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I have a lot of cousins and respected friends who are seminary graduates. I also know more than a couple Bible scholars, teachers, and preachers, whom I respect a lot, who are not. My observation is that seminary can be valuable in providing a foundation in the historical lines of thought regarding issues springing from 2000 years of practical application of the Bible. But I also detect, among seminarians, a bit of head over heart bias (a natural side effect of the academic nature of the thing, I guess), as well as a “we have the inside knowledge” kind of elitism, that comes from, well, knowing things other people don’t. To keep this from being a black and white issue, I want to be clear that I am not questioning whether seminary is good; but my questions are:

A) is seminary necessary?
B) what is the appropriate role of seminary/seminarians in the everyday conduct of the local assembly and its work in the world?

I will be out for the next few days, starting in about two minutes. So, I will look forward to replaying the brawl that ensues (kidding, y’all) next week, when I return. Nothin’ but love. Mahalo. Aloha.

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Carl,
"I think it would be a case of colossal arrogance to think that one could teach without building on the efforts and training of others."

Huh?
You mean like Paul's 'arrogance' (Galatians 1:2; 2:2, 1Co 2:10; 11:23; 15:3; 1Th 4:15)?
I think that we may missing something here. One can learn from other pastors/preachers/elders, books, through experience, etc. I'm confused as to what this has to do with seminary?
Paul was an apostle with a special and unique calling. Unless I'm very mistaken, there aren't any other "Pauls" running around claiming direct revelation from God (discarding raving lunatics).

Let me clarify...

I do not think it is necessary for everyone who wishes to engage in ministry to get a seminary education. I am essentially "self-taught" (maybe it shows... :-) ), but I would not enter into professional, or vocational, ministry unless I received some formal training' nor would any serious ministry organization hire me to teach the word of God without some vocational training.

My comment on "colossal arrogance" was more in line for professional ministers, not volunteer lay ministers. If I'm in the position of a "teaching elder," wouldn't it behoove me to have some professional training? However, if I'm serving as a small group leader or a Sunday school teacher, there would be no necessity for a seminary degree.

Raquel said:
Carl,
"I think it would be a case of colossal arrogance to think that one could teach without building on the efforts and training of others."

Huh?
You mean like Paul's 'arrogance' (Galatians 1:2; 2:2, 1Co 2:10; 11:23; 15:3; 1Th 4:15)?
I think that we may missing something here. One can learn from other pastors/preachers/elders, books, through experience, etc. I'm confused as to what this has to do with seminary?
Raquel said:
Carl,
"I think it would be a case of colossal arrogance to think that one could teach without building on the efforts and training of others." Huh?

You mean like Paul's 'arrogance' (Galatians 1:2; 2:2, 1Co 2:10; 11:23; 15:3; 1Th 4:15)?
I think that we may missing something here. One can learn from other pastors/preachers/elders, books, through experience, etc. I'm confused as to what this has to do with seminary?

What we today think of as seminary can be traced back to discipleship programs. Jesus had disciples whom He trained for their ministry. He even sent them out on internships.
Paul was trained in one-on-one fashion by the Rabbi Gamaliel. He was, indeed, well trained.

Modern seminaries in America began with the concept of a well-trained minister training others. These eventually grew into such places as Princeton Seminary (to which I would not send anyone today). Harvard and Yale also began as higher-education institutions to train ministers (ditto on the "I would not send anyone there!).

I think that one of the major problems with seminaries today, and higher education as a whole, is that it has become too vocational. Yes, a minister-in-training has to learn something about administration, etc., but it is much more important for him (intentional) to think theologically so that he can deal with the questions and problems of the real world when confronted with them. It is also important for the minister/preacher to be at least conversant with the original languages in order to ferret out real meaning which cannot, at times, be discerned in translation.

All that being said (or typed), the answer to the question "is seminary necessary," is probably "no." This from a graduate of two of them. I think it is preferable, but there are many pastors around who did not have the benefit of that formal education who are doing God's work and doing it admirably.

There's more to this than vocation, although we do have to remember, also, that, " The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." (1 Tim. 5:17). Preaching and teaching is the livelihood of most who are full-time pastors.

The question was asked whether this kind of thinking creates or posits two classes of Christian in the church. No, it recognizes different gifts and different responsibilities.
James,

There are a lot of modern day examples that we won't find in the NT. The NT doesn't mention small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, worship directors, etc. I don't know the history of seminaries, but I would imagine the concept grew out of a desire to make sure church pastors were properly trained to perform their tasks and to ensure one didn't go off preaching false doctrine.

