connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
Every so often at our church we have a small but sizeable number of non-Christians in a fellowship group. At this point the question becomes whether a dedicated non-Christian group should be formed within the larger group.
While I believe some form of Christianity Explained/Explored/Introducing God type of group needs to be provided (and there are other good resources to go through), I believe it should supplement the week-to-week bible study group fellowship. This, of course, is a big sacrifice resource wise – but for a group of keen non-Christians I pray that we’ll all see this as a sacrifice worth investing in.
For me, there are three compelling reasons to include non-Christians in regular bible study.
1. It demystifies the Bible
I remember clearly one of the misconceptions I had about the bible before becoming a Christian was how to read and understand the bible. To me it was some spiritual book in which I had to vaguely wait to for some spiritual answer to leap off the page. When you consider some of the language used to describe the bible it probably doesn’t help: Word of God; Holy Bible; Scripture; Sacred Writings…
So it came as a relative surprise that this wasn’t the case. Instead, week after week, I was shown that the bible isn’t that strange after all – sure there are some strange stories and contexts a lot of us are not familiar with, but at the heart was a simple comprehension exercise. Yes, there are certainly applications to be made, and to be done so by reliance on the Spirit – but sitting down to understand the bible wasn’t out of my reach.
What I later learned as the perspicuity of scripture (the clarity of bible texts before us) I encountered as a non-Christian in regular bible study
2. It should hopefully show how the bible is one united story
Biblical literacy in our world is at an all-time low. But this isn’t just an issue for non-Christians, it’s also an issue within the church as well. Understanding how the whole bible fits together telling one united story is not familiar to many.
Regular weekly bible studies should not only be exploring the content of the passages before us but also helping us to plug them into the bigger picture. Whether we’re in Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, Romans or Revelation, we should be seeing the unfolding story of the gospel of Jesus and its implications for us today.
And not only is this beneficial for Christians, but also non-Christians sitting in on studies.
[Here of course I need to mention that when I speak of bible study I’m assuming the historical-grammatical expository method of studying the bible: verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. Each phrase within the context of its sentence, each sentence within the context of its paragraph, each paragraph within the context of its book and each book within the context of the larger story of the bible. Click here for an explanation of why the expository method of teaching/learning the bible is one of the best.]
3. It provides a witness/testimony of Christians submitting to the word and encouraging each other
Here is probably one of the most powerful things I witnessed as a non-Christian coming to bible studies regularly. I saw other Christians (who I discovered to my relief that they weren’t all that strange!) learning together and sitting in submission to God’s Word to them. I also saw Christians humbling themselves, confessing their struggles, and encouraging each other. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly eye-opening and wonderful to see.
It presented to me a wonderfully attractive community to be a part of. It wasn’t perfect, but in their imperfection they were striving to be humble, loving, and caring for each other.
So there’s three reasons why I think it’s great that non-Christians should join our bible studies on top of any Christianity explained type of course. That said, there are a few thoughts to keep in mind while doing so:
First, be careful to avoid Christianese – terms and jargon used by Christians that only Christians understand. Take the time to explain and explore Christian concepts and words that come up in bible study. This is one of the beauties of bible study as opposed to sermons, there is time to explain and explore things. It’ll not only benefit the non-Christian but also younger Christians who may also not understand, and give a chance for older Christians to explain clearly what jargon they use.
Second, take the time to set things in the biblical timeline context. I’m about to start a bible study series in the book of Daniel. The historical setting of Daniel is not going to be familiar with a lot of Christians, let alone non-Christians. I’m aiming to do this through some games and a visual map of the bible’s timeline – and I plan to do this regularly over our 8 week study.
Finally, remember that the implications/applications for non-Christians must first stop at the gospel. A study, for example in Ephesians 4:17-32 will have all sorts of practical outworkings for the Christian: put away falsehood and speak the truth (v25), do not steal but do honest work (v28), be kind to each other and forgive each other (v32). However, if a non-Christian is simply told to do these things then the impression they walk away with of Christianity is that it is simply a works-based religion. The bible study leader needs to be careful that applications are not simply left there – but remind the entire group clearly and repeatedly that these are gospel outworking’s for a gospel-transformed life. This is good not only for the non-Christian but also the legalist (who needs to be gently rebuked for relying on their works for salvation) and the less mature in faith (who needs to be gently encouraged to see how the gospel works in all areas of life).
So there are my thoughts. What about you? What have benefits and potential hurdles have you found in inviting non-Christians into bible study?
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