Higher Learning

by Bryan Matthew Dockens

A common question visitors seem to think appropriate of preachers, at least in this writer's experience, is "Where did you go to school?" But folks just never seem to know how to react when I tell them about my year at Moorpark College, the community college near my hometown. They expect me to mention some "Bible college" or "Christian university" they've heard of instead. It's time to set a few things straight.

Formal education is not a prerequisite to gospel preaching. Paul wrote the church in Corinth, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified… And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom… that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:1-2, 4-5).

Preachers do not need letters after their names to speak the word of God. In fact, the Lord has made rather clear His disapproval of religious titles (Matthew 23:1-12). No Bachelor of Ministry degree is needed, neither a Master of Theology degree, nor a Doctor of Divinity degree. All the degrees a preacher needs are 98.6°! Indeed, the only preacher qualifications set forth in the Scriptures are these: "faithful" and "able" (II Timothy 2:2). If he practices God's word and can impart the same to others, he is qualified. To demand more than this is to add to God's already perfect word, the punishment for which is severe (Revelation 22:18; Deuteronomy 12:32).

When Paul mentioned the religious education of Timothy the evangelist, did he refer to some seminary, theological institution, or brotherhood school? No! He wrote, "But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:14-15). He learned the Scriptures from childhood. So, who taught him? Earlier in the same epistle, Paul commented that Timothy's faith "dwelt first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice" (II Timothy 1:5). Those were his credentials: a proper upbringing.

Religious education begins in the home. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6), wrote wise Solomon. This duty has always belonged to parents, from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:6-9), and even earlier (Genesis 18:19), all the way to the present (Ephesians 6:4).

Beyond the home, religious instruction is the responsibility of the church (Ephesians 3:10; I Timothy 3:15). No other institution on earth has received such a commission from God and those that assume such a role will be overthrown (Matthew 15:13).

The Scriptures contain no reference to seminaries or the like ordaining men to preach. Rather, when men were sent forth to proclaim the gospel, it was the church that sent them (Acts 13:1-3).

Preachers who obtain their knowledge of the word from their parents, the church, and through personal study (I Timothy 4:15-16; II Timothy 2:15) are not unqualified. They're not "just winging it" as some would suggest. These preachers' backgrounds most closely mirror those we read of in the New Testament.

With this pattern we should be content. Consider what the preachers of the first century were able to accomplish without modern institutions of higher learning: they evangelized the whole world (Colossians 1:6, 23; I Thessalonians 1:8)! It is no handicap to lack what God never required in the first place.