As To Bible Study Groups
From a Grand Rapids reader I received the following question of a practical nature: “Would you please comment on neighborhood prayer groups and ‘Bible study groups’ held in various homes, involving so-called Bible study, discussion of personal experiences and discussion of personal problems. Thank-you.”
My questioner does not furnish me with a great deal of information, nor do I personally have any experience with these groups. But after inquiring a bit, I think I have the picture.
Apparently there are such groups of ladies from a given neighborhood, who meet at homes, ostensibly for Bible study, for prayer, for personal testimony concerning their “experiences,” etc. As I understand it, this kind of meeting is conducted on an inter- or non-denominational basis. There seems to be no kind of formal organization involved. And apparently there is no prior agreement as to the basis on which these groups are called together, the basis on which they operate, etc.
What do I think about this?
In the first place, one can only oppose something of this kind at the risk of being called impious for discouraging Bible study, at the risk of being “against Christian witnessing” and at the risk of being “against personal testimony.” Well, I will accept that risk. I am opposed, strongly opposed, to this sort of thing.
Here are my reasons:
1. There is, of course, nothing wrong — in fact, everything right — about studying God’s Word, whether privately or in a group. But if this is to be done profitably and correctly, there must be some fundamental unity in the group, some basis on which those involved are agreed, and some prior agreement as to precisely how the meeting is to be led, etc. How, for example, am I to study the Bible (unless I am in control of the study) with someone who is not wholly committed to Scripture’s infallibility, or with an Arminian, or a Baptist, or with anyone with whom I am not in agreement as to the fundamentals of the Reformed faith?
2. In this day of rampant subjectivism and mysticism of all kinds, including neo-Pentecostalism, I see a very grave danger in this sort of thing. And when my questioner adds that there is discussion of “personal experiences and problems,” my radar begins to send signals, frankly. There have been other times in church history when such “cells” have been formed. Usually they have been characterized by sickly mysticism — the same sort of thing which is rampant today, only in a very superficial, glory-hallelujah, praise-the Lord form. And they have been characterized inevitably by pride and self-exaltation; these people begin to class themselves as the spiritually elite, the real kernel of the church. Reformed Christians should be on their guard against this sort of thing. I have read enough about the current neo-Pentecostal movement that I believe it is to be avoided like the plague; and any sickly subjectivism which smacks of it or might lead up to it should be avoided. Keep your feet squarely on the ground of God’s Word and our Reformed confessions, and do not allow yourself to be tempted by these apparently pious movements: before you know it, you will be led astray and trapped. And then, if you have any Christian sensitivity, you will find yourself having problems such as those mentioned in the quotation below.
3. Our ladies can far better spend their time in their own Ladies’ Societies and in preparation — good, careful, thorough, sober preparation — for their society meetings. My experience in the past has been that there has never been too much of the latter; and the most common excuse given is “lack of time.”
4. For the rest, I would like to quote an article which came from the pen of the Rev. G. I. Williamson, of the Reformed Church of Silverstream, New Zealand. The article has appeared in this country in both thePresbyterian Guardian and Christian News.
Are You On Cloud Nine?
By. G. I. Williamson
One of the pastoral problems that I have met more and more frequently in recent years is suggested by the title above. Let me explain. My wife began to attend some women’s meetings with others in our church, when I noticed that she sometimes came home rather discouraged and downhearted. In talking it over I discovered this was the reason: The study material used at these meetings was often some recent evangelical publication that had become popular in the wider circle of readers. And it was usually a sort of romantic account of the way in which the writer found in Jesus the answer to all manner of problems. Suddenly they were on cloud nine, as it were, and everything was just wonderful.
Is the Christian life a high?
The trouble was that my wife hadn’t reached cloud nine. No, for her there was still a daily struggle with the flesh, the world, and the devil. Prayer was still an effort. And troubles and trials still came. As she compared her experience, then, with these wonderful and romantic stories that others related, she began to wonder about herself. “I just don’t know,” she would say. “Maybe I don’t really know what it is to be a Christian at all.”
