Call them what you will—small groups, community groups, life groups, missional communities, neighborhood gatherings, etc.—we need the Bible to be studied in these groups. We need, for lack of better terms, more Bible Studies. Now, I know that the label “Bible Study” is falling out of vogue these days, so hear me out. I’m not saying we need more churchy programs, where a group of “us four and no more” hunker down and study the Bible in order to confirm all their presuppositions in a non-missional setting. But I do think that the church needs to forge many avenues for its people to study the word in a corporate setting.
One objection I hear is: “Don’t we know enough about God? Should we focus more on living it out?
Of course living it out is the goal, so any Bible Study that doesn’t have this as its aim is wrong headed. But I don’t think the way to live out the Bible is to study it less. And I would not say that the church today knows the Bible too well. The last 100 years has seen biblical illiteracy soar high among believers in the church. In the history of God’s people, we study, memorize, and know the Bible far less not far more that ever before. According to a study made by the Barna Group, less than 10% of born again believers have a biblical worldview. (They define biblical worldview in terms of the basic orthodox truths of Christianity—sinlessness of Jesus, salvation by grace through faith, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, etc.) We can quibble over the accuracy or nature of such statistics. But even if they were off by a 100% and only 20% had a biblical worldview, this would show clearly that most Christians need more Bible study and not less.
And they need to study it in a corporate setting. Another objection I hear to corporate Bible Study is: “shouldn’t we be reading our Bibles ourselves as individuals (through personal devotions, etc.) and not relying upon other people to study the Bible?
This may sound shocking, but my answer to this is no. I don’t want to knock personal reading; I greatly encourage it. But reading the Bible by yourself is insufficient and the church will continue to be biblically anemic if it relies upon mere personal study of the Bible for its congregants to have a Biblical Worldview. In fact, very few Christians ever did a personal devotion (i.e. read the Bible by themselves as individuals) for the first 1500 years of the church. Were they unspiritual? No, quite the opposite. They simply didn’t have access to the Bible. For one, only 10% of the population was literate in Jesus’ time, and this didn’t improve much through the later years (Byzantine era and Middle Ages). So very few Christians read the Bible by themselves, until recently. Second, most of these 10% could not afford to purchase their own Bible; that is, not until the printing press was invented in AD 1450. So for the first 1500 years of the Christian church, believers were dependent upon other believers to know, understand, and memorize the Bible. In fact, for the first few centuries of the Christian church, new believers would attend a Church based class that lasted for 3 years, which consisted of hearing the entire Bible read aloud (since most of them couldn’t read) and hearing a teacher comment on every single passages. This was mandatory for every new believer (not just aspiring pastors or Bible College students). New believers were inundated with the word of God, because the early church believed that this was foundational for living the Christian life. (A sweet study was performed by Clinton Arnold of Talbot Seminary on this. Post a comment and I’ll email it to you.)
Relying upon personal reading among church congregants is a naïve and quite modern means of getting God’s word into the hearts and minds of Christians.
And neither can the church rely upon one 35 minute Sunday sermon to teach the text to its congregants. If it were up to me, our churches would be filled with tons of avenues to corporately study the Bible (if it’s a priority, we can find ways of making it happen.) And I don’t mean going through the latest Christian living book, or watching a video of some famous speaker whom you’ve never met. I mean gathering around a gifted teacher who has studied the text and can help others understand it. Over, and over, and over. Monday morning, Tuesday nights, Wednesday afternoon. The Pentateuch, Historical books, Psalms, Proverbs, Matthew, Romans, Revelation—drink deeply from the delicious wells of God’s written word! It is not an idle word; it is your very life (Deut 31). You can get by on bread, but if you truly want life, then study, study, study the text. And you will get more out of it if you do it in a corporate setting. This is the way the Bible was designed to be studied.
As we move into a new age that desires authenticity, relationships, and community, let’s not leave behind the Scriptures—the catalyst for sustained missional living.