The Freedom of Study

f you abide in My word, then you are truly My disciples,
and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.

John 8.31-32

When we study the Bible or when we study subjects addressed by the Bible, we need to exercise great care regarding our own attitude pertaining to the study. Sometimes the Bible is used as a proof-text; that is, we formulate a position or belief, then go to the Bible in search of verses to support our position. Such an approach to study appears to be manipulative and less than an honest, objective search of truth.

We also need to recognize the possibility of carrying into our Bible study a certain amount of prejudice and bias in that a position is assumed to be true or false because it is what we have always been taught. Now we may be correct in the belief, but let’s do our best to make sure it’s what the Bible teaches rather than what we have been taught the Bible teaches.

For years our plea has been “Back to the Bible!” I subscribe to that notion completely. Our stated aim is to simply imitate the practice of the New Testament church. We have always taught and will continue to teach that “if we do now what they [that is, the early believers described in the New Testament] did then, we will be now what they were then – Christians (Acts 11.26).

We also believe we have the right to study the Bible openly and freely. We have the right to question and challenge and investigate any subject, any issue, and any position that calls on the Bible for support, either in verification or refutation. Furthermore, we believe such study should be without acrimony or intolerance. To put it plainly, as brethren, we ought to be able to talk and study and discuss openly and freely any Biblical subject without being afraid of what someone else might say or think of us.

We are Divinely instructed to study. But it is not Divinely ordained that we all come to the same conclusion on every subject we study. Failure to grasp that simple fact has hurt us and resulted in a fractured fellowship. We have the “liberals” and the “conservatives,” the “institutionals” and the “non-institutionals.” Qualifying appellations such as “anti” and “faithful” and “digressive” and “sound” are used as demarcation lines in determining with whom we shall and shall not extend “the right hand of fellowship.”

This appalling condition enslaves us to a “party-line” mentality and has robbed us of our freedom to think for ourselves. If suspicion and distrust are our initial reactions when another brother or sister expresses a view other than the orthodox belief, we are in serious trouble. It means we have stopped studying and have become content to let others tell us what we should and should not believe.

There was a time in the history of our great movement to restore New Testament Christianity when freedom of study and thought and expression and belief and conviction and opinion was genuinely valued and graciously tolerated. That’s not the case today. In a former time brethren discussed openly and at times debated heatedly a wide range of subjects and issues without hostility, without being divisive, without fear of recrimination, without being labeled as a fractious party and expelled from the fellowship. Why is it that they could and we cannot? “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3.10).

As a fellowship of believers we want to be a church which belongs to Christ – a church of Christ. To realize that, we must be effective students and hearers and doers of the Word. So to all the saints who are a part of this church or any body of Christ, let us not fear to study freely and discuss openly any and all of God’s Word. Let us demonstrate patience and tolerance and forbearance toward one another in love while “giving all diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

May God bless us all as we study His Word and strive daily to serve Him faithfully.

– Bill