Thursday, November 29, 2012

What's Trending? #NoSeminaryNoRespect

There are several trends in Christendom that have been good, some not so good, and some that have been destructive. I'm not going to speak on the trends in the past. I'm not really writing to speak on all the current trends right now. Today, I want to address the trend of what I call "Ministry Qualification Validation". It's a trend that has sadly been around for centuries.

The ministry what?
The "ministry qualification validation" is if you do have a degree from a Bible college or seminary or something similar, then you are unspokenly validated by non-lay members, ministry equals, and respected leaders in Christendom. But if you do not have an undergrad degree, or a graduate degree, or a seminary degree, then somehow you are not qualified or as qualified for ministry and unspokenly treated less than or differently than those who have these degrees. It's like a degree is your ticket into the "good ol' boys club"….one's "right of passage" into the "Christendom country club"….the "member's only" card….the golden "pilot's wings"…the "my precious" from Lord of the Rings.
Am I implying that there is something wrong with getting biblical education/training for ministry? Absolutely not! I'm in college for biblical studies and counseling! But the pressure to go to college for "ministry qualification" can be spiritually and emotionally unhealthy. It can create validation issues. Here's how.

Some will reason in themselves, whether knowingly or unknowingly, "I now feel validated and am qualified by my degree to serve in ministry."
While others will reason, "I don't believe I am qualified to serve in ministry because I haven't gone to Bible college or have some formal biblical education."
And then those on the sideline will believe they're doing some good by suggesting that another should go to college because they have a desire to be in ministry, and, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are validating college/formal biblical education as a qualifying requirement for acceptance into ministry.

Whether we believe it or not, or accept it or not, there is this unspoken class distinction and validation that takes place in ministry among those with degrees/formal biblical education and the quiet minimization of those without. This 'ministry qualification validation' is now spreading over into those not in ministry and how they view those who have degrees and those without and how they view going into ministry or not. This is unhealthy, harmful, and dangerous.

The qualifiers that matter
Having a degree or going to seminary is not a biblical qualification for ministry or pastoring. Scripture does emphasize a certain standard of biblical education/training for ministry leaders and pastors (1Timothy 1:3-4; 3:6; 4:6, 16; 5:17; 6:20-21, 2Tim. 1:13; 2:15, 24-25, Titus 1:9; 2:1, 7-8). But that standard is to be true for every disciple (Matt. 28:19-20). Furthermore, the biblical education the Scripture speaks of is not an exclusive standard consisting only in the completion of a Bible college or seminary degree. One's mature, godly character and proper understanding of sound doctrine are the only qualifications the Scripture requires (1Tim. 3:1-13, Tit. 1:5-9; 2:1-7, Acts 6:3). Seminary and Bible colleges aren't the only places where this can be received. To be honest, they are actually inadequate in meeting these qualifications alone. If the local church, however, does its job in biblically discipling its members, then devoted believers will meet these qualifications. A piece of paper and thousands of dollars in debt are not necessary.
Did you know seminary and Bible colleges during the 1st century were free and open to every believer? It's true!
Do you know why? Because this biblical education/training took place in the form of discipleship, not a formalized education institution. Over the centuries it became institutionalized and biblical discipleship among the people became open only to those in leadership….only to the "elite"…I mean "the called". Even after the Reformation this still went on, because by then the damage had been done. Even up to the Puritans coming to the Americas, they simply transferred this institutionalist thinking from England to the New World. And so forth this went on throughout history until today.
Again, I am not speaking against getting a biblical education/training nor am I speaking against Bible colleges and seminaries. I am simply bringing attention to an unchecked, unspoken, unhealthy trend and unbiblical standard that is continuing to create a class distinction among fellow brethren in ministry because of one having a degree and the other not.

Is this really a big deal?
Some may still say, "Chris, maybe you're blowing this out of proportion." I don't believe I am. Take a look at the picture I have here. It was part of an article written by the Vice President of a Bible college. The question on the picture plays right into the 'ministry qualification validation' trend. It begs the follow-up rebuttal question, "So does this mean if I don't go to Bible college I'll somehow live for God less in my lifetime?" I doubt that's what the author was implying, but the unspoken trend is present nonetheless. Another example is simply go to any Christian job site and look up qualifications for pastor or a ministry leader and see for yourself. The greater percentage of these churches and ministries state a "degree" is a necessary requirement for the position.
I've been to seminaries. I've been to leadership conferences. I've been among other pastors. And guess what, as soon as they find out I'm a pastor…bam!….that faithful, prejudice question never fails to come up, "So, where did you go (or do you go) to seminary?" I even get asked this at Christian rap concerts and urban functions. I have one better than that. I even got asked this by a realtor when my wife and I were looking to rent a home just last year. It's as if it's automatically presumed, 'since you're a pastor you must have went to seminary'. And I call it prejudice because that same presumption is like saying, 'since you go to church you must be saved', or 'since you're a white Christian you must be Republican', or 'since you're a black Christian you must be a Democrat'. It's as if this question is the qualifying litmus test, and one can't be a pastor without going to seminary.
Why is that the standard question? Why not ask why they are in ministry as the standard question? Get to know their heart for God and His people. How do you think a person who hasn't gone to seminary or a Bible college feels or can receive this when they get asked that only because they said they're a pastor or ministry leader?
Now, please be sure to hear me. I am not saying those who ask this question are asking from a negative place. Nonetheless, the presumption is still unhealthy. Why? Because if one did not go to seminary or a Bible college they may some how feel unfit or invalidated when someone asks that because they didn't. I am not presuming my conclusion is a standard, just a reality for some.

