What Good Is Seminary?

What good is seminary?

As a devout Christian, after graduating with my Master’s Degree in Christian Studies from a theological seminary (and by the grace of God with a 4.0 GPA), I feel I am adequately equipped to answer this question.

Some believe that seminary is where to go if one wants to become a “professional Christian”. They believe that to go to the next level of belief and faith in God, that one should go to theological seminary or to bible college. They believe that one cannot know all there is to know about God, the church, and the Holy Bible without going to seminary.

The university from which I matriculated had four levels of seminary. There was an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate program. Some might feel that until one attains the highest level of seminary that one is not a good enough, or well-equipped for ministry Christian. I will tell my opinion about that towards the end of this blog post after I tell a few benefits that come from attending seminary.

For starters, if you hope to be a bible teacher one day, it helps to be taught by others who have spent a lifetime of studying the Bible. Some people spend their entire adult life studying the Old Testament or the New Testament or even just one book of the Bible. Therefore, if you want to teach others about the Bible at your church, it would prove beneficial to be taught by this particular person.

Some people feel as if Bible study is unnecessary. They feel that the Holy Spirit Himself can teach them all they need to know about the Bible. That is true. The Holy Spirit can teach you whatever God wants you to know. But the reality is that because of our strong traditions that come from our church or denomination or family, we will always FILTER God’s truth through mankind’s teaching. And much of that teaching might be faulty. It is hard to drink purified water through a dirty glass. Sometimes, seminary can clean the glass so that you can rightfully receive what God is telling you about the Bible.

For example, many Christian partake of the Daniel Diet. This is the diet that we read about in the book of Daniel wherein Daniel only ate particular foods and did not eat the Babylonian food that was offered to him. Today, for ten days many Christians will refrain from eating meat and sweets as a way to get closer to God. BUT seminary can teach you that many of the foods we eat in America were not even around in Babylon, so if we were hoping to eat just like Daniel, then would not be doing exactly as he did. Also, Daniel’s purpose for eating those particular foods was not to get closer to God, but rather it was to avoid eating the unclean food being offered to him by the Babylonians. The Israelites only ate Kosher clean food, and because Daniel was a Hebrew, he could not in good conscience eat their food. And Daniel did not only eat the right food for 10 days as we do, but he ate that way his entire life. But because we are not Hebrews in Babylonian exile, we should not feel bad that we cannot do the Daniel Diet as Daniel did because we should only be trying to grasp the principle of the matter which is to hold fast to one’s convictions even under dire circumstances. These are things one might only learn in seminary. Do you see how your information determines your actions?

Another important function of seminary is when one is confronted with false doctrine. My seminary professor of Church History 1 taught us many of the false doctrines/heresies that were condemned in Councils by the Orthodox church in the first few centuries of church history. So when a friend invites me to their church or tries to convince me to believe in some false doctrine, I can automatically dismiss it because I know it as being closely related to a condemned teaching that has returned in the last one hundred years or so to deceive others. Theological seminary can be helpful in recognizing and rejecting false teaching.

I have also found theological seminary to be very helpful in me worshipping God in TRUTH. Believe it or not, but your theology will affect your praise and worship. For example, if you think of God as some cosmic Joe Jackson who is scrutinizing your performance waiting with a celestial whip with which to cast you into hell at the slightest mistake you make, it will greatly impact your relationship with Him. If you think of God as the deists who believe that God simply created all humanity and then left it alone to its own devices without any interference, then it will greatly impact your prayer life. But if you know God’s true character which is a Heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and who chastises those whom He loves as sons, then you will have a better relationship with Him and therefore worship Him in truth. Seminary has theology classes that teach you accurately about God and His nature.

One last thing I’ll mention about the importance of seminary is that it tells you not simply WHAT the Bible says but HOW to read the Bible. We know that many a cult is begun by one charismatic leader telling an ignorant congregation EXACTLY what to think and believe. But this is uncommon in seminary. I attended a seminary that had students and teachers of different denominational backgrounds, and we were not always told WHAT to believe, but we were told HOW to read the Bible. The problem with the 33,000 – 38,000 Christian denominations is that most of them attempt to tell their members WHAT to believe. And doubtless they are being told what to believe by one imperfect human being. So whatever that one imperfect person teaches them is now believed by them and taught to their children. If the originator of the teaching was wrong, then everyone who believes everything he says is wrong too. And that is how cults get started. For example, one might teach their congregation that women must wear stockings and closed-toe shoes. Even though this is not in the Bible, it will be passed down to all generations as the truth. However, it is not true, but merely tradition and preference. Seminary will help one to see whether or not a tradition is actually and accurately based on a Bible verse or principle.

