The Need for Bible Study: Corporately
How important is it to study the Bible? I mean, for centuries folks did not even own personal copies of the Scriptures. They were dependent on the “priest” and pastor for hearing the Word of God. In the tradition that I was raised in, and many others especially of Evangelical families in the American South, we were constantly encouraged (borderline commanded) to frequently and consistently read our Bibles during the week. Now, is this a bad thing? Is this a necessity? I also grew up in a family who attended church services “every time the doors were open.” How important, really, is “Sunday School”? Do we really have to get up an hour earlier on Sunday mornings just to come to a class? Well, let’s discuss these two matters in a little more detail in this post and the next beginning with the Sunday School/Bible Class issue.
The Sunday School system dates back over 200 years ago in America. It originally targeted children for training in reading, writing, and a knowledge of the Bible. Today, many churches still offer “Sunday School” classes for all ages that aim to teach biblical studies and Christian doctrine. These classes are usually taught by lay leaders but are sometimes taught by church pastors. For the sake of this discussion, we will rule out small group gatherings as many churches maintain and only include Bible classes such as Sunday School or Sunday/Wednesday evening Bible studies. Are these things necessary for the Christian to attend?
Let us start by acknowledging that the first Christians lived their lives according to the church, and when the church had a gathering, we could probably assume that almost everyone was in attendance. Their commitment was to the life and gatherings of the church. As the book of Acts tells us very early on the believers were “devoted” to the apostles’ doctrine. They “continued steadfastly” in that Christian teaching (Acts 2:42).
Today many Christians are overextended with responsibilities and extracurricular activities that have nothing to do with the church, and when the church has a gathering planned such as a Bible class, folks are either too busy to attend or uninterested because it does not meet their entertainment needs that have been conditioned by all of their other activities. But the question is, do we even need to make this an issue? What is the big deal?
I think it is an issue that we should address. The importance of a Bible or Sunday School class is to gather worshipfully around the Scriptures, learn in the company of fellow believers, and to receive teaching from a prepared and, hopefully, theologically trained individual. It is not so much about what the class is called as long as it is a concentrated study of the Bible. My philosophy of ministry is that the minister(s) should be willing to publicly teach at least 2-3 times per week. They are the most gifted/trained/qualified individuals in the congregation. Who else in my congregation has a theological/biblical education (especially on the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels)? If the shoe fits, then we should wear it. Do what you have been called, gifted, and trained to do by the grace of God. The “pastor/teachers” (Eph 4:11), the “elders who labor in word and doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17) should be the ones to teach on a regular basis in a church. We should not require believers to sit under the ramblings of an unprepared and unqualified Sunday School teacher just for the sake of tradition or legalism. We should provide engaging and enlightening Bible classes taught by true ministers of the Word that people would want to attend.
The reason I would invite and encourage folks to devote themselves to this type of class is because this setting is spiritually healthy for a Christian. This type of environment will bring about spiritual growth, understanding, strength, encouragement, and so much more. If a Christian actually attended church gatherings (Bible classes, worship) on Sundays at 10am, 11am, and 6pm for an hour at a time, then they have spent a total of three hours in the Word of God with their minds fully set on the things of Christ. Those three hours are then to combat the 165 hours that the world has our attention every week. Now, let’s finish doing some of the math so that we can have an accurate picture of what we are talking about.
There are 168 hours in a week. If we sleep 8 hours each night as the professionals recommend, then that leaves 112 hours. If we actually attend church services for three hours on Sunday, then that leaves 109 hours. So, the world has us for 109 hours each week. The potential struggles and stresses at work, the unholy conversations of fellow employees during the lunch hour, the temptations to all sorts of sinful activities, the mind numbing time in front of the TV, the running around to kids’ activities, the depression/anxiety of late evenings, the loneliness of long days, the challenge of marriage, and so much more take up 109 hours of our week, and we only have three hours of concentrated time in the things of Christ and the Word of God to combat it.
That is 3 versus 109!
Do you still feel like Bible classes/church gatherings are not that important? What is so baffling is the fact that most Christians only attend a one hour worship service on Sunday morning. If it starts at 11am, then they want it over by 12pm. Then the ratio is that much worse: 1 versus 111.
Let me encourage you to get into a Bible study class. Take advantage of all the resources that your church is offering. Attend all of the gatherings. Learn, grow, and mature in Christ. Tune your life into accord with the Holy Spirit. I would also conclude that 3 hours a week to combat the 109 in the world may not be enough. We are going to have to spend some personal and family time in the Word of God. We will save that thought for next week and develop it further.