The bottom line
For those who feel led to go to Bible college and/or seminary, go for it! Or those who are already there, great! Learn a ton. Stay humble. And remember that ministry happens not in the classroom of college, but the classroom of life-on-life with other believers and unbelievers (see Acts). Also, don't judge other leaders and pastors who don't have a degree/formalized biblical education. Instead affirm them in the Lord as fellow laborers in the kingdom.
For those who have graduated, congrats! Be on guard for the pride of academia and institutionalism. Please don't flame this unhealthy, harmful, and dangerous trend. Treat all servants of Christ as equals and comrades in ministry. You'll be amazed at how that simple acceptance can healthily influence a person greatly and bring glory to God.
For those who may not feel led to go to Bible college and/or seminary, or those who maybe cannot afford it, that's okay. Your qualification and validation for ministry is not wrapped up in men or their approval, nor colleges/seminaries and their approval, but God and Him alone! Paul said Jesus judged him faithful and appointed him to the ministry, even in light of his past (1Tim. 1:12-13). If God has called you to ministry, He will equip and prepare you for His service. Be eager and disciplined to learn sound doctrine. God has provided in our present age tons of free and affordable resources that you can learn just as much as those in college/seminary (see Recommended Sites). Take advantage of it. And continue to exude your heart for God, His word, and His people.
For churches, (and both of those with degrees and those with none in the churches), we have to do a way better job at biblical discipleship and stop pawning our responsibilities off to the colleges and seminaries. If we spent more time making holistic disciples from the people in our pews, we'll raise up more qualified leaders in our churches, and find more people being saved, which leads to more disciples and more leaders; because disciples recycle disciples.
Many believers and many leaders are feeling outcasted, sidelined, and mistreated by their fellow brethren because of this 'ministry qualification validation' trend. I pray that after reading this you are inspired to be intentional on not fueling this unhealthy and dangerous trend in your circles, and maybe we can start turning the tide and set a new trend….a trend of mutual camaraderie.
Let us all remember that it is the Holy Spirit who guides all His children into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Bible colleges and seminaries are simply one of many means the Spirit may use as He fulfills His divine charge to guide us in all the truth. We all have to place our trust in Him and not presume He can or will only train up through this one mean or any one mean. And here's the anvil, when this class distinction and unspoken minimization takes place upon those without these degrees or formal biblical education/training, the people (leaders and non-leaders) who do so are in essence belittling the Holy Spirit's choice of how He goes about training up His servants for His work. I hope that hit you. Because it hit me.

I'll conclude with some points of clarification.
1. This was a brief article of me expressing my heart's concern about this trend. I hope I remained objective while not pulling any punches. It is not an exhaustive exposition on this topic. I hope you get my overall point.
2. The term "ministry" is broad. Other than my use of "pastoring", my use of "ministry" is wide-ranging.
3. This article may not be for everyone. Some folk may read this and have never been asked or assumed any of this. For some people in ministry this is far removed because of maybe the particular ministry you're involved in. Thus, if this was not for you, still please take away something from it so not to fall in the trap of this trend and gather some points on how to comfort or graciously correct someone negatively affected by this trend.

"And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."
(Col. 3:14)


Monday, November 26, 2012

G.I.A. - Grace In Action

I just ended a phone conversation with a fellow believer. We had a good convo. It was edifying. However, some of what we talk about left me thinking about how some believers don't understand grace in action and that saddens me and makes my stomach hurt. Every believer, myself included, is pharisaic in some way and at some time. But in our pride we don't see it (and some times don't want to see it) and operating in grace in those areas becomes inactive.

Grace is the key!
The Grace of God is what saved us and Grace is what transforms us (Tit. 2:11-14; 3:4-7), and Grace is what will save and transform others. Grace is what breaks down the walls of traditionalism, legalism, self-righteous..ism, dogmatism, culturalism, post-modernism, and any other harmful "ism". Grace doesn't let us stay the way we are. It disrupts our pride and self-centeredness. That's why we don't operate in grace from time to time. Grace is a disruption to how we think things should be, because it centers the point of concern or contention on faith in God's character and purposes and not ours.

