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The Mailbag: BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)

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What are your thoughts on BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)? Is it doctrinally sound? Is it a good way of studying the Bible?

According to the BSF web site, “BSF is an in-depth, interdenominational Bible study that helps people know God and equips them to effectively serve the Church throughout the world.” BSF Bible study groups are held in various local churches and are open to anyone.

I have never participated in BSF myself, but I am somewhat familiar with it through a couple of friends who have been very involved.

While I totally support the idea of delving deeply into the Scriptures with other women, there are a few of aspects of BSF that concern me. Let me start off by saying that every BSF group is different, so I’m sure these may or may not be issues with every group depending on the leaders and participants.

First, the amount of time required for BSF homework and other responsibilities may not be a fit for every participant. Some women have the hours required for these things and embrace it, but many do not. For the women who do not, this can become discouraging. They may come to view studying the Bible as a chore. They may sometimes neglect their husbands, children, homes, churches, friends, etc., in favor of completing the assignments. They may even give up on organized Bible study all together, assuming that all classes require the same investment of time as BSF. For these reasons alone, I would probably not recommend BSF for a new believer.

Next, BSF is limited to studies of only ten books/topics. I understand why BSF may have to do this from a logistics standpoint, but if BSF is a woman’s only form of personal or group Bible study, that’s leaving out a lot of the Bible. We need all of the Bible for all of life.

Concerns have also been raised by BSF participants and leaders that BSF may be headed in an Emergent and/or contemplative direction considering BSF’s recommendations of materials by authors who subscribe to these false teachings and BSF’s increasing use of The Message (a very shoddy paraphrase of Scripture) rather than a reliable translation.

Finally, my major concern with BSF is that it is ecumenical. It is my understanding that BSF is open to, and led by, people from all denominations (and non-denominations) that call themselves Christian. This is a problem because there are many churches and denominations which call themselves Christian but whose doctrine is not in compliance with Scripture (for example, Catholics, Oneness Pentecostals, Mormons, and New Apostolic Reformation).

BSF could be very helpful in this regard if it would require its leaders to hold to sound doctrine (our doctrine colors the way we teach Scripture) and would allow its leaders and members to discuss correct biblical doctrine, but the way it has been explained to me, “BSF doesn’t teach doctrine, it just teaches the Bible.” That statement, if an accurate representation of BSF’s stance, demonstrates a fundamental flaw in their view of Scripture and its regulation of the church. The Bible is doctrine. There is no way to teach the Bible without teaching doctrine.

What if, during a discussion of that day’s lesson, one of the Catholic members says, “This verse seems to say that praying to Mary would be wrong. Have I been sinning all these years?” or a Mormon says, “This passage indicates that we can be baptized for the dead. We should all be doing this.”? These are doctrinal issues, whether BSF sees them as such or not, and from a biblical standpoint these members need to be taught that praying to Mary and baptism for the dead are unscriptural and sinful. But, according to what I’ve been told, BSF will not correct people’s false doctrine in order to remain open to people of all “Christian” faiths. In fact, I’ve been told it’s against the rules for members/leaders to even disclose which church they belong to. Nor, for the same reason, can anyone recommend (or warn against) any pastor, author, or teacher, despite the fact that his/her materials might be very helpful (or harmful) to someone in the group. BSF leaders are also told not to use any Scripture other than what is being studied that day, which is most unhelpful, as one of the basic tenets of sound hermeneutics is that “Scripture interprets Scripture” and that unclear passages are to be understood in light of clear passages. Cross-referencing Scripture could help clear up doctrinal issues.

The Bible tells us that the job of a pastor (and by the extension of this principle, Bible teachers) is to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9b). It also says Christians are not to yoke ourselves together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Those who claim to be Christians yet deny the essentials of the faith (the Trinity, salvation by grace alone, etc.) are just as much unbelievers as atheists and agnostics (Matthew 7:21-23). It seems to me that there is something foundationally wrong with a Bible study in which genuine believers and false converts, people who hold to sound doctrine and people who hold to false doctrine, can sit side by side with neither being offended or corrected.

Mature, discerning believers can probably attend BSF without being swayed to believe any false doctrine (and, just to be clear, I’m certain it’s not BSF’s intention to teach false doctrine). However, I imagine that those mature, discerning believers would find it difficult to abide by the rules of keeping quiet on issues of sound doctrine as those issues arise.

Additional Resources

BSF Leader resigns; warns members about 2018 Study at Naomi’s Table

BSF, Jesus Calling and a plea from the heart at Berean Research

BSF as a “Vision-Casting” ministry? An open letter from a leader at Naomi’s Table


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.


UPDATE: I’ve received numerous comments on this article. About half have disagreed with some or all of it and the other half have said it’s spot on. As mentioned in the article, “every BSF group is different, so I’m sure these may or may not be issues with every group depending on the leaders and participants.” Comments are now becoming redundant, and some of them downright ugly, so I’ve closed comments on this article. (Just to save you some time, please don’t go to another article’s comment section and attempt to comment on this article there. It won’t be published. I also will not be responding to e-mails/social media messages about this article.)

25 thoughts on “The Mailbag: BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)”

    1. I am a discerning, non-denomination Christian. I attend CALVARY CHAPEL. I wish to respond to your concerns about BSF based on my personal experience with it.

      I spend THREE HOURS a week on BSF homework. For deeper understanding, yes, we need to know the entire volume of Scriptures, however, (1) a Christian’s love of God’s Word will draw them to read more, and (2) even one book of the Bible shows the truth about God.

