Bible Classes (II)
J. R. Pope
(Editor's Note: See the November issue of TRUTH MAGAZINE for the first of this series of articles on Bible classes.)
Question 2: DO THE SCRTPTURES AUTHORIZE: (1) TEACHING THE WORD IN GROUPS SMALLER THAN THE WHOLE CHURCH? (2) TEACHING SUCH GROUPS SIMULTANEOUSLY? (3) GROUPS OF DISCIPLES RETIRING FROM AN ASSEMBLY OF THE WHOLE CHURCH?
General and Specific Authority
A matter is either GENERALLY or SPECIFICALLY authorized. It is axiomatic that the Lord authorized the church to do the work he has assigned it to do. If general or generic authority means anything to us, it will be granted that the authority to TEACH extends to anything and everything that inheres in the teaching process without the Lord's further specific reference to such inherent factors.
There are certain things inherent in teaching. Teaching can not be done without (1) teacher, (2) student, (3) materials, (4) time, (5) place, and (6) arrangement. Since the Lord has given the church the responsibility of teaching, the authority for teaching generally embraces all of these inherent factors. Were there no specific authorization for these matters, the general authorization to TEACH would authorize each of these essential factors.
However, it must be determined if and what the Lord has spoken concerning these items. Then what may have been generally authorized is regulated and/or restricted by God's specific directions. For example, Rom. 13: 1-2 generally authorizes Christians to submit to all civil laws. However, Acts 5:29 indicates that our primary allegiance is to God. Therefore, what may have been generally authorized is understood to be circumscribed by what has been specifically said in the matter, and we obey only those laws, which do not conflict with God's laws. This same rule will apply to other matters such as the Lord's Supper, Baptism, et al. Applied to TEACHING this principle indicates the following: There is generally authorized every essential component of that which is specifically mentioned, and without any further specific instructions man would be left to his own wisdom in determining the use of these components. Had the Lord not further stated who is to teach, there would have been no limitations at all in the matter and anyone could profess to be a teacher of God's word; but He has told us who is to do the teaching, 2 Tim. 2:24. Had the Lord not further stated what is to be taught, we could have taught any subject, but he has specified the gospel as that to be taught, I Tim. 3:15. With no restriction or specific instructions as to time or place, there is general authority for teaching God's word at any time, at any place! And so with the arrangement! Every teaching arrangement is authorized, unless and until the passage, precept or principle is produced which proscribes a particular arrangement. There is general authority for every teaching arrangement, including the class arrangement.
But now to specific authorization for the teaching arrangement. Has the Lord deft us to our own wisdom in selecting the arrangements to be employed in teaching? Not altogether, for he has, by divinely approved example, referred us to some specific arrangement by which teaching may be done. In Acts 20:7 we read of the didactic discourse, the sermon. In Acts 19:9 we read of the debate as a means of teaching. Then in Acts 20:18-35 we read of teaching being done in an informal discussion. But what about specific authority for student arrangement?
Group Teaching Arrangements
Do the Scriptures authorize group teaching? Do the Scriptures authorize the gathering of either the whole church or groups less than the whole church for teaching? To rule out the group arrangement would necessitate proving that the "whole church" arrangement is the only acceptable arrangement. May this point stand out clearly -- IF TEACHING MAY NOT BE DONE IN GROUPS SMALLER THAN THE, WHOLE CHURCH, IT LOGICALLY FOLLOWS THAT ALL TEACHING; MUST BE DONE ONLY WHEN THE WHOLE CHURCH BE COME TOGETHER!
Let us consider this matter from four aspects: place, time, personnel and arrangement. First of all, the apostle Paul affirms that he taught both in public places and in private places. In Acts 20:20 Paul said that he had "... taught... publicly and from house to house." It is admittedly right to teach at the place where brethren meet to observe the Lord's Supper, but that is not the only place where brethren can and ought to be teaching the word. Paul affirms the right to teach both in public and private places.
It is admittedly right to teach at the time brethren meet to observe the Lord's supper, for Acts 20:7 states, "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." This is the only time to observe the Lord's supper for this is all that the Bible says about the time, but this is not the only time teaching may be done for the Bible gives us examples of teaching at other times than upon the Lord's day. Acts 5:42, "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." Brethren went about their work of teaching in places, both public and private, at times when the Lord's Supper was served (on the Lord's day) and at times when it could not be served (daily).
As to personnel -- it is admittedly right for teaching to be done when the whole church be assembled in one place, but for this to be established as the only teaching arrangement there must be produced the Lord's stated favor of this as the ONLY way, or his condemnation of ANY OTHER teaching arrangement. Yet the inspired record supplies numerous examples of teaching being done in groups less than the whole church. One such is found in Acts 20:17-18 when Paul met with the elders, less than the whole church and taught them. Such a group arrangement would certainly not have enjoyed an apostle's participation had it warranted the condemnation of the Lord.
Are Classes "Public" or "Private?"
It is sometimes asked of the Bible classes, "Are they PUBLIC or PRIVATE?" A preacher once argued, in asking this question, that if the Bible classes are public, like the Lord's day assembly of the whole, church, why not serve the Lord's supper in the Bible class? But if they are private, like our homes, why not put a piano in them? The preacher overlooked the fact that the Lord's Supper cannot be observed in every public assembly! Acts 2:46 indicate daily meetings of the disciples. Act 5:42 states that teaching and preaching were done daily in meetings of the disciples. Yet what gospel preacher will affirm a daily observance of the Lord's Supper? It is true that teaching was done on the Lord's day when the disciples met in one place to observe the Lord's supper, but since teaching was done DAILY, those "Lord's supper assemblies" constituted only about 1/7th of the meetings of the saints thus described. But on the other hand, there may be private meetings that do not employ the liberties and privileges of a private home! Actually, to determine the public or private nature of a Bible class has little bearing on the scripturalness of such, for a thing may be public in one sense while private in a different sense. For example, a public rest room in a public building is PUBLIC as concerns the general public, but is PRIVATE as to ladies or gentlemen! So a Bible class may be private as to student classification while public as concerns all in that classification. Yet since the Bible authorizes teaching in places both public and private, Acts 20:20; and in groups smaller than the whole church as well as the whole church come together into one place; and by a variety of arrangements, the public or private nature of the meeting is not a vital factor in determining the right to conduct such meetings.
If there is no limitation or restriction as to the PLACE teaching may be done (both public and private places); if there is no limitation upon the TIME teaching may be done (daily, as well as on the Lord's day); if there is no limit upon those PERSONS taught (every creature says the Lord in Mark 16:16); if there is no restriction as to ARRANGEMENT of those persons (group teaching, as well as an undivided assembly); then I ask UPON WHAT BASIS CAN THE BIBLE CLASS METHOD OF TEACHING BE REJECTED?
The class method of teaching finds its defense in those examples of group teaching, which were not the whole church come together. To deny the right of the church of Christ to teach in class arrangement is to deny that the New Testament ever authorized by precept or example any grouping of members less than the whole church. Yet by precept, and by example, groups less than the whole church did meet for teaching. The fact stands that the Bible authorizes group teaching!
Truth Magazine VII: 4, pp. 14-15,24