Thursday, September 13, 2007

Education Is The Answer

As the summer time in America is ending and we are starting again a brand new school year. We end the time that has traditionally become the occasion when America takes a collective break from learning. Our schools from Head Start to the Graduate level for the most part shut down, excepting the underachievers like myself who spend their more formative summers in High School relearning Algebra and Geometry. Also in our Churches we usually suspend organized Sunday school programs at the end of May awaiting the fall kick off of a new standard program with the weeklong VBS program in the middle. This is the way Church education has been done for as long as anyone of us can remember. One of the things that have always distinguished Presbyterians is our focus on Education. English Puritans who saw in the academy a place where they could help enable the colonies to grow founded many of the oldest collegiate institutions in the United States. Because they rightly understood that the fate of the American enterprise lay more in the time spent engaging the young minds under their care than in measuring the sweat on their backs. As early as 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had already established compulsory education up through what today we would call 4th grade. Virtually all of the schools established above this level were founded for the training of ministers and for the study of theology. It was not a coincidence that the founders of this country thought to build theological schools before laying the plans for the first law schools and programs for engineering. This was because our forefathers understood the need for us to not just have a cursory knowledge of the Scriptures but to be able to dialogue with one another concerning more intensive and developed Doctrine. It was expected in that day that before someone could became an officer of the Church that they would know the Westminster Standards and be able to defend their faith when called upon. It is interesting to note that the Westminster Shorter Catechism was designed for children and the illiterate to be used to help them know what it was they believed given that its form as short question and answers would be easily memorized. The church kept up this practice for centuries until the recent past. Unfortunately we have grown from that proud heritage to place today where we live in a time of intellectual and educational apathy. We have lost the value of not only theological education but familial education as well. We see denominational records of Sunday school attendance dropping like the Stock Market in 1929. In 1950 the average Presbyterian Church could expect 80% of its membership to attend Sunday school. Today the average is in the high teens. You might be wondering now why attendance in Sunday School has fallen so in the past 60 years in the church? But before we do that let us look at what Paul has to say in the 3rd chapter of Corinthians.

The city of Corinth in the time of Paul and the Apostles was a city of great wealth and stature. It sat on an isthmus between the two geographic centers of Greece and was a center for cultic worship and was the birthplace of many a false prophet. Paul in verse one through three of today’s Scripture lesson says to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” Paul here is speaking to a Corinthian Church that is mired in dissension and confusion. The Church is being destroyed by infighting over the loves of the flesh, infighting that according to Paul arises out of their misunderstanding of who God is. They have confused the all-powerful God which the Westminster Confession of Faith claims is, “The one and only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection… not standing in need of any creatures which he has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is alone foundation of all being” for a God who is muted in power and seeks only to make us comfortable and safe. Paul continues in verses four through seven trying to get the Corinthian Church to understand the importance of knowing and understanding the power of Almighty God pleading with them, “For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” While some are claiming to be followers of Paul and others followers of Apollos they miss the point that Paul and Apollos are mere servants of the Almighty God, the Creator of all things who alone should be the object of their worship. The Corinthians as Paul says have not moved past the basic nourishment of their mother’s milk. They cannot yet take in the meat of the Gospel because they have not trained their bodies to receive it. In other words the Corinthians cannot accept the meat of the Gospel because they refuse to turn their flesh over to God. They seek the pleasures of their own flesh up and over the glorious food of the Gospel. The Gospel is there for the Corinthians to have but they choose to not have the Gospel so as to not alienate them from their brethren. Paul later in chapter three verse eighteen says, “Let no man deceive himself If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” You see the problem with the Corinthian church, the problem that leads to their infighting, is that they do not seek the wisdom of God but are purely satisfied by the unfulfilling wisdom of this world. They cannot move past the milk that Paul has given them because they are not interested in learning any more. They have become apathetic to the teaching and learning of the Word of God. One of the leading causes of death in areas of Africa where famine is hitting the hardest is a condition where the body after being deprived of proper nutrition for so long that it cannot now properly break down complex carbohydrates and proteins. The body then rejects this meat causing internal damage and eventually death. The flesh cannot handle what the spirit is not ready to receive. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot receive this meat because they are as he puts it “still too fleshly”. What does it mean to be too fleshly? Well we know that the Church in Corinth is still beholding themselves to the wisdom of the age. They refuse to put behind them the wisdom of the Greek for the understanding of God. In their childlike intake of Greek culture and education they refuse to deny themselves take up their cross and follow Christ and Christ alone. They fail to receive the meat of the Gospel because they have refused to be taught by Paul any more than what they already know. Because as long as I know a little bit that’s enough right? Why should I strive to know more than the basics? Paul addresses this as well later in this letter to the Corinthians when he says in chapter fourteen verse twenty, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking…but in your thinking be mature.” We have been called to move past the childlike faith of our past so that we can live on the nourishment that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Luke writing in Acts it would not be good of us to neglect the understanding and teaching of the Word so that we can endeavor to other things but we should strive first and foremost to have a deeper and more luscious desire to know the Word of God.

A former Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary by the name of Dr. John Gerstner published a book in 1965 with the title “Theology for Everyman”. In this work Dr. Gerstner makes the outrageous claim that every person who declares themselves to be a follower of Christ should be at least, an amateur theologian. He makes the case that not all people are called to be able to understand the craft of plumbers or the intricacies of computer engineering or even the value of housework but all who are called to follow Christ are called to know Christ and his Word. Dr. Gerstner in his work says,” Is it not clear why a layman must necessarily be a theologian? Is there anyone, layman or otherwise, who does not need to know God? Does the Scripture not say, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3)? It is, then, no mere option with a layman whether he will be a theologian or not, whether he will have eternal life or not; it is no option with him whether he will know God or not. The knowledge of God is necessary to eternal life. And if eternal life is necessary for every man, then theology is also necessary for every man.” In other words just knowing who Jesus Christ is not enough. We have to be able to understand our faith at level more deeply than just cursory knowledge. Passing off the study of Scripture as being “boring” or being the job of the pastor is not good enough. I cannot tell you how many times in my young life I have heard people say that it is the job of the minister to know the Word and understand Doctrine so that I do not have to. Friends that is severely misguided. If we are to be believers in Jesus Christ we have to know his Word. You have to be able to understand the profundity of human depravity and sinfulness if you are going to be able to appreciate the full measure of the mercy and the depths to which Jesus Christ went to on the cross to save us. You have to be able to give a defense of your faith to the unbelievers of this world. How can we fulfill the mission of Matthew 28 if we do not know Scripture? How can we teach people about Jesus Christ if we ourselves cannot speak to the power of the infallible Word of God? We must not follow in the footsteps of the Corinthian Church who allowed themselves to be beholden to the wisdom of this age. For as Moses pleads with to the Israelites to understand in Deuteronomy 8:3 to know about the God that loves them and provides for them as they wander in the desert, "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”

We must not be afraid of knowing Christ through his Word. We must not allow the apathy and anti-intellectualism of this age towards the Word of God overtake us. We must thirst for the nourishment that comes from reading and studying the Word of God. Do not consume the wisdom of this age for the Lord our God has come to do away with the wisdom of this world providing for us the Wisdom of the Almighty so that as the Israelites in the Desert we may not be famished by our lack of knowledge but may be filled with the faith and trust of the Holy Spirit.

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