Moving Beyond Degrees

But we need to be straightforward about this matter. Institutional Bible schools are often established with the goal of perpetuating a legal restoration. This is accomplished by cloning the graduates after the legal identity of the churches who recommend the schools. But we must remember that it does not take years of full-time Bible study to learn the simple gospel message. The fact that some churches demand that one have a Bible diploma or degree before they can stand before a group of people and preach is a testimony to the fact that those who make such a demand do not themselves understand the centrality of the gospel to our total beliefs and behavior as Christians. At least they have not been able to separate gospel from law. And in many cases, they cannot separate preaching the gospel from religious professionalism. Bible schools are great for learning the Bible, but they must not be entered in order to become a lawyer of the Bible, or a professional religious worker.

If one does eventually yield to the pressure to validate his right to preach with a Bible diploma or degree, then after the required years of full-time study he sometimes goes forth with a degree in theology and law, with little emphasis on the gospel. Throughout his many years of study in theology and law, these two subjects became more important than gospel. Upon graduation, therefore, he is eager to debate and defend his theology, but he may not know enough gospel to be able to separate law and gospel in his Bible discussions.

Some churches demand that their preachers study as long as six years in a theological seminary before they are “licensed” to preach to the churches of their fellowship. We have found, however, that these graduates have studied a great deal of theology, some Bible, but little gospel. Nevertheless, they are qualified to supposedly lead the people. And they do professionally lead, but they do so as professional religionists.

It might be good to close with a brief reminder, if not challenge, for those who believe that they are not valid preachers of the gospel unless they are officially schooled in the “profession” of preaching. Those who are obsessing over some type of validation in order to preach must again consider Apollos (See At 18:24-28). This zealous young man set out from Alexandria, Egypt with the love of God in his heart. He was “an eloquent man and mighty in the [Old Testament] Scriptures” (At 18:24). But he had no New Testament. He had little, if any, firsthand knowledge of Jesus. All he knew was that John the Baptist had showed up by the Jordan River and was baptizing people in preparation for the coming Messiah. That was enough for Apollos to go forth and preach what he knew from the Old Testament.

But eventually, Apollos encountered two Christians sitting in a Jewish synagogue in Ephesus. Now those who thirst after some Bible diploma and degree before they feel that they are professionally qualified to preach the gospel, need to follow closely the example of Apollos. Apollos encountered Aquila and Priscilla in the synagogue in Ephesus. In that synagogue, Apollos “spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord” (At 18:25). He preached what he knew, though some of that which he knew was incorrect. Nevertheless, he went forth from Alexandria and preached regardless of his lack of knowledge of the whole gospel itself. When the two Christians in Ephesus realized that he needed more information on the gospel than what John the Baptist had given, “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (At 18:26).

After this brief classroom session on the gospel with Aquila and Priscilla, notice carefully the Holy Spirit’s historical statement concerning what happened next in the life of Apollos:

“And when he [Apollos] desired to go to Achaia, the brethren [in Ephesus] encouraged him and wrote the disciples [in Achaia] to receive him. And when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace” (At 18:27).

It is interesting to note that the brethren in Ephesus did not hinder Apollos from going forth until he had first graduated from some Bible school in order to be validated as an “official” preacher of the gospel. Neither did they send him off somewhere to Bible school. Neither could Aguila or Priscilla lay hands on him in order that he receive, as Timothy and Titus, the miraculous gift of inspired teaching (See At 8:18). After his teaching by the husband and wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, the brethren in Ephesus knew that Apollos knew the whole gospel of grace. With that simple knowledge of the gospel, they realized that he could encourage everyone to whom he went. So they immediately sent him forth with a full understanding of the gospel message.

The point is that if one knows the gospel, then he is validated to be a proclaimer of the gospel. There is no professionalism involved. This would be characteristic of ordinary people as Peter and John when they stood before the highly educated Jewish leaders of Judaism:

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they marveled. And they took note that they had been with Jesus” (At 4:13).

