Many young Christians imagine a conflict between spiritual values and scholastic standings. They wonder whether or not human achievement is detrimental to divine approval; whether or not present education is a deterrent to future approbation. This conflict revolves around three considerations. First, does academic training hinder a Christian in the development of his spiritual life? Second, does a high degree of spirituality require that he renounce forever a formal education? Third, is it possible for a Christian to enjoy the benefits of an education and yet to retain intimate fellowship with God?
Having stated the problem, it is proper at the beginning of this enquiry that the writer state his firm conviction, an education is not a hindrance to godliness; in fact, it is possible for a Christian to pursue special training and at the same time to deepen his communion with the Lord and His people.
While it is true that the direct results of academic work are only reaped in this life, and the compensations of living for the Lord are enjoyed throughout the future, it is equally true that proper systematic learning, even in secular subjects, better equips one for the holy service of the Lord Jesus. It can also, if properly used, stabilize convictions and deepen faith in God.
The Marks of Education
The marks of education are not those of personal pride, of assumed wisdom, of ignorant dogmatism, or of objectionable arrogance. The indications of mental development are seen in a gracious humility, a clear realization of personal limitations, a willingness to learn, and a patient tolerance toward others.
A servant of Christ arriving in a midwestern city for a special ministry meeting was met by two brethren from the local congregation of the saints. Academically speaking these two brethren were very far apart, the one was the professor of mathematics in the State University, the other had not more than finished common grammar school. The fellowship enjoyed between these two brethren was admirable. The doctor of science appreciated his brother because of his deep spirituality and successful service for the Lord; the unlettered brother esteemed most highly his erudite yet spiritual friend. The doctor’s attitude was the product of much training and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The preaching brother’s attitude was the result of many experiences in life and in the school of God. The happy dinner-hour spent with these two brethren is recalled with much pleasure and satisfaction.
The Means of Education
There are different methods by which one may acquire a liberal education. Someone has said that to know the Bible is to be well educated. There is a measure of truth in that statement, if the full import of the remark is understood. A relative statement made by another calls the Bible the true university. A good knowledge of the Bible embraces a certain knowledge of many of the natural sciences, an understanding of the principles of logic, and a development of true philosophy. One can broaden his general knowledge by a diligent application to the study of the Holy Scriptures. There are many who have greatly increased their learning in this very way.
Of course the usual manner of gaining an education is to attend a recognized collegiate, college, university, technical institution or nursing school where teaching is in accord with an established curriculum. When it is possible to do so, this is the easiest, and at times the quickest method.
In speaking of learning, we must not ignore self-education. There are many who, although they never attended college, bear the marks of scholarship. They have read many books, studied deeply the subjects which they either needed or appreciated. Others have been tutored through correspondence courses. These means coupled with the experiences of life contribute much to erudition.
No man living ever has obtained a perfect education. The very fact that men have to specialize in certain subjects is a proof that the capacities of even the greatest minds are limited. Man is ever learning, but never reaching the full knowledge of the truth.
The Blessing of Education
A Christian professor of mathematics associated with a large research enterprise was asked by some friends what he actually did in his work. “Well,” said the mathematician, “I just make myself available.” His somewhat evasive reply intimated that he was ready to serve others. This apparently is the attitude of the highly educated man. There are numberless examples of this in the Bible.
It is interesting to notice that the two most extensive writers in the Bible were scholastic men, Moses and Paul. It has been suggested by some that before God could use Moses he had to lead him into the wilderness in order that he forget all he had learned in Egypt, and that God sent Saul into Arabia to unlearn the teaching of Gamaliel. Such statements are both fanciful and exaggerative, and quite unfounded as far as the factual records are concerned. Moses never forgot court etiquette, thus he was capable to deal with Pharoah. Saul never forgot his schooling; consequently, he was able to address the philosophers of Mars’ Hill.
To these illustrious scholars might be added the names of others, names like that of Daniel, the Prime Minister; Nicodemus, the religious political leader; Luke, the physician; and Zenas, the lawyer.
Through a number of these well trained men who made themselves available to the Holy Spirit of God, the Lord has given us much of the Bible.
The Dangers of Education
One of the best educated men in the primitive Church, the Apostle Paul, wrote, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (1 Cor. 8:1). Here is a grave peril, one to be strictly avoided. There is nothing more disgusting than a proud display of superior knowledge. Knowledge must be used with wisdom, and must be made the servant of prudence. Knowledge, generally speaking, produces effects in the extremes. It makes one either humble, for it teaches him how limited human mental capacity is; or it makes one proud, for it increases self-importance. All should remember the verse that follows the one quoted, “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
There is the danger of education impairing faith. Acquired knowledge either leads us to God in perfect confidence or it directs us away from Him in unbelief.
A Christian studying dentistry encountered many difficulties. Lectures in biology and kindred subjects seemed to shake his faith in the Bible. One evening when he was feeling quite disturbed, he decided to discuss the matter with a Christian physician.
“When you were studying ancient history,” asked the doctor, “did you learn anything about Greek mythology?” “Oh! yes, certainly,” replied the young man. “Did you have to answer any questions on an examination relative to that subject?” again asked the doctor. Did you believe in the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, or did you accept that part of your schooling only as something your lecturer wanted you to know?” “I never believed that those gods and goddesses existed, but merely learned about them because it seemed that we should know the religious beliefs and practices of past centuries.”
“Well,” said the kind physician, “there are other subjects you must treat similarly. It is nice to know what others are thinking, but it is not necessary that you accept as inerrant truth everything that others think and speak.”
Everyone must learn to differentiate between a philosophy and a science, between a hypothesis and a fact. Truth can always endure investigation for it remains absolute, but under investigation many theories disappear; they are discovered to be false.
The Consecration of Education
From earliest times there have been men who have consecrated to the Lord all that they possessed in regard to both natural and acquired talents.
Men like J. N. Darby, William Kelly, F. W. Grant, W. E. Vine, C. F. Hogg, and many others have sanctified their advanced training to the study of the Holy Scriptures. Through it they have explored the Word of God, translated it, expounded and explained it in a measure impossible to the untrained mind.
Godly medical men have renounced forever a lucrative position in the home-land, and because of their years of specialized training in medicine and surgery, have reached thousands with the gospel as they have ministered to their bodily needs. The medical missionary it to be respected not only for his education but for his spirituality that led him to sacrifice his all for the Lord Jesus.
What has been said about the medical doctor can also be said about nurses and school teachers who have offered themselves, their ability, and their training to the work of the Lord.
We must not think that education is useful only on the foreign mission field. There are many educated men who while serving commerce and industry are a great blessing to the Church of God, and to the assemblies of God’s people.
Education when once acquired may be placed upon the altar for Christ and there, offered, under His Lordship, can become a great blessing to many.
S. O. M.