Should Church Leaders be Educated?

In today’s world of fad oriented Christian teaching, one could certainly ask the question whether or not education serves any real purpose in the life of most Christian believers. Even the Sabbath School Quarterly approach used by Sabbath and traditional churches was developed by D. L. Moody to reach the illiterate classes in the Chicago slums. And to make matters even more confusing, Alden Thompson, PhD states that when any part of the Christian church becomes educated in the traditional sense, the evangelical outreach of the church members drops to all time low. In today’s seeker sensitive church environments, we have more pastors graduating with master’s degrees in business rather than the Master of Divinity which was the church standard for ordaining pastors since 1962.

The Proper Role of Theological Education

In the development of a Christian leader there needs to be a balance of life’s experience coupled with spiritual mentorship along with deep theological development. Even though there is no substitute for individual prayer and bible study devotions, we often fall short when it comes to understanding the biblical text within its original literary and cultural environments. As far as our spiritual journey is concerned, it is often helpful to study the wisdom of our forefathers who have gone before us in the development of our faith. It is often struck me as a bit odd when some lay leaders will put down an educated leader while simultaneously holding a bible or a religious dictionary. We all need to stop and remember the knowledge we take for granted has come to us by the blood, sweat and tears of a Jerome or a Tyndall or a Max, the Confessor, and many others down through the pages of history who have paid with their very lives so we can walk into almost any book store and simply pull centuries of information off the shelf and feel like we have the paradigm all figured out. There is also no replacement for approaching biblical data with a great deal of common sense because the spirit of God develops a sound mind. (1 Tim 1:7) As my mentor, Professor Roy Blizzard, PhD, has often stated, the biblical text often contains the miraculous to demonstrate the power of divinity behind the scenes but never goes contrary to our human reason because our minds would reject the revelation of God being. It should also be noted that where the biblical text has been admired for its religious authority as well as for its literary advancement, human society has reached very high spiritual and ethical development. Almost all of the great North American and European universities were founded upon religious traditions. However, in the early 1900’s, during the rise of fundamentalism, the education in many denominations would separate from the university system to develop bible college institutions. The situation changed again in the 1930’s, when denominational seminaries became the pathway to ministry. And with the most recent expansions in Christian universities and on line degree programs, today’s leader has choices of which our forefathers could have never dreamed possible right at his finder tips.

Complex World Requires Comprehensive Education

We are all familiar with the adage, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts!” or “Why can’t we do ministry with the same simplicity my grandpa did?” Just for the simple fact our world has changed and we should never forget that the great qualities of Moses’ leadership were developed when studies not only in Egypt as Abraham did, but he was an intern under the leadership of the Priest of Median. The fact cannot be over emphasized that the literary genius of Isaiah was developed in the School of the Prophets and maintained by the spirit of God as it moved upon these men. The great prophet and high priest, Ezekiel, belonged to the School of the Babylonian Prophets. These wise men would later be referred to as the School or the Maji who would interpret the prophecies in Zecharia 9:9 to foretell the coming of our Messiah. Later in the church era, the Apostle Paul would truly become one of the greatest scholars of his day taught at the feet of Gamliel. So even the biblical writers didn’t fly by the seat of their pants theologically because they had to know and commit to memory the entire Hebrew bible and be able to recite it by the age of 13. In today’s world, states George Barna, less than 4% of the believing church actually reads the text in daily devotions. In Sabbatarianism we have our own set of problems dealing with self-proclaimed researchers who often mislead God’s sheep with poorly researched and misleading statements. Here are a few examples. “The Gnostics were responsible for changing the Sabbath.” This couldn’t possibly be true because Gnostic Christianity did not have a complete hold on the Roman empire and there were many Gnostic Christians in the Coptic Church who maintained Sabbath observance. Another misnomer often repeated is that the Sabbath was changed during the Council of Nicea in 321 -325 AD. This is also fallacious due to the fact that Justin Matyr and many other pastristic fathers show us that first day observance was growing ever since the writings of Polycarp. It should be noted that Council of Nicea was over the issue of the substance between the Father and the Son. Many students of history have vacated Sabbatarian theology due to these over statements and we have lost a great deal of credibility.

