Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Should the women's Bible study movement be evaluated in the light of the teaching of Scripture?

This blog question is deliberately construed by me, so that we can only answer "yes". Indeed all things should be rightly evaluated in the light of Scripture. However, it appears that in the UK and even more so in the USA, that there is a growing movement of women's Bible studies (usually in the daytime). These are only for women and they are led by women and often with the use of Bible teaching aids and books. It may seem harmless. Surely studying the Bible together is a wholesome thing. The answer to my blog title question needs careful and sensitive evaluation.

Here are some considerations.

1). Our understanding of Titus 2:3-5 will probably direct much of our behaviour. Here Paul writes:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

If we give attention and note two words, which are "to teach what is good" and "so train young women" this will help us. "To teach" is not in a doctrinal sense in its widest sense, because we know that doctrinal and biblical instruction is upon the shoulders of elders (Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3). Elders are men who are godly, able, competent in the Scriptures and appointed by other elders for the task. The teaching curriculum then in Titus 2 for women is a narrow one and it is for older women to be modelling by example, precept and with reference to Scripture, to be a godly wife and mother. Likewise to "train" means to "encourage of advise". Therefore, such a passage does not support women leading regular Bible studies to women.

Regular Bible studies led by women, could mean that some women receive more doctrinal instruction through women, than through ordained elders. This is something to ponder, evaluate and pray about.

2). The teaching of the church is to be primarily through the office of men who are trained and ordained for the task. The church (and not just a single congregation) have to train, test and evaluate a man, hands have to be laid upon him, so that he can give himself to the task of Titus 1:9: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it".

3. There can be the danger of dividing up the body, something the Apostles' did not permit.

The whole of 1 Corinthians handles this matter. Division must not take place along lines of age, gender, culture, language and so on. Paul insisted that worship must be in Koine Greek in Corinth, so that all peoples could understand what was being said. This is why culture directed congregations are biblically flawed, in my view. We should not splinter off into Chinese, Korean, Nigerian, Syrian, American or British churches when these people groups are living in a different land. Yes, it may help for a season, but all peoples must be integrated together to represent the Triune God in a local church.

Similarly, regular women's Bible studies has the danger of dividing up the body. My wife is not a big fan of them on different grounds. She has found over the years that women together and with a woman teaching, has lacked the spiritual quality which she desires.

I am very happy for blog comments so that we can think through this important matter.

Yours for the good of the church,

Kevin Bidwell


Valerie Hobbs said...

Kevin, thanks for writing this. I have similar misgivings about church-organized women's bible studies. Would you say the problems in depth are largely tied to lack of oversight and doctrinal training of women? And might we argue men's bible studies (also very common) are similarly problematic, in this case because of dividing the body?

Paul Irving said...

Thank you for raising this important issue. Scripture is clear as to who should teach, which is elders along with the essential authority this necessitates. Sadly, a strongly pragmatic and para church ethos with it's books and study guides is quietly and commonly found in many evangelical churches. This ethos encourages alongside women only studies conferences also like those encouraged by the Gospel Coalition and Good Book Company. It is not wrong or negative to question and challenge such practice as our calling is to obedience to God's Word and the God who authored it, with this precious word being taught by God's appointed means of men called to do so.

Kevin Bidwell said...

Valerie, thanks for your question. "Would I say that the problems in depth are largely tied to a lack of oversight and the doctrinal training of women?".

No, not primarily. My contention is that it is the duty of ordained elders is to be doing and giving doctrinal teaching (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). It is noteworthy that older women are to teach younger women "what is good" but there is no mention of doctrine being taught by women. I am realistic and I know that many women Bible studies use materials for instruction.

My further concern is the dividing up of the body and this could be equally true of men's fellowships as well. Not to mention the establishing of ethnic based churches in the UK, which can seem attractive the first few years, until people begin to feel more British than their previous culture and then move on.

There is much more to be said, but I hope that my brief comments help some.


Kevin J Bidwell

Valerie Hobbs said...

Thanks, Kevin. Perhaps we can talk about this more over coffee sometime.