Jesus Didn't Die for Campus Ministry

Provocative language that can’t be blamed on cold-hearted Reformed confessionalists since Russell Moore is a Baptist with impeccable evangelical credentials. He says in part, 

The reason many college students identify primarily with a campus ministry rather than with a church is not because of any flaw in most campus ministry organizations. It is because, too often, we evangelical Christians have a deficient view of the church. We assume that it is any gathering of people who believe in Jesus and who do churchly things. Many Christians assume the church exists simply to help us learn more about Christ and pool our resources for missions. If that’s the case, a campus ministry can do all those things, and more. But the Scriptures tell us the church is much more than that. Read more>>

(HT: Daily Scroll)

To alleviate concerns that Clark might be opposed to campus ministries, I’m not. I benefitted considerably from the pastoral care and instruction I received and friendship I experienced as a University student from Warren Embree, Bill Stephens, Chuck Hill and others. The campus ministry that was most useful to me, however, was under the oversight of a local Reformed congregation, St John’s Reformed Church in Lincoln, Neb.

The college group did what a good college group should do: it taught me to love the Lord and to love his visible, institutional church (Belgic Confession, Art. 29). The churchly emphasis of our college group was in contrast to my brief experience with other college groups who seemed more interested in using the local congregation as a feeding ground for their own organizations. Rather than operating in submission to the visible, institutional church, these groups were competing directly with them and they were employing all the revivalist strategies inherited from Finney, Moody, and Sunday. Until recent years the sorts of shenanigans that the high school and college-age youth groups employed gave them a distinct “advantage.” Now, of course, the Sabbath morning service, in many places, is indistinguishable from the local Young Life or Campus Life meeting.

Our understanding of Scripture is that Christ instituted a visible, institutional church to preach the law and the gospel (the whole counsel of God), administer the sacraments, and to administer discipline. These things do not belong in college chapels or in campus groups. Whether college students should transfer their membership while at college is a matter best left to a member and his or her consistory (session) but college students should be actively involved in and accountable to a local congregation.

One final thought. When I taught at Wheaton I recall students staying up to all hours to pray. I remember telling them, in class, you people should go to bed at a reasonable hour so you can get up and fulfill your vocation as students. It isn’t “pious” to pray one’s self to exhaustion so that one is unable to fulfill one’s daily calling. As the father of college students I have the distinct impression that this is still a problem. I truly appreciate the passion that college groups can inspire among students and there’s no problem with Christians forming private societies to do good and useful things but the local campus ministry isn’t the visible church.

For more on this topic see this essay.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Dr. Clark,

    What do you say to those believers in say like Oxford, OH where there is no reformed church or any good church within a reasonable driving distance. What if the best option for discipline and hearing the word preached is a meeting like FCA or Campus Life or Young Life or whatever? (obviously none of these can observe the sacraments) How would you start to approach this type of a situation? Because I am in full agreement with you on all of what you said above but how should I encourage my friend who cannot find any church to do even one of the three things that you mentioned a church is called to do?


  2. “Education as vocation” sure beats “education as mission.” It helps make the case for the secular education of covenant youth. And if nothing else, one way sure affords more sleep at night.

  3. Hi Merritt,

    This is a difficult question for which there is no easy and perhaps no good answer. Of course the best thing would be to plant a confessional Reformed congregation. I see that there’s an OP in Dayton, about an hour away to the NE ( Perhaps they would like to begin working toward a church plant? There are several PCA congregations in Cincinnati, one seems to be in the Northern part of the city about 22 miles from Oxford. There’s an RP congregation in Belle Center, about 2.5 hours away. These are the places I would contact (the nearest URC being about 8.5 hours away in Lancaster, PA — although it might be worth calling Rev Arrick to see what he says) to see if any of them would be interested in doing something. If there are at least a few families interested there’s a possibility of a church plant.

    Before that happens, however, there must be prayer and investigation to see if there are any likely families or singles who could serve as a core group for a church plant.

    Failing that, a 25-40 mile drive isn’t too uncommon for Reformed folks. We drive 80 miles (20 x 4) every Sabbath.

  4. Hi Zrim,

    Being a product of the state schools, as a matter of education, child development, and even spiritual development, I would be cautious about most state schools. Some charter schools may be an exception.

    The secular educational establishment isn’t content to observe the two kingdoms. Indeed, Ben Sasse did his PhD diss on this topic and I’m trying to get a copy but as he summarized his argument to me some years ago, the history of public schooling in the USA is closely tied to religious interests and motives. That’s part of the problem. They’re just as “transformationalist” often as the transformationalists.

  5. Scott,

    I have nothing against caution. But I do have a bit of a beef with caricature over characterization. Being a product of the same, and even granting one can find plenty of “transformationalism” in its ostensible history, I have yet to run into an actual secular educator who thinks his role is to instill a worldview, nurture or destroy religious conviction or is otherwise “closely tied to religious interests” which is the prime property of the home. The secularists, at least mine, get that way before my transformationalist-religionists.

    Speaking of charters, we tried that once. I wasn’t a big fan of the “character and virtue curriculum.” Even in kindergarten my daughter already knew it was bad to lie to teachers. I just wanted someone to sanction her for it. The regular PS understood that. It may be as controversial as calling Edwards a pietist, but the secular educational establishment may be more 2K than some think.

  6. Zed,

    The schools of education in our universities are full of would-be transformationalists. I heard it during a brief sojourn in “Teachers College” in Univ and my wife heard more as she took her BA in Ed in the same time.

    I heard quite a lot of theology from some of my teachers when I was in school in the 60s and 70s. There was a real difference between what the pre-baby boomer teachers would say and what the baby-boomer era teachers would say. The latter, as a class –and their successors — have openly pursued an ideological agenda.

    I’m sure that there are secular teachers who are not secularist, who simply teach math or whatever without trying to inculcate a worldview. The critics of this way of speaking would yell, “but everyone does everything out of a worldview.” That’s true but I say to them that we need to distinguish between the ultimate and the penultimate.

    I don’t want folks (not you) to read this and think that I’m counseling naivete about the secular (and secularist) educational establishment just as I don’t want people to assume that everything that goes on in the local “Christian” school is in fact Christian or schooling.

    Charters are quite common out here and they run the gamut.

  7. Am I “Zed”? I think so.

    I agree, every option has its problems. My original point was simply that I think there is more of a case to be made for secular education than is widely assumed; and the notion of vocation, over against mission, helps it. Most times it seems there is only ever a case to be made against secular education.

    For my part, what I have a hard time understanding is why otherwise two-kingdomites, who make the case that there is no such thing as Christian versions of worldly institutions, including education, employ Christian day schools. I realize there are hosts of factors at play in anyone’s particular choice, but it is something I have wondered about frequently.

Comments are closed.