An Exchange on the no Bible Class Doctrine


     The following exchange took place on a Internet discussion list.  The no Bible class Movement has been a troubling issue to not a few individuals and churches, especially among churches of Christ.  At first glance, the proponents of this persuasion appear to be very conservative.  However, a study of the no class, etc. movement poses a complex study into a mind set replete with many contradictions.  The study is first and foremost a study of biblical authority and how to establish it.  The no class issue especially focuses on the area of liberty involved in Bible authority, the matter of expedients and aids to carry out an authorized command.  An introductory articles to this exchange is, "Hermeneutics, Handling Aright the Word" and, "Bible Classes, Some Thoughts."


Don Martin to the list:


I have noticed a renewed interest and momentum in the Bible class issue. As you know, there are churches that hold the following view:

(1). Bible classes for all ages as practiced by the average church of Christ on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights are sinful because they divide the church, the assembly.

(2). There is no regulation in scripture relative to Bible classes; therefore, such arrangements are wrong, being without regulation.

(3). Bible classes allow women to speak out when the scriptures forbid women to speak (I Cor. 14: 34).

(4). The Bible class arrangement violates the family by taking the place of the family (parent's responsibility to teach their children).

(5). Bible classes are wrong because the practice is borrowed from denominations.

How do you view the above? Is the common Bible class arrangement and practice simply an expedient or is such a practice without authority?

Thank you in advance for your comments.


Don Martin to the list:


I asked for input regarding the authority for the practice of Bible classes as usually practiced by churches of Christ and Jason Smith responded. I shall isolate and comment on parts of his post. By the way, I appreciate all the different responsive posts.

Jason Smith wrote:

Classes are no more authorized than four part harmony, shaped notes in song books, potlucks, a steeple, padded pews, a clergy system (even if denied), or even a communal church building.

Don comments:

Indeed, the clergy or pastoral system and church sponsored or paid for simply social potlucks in the church building (involving treasury) are unauthorized. Hence, they are sinful. Such matters are incongruous with the work of the church (cp. I Tim. 3: 15 and I Cor. 4: 6, Rev. 22: 18, 19). Having authority for all practiced is of the utmost importance, as religious activity without authority will be the cause of the Lord rejecting people on the Day of Judgement (Matt. 7: 21-27).

Nonetheless, Jason continues:

But some of these aren't necessarily wrong in themselves. God didn't legislate in such miniscule areas as this. Arguing over things like this is about the same mentality as the Pharisees weighing mint, anise, and cummin to the very exactness of 10%.

Don observes:

I am afraid Jason has a different understanding of authority than I do, though he does qualify, "some of these things." Jason seems to pile everything into one group and pronounce them without authority and then say, "some of these aren't necessarily wrong in themselves." The matter of "shaped notes in song books," for instance, would come under the heading of a legitimate expedient. Those who have lost respect for and recognition of Bible authority have become really fuzzy and out of focus regarding the subject of authority and how it is established, I have noticed.

Christians are commanded to sing (Eph. 5: 19). While songbooks are not required, they, along with their shaped notes, can and usually constitute a means of executing the command to sing. Since they do not constitute another kind of music but simply facilitate carrying out the command to sing, they are a true expedient or aid.

Jason further writes:

This whole "authority" syndrome where men list rules for others to obey based on supposed biblical "authority" has fostered so many divisions among us that we all ought to be embarrassed over it.... We have no biblical authority for 90% or more of what we do. But we go ahead and do it anyway. Why? Because God does allow some freedom for us to discover expedient ways of obeying his principles. But anything that we do that is divisive or sectarian, to me, ought to be suspect.

Don responds:

I agree with part of what Jason writes, I think: "Because God does allow some freedom for us to discover expedient ways of obeying his principles. But anything that we do that is divisive or sectarian, to me, ought to be suspect."

Don answers:

True expedients are not divisive. How about the brother who says, "the church cannot offer classes for all ages on Sunday morning!"? Must the church allow the brother to cause others to forego classes?