It simply does not take several years in a Bible school in order to learn the simplicity of the message of the gospel. Apollos had two instructors for a brief time in Ephesus, and then he was so qualified with the message that the brotherhood in Ephesus had enough confidence in his knowledge of the gospel to support him as an evangelist to Achaia. The Ephesian brethren did not even give to Apollos a “study Bible” when they sent him on his way. He did not even receive a printed New Testament, for at the time no New Testament books were written. He had no diploma to present to the brethren in Corinth. All he had was the gospel and a knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Now compare this scenario with the institutional religions of today. Such institutional religions have moved so far into religious professionalism that it seems that they will never recover. We are so engulfed in a quagmire of religious professionalism that sincere people are intimidated to feel they are not qualified to preach the gospel unless they are a graduate from some corporate Bible school. Even worse, some feel that if they do go to a Bible school, then that school must be accredited by some pagan government. We are further removed from the simplicity of New Testament Christianity than we think.

It is interesting that the brethren in Ephesus wrote a letter for Apollos to present to the brethren in Corinth. Because Apollos had received instructions from Aquila and Priscilla, the brethren stated in the letter that they should receive Apollos (At 18:27). Therefore, upon his arrival in Corinth, the Corinthian brethren were presented with a letter, not an accredited Bible school diploma or degree. The result was that in Corinth, Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews publicly, showing by the [Old Testament] Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ [Messiah](At 18:28). When Aquila and Priscilla connected all the dots of prophecy to Jesus of Nazareth, Apollos was able to preach the power of the gospel. He needed no Bible diploma or degree to do this.

Another example of this would be even more fitting to prove our point on this matter, as well as remind ourselves that we are presently stuck in a religiosity that is hindering the preaching of the gospel to the world. Two thousand years ago, a preacher of the gospel once met a government official on the road that went through the desert between Jerusalem to Gaza. The government official, as Apollos, knew the Old Testament. However, he was confused concerning the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53. When the desert preacher asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”, the official replied, “How can I, except someone guides me?” (At 8:30,31). And with that response, Bible class was open, but only for a brief time.

The Bible class was opened when the desert preacher “opened his mouth, and beginning at this scripture [of Isaiah 53] he preached Jesus to him” (At 8:35). The Bible class did not go on for years. It went on long enough for a response to come from the official in reference to his obedience to the gospel that Philip preached. The official said to the preacher, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (At 8:37). And then graduation occurred. The government official “commanded the chariot to stand still. And they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (At 8:38).

Now notice the conclusion to the whole story: After graduation, the Holy Spirit first extracted Philip out of the desert classroom and sent him off to teach in Azotus (At 8:40). Philip did not even have a chance to write a letter of recommendation for the eunuch as the Ephesian brethren did for Apollos. However, doing so would have given the pretense of one preacher passing on to another a supposed “evangelistic authority,” which thing is nowhere taught in the Scriptures.

With class over, the eunuch simply went on his way back to Africa, rejoicing all the way (At 8:39). Also, Philip did not give him a “study Bible” in order that he know and preach the gospel. All he had was the brief explanation that Philip gave in connecting all the gospel dots between the Old Testament prophecies and Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world. Neither, might we add, did Philip send the eunuch off to Bible school in order to be validated with a diploma or degree to be a preacher of the gospel. We only know that the eunuch had in his hand the Old Testament Scriptures. He had no New Testament Scriptures, for none were written at the time. Once the dots of the Old Testament Scriptures were connected to Jesus of Nazareth, the eunuch understood the gospel. So off he went to preach this gospel to Africa.

Though Bible schools are good in offering studies in the word of God and student fellowship, we must not forget that they have their limitations. Because we have become so engulfed in religious professionalism, Bible schools have often become a hindrance to the natural flow of the gospel going into all the world by those as Apollos and the eunuch.

[Next in series: April 20]

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