The time has come for God’s institution, the local church, to become more involved in the education of its adult members. Sunday School has been around for generations, and the Christian Day School movement has been effectively functioning for the past thirty years. However, although the local church has seen the need of teaching young people, it has dropped the ball when it comes to instructing adults; particularly those who want to receive more formal training in theology and Biblical studies. Pastors have been convinced that only “professional educators” i.e. college professors, can really provide a young adult, or an older student, with the tools necessary to effectively serve the Lord. This is not only a flawed theory, but an un-Scriptural one as well.
The first question that must be asked in the education of adults is: to whom was the responsibility for instruction given? The Bible clearly states that parents were given responsibility to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but what happens when that child is grown, and able to make his own decisions? The answer from the Scriptures is that the local church has the responsibility to carry out God’s teaching ministry. I Timothy 3:15 calls the assembly “the pillar and ground of the truth”. The word pillar indicates that the church is to be holding up and displaying the truth. Since Christ in His high priestly prayer stated “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17), the focus of the church is to be proclaiming and revealing the Bible. Certainly this would entail a teaching ministry. When Christ gave His Great Commission to the church, He mentioned not only evangelism and baptism, but also “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). This would mean that the assembly not only has the ability, but also the obligation, to give instruction to its members in all areas of the Scriptures.
In I Corinthians 4:17, Paul stated that he was sending Timothy to the church in Corinth to “bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.” Paul clearly shows here that his teaching ministry was not done through colleges or conferences, but through assemblies. It is good to observe that Paul did not instruct the Corinthian believers to come to him. He did not set up shop in Antioch and expect those desiring to go on in service for the Lord to leave their homes and churches in order to be instructed by him. Instead, he sent Timothy to the assembly to teach in the assembly the same things that Paul was teaching.
When God inspired His Word, and then gave it out to the believers, what method did He use? Did He call upon churches to send their “best and brightest” to some centralized location so that they could receive the Word? Did He admonish them that they needed someone special to explain the Scriptures to them because their pastors were incapable of doing the job? Absolutely not! The Scriptures were written to local churches, and it became the responsibility of these churches to not only reproduce them, but also to expound upon them for their congregations. Paul commanded that the epistle to Colossae be read also in the church of the Laodiceans. Why? Because it was Paul’s intent that Biblical instruction take place in God’s institution, the Ecclesia.
In I Corinthians 12:28 Paul enumerates some of the spiritual gifts. He ranks them in this order: “first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers.” Since both the offices of apostle and prophet were done away with when the canon of Scripture was completed, it seems that the most important one left is that of teacher. Note that Paul states that God has set the office gifts “in the church”. Thus, the gift of teaching is to be exercised within the assembly. Paul expounds on this idea in I Corinthians 14:12 by stating that these gifts were to be used for the “edifying of the church”. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes that the office gifts, including “pastors and teachers” were for the purpose of “perfecting (maturing) the saints” and ultimately the “edifying of the body of Christ”. Thus, it seems obvious that the ecclesia is God’s chosen place for the exercising of the spiritual gift of teaching.
In Acts 20:28, Paul instructed the elders (pastors) of the Ephesian church to “Feed the flock of God over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers.” This idea is echoed by Peter in I Peter 5:2, “Feed the flock of God which is among you.“ It is interesting to note that both of these passages instruct pastors not to feed someone else’s sheep, but rather those that were from their own congregation. If pastors should not spend their time feeding someone else’s sheep, then why should they send their own sheep to someone else to be fed? It is a pastor’s duty to educate his members, and it is their obligation to allow him to do it.
