A Preacher's Education

by John Henry

July 21, 2000

     Many brethren have begun to make qualifications where God has made none. One of the qualifications of many of my brethren now, before you can come and work with them, is a college education. I have nothing against education. I think it is good and wise. I would invite you to study with me and see what kind of an education or credentials the prophets, apostles, and Christ carried. The question at hand is not whether young preachers should be educated, but what kind of education should they have?

     Did the prophets of the Old Testament qualify as such because of the higher education they received in order to teach or reveal God's will? These spiritual men who taught the word of God or prophesied things that were going to happen, most, seemed to be in the same class with the apostles, that is, they were uneducated (Ac.4:13). What made a prophet a prophet? Education? No! Most of the prophets seem to have been from common backgrounds: farmers, plowboys, shepherds, fishermen, etc. While there were some prophets who came from royal descent, who probably had a good education, they too, proclaimed the message of Jehovah. God selected prophets by calling them in various forms --by an audible voice or by a vision. Once these men were convinced that they had been selected and commanded to speak God's message to the people of their time, they spoke courageously to turn the people back to God. The prophet was a man of spirit, spending much time in communion with God. The prophet was well equipped for his task, and a man of force and influence. Prophets were preachers of righteousness who tried to get God's people to return to following God.

     The Bible refers to "schools" of the prophets. Samuel anointed Saul and told him to go to the hill of God were he will meet a company (school) of prophets who would prophesy before him. At that time the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him and he would prophesy (1 Sam.10:1-6). Verse 10 tells us this happened just as Samuel said it would. Samuel was appointed over the schools of the prophets (1 Sam.19:20.) Therefore, the "Schools of prophets" seem to have arisen in the times of Samuel, and were possibly called into existence by him. We do not read of a school of prophets until the times of Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 18:13; 20:35, then again in 2 Kings 2:3-5 and 2 Kings 4:38. We know that some of these prophets were married, and owned their own home (2 Kgs.4:1-2). We have no idea how many prophets might have passed through this school, and then, been called by God to be a fierce denouncer of evil practices of individuals and nations. My point is simple: When a man passes through a preaching school held by a sound preacher, or he teaches himself, does this mean that he is not qualified to preach God's Word until he has some higher education? If a higher education was so important to the Lord and the spreading of the gospel, why didn't the Lord say something about it in the Scriptures? Instead, the Lord used common men (prophets, apostles), who could converse with the common people of their day. They (prophets, apostles) were not called because of their education, but because of their devotion to God. We should never forget this fact.

     I have sat and listened to many preachers who possess a college education only to come away unimpressed by their fancy display of their education in the pulpit. After some have finished preaching, you then need a dictionary to look up those BIG and L  O  N  G words they used so that you have some understanding of what they said. Do you think the Lord is pleased with that kind of display? Don't you think the Lord could have preached to the people in His day in a way that no one but the highly educated could have understood Him? To preach in such a way as to display one's education is nothing more than arrogance. Never forget that this kind of thing helped in organizing the Catholic Church, and still has a hold on the people of Catholicism today. Are Catholics still not told that only the educated can understand the Bible? It is a sad day, indeed, when we as God's people have taken over the Church with our worldly educations and have tried to enforce laws where God made none regarding the imperative of higher education (Matt.28:18; Col.3:17). Are we not becoming like Israel of old when they cried out, "Give us a king to judge us like all the nations" (1 Sam.8:5-6)? Our cry seems to be: "give us a preacher to preach for us like all the denominations."

     Luke records, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13). The preaching of Peter and John was being observed by the Sanhedrin. One by one they became aware of the fact that these men had been with Jesus. Peter and John spoke without any attempt to conceal or disguise what they really believed. They spoke with courage and conviction. One of the things that was evident in Peter and John was that they were uneducated and untrained men. The Apostles had not attended the schools of the rabbis. Therefore, they were considered untrained for public speaking. I might also add that the Lord, Himself, would have been regarded as "uneducated" by the standards of His day, for He too did not attend any special school. According to the qualifications of many of my brethren, neither the apostles nor the Son of God would be qualified to preach in the assembly where they attend. The educated men of Jesus' day were amazed at the apostles who had not been educated in the schools of their day and, yet, were able to handle themselves very well in public discourses. The reason for this and their boldness was Jesus, for it was "with Jesus" that the apostles received their education. The apostles had attended the school of Jesus for more than three years. They studied night and day, plus, all twelve months of the year. If the actual hours of study could be known, I believe we would find that the apostles had more hours of training under the greatest Teacher of all times, than the required hours for the average college degree of men coming out of seminaries today.

     Many preachers are self-taught, that is, they have never been to college, but have been willing to spend many hours at the feet of older and more experienced preachers to help them. This does not mean that they are not capable of preaching the truth, does it? If this is true, then what about the apostles, or even Christ? Does one have to go to college to become a Christian, or to fulfill the "Great Commission?" In Acts 8:4, I read where the Christians "went everywhere preaching the word." Were they qualified to do so? Did they have their degrees from their respective colleges of the day? If not, why? The Bible was written so that the common man, not just the highly educated could understand it. Therefore, the common man can study, become a Christian, and go forth and do what God would have him to do - preach the word!

     Let's notice what some scholars have said. J. W. McGarvey wrote, "it was the self taught men who were the pioneers of the Restoration", and many of them were still the most powerful and successful preachers of that day. Strangely, the "successful evangelists" of his day "were really all men of this class, while the educated preachers were often found very quietly passing away their lives in the dull routine of weekly sermons and very weakly congregations." McGarvey went on to say, "It is not education which renders preachers inefficient; but the want of education. What education they have is not of the right kind, or it lacks some of the elements of a proper ministerial education." "We must never lose sight of the fact . . . that a knowledge of the English Scriptures alone is sufficient education to make a most efficient ministry, and that we are dependent upon men of this degree of education for . . . the greater number of our active proclaimers." Moses Lard declared, "Speak gently of him who toils through life with his one talent doing his Master's will. Do not be critical of the brother who has limited talents." "Let every man work in his sphere and each one up to the measure of his ability. We want the gospel preached by every rank of men, by him who has one talent, by him who has ten . . . ."

     So we see, that it is not whether our preachers should be educated, but what kind of education they should have. A preacher should be educated in the Holy Scriptures just as the apostle Paul educated young Timothy and Titus, and then sent them forth to preach and teach the gospel. If it was good enough for Timothy, Titus, and the Churches of the first century, then it ought to be good enough for those who preach, and those who HUMBLY sit at their feet and listen. This is New Testament Christianity in simplicity and in practice, just the way God designed it. Now, we ought to know what happens when we stray away from how God designed a thing. We fall away, and become like all those around us. A higher education can be helpful or harmful, depending on how we view it and use it, but is not the necessary or imperative education for a gospel preacher. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:16-17). Think about it.

by John Henry

Back to the Top | Back Home