Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Church buildings, Seminaries and Bible Colleges, etc.

The End Times Deception blog has a post in which an article called 'The Nine Lies of Today's Church' is cited. While some of these are serious issues, we took issue with two:

2. Church buildings do not exist in the Bible. They were invented around 200-300 AD, when the church was in serious decline. Only a backslidden church could fall so far away from the simplicity of the early church. Church buildings are anti-New Testament, and bring with them a host of problems and traditions. It was basically when the church fell into the hands of Rome that this concept of the “cathedral” really took over. And we are still spending millions on these monuments today.

In fact the earliest known church building is a Messianic synagogue on Jerusalem's Mount Zion. As James in his Epistle uses the word 'Synagogue' (unhelpfully translated 'Assembly' in the AV), we can rightly say that there were such buildings even in the first century.

We do not contend for cathedrals, but living as we do in England, with our wonderfully varied climate, we are thankful for the existence of the humble chapels in which the Church gathers for worship. To suggest that the mere possession of a church building is a sign of apostasy is absurd in the extreme. Furthermore, to imagine that a church will be any more spiritual without its own meeting-house is simply silly. Church buildings developed out of a need, after the example of the Jewish Synagogue.
In the early Church, those congregations that did not possess a building set apart for worship nevertheless met in a stated place. Think of the references to the churches in houses in the New Testament. These were meeting 'in the house of' such-and-such. Practically, they had a church building, then. There is nothing improper in such a practice.

6. There were no Bible Colleges, Seminaries or degrees in the New Testament. The only people who seemed to have "Bible Schools" were the Scribes and Pharisees! The apostles were simple fishermen and tax collectors. It is likely that a number of them could not even read or write. What was their "qualification" for being in the ministry? Simply that they had SPENT A LOT OF TIME WITH JESUS. The fact that people expect a "professional clergy" today with degrees from Bible College has helped to make the church sicker and more unscriptural than ever. Simple humble people with a calling from God often cannot get to minister because they do not have a "piece of paper" to make them 'qualified'. -Yet another disaster for the church.

Now, we agree that intellectualism has been the bane of the Churches. Having studied the history of the decline of the Free Church of Scotland in the 19th century, we know how damaging liberalism in the colleges can be. But at the same time we know that anti-intellectualism is just as bad, if not worse. The man who is proud of his ignorance is worse than the man who is proud of what he knows, and is even more likely to discredit the Church. He gives the impression that learning is sinful, and he makes his people an easy prey for knowledge falsely so-called.

We agree that too much has been made of degrees and diplomas in some circles. The unbelieving academy has been pandered to by too many seminaries. Yet to suggest that we ought to do away with Seminaries because the Apostles did not go to them is absurd. First of all, they spent three years studying under the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, surely the best Bible-teacher who ever lived. Secondly, these men all knew Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages in which the Bible is written (it is highly unlikely that Jewish men, who were expected to lead their families in reading from the Tanakh, would be illiterate. Tax Collectors had to know shorthand, and Peter, Andrew, James and John were all partners in fishing firms). On the whole modern men do not (unless they are Israeli or Aramean. We studied with an Aramean man at Seminary). The Apostles were completely familiar with the culture of Biblical times (as they lived in it), and divinely guided into all truth. Quite frankly, there are none today with such advantages. A seminary exists to make sure that ministers are trained in the Biblical languages, and to see the Bible as a whole. It does not exist simply to give a piece of paper. Mr Wesley, when he was rebuked for sending out his 'unlearned' lay preachers remarked that there were many men who went though the universities (the the eighteenth century the universities were the seminaries of the Church of England) and came out knowing nothing at all, while his lay preachers were reading theological books every morning. Better, obviously, the Wesleyan lay preacher with his real training, than the lazy university man who slept through lectures. We do not believe that a degree fits men to preach the Gospel. Nor do we believe that it unfits them.
Mr. Spurgeon had the right idea. When simple men with a calling from God, members of his congregation, began to preach in the open air, he set up his Pastors' College to train them, so they could teach the Word of God better. Rather than rubbishing all seminaries because some are indeed trying to manufacture ministers, we ought to labour to reform them.

We do not, and cannot, approve of 'Professional clergy'. All of God's people (laos) are also His Heritage (cleros). But those who teach the Word need some training to do so, whether informally through books, or formally, through some sort of training programme. In fact, one of the problems of the modern Church is that ignorant and unlearned men are thrusting themselves into the ministry and wresting the Scriptures to their own destruction. Pride is a sin, but pride of ignorance is at least as destructive as pride of learning.

Let the Church have humble, earnest, learned ministers, and then she will have what is best.


Hiraeth said...

What worries me about lists like this, indeed, the whole theme of this ministry, is that it seems to think that it is possible to go back to the first century. It is not, and those who try inevitably end up simply creating their own schismatic group (look at Brethrenism). Church buildings fill a need, and the alternatives, whether house churches or rented halls (like that of Tyrannus), still involve a space that has to be used sensibly.
As for seminary training, I would agree that such was not the way of the NT church. No, the NT church's way seems to have been apprenticeship to an older, more experienced preacher, not some sudden annointing. Timothy had been set apart, but he still needed the guiding hand of Paul. Indeed, one thing shines through with all the early fathers, they had trainined for the ministry, and they were not novices. Regrettably, the step of simply looking for enthusiatic young men has been too often followed, and with predictable results.

Highland Host said...

Our point was not that seminary training is essential (we do not believe that it is), but that training of some kind is. Especially today, in a society where many of the enemies of Christianity are learned people, it is essential that the pastor be able to answer the facile objections of knowledge falsely so-called. What particularly worries us is the sort of anti-intellectualism that leaves intelligent young people in the churches fair game for men like Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins.

As you know, the idea that the original Apostles were illiterate is simply wrong. When they were called unlearned by the Sanhedrim it was because they had not been to rabbinical college. No, they had spent three years in Jesus' college. They would all have been to synagogue school and learned Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the three languages in which the Bible was written.