I don't think it has to be a case of the church growing slack. As the church grew, I can see the problem with how do we make sure the succeeding generation "gets it right?" The larger an organization gets, the more controls need to be put into place.

Here's a real-life case in point. I used to attend Harvest Bible Chapel here in NE Illinois. It started out as a church of 18 people and has grown exponentially over the last 20 years. At one point, they got the idea to start church planting. The churches they planted would be on the "Harvest" model. In order to ensure this, they started something called the Harvest Bible Fellowship, which served oversee the start up of new churches. They also began training seminary graduates on the Harvest model before placing them into church plants.

All that to say this: The larger an organization gets, the more oversight is needed to make sure we all follow in the same direction. I think seminaries perform this task wonderfully!

Allow me to amend my earlier statement. Can one "pastor" a small flock without a seminary degree? Of course! My question back to you would be what would the state of the church be today without seminaries? I hear what you're saying and in part I agree, but what is the alternative?

James Gibbons said:
So, if we’re limited to the NT to resolve this, where are the “vocational ministers” in the NT? Was the concept introduced later to improve on the original idea of the Church? Did Christians become so slack in ensuing generations that it became necessary in order to preserve the Church? What exactly is up with all that?
Seminary leaves the responsibility of learning up to pastors. And encourages that mindset.

I had a pastor tell a friend she didn't need to know about the sovereignty of God. I also had a pastor's wife ask me where my authority to understand Scripture came from. My husband's best friend did not continue his education at Moody, because of the mindset it was creating. I believe the Lord wants all of us to have a knowledge of the Bible. I do not believe it necessary to go to school to get it.
Carl: The NT doesn't mention small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, worship directors, etc.

I gather from the context that you approve of these things. A case could be made that small groups are inherently schismatic and give ground to heretics. That Sunday school usurps the responsibility and threatens the authority of Christian parents. And that worship directors are usurping the authority of the Holy Spirit Himself, while emotionalizing what is primarily a spiritual (not emotional) activity and making a performance of what ought to be a sacred transaction between the Christian and the Godhead. I’m not making that case. But such a case could be made.

I would imagine the concept grew out of a desire to make sure church pastors were properly trained to perform their tasks and to ensure one didn't go off preaching false doctrine.

So, seminary prevents the preaching of false doctrine? Can we then conclude that not having seminary training causes the preaching of false doctrine?

As the church grew, I can see the problem with how do we make sure the succeeding generation "gets it right?" The larger an organization gets, the more controls need to be put into place.

Is the Church an organization? Or is it an organism. If it is an organism, a body, then “getting it right” ought to be in its DNA. And correcting its errors ought to be in its immune system. External controls seem as likely to cause error as to prevent it.
Nicole,

We can all come up with anecdotal examples of negative experiences from seminary trained people. Do these examples negate the position that a person trained at seminary is better equipped to guide and lead a church? I don't think so.

I also agree with your final statement that God wants us all to grow in faith and knowledge. I would also argue that a good pastor is one who whets the appetite of the flock to dig into the truths of Scripture more for themselves. However, there are myriad examples of people for whom the only spiritual food they get is on Sunday mornings. So even though the Lord would have us all be well-versed in the truth, the sad fact is that very few are...

Nicole said:
Seminary leaves the responsibility of learning up to pastors. And encourages that mindset.

I had a pastor tell a friend she didn't need to know about the sovereignty of God. I also had a pastor's wife ask me where my authority to understand Scripture came from. My husband's best friend did not continue his education at Moody, because of the mindset it was creating. I believe the Lord wants all of us to have a knowledge of the Bible. I do not believe it necessary to go to school to get it.
Carl: Do these examples negate the position that a person trained at seminary is better equipped to guide and lead a church?

Before the position can be negated, it has to be established. Has it been? Or are you begging the question?
James,

As I said to Nicole...we can all come up with negative anecdotes to contradict the rule. Yes, one can argue the small groups are schismatic. Yes, one could argue the Sunday School usurps the authority of parents. Yes, one could argue that worship leaders circumvent the working of the HS. What's the point? The church is not immune to Murphy's Law!

Furthermore, you are taking my general statements and turning them into absolutes. Is going to a seminary a rock-solid guarantee that one won't spread false doctrine? No, of course not! Again, I ask, what's the alternative? Do we blow up seminaries because they can't guarantee that? I think there is a much greater chance of errant teaching coming from lay people who don't have formal Bible education than from formally trained people from respectable seminaries.

