In the front entrance of Lifeway sits a display case that includes some notes written by Arthur Flake. He had been hired as the first Director of Sunday School and was preparing to write his first book in that role. The page on display includes this statement: All need to study the Bible. Most of us would agree with this statement and move on. A few might change the word need to should or ought, but would still affirm the spirit of the statement.
The statement “all need to study the Bible” seems simple until we start to look at the history behind this statement.
- It was 1920. The world had endured the Spanish Flu and World War 1 in 1918, followed by social unrest in America in 1919. High unemployment, stiff competition for jobs (soldiers returned from Europe without any re-entry plan), and an economy ramping down after a war contributed to a season of riots. Every region was impacted and stained in some way. We still don’t know how many people actually died in this season. To call for ALL to be in Bible study in 1920 went in the face of what had been going on in society. Flake was calling for a radical change with Bible study groups leading the way.
- ALL came from experience. Flake had built a Bible study ministry that embraced the belief that all people need to study the Bible. He was responsible for the Bible study groups at First Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, TX prior to returning to what is now Lifeway as director of Sunday School. At that time in their history, FBCFW met in three different locations as they awaited the rebuilding of their facilities (fire gutted the facilities in 1912). Groups met in whatever space they could find and at times other than Sunday. In January of 1920, FBCFW became the largest attended Sunday School in the US at the time.
- ALL is not so easy to define. We might be tempted to think of prejudice only in terms of race but it goes beyond that. In FBCFW at that time, one could find union leaders and union busters, police officers and convicted criminals, white collar workers and blue collar workers. Each of these designations created some type of division with a prejudice held somewhere in the other group. That is how labels and distinctions play out.
That brings us to the question of our all. Who is missing from our Bible study groups and why? Do we have a place for “them” or have we made it clear that those outside of our group are not welcome? Have we already answered “no” for them before inviting them to join us for Bible study? Who might attend if we really did have the mentality that “ALL people need to study the Bible”?
Do our actions match our words that everyone needs to study the Bible? Who is your all and what are you doing to involve them in Bible study?
Dwayne McCrary is a team leader at Lifeway, adjunct professor at Midwestern BTS, and Bible study leader in the church he attends.