Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moody's Bible Institute Model or Spurgeon's Bible College Model?

     In my mind at least there is a difference between Bible colleges and Christian colleges. Perhaps it is an artificial distinction that is not real, but in my thinking I have understood Christian colleges to be primarily colleges that sought to provide a college education to Christian students using a distinctively Christian curriculum. Many Bible colleges which were founded for the purpose of training men for the gospel ministry have changed over the years and became Christian liberal arts colleges. Few are aware of the University of Southern California's founding as a Methodist seminary, since it is now famous as a large Los Angeles university known primarily as a football factory. Two Christian colleges near my home merged years ago and with a dramatic infusion of money have transformed Azusa Pacific University into a large and academically rigorous school of higher education. That trend is not unusual as Christian colleges go. Liberty University was initially a small Bible college that became a Christian college and then a large Christian University. Bob Jones University began as a small interdenominational Bible college, changed into a Christian college and is now a Christian university.
     My present musing is not about Christian colleges that seek to educate Christian young people in a Christian atmosphere using Christian curricula. My musing is about Bible colleges that were formed (purportedly) to train Christian young people for the gospel ministry as pastors, pastors wives, missionaries, Christian educators,etc. In the United States the Bible colleges I am somewhat familiar with seem to have adopted the Dwight L. Moody model. In London in the second half of the 19th century was Charles Spurgeon's college. Though not formally educated, no one familiar with Charles H. Spurgeon would deny that while he entered the ministry without formal education, he was very well educated informally. Such was not the case with D. L. Moody. Their schools reflect their founders. Unfortunately, most Bible colleges of the Baptist stripe in the USA were founded using a modified Moody template, not a Spurgeon template.
     My familiarity with Spurgeon's college comes primarily from Tom Nettle's recent book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published by Christian Focus Publications. It is a very good read. Following are excerpts in connect with Spurgeon's college written by Nettles, as well as quotes of Mr. Spurgeon:

"God needs not our education but even less our ignorance." - Nettles, page 356.

"Spurgeon never rejected a student on account of meagerness in education or culture as long as he was convinced that the student's call was from God and his zeal deeply ingrained." - Nettles, page 358

"Approving the fitness of the applicants too some weeks, and in order to make the August start date, the applications need to be prompt." - Nettles, page 358.

"Only devout, hardworking, studious, holy men need apply. A life of toil and probable poverty lies before them; and if they are not called of God to the work, woe to them. Whoever is truly called, we shall be glad to take as Aquila did Apollos, and show him the way of God more perfectly." CHS, page 358.

Concerning the curriculum at Spurgeon's college, "The subjects included English language, Mathematics, Logic, and Natural Philosophy, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Biblical Literature, Systematic Theology and Homiletics." - Nettles, page 361.

"Applicants must be preachers of some experience and ability, sound in the faith, and earnest in soul, or we cannot receive them." - CHS, page 362.

"When they came, they must have gifts and experience that no education could provide; their first study would be in Bible, doctrine and homiletics that would help them sustain a lifelong ministry or the Word; if they could stay longer they would receive instruction that would help them adjust more readily to a wider variety of cultural settings for effective ministry." - Nettles, page 362.

"One might be faithful, eager to learn, submissive to authority, and a marvelous student of the classroom and colleague of fellow disciples. But the lack of ability to teach often proved an embarrassment to these othe fine qualities. Spurgeon had observed the sad event and had lamented the loss in the investment of tiem and energy on the part of tutor and students." - Nettles, page 367.

"The truth is in them, but they cannot either get it out of themselves or get it into others. In all probability the persons to be taught could give no reason for their aversion; but the aversion is plain enough; the brother has no winsome ways, he has something forbidding in his countenance, or his tones, or his general style; one could hardly light on the exact point of disqualification; but the fact is clear, the man cannot teach, for nobody will learn of him. Matter of temple, heart, and spirit, and even of mannerism,in some secret manner impress common folk for or against a person who aims to be their teacher; and it is of no use arguing against that impression, for it will not be removed by argument." - CHS, page 367.

