Seminary Training: Tailor-made for Dying Churches

From Pastoral Training in 2021: It’s Still 1808 in America by Gary North

Conceptually, the theological seminary is a bad idea. It was invented by the father of the inventor of the first commercial telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse. The father’s name was Jedediah Morse.

Rev. Morse in 1805 was upset that Harvard College appointed a Unitarian as a professor of moral theology. I would also have been upset. The solution to it would have been to start another college that was systematically Trinitarian. But that never occurred to Rev. Morse. Instead, he invented the theological seminary.

The seminary henceforth accepted students who had gone through four years of college, studying mostly ancient languages that they would never use in the pulpit, to study three more years of Calvinist theology. He was a Congregationalist minister. So, the students or their families would not only have to pay for four years of Harvard, they would now have to give up three years of their lives and lots more money paying for a theological seminary. That would keep them out of the pulpit for seven years.

There are two reasons: Rev. Morse, like most Christian clergy of his era, really did believe in the concepts of neutrality, natural law, and the separation (actually, superiority) of academia over Christ and His Law-Word.

Or, perhaps, the man preferred to saddle Christian preachers with seven years of debt, so crippling their growth and freedom, and burning away time they could have spent growing as preachers and counselors to their congregations. All in the name of establishing a tight grip of control over the (sharply shrinking) Calvinist future.

I believe that the first reason is the correct one. But the results of his action leaves room for both viewpoints.

And in truth, Satan doesn’t really care about the exact reason why you decided to cripple the growth of the Kingdom of God. Just as long as you do so.

Christians would be wise to avoid all forms of intellectual preening and bloated self-importance.

God would sooner slow down the growth of His Kingdom — the concept Jesus spent most of His time speaking on — than allow evil pride, arrogance, and the thirst for power to flourish under a Christian guise.1

<Points to that burning Second Temple>

Once upon a time, America was a Calvinist nation. Reverent Moore’s seminaries put a stop to that.

The new seminary began in 1808. It was called Andover. This so impressed the Presbyterians of Philadelphia that they decided to imitate Morse. They started a seminary in 1811. It became known as Princeton Theological Seminary.

As of 2021? Highly esteemed, popular in the right circles, and as spiritually dead as any other anti-Christian rebel.

Deeply pious institutions, serving an alien entity.

So much for Moore’s unbiblical — but tightly controlling! — way of the seminary.

Meanwhile, west of the Alleghenies, Baptists and Methodists were enjoying an incredible growth spurt: the Second Great Awakening. This growth spurt lasted for half a century. Neither of the denominations required seminary training. So, young men went out as circuit riders and began starting congregations.

They had little competition from Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. The reason was simple. Young men who had spent seven years at college and seminary could stay in the East and earn about $1,000 a year. In the West, the Baptists were not paid anything that the congregations did not want to donate to them, and the Methodists officially were paid $60 a year by the bishops, but in a lot of cases, they were not paid this stipend. Price competition led to tremendous growth of Methodism and Baptist churches.

One group of churches grew to shape America. The other group of churches did not, preferring to stay in shrinking circles of increasing wealth and decreasing faith.

The seminaries trained young Calvinists in the skill of writing term papers. Thus, Presbyterian and Congregationalist sermons have long resembled verbal term papers. In the West, there was no training in preaching. Some men had great preaching ability, but most of them did not. Pareto’s law sorted out the winners and losers. In any case, with circuit riding, the local congregations ran almost everything. They would get a visit every month or every six weeks from the circuit-riding pastor, but in between these visits, local congregations ran the show. There was decentralization.

Today, Methodists and Baptists require seminary certification. Pentecostals and charismatics do not. The most extensive revival in the history of the church has been taking place in the Third World since 1970, and it is almost entirely the result of non-seminary trained Pentecostals and charismatics.

One major exception is the movement known as CGM or church growth movement. This is overwhelmingly a movement of small house churches. There is no seminary training associated with CGM. It is growing rapidly in India and sub-Saharan Africa.

Christians are to get on the side that’s obedient to God.

You’d be surprised, how often the “obedient to God” people are also “victorious on earth… after a certain period of struggle of pain”.

All of the seminary’s courses could be put online with YouTube easily in six months. This program could be offered free of charge. It should be free of charge. Students from anywhere in the world would be able to listen to the lectures and read the assigned materials in their home towns. They could have part-time jobs locally. If they have families, they could support their families, and take the seminary courses on a part-time basis.

They could subordinate themselves to their local congregations. If the local congregations wanted to pay them to do menial work for the congregations, that would be fine. They would learn how to visit the sick, teach Sunday schools, comfort the dying, while watching their pastors conduct wedding services and funerals.

Their own pastors would show them the unwritten rules of pastoral counseling and guidance. There are always unwritten rules in every profession. This would be a form of tutorial education, which is the best form of education. It would be an apprenticeship system. The local congregations would benefit from this, and the young men getting the training would be able to launch their careers with sufficient practical knowledge as to keep them from needlessly hitting a brick wall in their first pastorates.

