Recently I’ve encountered some people that have questioned my ability to truly know the gospel because of my career choice. I have apparently been rendered unfit to teach the gospel because I lack a degree in religion. My degree is in Information Technology and not religion…so how could I ever hope to understand the doctrine of Christ? How can I preach the gospel effectively without a certificate from a qualified seminary or theological institution? If a university or institution authorizes a person to become a theologian or a minister, how did that institution get the power to do so? Where are the pastors or priests…and how did they get to be where they are? Having a PhD, being eloquent in speaking, or becoming popular to a group of people does not make them authoritative when it comes to all things gospel.
So…I wanted to make one really important point and then back it up with a few Biblical examples. Here it is: Never at any time in the history of this world has a formal education been required in order to love Jesus Christ and teach His gospel proficiently. In fact, many of the greatest teachers of the gospel had little to no formal education. They were self-educated because of their unrelenting desire to know God.
If you’re having trouble believing me, then here are a few examples that I’m sure you’ll believe:
The Master Teacher
The Son of God went around teaching people some of the most profound truths known to man. However, none of the “learned men” in Israel ever saw Jesus at the traditional places of learning. The things he learned would have come from His earthly father and mother, Joseph and Mary or from the the local synagogue in Nazareth. He no doubt learned the most from His Heavenly Father who poured out revelation upon revelation to Jesus as he grew to manhood. None of this was good enough for the Jews of His day though. During one of the feasts, John records that, “Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marveled, saying, how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (John 7:15) Notice how quick the notable Jews were ready to discount Jesus’ education just because he was not schooled in the same places that they were. How could this son of a carpenter come out of Nazareth and teach us anything? But teach He did and who can dispute it now…
Each of the apostles had a career…other than being an apostle. They were not paid to be apostles. It was not their profession. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen and business men. That was their trade. No different than information technology, marketing, or being a dentist might be in our day. They were called to leave their nets, but we may be called to leave our computers or our board rooms. Luke was a physician. Mathew was an accountant. And Paul…who was probably the most learned of the apostles was a tentmaker. None of these great men whom Jesus “called, chose, and ordained” were found holding a diploma in their hand from a divinity school. Still, it bothered the educated men to see them teach the gospel with such power. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Peter and John were not looked at as theologians… but as fishermen. Detractors failed to see the amount of study and meditation that went on behind the scenes for Peter and John. They overlooked the fact that maybe the sacrifices these disciples made, opened up a revelatory conduit to heaven and to the source of all knowledge and wisdom.
When Jesus was choosing His special witnesses, why didn’t he go straight to the Sanhedrin? Surely they knew “the Law” better than these 12 laymen… right? Even Paul, who early on in life relied upon his formal religious education was brought to say,
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1:19-25)
Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians, that all of the education in the world could not replace the simple testimony that is placed within a man’s or woman’s heart through the power of the Holy Ghost. That the simple and consistent study of a regular ol’ person, even someone who is considered foolish by the world, can attain spiritual knowledge of the Gospel that even the greatest universities could never comprehend. Paul solidifies his statement…
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
There was a man named Simon [the sorcerer] that was intrigued by Peter and John in Samaria. Peter and John came out from Jerusalem so that they could confirm the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the people that had received baptism in Samaria. Simon saw that the apostles had power. Guess what Simon asked Peter and John! “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost,”… and then he offered them money. Peter went on to tell Simon that the gifts of God cannot be purchased with money.
While many of the reformers were educated, what set them apart was their unrelenting desire to educate themselves of the things of God. There are plenty of resources out there, especially today, that enable a person to gain knowledge without sitting in a classroom. Do you remember what the famous reformer William Tyndale said?
“If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of Scripture than thou doest.” (1522, Foxes Book of Martyrs)
Tyndale died with the hope that his work would enable even the most common of people to have access to the scriptures in their fullness. Few of these reformers ever wanted to start a church of their own. They were dedicated to uncovering truths that had been changed or covered up by the powerful institutions of their day. They did not believe that you had to have a PhD after your name in order to be a credible theologian or teacher.
Whats My Point?
The point here that I am trying to make, is that no one need call into question a person’s education when it comes to being a theologian, gospel scholar, or humble disciple. The most unpolished, seemingly insignificant wage earner or the well-known fortune 500 CEO could be as equally dedicated to the Gospel as the person that studies ancient Greek all day. In fact, the layman could even have a better perspective on the Gospel because he or she is not boxed in by academic scholasticism or curriculum standards. There is no conflict of interest because of their latest book deal.
Self-education is always more effective than formal education. While formal education has its place and its merits, self education is what will take you into realms you could not go to while in the classroom. The person that is forced to learn something in order to get a grade, will certainly have a diminished ability to recall that learning at a later date or open their mind to additional truths. But the person that takes it upon themselves to become acquainted with gospel teachings without immediate tangible reward or consequence will have those teachings etched upon their hearts. Their search for truth will live on and will become central to everything that they do in their lives.