Op-Ed for December 4 (’14)
Ever hear someone snort, “Beware the Seminarians”? I have many times over the last 15 years (even implied in the comments section of our blog a while back!).
Wait. What? “Beware the Seminarians”? Really?
I think they mean something like this:
- Watch out for the people who get “degrees” in biblical subjects.
- Watch out for people who make a living from the Bible or from a Church.
- Watch out for people who think they understand what the Bible is all about.
- Watch out for those people who got educations in theology and don’t tolerate deviant opinions.
Since each approximates the principles behind the warning of “Beware!”, let’s address each in turn.
“Watch out for people who get Bible degrees and all that ‘Heady-stuff’!”
I wonder, do the same protectors of truth holla-out, “Beware the Doctors?” When their child is sick, do they ask for a leech or call for a prescription? What exactly do they mean? Do they avoid police as somehow more dangerous because of their training at the police academy? A degree represents knowledge. The police graduate should know how to handle a gun, deal with arrests, and the basics of the law. I’m glad they are trained accordingly. By the way, and in light of Trayvon and Brown, and regardless of whether you think the police were wrong or right, the exceptions of police abuse prove that most police do their jobs well. Thank God. I have lived in 3rd world countries that were little more than a police state. It isn’t enjoyable.
Doctors, too, are educated in at least the basics of pathology and medications. The fact that medical malpractice really does occur also proves the rule that medical training saves lives more than uneducated medicine men of old.
Likewise, most seminarians do their jobs well, too, and do so in large part due to their education. Thank God for learning. We did say “most,” though, and we’ll get to the Abusers in a bit.
“Watch out for people who get paid by churches!”
I wonder, do such people think Paul was wrong when he said,
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. Do not muzzle out an ox when he treads the grain” (cf. 1 Tim 5:18, which was quoting Dt 25:4).
Paul himself was clear he had every right to receive pay from the very people he served. Does Chic Fil A have a right to ask you to pay for a sandwich after they made it? Most ministers—pesky “Seminarians”—need support from a church because they spend their time working on problems created by people, or done to people, in the church: counseling, sermons, meetings, and they spend so much time they could not work another job. If they do work at least 40 hours a week for a church, and if their church refused to pay them accordingly, they would be required to get a second job, especially if they have a family:
… “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Tim 3:5)?
… “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:18).
If they had a family, over time, not receiving pay from a full-time job and being required to work at least another part-time job (if not full-time) makes it very difficult to be present for children and spouse. I think every sane person would agree that neglecting spouse and child in order to be a work-a-holic by choice is “not providing for his relatives, and especially for members of his household.”
In such situations, many ministers willingly choose to take a second job. They would rather do this than ask a church for a raise. It isn’t about being humiliated to ask for money, but is about not wanting to place a burden on those to whom they minister. Paul said this, too, by the way, and so he himself continued working his “day job” while ministering so late into the night people fell asleep—even died—during his sermons (cf. 2 Cor 11:1-15 with Acts 20:9). This was somewhat “easy” for Paul since he had no children and was unmarried. Anyone who has ever worked two or three jobs knows what it does to your health and family. I wonder, do you want this for your minister? Probably not if you can help it. “Do unto others” and all that jazz…. Do not muzzle the ox. And if you have a jackal in the pulpit, try not to muzzle him either. Maybe offer extra prayer….
“Watch out for people who think they understand the Bible due to education.”
This almost seems so—yes, I’ll say it—stupid, that I don’t know if anything needs to be said. But I’ll pose some questions to bring light to this darkened place:
- Is the Bible meant to be understood, or to be unintelligible?
- Do you believe that studying the Bible more would lead to greater understanding, or do you believe that someone who has never read more than three words (maybe “Jesus is Lord”) understands as much as the person who has spent 50 years reading it cover-to-cover 100 times over?
- Does the Bible ever grant legitimacy for divorce?
- Are you sure your divorce was legit (and please, don’t answer “yes” simply because the two of you failed to get along or you “feel” like it was the right thing for the kids, yourself, them, etc.).
- Do I need to read the Old Testament since Jesus and the New Testament are here?
- The Old Testament forbids the wearing of multiple fabrics in clothing—is that still in force today? Why or why not?
- Do I need to speak in tongues to grow in Christ?
- Can I be a Christian and embrace evolution?
- Do I need to be baptized again if I fell away from Jesus for a few years but now regret doing so?
- Do I need to be baptized again if the pastor who baptized me rejected the faith and now lives as a stripper in Vegas (don’t laugh…it happened).
- Do I need to pray and have a “quiet-time” for Jesus to love me?
- Is Joel Osteen a Christian preacher?
