There is a new religious world in which we live today that is somewhat different from the traditional religions that were predominant throughout the past. This is a world in which independent thinking people have, by the millions, moved away from the institutional traditional religions that were born out of the Reformation Movement five hundred years ago. It is in this world of independent religions that we have an opportunity to preach the simplicity of the gospel. In preaching the gospel to these groups, it is usually not necessary to penetrate five hundred years of heritage that preserved institutional traditional religions. It is our opportunity today, therefore, to approach those who have a more open mind. These are those religious groups who are not defending some traditional heritage.
However, one of the interesting phenomena about this new paradigm of independent religious leaders and churches is that most are obsessed with an urge on the part of the leaders of the movement to be validated in their leadership. They are often obsessed with a desire to be validated in their leadership with some diploma or degree in Bible from a Bible school. Since most of these leaders left the heritage of their former traditional faiths, they covet a parallel professional validation as the leaders of the mainline churches they left. They thus seek some diploma or degree that indicates that they too have a right to preach. But their desire is often misguided.
We have had numerous calls from those who want some type of Bible diploma or degree in order that they too can be considered preachers. In fact, the calls almost always revolved around a distorted view of the caller having a right to be a preacher. Callers feel that they cannot preach the gospel unless they have some Bible diploma or degree, and preferably one that is awarded by some accredited Bible institution.
This validation is so strong among some leaders that they believe they do not have a right to preach the gospel unless they can hang a framed Bible diploma or degree on their office wall. We can understand this feeling because some governments of the continent on which we live will not register a group as a church if the preacher does not have a recognized diploma in Bible or religious ministry.
So the problem is that if one feels that he is not qualified to be a preacher without this piece of paper, then it is unlikely that he truly understands the gospel, and especially the responsibility that every disciple has in going forth to his own neighbors to preach the message of the gospel. Such desires for validation, therefore, are often soaked in professionalism, and subsequently become hindrances to the preaching of the gospel by every member of the body.
Nevertheless, we are not deceived by this obsession. At least on our continent among independent religions, those who desire an awarded validation to preach are often seeking to join the host of professional religious workers who bring the name of Jesus into disrepute among the unbelievers. These diploma seekers want to be one of the professional full-time preachers in the community in order to extract support from their subjected and often deceived constituents.
We have also discovered throughout a half century of contact with the “professionals” of various religious groups, that those who have successfully acquired a validating degree from some educational institution are not that eager to discuss matters of the gospel. This is true, specifically of those who trust in a framed degree that hangs on their office wall. These “professionals” are often less inclined to discuss matters concerning the gospel of the incarnation of the Son of God, which incarnation must be emulated in our own lives (See Ph 2:5-8). In fact, the desire to be validated with a Bible diploma or degree by many religious leaders is contrary to the mind of Christ that must be reflected in our own incarnational living. Leaders often desire the degree in order to extract more money from supporters, but these misguided religious professionals are often as the Pharisees who loved money. This love of power and possessions is certainly contrary to the example that Paul left for all those who would live after the mind of Christ (See Ph 2:5-8).
Consider also the problem that such awards sometimes present a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel by the ordinary disciple. The “ordinary member” is often intimidated by the degree holder, thinking that he or she is less valuable in proclaiming the gospel than the professional degree holder. This is true because the diploma or degree from an accepted Bible institution of one’s traditional church is a signal of loyalty to that particular religious group, as well as an indication that one be exalted by the membership of the church to be a “scholar” in the word.
In order to be supported financially and exalted among the members, the degree holder often feels loyal to the accepted educational institution that is represented by the brotherhood of churches that support the accepted Bible school. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for tentmakers, as Aquila and Priscilla, to discuss the gospel with a graduate from such a school.
One the other hand, if the graduate is instructed more accurately in the way of the Lord, then he might feel disloyal to his teachers who signed his diploma or degree if he changes his beliefs. Even if one personally grows in the grace and knowledge of the gospel through his own Bible study, this can be a problem (See 2 Pt 3:18). Any graduate FROM any Bible school must grow in the knowledge of the word of God beyond his former instructors. If he or she does not, then his former instructors failed to inspire their students to study the Bible throughout their lives.
[Next in series: April 16]