Stan E. DeKoven, Ph.D.
Theological education, whether conducted through a major University, free standing seminary or church-based Bible College or Institute, is experiencing phenomenal transformation. Whether a denominationally affiliated Seminary or an independent, charismatic or fundamentalist school of’ Ministry, technology and a changing populace in North America is requiring each to make changes in philosophy of service and delivery systems. These changes, from offsite Seminary courses to Internet classes, appear to be driven more by market than ministry; money rather than to fulfill the mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:16-18).
In light of the many changes (somewhat reflected in our/my search for accreditation and frequent changes in name), which all institutions of higher education are facing (especially in Seminary education), it seems good and judicious to reflect again on the reason for theological education, its importance in the life of the Church and the Kingdom of God (not synonymous terms), with a willingness to make adjustments to existing models rather than justification for present focus. Thus, it is inherent upon all ministries and no doubt especially educational institutions to be willing to allow the search light of the Holy Spirit, as illumined through God’s revealed purposes in the Bible and church history, to bring repentance from “dead works” where needed to insure the greater purpose of fulfilling God’s will on earth as in heaven.
The Purpose of Theological Education Must Reflect the Purposes of the Church
In theory and hopefully in practice, theological education, as an expression of the life of the church, should train men and women for effective leadership in the church of Jesus Christ. However, before reflecting on the relative effectiveness of Theological education to prepare men and women for effective Christian leadership, it would be wise to review some of the problems of modern ministry.
“Whatever the function of ministry is, theologically considered, ministers must preach, organize churches, counsel the distressed, teach the immature and they need to be trained by practice for the exercise of these functions”
The task of ministry in modern society is multi-faceted, complex and highly variable. The parishioner in the pew no longer perceives traditional roles of priest’, preacher, or guide, depending on ones denominational affiliation, as adequate. The actual and implied needs of the members of a congregation weigh heavily on the pastoral role. The results of this perception (that the minister of the gospel is to be father, mother, counselor, orator, all wise teacher, perfect example, etc.) includes role confusion (for pastor and parishioner alike) rigid pattern development (religiosity, pharisaism; a survival mechanism?!) and often premature burnout. The average Seminary/Bible college graduate who enters full time ministry lasts approximately 5 years before moving on to another profession.
In contrast to the perception of culture and the people is the perception perceived by many of God’s desires for ministers and ministry as found in His word. Various schools will emphasize “win the lost at any cost”; others “devote yourself to prayer and the ministry of the word” still others to the development of the “right” model to create success, often via correct leadership and proper management. In fact, we all know, at least intellectually, that God used a cross section of highly different men and women, with deficient personalities and gifts, to bring forth God’s purposes throughout history. Yet, it is human nature to seek role models that one can see with their eyes and name drop in polite company, to give special dispensation to models of ministry which fit ones ideal of “God’s plan”.
In order to fulfill the purpose of theological education, one must focus on fulfilling the purpose of Christ. He (Christ) proclaimed that he would build his church (Matt 16:18). We know it is His church, but perhaps we should ask which church did he refer too? The church universal or catholic or the church local/institutional? Further, is it possible to find within the canon of scripture a summary of the purposes of the church and thus have the philosophical foundation for theological education?
It’s Not Either or, But Both
Christ’ church is made up of all believers, born or grafted into the covenant of Abraham by faith, throughout history until the consummation of all things in Christ. It is over this church that Christ has supreme rule, where the Kingdom of God is best seen. Yet, the church is also institutional, local in focus, organized around agreed to tenets of faith, expressed as a visible witness of Christ on the earth. The church is “mystical”, eternal, invisible and is expressed in community. This is a dynamic fusion of life in the Kingdom, and service for the King. As ministers we’re united in faith with all who have made Christ Lord throughout the ages and we must function within a community of faith which is far from a perfect expression of the Lordship of Christ. This tension is frequently expressed in the balancing act of dynamic worship of the King and laboring for and with the Kings’ people. Ultimately, it is not either or, but both, the church universal and local that ministers must be trained to function in, and to do so with efficiency and purpose.
