In response to a good article that Cent posted yesterday at TP, I am reposting this article from July 6, 2005. I hope it will be a continued blessing to you all.
At one time the seminaries submitted to the authority of the local church; now the local church is being forced to submit to the authority of the seminaries. The biblical charge to train men for ministry and to guard the truth of the Word of God was not given to educators, but to pastors/elders; not to religious institutions built on a university model, but to the local church built on a biblical model. Seminaries cannot make shepherds, they can only make students. And once a seminary graduates their men "for ministry," they have no ongoing obligation or accountability to them whatsoever--none. But not so with the local church. Those same men are accountable to the eldership of the local body in which they hold membership and serve. The critical question is: how do we recover biblical pastoral training for ministry again within the local church; and hold seminaries accountable to the standard of Scripture and, if necessary, to church discipline?
"It's the economy...stupid!" A now recognized common phrase signifying what even the most astute politicians seem to forget the obvious. It is in that tone I chose the title of this article: "It's the Church... Stupid!" In evangelical circles today the obvious has been forgotten; that genuine ministry, the training of people for ministry, and orthodoxy is all taught, affirmed, trained and tested in the local church. But today the intellectual elite have made significant inroads into evangelical camps spreading their teachings that, in part, are infecting the body of Christ profoundly. I truly hope this article will be a clarion call to recover biblical ministry in our day and time once again within the local church.
Scholarly Terrorism--Hijacking the Faith
We need lucid, razor sharp minds today armed with the Word of God to address and provide the answers to the much needed questions raised by a culture in intellectual chaos; and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1-5). However, Christianity is being hijacked today by the religious scholars, intellectuals, and academics claiming to speak for God, but fail to speak from God's Word. These are the ones who live to make a name for themselves by coming up with new twists and takes on orthodox biblical Christianity for the sake of “getting published” and working the personal appearance circuit. Though highly learned, these scholastics are educated way beyond their "biblical" intelligence. They have left the careful study of Scripture which they now “wrest to their own destruction.” Peter goes on to warn, “You therefore beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3:16b-17). These are the erudite elite who pride themselves on their diminutive dexterity to debate, dispute and deduce. They contemplate their navel and call it wisdom; they wax eloquent philosophically and condescend to those who confine their thoughts biblically; they rewrite and reinterpret Scripture and call it editorial license or illuminating historical insight. The diagnosis is apparent: what they are suffering from is a severe case of A.D.D. (Aberrant Doctrinal Disorder).
While many of these academics consider themselves to be brothers in Christ and also would be seen by most in evangelicalism as so, I say this soberly and with great trembling, that it is necessary on this issue, to treat them as nonbelievers. They have succumbed to the spirit of the post-modern age by embracing that which they would have condemned less than a generation ago. It should come as no surprise, that most of the latest overture concerning theological error comes from these ministerial mavericks who operate in the vacuum of their own perspicacity absent of the onion skin of proper local church eldership to examine what they pen before they publicly disseminate. Accountability and submission to the God-appointed biblical eldership of the local church guards one against error and promotes Christlikeness through sound doctrine. Those words of accountability and submission are anathema for these self-regulating, self-governing academics. I would rather go to battle for the gospel with five biblically trained elders through the local church then a hundred professionals that have come through the halls of seminarian scholasticism. It's the professionals that have brought evangelicalism to the abyss of apostasy--not the faithful godly elders of local churches (Gal. 1:6-9). (As I write this article, I am more grateful than ever for the elders of my local church as they keep faithful watch over this ministry and my life.)
"Intellectual Elitism" in Sheeps Clothing
Here is a partial list of the sagacious fruit blossoming from the intellectual evangelical shrubs of today:
• Open Theism – represents not the God of the Bible, but a god who is a "risk taker" with His creatures; not knowing their future and who therefore, is not sovereign over all things;Think of it: the gospel itself; the character of God; the God-head - the Trinity; partnering with those of another religion; and turning to politics as the cure for society is all being propagated these days in evangelicalism as acceptable Christianity. This is how great the need is in the hour in which we live for a recovery of biblical ministry.
