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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Middle class Sins - Working class Sins (or, The Unread Blog)

The Queen's Speech
Some years ago I was introduced to a believer who, I was told, came from a very reputable and well-to-do Christian background. Wealthy third / fourth generation Christian family - you know the sort of dynasty I'm talking about.

I was naturally shocked, therefore, when I heard her speak ill of some other believers of whom she disapproved. She was 'up here' and they were 'down there'. The devil would have struggled to match her vitriol!

And yes, I know from the letter of James that any one of our tongues can become a world of evil, a wild beast on which we must put a tight rein. But a pattern began to emerge in my observations.

I have discovered that among the churches there are.....

Working Class Sins
These are of the outward, immediate, obvious to everyone sins. Gluttony, bad language, boozing, fighting, sleeping around, laziness, the blame culture (missed the bus? It's the bus's fault) and so on.

The aforementioned sister would have blushed at these sins and stood high and mighty above them: her life was in order.

But all the while she was unaware of her....

Middle Class Sins
These are, if anything, more pernicious than their working-class cousins.

1. Pride, pride. Pride that I don't smoke, get drunk, sleep around or blame the bus driver because I was late to the bus stop.

2. Pride, judgementalism.  Pride is a multiple sin, for it lives not only in the heart, but works itself out in a judgemental spirit. Unaware that their ordered lives are nothing but a gift from God (the product of perhaps generations of 'good grooming' which, being in the past, had nothing to do with them), they judge the disordered, the indebted, the uneducated, the overweight. Why can't they get their eating in order, their daily routines in order, their finances in order - like us?

3. Pride, aloofness. Because it's the cardinal sin of the middle classes. Aloofness is how it reveals itself now. Since they do not engage in the 'gross' sins of the working classes, since they judge them, they naturally stay away from them. Sometimes without even knowing it, they send off multiple signals of disapproval and 'don't get too close to me'-ness. In church life this is picked up by sensitive souls as rejection.

Of course this division of sin is a gross simplification, for both kinds of sin are found in both classes. (The blogger knows what he is talking about because standing socially between the classes he suffers from both categories of sin!)

All are sinners
The blunt fact of the matter is that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The blunt fact of the matter is that sin is found in equal measure in all classes: it's just skewed in different directions.

That's not in question. What's in question is whether or not the working class will own up to their brands and the middle-classes acknowledge theirs. Both need to stand before the mirror of God's Word and confess together their general and particular sins.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Should I go to Bible College?

A secondary issue
Let's get this straight at the outset, whether Bible College or not, is a matter of secondary importance. There are voices on both sides, and neither are 'right' in the absolute sense.

An increasing trend
An increasing number of Christians no longer believe that Bible College is either the only or even the best way to "train for ministry".  In this blog I will explain why I agree with this growing band, but, again, I accept that this is one of those secondary issues on which Christians may freely disagree - in love.

Why Bible College?
We must start with motives. Why would someone want to go to Bible College in the first place?

A hunger for God's Word. For many the reason is a deep hunger for God's Word. The question then becomes, what is the best way to satisfy that hunger? In a three-year intense course or a life-time of study?

The thirst for knowledge.  On the one hand this could be a good thing if it is spiritual knowledge we are thinking about and if we are planning to use it to edify.  However if it is knowledge for knowledge's sake, a desire to be top dog and know more stuff than others - and to have a certificate to prove it - this motive is more connected to pride than to edifying love.

The desire for a qualifications/degree. Some want formal qualifications. This could be caused by a desire for 'recognition'. Jesus has no interest whatsoever in worldly qualifications - fishermen will do for him. Sadly the underlying cause for this desire could be that the churches they want to work in only recognise or employ people with formal qualifications. Biblically, there isn't one reason for anyone serving Christ to need a formal qualification, and for me personally, it would be the very last item I would look for in a ministry candidate. In fact it's likely to go against them: we are after godly character not knowledge.

Training and the Bible
When we come to the Scriptures, apart from the "schools of the prophets"  (does anyone really know what these were?) training for any kind of Christian ministry is never done in the setting of a classroom. Training is always done in the mentoring style of apprenticeships. Joshua learns from Moses, Elisha from Elijah, Timothy from Paul and supremely, the Twelve from Jesus.

There is very good reason for the apprenticeship style of learning: ultimately serving Christ has much less to do with knowledge and much more to do with character, faith, perseverance and humility. (If you don't believe this, read through the 21 qualities required of elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, listed below - only one is about teaching and therefore about knowledge, the rest are about who the person is). Spiritual qualities are not picked up from strangers in a classroom. All of them are learnt from day to day serving Christ in the church and world, and in contact with  seasoned and experienced servants of Christ, who themselves have learnt from others. The classroom simply can't teach you the most important qualities you are going to need (but the certificate may give you the wrong impression you are ready to serve). 

