How Scriptural are Seminaries and ‘Bible Colleges’?
There came to Him (Jesus) the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders. And say unto Him, By WHAT authority doest Thou these things? And WHO gave Thee this authority?” [Mark 11:27,28].
How history repeats itself! “From WHAT College have YOU graduated? And in WHICH Seminary were YOU trained”? are the modern forms of this query!
Recently I posted an article by a Brother who clearly exposed and repudiated the error of Transubstantiation or the ‘Real-Presence of Christ in the bread and wine, and the people who were contending for this error, were more interested in the ‘credentials’ of the said Brother than the truth he had presented!
The question to ask is not “WHO gave you the authority to preach” but “Is your preaching in accord with God’s word”? The AUTHORITY to preach is not something that is bestowed by MAN, or even a school of men (like a College or Seminary). And it is definitely not bestowed by an Institution which claims to be the Church of Christ but teaches and practices everything contrary to the revealed Word of God.
The Pharisees were the only ones in Scripture who questioned a persons’ ‘authority to preach’! ‘And when He was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority”? Strikingly the Lord does not answer their query but says, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” [Mat 21:23-27]
Even when the Apostle Paul started preaching, none of the older Apostles asked him who gave him the authority, but admitted, that “he who persecuted us in times past now preaches the faith which once he destroyed”! [Gal 1:23]
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no warrant in Scripture for a formal Seminary education to qualify men to be preachers! The closest example in Scripture to a college or seminary education is the Pharisee’s education system. The result of their education system is pretty clear. They could not even recognize God when He came to them in person (Jesus). They really believed that they loved God, but in actuality they hated God (Jesus) because God did not fit the theology they had been taught in their schools. They refused to believe the truth. They went to Hell, because their education was a stumbling block. They were proud, arrogant, hypocritical, and looked for the approval and honor of men. God intentionally hid spiritual understanding from them. “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” (Matthew 11:25) The Pharisees education system was a failed education system and yet the Church’s Seminary education system is very similar to it.
THE MEN CHRIST CHOSE AND APPOINTED TO ‘FEED HIS SHEEP’ WERE FOR THE MOST PART ‘UNEDUCATED MEN’!
The way Jesus trained His disciples was totally different than a college or seminary education today. It was more of an apprenticeship, and could not be described as a formal education. AT THE END OF THEIR TRAINING WITH JESUS, THEY WERE STILL DESCRIBED AS UNLEARNED AND IGNORANT MEN. However, their preaching brought thousands to a saving faith in Jesus and impacted the world. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) God Himself gave us the example that education is not important.
Jesus did not even attend the “elementary” school for Jewish boys that taught them how to read. “And the Jews marveled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? [John 7:15]
Paul was a highly educated man in the teachings of the Pharisees. He knew the terminology, the reasoning, the jargon of the religious elite. But he put that all aside as worthless when God called him to preach! [See I Corinthians 2:1-16]
Moses was educated in Pharaoh’s house with the best education in Egypt. However, that did not qualify him to lead the Children of Israel. God had to humble him for 40 years in the desert, leading sheep, before he was ready to be the leader that God wanted him to be. When God called Moses, he did not feel qualified to be a leader or to stand before Pharaoh. He asked God to send someone else instead.
And THAT is what God’s school of training does to those whom He calls and trains, – i.e. it shows them how insufficient they are for the task ahead! Almost every man whom God called to ‘go speak for Him’ in holy writ made excuses and tried to shake off the task, for they found themselves insufficient! [2Cor 3:5]
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”! [Matt 18:1-5]
College and seminary education and degrees do not help a pastor to become humble as a little child. A pastor must be converted in his thinking about what greatness really is. Unfortunately, a seminary degree and especially the title “Doctor” does not help a pastor become more humble. Neither can a man who is not humble himself help others to be humble so that they can enter the kingdom of heaven. (v.3)
GOD’S DESIGN OF THE CHURCH STRUCTURE IS ONE OF EQUALITY RATHER THAN HIERARCHY. BROTHERHOOD RATHER THAN MASTER AND SERVANT OR PROFESSOR AND STUDENT.