• The New Perspective of Paul – the teaching that denies the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (both the active and passive obedience of Christ) in justification; and wants to rewrite and reapply first century Judaism in the Pauline epistles;
• The Resurgence of Modalism or Anti-Trinitarianism – the teaching that denies the existance of the One Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons in the God-head, one in essence; co-equal; co-eternal; co-existing; each worthy of glory and worship and fully possessing all the attributes of Deity;
• The Ecumenism of Co-belligerence - this is the marriage between Protestants and Romanists for fighting cultural ills and bringing about moral social change representing a blurred theological unity. To quote Tertullian, “what does Jerusalem have in common with Rome?” Paraphrasing, “what does biblical Christianity have in common with the semi-Pelagianism of Romanism?” The answer is obvious... nothing.
• Lastly, The Politicization of the Church - fighting spiritual battles with the carnal weaponry of legislation, boycotts, petitions, and constitutional amendments. Where patriotism is considered synonymous with Christianity. Though politically conservative in its roots, this militant battle for Christian "rights" in society is actually liberal theology rearing its ugly head; by its own pragmatic it denies Sola Scriptura. Political remedies for moral maladies is an effort in futility.
These machinations were not born from the womb of local church ministry. These Mongoloid beliefs were born in the vaginalistic halls of scholarship—and sadly, are now being adopted in many evangelical seminaries as well.
The church should beware!
When the process for preparing men for ministry began to embrace a “university academic model” rather than a “local church biblical model” the end was inevitable; and today, we are reaping derisory results. I agree with Dr. MacArthur when he poignantly said, “you don’t go liberal by reading your Bible!” My father wrote these powerful words in the opening leaf of my very first Bible many years ago, "This Book will keep you from sin; or sin will keep you from this Book." Words of wisdom, aren't they?
*At this juncture a disclaimer is needed: there are many wonderful gifted and godly men that teach at many seminaries around the country. By challenging the university system or model is by no means an indictment against these men of God. Many of them are contending for truth and orthodoxy at these institutions and for that we all should be profoundly grateful and remember them in prayer. Secondly, here is a good example of moving in the right direction on this issue to close the gap between seminary and the local church in an unapologetic and intimate partnership of ministry and that is The Master's Seminary (TMS) under the leadership of Dr. John MacArthur and the elders of Grace Community Church. Again, none of my words are meant to impugn or cast judgment against that fine institution. If all seminaries had the tie to the local church that TMS has with elder/pastoral oversight, we wouldn't be on the down-grade that we are in in evangelicalism today. I thank the Lord for Dr. MacArthur and the entire staff at TMS for taking the necessary steps to honor God's Word in the training of men for pastoral ministry.
The Classroom Doesn’t Produce Shepherds--They Can Only Produce Students
The sheer arrogance and intellectual naïveté of academia is beyond biblical rational. Here is the foolishness of the university model for ministry: You teach a group of men in a classroom for four years; give them training in the art of "informational regurgitation"; give them needed and valuable tools in the languages (Greek and Hebrew), systematic theology, church history, and general Bible knowledge; and somehow magically at the end of that four years of education, out pops a pastor… a shepherd of God’s people— This is asinine-and that's the problem. A classroom a shepherd does not make. Is it any wonder that evangelicalism is in the inebriated state we find it today? The ministry, beloved, has been drugged, date-raped, and thrown back as no longer virgin in her beliefs by these would be scholastic theological predators. Again, genuine biblical ministry must be inextricably linked to and under the accountability of the local church--or its not biblical ministry.
My heart goes out to the many well meaning, spiritually motivated and called men that have felt the leading to attend seminary to be trained for ministry. But why isn't that happening in the local church too? It is like the scrapping of nails on a blackboard to me. I have been taught by so many great men of God that genuine ministry is to take place in the local church. I agree wholeheartedly. But then are we to say that the training for that ministry happens outside the local church or absent of the local church? How so? What is the biblical model in the Word of God that gives credence for such duplicity? All biblical evidence directs us to the local church and its leadership for the training, preparation and confirmation to serve as undershepherds of Christ to His people (Acts 20; 1 Tim. 3; 2 Tim. 2; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5, etc.).
