With the World Field in a World Task

How the work of the seminary relates to the mission of the world field.

Edward Heppenstall, Professor of Christian Philosophy, SDA Theological Seminary

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.


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Edward Heppenstall, Professor of Christian Philosophy, SDA Theological Seminary

June 1958

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