A new season of school is upon us, and as we normally do here at CRTS we begin this year with a celebration and reflection of the last year. We do this at convocation, and at last night’s event we were witness to the graduation of students Ben Schoof, Calvin Vanderlinde, and Theo Wierenga, as well as the installation of Dr. Ted Van Raalte. It’s not every year that you see the installation of a professor, although recently it’s been about every other year or so.
Convocation is a festive event, with the board of governors dressing up in their fancy robes and hats. This may strike some as an arbitrary spectacle, so allow me a few words in its defence. The most significant parts of human life and society are always enshrined in ceremony. We have a ceremony when two people commit themselves to be one flesh, or when we commit our flesh to the grave. There are simple ceremonies as well, such as prayers at mealtimes which acknowledge that our health and sustenance do not come about by our own will; or giving gifts on birthdays and anniversaries which represent the gift of another year given us by our Lord. Man adorns his existence with ceremony as naturally as he dresses his body with clothes, and this is precisely why Scripture warns us so strongly against its over-estimation. For it is also perfectly natural for sinful man to elevate ceremony to the level of revelation, or at least to be distracted from what’s faithful by what’s fascinating.
But like everything else, ceremony has its appropriate time and place when properly situated beneath the supremacy of the Word. And if it’s natural for man to acknowledge significance through ceremony, then there are fewer things more significant than the passing on from one generation to the next the mysteries of the Christian faith. The passing on of any knowledge is important, hence the occasion of graduation, but the knowledge of God is the most exalted knowledge our minds can possess. It is the bread that feeds us forever, our manna from heaven, and I would hold that such an occasion is worthy of dignity and decoration.
I found last night’s event to be engaging all the way through. This was in no small part due to an excellent speech by Dr. Visscher on the subject of beginning well in the ministry. By way of his address he hoped to spark some discussion within our churches about whether or not our ministers are too involved in matters other than preaching. Ministers are not the chief administrative or executive officers of a church; nor are they the chief academic officers, explained Dr. Visscher. Rather, they should be thought of as the chief spiritual officers, with their chief duties being, from Acts 6:4, preaching and prayer. These are the areas to which the minister must devote his time, with everything else being extra. In addition, the consistory should not be thought of as helping the minister in his pastoral work, but the minister as helping the consistory in theirs. The minister’s most effective pastoring should take place in the pulpit. All this, said Dr. Visscher, was to stress the importance of good preaching, a necessity in a world where the voice from the pulpit is so easily outdone by the competition. Ministers ought to be at the top of their game and ought to be given all the time they need to get there.
The evening was also helped along by Calvin’s address on behalf of the graduating students. He treated us to his particular blend of dry humour, like mentioning that until the Masoretes came along Hebrew had no point. That’s funny. The solitary staff member here at Sixteen Seasons congratulates the graduates for their achievement, and wishes Calvin, Ben, and Theo the Lord’s blessings for their upcoming classis exams and beyond. A further word of congratulation is in order for another CRTS student as well. My friend and classmate, Dr. William den Hollander, recently found out that his PhD dissertation is going to be published by the esteemed Brill publishing house. They don’t normally accept dissertations without substantial revision, but they accepted William’s pretty much as is. It’ll be published early next year in the beautiful and expensive manner characteristic of Brill, and will be entitled, “Josephus, the Emperors, and the City of Rome: From Hostage to Historian.” So the Sixteen Seasons staff also wishes to extend through the ether the literary hand of congratulation for this milestone in a colleague’s academic career.