Quoting Spurgeon, Nettles notes, "The one demand of every candidate for acceptance is clear evidence that 'he has been called of Christ, and endowed by Him with natural and spiritual gifts for effectively preaching the Word, as pastor, or evangelist, or missionary.'" - Nettles, page 369.

     It is quite evident to anyone in the gospel ministry among the independent Baptists who is somewhat familiar with Baptist Bible colleges in the USA that were founded to train men and women for the ministry that the Spurgeon college model has not been adhered to. For one thing, Spurgeon sought to train men only and preachers only, something which no Baptist Bible college I am familiar with limits itself to. For another thing, Spurgeon would expel (is that too harsh a term for it) a student who demonstrated over time while enrolled in the college that he was not called or not suited by ability to teach and preach God's Word. I know of no school in the USA willing to do that, likely because on one hand pastors and churches supporting the Bible college would not permit it ("How dare you tell my church kid he is unqualified!"), or because of my previous musing regretfully recognizing that most Bible colleges are caught up in a numbers game.
     I know very good men associated with Bible colleges, men of integrity, men of conviction, men of faithfulness, men who have born much fruit in their lives of service to the cause of Christ. I count them as my much admired friends. However, I have always wondered why those who founded Bible colleges (back in the day when they were founded to train servants of God to reach the world for Christ and not as a device for obtaining a free labor pool from smaller churches) adopted the Moody template rather than the Spurgeon template. Would it have made a difference? We will never know.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bible college?