Here are a few concerns for the continued adoption of the university model for the training of men to serve as pastors. Firstly, a pragmatic reason is financial. It is reasonable to assume that an average year of seminary training costs around $10,000 a year or more for tuition. If you add in living expenses, books, etc. the numbers go up dramatically. Most couples come out of seminary massively in debt, with immense pressure on their backs, and little or no hope of paying off the obligation quickly even with a good salary package from a local church. Think of what a fraction of those funds could accomplish within the local church if applied to a biblical model for ministry training? With all the internet tools available online and whole libraries of classic theological works and commentaries on CD Rom for pennies on the dollar; as well as very detailed Greek and Hebrew language tools and parsing guides, etc. real pastoral training and ordination can be done effectively, precisely and thoroughly within the local church without it being financially burdening, or considered a "second-rate poor man's" approach to pastoral training. In fact, it can be just as if not more effective.
Secondly, I know what happens at the end of seminary schooling... the student emerges educated—-but not trained in biblical shepherding. I have more than seen this first hand as I travel around the country to various institutions. Some end up using their newly acquired congregations as ginny-pigs to complete their education. Many split a church within the first two years of service; or, simply move on to another unsuspecting body of believers after their collection of "thirty sermons" have all been preached through twice. You think I'm kidding--I'm not. This is tragic. Pulpits should not be playgrounds for inexperienced aspirants to display their less than stellar communicative skills and untested giftedness to simply gain some speaking time at the expense of the spiritual health of a local body. Ministry is serious business and is not for the pastorally adolescent.
Should Pastors have to be Requalified on a Regular Basis?
Policemen have to be requalified in some cities every eight weeks with their side-arm to show competency and accuracy of how they use their weapon. Pilots for major airlines have to be requalified at least twice a year on efficiency ratings and the handling of the aircraft... Once again to prove competency and accuracy. The question is obvious... if the world requires this of pilots and police, how much more should pastors who are dealing with peoples lives for eternity, have to prove competency and accuracy in how they handle the Word of God and shepherd His people? Where are they ever requalified proactively for ministry to prove that they can still handle God's Word and minister effectively to His people? One gentleman told me that he feels he has to be qualified everyday. I understand the sentiment behind those words. So does the pilot and the policeman. It's not enough to do the work everyday--but to prove the calling is another thing altogether.
This is difficult isn't it? I know of some pastors that will absolutely run from you if you ask them to clarify a point in their sermons or challenge them as a faithful Berean is supposed to according to the standard of Scripture (Acts 17:10-12). They get their feathers ruffled and may not speak to you for a long while or even label you as being caustic, divisive, or factious. And the only thing that someone has done is be a faithful Berean to them. This is so unfortunate. We've gotten too sloppy, sensitive, and sentimental with ministry, haven't we? Let me say, if you are a pastor that has members in your church that are holding you accountable for what you teach, they may appear to you as nothing more than a gadfly in your life, but you better thank the Lord for them. They are His servants to you to remind you to "watch your life and doctrine closely."
Why I Love the Church... The Place of True Ministry
A true shepherd is not marked by his love for knowledge, or even his love for preaching, but his unmistakable love for the church--the people of God. This is the heart that drives authentic ministry. Love for the Lord; love for His Word; love for His people; and a love to just serve no matter how great or small the task may be.
