Post Written by Stephen Hague, Academic Dean, Faith Theological Seminary –
It appears that commitment to theological education may be somewhat on the decline in our day. If this is so, I think it is partly due to the notion that intensive study of the Word is for “professionals” such as ministers and teachers. Nevertheless, the scripture does not divide believers into these two categories of “lay-people” and “professional ministers.” Yes, we have elders/pastors and deacons, but the intentional and rigorous study (and ministry) of God’s Word was never intended only for these leaders in the local church. Needless to say, restricting access to study (and ministry) of the Word was one of the main causes of the well-documented Medieval ignorance of the Bible and theology among the working-classes prior to the Reformation.
Blaise Pascal wrote that “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners who believe themselves righteous (Pensees, 533). This can apply to the issue of theological education, since there is this widely held belief that theological education is only for the select few who are called into “professional” ministry. All believers in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ know the One who is King and Savior, the One who redeems the soul and body, as well as the earth. All “who believe themselves sinners” are the ones responsible to be equipped to testify to the gospel of righteousness, the greatest of news, to all those “who believe themselves righteous.” It is not the sole responsibility of some elite “priesthood” of pastors to “be prepared” to have an answer for the hope that is within them. If the church is a “priesthood of all believers,” then all believers need theological training, education, discipling, and not just a select few. Yes, the leaders and teachers of our churches and mission organizations all benefit from theological education, but this does not mean it should be their exclusive privilege.
This is especially important when we consider the “state of the world” we now live in, and the increasing spiritual challenges at all levels to the church, believers, and to biblical faith. In response, many people are striving to return to some “Christian America” through various kinds of “horizontal” activism, trying to stem the tide of evils they feel threatening them. It is indeed a good thing to resist evils and to seek to bring the healing power of Jesus Christ to all aspects of life in this world. Yet, in reality, our times may possibly be no more or less “evil” than much of prior human history. Certainly, many do remember a time some fifty years ago in America (though not abroad) that seemed more peaceful, less violent, corrupt, and less dangerous. Perhaps, all that is true. It was, however, a short-lived period that could be argued was the residual consequence of faithful Christians (who were deeply rooted in the Bible) in prior American history that set the tone of much of our civil, political, and legal lives. The sad reality is, the period of American history following the World Wars marked a transition to Neo-orthodox Christianity for the majority of denominations, resulting in a form of religion without the power of the gospel. In this approach, there is a false separation of “upper story” religious truths and morals from the historical record of the Scripture. Nevertheless, the power of the gospel depends on the Word of God fully believed and properly interpreted with the help of the Spirit of God. When the Bible is no longer believed fully, nor taught as a trustworthy whole gospel of redemption, then the strength of the church will fail. For the post WW generation, and their children, Neo-orthodoxy evacuated the gospel of hope for both life and eternity, because it did not speak a clear word from God, but mostly just words from human points of view. In denying the historical foundation of biblical faith, it removed the Bible from the believer and also created a priesthood of “ministers” with exclusive access to the mysteries of an upper story faith removed from space-time, historical reality. (This is being continued today in another form in the Postmodern approaches to the Bible and the Christian faith.)
In response to these issues, FTS has had a long history with many challenges along the way. And, today we stand at a significant crossroads. This is a day when theological confusion and ignorance is reaching monumental proportions. Yet, correspondingly, there are countless evangelical churches packed with Christians excited about the gospel of Christ. All the same, persuading Christians of the supreme value of intensive theological education in the scripture is not an easy task, despite the simple fact that the life and health of the church depend on it. Simply put, this is the time for more rigorous study of the Bible, not less. To be motivated to these ends, it is imperative that Christians understand that all of scripture speaks to all of life, that there is nothing outside of the scope of the gospel. In this, there is no sacred/secular divide, priesthood/laity, upper story/lower story.
Will the church of Jesus Christ be prepared to stand in the days ahead? We understand that Christ sustains his church, but he does so through his Word by His Spirit. Thus, when grass-roots believers neglect the weightier matters of the faith, it is to the Church’s peril. Indeed, many churches do fulfill this responsibility, and thus their leadership may feel no need to encourage their people to study in a seminary environment. We would suggest, however, that we hope to compliment whatever the local churches are doing. Indeed, our prayer is that God would use our small efforts here to help build and strengthen the local church. Some leaders may also feel threatened by an educated “laity,” but this is to the serious detriment of their own labors and to expanding the kingdom of God. The greatest gift a leader in the church can give is increased strength to each believer towards exercising their gifts. That is, to equip them to better know and understand the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The days ahead demand this of us. There is no longer any time to assume that the leaders in the church can do all the work of the church and kingdom.
We at FTS pray that we be can a blessing to you, your churches, and to this generation, through our unified labors to teach the inerrant Word of God to those hungry to be strengthened in the faith and the testimony of Jesus Christ. We have been given this precious gift of redemption, the righteousness of God; we have the answers to the pressing questions and needs of the human race; we have the hope of the resurrection and the re-creation . . . .
Let us, therefore, partner together boldly to build upon the foundation of Scripture, in being equipped and equipping one another, towards the good works of the gospel of Jesus.
By faith, grace, scripture, and Christ alone.