Recently in processing the Papers of Dr. Morton H. Smith, the first Stated Clerk of the PCA, I came across this letter written to Smith when he was just twenty-five years of age and considering a call to ministry and pondering which Seminary to attend. The pastor of his home church, the Rev. James E. Moore, wrote to offer the following advice. Moore and his brother Lardner were raised in Osaka, Japan. James prepared for the ministry at Westminster Seminary, graduating in 1933 and was pastor of the Mt. Washington Presbyterian church in Baltimore, Maryland from 1934-1951. He was received into the PCA in 1974.
This letter continues to offer, I think, some sage advice to those considering a call to ministry. The letter also offers a bit of historical insight on the situation as it stood then for theologically conservative Presbyterians, and in that light, it is interesting and even encouraging to compare that situation with where we are today.
MT. WASHINGTON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
JAMES E. MOORE, PASTOR
MT. WASHINGTON, BALTIMORE 9, MARYLAND
22 September, 1948
Rockwell told me on his return from the West that you had about decided to go to the Seminary but were undecided as to which one. I’m not sure of the reasons he gave but I did ask him for your address. I have been thinking about the Seminary and what is involved in a Seminary education. I hope you won’t think me presumptuous but I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of expressing my views on the matter. I hope the Lord will take my words and give you help so that you can know without any doubt whatsoever His will may be in your whole future.
The first thing that I would say is that you don’t have to go to the Seminary to preach the Gospel. It is not a necessity because the New Testament doesn’t say one word about it. There was no such school in the days of the Apostles and they didn’t take the time to start one. More, the law of our church does not presuppose a Seminary education. The requirements for ordination are given. Then it says that certain of these parts may be omitted if the candidate is a graduate of a seminary.
If then neither the New Testament nor our church requires a Seminary education, why bother to go to one? The answer should be given along these lines. See how far you can agree with me. First, the Gospel, the only Gospel, which we have to preach is found exclusively in the New Testament, that is, the Bible. God’s message of salvation for a lost world is not found in nature nor in conscience nor in the church. The Bible is the only source of information and instruction. We don’t deny the value of philosophical and scientific truth anywhere, but those truths, regardless of how valuable they may be, do not shed any light on the Gospel. The story of Jesus and His love is found only in the Bible. That will be the first part of our answer. We go to the Seminary to better study the Bible.
Second, we go to the Seminary to study all the Bible. If the Bible is the exclusive source of the Gospel, then we dare not neglect the Bible, lest somewhere it teach something that would have a tremendous bearing on the Gospel. The world can’t be impressed by ill-equipped men who don’t know what they are talking about. The world is educated to-day so that anyone who takes the time to study can know a tremendous lot about the Bible. Therefore a preacher must be equipped so that he knows enough of and from the Bible to be able to declare the “whole counsel of God.” You will appreciate this point of view. You weren’t brought up on the idea that five or six truths were adequate for your life. The Shorter Catechism covers the whole range of Scripture truth. Now it stands to reason that a man studying under those who are competent and experienced can learn more of the Bible than he can by trying to do it himself.
Third. A man goes to the Seminary that he may learn to convey the truth of the Bible, all of the Bible, to others. Now not just a certain class of others, laboring people, or miners, or sailors, or Wall Street. He attempts to equip himself so that he can meet poor sinners wherever he may find them, present the claims of Christ in language that is intelligible to them, demolish their excuses and lead them to repentance and faith. Personally, I want you so armored that you can go into any community, environment, race or creed and present the riches of Christ Jesus so persuasively that men will have no excuse. Therefore, I say, we go to the Seminary to learn to present all the Bible to All men.
That line of reasoning and only that line can possibly answer the question of the Seminary. There is one argument that is used that has entirely too much weight in the minds of men. It is this—I want to work in a certain church. To do that, I’ve got to attend one of that church’s Seminaries. In reply, I would say, does a man want to serve the church or serve Jesus Christ? ‘No man can serve two masters!’ Let anyone take his choice. If the church comes first, then I say better that man not go into the ministry. Any man who goes into the ministry must burn his bridges behind him.
But we have to be affiliated with some group of the Lord’s people. Yes. And personally I hope to serve the Southern Church all my life. But the Southern church did not call me to preach. Christ called me to preach. It was only after I had prepared myself that the church gave me her blessing. I can promise you this, it makes no difference what seminary you go to, you won’t have any trouble serving our church. There is a desparate need right now and I believe I’ll have a place for you next summer. Don’t let the Devil fool you with false arguments.
I think you may agree with what I have said so far. If so there remains only one thing to be said. There are a few seminaries that will fill the requirements of the above line of reasoning. There are none in the South that will. Every seminary in the South has Modernists right along with Fundamentalists teaching something of a hodge podge for a seminary education. I’d rather you not go to any seminary. The Professors of Systematic Theology in all four of our southern Seminaries deny the doctrine of Verbal Inspiration. Your education won’t be worth the time and trouble it takes to get one. Of course Southern scholarship is notorious for its lack. I think we have only one man who is a scholar of first rank in all four seminaries. Wm. C. Robinson of Columbia is the only man ever heard of outside the United States.
If you are interested further, I have just a final word to say. There is a Seminary that will fulfill all the requirements of a Seminary in a Biblical, scholarly way. That is Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. There are about 20 graduates of that school in the ministry of the Southern church. I would love to talk with you further about the matter if you would care to discuss it.
Morton, the world needs men who are equipped to fight a warfare with a brilliant and cruel enemy. The Church is crying for men who know the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. Don’t spare any pains to prepare yourself in the best way possible, in order that you may do all in your power to become a vessel fit for the Master’s use.
I’m dreadfully sorry that I haven’t kept up our friendship. I should have written you long ago with regard to Covenant Baptism. I hope you are still interested. Rockwell tells me you are interested in the study of the last things. When you come East we’ll have to get together.
Please give my love to your nice wife. The Lord bless you both.
Sincerely, /s/ Jim Moore