Before I further address this matter, how about classes, are they a perversion and thus unauthorized or do they constitute an aid? The local church is to edify itself in love (Eph. 4: 16). Regarding the assembly, Paul unequivocally taught that the paramount purpose of the assembly is that of edifying those present (I Cor. 14). While classes are not the assembled church as such, do they violate any biblical principle? The building is being used to teach the scriptures and teachers are functioning under the oversight of the eldership. It is evident that there were formed groups, call them classes if you will, when the gospel was first preached (Acts 2: 14-47). How else could such a large number have been taught?


Don Martin to the list:


In my first post, I mentioned the apparent logistics of Acts 2, allowing such a large number to hear the gospel and avoid mass confusion. I suggested to you that the answer is that there appears to have been some grouping of those present, grouping them according to their spoken language, at least, at different stages (Acts 2: 6-47, one feasible explanation is that they "came together" but because of the thousands present, they grouped up to be instructed in their own language. They may have come together again when Peter addressed them or the apostles may have also simultaneously been speaking and Luke focused on Peter, some suggest they were saying the same as Peter but in their group's language, vs. 14, 38). Whichever explanation is offered to solve the logistics, it is appears some grouping, at some point was done. I understand that technically, this situation did not constitute "the church" at this exact point in time. However, it does illustrate to a large measure that grouping (classes) were not unknown.

We find the church in Jerusalem praying for Peter, Peter being in prison (Acts 12: 5). We are told that when Peter was miraculously freed, he came to the house of Mary "where many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12: 12). Later, we read of "James and the brethren" being in "another place" (Acts 12: 17). It seems that a group of the Christians (not all that constituted the local church) were in the house of Mary. They were there for religious or worship purposes. I would be the first to say that I do not know all the circumstances. Whatever the case, it still appears that those mentioned in Acts 12: 12 were only a group or part of an or the local church. Furthermore, did all the "three thousand" break bread together "from house to house"? (Acts 2: 46).

In all candor, I cannot furnish an example that totally lends itself to or is absolutely parallel with the Bible class circumstance practiced by churches. However, neither can I provide an example of a songbook with shaped notes. I do know that Christians are to sing and that song books only assist in this act. After a similar fashion, I submit Bible classes assist in the command to edify (Eph. 4: 16). To argue against Bible classes, one would have to produce evidence that this practice is incongruous with the command to edify or the work of the church ("church" is here used both distributively and corporately, I say "corporately" because the treasury is involved, the building, class books, etc.).

"The Bible class practice divides the assembly," some protest. If a practice does violate a biblical principle, either a directly involved teaching or a related tenet, then it cannot be called an expedient. Where I preach, the members (and children) go to a classroom with their age and learning skills in mind. This takes place BEFORE the assembly as such. After classes, all assemble in the auditorium (the assembly). How does this practice of classes for all ages divide the assembly?

Back to my question: Must the church allow the brother who simply objects to classes to cause others to forego classes? Some would say, "yes, if the brother is sincere." One problem that I have found through the years is that most who object to Bible classes also object to a number of other matters. Some object to a building being rented or owned by the church; to a supported preacher who works with the local church, providing edification; many of these objectors insist on fermented juice for the Lord's Supper; King James Translation only; no treasury; ad infinitum.

The scriptures warn against those who "spy out our liberty" (Gal. 2: 4). Instead of conceding to these objectors, why not teach them, teach them about the nature of Bible authority, especially the matter of expedients? If they cannot be taught, it has been my experience that they just do not "fit in" the average church.


Don Martin to the list:


First, I want to thank each who has responded to my post relative to the practice of Bible classes that characterizes most churches of Christ. I have introduced this subject because I am seeing renewed interest in the matter and more churches now that are accepting the no class position.

Jim Baxter wrote:

I went to church from my earliest recollection as a child and they conducted bible classes Sunday morning and Wednesday night. That alone is why I have accepted it?.... We could save time if we had the Lord's supper in the classrooms. You know how long it takes to pass those emblems in the assembly sometimes.

