical way. One example of this is at the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1811. The assembly agreed upon starting up a seminary for training pastors – namely, Princeton Seminary. Below are some excerpts from the minutes of that General Assembly in 1811. I thought this was an insightful historical document worth reading and thinking about. Anyway, here it is:

Every student, at the close of his [seminary] course, must have made the following attainments, viz. He must be well skilled in the original languages of the Holy Scriptures. He must be able to explain the principal difficulties which arise in the perusal of the Scriptures, either from erroneous translations, apparent inconsistencies, real obscurities, or objections arising from history, reason, or argument. He must be versed in Jewish and Christian antiquities, which serve to explain and illustrate Scripture. 

He must have an acquaintance with ancient geography, and with oriental customs, which throw light on the sacred records. — Thus he will have laid the foundation for becoming a sound biblical critic [in a positive sense of the term]. 

He must have read and digested the principal arguments and writings relative to w hat has been called the deistical controversy. — Thus will he be qualified to become a defender of the Christian faith. 

He must be able to support the doctrines of the [Westminster] Confession of Faith and Catechisms, by a ready, pertinent, and abundant quotation of Scripture texts for that purpose. 

He must have studied, carefully and correctly, Natural, Didactic, Polemic, and Casuistic Theology. He must have a considerable acquaintance with General History and Chronology, and a particular acquaintance with the history of the Christian Church. — Thus he will be preparing to become an able and sound divine and casuist [ethicist]. 

He must have read a considerable number of the best practical writers on the subject of religion. He must have learned to compose with correctness and readiness in his own language, and to deliver what he has composed to others in a natural and acceptable manner. He must be well acquainted with the several parts, and the proper structure of popular lectures and sermons. He must have composed at least two lectures and four popular sermons, that shall have been approved by the professors. He must have carefully studied the duties of the pastoral care. — Thus he will be prepared to become a useful preacher and a faithful pastor. 

He must have studied attentively the form of Church Government authorized by the Scriptures, and the administration of it as it has taken place in Protestant Churches. Thus he will be qualified to exercise discipline, and to take part in the government of the Church in all its judicatories. 

Sect, 2. The period of continuance in the Theological Seminary shall, in no case, be less than three years, previously to an examination for a certificate of approbation. But students may enter the seminary, and enjoy the course of instruction for a shorter time than three years, provided they in all other respects submit to the laws of the Seminary, of which facts they may receive a written declaration from the professors. 

Sect, 3. Those pupils who have regularly and diligently studied for three years, shall be admitted to an examination on the subjects specified in this article. The examination shall be conducted by the professors, in the presence of the board of directors, or a committee of them; and if it be passed to the satisfaction of the directors, they who so pass it, shall receive a certificate of the same, signed by the professors, with which they shall be remitted to their several presbyteries, to be disposed of as such presbyteries shall direct. Those who do not pass a satisfactory examination shall remain a longer space in the Seminary….

The above quote is an extract of the minutes of the 1811 General Assembly. You can find it in The Presbyterian Enterprise, p.118-119.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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