Reformed Bible College
A Bit to Read
Reformed Bible College
It got off, I think, to a reasonable start. Some 140 persons gathered in the Willoughby church building on Friday evening, September 26, to hear a talk from Rev Kok on the Psalms. His talk lasted a good hour, and was followed by an interesting Question and Answer session that took us to nearly 10 PM. The coffee thereafter gave a chance to put an ear to the ground to discern audience reaction, and I came away concluding that the audience, from young to not so young, thought the event worthwhile.
Saturday morning turned out to be a less favourable time to meet, for the audience in the Abbotsford church had shrunk to some 90 attendees. The second lecture lasted a bit longer than the first, to the point that we needed a good coffee break when the speaker was finished. Still, the resulting Question and Answer session again demonstrated that there had been good attention and appreciation for the material presented. The afternoon lecture was more compact and shorter, and again pleased the 90 or so in attendance.
Rev Kok is minister in the American Reformed Church of Blue Bell, a suburb of Philadelphia. He obviously enjoys studying and loves sharing his findings with anyone who cares to listen. He’s big not only in stature, for he’s widely read and knows what’s going on in our culture.
When he received an opportunity to deliver a series of lectures at post-secondary level in the Fraser Valley, he chose to share with the willing his research on the Psalms. I for my part have done the regular study that the Theological College in Hamilton offers on the Psalms, and over the years in the ministry have busied myself from time to time too on the Psalms. Yet I never knew till Rev Kok told us that the Lord God gave Israel no instructions at Mt Sinai to sing in the tabernacle they were to build. The only sounds He commanded there were the jingling of the bells on the priests’ robes and the blast of the trumpet calling the people to worship. It wasn’t till the days of David that the Levites began to sing; in fact, when David moved the ark to Mt Zion he arranged the Levites into groups of singers, and then David gave them a whole book of psalms to sing. Here was far-reaching change, a change based (Rev Kok explained to us) on the progress in redemptive history as God’s covenant with Israel was renewed in David.
The songs (psalms) David prepared for the Levites to sing were ultimately not about his personal experiences and/or emotions, but were ultimately all about the coming Messiah. Sure, David (and those with him) wrote the psalms in particular circumstances, and the author’s frustrations and/or joys of the moment were caught in that psalm. And yes, the psalm caught how the singers were meant to feel in the circumstances of their temple worship. But ultimately the psalms all sang of Jesus Christ, and caught how this Man –like unto His brothers in every respect– experienced the brokenness of this fallen life and needed to lay down His life for sinners. As the church over the centuries –and we individually today– sing these Psalms of David, we sing them in Christ. This perspective adds to our singing a dimension deeper by far than any surface reading of the psalms might give. In fact, this perspective makes us able to sing Ps 26 with a clear conscience: “O vindicate me, LORD; Deceit I have abhorred; I’ve walked in my integrity.” Christ did so, and I in Him. Equally, it makes us able to sing the words of Ps 137: “How happy he who shall, devoid of pity, Dash on the rocks the children of your city!” For Christ on the cross triumphed over the Evil One and dashed to pieces his kingdom, old and young.
Intriguing material, all of it, and so helpful in reading, singing and praying the Psalms today. In fact, helpful too in assessing the place of hymns.
The question still arises: why was Rev Kok here to present these speeches? There’s actually a bit of a story to be told on that.
A couple of years ago a number of brothers down the Valley invited interested parties to a meeting to establish a Reformed Bible College in the Fraser Valley. The idea was that courses would be put together at University level so that post-secondary students would be able to continue reformed studies while they attended university or college. There was reasonable support for the concept at the meeting, and a committee proceeded to do the ground work required to get the concept up and running. As it turned out, the committee quickly abandoned the project on grounds that they could not get potential instructors to commit themselves to preparing and teaching any courses.
Some time later, br DongWoo Oh joined the Yarrow congregation. This brother had graduated from the Theological College in Hamilton, was eligible for call, yet received no calls. That the Lord had endowed him with gifts was obvious to all who spoke with him. So the question arose: since the Lord has joined him to His church in this place, how can we use his gifts for the edification of the body? This question raised again the concept of a Reformed Bible College, with the possibility that here was a potential instructor. Contact was made with the original committee, efforts were combined, and research carried out again about how to make this project go forward. Br Oh saw need to go to Australia, and so could not be part of further plans; meanwhile, the concept of a Reformed Bible College was again alive.
That bit of history, of course, does not answer the question of Why. In his words to the recent conference last Saturday, Rev Schouten put it this way. Once our students finish Credo, many continue to learn more about History or English or Woodworking or whatever suits their fancy. We all understand that further learning and further development of skills is necessary for employment purposes as well as for the development of God’s kingdom. We will, consequently, expend effort and money to make this learning possible. When it comes, however, to increasing our knowledge and skills in relation to Bible studies, our young people receive very little opportunity. By and large catechism instruction ends more or less when the youth finish at Credo, and all that’s left is Young Peoples’ Society and personal Bible study. Neither of those two have a strong track record of helping the youth grow by leaps and bounds in their Bible knowledge. (None of this, of course, takes anything away from the preaching, but preaching has a different focus than increasing Bible knowledge and Bible skills.) As the Lord gives financial and political opportunities to do more in Bible studies, we do well to make work of improving these possibilities. This is the more so because there are Young People who expressly want further Bible instruction.
One could reply that there are a number of Bible Colleges available in the Valley already. That’s indeed true. And perhaps that’s exactly part of the problem. The Bible Colleges where our young people could (and do) enrol tend to embrace evangelicalism, complete with its typical Arminian and Pentecostal overtones. On top of that, a critical way of reading the Bible has of late embedded itself in these Bible Colleges. This is undeniably a factor contributing to why so many covenant children have withdrawn from the churches across the Valley; at the Conference a number of some 400 (!) was mentioned as having withdrawn across the Valley in the last dozen or so years. Part of the answer, it was argued at the recent Conference, was setting up a reformed alternative to the Bible Colleges of the Valley.
Where to from here?
These arguments and others featured in the mind of the committee as they grappled with how to make the concept of a Reformed Bible College move forward. The committee considered that instead of talking about the need, it might be more effective to bring in a speaker and give it a try. That would give the church membership a sense of what the vision is.
We’ve had our first set of lectures. Did it meet expectations? Was the Conference’s format and style and degree of difficulty what we need for the future? The matter certainly needs more consideration. And input from the congregations is important. Feel free to pass on your thoughts to the undersigned. And…, stay tuned, DV.
10 October 2008