Tag Archives: small groups

5 reasons the church must teach the Bible

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching …” (Acts 2:42). This tells me two things about the early church: (1) members were hungry for teaching; and (2) leaders taught.

We have a pretty good idea about what they taught. Based on the content of Peter’s Pentecost sermon as well as other passages in Acts, they exposited Scripture. (See Acts 2:16-21,25-28; 3:22; 7:2-50; 8:30f; 13:16-41; 15:15-18; 28:23,26-27.) They taught as Jesus taught them. He had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32,44–45).

Bible teaching was in the beginning—as it always must be—at the center of church life.

Let’s be clear about what we mean by “Bible teaching.” Teaching the Bible goes beyond using a biblical passage as a peg on which to hang good ideas. Bible teaching approaches the Bible in such a way that allows the biblical text to set the agenda and to speak for itself. What God has said in His Word is what we must teach.

Walter Kaiser, in Toward an Exegetical Theology, comments: “In the midst of all the feverish activity to restore the Church once again to her former position of influence and respect, all sorts of programs and slogans have appeared. But regardless of what new directives and emphases are periodically offered, that which is needed above everything else to make the Church more viable, authentic, and effective, is a new declaration of the Scripture with a new purpose, passion, and power. This we believe is most important if the work of God is to be accomplished in the program of the local church.” (emphasis added)

Consider these 5 reasons (not meant to be exhaustive) why the church must prioritize strong Bible teaching.

1. The church must teach the Bible because it is God’s Word.

Rather than using a lot of theological-sounding words to make the point, let’s put it in a way my grandchildren can understand: What the Bible says, God says. All of Scripture (yes, even Leviticus)  was “breathed out by God,” meaning the writers wrote exactly what God wanted them to write. Because it is God-breathed, “it is profitable for teaching,” and the result of teaching the Scriptures is that believers are “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2. The church must teach the Bible because it is God’s authoritative Word.

When we say what the Bible says, we speak with authority—God’s authority. When we go beyond what the Bible says—even though it may be good advice, we speak in our own authority.

3. The church must teach the Bible because it is sufficient.

Because the Bible comes from God and carries His authority, it is uniquely sufficient to accomplish His purposes. Anything of eternal significance that results from our teaching or preaching happens because of the power of God’s Word—not because of our comments about God’s Word.

Some churches today undermine and deny Scripture’s sufficiency by relegating the Bible to the periphery of the church’s worship. Shame on us! Because worship is an intelligent and loving response to God’s revelation of Himself, the Word needs to be central in worship—not an appendix to worship. A congregation that doesn’t know the Word of God is incapable of worshiping God “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

4. The church must teach the Bible because it is required.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just converts, and disciples are made by teaching the Word. This is a requirement for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:20).

5. The church must teach the Bible because it is needed.

Churches are filled with biblical illiterates. Research reveals this as a fact. We should expect biblical illiteracy in secular society, but not in the church. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be surprised by Christians’ lack of biblical knowledge when churches marginalize biblical teaching.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching …”

Bible teaching was at the center—not the periphery—of early church life. May it be so today!


 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the coffee and doughnuts

What sometimes passes for Christian fellowship is about as nourishing as the doughnut you ate in Sunday School last week. Though enjoyable, it brings little spiritual benefit.

To fellowship is to share. That’s the basic meaning of koinonia—sharing. But it’s a sharing that goes beyond the coffee and doughnuts. We may think that just because we’ve shared food and time with one another that we have fellowshipped. But maybe we haven’t—not in the true biblical sense.

True fellowship is not primarily a social activity but rather a relationship. So instead of thinking of fellowship simply as the act of meeting together, let’s think of fellowship in terms of sharing our lives together in a such a way that facilitates our growth in Christ.

There’s more than one way to share biblical fellowship, but here are 3 essentials:

Speaking God’s Word to one another

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, HCSB)

In True Community, Jerry Bridges explains the practice in the early church: “Those first Christians from the Day of Pentecost were all Jews. They were steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, but as they listened to the apostles’ teaching and were enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they began to see those Scriptures in a new way. They were daily gaining a new understanding of them. And as they individually learned from the apostles’ teaching, they shared with one another what they were learning. This is fellowship: sharing with one another what God is teaching through the Scriptures, and this is an important part of true community.”