As to your last statement, I think that is a Pollyannish view of the church that doesn't fit the reality. The church is made up of redeemed people, but people nonetheless. We are prone to sin and error. I don't know of any local body of believers who "gets it right" all the time, every time.

We need to wrap this up. I essentially agree with you James, but I guess I place a higher level of confidence in seminary training.

James Gibbons said:
Carl: The NT doesn't mention small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, worship directors, etc.

I gather from the context that you approve of these things. A case could be made that small groups are inherently schismatic and give ground to heretics. That Sunday school usurps the responsibility and threatens the authority of Christian parents. And that worship directors are usurping the authority of the Holy Spirit Himself, while emotionalizing what is primarily a spiritual (not emotional) activity and making a performance of what ought to be a sacred transaction between the Christian and the Godhead. I’m not making that case. But such a case could be made.

I would imagine the concept grew out of a desire to make sure church pastors were properly trained to perform their tasks and to ensure one didn't go off preaching false doctrine.

So, seminary prevents the preaching of false doctrine? Can we then conclude that not having seminary training causes the preaching of false doctrine?

As the church grew, I can see the problem with how do we make sure the succeeding generation "gets it right?" The larger an organization gets, the more controls need to be put into place.

Is the Church an organization? Or is it an organism. If it is an organism, a body, then “getting it right” ought to be in its DNA. And correcting its errors ought to be in its immune system. External controls seem as likely to cause error as to prevent it.
Carl,
What James wrote, the portion that you responded to, I think deserves a deeper look.

James,
That's a really valid point. Is the institution of seminary an external response to internal issues? If it is then applying it certainly is an inappropriate response. To misuse an overly used adage, a band aid on the skin although the bleeding is within the skin.
(Which ties into what Rey was saying earlier.)
I’d like to hear from some seminary folks on the issue Raquel just raised. Is it a red herring? Is it polyanish? Is it just goofy? How do we address that? Do we need to address that?
Raquel,

I'm not sure exactly what point James made you feel I need to respond to.

I don't want to be contrary, nor do I want to be perceived as argumentative in this case. I essentially agree with James' original point. Namely, that there can be a tendency that seminary trained individuals can have an air of elitism. We're sinful people, redeemed but sinful. The Bible says that "knowledge puffs up." So I can clearly see the potential that James is referring to.

My only question is do we need to throw the baby out with the bath water? James himself says that he is not questioning whether or not seminary is good. Therefore, one must assume that he believes that seminary serves a useful purpose.

My answer to his question ("Is seminary necessary?") is "yes." As long as there are people who want to go into full-time ministry, seminaries will be the preferred route to get trained. Maybe James needs to provide a little context to his question to avoid responses going all over the spectrum? In other words, is seminary necessary? I would ask, necessary for what? To preach the gospel? To serve in the church? To go to the missionary field? What's the context?

If one wants to be hyper-technical, then the question is really an invalid question because it almost assumes the answer "no." Most Christians can articulate enough of the gospel to share their faith. Most service opportunities within the church don't require heavy Bible knowledge; just a servant's heart. We also know that the Holy Spirit can empower anyone for ministry through the bestowal of Spiritual gifts. However, we know that the Bible exhorts us to "study to show ourselves approved."

Personally, I wouldn't want to be part of a church where the pastor was an untrained layman whose only preparation for the Sunday sermon was to open the Bible, point to a passage and pray to the HS for guidance. Can the HS "use" this for God's glory? Of course he can. But I also think the HS would want us to actually engage with the word and engage what others have had to say about the word. Formal training through a seminary provides the necessary tools for a pastor to do his job with excellence.

Jesus said it himself when he said a student will never exceed his master. Therefore, if the master is an untrained layman, what does that say of the students. I guess I just don't see the problem with institutions that are set up to train a new generation of ministry practitioners to do the work of the Lord with skill and excellence. It's not a perfect system and it is just as prone to error and abuse as anything else (as the person who noted what happened to Princeton and Harvard). However to just point out the deficiencies of the system is not moving the discussion forward. What's the alternative? If not seminaries, then what? No one has answered that question even though I've asked it several times. I can just as easily point to negative anecdotes to any other system that is put forward.

Blessings,
Carl

Raquel said:
Carl,
What James wrote, the portion that you responded to, I think deserves a deeper look.

James,
That's a really valid point. Is the institution of seminary an external response to internal issues? If it is then applying it certainly is an inappropriate response. To misuse an overly used adage, a band aid on the skin although the bleeding is within the skin.
(Which ties into what Rey was saying earlier.)

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