The Difference Between a Bible Study and a Church

Justin Johnson

Understanding how to rightly divide the Bible would eliminate many traditions and wrong teachings in traditional churches: the law teaching of tithing, baptisms, priests, sacraments, anointing oil, vestments, Sabbaths, and repetitive use of the ‘Lord’s prayer’ just to name a few.

One thing that should not be thrown out with the bathwater of the baptistry is the church itself. Unfortunately this is what can happen under the banner of “study to shew thyself approved unto God” when Bible study groups are formed to replace churches.

A Bible study group and a church ministry are different.

Bible study is important, but the Lord did not reveal to Paul the fellowship of the mystery to form Bible study groups.

Paul’s ministry established churches to do ministry work (Acts 16:5).

What is the Church

What is the difference? Doesn’t Paul teach that we are the church? Isn’t the church fully operating even in Bible study groups?

This is the heart of the matter. The church is not a building; it is people. In this regard, wherever and whatever its members are doing, the church is there.

If this is all there is to church, then after souls are saved, there would not need to be any responsibility toward other members of the church.

Instead, the Lord has given responsibilities to the church that can only be done when its members gather together to do the work (1 Tim 3:15).

Bible study is an important function of the church. It is needed before doing any work for the Lord, but Bible study groups do not have most of the marks of a properly functioning church.

Bible study groups produce students. Churches produce workmen.

The Differences

Bible study does not require meeting with others.
Church ministry requires meeting with others.

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Bible study can happen with strangers and unbelievers.
A church functions only with other believers gathering together regularly.

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Bible study groups do not need to have doctrinal agreement.
The church requires doctrinal agreement to be the pillar and ground of the truth.

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Bible study groups may be formed to help others discover the Bible rightly divided.
A church must be formed on the Pauline pattern established on Bible rightly divided.

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A Bible study group will fulfill its purpose when it is done studying.
A church can not fulfill its purpose until it works out what it has studied. A church that only studies without doing ministry work is not functioning properly.

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Bible study groups have no responsibility to others in the group.
The church exhorts members to edify, sanctify, and serve each other.

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Bible study groups do not need to make a doctrinal stand, or avoid wrong traditions. Wrong teaching may be something worth studying to see if it is true.
A church has a responsibility to avoid wrong teaching and encourage separation from the world.

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Bible study groups do not require leadership, discipline, or an order.
Churches include leadership that is given responsibility to keep order in the church.

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Bible studies require no commitment. Some attend 2-3 different studies at once.
To function as a church there must be a commitment to its ministry.

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A Bible study takes less work and there is no need for personal involvement. Participation can be passive. A church has more functions and requires personal responsibility to minister. Church ministry encourages active participation.

There is a time when a Bible study group is a step in the right direction and is needed as a first step.

Then there is a time when a group of saints takes responsibility to function as a church, and perform the functions of the pillar and ground of the truth.

There is not always a Pauline church nearby, or saints stablished in the doctrine to start one. For these folks, Bible study groups serve the function of learning right doctrine, but these groups should change into church ministries as elders prove themselves faithful.

We need Bible study groups, but without establishing Pauline churches we will not produce workmen. Students never get enough study, but workmen would be ashamed to call a few hours of study the only responsibility of the church.

“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” – 2 Timothy 2:2


To learn more listen to our series on Paul’s teaching of the local church.

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Published: March 29, 2014
Last Modified: March 19, 2018
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