From Voice, Nov/Dec 2014.
Leading a Christian college, university, graduate school, or seminary is a challenge in the varied uncertainties of our day. It is especially disheartening when academic publications use terms like “tsunami” and “danger” and “at risk” to describe the perilous nature of the traditional education landscape. One wonders how the smaller private Christian colleges will surf the coming tsunami and overcome the challenge.
This brief presentation is not meant to be a “how to” survival guide for the small college. Rather, it is a perspective on why ecclesiology matters in the overall mission and purpose of a Christian liberal arts college. In what follows I address the nature of the church, the mission and core values of the college, and then consider how ecclesiology informs college life and operations.
What I mean by the church
So what do I have in mind when I reference the Church? I am not writing about a particular denomination nor am I writing about a specific style of ministry. Rather, I am considering what the Bible reveals to us about the nature of the Church in both its universal and local significance.
The Church, in its universal design is the body of Christ, made up of all true believers who are spiritually united by faith in the finished work of Christ, who paid sin’s debt (Ephesians 3:10; 4:12). According to 1 Corinthians 12:13 true believers are placed into this body by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. They have been delivered out of the kingdom of darkness and placed into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).
The Church, in its local design, is an organized group of believers gathered in a particular geographic location under the direction of biblical leadership for Bible preaching, for worship that includes baptism and celebration of the Lord’s table, and for evangelism and discipleship (Acts 2:41; 20:7, Philippians 1:1). The local Church is the functioning reality of the universal Church.
The Church is an amazing work of God especially when one considers the declarative statements and illustrations about it in the Scriptures. The Church, for example, is what Christ promised to build. It will not be defeated by diabolical efforts (Matthew 16:18). The Church is the reality and the community that Christ desires for every believer (Matthew 28:1920; Acts 2:40-41). According to the summary statements of the Acts narrative (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20: 28:31), the Church is what Christ is growing and advancing through the spread of His Word. This body of believers is what Christ purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
The Church is the means God has chosen to make known His manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). It is the body of Christ gifted and outfitted for life and service (Ephesians 4:1-16). The Church is what Christ loved and that for which Christ gave His life (Ephesians 5:22-24). The Church is the pillar and ground of truth that upholds revealed truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The Church is a holy priesthood worshipping the Lord in Spirit and truth (1 Peter 2:5). The Church is the flock of God cared for by Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1). The Church is the bride of Christ that will enjoy a special place with Him in eternity (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:9).
The church & the Christian liberal arts college
In light of these biblical texts that affirm the unique nature of the Church in both it’s local and universal sense along with its relationship the Lord, is it possible that this work of God could inform the vision and direction of a Christian liberal arts college?
The responses to this important question are better understood in light of what a Christian liberal arts college is and does. Unlike the colleges and universities designed to prepare a student for a particular vocational role, a liberal arts college is designed to prepare a student for life. In fact, the two big questions answered by a liberal arts education are: “who am I?” and “how should I live?”
With these liberal arts questions in mind, we understand the mission of Clearwater Christian College to provide students the distinctive opportunity to study life’s deepest questions, history’s biggest ideas, and today’s best practices. Questions, ideas, and practices are studied in the context of a gospel-centered, missional community of peers and mentors. Our Christ centered, gospel driven community is governed by the Holy Spirit-produced desire for excellence and virtue.
At CCC we pursue the mission and the objective of a Christian liberal arts education in four deliberate ways.
First, we are deliberate about academic distinction. Historically, a liberal arts education consisted of academic disciplines that contributed to a broad education that prepared a student for life. The original group of disciplines included grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry. It is more common today to see a liberal arts education built around the Social Sciences, the Natural Sciences, the Humanities, and the Fine Arts.
A liberal arts education seeks to prepare, to shape, and to equip a person with well-rounded foundational study so that the student has an aptitude to learn and the flexibility to adapt to a constantly changing marketplace. A broad-minded learner thinks critically, empathizes sincerely, and discerns common connections in the created order.
The marketplace in the global neighborhood needs biblically trained individuals who can compete and perform at the highest levels. The staggering opportunity of Clearwater Christian College is the chance to prepare men and women for a gospel driven life with the tools of a Christ-centered liberal arts education.
Second, we are deliberate about gospel centrality. The gospel is the powerful and life transforming message that brings all of life’s questions into perspective (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24). In every minor and major we are committed to defining reality as God defines it, declaring truth as God as spoken it, and equipping all students to be confident and committed followers of Jesus Christ. Gospel driven academics displays the Lordship of Christ over all disciplinary presuppositions.
