When I was a young pastor with no seminary education, I once said to my father-in-law, Rev. O.E. Overland, “I think that I’m going to skip going to seminary and just do ministry.” His terse response abruptly ended our conversation: “I think we need lots of seminary.”
Why? Why did this seasoned pastor stress the need for pastors with seminary training? I have become convinced that he was right just because of God’s Word. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson pointed to the incredible importance and power of this Word with the statement, “We have a talking God.”
Contrast those words with the description of idols written by the Psalmist: “Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear” (Psalm 115:4-6).
Our God speaks.
God speaks in Creation
Six times in Genesis chapter one, this phrase appears, “And God said.” Each time God spoke, the universe came into existence. Our God speaks.
And he continues to speak through Creation. King David expressed it this way: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4).
These words promise that even with those who may not want to hear the words of our witness, God is speaking to them without words through the glory of his Creation.
God speaks so powerfully in this way that those who do not want to hear must actively suppress that voice in order not to hear what God is saying. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome,
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).
Our God lovingly uses his temporal wrath to move us to listen to him speak even in Creation.
God speaks in Redemption
God speaks law that condemns. Although God’s law word condemns and does not redeem, we need God to speak with precision about our condition. We need to hear that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). And, “as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
We need to acknowledge with the prophet Isaiah, “For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities” (59:12).
But God also speaks mercy that forgives. This is David’s plea in Psalm 130:2 when he cries, “Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” David is asking God to get down close where he can speak into God’s ear his plea for mercy.
And God has answered that request. He promised through his prophet Jeremiah that the day was coming when, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (31:34).
That is now possible because God has spoken through Jesus: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Through his Son God has set us right with himself. He did not impute our sins to us, but instead imputed them to his Son. On the cross he treated his Son as the only sinner in all the world so that he might count us as his sons and daughters.
God speaks through his Word
In order to bring that salvation gift to us God gave us his Word. That Word brings us faith and life and salvation. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
God speaks through messengers
God’s messengers today are called and sent. “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people all about this new life” (Acts 5:20). It is because God speaks through messengers that we need pastors with “lots of seminary.” We need messengers who are convinced of the authority of God’s Word.
There are only two positions when it comes to the Word of God. Either you are under the Word or over the Word. There are no other options. As soon as you put yourself above the Word, the “wheels begin to come off.” We need messengers who are under the Word—convinced of its authority.
We need messengers who proclaim the utter holiness of God and who do not mince words when they speak his law. But these same messengers need to be repentant themselves and boldly declare, like the prophet, “Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.” They need to be messengers who humbly proclaim the cross of Christ.
This is the task we have set ourselves to accomplish at Lutheran Brethren Seminary: to prepare messengers to proclaim God’s Word and to lead Christ’s Church in speaking this message in all the world. In order to complete this task we have invested in accreditation and distance education. We now have over 40 students preparing to be God’s messengers.
“I think we need lots of seminary,” said Pastor Overland. I agree. If God is calling you, contact LBS at www.lbs.edu.
Dr. David Veum is President of Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.