The Local Church at Work

The Work of Bible Class Teachers

Truman Smith

The Church Must Teach

A congregation that is effective in carrying out its Scriptural mission will place much emphasis upon teaching the Word of God. Paul said to Timothy: "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Please note that the context demands that the word "church" as used here refers to the local church. We can say this without fear of contradiction since Paul has just concluded his instructions to Timothy concerning the qualifications of "bishops" and "deacons." Such men only serve in a local congregation. But you will note that our passage plainly says that "the church . . . is the pillar and ground of the truth." The word "ground" translates the Gr. HEDRAIOMA, meaning "a support, bulwark, stay (from hedraios, stedfast, firm; from hedra, a seat), is translated 'ground' in 1 Tim. 3:15 (said of a local church); the R.V. marg., 'stay' is preferable" (Vine). Therefore, brethren, it is of paramount importance for a local congregation to accept the responsibility of teaching God's Word and equip itself fully for this necessary function, not sparing any expense as long as it is within the guidelines of Scriptural authority (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Using a Correct Designation

Let us refer to these teachers by a name that correctly identifies them with what they do. While it is true that a vast segment of our brethren across the country use some form of a Bible class system, we very firmly believe that it is right and proper for the Christian to study these matters and ascertain the Scriptural authorization for them rather than to simply accept them matter-of-factly. And, by the way, we often hear such teachers referred to as "Sunday School Teachers." In the first place, we very sincerely wish that brethren everywhere with whom we have fellowship would quit referring to Bible classes as "Sunday School." Let us remember that the term "Sunday School" conjures up in one's mind an organization such as many denominational bodies have. They have a "Sunday School Department" which is a separate organization from the church itself with a "Sunday School Superintendent" who is over that department. A collection is usually taken within the "Sunday School" class to subsidize certain "missions," "charities" or other benefits; thus requiring a separate treasury which also calls for a "Sunday School Treasurer!" Most of these even have a "Sunday School Secretary!" All of this, by its very nature, is out of harmony with the teaching of the New Testament concerning the church. Albeit, we have known some "Churches of Christ" that have had "Sunday Schools" such as here described, this is not true of those with which we are associated. Why Sunday School, anyhow? Many of us have conducted more Bible classes on week-nights than we have on Sundays! Most of us also have Bible classes on Wednesday nights! Should that be called "Wednesday School"? Let us remember that the local church is the only unit of organization to do the work of the church. And the local church, when fully organized (Philippians 1:1), is perfectly capable to do all of the work that the Lord enjoins upon it. The church where we regularly work and worship here at Underwood Heights, Florence, Alabama, conducts Bible classes or Bible studies within the framework of that local church. We do not subscribe to the "Sunday School" system! Is that not true where you work and worship?

The Bible Class Method of Teaching is Scriptural

Please observe that I speak of our Bible classes as a "method." It is a tried and proven method, mode, procedure or process of teaching the Word of God. We are persuaded that the local congregation has the liberty to choose some kind of method by which to carry out this most important aspect of the work of the Lord. However, even when the apostles were charged to "Go ye into all the world," they were not told "how" they were to go. Thus, they were free to choose to either walk, sail, ride on a beast of burden, etc., etc. So, we must choose some kind of expedient "method" by which to do this work. Please excuse this personal reference, but our earliest years of preaching was in the fellowship of brethren who opposed the class arrangement. As a matter of fact, for some eight years this writer stood in opposition to the dividing of the assembly of the local church into classes, and using women as teachers of several of the children's classes, for the purpose of teaching the Bible. But, after much study and one public debate, and having reached the conclusion that we had been wrong to hold that position, in the spring of 1952 we severed our fellowship with those brethren and took our stand with those who use the class arrangement. Through the ensuing years we have continued to study the many aspects of such an arrangement. Without too much more rambling, we herewith set forth our findings on that issue.