Ministry can be defined as:
service to God and His creatures as we employ our Spirit-given giftedness, according to the instruction of Scripture as good stewards of the manifold grace of God for the advancement of His kingdom; that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-12)God has designed genuine ministry to be inseparable from the life and leadership of the local church. Any ministry that does not strengthen one's commitment to the local church is inconsistent with the purposes of Christ. (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:23-25)
There are five reasons why we should love and serve and be trained in ministry within the church:
Firstly, Jesus Christ promised to build the Church-therefore, my commitment should be to it (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:39-47).In response to these truths and to insure a life of godliness and holiness and to guard against blind spots in personal life issues, vocation and theology-submission to the plurality of godly leaders within the church is essential. (1 Timothy 3:1-7) We are to submit, honor and pray for the faithful pastors in the church who have been given this sacred trust. They are those who are instructed by the Lord to keep watch over our souls as ones that will give an account. Woe to the shepherds who do not take their responsibility to shepherd the flock of God seriously. They dishonor the Savior. They disobey the Scriptures. They diminish their office and defame their calling. (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-4) In the case of a Christian being overtaken in sin, proper discipline must be exercised within the church to bring about restoration and reconciliation (as prescribed in Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). This is to confirm repentance and to guard the purity of one's life personally as well as the entire body of Christ corporately.
Secondly, He purchased the Church with His own precious blood-therefore, I love those for whom He died (1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 3:14-16).
Thirdly, the Church is the predominate agency through which God's will is manifested on earth-therefore, it is the community with whom I labor (Ephesians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:28-29).
Fourthly, the Church is the only earthly expression of heaven-therefore, we must daily grow together in conformity to the fullness of Christ (2 Peter 3:10-14; Revelation 4:4-11; Ephesians 4:12-13).
And fifthly, the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church-therefore, in light of the assured victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, our worship and toil is not in vain (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58).
So What’s a Seminary to Do?
If the current model continues to exist, here is a possible suggestion that could bring some balance in the process: it should be required that upon completing the classroom portion of Seminary training, and before being awarded a degree and affirmed as a pastor fit and ready for local church ministry, that one must first serve as an underling in a local church for no less than two years and overseas in missions for at least one year. This would give them some time to be mentored in discipleship, evangelism, ministering to the poor and those in prison, serving and caring for the daily needs of others, visiting hospitals, preaching the gospel in the open marketplace, and a chance to have their learning tested and tried and found useful.
Upon completing these three years of biblical shepherding in the crucible of the local church, then, evaluation would be given in tandem by that sponsoring local church and seminary together as to whether or not that man was fit for pastoral ministry. Then and only then, should a degree be issued from that particular seminary affirming a man qualified for pastoral ministry and service within the local church. Listen, seminary alone no more prepares a man for the rigors, challenges, and biblical responsibilities of pastoral ministry, than attending a few seasons of the Boston Pops Orchestra prepares one to be an accomplished classical musician. The ironic thing is seminary is supposed to equip men biblically for ministry; but the very process and function of the university model itself is unbiblical. Its the local church... stupid!
What is the Biblical Model for Ministry Preparation?
The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) provide most everything we need to know about the biblical model for pastoral ministry found solely in the local church (along with Acts, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter). First Timothy reveals how to conduct yourself in the household of faith and what the qualifiers are for those desiring to be elders. Second Timothy clearly marks out the call and function of the pastor/elder. And Titus is the handbook on biblical evangelism.
Consider a portion of those words of Paul to Timothy when he said, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). This is true apostolic succession and biblical training for ministry. Notice that the foundation for effective ministry is the "grace which is in Christ Jesus." No man may accomplish anything for the Lord apart from Christ and His sanctifying grace. This is why Spurgeon, Moody, Havner, etc. did much for the kingdom armed only with the Word of God and never went through the seminary process. Jonathan Edwards trained a handful of men at a time in his home for three years or so and then found them churches to serve in. Paul modeled this in Ephesus; he personally trained Timothy and Titus; Pricilla and Acquilla; etc. He planted churches and appointed elders and trained men for ministry until his death. The Lord Himself had twelve disciples that He invested in for over three years. Small groups of men all thoroughly equipped by the Lord, Paul and faithful others and all in the context of the church and not the halls of higher scholasticism.
"I Will Build My Church..."
