Archive for February, 2012


Seminary and Simony

This is simply an opinion piece. I have made no attempt to be scholarly with the following observations. I just have “sand in my craw” and need to vent a little. Over the years I have encountered my fair share of people that I suggest were either not called into the ministry at all or if they were, they were without spiritual  gifting and therefore totally inept and had no business leading anyone. They were “blind leaders of the blind.” I have also spent time with over educated “pastors” who held few conservative views of scripture. Some were simply glorified social workers or MC’s at a religious country club.

I have exhaustively taught the Book of Acts every year for almost twenty years. I have also read at least twenty commentaries on the book. Hence, I have come to know it, as they say, “like the back of my hand.”

I doubt if anyone hardly takes notice when in chapter eight they come across Philip in Samaria. I reckon most just read through it as though it is necessary history on the way to somewhere else. Whenever did you last hear a sermon preached on Simon the sorcerer? There may be a good reason for this. At first reading there seems to be little useful contemporary evangelical application for this portion so we quickly leap to the Ethiopian eunuch and preach a message on election, evangelism, baptism or perhaps astral travel. After all, we are not regularly encountering sorcerers and witch doctors. This passage was for another time and place.

Have you ever heard of the term, “Simony?” I almost always get blank stares when I use the term in a lecture. Even when I explain the concept people don’t quite get it until I apply an illustration or two. Simply put, “Simony” is the buying of religious position and privilege. Of course, position and privilege (power and sometimes money) go together.

How can I make the connection between Simon in the first century who wanted to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit with something happening today? Perhaps it would be easier to illustrate the idea by citing historical examples from the Roman Catholic church where prominent families, like the corrupt Florentine Medici’s, who used their money and influence to advance a family member from local priest to a Bishop and on up the ladder of Apostolic succession.

In recent years, various Pentecostals and charismatics have generated modest fortunes by  “trading” in the supposed gifts of the Holy Spirit (real or imagined). For many the Holy Spirit has been the means to influence, admiring adherents and though none would admit it – money – lots of money. Similarly, witchcraft and New Age is all about power and regrettably, it might be said, that in many ways the Pentecostals in America and especially in Africa have emulated this obsession for power and money.

Before I tie Pentecostalism to a post like a goat and then whip it to death, let me offer another way in which “Simony” has popped up all around us. It often goes unnoticed that folks don’t get far in the “denominational” church without credentials. The more credentialed one is the more prominence they seem to have. It is easier to be invited as a “keynote” speaker or find a publisher if one has a Masters degree or even better yet, a PhD.

The gaining of credentials means that one must be prepared to invest somewhere between four and seven years as well as belly up to the cashier’s wicket and pay about $120,000 for a Bachelors degree and an additional $50,000 for a Master’s of Theology or even more for a Master’s of Divinity. There is an expeditious reason for pursuing higher and higher degrees. Who wants to start out and get stuck in a small rural church at $28,000 a year? Yet, without a degree from a denominationally approved seminary (the more prestigious the better), no matter how naturally intelligent or gifted a person might be, one can expect to be relegated to whatever church is desperate enough to have him. It is assumed that one is not fit to minister without the appropriate classroom attendance, papers and grades. Someone once said, “A Ph.D. does not prove how smart or spiritual anyone is. It only tells us how long the person has spent in school.”

We often forget that most of the first two or three centuries saw none of this type of pecking order as a requirement for ministry effectiveness. It might be also noted that the church grew by leaps and bounds not through upward mobility but by being fed to lions after signs confirmed the preaching of the word. Furthermore, though there are exceptions, it may be entirely missed that many of the Christian leaders we most like to read about and imagine ourselves duplicating often had none of this formal training much of which amounts to little more than wrestling with theological speculation and acquiring skills that one will rarely be called upon to use.

In writing this, I do not mean to infer that seminary training cannot be beneficial. Attending schools may vastly improve the learning curve once one has completed his or her studies. In spite of this admission, there is no sense in which anyone (even summa cum laude) should walk into a church office, hang their degree on the wall and assume they are a spiritual leader. Trust me; this person will not be given the chief seat in the synagogue for three years. They will never rise to leadership until they have proved their mettle through proficiency and service. Sadly, few have learned this lesson.

My point is this; seminary education is no guarantee that one will be effective in ministry at all. Neither is seminary education a guarantee of orthodoxy. There is no evidence that spending one hundred seventy thousand dollars in the graduating from seminary makes anyone more sound in their theological views. In fact, the opposite has often proven true. Seminaries (even protestant and evangelical) have produced more than their fair share of heretics. The same “publish or perish” pressures found in secular universities have perhaps caused seminaries to become hotbeds of heresy. When it comes to orthodoxy it may be as dangerous to come from a seminary as some backwoods hollow of the Smokey Mountains.

I, for one, am tired of employing Greek pedagogical method as being the primary requirement by which one is qualified for ministry. I think it is ridiculous that religious privilege and position can be purchased by money and an investment of a certain amount of time. It was Keith Green who asked the question, “Where are the Elijahs of God?” If the kingdom of God does not come in word (philosophy and intellectual surmising) but in power then why do we make such investment in acquiring the very thing that the scriptures caution us about placing our confidence?

“For the kingdom of God is not in word 

but in power.”

1 Corinthians 4:20

So then, am I being anti-intellectual? Not at all! I teach in Bible colleges and training centers. If you mean, do I oppose denominational structures that rely heavily on academia as a means of qualifying clergy, then, “Yes, I am.” I suggest that academic accomplishment as a way of certifying people for ministry is completely wrong headed and more secular than biblical. I would argue that it is wrong to elevate anyone solely because of academic performance. We should stop giving the ministerial edge to those who have gone to school. On the contrary, why shouldn’t search committees be suspicious of those with seminary training?

I believe the biblical approach is to look around and see who is effectively doing ministry and already demonstrate the call, gifting and grace of God for the work and then intellectually mentor those individuals while they are in the ministry. Biblically, ministerial candidates should be honest, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Of course there are other qualifications as well. These we find in the scriptures but none of the scriptural qualifications require academic proficiency. It amazes me how those who should most know better  turn out to be in the vanguard of not employing the biblical standards – the very standards they supposedly teach in the seminary. Most of what we have been doing has come from the Greek academy rather than the Bible and this methodology has created a generation of Simons many of whom are only in it for the notoriety or the money and perhaps both.

“Young man, with all of your getting, get unction!”

Attributed to Leonard Ravenhill