Grace isn't afraid to get dirty!
Grace isn't afraid to love like Christ, and give people room to make mistakes, and forgive, and grieve, and move on, and be humble, and be patient, and be a peacemaker, and be an agent of restoration, and be an ambassador of reconciliation, and anything else contrary to our pride and selfishness. Notice I didn't list correction. Giving correction is hard and it can get dirty some times, but giving correction is not unnatural to our sinful nature. That's why it's more "second nature" to finger-point at others (e.g. Gen. 3:12). Receiving correction, on the other hand, is dirty and unnatural to our sinful nature. Grace isn't afraid to give correction graciously as well as receive blows that hurt. Grace isn't afraid of becoming like Christ, but our flesh is (cf. Rom. 6).

Grace is powerful!
It is because of grace that Creation exist. It is because of grace that Adam and Eve weren't destroyed on the spot because of their sin, instead they were forgiven and their shame was covered by the skin of an innocent animal killed on their behalf. It's because of grace that the Ark was built when God judged the earth. It is grace that brought God to earth to be Incarnate (God-Man) and give His life as a ransom for His enemies. It's because of grace that the wrath of God has not yet come and those alive still have time to repent (2Pet. 3:7-9).

This grace is immeasurable! It is inexhaustible! And I believe if we as believers spent more time focusing on growing and operating in this grace we'd see a transformation take place in ourselves and some of the recipients of this grace in action.

Let's not let this grace be M.I.A in how we think, speak, and do. Let's go in His grace and grow in His grace (2Pet. 3:18).


Monday, November 19, 2012

Interpretive Journey of Deuteronomy 22:8

“When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.” (Deut. 22:8)

We'll start our journey of this verse with some observations. Observations help the reader to notice certain things which may be overlooked if not closely scanned. After the observations we'll go step-by-step through interpreting this verse and see how significant OT verses like these are for us today.

There are repeated words like “you”, “house”, “your”, and “roof”; which is exactly what this verse is about, the roof of their houses. There some active verbs in “build”, “make”, “bring”, and “falls”. There is a command in “When…make”. The NKJV, ESV, NASB, and KJV all say “you shall make”. Also, the phrase “so that you may not…if” is a resultant statement.

Step 1: What did the text mean (or what was the author's intent) to the biblical audience?
This instruction may have been received with mixed understanding. By this time the people of Israel were within months of entering the Promised Land, meaning they were still living in tents not in houses they would eventually build. This is why the very first word of this verse is so important (“When”) because it denotes a time to come. The mixed understanding may have come because only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb would remember Egypt and the style of houses there (and perhaps certain enemies who had clay brick houses also) to know why God would give this instruction, unlike the present generation getting ready to enter the Promised Land who probably had no idea what this meant. This verse falls in the midst of other laws regulating religious and social life. It’s not connected to anything else. It is its own singular instruction. This verse also contains correlation to the sixth commandment in that if you do not take the necessary steps to ensure, in this case, the safety of someone in your house so that if they die because of your negligence then you are at guilt for their bloodshed. Later in Israel’s history the roof of their houses would be flat and used as a place for grain (Josh. 2:6), to relax (2Sam. 11:2), for privacy (Acts 10:9), and guests (1Sam. 10:25-26). Thus, God was giving His people a preventive instruction in this verse, “When you build a new house, make a parapet (ma’aqeh, e.g. a guardrail or wall like around a balcony) around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof (e.g. be punishable for breaking the sixth commandment).”

Step 2: What are the difference between the biblical audience and us?
We are no longer under the Old Covenant. We are not about to enter into the land promised to our ancestors by God. We do not live in tents in the Middle Eastern desert or Middle Eastern style houses. We have not been wandering in the desert for forty years. We are not civilians of a theocracy. We have never seen or been led by God personally in the form of a cloud or fire. Moses nor Joshua is not our mediator, Jesus is. And so on the list can go.

Step 3: What is the theological principle in this text?
Follow God’s preventive wisdom for yours and others safety.

Step 4: Does the New Testament teaching modify or qualify this principle, and if so, how?
The New Testament is full of God’s preventive wisdom for ours and others safety. There are numerous verses and passages telling us to flee something sinful and ultimately destructive (e.g. 1Cor 6:18; 10:14, 1Tim. 6:11, 2Tim. 2:22, Jam. 4:7), seek God and the things of God (e.g. Matt. 6:33; 7:7-8, Rom. 14:19, 1Cor. 7:27; 10:24), follow Jesus (e.g. Matt. 10:38, 1Cor. 11:1, Eph. 5:1, 1Jn. 2:6), don’t worry or be anxious (e.g. Matt. 6:25-31, 34, Phil. 4:6-7), be persistent and serious in prayer (e.g. Lk. 18:1, 1Pet. 4:7), owe no one anything but to love them (e.g. Rom. 13:8-9), there will be troubles and such so stand firm (e.g. Jn. 16:33, 1Cor. 15:58; 16:13, Gal. 5:1, Eph. 6:10-13), etc, etc.

Step 5: How should individual Christians today apply this modified theological principle in their lives?
Christians today should apply God’s preventive wisdom just as we would follow the prescription for our medicine giving to us from the doctor, step by step, day by day, just as instructed for as long as instructed.

The One Volume Bible Commentary, 1936
NASB Life Application Study Bible, Updated Edition, 2000
NIV Archaeological Study Bible, 2005
The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 1999