The word “Minister” means: “to run on errands; an attendant, that is, (generally) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess): deacon, minister, servant.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) A degree of higher education is a great hindrance to this command for a pastor to view himself as a servant. Church structure is opposite of business or government structure. A pastor must not do things to receive honor of others – special dress, special seat, parking, fancy or high pulpit, or honorary title or degree. All of those are contrary to the attributes of a servant. [See Matt 20:25-28]
Jesus commands (It is not a suggestion) that a pastor is not to use a title of honor: “Reverend”, “Doctor”, or “Ph.D.” “M.Div.” “Th.D.”, “Senior Pastor”, etc. A person’s education must not be used in the church to elevate that individual above any other person. Everyone in the church are equals (v.8) Highly educated persons in the church are not be acknowledged as such in the church. [read A.W. Pinks article –“Doctor or brother”]
Think of it – Jesus SAT DOWN to teach His disciples. Matthew 5, the sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to the multitudes SITTING DOWN. Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth SAT DOWN to teach. Jesus taught SITTING in a boat. A pulpit is usually ELEVATED above the people and puts the pastor at the center of attention and importance center stage. That is the OPPOSITE of Jesus’ command to be servant of all.
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight”. [Matt 11:25-27]
The Pharisees were highly educated in the Old Testament in the “seminary” of their day. But God hid spiritual understanding from them and revealed it to uneducated men. Note what Jesus said, that God knew that this was best to hide true spiritual understanding from the educated! Jesus did not have any formal education. If a pastor desires to follow Christ and do what Jesus would do, why does he desire to have a seminary education? Why does the church desire their pastor to have a seminary education?
God’s design for pastors is the opposite of one patterned after seminary training. God has chosen the uneducated, the foolish in the world’s eyes, the weak, the base things of the world, those that are despised. God has not chosen the educated to lead the church. Jesus followed this same principle in choosing the twelve disciples. Not one educated Pharisee was chosen. Later when Paul, a highly educated Pharisee became a Christian, he tells us how he renounced his education so that his ministry would be more effective for Christ.
“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God”. [1Cor 3:18]
God warns us here that it is easy for a highly educated person to deceive himself. The tendency with a college or seminary education is that with a degree to one’s name, that person has a tendency to feel that he is wise.
THEREFORE IF A PASTOR HAS A SEMINARY DEGREE, HE NEEDS TO BECOME A FOOL BY RENOUNCING IT SO THAT HE CAN BECOME WISE. OTHERWISE HIS THOUGHTS, THOUGH APPEARING TO BE WISE, ARE VAIN IN TRUE SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING.
Here are some quotes from A.W. Pink on Seminaries –
The best place of training for the pastor is not a seminary but the school of adversity. Spiritual lessons can be learned only in the furnace of affliction. [Gleanings from Paul]
Commenting on Isaiah 40:29-31, he says –
But where had Elijah learned this all-important lesson? Not in any seminary or bible-training college, for it there were such in that day they were like some in our own degenerate time—in the hands of the Lord’s enemies. [Life of Elijah].
This was one of the trials which this writer (Pink) encountered over thirty years ago, when his pastor and Christian friends urged him to enter a theological seminary, though they knew that deadly error was taught there. It was not easy to take his stand against them, but he is deeply thankful he did so. [Gleanings from Elisha].
Passing through a seminary and putting on the ministerial garb does not transform the unregenerate into regenerate men. When our Lord announced, “The truth shall make you free,” it was the religious leaders of the Jews who declared they were never in bondage; and when He affirmed, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do,” they replied, “Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” (John 8). [The Doctrine of man’s Impotence].
Commenting on John 7:15 –
“How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” How like the spirit
which is abroad today! How many there are in the educational and religious world who suppose it is impossible for man to expound the Scriptures gracefully and to the edification of his hearers unless, forsooth, he has first been trained in some college or seminary! Education is an altar which is now thronged by a multitude of idolatrous worshippers. That, no doubt, is one reason why God’s curse has fallen on almost all our seats of learning. [Exposition of John]
Commenting on John 7:17 –
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” How this word rebuked, again, these worldly-minded Jews; and how it reverses the judgment of many of our moderns! One does not have to enter a seminary or a Bible Institute and take a course in Christian Apologetics in order to obtain assurance that the Bible is inspired, or in order to learn how to interpret it. Spiritual intelligence comes not through the intellect, but via the heart: it is acquired not by force of reasoning, but by the exercise of faith.
An experiential acquaintance with Christ is the one thing needful. A heart knowledge of God’s truth is the vital thing, and it is that which no schooling or seminary training can confer. [Exposition of John]
Commenting on John 9:34 –
Alas, how tragically does history repeat itself. These men were too arrogant to receive anything from this poor beggar. They were graduates from honored seats of learning, therefore was it far too much beneath their dignity to be instructed by this unsophisticated disciple of Christ. And how many a preacher there is today, who in his fancied superiority, scorns the help which ofttimes a member of his congregation could give him. Glorying in their seminary education, they cannot allow that an ignorant layman has light on the Scriptures which they do not possess. Let a Spirit-taught layman seek to show the average preacher “the way of the Lord more perfectly,” and he must not be surprised if his pastor says — if not in so many words, plainly by his bearing and actions — “dost thou teach us?” How marvellously pertinent is this two-thousand-year-old Book to our own times! “And they cast him out” (John 9:34).