Don comments:

Jim, thanks for you input on the subject of Bible classes as normally and regularly practiced by churches of Christ as an expedient to edification and teaching. Jim, I am not sure if you are serious or just joking in your following remark:

"We could save time if we had the Lord's supper in the classrooms. You know how long it takes to pass those emblems in the assembly sometimes."

I shall take you seriously and reflect on the matter of observing the Lord's Supper in the class circumstance. I have before heard of this practice and the justification has been to save time. "We allow each class to partake of the Lord's Supper in their class setting; this takes less time than all partaking in the assembly during the assembly time," has been the full explanation. Also, I have known of the members giving of their means during the class situation.

I think that we have seen that forming classes based on age, learning skills, and sometimes with gender in mind can be an expeditious way of studying the scriptures. However, such an arrangement does not constitute the assembly. The assembly of I Corinthians 11: 17 and 14: 19 involved "the whole church come together into one place" (I Cor. 14: 23, see vs. 26). It was during this assembled state (all together) that the Lord's Supper was observed (Acts 20: 7, cf. I Cor. 11: 17-34). Through the years, I have also encountered the thinking, "why not just meet in classes and eliminate the assembly in the auditorium?" Some are not found of the auditorium assembly because they view it as too formal. This brings us to one of our original ideas: the objection to classes based on "there is no regulation."

While I do not believe the assemblies of Acts 20: 7, I Corinthians 11, or chapter 14 lend themselves exactly to our class circumstance, I do believe there are some applicable guidelines. For instance, order and the lack of confusion should prevail in classes just as in the assembly (I Cor. 14: 40). In the assembly of the early church at Corinth in which some possessed spiritual gifts, all were to avoid speaking at the same time. Paul provides detailed instruction as to how they were to speak "by course" and "one by one" (I Cor. 14: 27; 31). Notice something else, each that spoke had something of value to say! (I Cor. 14: 26, 30). What I am saying is that the typical class setting may be more "informal" than the assembly, but structure must still characterize it. If not, why not? Another matter, some seem to believe that since it is a class situation, anything goes. For instance, a woman may teach the men. I recall dealing with one problem where it was learned that a female member was actually addressing a mixed class. She was up front, assuming the posture of "the teacher." When the matter was challenged, her reply was, "this is not the assembly, it is just a class." I realize that the teaching of I Timothy 2: 11, 12 (vs. 8ff.) is the assembly. However, there are recognized roles in all circumstances (cp. I Pet. 3: 4-6).

I moved to a church that had a large number of males between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five. My predecessor had been encouraging these men to publicly speak by forming a special class. They were assigned subjects to speak on with which they were familiar. The whole class period may have been spent on "how to overhaul a 289 Ford engine." When I moved there, I objected to the class period being used to discuss secular subjects and insisted that we address the Bible. After all, the "church building" was involved and the activity had to be congruous with the overall work of the church (I Tim. 3: 15).

Classes are an expedient, I am convinced, but just as with all aids, they can be abused. Abuse, though, does not necessarily preclude the expedient, providing the aid aids and does not become a source of digression and a climate and opportunity for matters that are unauthorized.


Don Martin to the list:


As I earlier mentioned, I am seeing a growing trend among some to embrace the "no Bible class position." As I have also shared with you, the no class position usually involves other matters such as, no located preacher, fermented drink for the Lord's Supper, and often the no treasury position, etc.

Jeff Avery has made a worthy contribution (as he usually does):

Anything the local church is charged with accomplishing or authorized to do, it may use any expedient "method" to accomplish as long as the "method" is just that, and not another organization and doesn't violate some other principle of Biblical truth. Since the local church is charged to be a "self edifying" body, the means to accomplish this required and desired end are authorized. Bible classes are just a "method" under the oversight of the elders to "edify one another" (Ephesians 4:3-12; Thessalonians 5:11-21) In 1 Corinthians chapter 14 when they possessed spiritual gifts they were to be used properly for the edification of the membership.