Dividing Into Classes

We read in 2 Timothy 2:2, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." You will note that the command to teach is generic, in other words, the detailed arrangements are not set forth within the command as to the method of teaching to be used. Thus, we are free to choose whatever arrangements that are available to us in order to expedite the command to teach others. We recognize that it is better to divide people into classes or groups, respecting the various ages, experiences, etc., etc. Our public schools would not be able to accomplish much by keeping all ages together in teaching secular subjects; neither will we do a good job of teaching the Word of God if we fail to respect the various ages. There is nothing in the Word of God that forbids us to use this method. It is strange to me that some of my dear brethren will raise their voices in opposition to the class arrangement, yet will recognize generic authority in other things. For example, we are commanded in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 to "drink the cup." The word "cup" here is not literal; it is used by metonymy to refer to the "contents" of the container, namely: "the fruit of the vine." So Paul does not specify the number of containers that may be used to dispense the fruit of the vine. We partake of the "fruit of the vine" from whatever number of containers required in order to expedite the command to "drink the cup." Can we not see that the command to "teach" is also generic? Can you see the parallel? Often our brethren will have a "wives" class or a "husbands" class; "older men's class," an "older women's class," a "younger women's class," etc., etc. Friend, the New Testament recognizes various groups or classes into which people naturally are divided. If you will, for the sake of space, please look up the following passages and we will make some observations concerning them. Notice Colossians 3:18-25 and Ephesians 5:22-6:9: "wives," "husbands," "servants" and "masters" are each acknowledged. In Titus 2:1-10, Paul recognizes "aged men," "aged women," "young women" and "young men." Paul taught these different groups or classes of individuals. There is even Scriptural authority for simultaneous teaching. Peter and the rest of the apostles preached at the same time in Acts 2:14f. Also Acts 5:20-25 is an account of "men" (plural) standing and teaching the people. Hence, more than one teacher may teach at one time. However, if such an arrangement, due to circumstances, was the cause of confusion, we would be the first to object to it (1 Corinthians 14:33,40).

Women Teachers

May we say just here that the matter of " women teachers" is the big issue on the Bible class question; for there are many who are of the anti-Bible class persuasion who do not really oppose dividing the assembly into groups or classes for the purpose of Bible instruction, but they are opposed to our practice of permitting women to teach in any of them. Friends, it is a matter of settled persuasion with me that women must teach! A careful study of Acts 18:26; 21:9; 2 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 2:3-4 should be sufficient to show that women must be teachers of the Word of God. Acts 2:18 shows that there were to be "prophetesses" (and a major responsibility of their's was that of teaching). Acts 21:9 tells of Philip's four virgin daughters who prophesied. In Acts 18:26 Luke records an example of a woman being included as a teacher. 2 Timothy 2:2 says: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." Please consider the word "men." Thayer says, "it is used univ., with reference to the genus or nature, without distinction of sex, a human being, whether male or female." (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 46). It should be clear to all that women are to be teachers of the Word of God. Also, Titus 2:3-4 shows that the older women are to teach the younger women. Having said all of that, however, let us observe that women are limited in their work of teaching. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Please notice how this passage harmonizes with Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3: "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." Among other things, both of these passages stress that man is over the woman and that the woman is not to usurp authority over him. While other passages discuss the husband-wife relationship (Genesis 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:18), the above passages are not primarily nor contextually limited to that relationship, but are general in application. You will also note that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is not limited to an "assembly." It is no more limited to an assembly than verses 9-10 are! Thus, it is wrong for a woman to usurp authority over a man at any time and any place. The word rendered "subjection" literally means under authority. In contrast, Paul said to Titus (a man), "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.. Let no man despise thee" (Titus 2:15, emph. mine -ts). The word "silence" is used to denote disposition. Vine says: " characterize the spirit or disposition." It does not demand that a woman be speechless. However, Paul did require that women were to be literally silent during a public assembly of the church "when the whole church be come together" (1 Corinthians 14:23,34-35). It is this writer's view that 1 Corinthians 14 was mainly concerned with the time of spiritual gifts, and that such a service as described therein cannot be duplicated today. It is interesting to note that our anti-Bible class brethren will use 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to condemn women for teaching a class of little children, yet will require a woman to make a public confession of her faith in a church assembly prior to her baptism. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the prohibition is in women usurping authority over men. And we maintain that when children are taken into a classroom, away from the public assembly of the saints, that a godly woman may impart the Word of God to them without usurping authority over a man.

Qualifications of Teachers

In conclusion, let us consider that Bible class teachers must meet certain qualifications before being placed in a position of teaching God's Word to others. James says: "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (James 3:1). The word "masters" here refers to teachers. This passage is not given in order to discourage Christians from being teachers of truth, but rather to make all of us realize the great responsibility that is placed upon one who would aspire to such a great work. Elders and/or those responsible for placing people in classrooms for the purpose of teaching God's Word must exercise great caution in doing so. Remember, we will be held accountable in the day of judgment, whether we are elders or Bible class teachers; yes, all of us must give account in the Great Day (Matthew 12:37; Hebrews 13:17). Teachers must be good examples and practice in their lives the things they teach others to do (1 Peter 2:21; Romans 2:21-24).

e-mail this author at

Return to Watchman Front Page