Bible Classes, Some Thoughts
Allow me to begin by
making some affirmations relative to the typical Bible
class arrangement characteristic of the average church of Christ, such as
observed on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. Christians ought
to welcome and make use of any legitimate circumstance
in which they publicly worship God and study his word (cp. Col. 1: 10).
Bible classes as conducted by the local church should afford such an
opportunity. I personally enjoy teaching a text in an organized Bible
class situation, which lends itself well to complete exegesis and to questions
and even orderly challenge from the audience. As a member of a local
church, respect and attention should be paid to the arrangements for edification
provided by the eldership. Assembling on the Lord's Day to partake of the Lord's
Supper, etc. is not optional (Acts 20: 7, 2: 42). However, additional
times for coming together such as the traditional Wednesday night service are a
matter of judgment. For the sake of clarification allow me to again say,
Christians should utilize all the worship and study arrangements they can and
submit to and work with the elders of the local church in these particulars (cp.
Heb. 13: 17). Having laid ground work that will hopefully both explain and
qualify, I shall now graduate to the next level.
Having debated the typical Bible class arrangement, I know full well that the authority for such a practice comes not immediately and necessarily under direct command, approved example, or necessary inference, though, the early Christians did meet at times other than just on the Lord's Day, Acts 2: 46, but rather under expediency. Please read what I am saying carefully: I do not think in order for a local church to be considered sound, it must necessarily have in place the Bible class circumstance, with which most of us are very familiar and practice. However, I would have questions to respectfully pose to the elders in the absence of such classes. If the absence of such classes is the result of indifference and spiritual apathy, I would certainly want these deficiencies addressed and treated. Again, though, I cannot affirm that there must be Bible classes conducted by the local church. I would affirm, however, that such classes, when properly set up and conducted, can be an expedient to expedite the work of edification provided by the local church (cp. Eph. 4: 12-16).
If a local eldership and church decide to have classes (I certainly recommend they do), then they should be conducted based on Bible principles. For instance, they should be orderly, offer only the truth, and subscribe to such biblical protocol as seen in verses such as I Timothy 2: 12. Does a Sunday morning class situation conducted at the church building prior to the Sunday morning "worship hour" constitute the assembly? No. I would, for instance, be opposed to the Lord's Supper being offered in the classes (cp. Acts 20: 7, I Cor. 11: 23f.). If the classes are going to be set up as most Bible classes being discussed are, using the church building facility, then the elders need to make sure these classes are an expedient and not a source of unscriptural activity and false teaching (I Pet. 5: 1-4).
There are certain, I think, understood requisites for the organized Bible studies that offer classes "for all ages." First, there should be a physically safe environment in which all can come together. It is unacceptable that some local churches provide facilities that are against local city code requirements, for example. If literature is used, care should be taken to ascertain the scripturalness of the material. Emphasis should be placed by the elders on the qualifications of the prospective teacher(s). They should be exemplary, both in conduct and doctrinal soundness (cp. Jas. 3). I have been appalled at how some churches allow every Tom, Dick, and Harry to teach Bible classes, often exposing even young people to known false teachers! Teachers should be sought not only based on the just mentioned requirements, but also their ability to address and handle special age and gender situations.
"Should a woman be
appointed to teach a class having young teenage boys?" is a question that arises
from time to time. I personally do not think a fourteen year old boy is a
man or that just because a fourteen has been baptized, he is a man (cp. I Tim.
2: 12). However, since I am unable to say when a "boy" becomes a "man," I
recommend women not teach classes having young teenage boys. Bible classes
can present some unique challenges, often involving teenage girls and a young
male teacher. There have been scandals and cases of fornication due to
elders subjecting a young male to serve as the teacher for a teenage girl Bible
study, dealing with such subjects as dating and reproductive desires. Teachers
should absolutely know their subjects and material (cp. 2 Tim. 2: 15). Not
only should they evince general conversance, but they should be able to
anticipate arguments and objections and be able to handle these situations.
Bible classes should never be allowed to serve as the means of a member with a
special cause being able to take advantage of a captured audience, either
regarding some pet aberrant doctrine or gossip tendency he or she may have.
I have taught, participated in, served as the local preacher of churches that practiced Bible classes, and also functioned as an elder in such arrangements for many years. I have, in the main, enjoyed these classes and have viewed them as a source of much spiritual good and growth. I have often conducted special studies, ranging from apologetics, practical Greek grammar, and more advanced Bible exposition. Controlled and regulated, Bible classes are truly an expedient, something not necessarily required, but a matter that produces much good, serving as a means to expedite a required duty, in our case, edification.
