Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Seminary and the Local Church

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on May 12, 2010 at 10:39 am

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

Paul’s command to Timothy in this passage has always been the foundation upon which the Christian church has understood its need for the training of ministers of the gospel for the next generation.

Old pastors die off in the process of time, and new men need to be constantly raised up and trained to take their place. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to call and gift men for the gospel ministry, but it is the church’s job to train and equip them for that task.

Timothy was a pastor at the church in Ephesus, and it was in that context, while being a pastor, that Timothy was told to train and equip men for the ministry.

The precedent here is that pastoral training is to be done by those who are involved in pastoral ministry, and that it is to be done in the context of the local church.

Problems arise when this precedent is neglected. When independent seminaries function independently of a local church, when men teaching in those seminaries have little or no pastoral experience or involvement, when seminary training is done by academics who are chosen by a board of directors made up largely of businessmen, then it is a short step to the corruption of the training of the next generation of church leaders.

Seminaries have been the seedbed of doctrinal destruction historically. The seminaries of various denominations have corrupted the next generation of ministers of the churches, who then went on to corrupt the churches themselves.

The corruption flows from the seminary to the pew, never from the pew to the seminary. Academics with too much time on their hands just have to hear and tell of something new; if they were busy pastoring people, dealing with the realities of struggling saints in a local church, they would be less likely to go astray.

But the pressure to make a name for oneself, the hubris of youth, and the pride that knowledge puffs up is too much for many academics to bear, and off they go after novelty. Few can resist it.

Seminaries are like fire – good in their place, but exceedingly dangerous when out of control, and they get out of control when they get out of their place – that place of being led by pastors, not academics or businessmen, and being under the oversight of a local church, not standing independent of it.

The real question is this: Are the churches leading the seminaries, or are the seminaries leading the churches? Church led seminaries are the biblical model.

Max Doner, pastor
Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Lebanon, Oregon
  1. “The corruption flows from the seminary to the pew, never from the pew to the seminary”.

    Maybe once… Darby to Dallas Theological

  2. Max,

    As the academic dean of a “church-based” ministerial academy, I appreciate your article. There are certainly dangers when seminaries exist and operate independent from the local church. For that reason, I’m encouraged that not only Reformed Baptist Seminary but also the other Reformed Baptist theological training institutions I’m somewhat familiar with, such as the Midwest Center for Theological Studies and the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, are striving to develop models that keep pastoral and missionary training under the oversight of and accountable to local churches. I think this is a healthy conviction that we, as Reformed Baptists, should seek to maintain.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

  3. Max,

    As the academic dean of a “church-based” ministerial academy, I appreciate your article. There are certainly dangers when seminaries exist and operate independent from the local church. For that reason, I’m encouraged that not only Reformed Baptist Seminary but also the other Reformed Baptist theological training institutions I’m somewhat familiar with, such as the Midwest Center for Theological Studies and the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, are striving to develop models that keep pastoral and missionary training under the oversight of and accountable to local churches. I think this is a healthy conviction that we, as Reformed Baptists, should seek to maintain.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

  4. […] Seminario y la Iglesia Local Mayo 12, 2010 etiquetas: Iglesia Local, Seminario, Teología by Eduardo Este es una buena meditacion a favor de la enseñanza teológica en seminarios que estés ligados a una iglesia local. Pueden leer el artículo aquí. […]

  5. Great article! We need to get back to the Biblical model for training our brothers as pastors for our churches. Unfortunately, seminaries tend to be based more on the humanistic, university, tradition-based model (as you say, “hear and tell of something new” c.f. Acts 17), than in the discipleship, Bible-based model.

    1 Timothy 3 sets forth the requirement that a pastor/deacon be a man of proven character as the head of his family and a good teacher of his own children; steadfast in faith (and not a recent convert); and knowledgeable in the Scriptures–but, it doesn’t mention a seminary-grad requirement. Many seminary students know their professor’s “way of life” as Timothy knew Paul’s (1 Cor. 4:17, 2 Tim. 3:10), but many don’t. How can one “imitate” another, wiser man in his “way of life,” unless he’s walking alongside him? In addition, many seminary students even have their wives working to support their families (or taking the abortifacient pill or some other birth control to put off having children), while the green pastor-in-training “goes to” seminary, thereby following a worldly model, rather than a Biblical one.

