Competence and Credentials


John Robbins



Many clergymen, and many churches, confuse credentials with competence. They seem to reason, if a man has graduated from college and from seminary, he is competent to be a member of the clergy. If he has done neither or only one, he is not competent to be a member of the clergy. ("Clergy," I hasten to point out, is a concept alien to the New Testament Church; the Bible speaks only of elders and deacons, and there is only one set of requirements for all elders; but that is another matter.) The confusion of academic credentials with competence is a most serious error, and a most common one.

Many of the credentialed theologians of our day are incompetent. Moreover, some of the best theologians never attended seminary. The Biblical requirement for an elder is that he be "apt to teach," not a graduate of a seminary. But most churches have substituted seminary degrees for "apt to teach." Paul demanded competence, not credentials.

Competence in teaching is not to be determined by the degrees after one's name, but solely, I repeat, solely, by one's ability to articulate the truths of Scripture clearly, accurately, completely, and boldly. For too long local congregations have surrendered their right to judge who is apt to teach and who is qualified to be a "teaching elder" to the credentialed faculties of theological seminaries, faculties that all too often are incompetent. It is the Word of God that constitutes the standard against which candidates for church leadership are to be measured, not the faculties of colleges and seminaries. Credentials do not necessarily imply competence, and competence does not require credentials. The sooner Christians learn that lesson, the better off we all will be.


Against The World. The Trinity Review, 1978-1988. Page 216 [Competence and Credentials]. John W. Robbins, Editor. The Trinity Foundation, P.O. Box 68, Unicoi, Tennessee 37692.