By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
Our Lord equipped the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11-12), but why use them, when we can have educators, scientists and engineers? Just another meaningless question about a hypothetical situation? Hardly.
Evidence is mounting that brethren, allegedly conservative, are more and more turning to people of perceived intellectual distinction in an attempt to edify the saints (especially younger saints) in the faith. Brochures keep coming to our mailbox urging brethren to attend, or at least send their children to “specials,” emphasizing that the speakers (or teachers) will not be ordinary people, but ones who have distinguished themselves in the intellectual world of academia and high technology. We have seen enough to make us feel the need to hang out the yellow flag of caution for those who might be tempted to run on that fast track.
We have been fairly effective at persuading brethren that the church is all-sufficient in organization and mission to do any work that God wants it to do. Lines, in most areas of the country, have pretty well been drawn between those who hold to this all-sufficiency principle and those who advocate additional organizations and works. By now, we pretty well know where everyone stands. For this we can be thankful.
Now, even some who have stood firmly for the all-sufficiency of the church are showing signs of a lack of faith in the sufficiency of the simple teaching and preaching of the word of God to produce and maintain faith. It is not at all uncommon for a congregation to conduct “seminars” or “workshops” featuring educators, scientists, engineers, etc., in an effort to boost the faith of its members and other Christians in the area, especially younger ones. One advertisement, after listing the intellectual credentials of the participants in the special event two or three times, made a point of emphasizing that these people were not preachers. What a “revolting” development” that would have been.
Plain vanilla personnel (evangelists, pastors, and teachers equipped with Bible knowledge) just won’t cut it these days. We must have folks with scholastic credentials in education, science or technology to produce and maintain the fundamentals of faith in God and his Son.
Dear brethren, if this concept does not go against everything the New Testament teaches about the power of the gospel to produce faith and save souls, then I don’t know what it would take. The whole tenor of New Testament teaching on this matter is that the gospel, in the hands of “earthen vessels,” is more powerful and has more real wisdom than anything this world has to offer. Even when New Testament preachers were learned men in the affairs of this world, such as Paul and Luke, it was played down rather than magnified as a qualification to speak the unsearchable riches of Christ.
I understand the concerns and motivations of those who turn to this kind of thing in an effort to shore up the faith of young people. Our young people are exposed to the teachings and influences of faithless educators, scientists, engineers, etc. from grade school through graduate school. Brethren feel that they are at a disadvantage, so they are trying to level the playing field by bringing in Christians who are as academically qualified as those that the youngsters are daily exposed to and often admire. They feel that this will make a greater impression on the minds of these young folks than just a plain preacher (evangelist), elder, or Bible teacher without scholastic credentials. That is the problem. It levels the field too much! It pits academics against academics intellectual against intellectual. In reality, it takes away the real advantage that brethren have. The simple “word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10:8,17), from the lips of “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7), has a distinct advantage over all the academic, technological and professional wizards in the world. When we come to feel that we must somehow shore up the “word of faith” with academic, technological and professional credentials, we are, wit-tingly or unwittingly, advertising our lack of faith in the inherent power of that word to produce and maintain faith.
What is our next step in this one-upmanship in impressing our folks and their neighbors that we have people with as many smarts as anyone? We have folks, young and old, who are impressed with the academic power of denominational “pastors.” Would not these folks be more likely to listen to doctrinal discourses from people who are at least equal to those “pastors” in academic training? So, rather than regular gospel meetings, we could have workshops on the gospel plan of salvation or meaningful worship featuring our own seminary graduates with the Bachelors or Doctors of Divinity or Theology. Now, that ought give our people an opportunity to impress their friends that we are not a bunch of ignoramuses. For shame!
It makes a difference to God as to where our faith stands. Paul makes it abundantly clear that he did not want the Corinthians’ faith to stand in the personal or fleshly power of the speaker (read 1 Cor. 20). He declared that he did not come to them with “excellence of speech or of wisdom” (though he was evidently scholastically qualified to do so) and that he was with them in weakness (vv. 1,3). His speech was “not with persuasive words or human wisdom” (v. 4). There was a reason for all of this “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (v. 5).
In chapter 1, he reminds the Corinthians (and us) that “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom form God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (vv. 26-31). You see, God, by design, chose the foolish, weak and base things of this world over the wise, mighty and noble so that our faith would stand in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men to the glory of his Son.
The reason given for God’s placing the gospel revelation in earthen vessels (the apostles) was that “the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). The apostles, for the most part, were “unschooled, ordinary men” (NIV) or “uneducated and untrained men” (NKJV, Acts 4:13). Equipped with divine revelation, they were a powerful force for producing faith. The apostles and prophets, with their direct divine revelation, have completed their work. We have their work in the written revelation. However, evangelists, pastors and teachers still remain. Faithful evangelists, pastors, and teachers armed with a knowledge of the “word of truth” are perfectly capable of meeting the challenge of the wise and powerful according to flesh. They are perfectly able to do battle and meet the arguments of the fleshly intellectuals: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (fleshly eob) but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5, emphasis mine, eob).
Let us just suppose that one would be more inclined to receive those with powerful academic, technological, and professional credentials than he would be to a plain vanilla teacher or preacher. Let us suppose that he is persuaded by the teaching of these intellectuals when he would not be by ordinary men, armed with the same truth. Where would his faith really stand? Would it really be in the power of the word of God, or in the academic power of the intellectual?
I think that, deep down, we all know the answer to that question.
Now, lest anyone be inclined to call me an “anti”that is anti-education, anti-technology, anti-scientific or anti-intellectual let me make something crystal clear. I am not anti any of these things. I encourage folks to get all the education that they have sense enough to use.
“Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast. For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!” (2 Cor. 11:18-19) Among those of my own children and their spouses (all of whom, thank God, are faithful Christians and Bible teachers in the congregations where they attend regularly) are those who have earned or are working on degrees in the following fields: engineering, journalism, business, medical, mathematics, and education. I do not claim total objectivity here, but I think they all have done pretty well in their respective fields. I only bring this up to counter any idea that this writer is against higher learning among Christians or against using brethren as teachers and preachers who happen to have higher degrees. I have a stack of canceled checks that will testify to the contrary. But when it comes to their work of teaching the word of truth in an effort to produce and maintain the faith of the saints, they must put their scholastic credentials on the back burner, and be-come as “unschooled, ordinary men,” with Bible in hand, so their work can produce a faith that does not sand “in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
Brethren, I pray that I never see the day when brethren will generally feel that they must turn to the wise of this world to produce, maintain, or strengthen the faith of Christians either young or old. If that day comes, “unschooled, ordinary men” will no longer be needed as “evangelists, pastors and teachers,” no matter how much they may have studied the Scriptures and have the ability to use them to cast down arguments and convict the gainsayer. We will turn to our engineers, doctors (M.D.’s, Ph.D.’s, LL.D.’s, Th.D.’s, D.D.’s etc.), scientists and other intellectuals to do this for us. It may very well be that the qualifications of an evangelist, elder, or teacher may come to include degrees in these fields so that they can better relate to a more educated membership. Sound far-fetched? Dumber things have happened. Color me green and call be stupid if you like I really believe some brethren are headed in that direction.
Let us continue to hold to the principle of the all-sufficiency of the church to produce and maintain the work that God wants the church to produce without turning to human inventions. Let us also maintain the principle of the all-sufficiency of the word of truth to produce and maintain the faith that God wants without turning to human wisdom. Let us “preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5), in a way that the faith of our hearers will stand in the power of the message and not in the wisdom and/or fleshly credentials of the messenger.
Brethren, are we drifting again?
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 18, p. 15-16
September 15, 1994