EVANGELICAL – PENTECOSTAL DIALOGUE ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND THE HOLY SPIRIT IN TEACHING MINISTRY

By Ehud Solomon

Liberty House. Kaltungo, Nigeria. 2020


Evangelical and Pentecostal dialogue is aimed at harmonizing certain divergent beliefs between some evangelical and Pentecostal Christians who do not seem to come to term with the necessity of the “holy liaison” that is necessary to becoming an effective and competent teacher of the Word of God. The great divide, with regard to the subject at hand among some evangelicals and Pentecostals, revolves around the priority and/or irrelevance that these two parties place on the importance of the Holy Spirit and theological education in teaching ministry.
Evangelicals’ perspective on this issue is not that of irrelevance but rather of priority. Though this is not the belief of all evangelicals, a good number of them believe that when it comes to teaching God’s Word, theological education is dominant over the Holy Spirit. Azurdia though an evangelical was keen to see that evangelicals need to understand the necessity of the Holy Spirit in teaching God’s Word, when he discussed “The Holy Liaison” Azurdia opined:
It is at this very point [the holy liaison] that many evangelicals draw up short, believing that they have given full theological consideration to the Spirit’s communicative ministry. They have failed to understand, however, that the vestiges of sin in a regenerated person still hamper one’s ability to experience the benefit of the word of God. Thus, unless the Spirit of truth performs His immediate work of illumination in holy liaison with the scriptures, they will fail to produce supernatural effects. This does not suggest that the words of the Bible cannot be defined and understood apart from this illuminating work. It is to say that the power of the scriptures will fail to be experienced apart from this communicative ministry of the Spirit (Azurdia, 1998:36).
The teacher of the Word of God becomes handicapin teaching transformational messages without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Discussing the holy liaison, Azurdia seeks to point out to evangelical ministers that the Word and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. Some evangelicals prioritize theological education as a necessity to becoming an effective teacher without considering the Holy Spirit as a necessary factor.
On the other hand, some Pentecostal ministers see theological education as irrelevant and unnecessary. Supporting this point is the words of Allan H. Anderson that “Most Pentecostals live in the majority world; they are relatively poor and lack formal education; they are disinterested in theological preciseness” (Anderson, 2018:28). Professor Lee Roy Martin, who happens to be a Pentecostal theologian, agrees with Anderson when he opined that
Pentecostalism is well known for its anti-intellectual stance, and Pentecostal churches require very little education for their ministers. While the Pentecostal aversion to education is based upon some valid critiques of educational institutions, the lack of ministerial education has created unwelcomed consequences for Pentecostalism, and it has resulted in a precarious future for the movement. (Martin, 2016:1).

