Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gospel Focused Bible Studies

What is the purpose of having a devotion at the beginning of a meeting in a church or a church run organization or business? Why do we do it as Christians? There has to be some sort of motivation for the action, however, I am not sure if anyone has a clear cut reason for why they do it. Perhaps it is expected or required because it is a Christian organization, and so meetings that have to do with the secular and not the sacred have a need for some sort of devotion to make the point that this is a Christian organization. But what type of devotion should be had, then? What should we study when the Bible study is not the main point of the meeting?

I have observed many different customs when it comes to answering this question. One such custom is do read the readings of the day or reread the readings appointed for the week. Others use a devotional book that is dated and simply read the devotion of the day. Still others use it to highlight an issue or problem that needs to be addressed.

All of these are good and noble reasons for a short Bible study before the start of a meeting. However, I have also seen this abused. I have seen Bible studies as a way to rebuke behavior without the Gospel. I have seen it used in the way of the Law where the Bible is used as a weapon to hurl at those who offend us. There is nothing wrong with using the Law to crush unrepentant sinners. There is nothing wrong with using the Law to show others their sins. This is one of the purposes of the Law that we learn in Catechism. However, the Law is never delivered without the Gospel. The Law shows us our sins and points us to the need for a Savior- The Savior, that is, Jesus Christ. In a Bible study setting, the study with a Law focus has the wrong focus and is much better left undone unless the Law is followed immediately by the Gospel.

However, that is not how we like to rebuke others, is it? We want them to feel horrible about what they have done and how they have sinned against us and God. We want to make sure that using the authority of both God and ourselves, the improper behavior is corrected out of fear, guilt, and the realization that something wrong has transpired. Allowing that word of Law to hang in the air gives it a finality to it. This is not the way it should be, it says, and it will be corrected instantly. That is perfectly fine in a secular employee- employer situation. There are times when we should be told that a certain behavior is unacceptable and will be stopped, but that is usually in a one on one situation and does not happen in a large group. However, in that one on one situation, there is usually an opportunity for repentance. The offending individual can apologize for the behavior and assure the boss or supervisor that the behavior will indeed stop and that they are truly sorry for it. As Christians, the response to those words is forgiveness. This does not absolve the person of any future offenses, but it does absolve the ones that the individual has apologized for.

Unless there is an open forum where the offending parties can offer an apology between the Law and the Gospel portion of Bible study (a practice that is very uncomfortable and is better left in a private setting), repentance should be assumed and the Gospel should be proclaimed. No one should leave that meeting feeling as if they are condemned because they didn't live up to the standards set forth by God and proclaimed in the Bible study. It is very difficult for someone to hear that they didn't measure up and they sinned, but it is even worse to do so without pointing them to the Savior. Reminding us that we do not live up to the example given to us by Christ is a good thing to remember, but it is worthless unless it is taken one step further. Christ lived the perfect example for us so that we, who cannot by nature, don't have to. Christ, the perfect sacrifice, paid our ransom for our sins and bought us back so that we may be his own and live under Him in His kingdom forever. When we sin and repent of those sins, God, who is faithful and just, forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That, and not our sins is what the focus of Christianity is, and therefore should be the focus that Christians keep in all our vocations given to us by God. Sanctification comes after justification with God, and it should with us as well.