In our present-day practice of fellowship we effortlessly discuss everything else except what God is teaching us from His Word and what He’s doing in our lives. Why do you suppose that is? Why do we find easier and more natural to talk about our favorite football team or latest movie release than about what God is teaching us in His Word?

Encouraging one another

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, HCSB)

Christian fellowship involves encouraging one another. But how? The writer of Hebrews is not telling us that we encourage each other simply by attending the church meetings. Mere attendance doesn’t “promote love and good works.” The key word is “promote.” That’s a strong Greek word that means “to provoke, incite, or stir something up.” The word can have a negative meaning, as in Acts 15:39 where it speaks of stirring up disagreements. In Hebrews 10:24 it’s used positively to call us to consider how we can nudge each other forward in service and obedience.

Holding one another accountable

“Let the righteous one strike me — it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.” (Psalms 141:5, HCSB)

David prayed for godly people to hold him accountable. In fact, he considered a righteous person holding him accountable as an act of love. Do you have someone who holds you accountable spiritually? This should be happening every week in our small groups and Sunday School classes. If we don’t have that kind of accountability to others we’re missing a much-needed aspect of Christian fellowship.

Coffee and doughnuts are fine. I’ll have my coffee black and my doughnut chocolate, thank you. But let’s not miss the deeper meaning of fellowship—sharing our common life in Christ. Fellowship includes sharing what God is teaching us through His Word, nudging one another forward in our walk with Christ, and holding one another accountable spiritually.

Small groups do big things

“Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us.”

With that declaration, Philip Jacob Spener launched into a list of proposals he believed would reform the church. The book, Pia Desideria (“Pious Desires”), was published in 1675 and inaugurated a movement in Germany called Pietism. A “more extensive use of the Word of God” was the first of six proposals from Spener for revitalizing the church, and the one he considered the chief means for church renewal.

For Spener, a more extensive use of the Word of God meant three things …

  • families reading the Bible everyday in the home;
  • pastors reading and preaching through entire books of the Bible one after another; and
  • groups within the church meeting informally for the purpose of studying and discussing God’s Word.

Consider that last one—groups meeting for the purpose of doing Bible study. That was an unusual and revolutionary idea in the 1600s. To us, small group Bible study sounds anything but revolutionary. After all, is there anything more old school than … Sunday School?

We like new. What church leader hasn’t heard of a new strategy that worked somewhere else and wanted to imitate it? New isn’t necessarily a bad thing; new can be good; new may sometimes serve to move the church forward. What we most need, however, for moving the church forward is to stop and look backward.

This is what God said through Jeremiah: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, ESV)

The ancient path is “where the good way is.” The ancient path represents God’s way. God’s way is always the right way; God’s way always works; and God has always worked through His Word. A more extensive use of the Word of God has always been God’s means of reforming His people.

When small groups, regardless of what you call them in your church—Sunday School, LIFE groups, whatever—gather to study the Word of God, big things happen …

Small groups make disciples

Jesus prayed on behalf of His disciples in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (HCSB). The sanctification of believers, for which Jesus prayed, takes place by the Word of God.

I’m not suggesting that Bible study brings instant results—the process of sanctification takes time—but God uses Bible teaching to accomplish His purpose in us. Without significant and consistent participation in the study of God’s Word, growth in discipleship will not happen (1 Pet. 2:2).

Small groups build community.

Julie Gorman reminds us why we need Christian community: “Intentionally putting yourself in a place where you are together with other believers in a committed relationship is a discipline that allows you to live out the reality of [God’s] ways and remain open to the transforming work of the Spirit. Being with others will bring out areas needing transformation in us and give us opportunity to live the truth that God reveals to us.” (Community That Is Christian)

Community happens in circles, not in rows. Life changing community happens when we circle around the Word of God.

Small groups impact culture.

When small groups are viewed not just as another program of the church but with a missionary mentality, big things can happen. Groups circled around the Word of God live out that truth and reach out to people far from God.

Small group Bible study transforms individuals who, in community, impact their world.

Spener got this right—an extensive use of the Word of God is what the church needs. We don’t have to keep coming up with something new, we need to make use of what God has promised to bless—His Word. Let’s circle around God’s Word and let it do its work.