*It's in the local church where the Apostles teaching was honored and adhered to; where fellowship occurred; prayers were given; and where the ordinances of communion and baptism were practiced.Is there any doubt that the church is the place where all genuine ministry occurs and where the people of God are trained for the ministry? Paul's charge to Timothy for the ministry is profound. Listen to these words seldom mentioned in the halls of academia. "In the presence of God and Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from selfish ambition; I charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing an His kingdom: preach the Word..." (1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Tim. 4:1-2a). These are the marching orders and standard for any true servant of Christ...amen?
*It's in the local church where charity was demonstrated and the practical needs of people were met (Acts 2:40-42).
*It's in the local church where purity of life is guarded and where is sin is confronted and disciplined if necessary (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-3).
*It's in the local church where men were selected and trained, tested and and affirmed for the ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-9; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
*It's the local church that is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
*It's in the local church where the Word of God is cherished and its authority recognized and honored; where sound doctrine is taught and those who contradict refuted (1 Tim. 4:12-16; 6:20).
*It's in the local church that genuine worship occurs; where Christ is corporately exalted and praised (1 Cor. 14; Col. 1:15-20).
*It's in the local church that spiritual gifts are fostered and evidenced; employed as a service for the one anothers in the body of Christ building itself up in love (1 Peter 4:10-12; Eph. 4:16).
*It's in the local church that the saints are equipped to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-15).
*It's in the local church that evangelism is taking place as the gospel of grace is heralded; the Lord adds to the number daily (Acts 2:36-42).
*It's in the local church that the offerings of God’s people are given to sustain the work of the ministry (2 Cor. 8-9).
*It's in the local church where heresy is not condoned and factious people spreading false teaching are confronted and contained (Titus 3:9-12).
*It's in the local church that the widows and orphans receive special care (1 Tim. 5)
*It's in the local church that the Lord is honored as head of His body so that in all things He receives the preeminence (Col. 1:18-20).
Ministry... A Gift of Multiplication
Paul then uses a Greek word, hikanos, for the phrase who will be able to which means: "to bring someone to an effective level of responsibility and excellence; to meet a standard of competency." The faithful men can only be determined in the close scrutiny of the local church. Paul is not calling a man to education or mere academics—he was not about such trivial things. He was calling a man in character in doctrine to be fit for the Master's use. What Paul has in mind here is ministry.
Notice that there are four generations of disciples here. Paul -1; Timothy -2; faithful men -3; who will teach "others also" -4. That is the process. Are you a Paul to a young Timothy? Are you a young Timothy being mentored by a Paul? Are you a Timothy investing with other faithful folk, and are they being discipled so effectively that they are investing in others lives? This is biblical ministry at its core.
Biblically, the context for ministerial training is not a classroom or school, but the church. Thus, is it any wonder that the latest trends of heresy and aberrant doctrine are coming from that university model where the biblical model has been given a back seat?
"Teaching Tapes" - After Graduating Seminary They Still Do This?
To keep things in balance, there are some seminaries, as mentioned above, that are doing a fine job and producing godly men in service to the Lord. Sadly, there are also quite a few others that don't have the results that we would all have hoped and prayed for. The godly fruit in producing well-equipped men from the university model today is less than promising. Several graduates come away from four years of education not gifted as biblical expositors, not insightful in practical theology, and not that equipped to serve as under-shepherds of Christ. They are average communicators, possessing a paltry use of language, are not soul-stirring preachers of the gospel, and if we're being truthful, must rely on getting their Sunday morning messages in their first years of ministry by listening to a cassette tape or reading a commentary from their favorite Bible teachers. They will even preach those well-known expositors' outlines and represent it as if they wrote it themselves. (If this assessment is even close to being accurate, then we are in dire need of genuine reformation and revival in the seminaries across our great land.)
To illustrate this point, I had a chance a few years ago to minister in song at a very fine church in the Northwest. The pastor was a man who had recently graduated from a prominent west-coast seminary. As he began to introduce his message something sounded cacophonously familiar; I had that exact same message glued on the inside back two pages of my Bible. A dear friend of mine, Dr. John MacArthur, preached it a few years earlier and it impacted me greatly; so I copied its outline to my Bible.
