Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Having the Right Credentials

Suggested Reading: Acts 4:8-18

Several years ago, I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree and am currently finishing a PhD. I have spent more than a decade in higher education classrooms and I know lots of people with multiple degrees. Some of my best friends hold a PhD.  So I have both a great appreciation for and a healthy skepticism of higher learning. I appreciate the education one can gain, especially in biblical studies, but I am also keenly aware, because of so much time spent with so many people who now have higher education degrees, that academic credentials don't change who you are. In fact, academic learning and credentials typically make you much more of the kind of person you already are. With education, people are simply better at justifying what they already believe and more practiced in defending it.

Recently, however, I was reading through Acts 4 and I was reminded of an entirely different and yet more pertinent kind of credential. Peter and John had been arrested due to the public upheaval they created by healing a lame man. They had been brought before the Sanhedrin and called to account for preaching in the name of Jesus. When Peter and John responded cleverly and with conviction, the Sanhedrin's reaction to them is recorded with these words:  "When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13 HCSB). Neither Peter nor John had any legitimate training or education in the eyes of the most educated Jews of the day yet they were able to make a solid case for preaching the gospel before the very people who were trying to intimidate them into stopping. The only explanation the Sanhedrin could come up with was that these men had been with Jesus.

In another example, but at the opposite extreme, we can see the Apostle Paul. Paul was a very highly educated man. He had studied under Gamaliel, a man whose counsel the Sanhedrin grudgingly yielded to just a few chapters later in Acts. Paul had all of the educational credentials that a Christian minister could hope for in the first century. Yet, at the beginning of each of his letters, when he lists his credentials for his readers, he never once mentions his education or training. Instead, he only ever mentions that he had been called by Jesus, that he was a slave of Jesus.  As far as Paul was concerned, the only legitimate credentials were those related directly to his relationship with Christ.

Now, don't get me wrong. I believe in being as educated as possible, especially for the ministry. I believe in having all of the tools available to help one rightly divide the Word of Truth. But the only credential that really matters is whether or not we have been with Jesus, whether or not we are following his call in our lives. What credentials do you tend to flash for people? Are you more impressed than you should be by other people's credentials? Or do you rely too heavily on the wrong credentials yourself? There's ultimately only one credential that matters.

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