Log Colleges, yesterday and today...
Trace back the history of Princeton Seminary, the mother of all colleges founded to train pastors in America, and one finds two schools gave her birth: The College of New Jersey in the town of Princeton; and earlier, a little building in Neshaminy, PA, a town about twenty miles north of Philadelphia where Rev. William Tennent Sr. was the pastor of two small Presbyterian churches and put up an outbuilding to house a few apprentices in pastoral ministry. In these United States, this was the first Presbyterian educational work beyond the level of common schools.
Like the derogatory terms 'methodist' and 'puritan,' people expressed disdain for Pastor Tennent's humble effort, calling it the "Log College."
Only one person living at the time thought Tennent's work significant enough to leave a written record of its existence, but this was none other than the mighty preacher of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. Through Whitefield we know the Log College was twenty feet by twenty feet and just a few steps away from Pastor Tennent's home. A rough building constructed of logs taken out of the surrounding woods, the college was built to house only five to ten young apprentices. Speaking of people's "contempt" for Tennent's work, Whitefield wrote:
(The Log College) seemed to resemble the school of the old prophets, for (both) habitations were mean (humble); and that they sought not great things for themselves is plain from those passages of Scripture wherein we are told that each of them took them a beam to build them a house (2Kings 6); and that at the feast of the sons of the prophets, one of them put on the pot, whilst the others went to fetch some herbs out of the field (2Kings 4:38-44). All that we can say of most of our universities is, they are glorious without. (But) from this despised place (the Log College) seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth, more are almost ready to be sent, and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others. (It's interesting to note that Whitefield's journal, from which this excerpt was taken, was printed in Philadelphia in 1739 by Benjamin Franklin.)
When J. Gresham Machen left the faculty of Princeton Seminary two centuries later (in 1929), Princeton had built a reputation for training shepherds faithful to Scripture, men who guarded the good deposit handed down to them from the Apostles. By then, the list of fathers in the faith associated with the leadership of Princeton or her two mother-institutions included not only Tennent, but also Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, J. A. Alexander, A. A. Hodge, and B. B. Warfield. What a heritage!
Often, though, Princeton's history is compressed, focusing on her academic achievements while neglecting the pastoral vision of those who gave her birth (and their students). The Log College was not known primarily for the academic training the men enrolled received, but rather for refusing to send out pastors who were indifferent to true religion—this was the reason Tennent founded the Log College and his apprentices were known for their piety and unflinching courage in leading their flock to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.
Log College students encouraged heart religion. They preached for reform and revival, and were not content simply to maintain the status quo within the churches they served. They were unwilling to settle for an intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture without a believing faith evidenced by an experience of regeneration--what our Lord called being "born again." They had a deep conviction that a personal experience and testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit was an absolute prerequisite to church membership, and that without such living faith men ought not to be allowed to partake of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper by which God makes a distinction between His Own Covenant People and those who do not belong to Him.
Now, almost a century after Machen's departure signaled the end of Princeton's faithfulness to Scripture's God, the elders of Christ the Word and Church of the Good Shepherd have founded a new log college...
We are setting out to train men for pastoral ministry who will be known for their piety and courage—men who will not be content to maintain the status quo, but rather will give themselves manfully to all the duties of their ministry, particularly the promotion of heart religion and the ongoing reform of the Bride of Christ.
Some may ask why, when the land is filled with seminaries with evangelical statements of faith, we are using valuable resources to duplicate these works? We answer that over the years we have had some familiarity with a number of these seminaries, both through attending them ourselves and through the reports of a number of men who have grown up in our congregations and gone off to seminary. The reports we would give of our own seminary training match the reports we've received from others.
Seminaries today seem almost uniformly to evidence two fatal flaws. First, for three years they remove men from the real life and witness of the local church, instead placing them in an academic community where heart religion is paid lip-service but it's the life of the mind that owns the hearts. Second, in those seminaries where some effort is made to tether the academic emphasis to pastoral ministry, faithfulness in pastoral ministry is defined by the avoidance of conflict.
We believe Pastor's Tennent's model of pastoral training will provide a corrective to both these failures by changing the focus of that training from the academy to the church where, within congregations, men may test their call and prepare for their work in a pastoral context. And where men also may observe and work with elders who are manly in their work, being gentle with the sheep but hard as rock with those who speak "perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30).
But of course, even if these criticisms of seminaries are wide of the mark, why should any church have to justify her efforts to train men for pastoral ministry for free within her own fellowship?
The Reformed Evangelical Pastors College opens its doors this September with five students (oops, it's now six). Led by a board composed, presently, of two elders from each of the two founding congregations, we ask for your prayers that God will bless this work with the fruitfulness He blessed Pastor Tennent's Log College with three centuries ago. And if you are interested in this work, please feel free to send an e-mail to Pastor Stephen Baker, REPC's dean. He will be happy to correspond with you.
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Since this post was published back in 2005, the work of the Reformed Evangelical Pastors College has been divided into two log colleges—Reformed Evangelical Pastors College at Christ the Word in Toledo and Clearnote Pastors College at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana. REPC and CPC cooperate heavily in teaching and curriculum. So far about fifteen men have graduated from both colleges with several ordained and now serving in pastoral ministry within the PCA and Clearnote Fellowship. We praise God for his blessing on this work!