     I find Tom Nettles' newest book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an interesting and challenging read. In my opinion it is the best of the Spurgeon biographies.
     In the portion of the book that deals with Spurgeon's college is found this paragraph on page 356: "The depth of his conviction that no human agency can call, set aside, and endow a minister of the gospel overflowed in one intense and extended sentence. 'Both those who usurp the Spirit's office and send, and those who admit to the imposture and are sent, may think themselves mercifully favoured that they escape the immediate judgment of God; but they may be assured, beyond all hope, that no power of a divine kind ever will or can rest upon the ministrations thus inaugurated, for God will not own the messenger of men, nor set his seal to a commission which did not originally emanate from his throne.' The surplice may fall on uncalled shoulders, but not the prophetic mantle." This started me thinking.
     Do we see in Christendom in our day those who usurp the Spirit's office and send, and those who admit to the imposture and are sent without a divine call to the gospel ministry? Nettles' final sentence following his quote of Spurgeon is, "The surplice may fall on uncalled shoulders, but not the prophetic mantle." A surplice is a garment worn by Roman Catholic and Anglican priests while conducting the Mass. Nettles is suggesting that someone not called by God to the ministry may end up wearing priest's garb while performing his religious duties, but that does not mean he wears the [spiritual] mantle of a prophet; he will never be a God-called preacher.
     I think we do see in Christendom these days what Spurgeon saw in his day, those who usurp the Spirit's office and send uncalled men into the gospel ministry. The mechanism is different in our day than it was in Spurgeon's day, but it happens nevertheless. In Spurgeon's England it occurred when an infidel attending Oxford or Cambridge chose the path to the priesthood in the Church of England that guaranteed a lifelong income without any particular need to perform more than routine religious duties. It was just this type of priest that George Whitefield and John Wesley railed against almost every time they preached outdoors to the assembled multitudes. It was this type of priest Gilbert Tennant wrote against in his published sermon whose title I will shorten, "The Dangers Of An Unconverted Clergy," that so well prepared New England for the ministry of Jonathan Edwards and the arrival of George Whitefield. However, in our day the path of the uncalled to the gospel ministry, especially among independent Baptists, is somewhat different than in 18th and 19th century England.
     Imagine several cases of individuals that I will consider in turn, the pastor's kid who goes off to Bible college and majors in music, the pastor's kid who goes off to Bible college and majors in youth ministry, and the church kid whose dad is not a pastor and who goes off to Bible college. Such a youngster would go to camp every summer. Why? Because that's what churches with youth groups do. So, what happens when a hundred kids are at camp each summer and most of them made professions of faith the year before or two years before? The role of the camp speaker is not to preach the gospel, not really, since most of the kids at camp are all saved (he thinks). Therefore, his thrust can be summed up in two goals; to get a kid to rededicate his life and go forward at invitation time, shedding tears for his past sins, and asking for forgiveness as a commitment to doing better in the future, and also to obtain a commitment from the kid (especially if he or she is a high school junior or recently graduated senior with no fixed academic goals) to go to the Bible college favored and endorsed by the pastor . . . for at least one year.
     The three different categories I have mentioned are encouraged by their parents, by their pastors, by the Bible college's recruiters, and by camp evangelists to enroll and attend the Bible college. I know of one Bible college here in California that used to use female students to call prospective males still in high school, luring them to Bible college with the suggestion that they would be friends if only he would enroll. I hope they have forsaken such means to grow their school. What hormone-charged teenage boy would not enthusiastically to such a "spiritual" motivation? The student ends up enrolling in Bible college and provides only the most perfunctory testimony of salvation to gain admittance, goes through Bible college (not knowing what else to do even though his original design was to attend for only one year), and then ends up after graduating working for a church as an associate pastor, or as a music director (they call them worship pastors these days), or as a youth pastor. Some graduates occupy all three positions in their first positions out of Bible college.
     At some point he marries. At some point his wife delivers their first child, and he is given a raise. However, when the second child comes along the pastor (likely as not daddy if he is a preacher's kid) provides no additional raises because the church cannot afford it. Therefore, because he simply has to make more money to support his growing family, the associate pastor, the worship leader, the youth pastor, must secure his own pastorate to make enough money to live on. The real problem, of course, is that not only is he not really called to the ministry (remember, he was talked into Bible college by pastor/dad, by the evangelist, and by that sexy girl who called him on the phone indicating they could be friends if he enrolled - he never did find out who she was), but he is not genuinely saved! Thus, his approach to the associate pastorate is mechanical and fleshly, his approach to music is not ministry but to overestimate the benefit of emotionally moving audiences, and his real philosophy of youth ministry is pizza and Pepsi, funny jokes, and pranks that lead into sad and tearful stories and end in prayers of recommitment. Thus, it is no wonder that his arrival to the pastorate is the beginning of a shallow and church growth philosophy approach that is more concerned with manipulating crowds than seeing individuals coming to embrace the Savior.
     Of course, if he is not a pastor's kid the story has a somewhat different ending. He may not even finish Bible college. Or he may finish Bible college but spend only a short time attempting to function in the gospel ministry. The real problem is that if he is converted he may still not be called to the gospel ministry and is inherently honest enough that he just can't live a lie. So, he goes looking for a "secular job" to support himself, and may be one of many who continues to live in Mecca (the town where the Bible college is located) and attend the church he was involved in while in Bible college. He will become one of those guys who is not a God-called preacher but is married to a young wife whose heart was set on a life in the ministry here in the USA or on the mission field, forever feeling like is he somehow a disappointment to his wife. He attends church faithfully, serves in some capacity, uses some of the training in his church that he learned in Bible college, though he will likely always feel he is a second class Christian citizen because he somehow let his parents down, let his wife down, let his former pastor down, and let his school and current pastor down.
     What he never quite figures out is that his former pastor always knew how it would turn out for the kid whose dad was not a missionary or a pastor. Churches these days lose such a high percentage of teenagers who eventually drop out of church to never return that pastors prefer for that tragedy to occur somewhere other than their church being the exit portal out of Christianity. That is the real reason they want all of the church's kids to end up in Bible college elsewhere, so that when the expected dropout does occur it will take place somewhere else and neither the pastor nor the parents will have to face the blame for their role in what happens. Bible colleges are okay with all this because they too know most of their incoming students will drop out, but they need warm bodies if even only for a year or two. The truth is that training for the ministry today is nothing like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton used to be when huge percentages of enrollees graduated and spent their entire lives in the gospel ministry (and not as youth directors or so-called worship leaders either). And the big church with the Bible college, or the big churches in the same town as the Bible college, are engaged in a quiet conspiracy to take those kids in with the full understanding that while most will drop out of Bible college or graduate but never enter the ministry, a high enough percentage of them will hang around after the inevitable occurs that those churches end up growing numerically as a result of their participation in the wicked conspiracy.
     Spurgeon's approach was radically different. There were real obstacles to overcome to gain entrance to his school. You actually had to convince him you were converted. You then had to convince him you were called. You then had to do the academic work or you would be flunked out, something almost no independent Baptist Bible college actually does these days. As well, Spurgeon did not provide fluff training in the form of song leaders disguised as worship pastors, or pizza and Pepsi party guys disguised as youth ministers, which two supposed local church jobs have no authorization I have ever found in the New Testament as paid staff positions.
     I have been in the ministry since 1975. I have the privilege of serving Christian men and women who were caught up in the Bible college meat grinder, who are wonderful church members who in some cases needed a great supply of God's grace to deal with disappointment and possibly even guilt associated with what they at one time felt was failure on their part for having failed. Only they did not fail. They were taken advantage of by cynical pastors, thoughtless evangelists, and Bible colleges caught up in a must succeed by whatever means and at whatever the cost mindset. Gone is the day when it can be assumed Bible colleges exist for the purpose of training men and women for the gospel ministry, not since recruiters have existed, and not since youngsters have been encouraged to attend for only one year. We are now in an era in which many Bible colleges have been seen as useful only for adding numbers and unpaid workers to the church or churches most closely associated with the Bible college, literally sucking the young people out of medium and small-size churches to contribute to the growth of large churches. How is this not parasitism?
     Are all Bible colleges bad? Certainly not. However, it would serve the cause of Christ well to take a careful look at what really takes place in connection with each Bible college. There are lives at stake, and the cause of Christ to be advanced by spiritual means and not carnal means.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


