Ministry & Learning
While attending graduate school in Chicago I took several classes at McCormick Theological Seminary. One was a very fine course of lectures under the church historian Thomas A. Schaefer, a Jonathan Edwards scholar. I was struck that I was struck by an offhand remark he made: "Presbyterians have always valued a learned ministry." What impressed me at that moment was the strong realization that I was part of a tradition that did not. It is not that I had no awareness of this before, only that Prof. Schaefer's remark all of a sudden brought it starkly home. My free-church revivalist tradition was not, as some are, actively suspicious of learning, but neither did it value it as the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches have. That essentially theological, confessional, churchly sort of learning was optional as a qualification for the pastorate, even where seminary degrees were favored, and had little force whenever it became poised against the prophetic word.
Opposition Between Priestly & Prophetic Elements
One of the dangers of learned ministry is its tendency to institutionalize and professionalize, and so insulate itself from the energies carried in the prophetic charism, preserving itself behind a vision of the Church that does not represent a whole including both elements. I agree with those who observe that in the sphere of orthodox faith at least from the Mosaic age forward, it is doubtless God himself who has maintained true religion in the perennial opposition of its priestly and prophetic elements, one continually establishing and stabilizing in recognizance of the Church as the immovable ground and pillar of Truth, the other critical, and at odds with the imperfections of an establishment that can only in this world be a partial image of what exists fully only in the world to come.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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