Friday, November 22, 2013

Degrees of Respect???

I heard something the other day that struck me in a new way. I heard a man referred to as having a ThM. That degree is a recognition that he is a Master of Theology. If he continues his study he could become a Doctor of Theology. These degrees are often the criteria that churches use to determine who they will consider for a teaching elder (or Pastor) position in their church. Here is the irony and the corruption that is seeping into the thinking of the members of the church. This man after 3 or 4 years is said to have Mastered Theology or be a Doctor of Theology. Really? The not so subtle implication is that this man has mastered the important aspects of the knowledge of God. It is really a ridiculous assertion that a man in four years or less could have mastered the infinite. Yet this degree becomes the criteria that determines for many churches who they will even consider. The larger the church the more a masters or doctorate becomes the gatekeeper for determining who is qualified. Some churches are even handing off the gatekeeping to what is little more then a headhunter for pastors.

The Bible has a very different view on qualifications. Paul in Timothy and Titus encourages his disciples to establish elders to lead the churches. Their main responsibility was teaching and that they were governed by the Word of God and faithful to it. In other words they were not the masters of Theology but rather they were mastered by theology. Their souls were being doctored by God. The main thing was that they were faithful to God's word. There was also a list of criteria Paul said you needed to see in their life. You can find them in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The criteria was not about business acumen but family acumen. Why? Because the church is not a business but really the family of God. But doesn't a lead elder or pastor need to have instruction and experience in managing a large group of people? Maybe or maybe not. Do we trust God to provide a man with the wisdom he needs? The reality is that when we look to man made criteria and trust non-biblical qualifications set up by men, aren't we really trusting in the wisdom of men. Wouldn't it be better if we followed the guidelines in scripture. This means that we trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us to a man who will trust in God and be mastered by God. If we did that we may find that God has raised up a man in the congregation to become the next teaching elder. So what if he does not have a degree. If he meets the criteria in God's word then he is qualified as far as God is concerned. John Piper in a sermon on Hebrews 5:11-14 said, "There are many Ph.D.'s who choke in their spiritual immaturity on the things of God. And there are many less-educated saints who are deeply mature and can feed with pleasure and profit on the deepest things of God's Word." What is better to have. A man who is qualified by men and can add numbers to the church or a man who is mastered by God, is forced to depend on the Holy Spirit and leads people into a more passionate pursuit of Jesus?

This does not mean that a man cannot grow in seminary. The point is that the criteria of a seminary education is not a good standard to limit your search with. We should be more concerned with God's standard then those set up by men.


  1. “We should be more concerned with God's standard then those set up by men.”
    That is so true, but I think most of those involved in the American church leadership system think they are following God’s standards. However many of them just don’t see what is clearly written in the Word, even though they spend 40+ hours a week with the Word. You quoted John Piper. He just stepped down from being the pastor of his church. I wondered, what did he do in replacing himself? Did he or the saints in his church have any confidence in the men of their own church who had been taught by Piper for 20 or more years? Did he raise up leaders himself or did he have to reach to a seminary trained guy?

    I googled John Piper Succession. The first listing is a video of John and two others talking about growing older and succession of leadership. In around 8 minutes one man asks John what he is going to do. John says “I don’t know”. He also says something like “I don’t think the Bible tells us what to do.” I have not studied the Bible as many hours has John has but the Bible does tell us what he is supposed to do. I know he has memorized these scriptures but for many reasons, they do not register in his heart as having the meaning they clearly have.
    Luke 6: 40 says a “teacher” is to “fully train” his students to “be like him”.
    2 Tim. 2:1,2 says men are to be strong in the grace of Christ and “and the things they have heard from Paul are to be “entrusted to faithful men who will teach others also.”
    This is full local leadership reproduction. It’s all in plain English. No original languages required. It is clearly what Jesus and Paul both modeled all the way through the NT. Is it possible for a traditional system to blind Bible experts to what it all says? Apperently so.

    So what did John and his church do? The second google listing and a search on Jason Meyer resume filled in the rest. They chose a seminary professor with multiple advanced degrees from their church school. The article said he was a “product of Bethlehem church”. To what extent did John have confidence in any “less-educated saints who are deeply mature and can feed with pleasure and profit on the deepest things of God’s Word.”? It does not seem there was much. Not from him or the saints in his church.

    Perhaps John is a part of the “normal” way of doing church. It is very hard to break out of any of the many elements of this system. I would suggest that the roots of the abandonment of local leadership reproduction is built into at least 20 assumptions that are part of the professionalized pastor system itself. Until these assumptions and rationalizations are confronted with God’s Word and pulled out of the ground, there will be little local leadership reproduction. It is possible for everyone involved to be happy with it, except God himself, and those like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 examine what they are told with the scriptures to see if they are true. A little courage to not be a man pleaser is also helpful.