Graduation address at the New-Church Theological School
May 27, 1960 · Louis A. Dole
“Give ye them to eat.” – Luke 9:13
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is a familiar one. There was only a little food at hand, five loaves and two fishes, but the Lord commanded that it be brought to Him. He blessed it and gave it to His disciples to distribute, and lo, there was enough for all, and there remained left over twelve baskets full.
There is a lesson here for every minister starting out on his work. The loaves and fishes are the goodness and truth with which he begins. Under the Divine providence you who graduate today have been led to prepare yourselves to become ministers in the Lord’s New Church, the church of this new age. Your first duty is expressed in the words “Give ye them to eat,” and again, “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my lambs.”
You have completed your formal education, but that is only the start. The question “Am I equal to this task?” should have entered your minds. And the answer is, “No, not in my own strength.” What good and truth you have must be taken to the Lord before it is given to the people. Too often young men go out from the theological schools equipped with a knowledge of modern methods and techniques and thinking that the old methods – and old people as well – are out of date. They attempt to throw overboard long established traditions of a church and to make it over according to their own ideas of what a church should be. And it is not your own ideas that you should preach. If you do this, some in your congregation will agree with you, others will disagree; and so your own preaching will cause divisions and factions within your church.
And particularly a minister should not allow himself to fall into the habit of criticizing his people – not even secretly in his own mind. All in his congregation are of his flock. Each one is different and each one has some good in him. It is this good that must be seen and reached. Nor should the minister criticize one of his flock to another or agree with such criticism by others. He may be sure that this criticism will spread. Nor should he agree with views expressed by one person and then with another who expresses the opposite views. Very soon no one will know where he stands, nor will they trust him.
Another fatal mistake is for a minister to seek to make a name for himself and to set himself above his people. Remember the Tower of Babel story. The Lord’s command was and is, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” And we recall the Lord’s statement about those who sought the chief seats, and about James and John: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them… but it shall not be so among you.”
The minister, in his study of the Word in the light of the writings, should find truths which meet his own needs and should want to share them with his people. If the sermon does not apply to the minister himself, he may be sure that it will apply to no one. The minister should indeed be a leader, but this does not come through self-assertion. As his people find that he is looking to the Lord for his own guidance, that he always holds his own ideas subordinate to revelation and is leading others to the same source of light and strength, that he has no favorites in his congregation and no personal axe to grind, they will begin to trust him and to go to him with their questions and problems.
“If thou… call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
Remember that the food was brought to the Lord first. Without this, ministering is without the Lord’s presence and power. If we use the knowledge which we have acquired, always looking to the Lord, the blessing and the increase will follow.
And let us think for a very brief moment about the importance of ministering to a parish. It is there that people are reached. Among ministers, the greatest have been those who have worked among and served the people. The Lord when He was on earth did not seek fame. His purpose was to be the servant of all. And He said that He came not to do His own will, but that of the Father. There is no higher place or more satisfying service in the ministry than that of the parish priest.
As ministers, you who graduate today will go forth equipped with a little love and a little truth. You have no power in yourselves to increase them or to feed the Lord’s flocks. Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” This is a universal law. Not even a plant or a tree can grow without heat and light from the sun. But as you take your powers to the Lord for His blessing and then give to your people, there will be sufficient to meet the needs of the day and a measure left over.
And the need is there. Many seem to imagine that some measure of ordinary decency and humane conduct could come into existence more or less automatically, simply as the result of a process of growth and education and progress called “civilization.” But recent as well as ancient history teaches us that we can no longer maintain this illusion. In the Scripture story the multitude was in a desert place. Spiritually today the world is in a desert place. It is always so at the beginning of a new age. It was so when the Lord sent forth His twelve apostles. It is so today.
The great need of the world today is for true doctrine concerning the Lord, the spiritual world, and the purpose and goal of life. We are living in a time of great danger as well as of great promise. Falsity is never harmless. The world cannot advance of itself, nor can it be advanced through false doctrine. One error is usually the parent of a thousand. We must start from facts or from propositions which are true. If we do this, we begin aright and have a fair prospect of so continuing, while otherwise we begin wrong, with a certainty of diverging further and further into error with each succeeding step.
However unpalatable it may be to the modern mind, there is but one system of truth – only one – that can withstand the increasing intellectual attacks and bear lasting fruit, and this is the system which the Lord made His second coming to reveal. It is His doctrine, not ours. We are merely His stewards.
We hear much today about a united church, and there are those who think that this could be accomplished if only the various denominations would give up their beliefs which conflict and put their emphasis on good works. But this is not even good common sense. Without a true understanding of the Lord and His purposes we do not even know what “good works” are. There are other works than external ones, and these are the really important good works – the “greater works” of which the Lord spoke. It is a work to build up a true knowledge of God. It is a work to build a true philosophy of life. It is a work to formulate principles by which right and wrong are distinguished. These are the primary needs of men, and to meet these needs is the office of the church. “The church is where the Word is and is understood.” The Lord’s presence with man is through His Word. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” We do not live from ourselves. We were created by a power outside of ourselves which keeps us alive from day to day and which gives us eternal life.
When the Lord first came, He was seen in outward, visible form. He lived a life as concrete and visible as that of any finite man. He came in person. But His second coming was not in person. It was a new revelation of Himself in His Word. It was a coming to the minds of men instead of to the eye of flesh. It was the opening of the Scriptures and bringing to view infinite stores of Divine wisdom contained in them, hitherto unknown. The Lord Himself is presented as the very center and source of that wisdom. Hence it is possible to see and understand Him with a clearness and fullness which in past ages was never imagined. No other kind of coming could be so real.
When the Lord sent His first apostles out into the world, He said to them: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” This is still the primary task of every minister, and in the New Church this means the bringing of a new understanding of the Gospel. Only so can we truly feed the people.
The New Church is in the world. It does now exist upon the earth. The time has come when men can enter intellectually into the truths of faith. There is no occasion for praising ourselves or boasting about this, for these truths are in no sense our own. Some of the truths of the New Church, such as its teaching about the continuity of life after death and about the spiritual world, have been more or less widely received, but its system of truth as a whole has been accepted by very few.
The New Church cannot be where its teachings are not known and accepted. It is the part of all its ministers to study, understand, and preach its doctrines as the means which the Lord has provided for His new approach to men in His Second Coming.
Unto the only Lord God, the Savior Jesus Christ, be ascribed all blessing, honor, glory, and thanksgiving now and evermore.