by Gadiel T. Isidro
The need for higher theological education overseas presses upon us. Can we train the future leaders of the younger churches beyond the Bible school level? They want seminaries on the graduate level.
The need f or higher theological education overseas presses upon us. Can we train the future leaders of the younger churches beyond the Bible school level? They want seminaries on the graduate level. By that I mean the B.D. program or beyond. They want these seminaries to be evangelical and evangelistic, producing scholars and soul-winners, equal in academic and spiritual standards to any seminary in the world.
In 1964 the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Board for World Missions met in Baguio City, Philippines, and concluded that "the church cannot hope to become firmly established in any country unless it arises out of the soil with a national ministry." "Theological education is not an option but a must," they said.
Concerning Latin America, C. Peter Wagner of the Andes Evangelical Mission says, "The Protestant community is moving at 15.8 percent. But in spite of this highly encouraging set of statistics, many Christian workers in Latin America are deeply concerned about the future of the church. Where is our top-flight Latin American Protestant leadership? Or, more specifically, what have we been doing to provide theological training for those nationals who can and will do the same jobs of administration and teaching that missionaries have been handling six decades?"
In Singapore Chua Wee-hian laments the weakness of the Asian church because "spiritual leaders are few; scholars rare."
Since 1964 a committee representing the evangelical churches and missionary organizations in the Philippines has been working to start an evangelical seminary that will serve not only the Philippines but also a number of Asian countries. They hope to start classes in 1969.
I am fully convinced that such a seminary is greatly needed in my country, and here are the reasons for my convictions:
FIVE REASONS WHY
1. There are tremendous risks in sending students abroad for further theological training. We have lost a number of gifted young Christian leaders. After their studies in the States they decided to stay. They got so used to the American standard of living that they couldn’t adjust to conditions in their own countries. Young Bible school and college graduates are particularly susceptible to this danger.
I am not totally opposed to taking further studies abroad. But the person first must prove his maturity and his dedication to the ministry. Before my wife and I left the Philippines for America, we covenanted together before the Lord to return to our country to train Christian leaders and workers. Thank God, the vision still shines bright in our minds and hearts, and we have not thought of revoking that covenant!
2. There is a great demand for evangelical scholarship. We need people who know Hebrew and Greek, so they can advise on Bible translation work. We need theologians who can speak with authority on the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith in the face of shifting theological positions. E. M. Blaiklock of New Zealand says, "If we are to fulfill our function, conservatism must be informed conservatism. Orthodoxy should be something more than a mere emotional attitude. It must be the stand of an educated Christian . . . . Informed conservatism believes that no truth can be alien to the Word of Truth, and no honest scholarship can harm the faith." Sanctified scholarship is one of God’s best gifts to the church.
3. We need sound pulpiteers. Our pulpits are occupied by men who are at the mercy of commentators. The pastor must be able to dig deep into the Scriptures with his own tools. How can we preach the whole counsel of God if we by-pass portions of Scripture because we don’t have the tools to soundly interret them? Methods and tools are obtained and sharpened in higher theological training.
4. Highly educated laymen are emerging in the church. Many laymen have gone abroad for further studies and they have obtained higher degrees in theirprofessions. College students attend our churches.
Because evangelicals have established only Bible schools, they can provide only Bible school graduates. I became pastor of a highly-sophisticated church in Cebu City, Philippines, when I was twenty-six. Some of the members were not ordinary people. We had the former governor of the province, the commander of the third military area, the superintendent of schools for the province, business executives, university professors, lawyers, and college and university students. I had troubles. I blamed the people for their lack of spirituality. As I look back, I must share the blame. I was young, inexperienced, immature, and lacked the essential sanctified diplomacy. I lost something I will not be able to regain.
My own experience can be multiplied throughout the mission fields. Well-meaning missionaries blame themselves for failing to properly train young Bible school graduates. Some condemn the nationals for being incapable of spiritual maturity. Some of these failures are not due to the failure of the missionaries, or to the incapability of the nationals, but to the methods used. We thrust Bible school graduates into places of prominence and leadership when they are too young, immature, and inexperienced.
