The 1 Thing: Higher Education?


And so it begins again.  The supplies have been purchased and backpacks have already gotten their warm-up run.  Now begins the marathon that we know as another school year.  There is a level of stress no matter the age or grade.  This year, I know that better than I have in a while as I have returned to school myself this year as I work on a post-graduate certification!  So just as Logan and Jillian were getting their supplies, I was ordering my books and looking at my syllabus for the coming years.  This should be interesting in the Hagler household.

As the son of a college professor and a librarian, I can tell you from experience that education has been an important topic in my household forever!  It is easy to take for granted one’s education but there is no substitute for being knowledgable.  The role of education has been foundational in our nation and from our influence, we have done great work in helping throughout the world.

The United Methodist Church has long been supportive of education.  From John Wesley’s work in the poor houses of England to the founding of Africa University, one of the most important Universities on the continent of Africa, Methodist Christians have seen and believed in, the value of education.  But sometimes and in some churches, the education has become the 1 Thing.  For some, the church is a place where the transfer of knowledge and reason has become the focus.

In my teenage years, I grew frustrated in one of the churches I attended because of this.  The focus became information rather than transformation and that led me to becoming a Sunday School Drop-out.  In John 5, Jesus is forced to defend his ministry and teaching.  His words were direct and pointed to the scribes and Pharisees regarding their focus on information - 

38 But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. John 5:38-40 (NKJV)

Following the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC, the Jewish scribes and scholars turned their attention to the details of education and study of the Law.  The focus of the priest was no longer on the practices of the faith, the rituals or sacrifices, but on the fullest meanings of the words hoping this would bring renewal and life.

Jesus, fully aware of this history, points out that for all of the study, they have failed in recognizing that the Scriptures had been pointing not at reading words but relationship with God.  Jesus clearly acknowledges the value of knowing the words of God’s book, after all, Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi.  Their greatest value isn’t in knowledge but in acknowledgement that Jesus is in fact, God revealed to humanity for our hope and for relationship. 

It has been a recurring theme in the history of spirituality though and certainly within the Church itself.  We Methodists came from a similar issue that John Wesley faced.  The Enlightenment had pushed reason to the forefront.  The Church of England in the 1700’s had become a faith focused on making sure people knew about Jesus but like us, as George Barna found in surveying the USA, few know Jesus .

Through an experience, not reason, John Wesley found not only his heart warmed but himself, transformed by meeting Jesus, through faith and believing Jesus had forgiven him of sin.  From that time on Wesley became focused on transformation not information alone.  His approach to living out faith that we still hold to today, is that Scripture is central for us to KNOW Jesus Christ.  We grow in our faith by the Traditions about Jesus past down, we grow from the Experiences we have with Jesus and yes, we also grow by our Reasoning about what learn about Jesus.

The 1 thing isn’t that we come to be a church that knows more about Jesus but when our lives are transformed by the love Jesus gives to us through our relationship with him.  Jesus’ appeal (v 40) was for the scribes to get their heads out of the sand, out of their books, off their computers and look at Him.  When we as individuals and as a church turn our attention to Jesus, our Bible Study, our Sunday School, our worship, our sermons, our service, our giving, everything – moves from mastering the mind to the love of Jesus.  Sharing information is a good thing but it not the 1 Thing.

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