While I can both honestly and, I think, consistently say the above, allow me to insert that I have witnessed a number of practices and attitudes within some churches of Christ that greatly disturb me. To cut to the chase, I think some have exaggerated the Bible class practice; thus, taking it from the place of expediency and means of expedition and making it within itself a primary work and focus of the local church. I have known of some churches that addressed more attention to their Bible class arrangement than to any of the direct work of the church (cp. I Tim. 3: 15). Small fortunes and about 80 percent of the efforts of the local church are assiduously expended in special blown-up Bible shop expansions and "labs," having all sorts of complicated and extreme organization. The designation, "Bible classes for all ages" is no longer appropriate. New high sounding terms must be used to describe the elaborate arrangements and special productions. I personally think some of the drama productions that are now becoming common in some churches of Christ may have been influenced, in part, by some of the evolved concepts regarding what used to be the simple Bible class. Pulpit teaching and preaching provided for the assembly and the responsibility of parents to, "...bring up their children in the nature and admonition of the Lord" become de-emphasized. We have migrated from the teacher-preacher to the "worship leader" and "think tank director." Some have come to think that the biblical arrangement of the preacher preaching to the assembly (all genders and ages together) is impractical and old-fashioned (see Acts 2: 14-41, etc.). I dealt with one church a while back that spent a large portion of their treasury in adding on (they already had rooms in which to conduct their Bible classes for various ages) buildings that were especially tailored for their new, advanced Bible school, this is what it was. A sizeable sum was spent to construct a library and furnish it with books. I agree that we must be careful not to bind where we have no right, exclude what is allowed, or attack an expedient, labeling it as an innovation. However, when an expedient takes over and becomes all-consuming, it is no longer just a means of carrying out a command, edification, but becomes the focus itself.
One of the first issues that I faced as a young Baptist (I was brought up in the Baptist Church, had a great grand father who was a well known Primitive Baptist preacher and was myself ordained) was the controversy regarding the "Sunday School" arrangement. Alas, I have even seen such a mentality creep into our vocabularies and concepts on occasion. One church of Christ of which I was aware actually had a separate treasury for their special "Sunday School" work. Concerned brethren, I have and may in the future debate the no Bible class proponents, but we are drifting to the other extreme!
"Brother Martin, these Bible classes are the most important work of this local church, they even must take priority over the pulpit, etc.!" I have been told this on more than one occasion. Let me plainly say that such thinking is exemplary of an exaggerated view of our Bible classes. "The young people are the future of this church and we must offer our complete focus regarding the Bible classes," some have worded a little differently. If we are depending on either the pulpit or Bible classes as the primary or even total source of the spiritual education of our young people, we are in serious trouble (cp. Prov. 4: 1-13). The "'keeping of our young people" preoccupation and mentality has precipitated much of the social gospel today and turning the local church into a social order and club.
An expedient by essential definition means that it is productive of good. Hence, when Bible classes result in division, they no longer are an expedient. I regret to see some of the extant attitudes and evolved practices regarding what should be simply an effort to provide more edification and learning. Again, allow me to say that I believe a local church has the authority to elect to put in place Bible classes, such as we typically have on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, all things equal and understood. However, we must not take the "fiery serpent," if you will, the means of effecting good, and turn it into "Nehustan," the means evolving into the object itself and becoming the focus (Num. 21: 4-9, 2 Kgs. 18: 4).
Elders and the local church are to be very focused on preaching the gospel to the lost and offering edification to the saved (I Tim. 3: 15). Any tool or means that serves to effectively execute this duty should be considered. In the past, tent meetings were an effective help in preaching to the lost. Radio has served well as a tool. Bible classes conducted by local churches have also been profitably used and continue to be fruitful. Remember, though, we must disassociate the Sunday School and Pentecostal prayer meeting movements from what we call Bible classes. Bible classes must not be a separate entity with a detached overseeing board. Bible classes are nothing but an expedient to carry out the work of teaching. As far as children are concerned, we must not forget that parents have the primary duty of teaching and training them, not the local church and eldership (Eph. 6: 1-4, see addendum). (Additional reading on this general topic would be, "An Exchange on the no Bible Class Doctrine," click on to visit.)