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Monday, April 18, 2016

Does God want a trained ministry?

A recent post over at Ambassador Watch caught my eye. "Hanging out in Plato's cave" by Kevin provoked a very interesting discussion related to ministerial credentials.

Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) had his Ambassador College, and other Christian sects have their seminaries and universities to train those among them who are interested in a career in the ministry. Is that, however, what God wants or expects of "His" Church?

For Kevin's father, a library of about 40 HWA booklets constituted an appropriate religious education for his children (unfortunately, this was not an isolated view within that culture). Kevin also talked about his experience of living in "that bubble of common believers," and how that "bubble eventually popped." In short, he compared his experience to Plato's "Allegory of the Den" and pointed out how one's concept of truth/reality can be twisted by being sheltered from the wider world.

We see this phenomenon in folks who have lived their entire lives in small, isolated towns. We call it provincialism. Of course, none of us would say that these folks are stupid and without anything to contribute to the world (unless we're cultural and/or intellectual snobs). However, many of us seem to think that such a background should automatically disqualify someone from serving in the ministry. In that regard, it is interesting to note: Although one could make the case that Paul was somewhat of a cosmopolitan, Jesus would be classified as a provincial by our understanding of those terms!

In the course of Kevin's post, he asked Pastor Ian Boyne of the CGI a very good question: "Hypothetically, what are the odds that a greedy, dishonest man who had abused his own child would be the one that God would select to work with to reveal new understandings?" He went on to ask: "Doesn't it make sense for God to select an individual with above average character rather (than) below average?"

In the comments that followed the post, Byker Bob emphasized the importance of being "well-grounded" and studying "other exigetics" in evaluating the doctrines of HWA. He said that this would expose the "bogus and shoddy research" that was the underpinning of those teachings.

Ian Boyne advised taking "some time to critique doctrines" and employing "sober thinking" to reveal that HWA was right about many of the doctrines he preached. He even offered a list of the ones he considered to be valid: "conditional immortality, postmortem salvation, millennium on the earth, Sabbatarianism, holy day keeping, Deification, restoration of ethnic Israel (and rejection of replacement theology), necessity of works for final justification (though not for initial justification), Gospel of the eschatological Kingdom." That's quite a list!

Mr. Boyne advised Kevin to "forget about the name Armstrong" and lay aside the pain of his association with the group founded by him. He said: "Do the dispassionate, objective analysis of these doctrines. Read accredited scholars, not the amateurs and theological incompetents who inundate the Internet." He concluded with "Get back to us after you have done that." (How condescending and arrogant can this guy get?)

According to Mr. Boyne, the Bible is only clear to "the called, the Elect." Which brings us to the Achilles heel of his thesis: If you're going to argue for intellectual rigor, you'd better not live in a glass house or introduce other concepts that will dilute/contradict it!

Gavin Rumney argued "that every ordained person who sets out to instruct others" should have "a legitimate degree in theology from a recognized university." Mr. Boyne responded: "Though I do not have a theology degree, my wide exposure to and reading in theology would put me at the post-graduate level. I have wide exposure to the main areas of Old and New Testament theology and am acquainted with all the major theologians in the main areas." (What about the minor theologians in the peripheral areas?) Mr. Boyne then proceeded to share an impressive partial reading list to bolster his credentials.

After complimenting Ian's reading list, Gavin concluded that it wasn't "a substitute for a moderated course of study...for someone who claims ministerial authority." He went on to point out that HWA's brief study at the Portland Public Library had certainly not been sufficient to prepare him for the ministry.

For me, however, the best comment came from "nck." He said, "It is what we do in life that defines us and that echoes down through eternity." (OK, he wasn't the first person to express that sentiment; but isn't it very appropriate here?)

When I was reading these comments, I was thinking about questions like "What is a minister?" and "What is the proper role of a minister?" and "What are the biblical qualifications/credentials for a minister?"

Doesn't the New Testament make plain in a number of places that ministers were to be servants? Didn't Christ say that he didn't want the leaders within his church exercising authority/dominion over his people? Doesn't Scripture indicate that character and life experience are prerequisites for serving in the ministry? Isn't the focus on character, not on doctrines/theology?

I know a CGI minister who is not as well read as Mr. Boyne, never attended Ambassador College and has little formal education. Nevertheless, he has sterling character and epitomizes servant leadership. Doctrinally speaking, he is much closer to Ian Boyne than he is to me; but he looks like the real deal to me! I'm impressed by his genuine care and concern for his flock and for doing whatever he thinks is in their best interest (he doesn't consider himself to be a good speaker, so he talks with other folks in the congregation and encourages them to speak and lead Bible studies).

What is God looking for in a minister? What kind of university does "He" expect them to attend? What do you think?

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