- Are Roman Catholics and Protestants pretty much all the same, you know, besides the stuff with Mary?
- Do I need to be baptized to be saved considering there are some passages that seem to say so?
- Isn’t the God of the Old Testament conquest (hateful and vengeful) not at all like the God who is Jesus (loving and kind)?
- How can God tell us it is sinful to be jealous, that he never sins, but that he himself is “a jealous God”?
- What is a “covenant” and does it even matter?
- How do you summarize the whole Bible in a single sentence? Are you sure that’s how? Why?
Get my point? Perhaps education isn’t all that bad. Perhaps spending years of your life single-mindedly devoted to learning one book, especially when that book claims to be from the Judge of all the Earth, isn’t all that bad an activity. The teachers should be “…able to teach” (2 Tim 1:24).
Speaking of which, anyone here able to tell me the difference between a bacterial infection and a simple rash? Wish someone would get educated to deal with that….
“Watch out for people whose educations make them intolerant to deviant—or deviating—opinion.”
Which doctrines really matter to the core of what it means to be “Christian,” and which do not? What exactly do you think Paul meant in Galatians 1:9 when he was, basically, damning people for false belief? Might that matter to how you share the Good News? What did Peter mean in 1 Peter 3:18-19 about Christ preaching to spirits in prison? Does that change anything? Is it significant that Paul specifically says to a group of trained men that it was their job to watch, protect, and preach (Acts 20:17-35)? It’s not just Paul; Peter says so, too (1 Pet 5:1-5)! There seems to be a lot of intolerance there. Question is, was there good reason for it?
Interestingly, however, nowhere does the Bible say we should tolerate sinners or sin. Not only should we not tolerate it in ourselves (Col 3:5), but also we shouldn’t tolerate it in others (cf. Titus 3:10). Yes, I know “tolerate” and its cognates is the be-all and end-all of secular love today. HUMBUG I say.
The Bible doesn’t tell us to tolerate, but it does tell us to be kind. And so kind we ought to be even while refusing to tolerate or turn a blind or disinterested eye. Notice how these two ideas are included in a single thought from the Great Apostle: intolerance of sin and kindness towards sinners:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:19-24).
So yes, education ought to make you intolerant to foolishness, i.e., sin. Do you really want your doctor shrugging when you tell him you’ve chosen to just swallow toothpaste for your infection instead of taking the antibiotic he prescribed? And that’s not even necessarily a sin.
“So, then, what’s actually DONE at Seminary anyway?”
Here is a link to the four-year degree track for the seminary I attended. It alters slightly once in a while, but this is, basically, what others like me have to do in order to get our masters degrees (notice it’s 106 hours in class and does not include the hundreds more of research, study, meetings, papers, and prayer involved in such a degree—not to mention often working multiple jobs to pay the $46,000 tab of most Master of Divinity degrees at conservative institutions [about $450 a credit hour]). Some students are bold enough to attempt the degree in three years:
I will not speak for every seminary, but the ten or so of which I am most familiar (and also happen to be the largest conservative seminaries in the country, educating tens of thousands each year through on-campus and distance/virtual education) train men and women for permanent, life-long, 24-7 ministry in the local church. Not everyone has this as a goal.
Some are interested in power. Some fame (the Big Church Pastor). Some are driven to seminary by confusion—not knowing what they are doing or why they’re there. I’ve seen all categories, and had friends in each. Generally, however, the students who pay thousands of dollars for a seminary education do it because they love the Bible, love Jesus, and want to remove any error in their own thinking that would obscure the Bible and Jesus for them and those they’ll meet over the course of their lives. They want to make sure they honor Jesus by knowing him as he presents himself fully in the Scripture, and like it or not, those “pesky seminarians” and you both get degrees in theology because we’re all learning all the time. I would rather learn information from someone trained in the original sources (languages, archeology, history) than someone who gets their degree as an after-hours hobby, a “night-time devotion,” or from Internet Christian Facebook groups and memes. These are not immoral methods of learning. But c’mon—you know they’re not the same.
Plus, notice I said learn “information.” We seminarians better realize that no seminary grants a degree in “love” and “kindness” and, if we are not careful, the information we receive is wielded by arrogant hearts in ways that harm those around us. This does not please the Lord. Moreover, it is anti-Christian because the Spirit swears to use his Word—information—to change believers into the image of Jesus. So if that isn’t happening, oh wise seminarian, just who do you think is using the Scripture to change you? Trivia for you third-year students: name the dude who twisted Scripture for his own ends?
For those of you tempted to make the above claims: please, rethink what you’re saying and doing. You need those seminarians, and they need you. This is, after all, the point of the Body of Christ:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph 4:11-16).