Third, we are a deliberate community of mentors. The fruit of the gospel is community. The gospel creates a body of believers and ultimately the Church. The fruit of the gospel is mentoring and discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20). At the college we perceive ourselves as a community of worshippers preparing for life. In this community we have the opportunity to live life together with intentionality so we become courageous followers of Christ.
Finally, we are deliberate about missional living. This means a life of gospel proclamation in both word and deed. A gospel driven life is distinctively marked with knowledge of, and affection for, the Lord Jesus Christ, His word, His grace, and His church. Gospel driven, liberal learners will be missional with their life. They will creatively use their well-rounded education in the market place of the global neighborhood in the arenas of ministry, of business, of education, and of the sciences to advance the great commission and to build a strong and healthy Church.
We believe that the intentionality of such a mission and core values will prepare students to live wisely and productively in the market place, the public square, and the Church. The realized outcome of a Christian liberal arts education not only prepares a student to find a place in the market, the public square, or the church, but prepares them to influence the direction of the market, the square, and the Church.
Applying our ecclesiology
Now that we have considered the nature of both the Church and the college, we can at this point turn to make specific applications of our ecclesiology to the life and functions of the Church.
The Church helps us understand our place in the biblical story. Jesus never promised academics: “I will build your college” or “I will build your university” or “I will build your school.” If Christ is building His Church, then any ministry we build should not compete with His construction plans. From the authority of the biblical story, I infer that a Christian academic institution should be founded with a purpose to serve the Church and not supplant it.
The Church helps us understand our institutional priorities. If we are not competitors with the Church then we must find ways to prioritize the church. For example, at Clearwater Christian College we are determined to speak the gospel into our liberal arts education so it is shaped with God’s true view of things. As we speak the gospel into the arts and sciences we will uphold a strong ecclesiology by means of teaching and preaching that the Church is a vital part of God’s plan for us; it is His true reality for us. In our community we celebrate the work of the church and encourage each other to be the Church.
Yes, we are a non-denominational ministry founded to serve the larger body of Christ. How a church is controlled, how ministry preferences and doctrinal particulars are defined are important matters settled at the local level under the leadership of faithful men who teach the Word of God.
The Church helps us frame our student life focus. We will disciple with a local church mindset. We will teach, preach, and support a full-cycle of discipleship that includes local church involvement. We will not let our student life compete with church life. We will not discount church life and accountability in the discipline process. We will speak positively to our students about the place, the priority, and the leadership of the local church.
The Church helps us determine our educational goals.
First, we will humbly employ our academic and student life resources to serve the Church however we can. We will do our best to show the Church what we have learned in business, education, science, and the arts about the beauty and glory of Christ and the divine design in the created order. We would be happy to help the Church speak to the anti-Christ issues and the ethos of business, education, science and the arts. We will take opportunities to offer the Church an understanding of the mindset, the cultural priorities, and the prevailing philosophies of all people groups for the sake of bold gospel advance and healthy Church developments. With the greatest joy and satisfaction, we will present the Church young men and young women who have a healthy view of the gospel, a passion for Christ, and a desire to serve His people, the Church.
Second, we will serve the Church intentionally and aggressively through our “Faith to Life” biblical worldview center. This center is a physical presence on our campus and serves as the hub facilitating our gospel driven educational priorities. Its mission will facilitate a gospel driven biblical education designed to speak about God’s true view of things in all our educational majors. The center leadership will support a gospel driven faculty who will be encouraged and resourced to research and write about God’s true view of things in their educational major. In addition the center personnel will serve the Church through teaching, curriculum development, and ministry partnerships that will help it address the worldview perspectives of our day. Finally, the center ethos will nurture a gospel driven Great Commission initiative in connection with the Church.
Third, we will teach our classes with a missional focus. We will prepare students to function in the global neighborhood with a biblically informed view of life, people, ministry, and the created order.
We will expose models for bi-vocational ministry/missions and where possible create the opportunities and the pathways to business, education, science, and ministry.
Life in the cubical, in the classroom, or in the laboratory is ultimately about moving forward with Great Commission passion for a strong and healthy Church. Business, education, science, and ministry have one ultimate intentionality: the glory of God revealed in the Church.
In summary, it is Christ, the gospel, and the Church which give us our grit and zest to do Christian liberal arts education and to use our educational tool and our educational product for the glory of Christ and the strength and health of His Church. Our pride is properly crushed and mortified from this perspective. Our souls are energized to come alongside the bride and to serve it to the end. When all the educational chatter is about partnerships we cannot ignore our most significant partner, the Church.
Dr. John F. Klem became the fifth president of Clearwater Christian College in 2012. After receiving his BS from Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA, Dr. Klem went on to earn his MDiv and ThM from Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks-Summit, PA, and a ThD from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN.