Are lectureships scriptural?




Tell me your thoughts about "lectureships."  Is this a scriptural term?  Do we have authority for women lectureships?

Let us establish a basic point. The question is not whether a particular term is found in the Bible or not. After all language changes constantly. What might have made a good translation in say the 1600's might not be as precise in the 2000's. The real question is whether the concept represented by the term "lectureship" is something authorized in the Scriptures.

Technically, a lectureship is simply a meeting where a discourse on a topic is presented. Thus, a gospel meeting where a preacher is invited to come and speak several times is by definition a lectureship. However, by a lectureship, we usually mean a gathering where multiple speakers present messages as opposed to a gospel meeting where only one speaker presents the lessons.

In speaking about the worship service, Paul gave directions to the Corinthians about how the services were to be conducted. These directions were given during the time when miraculous gifts were available to members of the church, so many items discussed no longer apply. However, we can learn much from the principles imposed on how those gifts were to be used. "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged" (1 Corinthians 14:26-31). Paul emphasizes that things were to be done in an orderly fashion. People were to take turns speaking while others listened silently and attentively. And there was to be limit on the number of speakers during a service. In other words, the service wasn't to go on and on. But in regards to the question, notice that Paul places the limit to two or three speakers. Thus for our purpose, we see that having assembles where multiple speakers present lessons is authorized.

What has become a topic of discussion the last few years is not the lectureship format per se, but who is authorized to sponsor such meetings.

The Bible makes a distinction between the actions of an individual, the actions of a group, and the actions of an organization. Matthew 18:15-17 is a classic example. In solving a dispute between two individuals, they are urged to rectify the situation between themselves. If this is not possible, then two or three others are to be invited into the discussion. Only when this fails is the matter to be brought before the church. Thus a distinction is drawn between individuals, groups, and the church. The church is not simply a group of individuals. In groups people come and go, but the church is an organization that has distinct membership. "And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26). Saul was not allowed into the membership of the Jerusalem church until Barnabas stood up and vouched for him and testified of Saul's conversion (Acts 9:27-28).

Organizations have distinct membership, have collective resources, and joint effort in performing tasks toward a shared goal. When Christ was here on this earth, he established an organization to accomplish his goals. "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The members of this organization are individual Christians and the purpose is to teach the gospel both externally and internally (Matthew 28:18-20).

We can read in the New Testament about Christians individually and in groups going out and teaching the gospel in a variety of settings. We can also read about churches supporting these efforts through finances and the work done in each congregation. The snag is that we find no other organizations being formed.

There is no example of Christians forming say a school and then using that organization to finance the spreading of the gospel. The closest thing we can find is that Paul, as an individual, took advantage of a school's environment to teach the gospel in that school. "But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:9-10). The school wasn't organized for the spread of the gospel, it already existed as a teaching institution. Paul made use of its facilities and resources to accomplish Christ's goals. The school allowed Paul to teach in its facilities, but we can be certain that it was not determining Paul's lesson plans. It was not telling Paul what topics it wanted taught. In other words, however we may slice the matter, it would be improper to assert that the school was teaching the gospel. Paul was teaching the gospel; he was just teaching in an environment owned by a school.

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Individual Christians and groups of Christians go where they may to teach the gospel, but the only organization set up by Christ to do this same work is the church. Local churches decide what needs to be taught and work toward strengthening its members. But many are concerned, and rightly so, that we have created man-made organizations to do portions of the work assigned to Christians and churches. Some back off and say, "We're just a group of Christians spreading the gospel." But that is not true. These groups are not gatherings of Christians who come and go as they see the need. They are highly refined organizations with limited membership. They have resources owned by the organization, not by the individuals composing the organization. (As an aside to prove the point: The Guardian of Truth Foundation caught one of its members embezzling its funds. It justly prosecuted the member because the individual had no rights to the funds independent of the will of the organization as a whole. Thus Guardian of Truth is not a collection of individuals, but an organization.) They have stated purpose in their articles of incorporation. They have selected leadership with defined jobs to perform.

Organizations are not wrong or bad, but we must ask ourselves if God wanted man to create organizations to perform portions of His will. God created the church, but can man create an organization to handle benevolence for the church? The answer is no because the decision for how and where the money is spent is determined by the organization, and no longer by those giving to the organization. A church might use an organization to accomplish a task. For instance, it might contract with a shipping company to deliver supplies to needy saints struck by a hurricane. But the shipping company is not deciding what to send, where to send it, or who will receive it. The shipping company is not doing the benevolent work, the church is doing it.

Missionary societies are wrong because they are man-made organizations, independent of individual Christians or churches, which makes decisions about who is sent to which area and how much they are to be supported. Those contributing to the society are not making the decisions, the society is deciding. Those supported by the society are working for the society and are in fellowship with the society. Thus the effort is the work of the society and not a work of those sending funds to the society.

When Abilene Christian University solicits funds for its missionary studies program, who is doing the work? Who determines the training needed? Who decides where to send students for on-the-job experience? Who decides who is fit to go and who is not? Is it not a man-made organization doing the work assigned to the church?

Florida College holds a yearly lectureship, but is it the work of a Christian, a group of Christians, or a church asking Florida College to allow them the use of their facilities or is it the work of Florida College? Who decides the overall topic? Who decides the list of speakers? Who gets into trouble when a speaker misrepresents a point? In other words, is it a work of a man-made organization or not? The same questions must be asked of the Guardian of Truth Lectureships. Who is doing the work? Who is financing the work? Who is in control? Who gets the glory or honor from the event?

If a Christian, a group of Christians, or a congregation decides to sponsor a lectureship, I think it is a great way to get the message of the gospel out to a large number of people. But when a man-made organization decides to sponsor a lectureship, even if it is composed solely of Christians, it still goes beyond what God has authorized. God did not ask for organizations to be created to accomplish His will beyond the organization He established with His own blood. Christ did not die for Abilene Christian University, Florida College, the Guardian of Truth Foundation, or the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Organization, but He did die for the church. Why should we think that an organization created in the minds of men will be superior to God's own organization in accomplishing parts of God's will?

The Bible does instruct us that "the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things -- that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed" (Titus 2:3-5). This instruction could be given one-on-one, in a group setting, or even in a class setting. Therefore, if a Christian, a group of Christians, or a church decides to hold a lectureship exclusively for women and they invite women to present lessons they would be doing what God had commanded. Women would be trained in their duties and there would be no concern regarding women usurping authority over men (I Timothy 2:12).

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding the Organization of the Church
Questions and Answers regarding Teaching