The Bible Class Question (I)
J. R. Pope
The controversy that exists among churches of Christ over the use of Bible classes springs from an improper concept of Bible authority. Any problem that concerns God's people can be resolved by a proper appeal to the Word of God.
There have been those whose contention has been that God's Word authorizes and allows anything except that which is specifically forbidden. But on the other extreme, there are those whose contention is that God's Word forbids everything except that which is specifically mentioned. May I point out that one extreme position is as far from the truth as the other, and one will lead to departures and difficulties as surely as will the other. It is true that God has specifically forbidden certain matters, and on the other hand has specifically allowed certain others, but God has not always dealt exclusively in specifics. When God has given a law, or established a principle, that which is in violation of that law or principle is NOT ALLOWED, though there was no SPECIFIC prohibition concerning it. Conversely, that which is necessary, or even incidental to the law or principle is AUTHORIZED without being specifically mentioned. The matter of GENERIC OR GENERAL AUTHORITY has been completely overlooked by those who have branded the Bible classes as unscriptural on the basis that they are not SPECIFICALLY MENTIONED.
Perhaps a good way to deal with this question would be to set forth pertinent facts while dealing with the basic objections that have been raised against the class method of teaching. It seems that the difficulties center around three basic objections or contentions:
1. Bible classes constitute a separate organization from the church, through which the church does its teaching, said organization having been established in 1780 by Robert Raikes.
2. Bible classes necessitate "dividing the assembly. "
3. Bible classes usually employ women teachers in some of the classes.
Satisfactory solution to the problem depends upon a clear understanding of the truth regarding these three contentions, which will be examined here in order.
Question 1: DO BIBLE CLASSES NECESSARILI' OR GENERALLY CONSTITUTE ANOTHER ORGANIZATION THROUGH WHICH THE CHURCH DOES ITS TEACHING? DID ROBERT RAIKES ORIGINATE OUR BIBLE CLASSES?
I hasten to point out that the Bible classes among churches of Christ are not be classified in any sense with that which Robert Raikes initiated!
It is as unfair to charge a church that conducts Bible classes with a denominational "Sunday School" as it is to say that our objections to Liquor make us associated with the "Temperance League of America," or our protest to the errors of Catholicism make us a part of " Protestant Denominationalism! " No relationship exists between our Bible classes and these humanly devised institutions.
What did Robert Raikes build? "He established the first Sunday School at Glouchester in 1780, as a means of furnishing both secular and religious education to children whose employment in the factories prevented them from attending the secular schools... Later, as the number of children attending secular schools increased, the Sunday schools began to devote themselves chiefly and ultimately exclusively, to religious instruction" (The New Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia, Vol. 32, P. 11,676). What Raikes built was essentially a parochial school, conducting its classes only on Sunday for those children who, prior to the "child labor laws," were forced to work during the week. From this movement there gradually developed the American Sunday School Union in .1824 (a national organization) and then in 1889 the World's Sunday School Association, comprising numerous national and international Sunday school organizations. I know of no church of Christ that is now or has ever been affiliated with any of these institutions!
Though Robert Raikes is usually credited with the establishment of the DENOMIN-ATIONAL ORGANIZATION that bears the title SUNDAY SCHOOL, it is not this organization, which is herein defended. The Sunday School built by Robert Raikes in England in 1780, and perpetuated in the denominational Sunday school organizations, is so dissimilar with the current Bible classes among churches of Christ as to be hardly compared! Robert Raikes built an ORGANIZATION that employed the class method of teaching, but he did not originate the class method! I do not defend the organization he built! I am not affiliated with the organization he built! But I defend the method, which was in practice among churches of Christ hundreds of years before Robert Raikes was born!
Mosheim states that "Christians took all possible care to accustom their children to the study of the Scriptures; and to instruct them in the doctrines of their holy religion: and schools were everywhere erected for this purpose, even from the commencement of the Christian Church" (Mosheim's Church History, Vol. 1, p. 100). Origen said in 248 A. D. that instruction outside the worship service was in CLASSES, the text being the Bible and Church doctrine (Orientation in Religious Education, P. 16). Though Raikes devised an Institution that employed the class method of teaching, he did not devise the method. When churches of Christ employ the use of the class method of teaching they cannot successfully be charged with adopting that which Raikes started. We use a method that was employed hundreds of years before Raikes lived; he started an institution with which I am not affiliated and which I do not defend. To state that Raikes invented "class teaching" is to misrepresent Mr. Raikes; to state that I have adopted the institution Mr. Raikes founded is to misrepresent me!
It is not an ORGANIZATION which I defend (be it Sunday School, Monday through Friday Parochial School, or whatever church-affiliated institution that may be considered) but a MEANS METHOD or ARRANGEMENT!
When churches of Christ allow their class system of teaching to become an ORGANIZATION, with its own officers, laws. treasury. etc.! then it may be rightly compared with the denominational institutions as characterized by the denominational Sunday School organization. At that point, I will add my objection, for I make no defense of supplementary or complementary organizations, but of the class method or arrangement!
We have long taught that there is NO ORGANIZATION larger nor smaller than the local congregation designed to do the work of the church. Everything God assigned the congregation to do can be done without the addition of another organization, either WITHOUT or WITHIN the congregation. The objection, and a valid one at that, is that any institution or organization separate from the church, through which the church does its work, is unscriptural. This indicts the Missionary Societies, the Sponsoring Elderships, the Orphan Asylums, the Old Folk's Homes, the Herald of Truth, the Gospel Press, and every other human institution through which brethren would erroneously have the church to do its own work! The church is sufficient to the doing of its own work without the addition of any other institution through which it might function. To build, maintain, and defend these appendages is an impeachment of the Lord and an indictment of his Wisdom!
Let this point stand out: class teaching is not an organization, but an arrangement! When our Bible classes cease to be but an arrangement and become a separate institution, they become wrong on that basis. As long as the classes are but an arrangement, a means by which the church does it's teaching they cannot be successfully condemned as "another institution."
Truth Magazine VII: 2, pp. 20-21