They see theological education as an unnecessary requirement to becoming an effective teacher of God’s Word. For the Pentecostals, it is the experience of the Spirit that enables people to better understand the Bible. Martin pointed out that
While mainline Christian traditions require their clergy to be well educated, most Pentecostal groups have no requirement that clergy pursue university or seminary degrees. The rampant anti-intellectualism that prevents Pentecostal groups from requiring clergy education has also discouraged individual Pentecostal clergy from seeking theological education voluntarily (Martin, 2016:1).
The reason most Pentecostals give for their disdain of theological education according to Vondey, who was quoted by Martin, is that formal training for them is as
Leaning on the arm of the fleshor as an illegitimate substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Pentecostals have always proclaimed that the return of Jesus was imminent; therefore, many ministers have believed that to postpone full-time ministry for the sake of education was a misuse of the precious hours that remained for evangelizing the world” (Martin, 2016:1).
Some of the Pentecostalsbelieve that theological education and/or academic achievement is important, but it is not a guarantee of effectiveness in ministry. Martin observed that Pentecostals’disdain for theological education is due to the fact that experience demonstrates that education by no means ensures that a minister will be competent, caring, honest, faithful, or spiritually gifted. Some seminary-trained ministers, have been found to be incompetent.
Secondly, Pentecostals distrust education because ministers often emerge from their theological education with a worldview and with methods that are antithetical to those of their native church culture. Martin quoted Reed who opined that “The pre-critical worldview of the Pentecostal community is at odds with the critical approach learned at institutions of higher education—particularly at those institutions that follow a Western model” (Martin, 2016:2). And for Hollenweger, according to Martin, “The oral, narrative, familial, relational orientation of the Pentecostal community conflicts with the literate, propositional, formal, rational approach of the academy” (Martin, 2016:2). The solution to this problem, however, is neither the prohibition of education, nor ‘forgetting’ one’s education. Instead, the disjunction between the Pentecostal parish and the academy calls for a reshaping of the educational experience so that graduates are able to work comfortably among different communities.
Lastly, Pentecostals are wary of education because they believe it to be destructive to the spiritual life of the minister. Martin observed that “Educated ministers are often perceived to be less spiritual than uneducated ones, a charge that can be generated by the conflict in worldviews as mentioned above. The sermon of an educated minister tends to be more logical, propositional, and linear, while the Pentecostal community is accustomed to the emotional, narrative and non-linear” (Martin, 2016:2). However, education is not always the cause of a ‘less spiritual’ approach; in many cases, the minister had already adopted that approach before entering the academic environment. Martin quoted D’Epinay who observed that “A more serious concern is the perception that education is antithetical to genuine faith. Pentecostals have pointed broadly to the mainline denominations which have grown more and more ‘liberal’ over the years through the influence of their educational institutions” (Martin, 2016:2). In response to this statement, Hittenberger was quoted by Martin as saying “It should be pointed out, however, that education itself is not the problem. The founders and early leaders in these denominations were themselves highly educated—people like Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. Education, therefore, is not inherently antithetical to faith” (Martin, 2016:3).
However, despite the Pentecostal argument to the contrary, it is obvious that education is not opposed to genuine faith. Again, the solution is not to abandon education but to reform it. The solution to this challenge for Hollenweger as quoted by Martin is that:
The Pentecostal tradition must develop its own educational institutions that will prepare its ministers for the critical challenges that they will face outside the tradition. I am not suggesting that Pentecostals create an educational system that facilitates a retreat into fundamentalism; but, rather, I argue that Pentecostal ministers need a friendly environment where issues of critical scholarship can be introduced by teachers who know how to bridge the gap between academy and church (Martin, 2016:3).
When it comes to teaching God’s Word, what some evangelicals seem to emphasize is the aspect of intellect. They often present an approach that is solely directed to the mind, defining spiritual success as the intellectual acquisition of biblical and theological knowledge. In focusing on biblical and theological knowledge, Azurdia opined that they often ask certain questions such as “‘can he articulate the five points of Calvinism?’ ‘Does he know the standard answers to the difficult texts which appear to teach an unlimited atonement?’ ‘Is he committed to the regulative principle of worship?’ One’s acumen in answering questions such as these can often become a litmus test of spiritual growth” (Azurdia, 1998:37).
In his effort to demonstrate the inseparability of the need to acquire in-depth knowledge of the written Word and total dependency on the Holy Spirit, Azurdia opined that “This is no attempt to minimizing the importance of biblical and theological truth. Spiritual maturity is not possible apart from such truth. But the fact remains, it is possible for a Christian to possess a vast amount of biblical and theological knowledge while at the same time being altogether devoid of spiritual maturity” (Azurdia, 1998:37). This is one of the undoing of evangelical teachers. They emphasize theological knowledge at the expense of the Holy Spirit who is the author of the written Word they teach.
The Holy Spirit and the Bible are two major factors that have the capacity to produce a competent teacher of the Word. The two factors are inseparable coworkers in the life of a committed teacher of God’s Word. Commenting on that, Azurdia put forward that:
The Bible possess its own resident life (cf. Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23), but it does not always beget life. The Bible is not a magic book. It is efficacious only when it is accompanied by the operative power of the Holy Spirit. Herein, then, is one of the ways the Holy Spirit of God communicates divine truth: subjectively and internally, by directly applying the inspired scriptures to the human heart (Azurdia, 1998:38).