     I can think of no Christian who denies God's right to be worshiped as He prescribes in His Word.  What most Christians disagree about is related to a failure at some level to consider that God might actually regulate His worship by His people in scripture, or to varying amounts of spiritual illumination related to the meaning and application of passages with respect to worship.  For example:  I have heard it said by men who occupy positions in churches labeled "worship pastor" that dancing is entirely appropriate when worshiping God, citing the passage that records David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, Second Samuel 6.16.  However, David was leading a procession while leaping and dancing, and was not then actually engaged in prescribed worship.  Thus, it is mistaken to suggest that because David danced before the Ark of the Covenant in a procession there is a place for dancing in Christian worship in the assembly.
     Granted, there are times when congregations gather for reasons other than worship.  Sometimes we gather for fellowship, such as when the church's anniversary is celebrated.  At other times we gather for purely evangelistic endeavors, to present to the lost the unsearchable riches of Christ, such as when there is an evangelistic crusade (unfortunately referred to by too many as a "revival."  These types of gatherings recognized as occurring, it must be admitted that the most important of the types of Christian assemblies are the gatherings for worship, even if the presence of the unsaved among us when so doing is a distinct possibility, First Corinthians 14.
     When we are worshiping God, what are some of the guidelines for decorum and propriety?  We have already seen guidance provided in scripture for the proper use of the word "amen" by God's people during worship, as a means whereby the saints can participate in the preaching without interrupting but having the effect of reinforcing and agreeing with what is declared.  However, there is an increasing tendency in congregations to exhibit a response that seems to have had its origin outside Christianity, in the theater and as a means of expressing approval for a performance.  I refer of course to clapping.  We see it after a singer completes a song.  We see it following a dramatic performance.  It has even found its way into Christian assemblies as a means of expressing approval and agreement.  However, is clapping appropriate in worship?
     Pastors will sometimes apologize for their people when clapping interrupts a sermon (saying "Amen" never interrupts a sermon) by suggesting, "That's just our way of doing it."  However, is that explanation appropriate in light of God's Word?  I suggest that we consider every verse in God's Word in which reference is made to clapping to find the answer to that question.

Job 27:23 "Men shall clap their hands at him, and shall hiss him out of his place."

caphaq - Also found in First Kings 20.10 and Isaiah 2.6, this is a gesture of mocking.[1]  Therefore, this could not be an example in God's Word to justify clapping during worship.

