James Durham on Ministerial Qualifications

In our age of the self-appointed and internet "theologian," Durham's words are so relevant

The ministry has to help the congregation understand difficult and hard things in Scripture. But without learning this will not be possible. Unless ministers themselves have studied these “difficult” and “hard” things they will not be able to help their congregation understand the scriptures and so grow in grace.

 

In our first and second posts on James Durham’s essay, “Concerning Ministerial Qualifications,” we saw that the prerequisites “for the complete qualifying of a Minster” were “Gifts, Learning, and Grace.” And we spent some time looking at Durham’s understanding of ministerial gifts. This short series continues with Durham’s thoughts on the necessity of an educated ministry. In our age of the self-appointed and self-taught internet “theologian,” Durham’s words are so relevant.

What is Learning and Why Does it Matter?
Durham defined learning as an “acquaintance with Scripture and with the divine and heavenly things in it.” And by “acquaintance with Scripture” he meant Scripture in its original languages. Unpacking this Durham noted this learning entails “a fitness to reason for Truth and against error, to draw conclusions from premises, to open hard places, to reconcile seemingly contradictory places, and to answer objections etc.” Durham also said ministers should be widely and broadly learned, not just in relation to the scriptures and theology.

Sufficient learning to “reason against gainsayers and to open the mysteries of the gospel” is, Durham noted, “required in all ministers.” Aptness to teach, and the learning that necessitates, is a non-negotiable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). But why is learning necessary? Well, one great purpose of the ministry is to explain those things in Scripture which “are hard and not easily understood, which the unlearned and ignorant are ready to pervert to their destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). So, the ministry has to help the congregation understand difficult and hard things in Scripture. But without learning this will not be possible. Unless ministers themselves have studied these “difficult” and “hard” things they will not be able to help their congregation understand the scriptures and so grow in grace.

But, as well as for the congregation, learning is also important for the minister himself. The minister as a “teacher of the law” has to “understand what he is saying” (1 Tim. 1:7). The minister has to “hold fast … the pattern of sound words” that they have been taught (2 Tim. 1:13). And to do this they need to be learned. But why? Well, yes, so they can help their congregation. Yes, so they can convince doubters. But Durham also noted it is also important so that ministers themselves can avoid “being turned aside foolish unlearned questions” which will only bring “strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). It is by giving heed to doctrine or teaching that the minister saves himself as well as his hearers (1 Tim. 4:16). It is no act of kindness to the minister himself, as well as no act of kindness to the congregation, to allow an uneducated ministry.