Most everyone fears a lack of manpower in the ministry of the Church – by which people usually mean insufficient manpower for their houses of worship to run their programmes. The Christian’s priority, however, must be the furtherance of the gospel and training in righteousness in its many aspects, not the success or even the survival of a particular temple. Even success, after all, we must measure not by the standard of numbers, money, and power but by that of faithfulness to the Great Commission that Christ gave just before he ascended into heaven to procure for us the means for us to fulfil this commission, namely the comfort (i.e. the empowerment) of the Holy Ghost. And it is the Holy Ghost, not the glory of this world, that fills us and our work with the glory of God. What counts, then, is not the apparent success of ‘official’ ministry but the adoption among the people of wise ways and the work of the people of God.
To this end, I am beginning to think everyone who leads a Bible study should be trying to teach the group participants to study the Bible themselves and, soon enough, to lead their own Bible studies. We Bible study leaders pose questions, but by what considerations are those questions raised in the first place? Are we teaching the study methodology of observation, interpretation, and application? And are we alerting our group participants to the iterative process that study sometimes involves? The process should be an integral part of the guidance Bible study leaders give. ‘We seem to be unsure whether the text means A or B. Can anyone think of any particular kind of observation that might shed light on this sentence’s true meaning?’ This kind of dialectical training teaches people both to understand holy Scripture more accurately and to examine ideas in the light of holy Scripture. To study the Bible is to think carefully about the biblical text and about human life (including one’s own) and to put one’s thoughts under the judgement of holy Scripture. This kind of judgement must be exercised by every Christian as well as he is able: for a man lacking in judgement is unable to do the will of God conscientiously, and is subject rather to prejudice than to reason, but the word of God clearly teaches that one must use reason and wisdom to judge what is good and true.
In order to do so, each Christian needs to develop in himself, as much as he can, the skills of biblically informed reason and wisdom; and thus he must be able to do his own Bible study. Nor is it even sense for the clergy to be the ones doing all discipleship and teaching those who are unlettered in the substance of the faith. If the word of God is to reach the nations with any urgency, the entire Church must do the work of showing how to love and serve God. Therefore, if the whole world must be taught to understand the word of God, the whole Church must be in the business of teaching the world to understand the word of God. Indeed, is not the whole Church the body of Christ, and are we not all fashioned anew into the image of God? Yes, we all. So, to fulfil the duty of God’s election, we are all in some fashion to be Bible study leaders. Some, of course, will be more skilled in testing ideas, and some more learned in theology, and some more accurate in fine points of grammar; and naturally people will turn to them for help in their areas of superior expertise, but even then it is not a matter of blind trust but of prudence referred to the more developed gifts of others. Not all are called to protect the sheep, but to beware of wolves all are called.
But indeed some are called to guard the Church. Elders, or presbyters, as publicly acknowledged shepherds in the Church, charged with the sacred duty of publicly defending the doctrine of the faith, should not (by quantity) do most of the Church’s teaching, but they should be training the people to continually to teach, defend, and stand firm in the faith. Publicly recognized for a certain duty, and not only for some knowledge, they teach with the most prophetic auctoritas, and their grave and sober judgements are not lightly cast away, even if others exceed them in learning or intellectual acuity. Elders are, therefore, both seated near the centre and standing at the boundaries, and called teachers par excellence.
These qualifications notwithstanding, the truth is that the whole Church is to be an assembly of Bible study leaders, because the whole Church is called to lead the nations to the truth to which all Christians have entrusted themselves. And the call to discern this truth is not the preserve of the most wise, the most learned, the most brilliant, but the privilege and the duty of all. For both the natural gift of human reason and the supernatural gift of the Holy Ghost are given to all, and both must be used by all. As St Paul asks, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Or again, Do you not know that we are to judge angels? Yes, we know that all the saints must judge. Such is the republic with Christ at its head as everlasting King: for Christ says, Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. And as St Paul also says, the unbeliever who comes in among the Church may be judged by all: If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all. And all this is to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
So be it in the whole Church, that the Lord’s glory may be seen by all flesh. Amen.