Don comments:

I believe we have established the fact that the class circumstance can be a legitimate expedient or aid to execute the command to edify (cp. Eph. 4: 16). However, we have admitted the possibility of abuse, just as with any aid. Notice Jeff's statement:

" long as the "method" is just that, and not another organization and doesn't violate some other principle of Biblical truth."

I am afraid that some brethren have a Sunday School arrangement concept of classes. The full-blown Sunday School is often a separate entity, having its own overseers and treasury. I am not charging churches of Christ with having such a Sunday School, but I have seen vestiges of the Sunday School. Let me show you what I mean:

"Why can not we take up a special collection in our class to help purchase things for our class? We could also form a separate treasury to be use for our class." Here is another request that I have heard, "Since the elders are busy with other matters, why not oversee the classes. We can simply call them our 'Sunday School superintendents.'" Brethren and concerned readers, such thinking makes me tremble and horrifies me.

I recall back in the Baptist Church, there was the full-blown Sunday School. It was a separate entity, had its own board of directors and overseers, its own treasury, and its own official literature. I recall when I was little, there was a division within the Baptist Church we were attending. Some objected to the Sunday School entity on the basis that it was a separate entity that was attempting to control the local churches. I recall listening intently to the debate (I was about six years old). I have seen some of the same dangers in some local churches belonging to Christ. I personally cringe when I even hear classes referred to as Sunday School."

Again, I defend the Bible class practice as an expedient to carry out the command to edify the body. I believe these classes as an aid can be conducted in church owned facilities and financed by the church treasury. However, we must be aware of the possible abuses of the class arrangement and avoid them. As Jeff so aptly said, "and doesn't violate some other principle of Biblical truth."


Don Martin to Harold Jacobs and the list:


Harold makes some good comments relative to our Bible class discussion concerning which I would like to comment. Harold wrote:

Harold to Don Martin.

I have come across only two "no class" churches and I wanted to tell you that you represented their position well according to what I have read and studied with them.

The one in Mena was also a "no located preacher" church. What my wife and I found a bit different was that the women would not speak before, during, or after services as long as they were inside the building. The men would talk with visitors inside but the women stayed silent until out on the porch.

Don comments:

One offered objection to the Bible class practice is that "it allows women to speak; thus violating the command, 'Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak...'" (I Cor. 14: 34).

In the first place, I Corinthians 14: 34 is issued in the assembly climate. As I have stated, I do not view the class circumstance as the assembly. Based on the classes not being the assembly, I have opposed partaking of the Lord's Supper in the classes, etc. In the second place, when carefully studied, the teaching of I Corinthians 14: 34 is qualified and pertains to speaking in such a way and situation as to cause confusion (see I Cor. 14: 26-40). These women (probably the prophet's wives) were to "ask their husbands at home" rather than disrupt the assembly (vs. 36, 33, 40). Men also are not to disrupt the assembly (vs. 26-33). The word "silence" (sigao) literally means, "to hold one's peace" or not make a sound (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 574). Women are certainly to "sing" but in the qualified situation being discussed, the women were to not emit a sound (cause confusion). As we have seen, such guidelines would also applied to the class, used as an expedient, being conducted in the church building. However, those who bind no classes have misunderstood the text of I Corinthians 14: 34 and are binding their erroneous views, just as they do their other extreme positions.

Harold continues:

My opinion is that the natural progression of legalism will eventually lead to no class, no located preacher, one cup churches, but that too much liberty will lead to denominationalism.

Don comments:

Not understanding authority will certainly result in all kinds of isms, ranging from the liberal kitchen in the buildings, family life centers on one end of the spectrum to the other extreme of no classes, no located preacher, etc.

The feature about the no class position that really defies my ability to understand is the following: Many view the no class advocates as being ultra conservative. However, a number of churches that insist on no classes have embraced the liberal social gospelism of kitchens in the church building. They believe it is a sin to have Bible classes in the church owned facility, but that it is permissible for the members to come together to enjoy a social meal in the building or church owned facility. Try explaining this, I can not. The no class people, then, often present an aberration and anomaly in thinking.


