Briefly, the story is that the shrinkage of rural towns, and the movement of jobs, is creating a scarcity of support for "seminary-trained" pastors. And of course the article features apostates and false-teachers alternately wringing their hands or gleefully eying the opportunity.
The article provides no Biblical interaction — so I'll try to do so.
No Bible verse urges nor implies the necessity of seminary education. I have such an education, I'm glad of it, but I've never thought that it is what either gifted or qualified me to be a pastor.
Decades ago I was in a Baptist church with a very professional, formal pastor, who often spoke of my then-future stint at Talbot as the time when I'd "begin" to prepare for pastoral ministry. At the time, I'd had four years at a church-based pastoral training institute, and had a Bachelor's via distance-education. I already knew Greek far better than he (no brag, just fact); and he didn't know Hebrew at all. I tried respectfully to correct him as to where I was in the training-trajectory, but the correction never "took."
Here are my reflections on the article:
- Formal, Caesar-accredited seminary education is in no way a Biblical requirement for pastoral ministry.
- The first requirement is that a man be a genuine convert to the Lord Jesus Christ. No seminary issues regeneration. The Lord effects it, and local churches can observe and confirm it.
- The second requirement is that Christ have given a man as a pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11), and that he thus possess both the passion (1 Timothy 3:1) and the gift (cf. Romans 12:5-8 ; 1 Corinthians 12:28).
- The prospective pastor must also possess the moral and spiritual character of a pastor-teacher (1 Timothy 3:1ff.; Titus 1:5-9).
- Specifically and particularly, he must be able and willing to teach sound doctrine, whether in easy or difficult situations; he must be able to discern sound from sick doctrine; and he must be able to refute sick doctrine (this recurs constantly in the Pastorals, including 1 Timothy 1:3ff.; 2 Timothy 3; 4:1-4; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 15; 3:10-11).
- While formal seminary education is one way to gain the qualifications laid out in #5, it is not the only way, nor is it the way specifically envisioned in the Bible.
- The explicitly Biblical way is local-church apprenticeship (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).
- That doesn't mean that formal seminary education is evil or wrong; just that it is not a Biblical requirement.
- The Biblical model for the appointment of elders is startlingly simple. Elders find gifted men in churches, and appoint them in those churches (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Ta daa. That's it. Done.
- Congregations should financially support such men fulltime (1 Corinthians 9:6-7, 14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but that is also not a Biblical requirement — a man may voluntarily waive fulltime salary (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:15-18; 2 Corinthians 12:13).
But formal seminary education just is not necessary, and churches should not simply be shipping everyone off to Debtor's Prison or going without pastors because seminary grads can't afford to pastor them. I see this as an opportunity for Biblically-faithful churches to implement the Biblical model.
One parting shot: I fear that my stressing the not-absolutely-essential nature of formal seminary education will be mis-apprehended by some lazy souls. I think that, if you do not have such an education, you must nonetheless accomplish the equivalent under apprenticeship. You must know Hebrew and Greek, you must learn how to study, preach and teach, and how to care for souls. You must know theology. This is hard, hard work. I'm not issuing a get-out-of-work card.
If you point to Charles Spurgeon as an example of a man who had no formal seminary education, but who rather enjoyed a bit of fruit in his labor, I will heartily agree. But I will also point out that Spurgeon was better-read and better-studied at age 17 than most seminary-trained pastors are in their twentieth year, and that Spurgeon was a voracious reader and student until his last breath.