The writer recently returned from directing an extension school for the Australasian Division. Ninety-two workers from various parts of this division field came in for an eight-week study course. If much is demanded from the student, still more is expected from the teachers. This becomes apparent from the very nature of the case. Men fresh from the firing line of some of the most dynamic missionary and evangelistic areas in the world bring an expectancy and a vibrancy that brooks neither dry formalism nor mediocrity.
It is in this light that this article ventures to set forth the responsibility and purposes of the Seminary to the world field. The professional training and instruction of Adventist workers around the world by means of the Seminary Extension School is both challenging and difficult. Obviously, adequate instruction for workers from all fields of service is not easily provided according to some set pattern. As I seek to evaluate these eight weeks' experience, a fourfold purpose is indicated.
1. The Seminary's first objective is to teach a thorough Biblical theology.
There is a sense in which the task of the Seminary resembles that of the pioneers of this movement. Seventh-day Adventist theology is being brought more and more into the spotlight of world investigation and criticism.
"A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." One of the great perils of the minister is his superficial knowledge of the Word of God. Any tendency to take refuge in the thought forms and theological patterns and techniques of other men is not only to confess personal ignorance of and interest in the Bible but to show dependence upon external formulas without personal conviction and dedication. The purpose of the Seminary is to explain and interpret Bible truth as clearly, thoroughly, and convincingly as possible.
One of the great blunders easily made is to put theology into a secondary category as distinct from evangelism. A vague or static conception of the truths of this great message has no ability to command the loyalties and hearts of men and women. Today as at no other time since 1844 do men need to be taught clearly what this Advent message affirms. People do not want a mere memorization of texts or dogma. Therefore Adventist Biblical theology and exegesis must be given a place of primary importance. It must be taught so convincingly that men may believe and be prepared for the final movements in this world.
2. The Seminary's second responsibility is instruction by a certain type of teacher to certain types of students.
It is said of Jesus, "He taught them." When a teacher of the Bible becomes a mere intellectualist or theorist, he no longer teaches—he lectures. He talks about many facets of his particular area of study and gives out many facts. But he changes no lives, provides no vital answers to personal problems, redeems no hearts. Christ never assumed that knowledge alone would meet the needs of men. Christ did not seek casual discussion and theoretical comprehension, but vital decisions.
The Adventist faith and beliefs are best taught by men and to men whose lives have the victorious and divine quality. God taught this supreme truth in the Incarnation of His beloved Son. The best way to teach men about God was to send God to the earth. The greatest teachers and preachers are always the men with the power to lift up the lives of men to God because of the contagious divine power that shines through. The Christian teacher's greatest technique is in what he is rather than in what he knows and says. Many a man in despair over some point of doctrine that he may not understand, seeing the radiance of a true Christian life, finds new hope for the redemption of his own life and that of others.
The justification of all seminary instruction is greatly strengthened by the teacher's and students' identification with the great affirmations of the third angel's message.
3. To secure personal and total commitment to God and this last message to the world.
It is easy to become critical of the church and of the organization in our time. But as one listens to the faithful workers from the front line, one thing becomes crystal clear—the difference this message makes in the lives of men who commit themselves to it.
There is no such thing in a Seminary such as ours as good teaching of the Biblical and theological content without regard to the way in which such content is to be used in the actual ministry. This may seem like a hard saying. But it is so easy to take for granted that the dispensing of thought forms in the classroom is all that needs to be done.
Each evening of this Seminary Extension School in Australia we met in worship. The services were led by the students themselves. Many of these workers came from isolated areas and mission stations in the South Pacific. They brought a personal radiance of experience with God that was deeply spiritual and impressive. Here were men who had learned in the most trying and hazardous situations the power of prayer. And it should be noted that the extension school where the program of study strikes the deepest is where men—teachers and students —have learned by practice rather than argument the meaning of prayer.
However, everywhere there are forces and pressures in the public, institutional, and academic life of the ministry, which discourage moods of meditation and contemplation. To be able to resist these forces requires exceptional personal fortitude. The development of spiritual insight and fellowship with Christ requires self-discipline beyond our usual programs of religious learning and activity.There needs to be more encouragement to independent spiritual orientation. There need to be places and times of quiet and withdrawal where there is likelihood of the deep movings of the Spirit. The difficult resolve and commitment to "be still, and know that I am God" takes place not by chance or accident, but by high and deliberate intent and conscious effort. Our Seminary needs more and more to inspire this intent and discipline, for only in this way can men become truly dedicated to God's great program for the church and the world.
4. Another important function and purpose of the Seminary Extension School is to make men more evangelistic.
The mission and evangelistic record in the Australasian Division is not surpassed anywhere in our world program, and is rarely equaled. Decisions for Christ and the Advent faith are a very real thing. Campaigns in several large cities have registered in each case more than two hundred converted and baptized souls.
Evangelism is the presentation of the truth by both word and deed, persuading men and women to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, to give their lives in service to the everlasting gospel.
Effective Seminary teaching never takes place in an intellectual or experiential vacuum, but always in a vital relation to God and Christ and to the world of lost souls. It is not always easy for us as Christian workers to do justice to this great truth.
No one should tamper with the eternal destinies of other lives who has not a clear insight into the sanctity of those lives in the sight of God. Only in a spirit of deep concern and reverence for the souls of men are people helped toward spiritual strength and redemption.
All of us know that we tend to use knowledge in a way conditioned largely by the form and manner in which the knowledge comes to us. If it reaches us in neat theological bundles, in logical or chronological arrangement (which is all to the good) , but not in experimental and psychological meanings, the material tends to be sterile as far as life is concerned. It is the serious aim of the Seminary to make its students and workers fully literate theologically and Biblically, and at the same time to make clear and vital what such content is to perform in evangelism, in the winning of individual souls.
Winning people to the Adventist faith is not the mastery of mere Bible content and doctrine as such. The central point is to lead men to decide for Jesus Christ. There must be a decision that one is now accepting Christ as his Lord and Saviour; that from this point on, life is committed to Christ and is becoming organized around this new center. All other loyalties must be judged by this and subordinated to it. The Seminary aims to make this knowledge clear to all its students as a basic prerequisite to effective evangelism for others.
If the Seminary program of instruction is to make men savers of souls unto life eternal, they must learn to use the best methods and techniques; but more important is who and what the gospel worker is. This has far-reaching consequences for the church and for those who hear him proclaim the good news. The Seminary is convinced that successful, lasting evangelism is predicated upon the evangelistic spirit and interpretation within the very teaching program itself. Such a spirit is not only taught but caught, in the very fellowship offered through the medium of the Seminary program.
It is the writer's conviction that the realization of the purpose for which the Seminary was organized can best be achieved within the fourfold purpose outlined here. The ultimate test rests with the type of teachers, students, and graduates as mediums through which the Holy Spirit can fulfill God's purpose in these last days.