Scholarship Supports Sabbatarian Beliefs

During the 1950’s, Jesus Scholarship was enjoying another wave of research and development. Under this wave, many traditional teachings of Christianity were being undermined. The heaven-hell paradigm along with the immortal soul was rejected by Rudolph Boltmann and Klaus Wesermann and over 300 other scholars from both sides of the Atlantic when they met to present position papers. When the next wave of Jesus Scholarship grew into full bloom, it would be about Jesus operating within Judaism supported by such great scholars as Charlesworth, W. D. Davies, Martin Hingle, David Biven, who would no longer see Jesus or Paul as a law breaker, and a generation of others. Today, in evangelical Christianity, Dr. Dale Brunner, a Presbyterian scholar, maintains that the Bible says nothing about going to heaven only the sleep of the dead and a resurrection to paradise earth. As recently as last month, on the Nightline program, the great Anglican scholar, N. T. Wright, stated in all his glory that the biblical text says nothing about going to heaven or burning in hell forever. He is followed by others such as Clark Pinnock, Hans Kung, John Stott and Dr. Fudge on conditional immortality. Sam Bacchiocci reports in his lectures about the Sabbath under Crossfire, that over 2000 articles in theological journals appear annually representing the Sabbath truth. So with all of this marvelous theological development, we should never be as a ostrich with our head in the sand oblivious to our surroundings but we should be embracing this growth and supporting the movers and shakers in these scholarly areas so that our voice will be heard with credibility and our movement won’t be hindered any longer with our lack of willingness to develop a theological system that can be respected. To quote Dr. Charles Dorothy, “Without scholarship, you are going nowhere.”

The Church Leader and Education

Like everything in life, balance must be maintained in the growth of any leader:

Homiletics – When one understands the art of homiletics or sermonizing, even if one is naturally a good speaker, a person’s skills can be sharpened by understanding the type of sermons, such as liturgical or free style, that are in the Bible and fit the delivery of various types of sermons.

Counselor – A person can be granted the gift of insight into character and behavior of other people but due to a lack of training, can overstep the boundaries of a counselor by trying to give spiritual advice. The knowledge of counseling can also aid the counselor in asking the right questions to flesh out the real issues that may lie deep under the surface.

Church Leader – The act of leadership may be formally organized or it can be applied individually. The goal of leadership is to provide an arena of transformation so the Elders are free to groom new converts who possess spiritual gifts to be matured into works of ministry.

Teachers – This lot of ministers are to be judged double because they represent service directly from the biblical text. The original Hebrew term for teacher, Kahkah Meem, was closer to our word, scholar, because they spent their entire life studying the Torah. In Judaism there was no higher calling.

Intercessors – There are 137 types of prayer in the Old Testament alone including petitions, collects, praise reports, laments, thanksgiving, blessings, benedictions and intercessions. This path to spiritual development requires commitment and prayerful spiritual discipline and study.

For any church movement to have a world class voice in the religious marketplace, several parts of ministry must be employed for the movement’s development forward. When a church movement grows, it is very mission minded. This was the reason the Baptists established Baylor University as it was to meet the needs of a trained group of missionaries. Today, that university stands as the height of Baptist professional associations. Many overseas missionaries have come back to seminary to complete their Doctorate in Missionary Studies to learn more about world religions, cultural anthropology, languages. Medical missionaries will sometimes earn an MD to assist the native peoples with their health needs. Without an educational outreach coupled together with a social justice emphasis that resonates from true Sabbath experience, our traditions will be greatly handicapped in our service to mankind.

It even is theologically impossible to grow and to define our movement spiritually if we can’t address the issues that confront us in defense of our faith. The studies of these and other disciplines forces us to develop critical thinking skills as our theological system is enhanced and maintained . Education enables religious traditions to perform acts of service with credibility in their own local communities and beyond such counseling centers, women’s and children’s shelters and advocacy groups, church relief societies, hospital and military chaplaincies, homeless shelters, biblical archaeological excavations, great musicians and composers, inventors, linguists, poets and playwrites, all of which are supported by church educational programs. So let us make the most of our resources in the development of the credible and vibrant use of the talents and gifts that God has given us collectively and individually so that we may give to the world what has be given to us and create a corporate voice that can be respected as those who will investigate and act upon the truth of God’s word.

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Well said Fr Roberts. It used to be in my parents day that a High School Education was the minimum requirement for employment. Today the minimum standard for most employment with a career path is an undergraduate degree. With the speed and access of educational opportunities available from the comfort of your own home via the internet, more than likely the minimum requirement for our children or more realistically our grandchildren will be a Master’s degree.

    The biggest concern I have is that with technology, people rely too much on information being available at their fingertips (literally at their keyboard), so that tend not to learn the material or even memorize it. I would agree that education is so important, especially for those in ministry or religious professions. When all other venues were closed for education during the Dark Ages, it was the monks and religious communities, as you rightly point out, which founded some of the very first universities which expanded the student base from just those in ministry or religious to making education available to everyone.

    Even today, when I have the option of purchasing a hardcover (or softcover) book, or an electronic version via my Kindle, I will always purchase the hardcopy. If, heaven forbid, one day we lose our techology because we lose say our electrical grid, with a Hard Cover book, I will still have the ability to read and learn through the book.

    Thank you Fr Roberts for an informative and well-written article!

    Pax et Bonum!

    Bro Jeff

    Rev Bro Jeffery Wolfe, OSFC
    St John XXIII Catholic Church
    Indianapolis, Indiana

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