And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. – Luke 2:52 ESV
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:3-11 ESV
Education can be an intimidating word for many of us. Some of us feel limited academically and choose to stay close to what we are most familiar when discussing opinions (ex. Politics, Football, Survivor and American Idol…). Others (and I would include myself in this group) have spent quite a few years in school and still have nightmares about showing up to finals in college physics – completely unprepared and unable to even understand the questions on the test, let alone answer them. There may even be some of you who very much value education and simply wish you had the time or money to pursue more of it. Regardless of where you fit into the spectrum, mentioning the word “education” often has the effect of isolating us from one another as we mentally divide one another into those that have it, those that don’t – those that need it, and those we think could not handle it.
In Church, in Koinonia however, we have a command to be educated in the worship and way of God. Many, many institutions of Christian education point out the Scripture Luke 2:52 as an example of Jesus becoming educated himself as He grew from childhood to adulthood. They point out that, because Jesus did it, therefore we should as well. However, it can be dangerous to simply turn Jesus’ example into a direct command in our lives. For instance, Jesus spent his last few years homeless… should we all therefore give up our homes and wander from town to town? Jesus never married… should we all be single? No, Luke 2:52 does not translate well into a command in our lives, but it can stand for a commendation for education. In other words, Education generally is a good thing.
Part of the reason institutions of religious education feel the need to defend education of the Church, is that, for many years there has been a suspicion that the more a person was educated, the less faith they had. This fear has been reinforced over the years by young people who have been raised in Christian families with traditional Christian values who go away to college and several years later renounce their faith in Christianity because of what they learned, because of questions that were raised for them in college. Thus arose the need for “Christian” colleges – places of education that emphasized Scriptural truths and taught their students to combat the questions raised by “secular” educational institutions. The result is a war for truth between colleges, which is ironic because most of the large “secular” universities started out as Christian universities – often for training pastors.
There are distinctions in churches as well, regarding the value of education. Most churches would prefer to have pastors, teachers, and other leaders whom they consider intelligent and knowledgeable – particularly regarding God and the Scriptures, but many have preferences as to what kind of education they want them to have: Catholic, Protestant, Liberal, Conservative, etc. In other words, they have an idea of what the answers to their questions are and they want to be sure their leaders stay in line with those answers. Certainly there is room for opinion and flexibility in most cases, but there are usually set boundaries as well. If this seems a bit too complicated and a bit overwhelming, don’t worry, you are in good company. The Early Church for instance had nearly as many different types of leaders as we do today. They had Peter and John, who were described as illiterate, and yet who brought thousands to Christ, wrote parts of the New Testament, and they are traditionally viewed as the top of the church leadership ladder, just under Jesus Himself. However there was also Paul, who had something like a law and theology degree by today’s standards. Paul himself started or brought important teaching and leadership to many of the churches in the first century and he wrote more of the New Testament than any other individual and more than Peter and John combined. So which is better leadership: the educated or those who have to rely more on their faith and the power of the Spirit? The Early Church and particularly the churches in Corinth argued about this quite a bit so that Paul had to remind them that they were losing sight of the big picture: namely that Jesus Christ was the head of the Church – not Peter, Paul, Mary, John, or anyone else.
Looking across the scriptural canon, I believe we are first commanded to be good stewards of the gifts we have been given by God and the opportunities we have. While I do not believe more education automatically means you are a better Christian, squandering an opportunity for education will certainly not make you a better follower of Jesus. I really like what 2 Peter says about taking the faith you have and adding virtue, then adding knowledge to that, and then self-control… followed by steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and finally culminating in love. In other words, our spiritual growth begins in faith and ends in love – neither of which absolutely require a special degree in education, but knowledge is a part of that process – in whatever form our knowledge of God is given to us. Peter and John for example got much of their education from apprenticing themselves to Jesus when He walked the earth. That is likely where they learned to preach, teach, pray, heal, and minister. Jesus was their model, He critiqued their work, and He encouraged them in their pursuit of God in their lives. Paul did not have the luxury of three years working beside Jesus, but He had 20 some years studying the history of God’s will and work in Creation with his own teachers. He also learned the culture and laws of Rome so that he was more prepared to bring the Gospel to those who did not grow up Jewish and to help interpret what aspects of Jewish culture were necessary to hold on to in Christianity, as well as which ones were better left behind.
So, education is important… how much or of what type you have is a bit more flexible. We need to first focus on what we have rather than concern ourselves overmuch about opportunities that we do not have at present. Secondly though, we need to teach what we do know. Jesus commands all of us, not just pastors, priests, or paid staff of churches to go and make disciples in the world. Making disciples involves teaching. It means more than that as well… it means praying for them, loving them, supporting them when they are in need… but it also means teaching them what you know about following Jesus. Perhaps you can’t quite figure out how to explain the significance of Song of Solomon in the Bible, or perhaps you are not well-versed in the history of God’s work in the church through the last two millennia… could you teach someone how to pray though? Could you teach someone what to do when the stress of the world seems overwhelming? Could you teach someone just a piece of how you know God loves you, and how you know God loves them as well? Those are essential pieces of Christian education that ought to be found, not only in every church in the world, but wherever you can find a Christian to pull aside and ask for direction. God does not ask us all to be bible scholars or graduate-level theologians. He asks us to be good stewards of the gifts and opportunities He has given us, and to share them – to share what we know, with the rest of the world that is dying to learn it.