13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 NKJVRecently I was reminded of my brief time as a youth pastor and my desire to pursue the position as a full time vocation. In April of 2012 I had just finished a near 18 month interim term and was convinced that the Lord was leading me into full-time ministry. The church I was serving at seemed convinced as well and passed along word that it was a forgone conclusion needing only formalities like a resume and then approval from the senior pastor (I’m assuming an elder board vote as well). As providence would have it, the Lord had determined that someone else would be given the position. According to the leaders, another man with ties to the church had just completed his third seminary degree and was deemed to be “more qualified”. This of course isn’t a knock on him, but initially this decision was difficult to digest, despite being encouraged that I was more gifted for a lead pastor role rather than a youth pastor role. My reaction to this news, other than a surprising flood of anxiety, was to pursue a seminary degree so that this lack of formal, theological education would no longer be a hindrance. As the story goes, I did enroll in seminary and learned a good deal, but did not finish after coming face to face with the reality of term paper deadlines vs. fully grasping, digesting, meditating, and applying the subjects at hand (Covenant Theology).
This recent reminder came by way of an older gentleman deciding to pursue a seminary education, despite being involved in multiple street ministries. Naturally, this brought to mind my own experience, but more so the passage from Acts 4 cited above, which I had just read a few days prior. Before we look at that, there is one more anecdotal experience that I want to share.
Around 2018 or so, I was meeting with a young friend to iron out some theological difficulties with end times, notably preterism. As we were concluding, the subject turned to his desire to pursue seminary education and he asked my opinion. Given my own experience above, it is difficult for me to objectively commend this path, so I made it clear that I wasn’t saying a seminary degree was right or wrong, only that it wasn’t necessary. In doing so, I referenced the passage from Acts 4 above and stated that a framed piece of paper is not necessary to preach. He agreed, but after some more discussion concluded that he thought the Lord was calling him into a fulltime ministry vocation and “How else would he get a job without a degree?”
And herein lies the problem.
In Christendom at large we have allowed ourselves to create and blindly participate in a system of credentialism for “ministry” and subsequently have superimposed this system onto Scripture in order to defend it. Those with MDiv’s or Phd/Thd’s behind their name are considered the experts and if there’s one thing that’s been drilled in our heads over these last two years, it’s trust the experts. Right?
In the passage highlighted above we find ourselves nearly a couple weeks after the ascension of Christ and just days after the preaching at Pentecost in which three thousand souls were saved. Peter and John have just healed the lame beggar through the power of the Spirit and are now preaching the gospel of the risen Christ, through the power of the Spirit, at Solomon’s Portico. This was a large open air porch area along the upper section of the temple.
As they were preaching to the people, “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Acts 4: 1b-2 As it was with Christ, these religious leaders fueled by jealousy and hardness of heart arrested Peter and John. However, before they could detain them, those who heard the word believed adding two thousand souls to the number of believers in Jerusalem.
The following day the rulers, elders, and scribes together with the high priestly family convened to interrogate Peter and John asking, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Acts 4:7 At this, we have the following response recorded for us
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12With this brief word, powerfully delivered by the Holy Spirit, the leaders see Peter’s boldness and recognize that the men were untrained and uneducated but realize they had been with Jesus. Before we draw our attention to this specific response, lets allow the account to conclude.
The leaders noted the above and observed the healed lame man. In response to these things, particularly the evidence of the miraculous healing, the leaders conferred, releasing the men and commanding them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. At this, we read of one final response from the apostles
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. Acts 4:19-22With this episode laid out before us, let’s return our focus to the original observation from the religious leaders at the bold preaching of Peter and John. By noting that the men were uneducated and untrained, they view them beneath themselves, namely that they have received no formal theological education or training. They haven’t been taught the Old Testament Scriptures in a Rabbinical School. In all probability they have received no formal education at all. Rather they were common men. As we know, Peter and John specifically were fishermen which would have been viewed as a blue-collar, lower-class member of society. Far be it that someone would actually have to work for their food or to provide it to others, that’s one thing. But preaching and teaching? That’s reserved for the more intellectually qualified. This brings us back to our opening illustrations and our cultural desire for credentialism.
By all accounts, Peter and John would have been unqualified to pastor or preach from many of the pulpits in Christendom today. They had no credentials to hold up as proof of their theological knowledge, no letters behind their name, no one who had written a letter of recommendation submitted to the Jewish religious leaders (see 2 Corinthians 3:1-3). For that matter there was no ordination ceremony either. Despite having nothing to commend them, not all was lost.
As we saw, Peter and John were filled with the Holy Spirit and authorized by the name of Christ to preach (Matthew 29:16-20; Acts 1:8). This was testified by the miraculous healing of the lame man, through the content and boldness of their preaching, and by the fruit of their preaching in the salvation of souls. In this, the religious leaders recognized that they had been with Jesus. The apostles were simply following the pattern given them by their Lord, who likewise had no formal training or qualifications, humanly speaking (John 7:14-19). The difference is that they were recognized to have been with Jesus. Like Paul after them, they had spent three years at the feet of the Master learning directly from Him.
In our day, we have been conditioned to desire, even require, credentials from not only professionals in the workplace, but of professional pastors as well. We want letters behind names from the most prestigious seminaries. We want renowned guest speakers and books by the top authors and the best publishers. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I check book authors, publishers, and listed recommendations. I’m prone to desire a word only from those recognized by the Christian establishment, rather than the faithful wisdom from a local believer. Shame on me and shame on us.
The apostles were the ones who were turning the whole world upside down (Acts 17:6) by the power of the Holy Spirit and the powerful name of Jesus. They were commissioned by Christ to preach the word in the face of all opposition, in season and out of season. Yet by human, worldly standards they had no intrinsic abilities, no educational qualifications, and no other formal training apart from time spent with the Lord. But this is key. Would that more men would forego credentialism for time spent with the Lord. More so, would that we as believers and those of us who participate in the system of credentialism would look beyond the externals of Saul’s and more to the hearts of David’s. Maybe then power, life, and vigor would return to our assemblies and once more the world might be turned upside down.