IS FORMAL EDUCATION NECESSARY TO SERVE GOD?

Most institutional churches believe formal training at a Bible college is what qualifies one for the work of the Lord. If one has a degree doors tend to open. If you don't have that degree you are viewed in a "lay" capacity or in a "para- church ministry". Those without the formal training are not allowed to teach, preach, baptize or administer the Lord's Supper in most institutional churches.

When one acknowledges a call to the ministry it is expected they will begin looking for a Bible college or seminary to attend for their formal training. I, myself, visited a Bible college in Indiana. I looked at other Bible colleges, as well.

It's interesting to note how this type of thinking fits in to the mind-set of the early church. You see, Bible colleges, seminaries and, for that matter, even Sunday schools didn't exist in the early church. Each of these are man-made entities that were created hundreds of years after the apostles passed from the scene. Don't you find that interesting? I certainly do.

That, then, brings to mind a question:  "How were Christian workers in the early church trained if they did not go for formal training in a religious school or training center?"  It appears training in the early church was "hands on" training. It was more like what we would call an apprenticeship as opposed to intellectual training.

The early church Christians called to the work of God were trained in a couple of different ways. First they learned the essentials of the faith by being part of a group of Christians. They started their training by experiencing body life as a non-leader. They learned to "flesh out" their walk with God. Secondly, they learned the Lord's work under the auspices of an older, seasoned worker. This was all very practical and God ordained. All of this without Bible colleges or seminaries! Can you believe it?

R. Paul Stevens said, "The best structure of equipping every Christian is already in place. It pre-dates the seminary and the weekend seminar and will outlast both. In the New Testament no other nurturing and equipping is offered than the local church.  In the New Testament church, as in the ministry of Jesus, people learned in the furnace of life, in a relational, living, working and ministering context" (Emphasis mine. Liberating the Laity 46).

Yet in spite of the example of Jesus and the early church, there is great emphasis placed on Bible school and seminary training today. Most institutional churches require this training of their pastoral staff. "How else", they reason, "will the prospective pastor have the knowledge and speaking ability to be the pastor we want?" (There is so much wrong with that statement!)

I like how Frank Viola and George Barna put it in their book "Pagan Christianity?", "Bible knowledge, a high-powered intellect, and razor-sharp reasoning skills do not automatically produce spiritual men and women who know Jesus Christ profoundly and who can impart a life-giving revelation of Him to others. (This, by the way, is the basis of spiritual ministry)."

No matter how much we want to deny it, contemporary theology being taught in Bible colleges and seminaries, today, is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy. What a mess this has brought into churches today. Contemporary Christian education is built on the false idea that knowledge equals moral character. We know this it not the case.

Its imperative that we realize that Bible school training, seminary training and theological knowledge does not prepare one for ministry. I'm not demeaning having this knowledge by any means. But its not the primary central thing - or at least it shouldn't be. All the intelligence and knowledge in the world does not, in and of itself, qualify one for ministry in Jesus' church.

Probably the worst problem with the Bible college and seminary is that the system, itself, perpetuates this system of a clergy/laity distinction.  This system of pastor primacy is kept alive and ingrained into the lives of the students and graduates. Instead of providing biblical answers for the problems this distinction generates, these Bible colleges and seminaries make things even worse by defending these unscriptural practices in our churches.

As stated previously, Christian workers should be trained in the manner Jesus trained His disciples and the early church trained their workers. They had "on the job" training while living in community together. It was and still should be about mentoring.

We need to let God be God in our lives. We must realize there are no Lone Rangers in the kingdom of God. God intended for us learn, grow and serve as a community of believers. We need each other!  The sooner we come to that realization, the more fruitful and productive our lives will be.

Until next time, let's enjoy the journey!

Ray

This blog post is another in a series looking at the practices of churches today and how they line up with the New Testament. Perhaps this series could be better called, "Kicking Over Sacred Cows". For further reading and research, I recommend the book "Pagan Christianity?" by Frank Viola and George Barna.

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