Azurdia went further to say that “Considered by many to be the premier theologian of the Spirit, John Calvin has written, ‘for as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit”’ (Azurdia, 1998:38).
The debate on the Holy Spirit and the Word of God among Christians is alarming. It is alarming to hear some evangelicals emphasizing the necessity of theological education—at the expense of the working of the Holy Spirit—in order to qualify as the teacher of God’s Word and some Pentecostals laying unbalanced emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Azurdia observed that “Devastating to the evangelical cause in the present day, however, is the tacit assumption that an exclusive choice needs to be made between the Word and the Spirit” (Azurdia, 1998:39). The evangelicals emphasize the necessity of the Word while Pentecostalsopted for the Spirit. To the latter Azurdia said “often accompanying this ‘Holy Spirit emphasis’ is a distaste for diligent Bible study. ‘Exegesis is non-Spiritual, we are told ‘Doctrine is divisive,’ ‘Theology is irrelevant’” (Azurdia, 1998:39). The evangelicals have gone to the extreme. Azurdia said “in reaction, others of us [referring to evangelicals] have swung the pendulum hard in the opposite direction, ‘all we need is the raw meat of the Word,’ our attitude clearly imply’” (Azurdia, 1998:39). Azurdia went further to opine that “this [evangelicals emphasis on the Word] often reveals itself in the manner in which seminaries train men for gospel ministry. Over a three year period an aspiring preacher [teacher] is equipped to diagram Greek sentences, parse Hebrew verbs, and quote Calvin, Luther, and Hodge verbatim” (Azurdia, 1998:39). What is disconcerting about this perspective according to Azurdia is that:
It is possible to inadvertently convey the impression that the key to understanding the mind of God is found in the acquisition of an arsenal of highly technical and scientific skills. Over time men may come to regard the scriptures the way a biology student regards his proverbial frog; as a thing to dissect, rather than a source from which to hear God’s voice. Rarely are seminarians taught to pray and fast and weep for the subjective and internal illumination of the Holy Spirit in correspondence with their diligent efforts in the sacred text (Azurdia, 1998:39).
This is a solemn call to evangelicals to balance their diligent effort in acquiring theological education with a diligent and consistent desire for the illumination of the Holy Spirit, while Pentecostals, on the other hand, need to balance their diligent effort in seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit with a diligent effort in acquiring theological education. Azurdia observed that:
The disturbing disparity is apparent. Some of God’s people have chosen the Spirit. Others have come down on the side of the Scriptures. The problem, however, is that first choice is something akin to heat without light; the second choice more akin to light without heat. The point is this: we must stop putting asunder what God Himself has joined together. No choices of emphases are intended between Spirit and word. Christians must seek both in indivisible oneness; more particularly, we must look for the Spirit of the living God at work in, and through the written word of God (Azurdia, 1998:40).

I WANT TO BE LIKE THIS MAN OF GOD

Often times we see and hear older men of God whose teachings and power demonstrations prompt our hearts to covet what they are carrying.

We’ve seen and heard several men of God who travel to nations of the earth to connect to a particular operation of Grace in the life of a man of God. Their desire is to start carrying what that man of God is carrying.

From the biblical point of view, such actions cannot be disputed against. Then why are we raising dust since there is nothing wrong with these moves?

Our major focus here is that of encouraging caution.

The major prerequisite that will help you avoid falling into error as you desire to carry what others are carrying is to ensure that:

1. You are a Bible student. 2. You are a praying Christian not an occasional visitor. 3. You are a reflective believer. A thinker.

It is obvious that if you don’t possess these qualities you will end up becoming a victim of circumstances. You will not only carry the good things you see in the life of that man of God but will also carry his errors.

When you begin to carry what a womanizing pastor carries; you begin to see the forces of womanizing, operating in you. Likewise pride, idolatry, witchcraft, and other works of the flesh.

We want you as a Christian who desire to do exploit for God to be cautious. Be spiritually sensitive so that you don’t become a casualty. Don’t invite for yourself an unnecessary battle.

Shalom

Ehud Solomon

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started