The Runaway Bible Study

I turned up late to our leaders’ prayer session. It takes place prior to our small groups. I walked in on a lively discussion. We were due to study 1 Corinthians 8 that night. I’d prepared the prep notes a few weeks back and hadn’t looked at them since. In the short time available, I tried to climb in on the debate. People understandably wanted to know what the closest equivalent situation to eating ‘food offered to idols’ was for us.

This is what I’d written on the issue in the prep notes.

Paul describes these Christians as having ‘weak consciences’. That’s not hugely flattering. But I take it to mean that they lacked the moral strength to cope with their conflicting thoughts and emotions. They had a sensitive conscience not a robust one. It felt easily accused. This led to feelings of guilt and defilement.

The examples I’d then given might have suggested that being weak was about having a propensity to a particular sin. It’s not. In the passage it’s more to do with having a sensitivity to idolatry. In other words they couldn’t free their minds and conscience from associating having a lamb korma in the marketplace from worshipping the gods from whom Christ had liberated them. They were, in the words of one of our small group, conflicted. For them, to eat the lamb korma was a ‘subjective’ sin. They thought of eating as rendering service and worship to their former idols. With each mouthful they were turning away from Christ so ‘accustomed’ were they to their idols.

It was a terrific discussion and lots of healthy interaction with the text and with one another. The boys were characteristically gladiatorial. But they weren’t ungodly. I guess it should have occurred a few days ago and not ten minutes prior to leading a Bible study. People were obviously unsettled and a little worried about whether they’d really grasped the passage and its meaning, or not. But I was fairly untroubled by the debate. I knew that many of the leaders wanted it all battened down and sorted before they sat in front of their groups. And I knew that they were still groping around looking for precisely equivalent applications. But that’s the stuff of small group Bible study. When it’s functioning well, a small group is full of people bouncing ideas off one another and weighing up what others have said. It’s not always the case that we who lead have the answers and some questions and the task is for our group members to guess our answers from our questions. It’s a debate, about the scriptures and their meaning. The alternative is dull and dry. It’s an interrupted monologue. And, after a day at the office, who wants that?

As it happened, the group I sat in on had a lively time. I wonder whether they were more engaged because there was a hint of uncertainty about the precise equivalent situation. Many were making suggestions, others were weighing that up, grappling with what exactly Paul was saying and why he was saying it. I suspect there was more interaction with one another and the issue than otherwise might have been the case. Once or twice, the leader looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as he lost control of the group and couldn’t quite get a word in edgeways. Those moments are priceless. That’s when the study really takes off; when you are no longer the focal point of the interaction. It’s brilliant when that happens. He managed to rein things back in when it was appropriate but that discomforting feeling of seeing the group take things off in a direction or pursue a line of thought is what you should live for in the study. All too often I’ve sat in studies where people are disengaged. Not last night!

Does yoga for someone converted from a New Age background work as an equivalent situation?

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