"From the earliest days Bible Study Fellowship has been completely interdenominational. Classes are comprised of members from almost all Christian denominations. Discussion leaders are instructed never to encourage members to switch churches. A Catholic priest attended my class for six weeks, and we developed a real friendship. Sometime during the 1960s after Pope John advocated Bible reading, we noticed a great increase in Catholic membership. Priests in one of the Bay Area churches were so impressed with Bible Study Fellowship that any one who taught catechism on Saturday had to be a current member of a Bible Study Fellowship class. Members from Jewish, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and other congregations have become interested in Bible study. Seeing that all denominations are welcome, Bible Study Fellowship has a truly ecumenical fellowship." - A. Wetherell Johson, founder of Bible Study Fellowship, Created for Commitment, page 224 (emphasis mine).It's one thing for a Bible study to welcome anyone to come and study God's Word. We have to seriously question an organization, however, that not only boasts in its ecumenism, but also instructs its leadership to never encourage its members to switch churches. What if a Roman Catholic is attending and begins to question the teaching of the Catholic Church? She comes to her discussion leader, as she has been instructed to do, and the discussion leader not only cannot encourage her to leave her apostate church, but it seems as though the policy of BSF is to actually encourage members to stay in their church and to serve, regardless of denomination or, it would seem, theology! With the soft, watered-down gospel that is taught by BSF, it is little wonder that many who come to the study from "other congregations" (meaning, not Protestant) are never convicted to leave their erroneous fellowships.
Interestingly enough, BSF has done far more than merely welcome Catholics openly and without fear of their false doctrine being exposed. It seems that, back in the 1970s, Bible Study Fellowship actually gave permission and blessing to a strictly Catholic study that was developed and modeled after the BSF style. In the Little Rock Scripture Study, "Leaders and participants receive direction in the Roman Catholic Church's approach to biblical understanding and interpretation."
This study was developed by a small group of Catholics, including a young married couple named Fred and Tammy Woell. While living in Little Rock, they were invited to attend a local BSF. Tammy was hesitant, however, because she had "just joined the Catholic Church after three years of discernment and did not want to become confused again." But the Woells soon came to appreciate what they saw at BSF: "Once they became involved in BSF they were impressed with the way so many Protestants were living out the Christian message." (online source)
But wait. The Woells didn't leave the Catholic Church. This appears quite confusing considering that, if the Gospel was being preached at this BSF class, it would undoubtedly offend a faithful Catholic either to the point of conviction and repentance, or to the point of rejection. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of grace through faith, a gift from God. The gospel of the Catholic Church is one of "Jesus plus;" a gospel of works. Yet, we know that an unoffensive gospel that welcomes all faiths with open arms and never tells the Truth is no gospel at all. A big, ecumenical bear hug will do no one any good if it hugs those people all the way to Hell.
Rather than leave the Catholic Church, it seems the Woells desired to bring this type of Bible study to their own fellowship. With the caveat, apparently, that it would be based upon the "Roman Catholic Church's approach to biblical understanding and interpretation." BSF is very strict about the use of anything that they have developed, however, and so permission was sought to use their format.
Meetings followed between the Woells, Fr. Schneider, Fr. Jerome, Fr. James Mancini, and the staff of the diocesan Office of Religious Education. With the permission of Bible Study Fellowship, they developed a format that was similar in some ways, including study questions, small group discussion, and lectures. They found a method of prayer they felt would best lead people to a level of authentic sharing and adopted the principles taught by Rosalind Rinker in her book Conversational Prayer. Finally, they knew that the strength of such a process of Bible study would be found in well-trained leaders or facilitators. With some guidance from Dr. and Mrs. Carl Wengar of BSF, the Woells put together what was originally a five-week leadership training component that could be used in local communities. (Online source, emphasis mine)So, Bible Study Fellowship granted permission for a Catholic knock-off of their study. This seems odd for a group that supposedly desires to advance the gospel of Christ. Why would they approve, seemingly giving their blessing, to a study that would, it would seem, be teaching the heretical doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church? Well, I suppose Miss Johnson already gave us the answer to that when she said, "Bible Study Fellowship has a truly ecumenical fellowship."
Ecumenical indeed. Swing wide that gate, for there are many goats in line to pass through.
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