Parachurch organizations are the bridesmaids, not the Bride. The local church is the ideal place for all ministry to be centered and deployed. But in reality there are many parachurch (para = alongside) organizations that can be useful to the Bride as far as they come in stride beside local churches to assist them in the God-given ministry obligations. Orphanages and missions agencies are examples. As long as the bridesmaid isn’t trying to upstage the one she’s meant to support, the team works well together.
We might not always think of it this way, but seminaries are parachurch organizations whose raison d’être is to assist local churches by accelerating the theological and ministerial training needed for pastors in Western churches.
I hade the wonderful privilege of meeting a man who was instrumental in launching a seminary. Dr Paul Negrut and his team started Emmanuel University & Seminary in Oradea, Romania.
The seminary began covertly with 50 students meeting secretly in the forest during the oppressive iron fist of Communism. As the iron curtain rusted and disintegrated in 1989, the thriving seminary simply popped up like a cork that had been held under water awaiting a gap to emerge. Emmanuel University is now the only accredited, conservative, Evangelical university/seminary on the Continent of Europe.*
When asking for official permission to register the seminary, the secretary of education asked “Why not make it a university too?” The shortage of teachers who were willing to go to rural areas, left a gap for missionary-minded Christians to be trained as teachers, and act as tent-making evangelists in those areas. And just like that, God kicked open a door for the spread of the gospel and solid theology.
It’s worth noting another tidbit Dr Negrut shared. The previous opportunity God gave Romania for theological training was in 1923, when the King of Romania (this was before the monarchy was replaced by the Animal Farm in 1944) offers to fund a Baptists start a university. The top Baptist brass had a conclave and decided, in a moment of what he felt was short-sighted paranoia, that this was a trap from Satan. Yup, the free theological training school would be bad for the church because–wait for it– St. Paul said there are “not many noble among you.” They reasoned that a university would make Christians smart and educated and then God couldn’t use them anymore. The door creaked closed until that providential meeting Dr Negrut had with the new secretary of education.
Three reasons why seminaries are a good idea:
1. God says to pass on knowledge.
2 Tim 2:2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Seminaries are designed to take the specialized knowledge of an assembled faculty of experts and entrust it to faithful men who can pass it on to others. The local church can do this too, but the accelerated learning men receive at seminary, drinking from the theological fire hose, benefits the church tremendously.
2. Preachers need to be equipped to preach, and to equip the saints for the work of the minisry.
The preaching ministry is not for lazy, dull-minded men who like flexible hours and can’t hold down any other job. Pastors need to be trained in theology and church history, to prevent rookie mistakes that end up in forming a cult that offers free KoolAid to its shaven-headed converts. Pastors need to have classes on counseling so they don’t revert to the pop-psychology they heard from Dr Phil’s daytime therapy sessions. And unless they are not taught how to do exegesis and preaching equally, they will either preach deep truth poorly or they will spout shallow drivel well.
Also seminary provides pastors with syllabi that can be drawn upon to equip the saints in courses within the local church. For example, the hermeneutics classes we teach at our church are drawn heavily from seminary classes. It would take the pastor ages to compile that material from scratch. Now he pops of the assembly line with binders full of class material in tow.
3. A centralized institution draws faculty and assists churches.
Godly, specialized, PhD-qualified theologians don’t grow on trees. It’s not like every local church has people who can competently teach advanced theology, church history, counseling, exegesis, and preaching. The pastor should be able to do this to some degree, but some churches overburden their pastor with other duties to the point where spending time on rigorous training of men for ministry is an unaffordable luxury in his schedule.
Seminaries provide some of the most valuable help to the worldwide Bride. She is arguably one of the most useful bridesmaids.
As you can tell, I’m a fan of seminaries, as is Dr Negrut. If you can add to this list, I’d be grateful.
*The accreditation Dr Negrut was referring to was the European Union’s accreditation standard. No doubt there are other conservative Evangelical seminaries with various accreditations; and may God multiply that rare species to His glory and the good of Europe!