But to “open” the Scriptures helpfully to the saints requires something more than a few months’ training in a Bible institute, or a year or two in a seminary. None but those who have been personally taught of God in the hard school of experience are qualified so to “open” the Word that Divine light is cast upon the spiritual problems of the believer, for while Scripture interprets experience, experience is often the best interpreter of Scripture. [Acts 17:2,3].
[Some of the above is quoted from – ‘A Biblical Research Report by Myron Horst’]
Here’s an additional note from Elder Jack Dawsey an Old School Baptist in response to a query on this subject –
Question – “Elder Dawsey, would you make some comments on theological schools, their authenticity (or not) for Bible teaching, and whether or not an aspiring Bible student should enroll in them to prepare for the ministry?”
Thank you for asking my opinion on theological schools. But first, before I attempt an answer to your inquiry, allow me to “generalize” and then proceed by offering you some “specifics.”
As an aspiring ministerial student, it’s important to read everything you get your hands on and “prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” I Thess. 5:21 and that “which you have already, hold fast till He come.” –Rev. 2:25.
Moreover, it’s important for you to keep in mind that acquiring a body of knowledge, whether or not institutional or self-taught is a laudable action that Old School Primitive Baptists ambitiously seek, and you should too. Education is an equalizer among men.
But when Bible colleges and other esteem theological institutions promote the notion that they are equipped to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that they are the fountain of wisdom, and conflate the wisdom of the flesh to the Holy Spirit, the word foolish is not a sufficient word to describe their charter.
When schools of academia have the audacity to confer doctorates of divinity on students or colleagues, or claim empowerment to prepare men and women to advance the kingdom of God, they are gone beyond the pale.
Theological schools are devices of men, and are used to confer titles that are misleading. Their degrees are misleading because when brethren of religious stripes attend these schools for the service of Christ, they open themselves to an employment opportunity (hireling) our precious Lord declared to be evil –John 10:13. In addition, there is but One Reverend and One Doctor of Divinity Psalm 111:9, therefore when schools confer this moniker they mock the dear Redeemer.
We believe that a person, called to serve God, must first experience the grace of God, and part of the experience is the constant awareness that Christ has perfect knowledge in all things, that He has the power to confer upon His called servants that which is well pleasing in His sight, and is able to perform and accomplish the work He ordained to His servant. As an example to follow, I urge you to consider the apostle to the Jews and the apostle to the Gentiles, Gal. 1:16.
Now it’s true, on occasion, Christ calls men to serve Him of great natural learning from institutes of higher education. And true, He endows some with unusual gifts. But these do not represent the standard call to the ministry; rather, they are the exception. Besides, these gifts are (more often than not) particular professional fields.
If Christ calls a person to labor in the gospel field, and then subjects His servant to depend upon a theological school (to prepare and “get ready” for service in the kingdom) that would be contrary to: ”Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty: And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”- I Cor. 26-29.
So, given the hatchery-like egg settings of these institutions, where students are treated like a new-born chick and subjected to the psychological phenomenon known as Groupthink, it behooves the aspirant minister of God to turn away from these schools because the kingdom of God is not of this world. Therefore, Bible colleges have no part in teaching Divinity.
In addition, it’s been our observation that to learn Christ (falsely) i.e. in and through the wisdom of flesh is the snare of deception. Deception is such a powerful device that the snared-one will be required to unlearn his false Christ; yea, vomit the false Christ up before ever learning him aright. (And that’s a psychological and emotional lesson very painful to experience).
Finally, I will say this and this is not an opinion. Stumbling blocks for many professing saints are documented beginning with the School at Alexandria (the first, so-called, Christian academy established in the mid-2nd century) to the modern era of Bible colleges.
Graduates of these schools become (wittingly or unwittingly) “hired” hands.
As hirelings, they tend to rely upon their natural propensity to teach lessons that a heaven-taught child has not. They are apt to pursue preaching as a professional career, building a Resume’ that demands a lucrative salary -with perks- at their next post.
They are apt to introduce new “programs” of worship and new “songs” to the saints in the assembly, including “songs and messages” contrary to the apostles who, “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” – I Co. 2:2.