Sunday, October 01, 2006

Priesthoold of All Believers and Theological Competency

My last post had stirred some kind of interest and it was linked on the more popular blogs. For that I am thankful to Dr. Jim West and Richard.

Thanks for the comment-post and the link to my blog. Now I’m pretty sure that there will be people who may visit my blog. I really appreciate it.

I would want to quote Richard's post here:
As I see it there are two issues thrown into the mix here:

1) The dominant strain of anti-intellectualism and its negative impact on the health (although not necessarily popularity) of Christian witness. I agree and I've not really got too much more to say.

2) What concerns me slightly is the tendency of those who recognise the above point to emphasise theology as an academic endeavour that is i fear counter-productive. I would make the following points:

i) A Seminary degree does not in itself solve the problem. I have gone to theological college (seminary equivalent) and can testify that "megachurch, prosperity-gospel preaching church" folks can attend with their views unchanged (they just happen to present a slightly more cogent form of the 'American-dream' gospel.

ii) Education costs money, or more specifically 'education costs disposable income'. This by its nature is something that excludes the poor who should according to Joey's citation of Liberation theology be accorded a preferential option in God's economy. Is a new wave of middle-class, relatively affluent, Church leaders really what the church needs today in their witness for social justice?

iii) The previous point leads into this one. The Baptist vision has historically affirmed a radically egalitarian view of the priesthood of all believer's. To quote Jim's phrase in his comment on the post. The idea of a leader being "one day behind the plow and the next day behind the pulpit" is the very strength of the movement. The man (and it usually was male) is one of us, understands the practical pressures of 'real life' rather than being ensconced in an ivory tower.

iv) The above points are not intended to dispute that theology is not crucial in the life of a Church. It has to be, theology as numerous theologians have attested is properly a function of the Church rather than the academy. My concern is twofold. One, the idea of sending someone of to 'minister training' only reinforces the notion that theology is something that should be done 'out there' aside the tendency to exclude economically disadvantaged individuals from the full range of ministries in the Church. Second, it absolves responsibility of churches, rather than just ministers of needing to be theologically aware. The idea of raising up leaders from within a Church's midst (rather posting a job vacancy) should be the norm for it encourages that baptist ideal of of the priesthood of all believers or perhaps even better 'the laicisation of all clergy!'
I agree with Richard in some of the issues he pointed out. First, I agree that treating theology as a pure academic endeavor is counter productive. The idea that theology can only be learned within the four walls of the classroom is definitely not a good one. I know Pastors who are not able to go to seminary but possess sound theological mind. It is a result of the combination of continuous reading good theological books, open mindedness, willingness to learn and extensive ministry experience. These pastors usually fare better than young newly graduate seminarians.

I also agree that a seminary or theological education is not an assurance that a person can attain theological knowledge or changed his theological views. Like you, I have seen people who have gone to the seminary but never changed their views (sometimes they got worse). However, I see this partially as a failure on the part of the seminary professors and the system of theological education in the Philippines. I might be wrong here but what else it could be? Nevertheless, I can prove to you that there were times that the system was better and the professors were good. And it is not a surprise that some of seminary students became theologians and a few are on the route. And it is primarily because we were fortunate enough to be mentored by capable professors under a better system.

And Richard hit it right on the head when he cites that money is one of the main reasons why church leaders don’t go to the seminary. In a third world country like the Philippines, theological education is not a luxury. Sometimes the pastor is so poor that he has to have other work to support his family, hence seminary education is not an option. I agree that the church does not need an educated, affluent, middle-class church leader to witness for social justice. But are we not committing gross injustice when we consent that poor churches be led by uneducated and incompetent church leaders? And mind you, I have seen a number of them in my country. Here I can deduce that theological education or the absence of it is not really the culprit. It is the attitude of the person. But is it possible that a good theological training might knock some sense to the person and eventually change his attitudes? My point is who will look after the church leaders who do not deserve to be in the position in the first place. I’m afraid, because of our view of the priesthood of all believers, nobody will.

I was actually thinking of this radical view when I wrote the post. I believe that the concept of priesthood of all believers does not give any individual the right to assume position of church leadership in spite of incompetence. Even Luther never understands this view merely in the sense of the Christian’s freedom to stand in direct relationship with God without human intermediary (but of course this is correct). The emphasis is the Christian’s authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and of the world. We cannot say “I am my own priest.” I am a priest to others as much as he is a priest to me (equal priesthood.) The universal priesthood expresses not individualism but the reality of the Christian as a community. It means we do not have the authority to assume a leadership position just because I happen to believe that I am a priest. Priesthood of all believers has more to do with serving other than with status or position. Nevertheless, I couldn’t agree more that it is ideal to raise leaders from within the church.


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George said...

I read your article and this is happening at ECBC. Unless our pastors or congregation understand that the greatest challenge of christianity is to continue to makin it relevant today and the future. Unfortunately, there is this misconception that an intellectual approach to Christianinty is a threat to the church and the ministry. They cannot understand that an intellectual apprehension of the gospel is just as valid as the emotional.Add to this the insecurity of p[astors that does not only have the heart for the ministry but for those who also do not have the intellect for it. This is the postmodern age and the situation differs yearly.

joey said...

i hate this to say this but most of the times in our denomination pastors become pastors because they failed to do other things successfully. The world will keep looking down at church its members and especially its leaders, when it seems that everybody can become a pastor.

Becoming a pastor is life commitment. It means sacrificing your time, money, strength, and intellect. It means one should be fully prepared and determined to do better for God's glory. If somebody wants to be a pastor, he should study, training in other aspects of leadership and interpersonal relationships and training that are necessary for pastoral skills. Lawyers spent 5 years or more in college, doctors 8 years or more. But...Pastors in the Philippines, it seems that education doesn't really matter. And i believe that pastors have higher calling than any other professions in the world.