Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Word to the Wise and Learned

Some people are impressed by learned theologians and give them a lot of respect and credence because of their educational degrees. But since when does being a well-learned theologian have any great importance in the sight of God? Where in Scripture does it teach that such men are favored by God or usually chosen by Him for special purposes?

It was the well-learned, highly respected doctors of the law, scribes, and other theologians like the Pharisees and Sadducees that opposed the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry. These hypocrites failed to recognize that God was walking among them, speaking to them face to face. They did not recognize the time of God's coming to them (Lk 19:44).

However, the Lord did not have any kind of formal, theological education. When the Jews asked in amazement how He got such learning without having studied, Jesus told them His teaching came from the Father and not from within Himself.  "The Jews then were astonished, saying, 'How has this man become learned, having never been educated?' So Jesus answered them and said, 'My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.'" (Joh 7:15-16)

He also said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do." (Mt 11:25-26, NIV). It is the Father's good pleasure to hide His mysteries from the wise and learned and reveal them instead to simple little children, as well as child-like people.

Therefore, He chose common fishermen to be His disciples, whom the learned members of the Sanhedrin could plainly recognize as unschooled, ordinary men (Ac 4:12). Although they were unschooled, they had spent three and a half years walking with the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. They may not have had a Th.D, a Ph.D, a D.Div, a D.Min, or an MDiv, but they had been with Jesus and received their BWJ. They had been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire and received power from on high to be witnesses for Jesus. Thus Peter could later warn others about ignorant and unstable men who distort Paul's letters and the other Scriptures (2 Pe 3:16).

The apostle Paul had great learning, but the gospel he preached was something he received by revelation directly from the Lord. He considered his pedigree and all his great theological learning as a loss. He considered it as dung (Phil 3:7-8). He did not come with eloquent words or superior wisdom (1 Co 2:1). His preaching was not with wise and persuasive words (1 Cor 2:4), because the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom (1 Cor 1:25). God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Co 1:27). He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are (1 Co 1:28).  You see, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." (1 Co 8:1b-2).

Although Apollos was a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, who had been instructed in the way of the Lord accurately, he still needed common tentmakers like Priscilla and Aquilla to explain the way of God to him more accurately (Ac 18:24-26). He was humble enough to receive their gracious assistance.

Head knowledge is not what is important. In fact, head knowledge will get you killed! That's why many of the seminaries around the world have become cemeteries where the life of God is snuffed out of their students that are there studying for ministry. Rather than making disciples, who have been taught to obey everything Jesus commanded us -- disciples who are Spirit-filled, Spirit-baptized, on fire for God, who know how to move in the power of God, these seminaries are turning out mere theologians who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof (2 Tim 3:5). We are to have nothing to do with them. They are always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth (2 Tim 3:7). They are not preaching explicitly against sins that will keep people from heaven, but are following deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Ti 4:1).

They are experts in greed -- an accursed brood (2 Pe 2:14). They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness (2 Pe 2:15). They have rushed for profit into Balaam's error (Jude 1:11). They change the grace of our God into a license for immorality (Jude 1:4). They are autumn trees, without fruit, and uprooted -- twice dead (Jude 1:12). It is such men as these who have slipped in secretly among us. We do not exalt them or promote them or endorse them or pay them special respect. We do not even listen to them. It is because of men such as these that we must contend for the faith once for all handed down to the saints.

The True Bible Scholar
The Lord has taught me that the true Bible scholar is the doer of the Word. As James said:

"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does." (Jas 1:22-25)

If you are not doing what you have learned, you have no right to be taught anymore. Think about that. As John Wimber once said, “Knowledge without application is incomplete.” 

Personal Experience
For those who think I am against all theological training, they are badly mistaken. As John Wimber once said, “I am not one of those who despises education. I think that’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” I write these things as one who has graduated from Bible school and received a Master's degree from a graduate school of divinity. I thank God for the privilege of those two valuable experiences, and the anointed servants who taught me in those institutions, which the Lord led me to attend. I also provide theological training myself to those who attend the three-year Doulos Training School (DTS) that I founded. But the focus is not on head knowledge. The focus is on the Word of God, on the power of the Holy Spirit, on becoming a disciple who multiplies disciples, and on service to the Master.

He commanded us to go and make disciples, not to go and pursue theological degrees, or to go and make theologians. Before His ascension He commissioned the apostles saying, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20, NIV). The command in part is to make disciples and teach them to obey everything the Lord commanded the apostles. Since one of those commands was this one to go and make disciples, then the apostles were commissioned to teach their disciples to go and make disciples. And those disciples were in turn to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything the Lord commanded, including to go and make disciples. This is so simple and yet it is grossly neglected by most Christians. And how many theological educational institutions are emphasizing this?

