The essay below contains my critique of the Seminary in particular, and “Higher Education” in general. This is sure to ruffle feathers, but let me be as crystal clear as humanly possible up front: That is not my intent. I don’t mean any offense. I don’t have any one particular person, church, denomination, or seminary in mind – but rather a general analysis of the church in America (because I’m more familiar with it and it’s cultural impacts), and the processes and methodologies it uses to select leaders. It is my contention up front, and working presupposition, that the church in America is not as healthy or effective as she should be, and her trajectory is not positive. There are many reasons and causes for that, but ultimately the responsibility must be laid at the feet of church leadership. This is how it works in any organization. Christ gave the church leaders for this reason, and if the sheep are astray the Shepherd must be held to account. So this essay focuses in particular on skewed priorities and wrong methodologies which are currently employed in the church, and ties the overall failings of the church to it’s abandonment of biblical methodologies with respect to who/where/when/why/how leaders are developed. It is not all negative. I do not leave the reader with no viable alternative. My heart is for a healthy church which actually impacts every area of life, and leaves no sacred cows unslain. There are a lot of sacred cows which need to be slain. There is a better way.
There can be no denying that there is a tendency of seminaries and universities to shift ‘leftward’, for lack of a better word, over time. Well, I do have a better word, they shift from God-centeredness (Christianity), to Man-centeredness (Humanism). It’s undeniable in history. This shift is nearly ubiquitous, regardless of the strength of the founders or their original vision and mission. One need look no further than New England. I could close my case on this point, but I will continue because there are common objections. Some may say “Well, they all aren’t bad”, or “My seminary is better than most”. Sure, but that isn’t my point. I’m not saying they are all equally bad or thoroughly bad, but I am saying there is a near universal shift along the spectrum from “good” to “bad”…over time. Timing is key. There are currently seminaries are all over the spectrum, but as the old adage states clearly: Shift happens.
There is the possibility of resurgence and revival, like the recent story at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’d point out that this is rare, and has not stood the test of time. I applaud their efforts, but the point I am making is: There is something wrong with the process if the broad, general movement is always away from Christianity and toward Humanism. It’s intrinsically broken. There are differences among them, no doubt. There are stories of revival, I know. But the big picture is always the same. “This time it will be different.” Unlikely. This leads me to deduce that this is a faulty, unbiblical methodology of training church leadership, which I will further develop below.
Fool Me Once (and Twice, and Three Times…)
There is well documented evidence of the modernist/progressive infiltration of all of society, including churches. Progressives saw the weak spot for conservative Christianity – the institutions of Higher Education. They had a long term plan, so there was no reason to rush things. I mentioned earlier that timing is key. The strategy of the modernists was well thought out and executed, and it included a slow, gradual, and subtle influence of heretical philosophies, which usually can be reduced down to the original temptation: Has God really said? A full frontal attack on the authority of the Bible would have no impact on a conservative church or denomination. A subtle, gradual, modification to rhetoric, imploring of unity and tolerance, playing the victim to the ugly fundamentalist, are all part and parcel of the humanist infiltration strategy. It has worked in the past, and will continue to work.
The process of university and seminary training is easy to understand, explain, chart out, and execute: pay tuition, buy books, sit in classrooms, take tests, write papers, get credits, graduate. A simple and efficient process. In no way am I minimizing the work and difficulty required out of a robust seminary education – it is a lot of work. My point is that the process is easy to understand, and rather efficient. It’s efficient because it resembles an assembly line. And with that observation I’d argue that this is not the best process to develop church leaders. In fact scripture lays out not a hint of support of this process. While knowledge is important, character is the driver of biblical requirements. Hands on experience, within the church, and Godly leadership within ones own family, take precedent. It would be illogical to conclude I’m arguing against an educated leadership, but whose standard of education? More on that below.
Organic and relational discipleship, mentorship, and apprenticeship is much more difficult, messy, and inefficient than university or seminary training. So why would I be against efficiency and for something much more messy? Because relational mentoring within the context of the local church is much more aligned with the Biblical process of leadership development than an artificial classroom setting removed from real life. I’m for the mess because that’s how God designed it. I can imagine that it would take much more time and effort for an elder to take a young man under his wings, perhaps let him live with him, fellowship with him, eat with him, study with him, pray and share with him, and even rebuke and argue with him. But this is the Hebraic methodology prescribed in scripture. The examples in scripture are endless. Jesus and the apostles, Paul and Timothy, etc. No where do we see a hint at the Greek Academy model, which is the outsourcing of discipleship and education to professionals. It’s a pagan model, ungodly in it’s methodology to the core.
Throwing the Baby Out With Bath Water?