Well, we talked this over at some length. And I urged her to put these modern evangelical books out of mind for a while, in order to think about the Scripture. I asked her to tell me of just one person in the Bible who lived on cloud number nine! I asked her to name just one who rose above the strife of battle to bask in the sunshine of perfect tranquility and peace!
And then we sat down and read some of the Psalms of the Bible — the divinely inspired directory for true Christian experience. Again and again she would say, “Well, that sounds just like me! That’s the way it really is.” So the powerful truth of the Word of God was all the answer that was needed.
She went back, next time, to that women’s meeting and spoke about these things. Suddenly there were others who spoke up expressing their profound relief! Yes, they too had had precisely the same experience. They had heard these all too wonderful stories and then had looked at themselves! And they too had begun to say, “Well, it’s not like that with me. It’s not cloud nine at all. It’s still a daily struggle with many discouragements and trials.” Imagine what a relief it was, then, to get back to the solid truth.
The Christian life is a battle
Now I do not want to condemn every evangelical book that tells of the wonder-working power of Christ. I myself could write one too — and it would have much the same effect, if I only told one side of the story! Any true believer can tell these things, and should tell them too. But not in such a way as to give a distorted view of the matter. And this is all too often what happens.
That is one reason why it is so very helpful to go back and read the biographies of some of the great men of God. Yes, we often find those elements in their lives that humble us, and make us ashamed — things that make us cry out to God for more grace to walk closely with him. But they also have an abundance of trial and tribulation with the weakness of the flesh! And precisely because we see their discouragement — and weakness — and tribulations, we find the encouragement to press on with our own good fight of the faith.
Let me urge you then, if you have this problem, to turn from fiction to truth. The fact is that much of this modern evangelical material is rubbish of the worst sort precisely because it draws a pietistic, picture of life — the Christian life — that never has been true in this world.
No, the true Christian life is not easy — and it is not “cloud nine” — a sort of perpetual ecstasy that lifts us “above all the din.” It is rather a battle all the way, and the whole armor of God is required.
For only those who endure to the end are going to be saved in that day. Let us give special heed to the inspired words of the Psalms, then, and take heart and encouragement when we see ourselves herein. For in this — rather than in a kind of imaginary heaven on earth — we shall find our encouragement. And the very fact that we are fighting the good fight will become, as it should, a comfort to us rather than a discouragement because we don’t find it so easy.
You see, there is no “cloud nine” in the Christian life. We’re in a battle all the way to the end. To be misled into thinking otherwise is just another clever trick of Satan to discourage us.
About the Use of Cosmetics
Question From a west coast reader I received the following:
In the Standard Bearer of December 1, 1973, under Question Box, page 104, we read, “A question has been bothering me for a long time.” We also have a question that is bothering us. And that is “the painting of their face, and lips, and eyes by our ladies,” as well in our home church of X and here in Y.
We call that “wereldgelijkvormigheid” (world-conformity, HCH), and we as Christians should stay away from that. It is of the devil, and we see it as sin.
We read in II Kings 9:30 that the wicked Jezebel painted her face, but should Christians not stay away from this? This way we are no different from the world.
First of all, I should point out that the designations “X” and “Y” for the two churches mentioned in the above letter are mine. This change was made for reasons which should be obvious.
In the second place, I cannot escape the impression that this is more of a statement of position than a question on the part of my correspondent. My correspondent seems to have his mind made up.
In the third place, I will not condemn the use of cosmetics wholesale. For one thing, I believe that this is another case of sin not residing in things, but in the abuse of things. For another, such wholesale condemnation of the use of cosmetics will involve one in endless (and useless) questions as to what is proper and what is improper. May milady powder her nose and use a little perfume, or not? And may a gentleman use some hair tonic or a bit of after-shave lotion?
In the fourth place, there is indeed an abuse in this regard. There are some who make themselves look like Jezebel, others who make themselves look like cheap whores, and still others who make themselves look a great deal like clowns. Motives have a great deal to do with this question, too. Some, there are, who imitate every fad that comes along, no matter how ugly it- makes them look, simply in order to be “with it,” I guess.
Hence, let each one use sanctified liberty, be properly modest and judicious in this regard, and beware of following the world in the abuse mentioned. And let mothers in Israel teach their adolescent daughters in this regard by word and example.