When I was in seminary in the early 1990's, there were different Master's degree programs offered. Some of them such as the Master's of Divinity (MDiv) program provided the student with the necessary coursework to go on for a Doctoral degree in theology. They also offered the Master's in Theological studies, as well as the Master's in Practical Theology -- Church and Ministry, which is more focused on the practical side of things. Although I enjoyed studying Greek and learning the original language of the Bible, I had to make a decision, based on what the Lord had called me to do. After prayerful consideration, I decided to pursue a Master's in Missiology, with a concentration in the area of Church Planting, since I was called to help fulfill the Great Commission by bringing the gospel to the nations.

When I made that decision to pursue that degree during the first year of my seminary studies, I knew that by doing so, I would not be well-positioned to pursue a doctoral degree in theology, due to the fact that I would not be completing all the necessary prerequisites for the doctoral program. This was at a time when some of my colleagues had chosen pre-doctoral programs that would enable them to later pursue their doctoral degrees. There was a strong lure to go in that same direction, because of the great value in society that is placed on holding a doctoral degree. I knew that the title of Doctor and the degree could help earn respect and credibility with many people, and that it could open doors. But I made my decision based on my calling, as well as the leading of the Holy Spirit, and I don't regret it one bit.

There were many valuable aspects of my degree program that I enjoyed, and plenty of sound wisdom from my professors that I benefited from. I know they took their roles seriously and I am grateful for the way they poured themselves out for me. Still much of what I studied theologically was a repeat of what I had already learned in Bible school. And if I may be candid, I would say that what I learned about Church Planting was mostly men's ideas that often seemed to be patterned more after Madison Avenue than the Bible. However, about eleven years after graduating from seminary, I attended a three-day seminar called Beyond Church Planting, which was offered in my home town by a couple pastors with many years experience. Their names were Tom Johnston and Mike Chong Perkinson of the Praxis Center. I found that the teaching presented in that short seminar was more powerful, meaningful, and valuable to me than all the books I had read about Church Planting in graduate school. It was based simply upon the life of Jesus and His approach to making disciples that make disciples.

They emphasized the Great Commandments and the Great Commission, which they called the "irreducible core" of the Church. You can remove a lot of other things from the Church, such as the programs, the paid staff, the sound system, the parking lot, the educational degrees, the PowerPoint presentations, the building, the drama team, and the choir robes, but you cannot eliminate any part of the irreducible core, or else it would no longer be the true Church. Jesus never commanded us to go and plant churches, but to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and as we go, to make disciples. We are supposed to be planting the seeds of the gospel in men's hearts and multiplying, and we don't need advanced theological degrees to do so. In fact, one of the problems of education is that it prepares you to go to another school. Each time you go on for an advanced degree, it prepares you for another advanced degree, more so than truly preparing you to obey the Great Commandments and fulfill the Great Commission given by our Lord.

Ten Factors to Consider 
If you are considering the idea of pursuing an advanced theological degree, such as a doctorate, here are some factors to consider:

1. The time that you will spend in academic institutions doing so. Once you have earned your Bachelor's degree, it could take up to three years to obtain a Master's, and up to another five to six years to obtain your doctorate.
2. The time that this will take away from your prayer life, seeking the Lord, communion with God, your time in the Bible, your wife and children (if you are married), and from your ministry. You will be under a tremendous workload. Something will probably have to suffer for it, so be aware of that as you make your decision, and be on your guard against that. "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (Mt 16:26, NIV)
3. The cost of the education. Higher education is expensive, but if God is calling you to it, then He will provide for it, just as He has done for me and so many others.
4. Unless you go into debt by taking out a large student loan or receive a scholarship, you may also need to be working at a job to pay for your degree, all the while still studying and perhaps doing ministry as well. Sustaining that can take a toll on your health, spiritual well-being, and your finances (Rom 13:8).
5. The enormous number of books you will need to read, many of which were written by authors that are not necessarily speaking for God, or who deny the truth of the Bible, or who may be adding to the Word of God. Many of them are natural men without the Spirit who do not accept the things of the Spirit and deny the power of God (1 Cor 2:14; 2 Tim 3:5). These will plant seeds in you and could pollute the well spring of life, which is your heart, if you are not careful. "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." (Pr 4:23) "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." (Ecc 12:12b, NIV).
6. Knowledge puffs up (1 Cor 8:1), so you cannot continue to acquire more knowledge without consequences (2 Chr 26:16; Prov 16:18). Remember to walk humbly before your God. There are certainly men and women who have obtained advanced degrees and yet remained humble, so it is possible with God. But there are others who have become prideful and fallen.
7. You are accountable to God for what you know and do. To whom much is given much is required (Lk 12:48). Those who teach will come under stricter judgment (Jam 3:1). If you are not already practicing what you know from the Word of God, then how will you escape God's judgment? (Mt 7:21-27; Rom 14:12; 2 Cor 5:10).
8. Whatever is not of faith is sin, and he who doubts is condemned (Rom 14:23). Whichever path you choose, you will need to have a deep-seated faith that this is what God wants you to do. What is your motive for wanting that degree?
9. There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Prov 14:12). You must be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:25). What is He leading you to do? What is the will of God?
10. The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom (1 Cor 1:25). God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Co 1:27). He hides things from the wise and learned and reveals them to little children (Mt 11:25-26).

