We often think that the idea of small groups are a recently new phenomena that grew out of the 20th century evangelical church. Aha…. not so fast!
Many of you know that I’m a student at Lincoln Christian University (majoring in Christian Ministry). Well, I happened to run across something in my studies this week that I thought was fascinating and would share.
We sometimes like to think there’s nothing new under the sun. However, in this week’s studies of the Protestant Reformation (which you may or may not have hear of (or care about)), I unexpectedly encountered this… In 1546 a Dominican Friar named Martin Bucer (1491-1551) (a contemporary of Martin Luther – sometimes thought of as the father of Protestantism) proposed the introduction of home-based “small groups within the congregation, for spiritual edification.”
To appreciate the gravity of this idea, you need to understand that anything and everything spiritual was solely and completely the domain (and under the control) of the Roman Catholic church (the only church in Europe in those days). Challenging the church like this could get you burned at the stake as a heretic! Also, priests were the only people who had access to and could read the Bible back then (the laity weren’t allowed to read it).
Almost a century later, a gentleman named Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705) would go on to stress the importance of Bible study (by now the Bible had become more available to common people (laity)). Spener thought the Bible needed to be read (by everyone) and preached in a devotional way that would lead to a changed lifestyle.
As such, he introduced an early form of home Bible study groups to further these aims. Groups would meet on Wednesdays and Sundays in homes to pray, discuss the previous week’s sermon, and apply passages from Scripture and devotional writings to their lives.
Sound familiar? That’s extremely close to the idea behind small groups today.
The idea is built on the idea of the priesthood of all believers (a topic for another day – but you’ve heard that term from the pastors at First at times), and would later get picked up by John Wesley in the mid 1700’s and (with slight modification) become a hallmark of Methodism.
So, while we tend to think of small groups as a fairly new idea (and an evangelical one at that), the concept goes way back. The idea that growing together sitting in a circle (in the home) is equally as important as growing in Christ sitting should-to-shoulder in church on the weekend (which Pastor Brian touched on today) has a long history! Actually, it can be argued that the concept of home-based small groups goes all the way back to the very beginnings of the 1st century church. So here we are, in the 21st century, carrying on the tradition of Growing Together – sitting in a circle.
There’s your Christian history (and trivia) lesson for the week! Hope you found it at least somewhat interesting. As always – feel free to call or email me anytime you need any help of have any questions.
Group Life Deacon