Recently in processing the Papers of Dr. Morton H. Smith, the first Stated Clerk of the PCA, I came across this letter written to Smith when he was just twenty-five years of age and considering a call to ministry and pondering which Seminary to attend. The pastor of his home church, the Rev. James E. Moore, wrote to offer the following advice. Moore and his brother Lardner (whose sermon we posted recently) were raised in Osaka, Japan. James prepared for the ministry at Westminster Seminary, graduating in 1933 and was pastor of the Mt. Washington Presbyterian church in Baltimore, Maryland from 1934-1951. He was received into the PCA in 1974.
This letter continues to offer, I think, some sage advice to those considering a call to ministry. The letter also offers a bit of historical insight on the situation as it stood then for theologically conservative Presbyterians, and in that light, it is interesting and even encouraging to compare that situation with where we are today.
MT. WASHINGTON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
JAMES E. MOORE, PASTOR
MT. WASHINGTON, BALTIMORE 9, MARYLAND
22 September, 1948
Rockwell told me on his return from the West that you had about decided to go to the Seminary but were undecided as to which one. I’m not sure of the reasons he gave but I did ask him for your address. I have been thinking about the Seminary and what is involved in a Seminary education. I hope you won’t think me presumptuous but I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of expressing my views on the matter. I hope the Lord will take my words and give you help so that you can know without any doubt whatsoever His will may be in your whole future.
The first thing that I would say is that you don’t have to go to the Seminary to preach the Gospel. It is not a necessity because the New Testament doesn’t say one word about it. There was no such school in the days of the Apostles and they didn’t take the time to start one. More, the law of our church does not presuppose a Seminary education. The requirements for ordination are given. Then it says that certain of these parts may be omitted if the candidate is a graduate of a seminary.
If then neither the New Testament nor our church requires a Seminary education, why bother to go to one? The answer should be given along these lines. See how far you can agree with me. First, the Gospel, the only Gospel, which we have to preach is found exclusively in the New Testament, that is, the Bible. God’s message of salvation for a lost world is not found in nature nor in conscience nor in the church. The Bible is the only source of information and instruction. We don’t deny the value of philosophical and scientific truth anywhere, but those truths, regardless of how valuable they may be, do not shed any light on the Gospel. The story of Jesus and His love is found only in the Bible. That will be the first part of our answer. We go to the Seminary to better study the Bible.
Second, we go to the Seminary to study all the Bible. If the Bible is the exclusive source of the Gospel, then we dare not neglect the Bible, lest somewhere it teach something that would have a tremendous bearing on the Gospel. The world can’t be impressed by ill-equipped men who don’t know what they are talking about. The world is educated to-day so that anyone who takes the time to study can know a tremendous lot about the Bible. Therefore a preacher must be equipped so that he knows enough of and from the Bible to be able to declare the “whole counsel of God.” You will appreciate this point of view. You weren’t brought up on the idea that five or six truths were adequate for your life. The Shorter Catechism covers the whole range of Scripture truth. Now it stands to reason that a man studying under those who are competent and experienced can learn more of the Bible than he can by trying to do it himself. Read the rest of this entry »