While the first post in this series considered “The Material Substance of Theological Education” in this post a second subject comes into view.
II. The General Authority for Theological Education
A. This Authority Identified
The Apostle Paul leaves no doubt as to what agency is responsible for the maintenance and promotion of Christian truth in the world. It is clearly the church of Jesus Christ that is charged with this responsibility. 1 Timothy 3:15 is plain: “… but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
B. This Authority Specified
The question may be raised, however, as to what Paul means exactly by the term, church, in 1 Timothy 3:15. To be specific, the question is whether Paul is thinking of what theologians have called the universal church or whether he is instead thinking of the local church. This is not a distinction which ought to be too sharply drawn in 1 Timothy 3:15. This is so because it really appears that Paul (in this passage and some others) understands the local church to be a particular expression of the universal church and speaks of it in terms which assume this relationship. It is clear, for instance, in this passage that Paul is writing to Timothy with regard to his particular responsibilities to guide the church in Ephesus and that this is prominent in his thought in this passage. It also seems clear, however, that he regards this church at Ephesus in light of its connection with the universal church. Paul could hardly mean to describe the local church at Ephesus—in itself and by itself—as the house of God, the church of the living God, or the pillar and support of the truth.
Here, then, we must fall back on a broader scriptural understanding of the church and see that each particular church is seen as a local expression of the universal church. Though recognizing their spiritual unity as part of the universal church, Reformed Baptist ecclesiology sees each particular church as governmentally independent and in that sense autonomous. Cf. the 1689 Baptist Confession, chapter 26, paragraphs 5-7. At the same time, it recognizes that it is vital for these churches to cooperate for the better achievement of their tasks in the world. Such cooperation may take many scriptural forms, and in Reformed Baptist life it has taken many forms. According to the Confession it may involve formal associations of churches where this is providentially possible—as long as such associations do not infringe on the independence of the local church. Cf. the 1689 Baptist Confession, chapter 26, paragraphs 14-15. It has often been thought that such tasks as missions (church-planting) and theological education (the training of ministers of the Word or pastor-teachers) especially require, or at least are more easily and better accomplished by means of, such cooperation. It is the assumption of this blog series that this thinking is correct.