Trustworthy Sayings
Over the years, while I was obtaining my theological training, I captured some quotes from people about the pursuit of knowledge that spoke to me, and I didn't want to forget them. Here are some of them.

“The pursuit of knowledge has become a national pastime.” – John Wimber

“Multitudes are bowing down and burning incense to a doctrine rather than Christ.” – Frank Bartleman

“Philosophical reasonings, intellectual speculations, ect., are… actuated by demon forces to sweep us from…child-like faith in God.” – Frank Bartleman

“You can spend your life accumulating degrees and doctorates, and then hobble across the stage of life trying to balance them.” – Charles Zeirle

“You don’t need theology, you need knee-ology.” – Dr. Ben Fraser

“You need power. You don’t need head knowledge. Head knowledge will get you killed.” – Jason Alvarez. He is the pastor of The Love of Jesus Family Church in Orange, New Jersey, who prayed and fasted two days a week for months.

Putting it All Together
So I hope this article has helped to put things into perspective for you. If you don't have a theological degree, don't worry about it. The Lord can still use you to fulfill His purposes. If you have been esteeming highly the well-learned theologians and teachers, then you should stop doing that. They are ordinary men just like the rest of us, and they do not necessarily have a corner on the truth or an immunity to error. They can make mistakes, too, and teach incorrectly. Just because they have doctoral degrees doesn't mean they are always right or that you should always believe whatever they say. You still need to test their fruit, because by their fruit you will recognize them. And you need to search the Scriptures to see if these things they teach are really so (Ac 17:11).

And if you are either considering an advanced theological degree or already pursuing one, I hope this has given you something to consider. Perhaps you will reevaluate what the Lord wants you to be doing, and whether or not He really told you to get that degree. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of obtaining academic degrees. Nevertheless, we should not dismiss the possibility that the Lord may call someone – for reasons known only to God – to pursue advanced degrees. For those of you who already have advanced degrees, please know that I still love you and do not pass judgment on you. If you are humble and honest, hopefully you will find some merit in what I have said. If you take offense to it, then ask the Lord to show you why, because I don't have anything against you personally.

Regardless of who you are or whether you find yourself in one of these categories that I have just described, your emphasis should be on the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. Focus on loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Spend your time studying the Bible, being a doer of the Word, being filled with the Holy Spirit, being led by the Spirit, receiving and maintaining the fire of God, spending time in prayer, abiding in Christ, practicing His presence, becoming a disciple, and making disciples of Jesus Christ. Keep it simple, follow Jesus, obey His commands, keep yourself from being corrupted by the world, and pursue holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, except where those taken from the Holy Bible NIV are noted.

Author's note: Please prayerfully consider enrolling in our Doulos Traning School for discipleship.

If you enjoyed this post, I recommend reading my articles The Kingdom of God is Like ThisMultiplication, Multiplication Illustrations, Here I Am, Send MeThe Cost of Discipleship, Compelled by Love, and Life Transformation Groups.You may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page, such as The Servant of the Lord, Success in God's Eyes, Accountable, correctable, and teachable, A Personality Profile of the Apostle Paul, Persecuted or Popular?, The Popularity of the Gospel, Wisdom for Wealthy Preachers and Prosperity Teachers, and Having a Servant's Heart. For an great example of how the Lord spoke to a dear friend of mine to pursue a doctoral degree in medicine, please see The Voice That Changed Everything -- Testimony of Dr. Stenhouse. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." 

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.