    In my opinion, pastors-in-training should arise from the churches and already be ministering to the God’s people and already being trained in relationship by elders in the church (all Christian men should be “discipled” like this), while working at a business, providing for his family and building his family, including teaching and training his children, before he is even able to know whether he is called to full-time ministry to God’s people, according to the Bible (1 Tim. 3:2-5). How else can God’s people know he is “able to teach,” “the husband of one wife,” “manages his own family well,” “sees that his children obey him with proper respect,” etc.?

    Pastors are under special testing and come under stricter judgment because of the responsibility they hold as a shepherd (James 3:1); therefore, I believe they must keep close to the word of God in Biblical/discipleship “education” methodology for their safety and the safety of their flock.

    I’m not certain if Pastor Doner was suggesting this; but if he was saying pastors-in-training should be trained in relationship alongside experienced pastors (perhaps from the student-pastor’s own church) as they labor together in a local church assembly, then, Amen! Look at how Paul labored with Timothy, to disciple him personally, and the elders in the other churches by traveling from church to church. He worked with them, in their local churches, and they were to carry on the training in their local churches. The truth is, and I say this in love and gentleness, we can’t expect God’s blessing on pastors who will not obey His training methods as outlined in Scripture.

  6. I am agree and received the blessing of a “church-based” ministerial academy, but the teaching and example of John Murray impact and help a generation of Reformed Baptist, and he was not a pastor, neither his seminary was church led.

  7. Rafael,

    Good word. Many of us who serve as pastors and are seeking to train our people or young men to be pastors or church pastors depend to a great extent on the teaching and writing of certain men who’ve gone beyond basic ministerial education and have pursued specialized training in seminaries or universities in areas of language, exegesis, historical theology, systematics, etc. We stand on the shoulders of such men and should be grateful for their contributions. Moreover, I think we should encourage some whom we train who show special giftedness to go beyond the acquisition of a divinity degree and pursue higher and more specialized training to serve the church in that special way. Church-based training of pastors provides the best foundation, in my opinion. But it shouldn’t be the end of the road for some. Some men need to go further. That’s where the more traditional seminary and university can serve the church.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

  8. I know very few local churches that could effectively teach Greek and/or Hebrew to its members without outside help.

    If our view of the church is not only local and constricted but also universal, then seminaries are not outide the church at all but one expression of the universal body of Christ. They partner beside churches and help churches equip their people.

    One safeguard would be that these bible schools need to have a sound statement of faith and hold their teachers to it. Also, that they have, as their board of directors, pastors from the local churches that send them their students. Many Bible schools and seminaries already do this such that the charge that they are “totally independant” does not apply.

    Local churches also have local concerns. It is hard for a pastor to care for his flock, plus teach a knowledge-hungry student church history, systematics, etc. Some sort of banding together, cooperation between a number of churches, a comglomeration, or associational sort of structure will be needed to ensure that quality teachers are pooled in one place.

    Also, usually in local churches, often pastors replicate themselves (including extra-biblical details such as dress, mannerisms, political opinions, musical tastes, etc) to their students. A group of teachers help ameliorate the effects of one-man-run shows. I know very many second-generation pastors like that, who were taught by some baptist preacher of renowned….and they all look like little ducks in a row (even down to the same style of suit and tie) in strict conformity to their Momma Duck, namely, the pastor that taught them.

    It is logical to pool talent and education and to send students to these pools to drink.

    In our day, it is also easy to ensure that vigorous mentoring by one’s home church is also a possibility and on-campus work can often be completed online, under local supervision.

  9. What is the justification for a seminary in the first place? Does not Paul in this very passage give the responsibility for training ministers to ministers themselves? Just as fathers are responsible (according to Solomon) for training their children. As is evident from the selection of apostles & ministers recorded in the New Testament, it is not the intellectual education but the character of the men, their knowledge of God & their zeal for His honor and glory that count. Who better than their own pastor to see, provoke & inspire that?

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