After the Spanish flu pandemic, believers expressed a renewed interest in Bible study groups. We can certainly see why today! We miss the community found in the company of other believers. Talking through a Bible passage and listening to how others receive the truths found in that passage encourages us to process the passage further and gives us food for thought. We come to understand that our questions and doubts may be close to normal. The value of these groups is seen further through time spent praying with one another in person.
However following the Spanish flu, some began to see Bible study groups as places for believers to be nurtured and moved away from groups built for all people including the skeptic, searcher, and non-believer. People who are not yet believers need to study the Bible and we need them to be in our groups. Here’s why.
- We need the dialogue. The longer we live as a believer, the more likely our friends will be believers. We begin to talk in “believer” terms and lose our “unbeliever” dialect. Losing some of that language is a good thing, but we must still find a way to communicate with unbelievers. We are called to share the gospel and we need contact with unbelievers to do so. Keeping our Bible study group open to all people puts us in a position to share the gospel more readily.
- We need the accountability. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul called on them to imitate him as he imitated Christ (11:1). The Corinthian believers needed someone to show them what a follower of Christ looked like and Paul was willing for them to examine him. By placing himself on this pedestal, Paul was making himself accountable to all who were looking to him as an example. We need to know others that need an example and we need the accountability to be such an example.
- We need to remember. The longer we live as a believer, the more likely we are to forget the guilt, the search, and the sense of lostness that comes with being separated from God. Losing that sense impacts our gratitude for the cross and the salvation Christ provides us. We need to always be mindful of the grace granted to us.
- We need to be challenged. We sometimes get comfortable with our beliefs and rarely revisit them. Being around unbelievers will lead us to explain why we believe what we believe. Doing so will help us refine and sharpen our beliefs, while keeping us from becoming complacent about what we believe and why.
- We need to learn to love. We are directed to love our neighbors, all of them. The best way for breaking down a “them” and “us” mentality is spending time with whomever we consider to be “them.”
The believers in Bible study groups that purposefully remain open to all who join gain a great deal from the presence of unbelievers. Believers need those who don’t yet follow Christ to be in our Bible study group just as much as they need to study the Bible for themselves.
Dwayne McCrary leads some teams that create ongoing Bible study resources at Lifeway including Explore the Bible (goExploreTheBible.com). He teaches two groups in his church (one for empty nesters and one for three year olds) and is an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.