It is the opinion of this author that many pastors do not stand behind the concept of a local church Bible college because they do not feel that they have the time to teach these advanced students. Yet, what are the Biblical responsibilities of the pastor? I Peter 5:1-4 teaches that he is to feed, oversee, exemplify, and shepherd. II Timothy 4:2 states that he is to “preach the Word”, but do it with all “doctrine” (d i d a c h - teaching). In Acts 6:4 the office of the deacon was instituted so that the pastors could give themselves “continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word”. In I Timothy 5:17, the pastors who were worthy of double honor were those who “labour in the Word and doctrine (d i d a s k a l i a - teaching). These verses show that teaching is not an encumbrance on the ministry, but rather an essential part of it. Since one of the qualifications of the bishop is that he be “apt to teach” (“a moral quality involving not merely the ability, but also the willingness to teach, such as ought to characterize a servant of the Lord” - Wuest), and since Peter tells us that through salvation and the Word of God believers have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness”, the pastor certainly is able to accomplish an education ministry among his people.
A second question that might be raised is this: What is the Scriptural advantage of training adults in a local church Bible college? One advantage is that the pastor has complete oversight and insight into what his students are being taught. How many young adults have gone off to college to train to serve the Lord only to come home espousing doctrines and positions that the pastor of their home church opposes? Again, whose responsibility is it to guard these people? It is the pastor and the church. In II Timothy 4:5 the bishop is to “watch in all things”. According to Acts 20:28-30 he is to “take heed”, because grievous wolves might enter in who will not spare the flock. It is the pastor who has been challenged to reject heretics (Titus 3:10). The local church has received the instructions to “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17), and to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” (II Thes.3:6). A pastor or a church really can not do this job properly if the student is many miles from home, and only drops in for services during vacation periods.
Another Scriptural advantage to the local church Bible college is that it allows the congregation to get to know the pupils as they study. The congregation gets insight not only into their academic abilities, but their Christian character as well. This is important for two reasons. First of all, when a first-century church lost its pastor, it did not write to a seminary in order to get a packet of names of unemployed clergy so that it could, sight unseen, bring in a man as a potential pastor. The church members did not make such an important decision based upon a man’s own resume; asking him one hour’s worth of questions with no corroborating evidence as to the veracity of his answers; and hearing him preach twice. Instead, they picked people from within their congregations. They watched men for months and years before they considered them as potential pastors. They knew the man’s doctrine. They knew how he behaved in church, and how he behaved at home. They knew whether or not his home was under control. They knew whether or not he was apt to teach. They knew whether or not he was materialistic. They knew whether or not he was blameless, and what his reputation was among the unbelievers in the community. How did they know? Because these men had studied at the local church under the instruction of their pastors and under the watchful eyes of the congregation. Many a pastor/church crisis could have been averted if churches still “grew their own” as they did in the first century.
In addition to protecting the church that is calling a pastor, the local church Bible college protects people on missions fields and in other areas of church planting. In Acts 13:2-3, the Holy Spirit spoke to the local church, and told them to send out Barnabas and Saul. It is the local church through which the Lord works in sending out missionaries. Paul Beals wrote, “The local congregation of believers stands in a unique relationship to Christ, and the local assembly becomes the mediating and authoritative sending body of the New Testament missionary. This is a vital, Biblical principle.” (A People for His Name; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998 p. 69). How can a church do its job effectively if the members do not have a thorough knowledge of the individual? And how can they really know the individual if they have only seen him sporadically over the previous four years? The obvious answer is, they can not.
The local church is the heartbeat of the New Testament. It is an institution begun by Christ, loved by Christ, and employed by Christ to accomplish His will and program in this age. He is its Head, and its Fullness (Eph. 1:22-23). It is the “house of God … the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). It is the place to which believers are added, and the place where the ordinances are carried out. It is the place where spiritual gifts are to be used (Eph. 4:11-12; I Cor. 14:5,12). It is the arena where both discipline (Matt. 18:17) and benevolence (I Cor. 16:1) occur. It is the propelling force of missionary endeavors (Acts 13), and the end result of those labors (Acts 16:5). It is the organism which Christ “purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). If the assembly is all this, and more, why is it insufficient to educate future pastors and missionaries? Why must it be abandoned in order for committed training to take place? The answers are that it is not, and it does not. The local church and its consecrated, Scriptural, pastor/teacher can, and must, take back the reigns of collegiate level Biblical and theological training.