R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson
rj_anderson

Blogback to Jeri on her most recent post, picking up on a theme she's touched upon before and which I always meant to talk about here when I got the chance.

In the process of describing some of the participants in an ongoing debate about church discipline and pastoral abuse, she mentions one regular commenter who is "...of the opinion that too much education is bad for a person, and that a really good preacher will be 'mentored' into office and does not need a profound education." She goes on to observe that she sees in this man a serious "... contradiction in opposing [corruption in the church], while advocating the method that gives corrupt preachers power: lack of formal education in the Word of God."

Now, if by "formal education", what is meant is "learning from more mature and knowledgeable believers to make a systematic, thorough study of the Scriptures as a whole and in context, and to seek out answers for oneself rather than blindly following tradition or some other preacher's say-so," then I say hear, hear! But if by "formal education" we really mean "completing a program of courses at some institution of higher learning, ending in a degree"... well, I'm afraid that I can't agree that the latter is essential, or even necessarily desirable.

This is not to say that I believe higher education is evil, or that there is no profit to be had from it. If someone sincerely wishes to study Hebrew and/or Greek, Biblical geography, post-testamental church history, or some other related subject(s) not usually taught or studied in their particular local church, more power to them. That such studies in any way make them more inherently fit to teach doctrine or hold the office of an elder/pastor than someone who has not pursued those studies, however, I do not believe.

The qualifications for pastors and elders are laid out for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1: integrity, sobriety, fidelity, self-control, a good reputation, the demonstrated ability to faithfully handle God's word without distortion and to oppose false teaching, and so on. No mention is made of degrees or accreditation from some theological or philosophical institution outside the church. Nor were any of the apostles, with the exception of Paul*, so accredited. As such, I cannot agree with any system of thought that would bar a godly and mature believer, apt to teach and well-versed in Scripture from a lifetime of careful study, from shepherding God's people on the basis that he does not possess a seminary or Bible school degree. And I would greatly fear for any congregation that welcomes an unknown and unproven man to teach and shepherd them on the basis that he does have such a degree.

What is needed in the Christian church today is not more people with academic credentials, but people who have committed themselves to studying and obeying God's word, regardless of whether they hold (or hope to hold) some recognized office in the church or not. In other words, it's not the pastors and preachers who need better education, but the congregation that needs to be better edified and taught the Scriptures -- so that they will recognize false teachers and false doctrines when they see them, and not be seduced and destroyed by wolves in sheep's clothing. The Bereans were commended for searching the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul was saying in his sermons was true: and that's precisely the attitude that all believers ought to have -- not accepting any preacher's words unconditionally, but checking and double-checking everything against the Word of God.

A seminary may teach a man to orate more smoothly, and to pepper his sermons with intriguing bits of information about Biblical culture and language.** However, it is ill equipped to produce the kind of humble servant's heart God seeks in His shepherds, if it was not already there to begin with. And in some arrogant, ambitious and self-centred personalities, a seminary degree only increases their sense of entitlement, and reinforces the artificial distinction between "clergy" and "laity" to the extent that these men actually believe they are in a separate spiritual class from their congregation and therefore above such things as church discipline. It's certainly not true in every case, or even in most cases -- there are a lot of sincere and earnest seminary graduates who simply want to be better preachers, counsellors and shepherds of the flock -- but I've seen enough examples of people going away to Bible school or seminary and coming back puffed up with arrogance, hungry for recognition, and ready to put the lesser mortals in their place, that I cannot regard "formal education" of that sort as a prevention, much less a cure, for pastoral abuse.

--
*Note, too, how seldom the apostle Paul mentions his own formal theological training in any kind of positive context. Although Paul's Pharisaical training meant that he had a formidable intellectual acquaintance with the text of the Old Testament and the tenets of first-century Judaism, those things never led him to Christ or produced in him a godly character; and after his conversion he never advocated such studies to his audience as a method of improving their understanding of Scripture.

**Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on whether or not the message is soundly based in the words of Scripture rather than merely the ideas and speculations of men. I have heard a number of sermons from seminary graduates which used extrabiblical arguments from language or culture to subvert the plain meaning of the Biblical text, apparently forgetting the considerable number of other Biblical passages which would contradict such an interpretation. Give me a preacher who really knows his Bible, over one who speaks fluent Greek or can discourse about the customs of first-century Palestine, any day.
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