5. College graduates are looking for theological education on the graduate level. They do not want to go into full-time Christian service; they just want to have formal theological training to further equip them for lay leadership. They feel out of place in a Bible school.
With all these reasons for an up-graded theological education program, why are missionaries and national leaders apprehensive? They fear the loss of evangelistic and missionary passion. They believe scholarship and soul-winning don’t mix.
We have to admit that there are built-in dangers in a seminary program. The constant pressure to pursue academic excellence often brings unconscious neglect of the devotional life and active Christian service. Seminary students tend to be critical of almost ever thing. But I am convinced that these dangers can be avoided if the seminary leadership is spiritually sensitive and the faculty demonstrates the happy combination of godly piety, evangelistic activity and thorough scholarship. The philosophy of a seminary vitally influences the emphasis of the faculty and the attitude of the students. If a seminary aims to produce fruitful ministers of the word of God, then appropriate emphasis on prayer, evangelism, holy living and right relationships will be made along with the disciplines of scholarship.
SHOULD BIBLE SCHOOLS GO?
Should seminaries replace Bible schools? Should we continue the Bible school program without the seminary? Could there be a happy compromise by turning Bible schools into Bible colleges so that young people will be adequately prepared for graduate theological studies?
Bible school advocates should not feel threatened by the demands for higher theological training. God raised up the Bible institute movement when liberal scholarship almost obliterated biblical missionary vision and ministry. Most of the missionaries who direct the missionary outposts of the world are products of the Bible institute movement. Wesley A. Olsen says: "Authoritative missionary statistics substantiate the fact that even today the majority of missionaries on the field had some of their training at Bible institutes and Bible colleges. The battles won by Bible institute graduates were not won in the scholastic arena but in the pragmatic fields of the pulpit and pew, and in the primitive mission wilderness."
The Bible school has a distinctive ministry. It provides Bible content that most seminaries do not want to provide. It lays the foundation for evangelism, prayer and the devotional life. Discipline in a Bible school atmosphere is more welcome than in the seminary. As a Bible school product, I believe this kind of training should continue.
Bible schools on the mission fields should remain Bible schools and should not become Bible colleges. The usual thirty-two hours of Bible given at a Bible college are not sufficient. There are some problems that Bible colleges have to f ace, like incorporating subjects that replace Bible courses. Pressures come from various quarters to hire faculty members with no biblical knowledge and convictions, and some with no evangelistic, devotional and missionary orientation. The aim soon changes from training Christian workers to providing liberal education from the Christian perspective. Training Christian workers becomes only one of the majors and not the major function itself. This is a big shift and a costly one for the churches.
But, some Bible college advocates say, Bible institutes do not adequately prepare young people for seminary. This is true in some places but not all. I have been told that at one of the outstanding evangelical seminaries in America most of those on probation were university graduates. Why? They had no Bible background. To do graduate work in Bible without undergraduate background is difficult. Yet this is what most seminaries expect. I feel that in many areas Bible institutes prepare students more adequately for seminary. Bible institute graduates are deficient in the sciences, philosophy and anthropology. Knowing this’, the committee in Manila recommended that Bible school graduates should take one year of studies in the university wherever possible. The committee also recommended that university graduates should have one year in Bible school before being admitted to seminary.
Bible schools and seminaries should not be rivals. The,,should join forces together to train alert, qualified, and fruitful national leaders. The Bible school gives basic Bible knowledge and content, lays the foundation for missions, evangelism and the devotional life, and moulds Christian, character through proper discipline. If some Bible institute graduatesdo not go to seminary, they already have the basics to minister on a certain level.
The seminary builds a stronger and broader theological superstructure by providing the student with critical methodology and linguistic tools., The Bible school and seminary, like married couples, should constantly adjust to each other and willingly evaluate their relationship with each other, so that together they will produce graduates who will occupy the pulpits, the mission stations, the classrooms and administrative desks with evangelistic zeal, godly life and thorough and sound scholarship.
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