We have a funny disposition as a culture, and that is the fact that we are a bit wishy-washy in our thoughts on education. Most high schools are now college-prep, and most jobs require a bachelor’s degree at the minimum. Some require a master’s and very few will consider your resume if you are starting out in the world without a formal education. That being said, there is also a veneration for those self-taught experts – those few who have prodigy-like ability to think, reason, play an instrument, or preform. Once we achieve a level of critical thinking and reasoning, we examine and judge any and all who are in authority and function by the mindset,
“How do you know?”
There is one passage in Scripture that evangelists use as a scapegoat for discipleship and independent thinkers use as an excuse for avoiding theological education:
As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
– 1 John 2.27
Have you heard, or thought before, “I have the Holy Spirit within me to teach me, I do not need anyone else”? Or how about, “He now has the Holy Spirit in him, God will teach him…just leave him in God’s hands”? Or how about someone feeling called to the ministry, and saying “Why do I need to go to seminary, if God is calling me to the field”?
Churches vary on the requirements for pastoral leadership and mission boards vary on requirements for missionaries. But consider this: there are still 6,100+ people groups around the world that are less than 2% Christian. There are still about 1,900 languages that do not have the Bible. How many would-be missionaries are ready to go to a foreign land where there is no Church or Bible, lead a few people to Christ, and teach them the Bible and discipleship? We take for granted the internet and all of our forefathers who have done so much leg-work for us in our personal studies. We have podcasts, internet broadcasts of sermons and mountains of books on every theological issue and question.
But in short, when you get to the field and find that first believer, what will you teach them?
If you are called to be a pastor, can you verbalize how you believe the Bible teaches that the Church should be led?
There are many people who have been believers for a long time and because of their love for the Scripture and for the Church that they have a deep and real grasp on Scripture and what it teaches on most major doctrines and issues. There are some, who, when they come to faith are radically changed and given a drive to read and absorb and develop on their own initiative a vast education on Church history, theology and the outworkings of the Church and discipleship.
But the Average Joe needs to be taught how to read the Bible, basic systematic theology and how to apply the Scriptures to our lives. Notice that John, when he says that believers have no need of a teacher, the context of the passage is in relationship to false teachers and those who have gone astray and abandoned the faith. They were teaching false things and John wrote three letters in order to teach true believers how to look out for these false teachers, how to walk in obedience and according to the Word which they knew, and to not be taught by liars.
John was teaching them.
So, should missionaries be required to go to seminary? Should pastors? Anytime we take a hard and fast stand on a question like this, we rob God of the opportunity to work boldly and dynamically through someone. God is not require to work within our man-made rules and expectations. But when you are considering a position in leadership, remember that we are encourage to take such a calling seriously. So seriously, James says, that few of us actually do it:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
– James 3.1
When we take a position of authority in a church, we will be held to a higher standard and a stricter judgment before God. This is not just socially, implying that people will be watching (even though they will be), but God will judge more severely those who have accountability for the souls of those in their flock and in their church (Heb 13.17).
So, when you get on the field, what will you teach these new believers? When the missionary that you send gets to the field, are you confident in his theology and belief system to be the point person for an entire people group with their discipleship? This is no small task, and we must humble ourselves before the Lord and the Church and the mission board to rightly understand the weight of the assignment and judge our capabilities. God is the one who causes the growth and who uses us. He does not necessarily need a formal theological training to teach people through us. But are we walking closely enough with Him to know if we are ready?
The disciples took three years walking daily with Jesus before they were ready. Paul spent three years in the desert learning and praying by Himself before he entered ministry. Let us not begrudge education, but let us also not add to the Word of God and His requirements. Let us humbly ask God what His will is, pray with any and all who would be sent out, and examine them in their understanding of Scripture and ability to teach.