The Importance of an Educated Ministry
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (Westminster Confession of Faith I.7; emphasis added)
Most of us won’t turn to a friend with a layman’s interest in dentistry for help if we need dental work, even if he’s very well read on the subject. Instead, we go to someone with professional dental training. Several years ago when our son needed an emergency appendectomy I didn’t go to the library, check out a few books on anesthesiology and human anatomy, purchase some surgeon’s instruments, and then perform the surgery myself. Instead, we got our son to the hospital ASAP, and thankfully his surgery was performed by one of the top pediatric surgeons in our area (a gentleman who I believe was a Muslim, by the way). But when it comes to performing “surgery” of an even more eternally-significant kind, namely, expounding and applying the Word of God to the souls of sinners, American Christians today seem to think any average Joe who graduated from high school with a D average is up to the task.
We expect our soldiers, policemen, plumbers, doctors, surgeons, lawyers, etc., to be professionally trained and tested, properly screened, and certified/licensed by the proper agencies or authorities before we will trust them. But in popular American Christianity any untrained, self-appointed and self-anointed Tom, Dick or Harry who claims to understand the deep things of the Word and to be “called” to preach or teach that Word expects God’s people to take them seriously (and, sadly, many Christians do; Harold Camping, anyone?).
All believers (including those lacking in formal education), through “a due use of the ordinary means” (i.e., with diligent study and effort) can attain a sufficient understanding of Scripture for salvation and holy living. But at the same time, the Word of God is a mighty “sword” that can do great damage if it is mishandled by the unlearned and uncalled. While this may sound like snotty elitism and clericalism in the context of our “democratic” church culture today, I would contend that only those men with a Divine call (confirmed by the visible church), and with adequate training and testing, have a right to wield the sword of the Spirit in an kind of official capacity in the church. To expect less in the church is to dishonor the Word.