Psalm 47:1 "<> O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph."

taqa` - Found more than sixty times in the Hebrew scriptures, the word refers to thrusting (such as a weapon), driving (such as a tent peg), or clapping (such as one's hands in victory).[2]  Though the psalm exhorts the people to clap (and also to shout), it is presumptuous to think such was to be done during worship.  I am in agreement with Mr. Spurgeon that the occasion of the psalm was the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededom to Mount Zion or some other notable victory.[3]

Psalm 98:8 "Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together"

macha' - This word is found in only two other verses, Isaiah 55.12 and Ezekiel 25.6. That this is poetry of such a type as to have no bearing on worship is obvious.

Isaiah 55:12 "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

The same word used in the same way as in Psalm 98.8, this verse has no bearing on worship as it is used in this verse about trees of the field clapping their hands.

Lamentations 2:15 "All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?"

This is the same Hebrew word that we looked at in Job 27.23, found in a total of ten Old Testament verses.  Here we see predicted the Gentiles passing by the defeated Jewish people, clapping their hands at them, hissing and wagging their heads at them, and making snide comments about Jerusalem.  This is not clapping during worship.

Nahum 3:19 "There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?"

Using the same word found in Psalm 47.1 to describe the victory celebration of the Jewish people, the word is found here to describe the celebration by Nineveh's enemies as they celebrate the destruction of the city in fulfillment of Nahum's prediction.

     "Because worship is an inherent, inborn characteristic of man, God prescribes the way we should worship. . . God not only prescribes whom we should worship (himself) but also how we should worship."[4]  "E. C. Dargan observed that the English word 'worship' is simply a contraction for 'worthship' and denotes the giving of suitable honor to whom it is due."[5]
     Is it unreasonable for Christians committed to honoring God in worship to engage in a style of worship that is informed by God's Word?  Hardly.  Therefore, the propriety of clapping in worship, while not expressly forbidden in God's Word, is never encouraged as a practice during worship.  The reasons are obvious:  First, clapping is not worshipful.  It is celebratory and exaltational.  It is also a response that is not provoked by knowledge but by ignorance, not by spirituality but by worldliness, and it follows the example not of God's Word and God's people but of the entertainment industry and their followers.  Understand that I am not suggesting a powerful political speech or wonderful dramatic performance not be met with a great round of applause at the end.  However, I speak to the matter of worship and not performance.  Second, clapping is defined as "to show pleasure at or approval of by clapping the hands."[6] However, is this not what saying amen is supposed to accomplish, at least in part?  Therefore, why would someone substitute clapping for saying amen when saying amen is the God-ordained expression of approval, pleasure, or agreement?  Finally, clapping interrupts in a way that saying amen does not.  Speakers cannot continue to speak when an audience or a congregation is clapping, thereby interrupting the flow of thought.  However, when a preacher is exercising spiritual leadership is it appropriate for the congregation (which is supposed to be following his leadership) to dictate when he is to stop speaking?  No.  Yet this is done when clapping in a way that saying amen never does.
     What should a pastor do whose people already clap to show approval or agreement?  I would suggest great caution and slowness to change.  This is because individual believers usually have more immediate and pressing concerns than whether or not to clap while worshiping.  However, Christian worship is profoundly important and is rightly ordered by God's Word.  Therefore, I would suggest the pastor stop clapping if he was once in the habit of clapping.  Then, and very gradually over time, I would suggest the pastor begin to encroach on those few seconds of pause that allow for clapping, slowly crowding out clapping each time it occurs within the congregation.  If this is done while teaching and encouraging the people to participate in worship in a scriptural manner, by saying amen when appropriate, the congregation can then be oh so gradually weaned from inappropriate and brought to appropriate expressions of agreement, approval, and celebration in corporate worship.


[1]  See footnote for Job 27.23 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 724.
[2]  Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 1075.
[3]  Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume I, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), page 352.
[4]  Ernest C. Reisinger & D. Matthew Allen, Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation, (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2001), page 15.
[5]  Cited in Reisinger & Allen, page 16.
[6]  Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 333.