Don Martin to the list:


I want to briefly notice the remaining objections to Bible classes being viewed and used as an expedient to the church edifying itself (Eph. 4: 16). First, the objection of, "(4) The Bible class arrangement violates the family by taking the place of the family (parent's responsibility to teach their children)."

There is no doubt about parental responsibility in the matter of teaching and training children (Eph. 6: 4). I would also be the first to admit that I have seen some abuse Bible classes by their thinking, "I use the local church Bible classes to fulfill my obligation to teach my children; therefore, I seek the best possible classes." Yes, I have been told this, in the same exact words.

As we have repeatedly said, just because an aid can be abused, does not mean the aid must be viewed as wrong within itself. Let me be plain: Any parent that shifts their responsibility to train and teach their children to the local church is wrong! In the case of the Bible class circumstance, active parents will use even this arrangement to further work with their children. They can do this by helping them at home with their class lesson and checking with the class teacher to make sure their child is doing well in the class. I have even known of the following scenario: "We know the is not scriptural in some ways, but they offer excellent classes and I want the best for my children."

As I have stressed, the no class people often also object to a building being rented or owned by the church; to a supported preacher who works with the local church, providing edification; and a translation being used other than the King James Translation, etc. It is a fact that all these particulars can be and sometimes are misused and abused. Again, though, this does not make these matters wrong within themselves and mean that they cannot be legitimately and effectively used as aids to carry out the work God has assigned to the local church, edifying itself in love (Eph. 4: 16).

Objection number five is, "Bible classes are wrong because the practice is borrowed from denominations." Based on this line of rationale, could we not also say communion trays for the Lord's Supper are wrong because denominations have them? Communion trays are an aid in the observance of the Lord's Supper, a command (I Cor. 11: 23ff.). I have no idea regarding the origin of communion trays, but what does it matter, they constitute an expedient. The precise same can be said regarding Bible classes.


Don Martin to the list:


I believe we have had (seems to be coming to an end) a good discussion relative to the Bible class arrangement as practiced by most churches of Christ. I mentioned the practice where I preach on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights of each going to an appropriate class and then coming together in the auditorium for the assembly. The classes do not constitute the assembly, but simply an aid in helping edify. The authority, then, is found in the fact that the classes are an expedient. They serve as an expedient for edification the same as the communion trays, overhead projector, and a building in which to meet serve to facilitate the Lord's Supper, preaching, and the act of assembling itself (Acts 20: 7; 2 Tim. 4: 2-5; Heb. 10: 25).

John Wills applicably wrote:

When Bible classes are in progress on Sunday morning, the church is not assembled together. "Assembled together" means at the same time and in the same place. We eat the LS together (same place, same time). Lest anyone argue with this premise, let me suggest that when you eat lunch in the basement of your house and the rest of your family is eating upstairs in the kitchen, you are NOT eating together despite being in the same building. In other words you are not assembled together.

Don comments:

I believe Matt is correct and is stressing a vital point in the Bible class discussion. It is apparent that the early Christians were not always physically together in their activities (Acts 2: 46 cp. 41). It would have been a logistical problem to fit the thousands into one house or even into the average synagogue in Jerusalem. However, regarding the assembly proper, the "whole church" is to "come together into one place" (I Cor. 14: 23).

In concluding my part in the class discussion, I want to again mention the mind set of the promoters of the no class position. Most of the advocates of no classes pose an enigma. They appear ultra conservative but they have often also embrace ultra liberal ideals and practices. They will not use their buildings for classes that meet before or after the assembly to study the scriptures, but they are often found using the building for such social activities as a common meal (cp. I Cor. 11: 22, Acts 2: 46).

Harold Jacobs wrote:

Good observations concerning the "no class" churches. I visited a church in Junction, TX many years back that said on the phone that they did not believe in dividing into classes. As you mention, I had been taught that generally the no class, no located preacher, one cup, etc churches were ultra conservative, and since the other church in town believed in eating in the building, ( I had been taught that meant they were "liberal") we chose the more conservative of the two. Arriving early for Sunday night services I joked with the other family travelling with us asking what the wing on the building was since this was supposed to be a "no class" church. It turned out to be their eating place.

