Christianity 201

October 5, 2019

If People are Hungry for God, Is Higher Education Necessary?

Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly. – 2 Timothy 2:15 CEB

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. – 2 Peter 1:10 NLT

Today’s post was originally scheduled to run in the early summer. It spent three months in a pending file. It was a heartfelt case for higher Christian education; over 1,200 words penned by an employee of a theological seminary. If you know the first of the two scriptures quoted above, you know that the Bible fully endorses training for ministry. One will often hear this verse quoted:

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.  Acts 17:11 (NLT)

Possibly the first “discernment ministry” in scripture!

So I fully agree with training in ministry.

But today I trashed the entire post.

I felt that the writer simply had too narrow a view as to the people that God uses. Perhaps even people like you; the reader.

The first generation church narrative is known to us as The Book of Acts, or The Acts of the Apostles. It begins with God using a rag-tag bunch who Acts 4:13 describes in these terms:

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.  (NLT)

Of course they had said the same thing about Jesus himself. In John 7:15 we’re told

The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked. (NLT)

The problem that we encounter in the modern church is that we have so many people who have received so much training that it’s easy for the “lay people” to be easily intimidated. Those who don’t have the letters after their name. Those who can’t necessarily define all the big words. Those who don’t know the secret handshake.

It’s all about academia. This hit home in our family with full force this week — someone excluded from future ministry opportunities on academic grounds due to educational requirements — and I’ll tell that story at some point in the future on the other blog…

…Nine years ago we posted a song here titled Ordinary People by Danniebelle Hall. It was the only version we could find at the time, but I’m glad to see there’s now a studio version online. I like the bridge of the song especially:

Just like that little lad
who gave Jesus all he had
How the multitude was fed
with a fish and loaves of bread
What you have may not seem much
but when you yield it to the touch
of the Master’s loving hand
then you will understand
how your life could never be the same

The purpose of this is not to undermine the role of formal theological study. I am a book guy. I believe in training. I believe in the mentoring that takes place through formal programs of study.

But I also believe our modern church should make way for those people whose life journey and natural gifting have combined to give them what the early Calvary Chapel movement would — when setting people apart for ministry — refer to as a ‘proven ministry.’

Recently a well known megachurch posted the job of senior pastor. I inwardly rejoiced that they set no specific educational standard. But one respected writer noted that the church in question “wants a leader who is both theologically grounded and (or but) that person does not need a theological degree. That’s a very very rare combination. So rare that this… job description is stomping recklessly on thin ice.” Seeing this as symptomatic of larger problem — and one which I would not necessarily disagree — he added that, “those who devalue theology don’t think theology is needed.”

So training needs to be seen as normative, but our title question concerned whether it is necessary, and I would want to argue that it is not in all cases.

He chooses people,
just like me and you
who are willing
to do what he commands