This young pastor said to his congregation in his introduction (my paraphrase), “as I was pouring myself laboriously over the text in my study this past week, asking the Lord to grant me the wisdom and clarity to preach the Word of God to you; He gave me some tremendous insights as to what genuine saving faith looks like and what it doesn’t look like that I want to share with you this morning. Turn with me to…” You know the routine. I then showed my tour manager the detailed typed notes in the back of my Bible. As that man continued to preach with my tour manager looking on to my carefully typed notes—he had an interesting and humorous experience. He said it was what Yogi Berra reffered to as, "Deja-vu all over again."
After the service, we all went out to lunch at a restaurant nearby and the pastor asked me, “Steve, you hadn’t said anything yet, but uh… what did you think of my sermon?” I told him, "I even loved it when MacArthur preached it." His face turned bright red as it sunk into his very sympathetic Cobb salad. He was rightly embarrassed and a few of his staff had some interesting comments for him when leaving the eatery.
A Challenge… Train Men God’s Way in the Local Church
You see when men are trained by a download of more information as is the case in a university model for ministry, then your whole existance is tied up on delievering that information in one or two 45 minute sermons each week. That becomes the sum and substance by then which men are measured for their effectiveness in ministry: did he preach good and did it impact the listeners. That's it. But anyone knows that is only a small part of pastoral ministry. Prayer, shepherding, discipleship, church discipline; training elders and deacons, visiting the sick, etc. is all valuable work, but is seldom taught or even approached in the university model. Biblical training for the same task in a local church model brings a balance and depth on the totality of biblical ministry that the classroom does not afford.
That man I described above would have done much better if he just played Dr. MacArthur’s tape with John preaching his own sermon. This would have been a good choice for two reasons: 1.) It would have been a much more powerful sermon, more biblical, and more beneficial to the hearer; and, 2.) he would have avoided sinning in being deceitful and prideful in his pulpit plagiarism.
Vance Havner put it this way, “Back in the Lord’s day the early church had men with heat and no degrees; today we have men with degrees and no heat.” Well said Vance... He was right. That preacher above had all the right information, but no heat--no passion--no gift. He didn't own the text; and the text surely didn't own him. His reliance was on another man--as good as that man is--but not on the Lord. Paul described himself as a man not much to look at; wasn't a great communicator; not gifted with words; considered himself the chief of sinners and the least of all the apostles; saw himself as the scum of the earth and the dregs of this world. But oh how the Lord equipped him by His Spirit and grace to do great things for the Lord in the ministry. A man like Paul would be shunned in most university model seminaries today, but I know that he would have found favor in the local church model.
Oh to have men of God trained in the local church to preach His Word, shepherd God’s people, pray for all those he is over as an under-shepherd of Christ, and proclaim the gospel to the lost; doing all things for the glory of the Lord and for the sake of the elect.
A Final Note of Encouragement to Pastors
I want to challenge the pastors that might be reading this. Can you imagine if you trained future pastors for your church, out of your church rather than farming them out to the seminaries? It would revolutionize pastoral ministry as we know it and give strength to the leadership of your church like few things would. Seminaries for the most part are failed institutions— just look at the product they're turning out. You have nothing to be intimated about. Biblical eldership is the way to insure that you have men of God that can carry on the work of the ministry faithfully. In addition, you will guard your congregation from the foreign elements of heresy and aberrant theology by keeping watch over the flock of God. I know this sounds simple and yet radical in this day and age—but it shouldn’t be. I have spoken to many evangelical leaders, even seminary professors, who are just as burdened for the current state of seminary education and the constant erroding landscape of evangelicalism to aberrant strains of skewed theology. They are very concerned at the less than effective “product” being produced by most of these institutions today. The solution is not simple nor easy, but it can begin by going back to very model that the Lord Himself instituted--the local church.
Men should be trained for ministry as Paul did: in the church, by approved eldership; according to the Word of God; by faithful men, to faithful men, who will teach others to do the same also. Remember, its not the seminary, or halls of scholarship; it’s the church...
Yours for the Master’s use,
1 Timothy 3:1-8