The Bible tells us to RIGHTLY divide the word of truth. It does not tell us to blindly swallow whatever we are told. And seminary has taught me that. I have learned to prayerfully read the Scriptures with illumination from the Holy Spirit; I have long ago ceased to accept everything I am told even though I know the Bible says the opposite or otherwise. Seminary has not made me a better Christian or a more godly person, but it has cleared my mind of the traditions of men that are not rooted in the Bible so that I might be more clearly influenced by the truth of God. If nothing else, seminary can serve as type of detox for tradition clutter.

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Afraid to Take Communion After a Sinful Week?

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1 Corinthians 11:17 – But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not….27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself….33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Ever been to a church service where communion was being observed? And before they administer it, they ask for a moment of silence for everyone to do some serious self-reflection to check whether or not they are worthy of taking communion. By communion they mean drinking a tiny cup of grape juice and eating a small, square wafer. If you don’t feel particularly saved that day, you pass on taking communion. For example, if you were drunk and turned all the way up at a party just the night before, you would not take communion. If you had premarital sex within the last week, you would likely not take communion. You decided that because you did a visible, more intense sin, then you are unworthy to take communion.

Is that what we read in the above verses of 1 Corinthians 11? In the verses I selected, we see that Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about a problem that he has heard about and/or observed during their communion times. But let’s get the facts. These people were not being chastised by Apostle Paul because they were arranged in lines taking turns drinking grape juice and eating small crackers. They did not have preset amounts of juice and precut unleavened bread. What we now observe as communion was at that time more known as a “love feast” which we hear briefly mentioned in Jude 1:12 – “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves…”

How they did communion at that time is that it was more like a potluck. The believers who could would bring a dish or meal to the designated location. And they would fellowship and eat. As Jude says, it was a feast. And we know that a small vial of juice and a small wafer is far from feasting. Paul says that when they meet for communion, it’s not for better but for worse because for one, there are divisions among them which actually can be helpful in that it distinguishes the trifling people from the genuine people. Paul then goes into detail about why he is scolding them; he is scolding them in this letter because they are not eating to the glory of God in love for their fellow saints. Paul says that 1. There are divisions/factions within this church. 2. Some people begin eating before everyone arrives at the feast to eat which leaves the latecomers hungry. 4. The early eaters (and drinkers) are drunk! 5. The early comers humiliate those who are late (which might have been because they lived further away from the meeting place); and because Paul said the humiliated people are also the people who have nothing, it implies that the late comers are hungry also because they could not afford to bring food to the potluck (or else they would not have been hungry no matter how late they came).

In other words, they are not discerning the body. Body could simply mean the symbol of Jesus’ body – wine to symbolize His blood and unleavened bread to symbolize Jesus’ “leaven-less” (sinless) flesh.

1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Or it could mean the body of Christ which is the church as we read that Paul wrote in these three verses.

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Ephesians 5:23– For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ‘s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Or it could mean both.

But clearly, if we read this passage, we see that Paul is disappointed in how the early comers and those who could afford to bring food would eat without regard for whether or not the late comers or poor people would have something to eat. He says that they are not coming together for the Lord’s supper because everyone in the body isn’t even there to eat! They did not discern the body of Christ in that they showed no concern or respect for Christ body of believers. And I would add that it was disrespectful to act gluttonous and to be a drunkard with something that symbolized such a precious person as Jesus Christ. (Apparently, there was wine at these feasts.) But how dare you drink up all the wine and eat up all the food. Paul asks a rhetorical question about whether or not they had houses to eat and drink in. It wasn’t that they couldn’t fill up, it’s just that they filled up at the expense of the other Christians who were en route to the supper. If you were so hungry, you should have gotten a snack at the house! Again, we do not have these problems at most of our churches because we have a prepackaged amount that is the same for everyone whether or not you are the first or the last person to participate in communion. So we don’t have to worry about gobbling up all the crackers and guzzling down all the juice. So since these conditions aren’t possible in our church settings of today, how can we make the principles apply in our context?

I would say that we should beware of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters before we take communion. Sure, you might not have eaten their share of the communion, but in what other ways have you not been discerning of the Lord’s body. How have you treated your brothers and sisters at your church? We tend to think of those “more intense” and visible sins such as partying and sleeping around when we “examine” ourselves. But Paul here is talking about examining ourselves in how we treat our brothers and sisters. Maybe you weren’t at a party the night before. And maybe you didn’t lie on a test. And maybe you didn’t fornicate earlier that weekend. But did you put division between you and another church member? Did you humiliate them because they came to church late? Did you make them feel ashamed because they had less to give than you? Did you see yourself as better than them because you are richer? I believe that in this passage, THOSE are the things Paul wants us to examine ourselves concerning. Of course, if you are backslidden or reprobate for whatever reason, perhaps you should make matters right before you partake of Christ’s body symbols (whether or not your sin had something to do with mistreating a brother or sister in Christ), but just make sure you read what PAUL is saying in this passage and not missing the main point.