Don continues:

No class people pose a quandary in the matter of how they view Bible authority. It appears that all that have embraced the no classes posture have a faulty concept of Bible authority, especially in the matter of aids and expedients. All Christians do must be authorized (Col. 3: 17). However, an aid simply assists in the execution of the command. The aid, then, may not be specially mentioned in scripture. For instance, we use radio broadcasts and Web sites today to help reach the lost (cp. Mk. 16: 15, 16). No class people object to classes claiming there is no authority for such and then display a total disrespect for Bible authority by practicing things for which there is truly no authority.

The no Bible class movement (it continues to be a movement) is usually a package deal. If a church attempts to appease an apparent sincere objector to the class arrangement, beware, because he will probably have a list of demands. Many no class people insist on one cup used for the Lord's Supper; fermented wine for the fruit of the vine; no located preacher; King James Translation only; ad infinitum.

What is the solution regarding the problems introduced by the no class thinking? The only biblical solution is preaching on authority. We must continue to stress book, chapter, and verse for all we do (I Pet. 4: 11). However, in this vein, we must include details that involve aids and the difference between an aid and a substitution and corruption of the commanded matter itself.


Don Martin to the list:


As I mentioned, I had planned on my second post Wednesday concluding my part in the no class exchange. However, Harold Jacobs made a post last night that I think needs to be considered. Harold has contributed well to this discussion and made some good points. I believe, though, his last post needs some attention (nothing personal).

Harold wrote:

Don, I have enjoyed this thread and you have handled the subject well.

My conclusion is that no matter how hard we study, some brethren will always see things a little differently than we do. Happily we are united in Christ and not through perfect conformity in works and understanding. Do I consider the "no class" folks my brethren in Christ? YES. I see the no class, no located preacher, one-cup movements as the natural progression of legalism. Do I call them "brethren in error? NO, because that implies sin, and just because a brother does not understand a scripture exactly as I do does not make him a sinner bound for Hell.

Don comments:

I believe we have established the biblical fact that classes can be an effective expedient to implement the command that the church edify itself in love (Eph. 4: 15). We have also seen that the often no class advocate comes with a particular mind set and a plethora of objections, frequently involving no located preacher, one cup, etc. In other words, they make a big to do about nothing, even to the point of dividing churches.

Harold wrote, "Happily we are united in Christ and not through perfect conformity in works and understanding." I do not mean to be unkind, but my Bible teaches that we are united around and on the truth of the scriptures (Eph. 4: 3-6). My Bible also pronounces a curse on those who cause division and forbids me to fellowship them (cp. Rom. 16: 17).

We had a man to meet with us and make the following demand: "The elders must stand at the door of the church building and make sure no translation enters the building other than the King James Version, the Authorized Version!" What did we do, did we concede to keep peace, stress we must all be one and ignore his error? No, we studied with him and tried to teach him where he was wrong. "The apostles actually used the King James and it only is the Bible," he ignorantly affirmed. He was relentless, however, and I preached on the subject and pointed out such must not be bound on others. He was told that we would not tolerate such and he left and went to another church to promote his foolishness.

Attitudes are important and key, I understand, but when you have a mind set that "classes are a sin," "one cup must be used or the Lord's Supper is in vain," etc., these things must not be tolerated. To tolerate such under the name of unity in diversity is not only wrong, but also such leads to further problems and compromises. Such compromise is forbidden (Gal. 2: 5).

Binding no classes, etc., may seem innocent enough to some, but it is not without consequence. Wise elderships and brethren will not tolerate such concessions. They will seek to teach the erring but if the erring persist in binding such, they must be seen for what they are: errorists and divisive people. Let us busy ourselves in teaching on all the Bible has to say about every subject, but let us never forget the teaching on authority. Both from the standpoint of "proving all things" and also not allowing the subject of authority to be abused by those who want to bind where God has not bound (I Thes. 5: 21).