Theology and the Theological Seminary
James M. Renihan
In Jude’s brief epistle we find two thought provoking statements: “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (verse 3); “build yourselves up in your most holy faith” (verse 20). These two statements serve an important purpose in the letter: they turn our attention to “the faith” and its place in the life of the church. Jude emphasizes that only a firm commitment to and growing love for “the faith” will protect believers from the evil influences of sin. Faith is the soul’s response to the right teaching it receives. As understanding of the truth grows, so does righteousness. In fact, when the specifics of the gospel are forgotten or neglected (see verse 5, cf. Hebrews 12:5), danger is very present.
But what is “the faith”? We may read these verses (there are many others in the New Testament) and assume that the author refers to the act of believing. The latter of them, Jude 20, may seem especially to indicate this, but that is an incorrect conclusion. It is difficult to render into English the fact that Jude speaks of “the most holy faith.” He is not urging them to an increase in the act of believing (though this of course is vitally important), but rather to a settled understanding of the truth revealed in the Scriptures. In order to grow in faith, one must grow in “the faith.” When they have this body of truth (“the most holy faith”) in their minds, they will be prepared to wrestle against the temptations of the world and by the grace of God overcome. It is the means by which holiness of life is maintained and increased. To state this very simply, theology is the basis Christian living. There is no other way to understand the New Testament.
It is especially interesting to notice Jude’s use of the verb “build yourselves up.” This is language that reminds us of the church, the place where God intends his people to receive their nurture for growth. Every other time the word is used in the New Testament (see for example 1 Peter 2:5), it refers to the church as the place where the saints are “built up.” Jude’s doctrine is no different from that of the rest of the apostolic writings: Christians grow in grace through the ministry of the church, through the regularly instituted means ordained by God—the preaching of the Word and the observance of the ordinances. Progress in sanctification comes in the gradual process of weekly participation in public worship. We hear the Word proclaimed to us, we fellowship with Christ at his Table, we watch as new believers profess their faith in baptism and remember our commitment to Christ’s lordship in our own baptism. Jude reminds his readers that they must continue on in the course already begun, contending for and growing in “the faith.”
It is at this point that we must introduce another subject. It is clearly assumed in Jude’s letter, but would be good for us to make explicit here. When he urges his readers to contend for and grow in “the faith,” he presupposes that they have men in their midst who are well-equipped to provide the means for their contending and their growth. Jude does not urge these things upon his correspondents as private duties, but as a church. In order for them to contend for and grow in “the faith,” they must be instructed in it. They must be nurtured and taught, given instruction appropriate for their understanding. Some may only be ready for the milk of the Word, others may be sustained by a diet of solid meat. In every case, pastors must give to the people that which they need.
These two verses emphasize something of tremendous importance: solid doctrinal preaching is absolutely essential for the growth and health of the church as a whole and for every individual believer. It is here that the importance of sound theological training is evident.
The sole purpose of the theological seminary ought to be the careful preparation of men who will be able to feed God’s people, to establish them in “the faith.” It must be a place where men are equipped with all of the tools necessary to spend a lifetime ministering to people in a variety of circumstances. These men must have a firm grasp on the languages of Scripture, so that they will be able to bring forth treasure week by week. They must have a thorough understanding of the content of the Scriptures, able to see the development of themes leading to the great events surrounding the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. “The faith” must be grasped in all of its fullness, in all of its beautiful symmetry and breathtaking majesty. They must see that theology is the basis of faithful Christian living. And they must be able to communicate clearly and plainly all of these great things.
Is the role of the seminary important? Given our own cultural distance from the pages of the Bible, it is indispensable. Given the needs present in a fallen world, it is crucial. Would you pray for us at the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies? Please ask the Lord to help us teach “the faith” to men called to the ministry, so that Christians may be built up in their most holy faith.
We long to see thy churches full,
That all the chosen race may,
With one voice and heart and soul,
Sing thy redeeming grace.
(Isaac Watts, 1707)