The Chief Objective
“What are the objectives of the church? Some speak in individual terms of the cultivation of the Christian life or the salvation of souls; others state their goal to be the building up of the corporate life of the church or some part of it; again the goal is defined as the ‘communication of the vital and redeeming doctrines of scriptures,’ or it is otherwise described by the reference to the Bible as the ultimate source of all that is to be taught and preached. Elsewhere the end is defined as the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments; or again, as the development of the life of prayer and worship. Perhaps most frequently the goal set forth is increase of belief in Jesus Christ, of discipleship to him and the glorification of his name.” “What is the chief end of man, whether as redeemed individual or redeemed community? That no substitute can be found for the definition of the goal of the church as the increase among men of the love of God and neighbor”. Another way of stating this is that the goal of the church is reconciliation of God to man, man to man and man to himself.
Love for God and One’s Neighbor Expressed
How does one love God and ones neighbor; let alone do it better? Encompassed in the scripture are a diversity of activities and attitudes. They range from the personal descriptions of prayer, praise, worship, devotional reading and general piety to community service; good deeds, giving and “going”. The diversity gives room for sacramental worship, hymns and cantatas as well as spontaneous praise, ecstatic worship and powerful preaching. The key is to fulfill the mandate of making better (redeemed or reconciled) men and women as they relate to the wondrous grace of God and towards each other through acts of forgiveness, mercy and kindness. No doubt, with this definition the men and women of God in full-time Christian service have their work cut out for them.
Theological Education in Practice
The Ministry of Reconciliation
“If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. The old things passed away; behold new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; be reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5 🙂 7-20) (NAS).
To reconcile is to bring one back into right relationship, as intended by God in the beginning. So much could be included in such a broad, all-inclusive word. In terms of our relationship with God, we are to love Him, through our submission, our works of service, our gifts, (natural and spiritual) our prayers, our worship, our study, etc. Much of our Bible/theological education focuses on the strengthening of ones knowledge of God. Of course, it is not mere intellectual pursuit but experienced knowing which is relational and transformational that is necessary.
To be reconciled to our fellowman we must be reconciled to God and to oneself. Our psychology must be changed (mind renewed), our sociology/culture transformed (we are our brothers keeper; who is our brother?) which comes through the less theological or more practical courses. The key to a Christ centered theological education is to ensure that the courses offered, texts utilized and especially the teaching methodology be aimed at learning to love God and neighbor more and more; to become leaders of others into that deepened relationship. Thus, in our Bible courses we learn to love God and His word more. In theology we understand the one we love, with awe and reverence for His awesomeness. In practical ministry courses we lean of His gifts, how to evangelize, to establish Godly government counsel and learn to activate our love for His people. These courses, contextualized to culture and made relevant through dynamic, church based laboratory instruction helps the student encounter God, self and neighbor for the benefit of all. Finally, through hermeneutics and language study we learn Gods’ purposes with greater understanding, while through the study of Church history we learn valuable lessons, which by Gods’ grace will enabled us to follow a Godly heritage and avoid ungodly mistakes.
Some Final Thoughts
As an educator and minister, I am concerned about the state of the church (universal and local) as are many others. It appears that we are in a time of transformation. Old paradigms are being challenged; new wine requires new wine skins. However, we must not error by throwing out the baby with the bath water, neglecting to learn, appreciate and assimilate the best of New Testament revelation of Biblical models and 2000 years of church history. What I know for certain is that the “earth will be covered with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Our hope is that the programs of Vision International University are doing what has been proposed. Reconciling men and women to God, equipping them for service to Him and mankind, increasing our love for our precious Lord and His wonderful creation. I look forward to your thoughts.
‘Niebuhr, H. Richard; The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, Harper & Brother, NY, 1956, pg. 4
2 IBID.PG. 27-29, 31
The Church, by Ken Chant
Better than Revival, by Ken Chant
Supernatural Architecture, by Stan DeKoven