Many of the mightiest servants of the Lord have been men with no, or very little, formal education, such as C. H. Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, H. A. Ironside etc. etc. In this connection I came across an interesting item by a John Burton, a contemporary of John Bunyan who wrote even prior to Bunyan’s world-famous Pilgrim’s Progress as follows:
“This man is not chosen out of an earthly but out of the heavenly university, the Church of Christ, therefore receive this word, not as the word of man, but as the word of God … and be not offended because Christ holds forth the glorious treasure of the gospel to thee in a poor earthen vessel, by one who hath neither the greatness nor the wisdom of this world to commend him to thee … through grace he hath received the teaching of God and the learning of the Spirit of Christ, which is the thing that makes the man both a Christian and a minister of the gospel … He hath, through grace, taken these three heavenly degrees to wit: union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit, and the experience of the temptations of Satan, which do more to fit a man for that mighty work of preaching the gospel than all the university learning and degrees that may be had.” I say “Amen,” to this with all my heart. And don’t forget that John Bunyan’s writings have been read more than any other books in the world!
Paul tells us that he preached not with wisdom of words, lest (notice this) the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. “Not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). Listen to the simple language Paul uses: “For by grace are ye saved, through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast.” Or our Saviour’s 16 monosyllables in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That kind of language does not suit the highbrow; it is too understandable.
Some will tell us we need to meet the intellectual on his own ground (too low a level for me), and be able to meet and confute his arguments and thus win him to Christ. I fail to find that conception in the Scriptures. We don’t need to sample all the poisons in order to warn people against them. All we need to do is to preach the truth; we need to know God’s Word and that by itself crushes every false theory.
The Lord did not use His vast knowledge to refute His enemies. They wanted to know “how can?”: He answered them by telling them “Who can,” I don’t think our Lord explained the truth to unbelievers; He told them and then explained it later, but only to His own. The believer alone can understand because faith leads to understanding.
It has also been suggested that, while it is true that any believer, by the power of the Spirit can understand and appreciate God’s Word, it calls for education and higher ability to make it known intelligently.
That idea too, I believe the Scriptures fail to support. The disciples of the Lord were not formally educated men, but they spoke with power for two reasons: 1. They were saved men; 2, they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The same two things are true of every believer, giving each saint the same ability to be a vital and capable minister of the Word. Our solution for whatever lack there may be in our assembly life is not found in a seminary or university education, but in two things, open to every believer: 1. To a walk with God, as the twelve walked with Jesus, learning of Him, the best teacher in the universe; 2. In a real purpose of heart to want to be used of the Lord for His glory and the blessing of souls. The thing to exercise every saint of God is the fact that while every believer has full capacity to understand and to minister the Word, he is so slack and indifferent in the use of his God-given gift. To everyone of us is given a measure of the gift of Christ. No amount of seminary training can make a student a student or fit one far the ministry of the Word in any manner; and no lack of such training can hinder a student from being a student. Everybody knows that many students leave college knowing very little more than when they entered, while many who never saw the inside of one have been highly gifted because they have spent the midnight oil studying the Word, have walked in communion with their Lord, and have in humility of mind longed to magnify Christ while obliterating themselves that Jesus might be seen.
It is an excellent thing for a young brother to learn as he serves, and specially to learn as he walks with fellow-saints. Young men need the care, help, guidance, and often rebuke of older brethren; there is no real substitute for this. It is the way our blessed Lord trained His disciples and fitted them. He called them that “they might be with Him,” and that He might send them forth to preach. Their moral character needed development as well as their mental powers. Note how often our Lord had to correct them, specially on the subject of their great need of humility. Going to a seminary does not produce humility, in my observation. Much more might be said on this subject. I pray that every believer, specially those still young in years, may realize his responsibility to witness for Christ; and that those without any formal education to speak of, may realize that power and devotion for Christian service are found in Christ; and nowhere else.