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A few years ago, the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training (SMT) was considering whether it should recommend to the General Assembly the establishment of an Orthodox Presbyterian seminary. I was discussing our deliberations with a friend of mine, who happens to be a PCA minister. His response was, “How could it be better than __________?” (naming a well-known seminary).

For various reasons, we did not recommend the establishment of a new seminary, but instead the establishment of a ministerial training institute. The purpose for the institute would be to provide supplementary education to seminary students (and others) in selected areas which we believe are not being adequately covered by seminaries today.

The 1998 General Assembly approved this plan, and we are now [March 1999] setting up the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC (MTIOPC). In addition, we are planning to visit seminaries more regularly and to discuss with them the preparation of students for ministry in the OPC.

An Institute, Not a Seminary

What is the MTIOPC? First, it is an institute, not a seminary. It will not come close to offering a full seminary curriculum. Our goal is to offer instruction in five key areas: (1) the Westminster standards, (2) Presbyterian church polity, particularly as embodied in the OPC, (3) the history, character, and distinguishing characteristics of the OPC, (4) practical theology, and (5) presuppositional apologetics. Some seminaries do an acceptable job of teaching some of these subjects, but we believe that no one seminary covers all of them well and that these are key areas of instruction for preparing men for effective, biblical ministry in the OPC.

An Institute, Not a Location

The MTIOPC is not going to have a campus. It is intended to serve men who are preparing for, or are currently in, ministry across the whole country. We are considering offering instruction by a variety of means, including audio- and videotapes, videoconferencing, correspondence, the Internet, traveling seminars, and regional or national conferences.

A Church Institute, Not a Parachurch Organization

The Institute will be answerable to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church through the General Assembly. The GA can direct the Institute to take certain actions or to refrain from others. The six members of the SMT, which serves as the board of direction of the Institute, are elected directly by the GA. The SMT is responsible for appointing a director, an administrator, and the teachers of the Institute.

We have appointed the Rev. Thomas E. Tyson to serve as the Institute’s director. He is well known to you as the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education and the editor of New Horizons. The CCE has agreed to allow him to shift some of his workload into the task of directing the Institute.

We have appointed Dr. James H. Thomas as administrator. He is currently an elder at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. He earned an Ed.D. at West Virginia University and has served in various administrative positions at institutions of higher learning in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

We are currently considering the appointment of men to teach in the Institute, beginning in the fall of this year. Please pray that the Lord would prepare the right men and give us wisdom in finding and selecting them.

Presbyterian, Not Hierarchical

In the OPC, as in Presbyterianism generally, the presbytery is the church judicatory that is primarily responsible for the admission of men into the gospel ministry. It is the presbytery that takes men under care, that examines men for licensure and ordination, that oversees a minister’s life and doctrine, and is the court of original jurisdiction over him. We by no means intend to weaken these roles of the presbyteries. Rather, we want the Institute to strengthen them. We hope that presbyteries will interact with the Institute and will encourage their men under care to take advantage of it.

Where Is the Institute Going?

While it would be presumptuous of me to speak for the whole SMT, I believe it would be helpful for me to share with you my own hopes for the future of this Institute:

  • An OPC Identity, Not Isolationism. As we begin to offer instruction to ministerial candidates, there is a danger of becoming ingrown. That would be contrary to the Reformed ecumenical spirit and history of the OPC. The distinguishing commitments of the OPC are not a parochial possession, but are fundamental to the struggles of the whole church of Jesus Christ in the contemporary world. Preserving a knowledge of our history and of its relevance to today’s ecclesiastical scene will be a service not only to the OPC but also to the whole body of Christ.

  • Scholar-Preachers, Not Shallow Preachers. Presbyterianism envisions that her preachers should also be scholars. Her scholar-preachers should be equipped to open the treasures of the Word of God to the people of God. The instruction offered in the MTIOPC should therefore not be “safe.” We should not try to keep our ministerial candidates from being exposed to ideas that are foreign to our church and confession. Rather, we should want them to be exposed to the alternatives, and to be prepared to teach and defend our confession and polity from the Word of God. This means that the Institute’s level of instruction must equal or even exceed that of seminary training.

  • Pastors, Not Hired Men. But scholarship and education are not ends in themselves. The Institute must also prepare men to love and serve the OPC as pastors, shepherding the flock of God. Like Christ, they must be prepared to lay down their lives for the flock. Another part of OPC history worth remembering—and I trust that it is cherished in heaven—is the many sacrifices made by our early ministers and missionaries. Some of them lived from hand to mouth, enduring a voluntary poverty and exile in order to minister in the OPC. They went out without knowing whither they went, having been privileged not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him. It is my hope that the teachers in the Institute will model that kind of spirit to their students.

  • A Journey, Not a Destination. The Institute will not be a resting place. It is an experiment in ministerial training. Over the next few years, the SMT will learn much about offering instruction to ministerial candidates. We will learn more precisely what they need and whether we can help them effectively. Through our seminary visitation program, we will learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the seminaries.

It is my hope that in three to five years the SMT will be able to give the General Assembly wise counsel to go in one of three directions: (1) to dissolve the MTIOPC because the seminaries have heard what we need and are doing a much better job of providing it, (2) to continue with the MTIOPC, to insure that our ministerial candidates are properly prepared, or (3) to establish an Orthodox Presbyterian seminary.

But right now, we go out, not knowing whither we are going, trusting that the Lord will continue to guide us. “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Heb. 13:14 NKJV).

Dr. James S. Gidley is a ruling elder at Grace OPC in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. He has been chairman of the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training for several years. New Horizons, March 1999.

New Horizons: March 1999

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