Welcome to the "In Search of Truth" forums! Thanks for the good questions.
You asked about seminaries, and you mentioned that many students come back as non-believers. Regardless of the prestige associated with a place of "higher learning", the Bible warns us of the dangers of such places:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote:Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits." Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (I Corinthians 15:33-34 NKJV)
Many use this passage to warn against the dangers of ungodly friends, who over time may persuade us to sin. However, the context is dealing with those who have succumbed to the error of false teachers, specifically those who taught there was no resurrection (I Corinthians 15:12
). Given the above passage, could you go some place where you would be exposed for a long time to false doctrine and the pressure to conform to it?
The Scriptures also warn about those who are "self-certifying":
Paul wrote:Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's. ... For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (II Corinthians 10:7-12 NKJV)
There is a faulty, circular reasoning that requires certification from a seminary, when the authority of a seminary is eventually traced back to itself or other seminaries. Why would you seek certification from an institution that has no authority beyond its own men, who "commend themselves ... measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves"
Furthermore, most seminaries and Bible colleges exist as institutions supported or sponsored by churches, violating the New Testament pattern for church autonomy. For more details, please see these articles:
So, does that mean there is no value in a Bible college? Assuming that it was established and is operated by individuals apart from a local church, it would be generically authorized and would be doing a valuable work. However, if it is not teaching the truth of God's Word, then it will do more harm than good (I Corinthians 15:33
). And, if any require certification from such an institution, they are placing their trust in self-certifying men (II Corinthians 10:7-12
), and they are ignoring the power of the Bible, God's Word to both teach and teach men how to teach (II Timothy 3:16-17; 2:15; Ephesians 3:3-5
The seed of God's kingdom is God's Word (Luke 8:11; Matthew 13:18-23; I Peter 1:22-25
). If you read it and study it diligently (II Timothy 2:15; I Timothy 4:12-16
), you can
understand it (Ephesians 3:3-5
)! Now, there are some things in the Bible that are more difficult to understand than other things (II Peter 3:15-16
), and if we are careless or prejudiced, we can be stumble over these difficult passages, even to our own destruction (II Peter 3:15-16; II Thessalonians 2:9-12
). However, since we know this in advance, if we are careful, humble, and love truth supremely, we can remain steadfast and grow in the Lord, in spite of these difficult passages (II Peter 3:17-18; II Thessalonians 2:13-17
). As you study and learn, talk with others about the Bible and what you have learned. Remain humble and open to correction from others using God's Word (I Peter 5:5-6; II Timothy 2:23-26; Matthew 18:4; Galatians 2:11-14
). Don't ever believe that you have come to know everything, cannot sin, or cannot be corrected! That will be dangerous day! By doing this (studying the Bible, talking about the Bible, growing in knowledge and ability), you will slowly transform into a helpful and powerful teacher of God's Word. Be humble enough to gain help wherever you can find it, but beware evil influences and do not seek to satisfy your pride or someone else's pride by seeking the approval of men.
Bible colleges can be helpful, but they are not necessary; otherwise, Jesus would have established them personally. Frequently, they are dangerous.
Older Christians can be invaluable instructors, and web-sites such as this one can provide a wealth of information. Just be sure that you always listen as did the ancient Bereans:
Luke, the inspired historian, wrote:Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12 NKJV)
And, as Paul commanded:
Paul wrote:Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (I Thessalonians 5:21-22 NKJV)
So, whatever you learn, from wherever you learn it, filter it against the truth of God's Word! After all, we are just men, even children before our Heavenly Father.
I pray this helps.