(By the way, I asked a couple of my seminary professors about this topic, and they said that they do not see that this passage is saying that a person who sinned that week(end) couldn’t participate in the feast.) 🙂

Soul Winning: Hebrews 4:12 Style

Is there a right and wrong way to win souls?

How to Best Win a Hardened Soul

The bible says in Hebrews 4:12 that the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. There is nothing sharper or more cutting than the Word of God. If you apply God’s word to a situation, things cannot help but to change. This same verse says that with the Word of God, you can pierce to the dividing of one’s soul and spirit, joints and marrow. You can discern the thoughts and intents of the heart with God’s word alone.

So what better instrument to use to bring down a hardened heart than with the Word of God?

But anyone knows that an instrument that is not correctly put to use is useless. What use is a closed book? What use is a knife that remains in a drawer? Unless someone applies the Word, it is futile in soulwinning. So it is important to ask oneself, how should one apply the Word of God to bring down a tree?

On my way to work, I noticed the trees to the left of me. And I was thinking about how the lumberjacks brought down the trees as they do. And God gave me this amazing insight about how one can bring down the toughest of sinners with the sharpest – God’s word. If God’s word can’t convince you, if God’s word is not wise, then what is?

There are THREE things one needs to bring down a tree with an ax.

1. The ax must be sharp(ened).
2. The axeman must swing with the appropriate amount of pressure.
3. The axeman must have the right aim and angle.
4. More than likely, the axeman will need to be willing to spend some amount of time on the tree.

Without those three in order, the tree will not come down. Here are the issues that often come to those who are missing even one of these points:

Some people make the mistake of quoting a bible verse at an unbeliever, and thinking that the Word alone will drive them to their knees in repentance. Some people make the mistake of attacking people with the Sword of the Word, and wondering in confusion as to why the person runs off offended or spiritually wounded. Some people make the mistake of attacking the wrong issues of a person without aiming at what matters, the heart. And some people may only be willing to spend a couple of minutes to lead one to Christ and are surprised when no repentance takes place.

I’ve done a lot of soul winning in the past few years. And I’ve made a lot of mistakes too! The bible says that he who wins souls is wise. I’m not sure if that bible verse means what we take it to mean today (for those of use who read KJV), but it is true either way. If you can win a soul to Christ, you must be wise! And when I first began soulwinning, I was definitely very foolish. I’ve misapplied each of the 4 points. Here is what happened:

Regarding number one, I did not have my Sword of the Word sharpened. I did not know what the bible had to say. I had a very small sword being that I knew SOME of what the bible said, but I did not know enough. The sword alone is sharp, so if you know the Word, it will be effective. But many Christians do not know the gospel. They go out trying to win souls and can’t even answer unbelievers’ simple questions biblically. Please know that many unbelievers know the bible fairly well. And they will beat you with your bible. And soulwinning of course is not about a battle of the wits or bible trivia. But if you are trying to win the soul of an Orthodox Jew, knowing the bible very well will go a long way. Remember that the early church was Jewish. They knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. And so it was easy for some bible scholars to identify Jesus Christ as the Messiah the Old Testament Messianic prophecies were prophesying about. But if you don’t know what is written, how can you tell a Jew who does know that he is wrong about certain things? Know the gospel!

Concerning number two, I would sometimes not apply the right amount of pressure. Sometimes I would apply the pressure too lightly. I was afraid of offending, so I would purposely not mention certain bible truths that would definitely be helpful, but that I feared would make the person angry with me. You cannot bring down a tree by tapping it with a razor. You must apply pressure. They must feel the severity of what you are saying. Don’t just apathetically say, “Jesus died for your sins.” But let them know that this is serious. A real innocent Hebrew man died an excruciatingly painful, humiliating death on a cross for some ungrateful, sinful men. Make sure they get that message across! Jesus died for you sins will not move a hardened man an inch. So I had to learn to let them hear the sincerity in my voice. Do not play or joke about the gospel. It is the MOST serious matter there is. Souls in hell is nothing to take lightly, but yet many soulwinners do it daily.

But sometimes I would go the extreme and apply TOO much pressure. Whereas this would not be a problem an axing down a tree, it is a common problem in soul winning. A popular quote says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You cannot go up to an enemy that you’ve mistreated all their life of knowing you and then tell you, “You heathen! You are going to burn in hell unless you repent of your wicked sins! The bible says it! And if you don’t like it, then that’s just to bad because you will burn!” Do you see how offensive that is? Would any person in their right mind respond to that soul winning technique? No! Not likely. It’s okay to apply a lot of pressure to someone you’ve known and treated well for a long time. It’s okay to say to your twin sister, “Mae, I’ve known you all our life. And so you know I care about you. You know I’d do anything for you. And so please understand that when I tell you the gospel, it is because I do not want to spend an eternity without you. I do not want to see you go to hell. I love you too much. And because I love you, I have to tell you the truth of what the Holy Spirit has been asking me to share with you about your lifestyle and how it is unpleasing to God. And He wants to warn you before it is too late…” (So forth and so on.) I’ve told perfect strangers that they were going to hell unless they believed in Jesus. It was a true Word, but it was too much pressure to apply to a stranger.

The third point talks of having the right aim and angle of holding the sword. You have so many different angles you can swing an ax. Holding the ax at 180 degrees through 360 degrees is a waste of time. An angle too close to those is just like skinning the tree. You want your angle to be close to a 45 degree angle or even 0 degrees. to get your aim right. Your goal is to get straight to the heart, not to skin the tree. It’s to get the tree down as fast as possible so that you can get to the next tree. Time is of the essence. But sometimes, I would allow an unbeliever to sidetrack me when I was aiming at soulwinning. I’d approach them with the business of soulwinning, and within a few seconds, we’d be talking about is God real and who made the universe and even one person tried to sidetrack me on is Jesus just Julius Caesar’s son! And it is important to know that you lead the conversation, because wherever they will try to lead it will not lead to soulwinning. A conversation with a tree will not lead to you chopping it down. If trees could talk, they would give you a lot of reasons to try to talk you out of chopping them down! Everytime they try to sidetrack you, redirect them back to the issue of their unrepentant, unconfessed sins needing to be forgiven sooner rather than later. Let them know that there is only One who can save them and that He requires obedience, love, and service. God did not ask you to convince atheists that He exists and that He created the world and that humans did not descend from apes and that the bible was not written by power-hungry white men. He told you to be witnesses of Jesus and to make disciples of the nations.

Last but not least, you must be willing to invest time into the lost soul. Oftentimes, the last factor that goes into winning a lost soul is TIME. Anything worth having is worth spending time upon. Quickly quoting a bible verse is not usually enough to send people to the altar giving their lives to Christ. When someone is hardened against the truth, you have to pray and ask God for wisdom to remove layers off of them to get to their sensitive heart. And sometimes when you do lead a soul to Christ, it is because you are simply building off of someone else’s hard labor. Maybe someone has been witnessing to them for years, and their pastor has been giving them the word. And so when you come along with a warning that they must give an account to God one day when they die on a date they do not expect, they may be ready to give their life to Christ. And you may be the one that God needs to sow the seeds while another person “reaps” the soul harvest many years later. It’s usually not too late until the person is dead. So give them more time!

So remember. The Word of God is the instrument of soul winning. You will not win a soul to Christ without first using the truth of the Word of the gospel. BUT, you must know how to wield the Sword of the truth to pierce (convict) the heart of the sinner.

10K, 18K, and 24K Golden Christians

It's hot, it hurts! But the furnace will be worth it!

Isaiah 48:10 – “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”

Most of us are familiar with the bible verses that compare the Christian walk to the refining of silver and gold. Most people don’t know exactly what these verses are getting at. One of God’s goals for us before we die is to try us in the fire and to refine us as silver. I believe that we’ll have to do it voluntarily or involuntarily, but we are going in that fiery furnace whether we like it or not!

I believe that if most people went to dig for gold and silver, they’d be looking and digging for pretty shiny things glistening in the light. But they’d have no idea that they would not readily recognize the silver and gold that are found in the ground and in mines as the same ones we see and purchase in stores.

Some of us may wonder, “Why can’t God just have pretty gold and silver lying everywhere? Why do we have to dig for them and then refine them and mold them? Why all the hassle?” I think that if every time we opened our door on our way to work and saw a yard full of pretty gold and silver, we wouldn’t appreciate it very much. I think we’d treat it just like grass and dirt and rocks. Things become precious when they are few. No one appreciates dirt because it’s so bountiful. Everyone wants oil and diamonds and they also are not as abundant as dirt and rocks and grass. The same goes for gold and silver.

