On a recent trip to Israel, I showed an Israeli guide my 565-page book Jews in Fighter Jets: Israel Past, Present, and Future. He had a Ph.D. in history, I was informed, and with only barely looking at the book, he asked, “Where did you get your Ph.D.?” Since he already knew that I have only an honorary doctorate, he was putting me down and pretending that my work doesn’t justify serious attention. I could have said, “I got my Ph.D. studying for an average of eight hours a day for 45 years, writing serious Bible courses and books on all sorts of subjects, including history and archaeology, every facet of the church, and photography and doing continual on-site research in major libraries and museums in many parts of the world (e.g., America, Canada, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Australia, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece). That’s where I got my Ph.D. Just one of my Ph.D. theses is this book Jews in Fighter Jets, which deals with every aspect of Israel’s long and complicated history and future, including rabbinical Judaism and the Talmud, her modern wars, and not only that, an intensive study into Israel’s future by a careful exegesis of Bible prophecy. My first doctoral thesis was the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity. It was the first of a great many books that could easily submitted as doctoral theses. Oh yea, another doctoral work/thesis would be the Bible churches that we have planted and the thousands of pages of the training materials we have produced to educate church members and preachers in a serious way. But I never submitted any of my doctoral theses to anyone, so it is water under the bridge and will mean absolutely nothing in eternity, regardless of what it means to some man today.
Dr. David Otis Fuller called this phenomenon “scholarolatry.”
Learning is important, and I do not despise any effort a man will make to learn the Word of God more perfectly and prepare himself better for the ministry. Get all the degrees you can if the study is biblically sound from biblically sound men and institutions and if your goal is the mastery of the Holy Bible and the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission.
I refuse, though, to respect a man who is puffed up with his own conceit. I am not against seminary training, but it is a fact that the bulk of seminary education today is the philosophical study of the thinking of fallible man which results in uncertainty and foolish questionings instead of the study of God’s infallible Word which results in faith in God, absolute confidence in the Bible, holiness of life, practical ministry, and zeal for the truth.
I see two problems with the broad use of credentialed titles among preachers. First, too often the title is meaningless. What sense is it to have Dr. before your name if you can’t even write a proper paragraph in English? Second, too often the title is a matter of pride. The late Evangelist Lester Roloff said it well when someone wanted to bestow upon him an honorary degree. He commented, “It would be like tying a pretty ribbon on a hog’s tail.” Brethren, if we will be honest, all of us are mere hog’s tails. God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty; let’s not act pretentious, not with our honorary degrees, nor with our earned degrees. God is not impressed. Paul was a brilliant man with a great education, but he was in no wise puffed up.
The wisdom commended by God is a practical wisdom, not theoretical. The seminary-educated late J. Vernon McGee, who made it his life’s aim to take the Word of God and explain it and apply it in a simplistic way to the common man throughout the world, said the Bible had to get down to “where the rubber meets the road.” Sadly, Dr. McGee compromised in some matters, particularly his big tent philosophy of ministry, but I like his saying.
Godly wisdom is skill in understanding and applying the truth of God’s Word to the needs of life and the work of God.
WAS JESUS CHRIST A SCHOLAR?
The Lord Jesus Christ did not submit Himself to the popular religious schools of His day, and He spoke in such a way that the common man could understand Him. His proud detractors stumbled at this Wisdom. They exclaimed, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (Jn. 7:15).
Jesus Christ is infinite wisdom incarnate, but He was not recognized as a scholar.
WERE THE APOSTLES SCHOLARS?
For the most part the apostles were common men who were called by Jesus Christ to write the last chapters of the Bible and to establish the first churches. The Lord Jesus put these men through an intensive education, but it was not theoretical. It was not “ivory tower” or “arm chair” theology. He taught them a practical, spiritual wisdom. Jesus Christ did not establish a seminary; He established a church. He did not grant degrees; He taught His disciples how to do the work of God in this wicked, hell-bound, rough-and-tumble world, and having learned their ABCs well, they turned the world upside down.
The apostle’s proud detractors did not recognize nor understand the amazing education they had living with Jesus for three years, or the wisdom God had given them. In their enemies’ estimation, they were “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13). The Pharisees were consumed with “scholarolatry.” My friends, I contend that the apostles of Jesus Christ were some of the best educated, wisest men who have ever walked this earth. They were better educated and wiser even than the mighty prophets of Old, because they had greater Revelation. They were common men, but God gave them eternal wisdom.
They were not scholars, though.
WERE THE PASTORS OF THE EARLY CHURCHES SCHOLARS?
The qualifications for pastors is given in 1 Timothy and Titus, and I don’t find anything there about the necessity of having a Th.D. or even an M.Div. Again, I’m not saying these are wrong, necessarily, if obtained it consists of a truly biblical education at the feet of believing men in God’s will. I’m talking about God’s own qualifications that we find in His Word. The qualifications have to do with strong biblical knowledge and spiritual living and practical application of the Scriptures to everyday life and to the ministry of God.
Could the pastor, then, be ignorant? Indeed not! He has to be skillful in handling the Word of God--no small feat. The pastor has to be “apt to teach” (1 Ti. 3:2). In Titus we see that the pastor must be a man who holds “fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9). Thus he must have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and of sound doctrine and he must have the ability to use this knowledge to feed the sheep a good spiritual diet and to protect them from false teachers. This requires serious knowledge, but it is not a theoretical or philosophical knowledge. This is “rubber-meets-the-road” knowledge. This is “get the Word down to” where the common people and the little children people live.
The pastors of the early churches seriously educated, as we see in the Pastoral Epistles, but they weren’t scholars.
Consider the men who have been greatly used by God through the centuries. Were the mighty prophets of Israel raised up through the prophets’ schools? For the most part, no, God individually called and anointed them. What about Charles Haddon Spurgeon? He had no theological degree and only a small formal education of any kind, yet he wielded vastly more influence for God in this world than hundreds of his titled compatriots combined. He was no ignorant man. He was a lifelong, passionate student, both of God’s Word and of everything in life that might pertain to the ministry. But he wasn’t a scholar. He founded a Pastor’s College, yet the goal of that college was not to award titles, but to grant preachers a practical knowledge of Jesus Christ and of His Eternal Word. It was gospel preaching, church-planting knowledge.
Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I am very passionate for education and learning. I have been a diligent student all my Christian life. I have studied the Bible and associated material for an average probably of eight hours a day for 45 years.
I am convinced that there are a great many men in the ministry today who should be disqualified because they are too lazy to study. They aren’t real students. They aren’t serious readers. They throw together little topical messages and tend to preach the same things over and over, adding little that is fresh, little to no real spiritual insight, preaching messages that don’t feed the people properly and will never make the people the skillful in God’s Word people and the spiritually-discerning people that God demands that His people be in Hebrews 5:12-14. These are men who don’t know how to exegete the Word of God, and don’t study enough to do it effectively even if they tried.
I am not exalting ignorance; I am exalting God’s way of education over against the world’s way. And I am renouncing the pride of man which is behind the phenomenon of “scholarolatry.”
Many fundamental Baptist preachers are not too far behind the Primitive Baptists described in The Man Who Moved a Mountain, a biography of Virginia preacher Robert Childress. One preacher shouted, “Praises be to God that I am ignorant. I’d only praise him more if I were ignoranter” (p. 22). Hearing such things as a child, Childress recalled thinking to himself, “Did God hate learning?”
May the good Lord save us from ignorant preachers!
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake” (Titus 1:9-11).
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
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