I know some seminaries (most?) require students receive some affirmation or sponsorship from a local church, require local church membership, and require co-ops or internships at a local church, etc. All of these are add-ons, or supplements of the real thing to make up for what is a broken process to begin with. I applaud the efforts to get young elders-to-be involved in the local church, but being assigned a local church for 6 months to assist the pastor, or lead music, or help with the youth group, does not build the long term ties and deep knowledge of the character of the individual which should be required. Any yahoo could show up, and keep it together for 6 months amongst a group of strangers and not move past the ‘newness’ of fresh relationships. The relationships are quick, shallow, and artificial. “Everyone, our new intern is here, now let’s go to the Fried Chicken Fellowship to welcome him.” They don’t stand the test of time and strains of real stress. Just like most of the modern church, these relationships are shallow and unhelpful. “How are you this Sunday?” “I’m good, you?” “I’m good.” “Good.” “Good.”
Technology Can Help, With A Sound Foundation
The supplementation I described above should be flipped on it’s head. Currently the main thrust is seminary education, classes, reading, and writing, with a thin veneer of local church spread on top. Instead, as is the case in some situations, individuals should rise up organically from within the congregation, be led and taught by leaders within the church, and have character and leadership traits which are recognized by the session and congregation. The main thrust is local, relational, discipleship. Could it be a help for a local session to utilize technology for the supplementation of some areas of theological training? Sure. There is a place for specialization and division of labor, that I do not deny. This can help when built upon a more biblical foundation for growing and developing leaders.
Educated Leadership – By Whose Standard?
Professors, accreditation, certifications, degrees, boards – or the local church? Who does the training, who places the stamp of approval? In scripture, local elders lay hands on new elders to ordain them. So the institutional stamp of approval, or authority, belongs to the local church. Yet for hundreds of years the local church has effectively outsourced their training to independent institutions. Sure, some of the seminaries are owned or governed by a denomination – but to what degree? All “Institutes of Higher Education”, for years, have claimed a degree of academic freedom. Unless a professor is an objective heretic, he typically cannot be removed or disciplined. This tenured professor is now free to be able to employ a strategy of subtle, incremental infiltration and perversion. The modernists strategy has worked well for them…and it takes time. And it takes even more time and effort to reverse – ask the Southern Baptists.
So what we have is an institutional and jurisdictional confusion. Effectively, an institution, the Seminary, has been given independent authority to develop leaders for another institution: the Church. The local church receives the final product, applies some holy hands, and out pops a new elder. What bothers me most about this situation is the blurring of jurisdictional lines, and the negative feedback loop which occurs when the institution is ultimately corrupted. The corrupted institution produces corrupted ministers, which further corrupt the churches, who send more funds back to the corrupt institutions – an ethically immoral, incestuous cycle which compounds humanistic philosophies within the church.
Why would the local church outsource the training of the leaders when they are authorized and responsible? This pattern has proven historically to be a dangerous proposition considering the subtle, slow, unnoticable-at-first infiltration of modernist thought over large periods of time, and the inability to change the negative feedback loop after much of the church or denomination has already been corrupted. Again, ask the Southern Baptists.
What we have in most denominations are a handful of Seminaries. They may have a flagship Seminary. They are independent, autonomous, centralized institutions of power and prestige. While much of the Protestant tradition prides itself on being a “bottom up” approach, opposed to the “top down” approach of the Orthodox or Catholic churches, we have accepted a “top down”, centralized approach for the handlers of official theology. Accepted thought is determined by the bureaucracy of professors at these institutions, and training of new professors and pastors, and journal articles flow forth, defining acceptable thought and deviation. This is very top down. Consider the ramifications if the institution was corrupted over time? Or I should say, when the institution is corrupted.
As a matter of summary, let’s zoom out and take a look at the big picture. What we have in the US is a suffering church who struggles to have an impact. We must leave no sacred cows of methodology on the table while investigating cause and effect. The problems of the church must be laid at the feet of the leadership – this is how leadership works. In any investigation the next natural question is – why are the leaders falling short in their duties? If they are failing, the next obvious question is how did they become leaders in the first place? These are difficult questions because they are highly emotional. Most people love their pastors, and don’t want to buy into an idea that may lump them into a group who are part of the problem.
The church has adopted a certain methodology of training which has a track record of, over time, moving toward Humanism and apostasy. This is because it is independent, autonomous, centralized, and “top down.” This approach makes for an easy target for modernists to infiltrate. The compromised seminary in turn creates compromised church leadership, which drives the church as a whole further from truth and more towards error. A destructive cycle occurs which is difficult to reverse, like a disease spreading throughout the body. This article is simply asking the question: Why pursue a broken strategy? What we have in scripture are examples of relationship driven discipleship. We see local elders, leaders, apostles training and living in fellowship with these young men…not shipping them out to a baptized Platonic Academy. There is room for division of labor and utilization of technology to help young men increase in certain areas of knowledge, but the glorification of the whole process, and in some situations the requirement of the process for career purposes, is certainly a sacred calf worth slaying.