We all have to go through the furnace in our lives at least a few times. Some people go in more often than others. Some people lose children, spouses, homes, jobs, and their health. Some people are fortunate and have a relatively uneventful life with few drama and trauma. Some children get molested or are born to drug-addicted, neglectful parents, while other children are raised in good, nurturing nuclear families. Some people have a lot of inner struggles with very few external problems, while some people are fine mentally and have family, relationship, financial, and work problems. So while some people’s lives are simpler than others, we all go through something. Regardless of whether your struggle is inner or outer, you will go through that furnace.

Malachi 3:2-3 – “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”

I notice that people who have the hardest or most struggles tend to have the best ministries. Not all the time, but many times I see that. For example, both Joyce Meyer and Paula White were abused in every way by their fathers. Now, they can use those trying times to help millions of other women and men who have been abused as children. While I don’t always agree with some of their teachings on other topics, I can appreciate how many lives they have touched in a positive way. Oprah is not a Christian, but because of her traumatic experience as a child and her struggles with weight for most of her adult life, she can empathize and sympathize with others very easily. She personally knows what pain and discouragement feels like, so she can’t help but have compassion on others who do as well. People who go through the most in life can reach the most people effectively in my opinion because “ain’t been there can’t tell going there how to get through there.” But “been there, done that and got the t-shirt” can. It takes someone who knows the pain to efficiently help someone cope with their pain. For example, a woman who has lost a child can help other mothers who have lost children better than a woman who has never lost a child or who has never had a child.

Proverbs 17:3 – “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”

I’m sure the three women I mentioned above would have chosen NOT to go through their traumatic childhoods, but I bet they love that they can help others with their refined gold and silver lives.

I believe that we are to be stewards of whatever God lets us go through. If He gives you money, be a good steward of that. If He gives you children, be a good steward of them. If He gives you a ministry, be a good steward of that. If He gives you a beautiful singing voice, be a good steward of that. AND if He allows you to go through something traumatic, be a good steward of that experience too. You can write a book about it, start a support group for it, head a crusade against it, or whatever, but don’t waste your trauma on self-pity. Use it to help others. I find it so admirable when I watch docudramas and documentaries about parents who go through a terrible ordeal with their children or marriage; and instead of wallowing in self-pity and blame; they start a fund or have rallies to increase awareness of the issue. They become stewards of their pain to help others.

Zechariah 13:9 – “…I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.”

Some of us might be drossy silver or untried gold right now. But our turn will come to go into the fiery furnace. It may seem like we’ll never get out. It may seem like the pressure and heat is on too strong for us to endure. We may just want to give up and stop the refining process early. We might want to turn back to our old state of being because sometimes it might seem that being a Christian is harder than not being a Christian. But be of good cheer because WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARS, you’re coming out like gold! And not just any gold. You’ll be the brightest and best quality of gold!

If gold and silver had a voice, I can’t imagine them saying, “Man, I sure wish I was back how I was! I was in the muddy water/dirt/mine, and I liked it just fine. No one wanted to be seen with me, but that was okay. I wouldn’t be worth much at the stores in that state, but that’s okay. If a fiancé gave me to his fiancée, she’d probably throw it back in his face and refuse the proposal, but that would be okay. Those were the days! I hate being valuable, shiny, expensive, beautiful, and desired.”

Everyone who actually completes the refining process is glad they went through it. I don’t think that people who successfully make it through rehab are missing the days when they were doing the unthinkable for a hit of drugs, stealing from their family, and destroying their children’s lives. They are so glad that it’s over. Don’t be mad that the painful refining happened. Just be glad that it’s over. Like C.S. Lewis said, “The pain now is part of the happiness then.”

Psalm 66:10 – “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.”

When the refinery workers finally get you out of the oven — however long it takes — they don’t just pour you on the ground in whatever kind of shape. They pour you into a mold. They shape you with the others. They treat you like royalty! They won’t drop you anymore. They won’t treat you like nothing anymore. They will respect you. Then they’ll ship you here and there to get shaped for precious jewelry. They put a price tag on you. You’ll never been thrown away again. You’ll never find a gold or silver ring in the trash; and even if you did, you’d be considered quite fortunate!

Another thing is that you’ll be given precious jewels to carry. You would never have gotten these jewels in your original state. You have to be prepared to carry amethysts, sapphires, garnets, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. You have to go through the scary, fiery furnace. But it’ll all be worth it though because WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARS, you’ll be what you were originally meant to be all along. Gold and silver aren’t meant to hang out in dirt all their lives. It was in you all along to be like beautiful silver and gold.

Job 23:10 – “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”