The way of victory is tied to the way of service.

Not joining some religious guild, protecting the power and the pride of the Certified Professionals.

The seminary professors, who are in fact full-time pastors, who have not run a seminary, would be able to stay in their congregations. They could produce the whole seminary in less than a year. They could use this on-line seminary to train leaders in their local congregations. These leaders could then go out to start local congregations. This is how church growth historically has taken place. It either uses a system of circuit riding, where the pastors move from church to church, or a home church establishes a series of small congregations, probably somewhere in the region. This is the church growth model that David Watson has pioneered.

People who want church growth know how to get church growth.

(Note that the category of “people who want church growth” does not include the Calvinist denominations. As is obvious, by their actions.)

We are now two decades into the YouTube revolution. The educational models are out there. But seminary professors, who are usually unskilled at pastoral work, do not like the model. They like the term paper model. They like bricks and mortar. They like salaries.

Andover and Princeton continue to have their conservative admirers.

“It’s not about the results. It’s not about the fruits.

And it’s not about expanding the Kingdom of God, to cover the world.

It’s about the pride, and the rich stone facades, and the nice salaries, and the low-risk work.”

Let’s avoid these congenial failures.

Now we see a group of pastors, who ought to know better, imitating their peers in brick-and-mortar seminaries staffed by specialists in writing term papers. These pastors are so intent on becoming seminary professors that they ignore the fact that the seminary itself was a jerry-rigged response to the takeover of Harvard College which became visible in 1805. It led to extremely low church growth within Congregational and Presbyterian circles. It still does.

At least with an online model, young men would not have to go into debt to pay the brand-new seminary professors to teach them what they supposedly learned in college: how to write term papers.

Dump the stuck-in-the-past, security-seeking losers.

Side with the risk-taking, able-to-learn, ready to fight winners.


“When these tiny Reformed denominations get rid of their seminary requirements, let me know.”

“They will NEVER get rid of those requirements. God may use busted wineskins… but they stay busted. The future does not ride with them.

“No more than it rides with Andover or Princeton.”

“Amen and amen.”

1If the seminaries were godly, service-oriented, and approved of God, do you really think that their pastors would be as powerless, impotent, and irrelevant as they are?

God will not bless those who will not obey Him, be that rebel a man or an institution. Au contraire: they earn his punishment, His curses, even His damnation.

Men can, and do, repent on occasion

Institutions rarely do.

I would argue that religious institutions never repent of their sin. They might express remorse, if strongly pressured by powerful men, but they will always return to their besetting sin.

Instead of definitely turning away from it, forever.

Busted wineskins lay on the ground.

God could repair them… but He never does.

Now, you may well say, it was not the Church the Reformers were trying to reform but the Christian faith. That would be in principle a valid argument if it were true, and then the word Reformation would be used properly. But that was not the case. It was the Church that the Reformers set out to reform. But this was a failure, and it was a complete failure. What they did was to abandon the old wineskin. In other words, it was not the wine that was the problem. There was nothing wrong with the wine. It did not need reformation. The existence of many people who desired to reform the Church prior to the Reformation shows that the Christian faith was alive and well. The problem was the wineskin, not the wine, and it was the wineskin that the Reformers abandoned because they were unable to reform it.

In this they were following the teaching of Jesus, whether they recognised it or not. The wineskin had become useless. Sure, they wanted Reformation, and they wanted to reform the Church of Rome, but that is not what God gave them.  New wineskins were needed. I am not denying of course that the Reformers did a great work. They did. What I am saying is that the mistaken idea that they reformed the Church has lead us astray into the belief that we must reform the modern apostate Protestant Church. But Reformation is not the answer. The Protestant Church is unreformable, not because God cannot reform it—of course he can—but because God does not reform apostate Churches. If the salt has lost its saltiness it is fit for what? To be reformed? No! It is fit for nothing except to be thrown out. I did not say this. The Lord Jesus Christ said it, just as he said that old wineskins are useless in holding the new wine and that new wineskins are necessary. And it appears now that God has thrown out the Protestant Church wineskin, which is salt that has lost its saltiness.

Do not take my word for it. Look at history. Which Churches, once they had lost their saltiness, once they had become useless and were no more than cracked old wineskins, once they were apostate, has God ever reformed? Not the Greek Orthodox Church. Not the Nestorian Church—which, incidentally, was in its heyday one of the greatest missionary Churches that the world has ever seen, but by the time of Kubilai Kahn was utterly useless to Kubilai in his desire to Christianise his empire. Not the Roman Church or Orthodox Russian Church, nor the Coptic Church. Which Churches, and when, did God ever reform once this level of corruption and apostasy had set in? None that I know of.

by Stephen C. Perks

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