So why the Bible College Tradition?
How then can we explain the widespread tradition of teaching future Gospel workers in classrooms? I mean let's hope there are some pretty good reasons for adopting a system that is nowhere advocated in the Scriptures. Here goes...

In a word, it's the church aping the world - yet again. First, we have copied the 'professional' training method - to become an a, b or c, you go to university/college; obvious isn't it? Second, we have been deceived by a knowledge-based culture. The world prides itself in knowledge and we meekly follow instead of critiquing it (and insisting that wisdom, character and experience pips knowledge in importance).  Third, we have been seduced by the formal qualification system and imagine that if a man or woman has no formal qualifications he or she isn't "proper". (That criteria would have ruled out Jesus Christ and his disciples of course, but we conveniently step over that one.)

The result of this institution-based-system is that we end up with men and women who may be no better prepared to serve Christ character-wise (and that is all that counts in the end) when they leave, than on the day they stepped into the institution. And yet because they have "done training" and got a piece of paper to prove it they are given responsibility in the kingdom.

A better way
A far better and more Biblical way is for a Christian who believes they are being called to ministry (you know what I mean) to work within his or her local church in an apprenticeship fashion with older servants of Christ. They can spend some of their time learning, of course - and to that end there are many online/correspondence courses available - but most of the time they are watching and listening and learning from their mentor(s) and learning by doing.

Serious problems with the Bible College system
First, its focus is wrong. College is a book-institution, a mind-institution, what Christ wants from us is character, faith, courage, servant hood. It's not that mind is unimportant, it's that it is not all-important.

Second, it gives the wrong impression to students. It gives the impression that knowledge is most important. Not only is this plain wrong, but it could easily result in students who think after Bible college that their learning days are over, now that they are ready to serve. We never stop learning (remember your Greek, disciple=mathetes=learner?)

Third, it cramps style. Too many people emerge from Bible College, much the same way that sausages emerge from a sausage machine, all looking and sounding the same. I know of one particular preaching school, from which all emerging candidates have lost their personal identity and all sound identical.  The Spurgeons, Tozers and Lloyd-Jones of this world would be unknown if they had been sent(enced) to Bible College.

Fourth, a Bible College is susceptible to the unimportant or even heretical passing fashions of the academy. It doesn't matter how evangelical the institution, it has to touch base and connect with the passing theological fashions of the day. And some of them are quite seductive. And in any case who cares one fig what the universities of the world are teaching in their antitheology departments? It will all pass and twenty years later you will lament the lost hours of "cutting edge research". Worse, like what happened at Yale and Harvard, pernicious secular thinking can easily kill the whole institution, murder the students along with it and kill the churches that end up with those students. The blunt fact of the matter is that the church and not the academy is the pillar and ground of truth. And the moment we seek truth from gurus who live and work outside of the church, we end up following those who have priorities that are radically different from the body of Christ.

Fifthly, you are likely to be taught by people who 'did it' but are not 'doing it' anymore. I don't know about you, but I would not want to be taught to be a brain surgeon by someone who had been out of the operating theatre for 20 years. What is worse, the agenda of an academic may be light years away from the agenda of the church. So the stuff he thinks is important (frontier, novel, cutting edge stuff) may be plain useless for anyone in church ministry. 

Sixthly, Bible College training could make a man or woman actually useless in the kingdom of Christ. For pride puffeth up and only love buildeth up. Because they know stuff they think they're one up on others. They know stuff that others don't. They have a BA, BD, MD or what-not after their name: don't you know you should respect them?

(Actually since knowledge fades with time as quick as water drains from a sieve, they actually don't know stuff, they knew stuff).

In the seventh place, Bible Colleges discourage local churches from training. Local churches - the real experts - are given the impression that they are not up to the high academic task of training the next generation. That they must delegate the task to the "experts".

So is there any use for Bible Colleges? There may be some use in one or two Christians keeping abreast of what the world is thinking - but you don't need to do that in an institution.  But for training the next generation of Gospel workers, there are better - and  far more Biblical - ways: the local church.


The twenty-one qualities required of an elder from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Only one of them is about knowledge (the one about teaching), the rest are about character. 
·          blameless
·          husband of one wife
·          temperate
·          self-controlled
·          respectable
·          not over-bearing
·          not quick-tempered
·          hospitable
·          able to teach
·          not given to drunkenness
·          not violent
·          gentle
·          not quarrelsome
·          loves what is good
·          upright
·          holy
·          self-disciplined
·          not a lover of money
·          must manage his family well
·          not a recent convert
good reputation with outsiders