Apostolic Authority and Online Theological Education

I remember a time when online dating was new; and people who met their spouse through a website would sheepishly explain how they first made the connection. Voices would lower, eyes would go to the floor, and bashfully they’d say, “we met online.” As if the medium itself made the now-blossoming relationship somehow less valid or somewhat less blessed. Nowadays, however, I no longer detect such embarrassment. The online platform has become part and parcel to our way of life—an element of the everyday providence the Lord sees fit to use in the routineness of our lives. “Online” is how business is conducted, the way people stay in touch (or meet for the first time), and perhaps most relevantly at our present juncture in history: how education happens. More and more schools this academic year will utilize a digital platform for education—and there is no sign of this trajectory being walked back anytime soon, even concerning theological education.

Online learning is here to stay.

But just as the stigma of online dating is dissipating, so too some of the controversy surrounding digital education is becoming a thing of the past. However, we should at least consider the theological legitimacy and underpinnings of conducting school via distance. As a seminary professor, this post primarily focuses upon theological education, but what biblically applies to a Divinity degree should certainly have application to other forms and subjects of instruction.

Apostolic Instruction and Authority from a Distance

Let us first consider the way in which the Apostles saw their authority and instruction from a distance. In the first century, the notion of instantaneous communication through fiberoptic wires which span the globe was nowhere in the Apostles’ minds. Instead, their means of “Distance Education” was handwritten letters, delivered via courier, through all kinds of weather, over various terrain, and hundreds of miles, to reach their intended recipients. From such a remote position, Jesus’ followers conveyed their understanding that they were instructing the church with Christ’s authority from a distance. They said via letters, things like:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Cor. 11:23), and then Paul goes on to provide instruction for instituting the Lord’s Supper as properly conducted.

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (Col. 1:25), even as Paul is revealing such mysteries in an epistle.

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing you will do even more than I say” (Philemon 1:21), as the Apostle saw himself not only instructing via distance, but ensuring an effective response in the process.

We would very much call this concept: distance learning for theological education. The Apostles had this format going for the church thousands of years before the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary ever considered it!

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Source: Church Leaders