Sound Doctrine: to Seminary or not to Seminary?

Picking up one of the threads from the funding of house church planters discussion.

Indisputable Facts:

Churches need sound doctrine.
The modern church tries to ensure sound doctrine through seminary training.


Are there other ways to accomplish sound doctrine in our churches (traditional or house)? Any suggestions?

11 thoughts on “Sound Doctrine: to Seminary or not to Seminary?

  1. Just to prime the pump of our discussion (since 20 of you have visited already and left no comment).

    For years I have said that almost everything that a seminary tries to do, a local church could do better, if it gave it self to figuring out how to do it. Some years ago, one of my students took me up on the challenge and began to work on a process that delivered a Master’s of Arts in Biblical Studies level education over a three year period that included a mentor that worked on character and skill development from the very beginning.

    Total cost of the unaccredited program? –about the cost of two classes at a top level seminary.


  2. As a Catholic, when I strive to determine if a doctrine is sound, I first look to what the scriptures say about a doctrine, what the church teaches about the doctrine while striving to understand the context and the basis for the Church’s interpretation. The Teaching Magisterium’s teachings can be traced back to the first apostles and there should not be a contradiction between what scripture says and the doctrines of the Church. I also found these paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
    2038 In the work of teaching and applying Christian morality, the Church needs the dedication of pastors, the knowledge of theologians, and the contribution of all Christians and men of good will. Faith and the practice of the Gospel provide each person with an experience of life “in Christ,” who enlightens him and makes him able to evaluate the divine and human realities according to the Spirit of God.80 Thus the Holy Spirit can use the humblest to enlighten the learned and those in the highest positions.

    2039 Ministries should be exercised in a spirit of fraternal service and dedication to the Church, in the name of the Lord.81 At the same time the conscience of each person should avoid confining itself to individualistic considerations in its moral judgments of the person’s own acts. As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions. Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.

    2040 Thus a true filial spirit toward the Church can develop among Christians. It is the normal flowering of the baptismal grace which has begotten us in the womb of the Church and made us members of the Body of Christ. In her motherly care, the Church grants us the mercy of God which prevails over all our sins and is especially at work in the sacrament of reconciliation. With a mother’s foresight, she also lavishes on us day after day in her liturgy the nourishment of the Word and Eucharist of the Lord.


    1. Paul, I understand where from where you are writing, that is, from within your Catholic paradigm. But that paradigm is not really that helpful for we protestants that are uncomfortable with the whole “teaching magisterium” idea.

      At the same time, we protestants have a deep respect for the historic teaching of the church down through the centuries and embodied in the major creeds of the first four centuries of the A.D. era.

      I don’t want to cut you out of the discussion so maybe it would be good for you to think this question through from the perspective of how to ensure that the rank and file in “the pews” truly know sound doctrine.


      1. Well, actually I was answering from the perspective of how I in the “pew” strive to truly know sound doctrine. At some point we all look to those who we perceive as more learned or more experienced for deeper insights. Of course, as the Teaching Magisterium states “the Holy Spirit can use the humblest to enlighten the learned and those in the highest positions.” And maybe that is what you mean. How do we know when the Holy Spirit is using those in “the pews” to truly know sound doctrine so as to enlighten the learned and those in the highest positions. As far as living our faith in practical and effective ways, not so much in terms of doctrine, I have experienced where in many cases, those in the pews are led by the Spirit to bear much fruit in reaching those that the traditional methods cannot.


  3. Amen. I agree. I think you are talking about what the Scripture calls the priesthood of the believer. God, by his Holy Spirit can speak to and through any humbled, submitted heart and yet always in agreement with his written word.

    But this question is about how to train and equip pastors and Christian workers. It is about ensuring that those who have the primary responsibility (all of us have some resposnibility), for teaching do so in a manner that upholds the integrity of the faith “once delivered.”

    When the weather breaks, let’s hit the golf course and talk more about this.


  4. Marty you’d love Paul. He’s a dear brother of mine and my best friends step father.

    I’d love to see how your friend has in-grafted that ministry to his congregation. Even with my Biblical Studies degree I’ve always felt the same as you. I honestly sometimes feel ripped off by the “christian institution” I attended. The reason being, that I’ve spent thousands of dollars to learn “supposed” sound doctrine at a university. Deep down I believe that teaching ministry should be given freely as it was received from God, and should be the local churches responsibility.

    Don’t get me wrong. I learned valuable insight from my professors, but honestly most of it was void of relational context and void of real life experience. My professor could pick apart the Second Temple Jewish Messianism and the Priestly Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but he could NEVER hold a real conversation with me. I personally know people who teach theology that are career students and have never held a secular job nor done any relational ministry or discipleship.

    Instead of the greek institutional model for education, I would subscribe to a more Judaic view of apprenticeship or personal discipleship as I see it done in the NT.


  5. Mature believers and church leaders are responsible for bringing up people in the faith through solid biblical teaching, which results in sound doctrine. Church leaders have gone the way of the devil in elevating fellowship over faith in Jesus Christ. A couple first-hand experiences to illustrate: I’ve been asked in an historic church to explain how God is Christ and Christ is God; he did not understand the deity of Jesus Christ. This from a dear man who’s been in the church for decades. Another, who’s only been in the church for eight or nine years said that he never knew that man walked in the garden with God. A wonderful elderly woman who’d been in the church for 40 years believes Satan is the negative feelings inside of us. And another woman, 91-years-old, was thrilled to tell me that she read the New Testament for the first time in her life because she wanted to know what everyone was talking about all of a sudden. She’s been in the same church for decades.

    There is a darkness in the pulpits of our churches that is glorifying the enemy rather than the Savior and Creator by witholding the truth of God’s Word. If we, as the leaders of our churches, are not teaching the fundamentals of our faith, then sending folks off to seminary (the previous pastor is a seminary grad), is futile. A man raised up under the preaching, teaching and life-sharing of a godly man will suit the church as well as a seminary grad.

    I love the idea of a curriculum provided through the local church. But it must begin with the fundamentals from the pulpit and in the smaller group settings. Without a commitment from pastors and lay-leaders to begin with the basics, we’re going to continue on the downward path of ignorance and condemnation.


  6. Bill, thanks for your comments. The story you tell is a sad one and one that unfortunately is repeated in church after church, whether traditional or house church model, whether seminary or non-seminary trained.

    As a professor at three seminaries, it causes me to question whether the process we are using is capable of delivering the product the church needs.

    As a church planter, pastor and elder, it causes me to question whether the forms and structures we currently rely upon are capable of delivering the right stuff.

    As a follower of Christ, it causes me to fall and my knees in prayerful hope that the next generation will do better job than their patriarchs.

    “Lord, make it so.”


  7. The question concerning sound doctrine is interesting. I guess one must defined sound doctrine. Sound Doctrine to a Roman Catholic is different from Eastern Orthodoxy. Those who adhere to Calvinism would say that Armenians are not sound in their doctrine on Soteriology. I think that sound doctrine according to the Bible are practical expressions and beliefs that causes a person to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to fulfill God’s Eternal Purpose. I think this only requires mature disciples in the faith to educate and equip less mature disciples within the context of the local church. Even, what I just said is full of doctrinal implications.


    1. When I speak of “sound doctrine” my beginning point is WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE TEACH? The path from there is WHAT ARE THOSE COMMON TRUTHS ABOUT THE FAITH THAT ALL BELIEVERS SEEM TO HAVE ALWAYS BEEN UNITED AROUND? Those two questions take me back to statements like the apostle’s creed and similar early statements of Christian belief.


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