Are Bible Classes Scriptural?
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
From time to time controversy has raged in some quarters as to the scripturalness of having more than one class meet at any one time in a given location. This issue is very much alive today. The prevalence of the matter makes a discussion of the problem relevant to the scope of the series, "Teaching Successfully."
It would be foolish to discuss the role of the Bible class teacher, or ways and means of improving the teaching function if the scripturalness of Bible Classes is questioned.
The Real Issue1
The heart of the issue over Bible Classes is not:
1. WHAT must be taught - It is agreed by all that the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be taught and that there is to be no deviation from it (Mk. 16:15-16; Gal. 1:6-9).
2. WHEN one may teach - The New Testament teaches that it is to be done instantly (2 Tim. 4:2), at midnight (Acts 16), and at other times (Acts 2:20).
3. WHO is to teach - The church is the pillar and ground of truth (I Tim. 3:15). The collective (often call "the local church") sounds out the truth (Phil. 1: 1; Acts 20:28; 1 Thess. 1:8).
4. WHO IN THE CHURCH is to teach -- "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). "Men" in this context is generic in scope (Tit. 2:3-5; Acts 18:24-26).
What then is the issue? It centers on the place, i.e., a plurality of classes under one roof. One can teach from "house to house" (Ads 20:20). Even two such arrangements under separate roofs would be scriptural. But, when the two classes come together under one roof this arrangement becomes sinful, we are told. To state it another, way, the objection usually rests in opposition to a divided assembly, i.e., a group smaller than a previously assembled group retiring to another section of the building. The contention is that this constitutes another organization through which the church does its work.
The Real Issue Answered
This writer does not affirm that it is right to establish a "Sunday School" organization apart from or within the church. I stand opposed to any organization larger than or smaller than the local church doing the work assigned to the church. Bible Classes do not constitute another organization. They are nothing more than functional arrangements (or systematic arrangements) of the various collectives under the oversight of the respective eldership. If and when the class arrangement becomes an organization (with its own laws, treasury, or officers within or without the local church) I too, will oppose it as such.
The New Testament does teach that it is scriptural to conduct Bible classes among several groups at the same time and that it is scriptural for a group to retire from a previously assembled meeting of the church. Space will only permit citing one or two examples from the New Testament.
The controversy over circumcision at Antioch necessitated taking the matter up with the church at Jerusalem since those who introduced the issue were from the church there (vv. 1-3). When Paul, Barnabas and certain other brethren arrived in Jerusalem, "they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders" (v. 4). After the church met to consider and discuss the matter, the apostles, and elders "came together for to consider of the matter" (v. 6). Thus from a meeting of the whole church at Jerusalem (including the apostles and elders), the apostles and elders divided and separated themselves in order to reconsider the matter among themselves.
Another example of a smaller group being taken from a larger one is in Mark 9. The context states that Jesus took three of his disciples from the others and taught them while on a high mountain (v. 2). He also taught them on the way down (vv. 9-13). The context then says: "when he came to his disciples he saw a great multitude about them and the scribes questioning them" (v. 14). Jesus then teaches the multitude (vv. 1519).
This is definitely an example of simultaneous teaching. A small group was taken from a larger group and the former was taught. During part of this teaching, the rest of the disciples were teaching the multitudes. Jesus returned and taught the entire group.
It will be of no value to argue that the book of Luke (9:37) teaches that the instruction of the multitude took place the next day. The fact is this: the ascent from the mountain and the instruction of the apostles by the Lord took place on the same day. Furthermore, the ascent from the mountain and the instruction by the apostles took place that same day.
Class Arrangement Authorized By Generic Command
There have always been two extremes concerning the question of authority: (1) whatever is not specifically forbidden is allowed by the Word of God. Therefore a thing is not wrong unless it is specifically condemned. This makes liberty a license ignore what God says (Matt. 7:21-23). In this way advocates of Instrumental Music in worship and church support of human institution feel they justify their positions. (2) A practice must be specifically stated in order to be authorized. This means that if a thing is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament, God's Word forbids it. Those who advocate one container for the communion and no plurality classes pitch their battle here. This position refuses liberty where God allows it.
Position number one makes one a law breaker, while position number two makes one a law maker! One extreme is just as bad as the other. Both positions ignore the importance of speaking where the Bible speak and keeping silent where it is silent (I Pet. 4: 11; 2 Jno. 9). Both will result in departures and difficulties.
Certainly God has specifically forbidden some things and has specifically allowed others. But God does not always deal in specifics exclusively. Whenever God speaks on a matter, whether specifically or generically, that establishes the principle of law. Whatever violates that principle or law is wrong and sinful even though there may be no specific prohibition regarding it. Also that which is necessary to carrying out a command or law is authorized, though not specifically mentioned.
What is pathetic about the class controversy is that those who object to the classes (and argue that they are unscriptural) completely overlook the matter of general authority. They do so in arguing that Bible classes are unscriptural because they are not specifically mentioned.
How then does the New Testament authorize the class arrangement of teaching? Through the generic command of Matthew 28:19, "go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It is axiomatic that some arrangement is inherent in teaching. Therefore any arrangement that does not violate New Testament teaching is authorized by generic or specific teaching. Group teaching or the class arrangement is an arrangement that does not violate the New Testament. Observe the following chart:
"Teach" is generic, embodying specific methods necessary to the carrying out of the command. These methods are authorized and can be employed unless the New Testament forbids the method used. One may use the blackboard, charts, flannel graph, and do so publicly or in classes. All are authorized and no where is there a prohibition of any of the particular arrangements such as the class arrangement. All authorized action has an exclusive and inclusive force. The action includes everything that is essential.
The Lord authorized the class arrangement and others like it in Matthew 28:19. The Sunday school or other such organizations that are separate from the collective are not authorized. They constitute an addition. Bible classes are functional arrangements under the oversight of elders of the local church. (To be continued)
1See Debate Notes On Bible Classes by Gene Frost, pp. 5-6. These may be purchased from Truth Magazine Bookstore.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 5, pp. 9-11