Friday, August 7, 2015

Bible study problems???

The problems with Bible study.  Yes, you heard me right.  Bible studies are certainly good and salutary things but they can also be problematic.  The problem is not with the Scripture being studied but with the way it is studied and the leadership of the group or its lack of leadership.

I am not saying that only a pastor can lead a Bible study but the leadership of a Bible study requires that the person leading be trained and supervised.  Even pastors are supervised (we have a whole system of doctrinal supervision in our church body).  So it should not offend to suggest that others leading Bible study should also be supervised.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues with Bible studies is the lack of clear and solid leadership.  Clearly maturity, experience in the faith, and character contribute to good and faithful leadership but those who attend should also be able to expect that the leader is well versed in Scripture, in the doctrine of the Lutheran Church (at least through the Small Catechism) and is able not only to lead but to answer questions and deal with disputes over the issues that arise within Bible study.  The worst kind of Bible study is a rudderless group in which no one can speak to what is good and right and true.  It leaves those studying to the prison of their own reason and feelings and these, we already, know are not necessarily reliable.

When Bible studies include people of different confessions, it is even more important to have good and faithful leadership.  The lack of theological consensus can leave the group without answers to the questions before them or with answers that conflict with what we say we believe, confess, and teach.  Bible studies that end up as a free for all are unhealthy spiritually and dangerous to our confidence in and our unity in the Scriptures.

Bible studies that are really self-help groups subordinate the purpose of Scripture.  In the same way, group counseling sessions that masquerade as Bible studies create confusion among those looking for thus saith the Lord answers and turn the Bible into a psychology textbook God never meant it to be.  Scripture certainly speaks to our wounds but it is given to us that we might know Jesus Christ and Him crucified as Savior from our sins and the Giver of everlasting life.  When this becomes secondary, the Bible study and those in it are in trouble.

Bible study groups have no guarantee of confidentiality and, while they may be places where we can share things, no group is fully immune from telling tales out of school, so to speak.  It is dangerous when Bible study groups presume to provide pastoral counseling or even therapeutic aid when there is no pastor there.

Bible studies that thrive on the pursuit of the strange and trivial also violate Scripture's clear purpose -- these things are written that you may know that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing in Him you may have eternal life.  Speculative studies in which no clear answer is given or some other answer is given except Jesus Christ fail in their primary purpose.

People go to Bible study in part because they want answers, answers they can trust, and answers with more certainty than opinions or feelings.  They deserve credible leadership, trained leaders who are well versed in Scripture and the doctrine of the faith, and people who will direct them to faithful sources of counseling when they need or desire it.  Anything less and the Bible study group can become ripe for doing more harm than good.  Part of that harm is treating Scripture as if it were a book of secret wisdom to unpack or as if its wisdom were mere common sense and not the revelation of God’s one and only Son, who suffered for our sin and died our death so that He might raise us to life now and eternally.

Bible study is a good thing but make sure you are going to a Bible study where the leadership is capable, the confession of faith clear, the supervision in place, and the goal to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified!


Anonymous said...

Another very important point, not mentioned, regards the study guide or book used in the study. Make sure it is orthodox material, and not in contradiction to our Lutheran doctrine. Use of non-Lutheran books and materials is a valid concern in the LCMS and only leads people astray and causes confusion. There are lots of good Lutheran Bible study resources available. Use them with discernment.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Thanks for addressing one of our many elephants in the room; what you describes is the reason I haven't attended a Bible study in years.

Anonymous said...

Sadly many of our Lutheran ministers allow use of non- orthodox material. When I have brought this point up, specifically about Elizabeth Warren materials, the response I get is "Pastor 'so and so' let us use her studies"