Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Importance of the Local Church

There is an interesting link at Challies that leads to Steve Camp's article on the importance of the local church.

In it Camp basically calls the seminary system worthless, unbiblical, and made of straw. His problems are these:

  • Seminaries do not train men in godliness or spirituality, they train them in theology and ministry theory. This is undoubtedly true. Of course men don't train men in spirituality, God does...
  • Seminaries often have poor doctrine and can hasten the propogation of false doctrine. He gives examples. He's right and its not pretty.
  • It creates the illusion of pastoral spiritual superiority and tends toward a "one man show" church. Again, this should not be.

    His counter to this is the biblical model of local congregations raising up leaders and training them for ministry. Examples are: Jesus training the apostles. The Apostles trained Barnabas and others. Paul trained Timothy and Titus. He also trained Priscilla and Aquilla.

    In the end Steve challenges the local church to raise up leaders from within itself instead of relying on seminarians from without.

    He's partly right. The church needs to raise up spiritual leaders from within via participation in ministry. You cannot send a weak christian to seminary and expect to have him return a spiritual colossus. What you get is a weak christian with book learnin' instead. Churches are better to raise up leaders with small groups. This will train local men (and women) of faith into strong spiritual leaders.

    Likewise a church needs to judge carefully and well before they call a man to be their pastor. Failure to do so will heap nothing but troubles on their heads because not all seminaries and not all seminarians are created equal and committed to following the Lord.

    Lastly, pastors must always remain humble as christ was humble. Quick to accept correction for if even Peter the Rock was corrected by Paul, anyone should be of open mind to correction by the Holy Spirit and their fellow Christians.

    On the other hand scrapping the seminary system is foolhardy. It is laughable to use Paul as an example of an non-seminarian. He was a pharisee, trained in schuls by Rabbis. Trained not only in Jewish theology, but in the logic and rhetoric of the Greeks. Paul is as close to a New Testament seminarian as you can get. Steve is right, Saul's education did not insulate him from the workings of the devil as he persecuted the church. It did however become a huge tool that the Holy Spirit was able to use in Paul's ministry and his writings. It is no coincidence that much of Paul's ministry was training up leaders because it was his education that allowed him to do it effectively. It was no coincidence that it was Paul who stood up and corrected Peter, Rock of the Church and Keeper of the Keys of Heaven, for leading people astray. Finally, it was no coincidence that it is Paul's logical mind that was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the majority of the New Testament.

    It is also no coincidents that the New Testament letters were written to instruct the churches in right-thinking. It was no coincidence that letters like I John directly address heresies like Gnosticism. It was no coincidence that Paul's writings addressed the spiritual struggles of each of his churches. My brothers these were the academic publications of their day. Works diseminated to instruct other believes in orthodoxy. Seminaries may be led astray by the devil, but they are also great tools for the disemination of true doctrine as well as false. You cannot take the bad but forget the good. That is foolishness.

    Likewise a church without a pastor runs into a known problem: depth. At some point the knowledge of the pastor is invaluable in taking his ministry to the next level. It is critical in the training up of good local leaders. I am a local leader in my church, but I am no Pastor. I do not have their depth of insight or understanding of scripture. Without them as a resource I would be lost.

    Lastly, let us remember that local congregations can also go astray. It was local congregations that fell to the Judaisers. Similarly it was local teachers raising in the system Steve espouses that caused most of the heresies found in the early church. It was the this system that raised Paul to question whether people followed Christ or Apollos. The Nicene Creed, which I blogged on earlier, was written to fight one of these heresies.

    My brothers it cannot only be the seminary. This is true. It also cannot only be the local church. It must be both. It is the local church that should feed the seminary with godly men. It is the seminary who should equip these godly men with a depth of understanding they can impart to others. Just as the body of christ cannot only be a foot or only be a head, so the Church must have both to survive.
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