      No authors have been recommended to me. I use KJV bible during BSF and for homework. Since we are encouraged to use the SCRIPTURES for sound DOCTRINE, CORRECTION, and ADMONITION your concern in that regard is unwarranted. Probably better that a BSF student who was taught another interpretation of a verse be corrected by Scripture and the Holy Spirit and not in a group setting. Private conversations can be had. Better to have these people in BSF and sooner or later see the sound doctrine in Scripture. Questions on BSF home use CROSS-REFERENCES from old and new testaments, and has said, “or any other verse you know.”

      Don’t think my BSF group leader considers herself on par with a church pastor, nor would I appreciate that. Christian pastors are called of God and have many years of training. Unequally YOKED refers to partnerships that require shared values, e.g., marriage and business.

      It would be hard to keep quiet on sound doctrine, it hasn’t come up, but if it did, I would point to Scripture privately.

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  1. Excellent article. I so agree. It is sad when people become too attached to a teacher or system of teaching and it becomes in effect an idol or sacred cow in their lives. We must be like the Bereans and be very discerning, especially in these last days when we are told that even the very elect can be deceived.

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  2. I have been involved with BSF for two years and will not be going back this year for reasons similar to what you mentioned. The first two dealing with the time to do your lessons and the limiting of the studies are not issues. The time is really whatever you have and desire to put into it. I have taken 2 hrs to complete a study because I wanted to really dig into it and had the time but I’ve also completed a day’s lesson in 10 mins. It is very adaptable to what you have available. The limiting of the studies is not limiting you to only using those books of the Bible. Every lesson will have you searching out many different passages throughout the Bible and often ask you if there are others that you can think of that relate to a certain topic or passage in the book you are studying.

    My issues do fall with the extremely ecumenical nature (you are strongly forbidden for even mentioning what denomination or church you go to, yet I was in one group where a Catholic lady was allowed to go on & on for several minutes about how great the RCC is and how wonderful this Pope is). The most recent group I was in were extremely tight on “the rules.” This may be one of my bigger complaints. There are apparently many rules in BSF but I was never informed of any of these rules and there is nothing on their website that I could find last I checked. So, it was very embarrassing when several class members jumped on me for breaking some rule I had never heard of (of course they had just been violating the exact same rule not 30 secs prior).

    Another issue is it is moving very contemplative, at least the one I attended is. The lady who did most of the lectrues mentioned contemplative prayer and Jesus Calling several times. It was also very clear she was not a fan of monergism but would constantly quote men like Spurgeon. She would often say things that were flat out false and bordering on heretical. But every morning I was constantly barraged with “Wasn’t that great?!” “Isn’t she a wonderful teacher?!” It also bothers me that more and more questions like “What do you feel about this passage?” or “Why do you think ____ did _____?” started popping up. I would always answer those questions with “What does it matter what I think?” or “This is asking me to speculate in an area God has not spoken and doing so is a dangerous practice.”

    I decided to not participate with BSF anymore due to the irritation and bitterness growing in me from dangerous ideas and practices being tolerated and promoted.

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    1. Before one offers a critique of Bible Study Fellowship one might ought to attend for a year and see exactly what is happening in BSF. We are encouraged to study God’s word, ask the Holy Spirit to lead us as we read it and teach us as we read it and then we are asked to apply it to our own lives. It is not the intention of Bible Study Fellowship to point people to a specific Church. It is the intention that women study the word. Countless women and Children And Men from the men’s groups have come to know Jesus Christ as a result of their BSF studies. I’ve never heard anyone in BSF expound on the qualities of any leader. They teach the word they ask you to study the word. They ask you to grow from the word. We’ve had Jewish women come to our group we’ve had a Muslim woman come. Who knows but that may be the only Jesus they ever see. And in my BSF group there is a very good representation of the love of Jesus and it just might bring those women home to heaven.. Bible Study Fellowship is not the church they are not teaching the doctrine of any church. We all know that all the churches that are within the pale of Christianity true Christianity all have different doctrinal issues. BSF doesn’t teach Doctrine per se it teaches Jesus, it teaches God and his love for us. We’ve studied John this year over and over and over we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen Jesus with his friends trying to tell them everything they needed to know because he was going away, we’ve seen Jesus love Judas even though Judas was going to betray him. We’ve seen Jesus show us how to love, how to bring others to know him, BSF is trying to teach people about Jesus and his love and there’s been many people come to know Jesus because BSF taught them to study the word. they’re not a church they’re not trying to take the place of a church. I think you do a great disservice to people who were trying to study the word and learn everything they can about God without a preacher telling them what the doctrine is and what this means or what that means but listening instead to the Holy Spirit, a great disservice and you might turn people away from the only Bible study they will ever do. People who were in my BSF group get a really good picture of the love of Jesus and the mercy of Jesus and the Forgiveness of Jesus. And they learn that Jesus loves them and died for them. That’s what we’re here to do. Share the love, lead people to know Jesus Christ and that’s what BSF does.

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      1. Linda, I was in BSF for 2 years. Also, “doctrine” literally means “teaching” so if BSF teaches anything, by definition, it is teaching doctrine. Now, whether that doctrine is sound or not, is the question.

        I’d also be interested in knowing what you mean by “listening to the Holy Spirit.”

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  3. I’ve done BSF for the past two years and because of doctrinal issues, the Beth Moore crowds and other false teachings brought in by some of the women, chose to use eSword as well as some commentaries to complete the assignments. I was also not alone in participating that way…there are just too many bad teachings in so many churches/organizations these days.

    Our group did have some that were clearly under a false teaching; our leader allowed a few of us to gently point to Scripture to show the error of that teaching.

    Our leaders have been and still are Reformed and semi-Reformed and most of the women that I shared classes with were solid.

    But yes, BSF has bands of untruth coming into it and if they don’t relax some of the rules (like what church women go to), it could find itself mired in a pit of lies.

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  4. We had a couple of comments from BSF participants over on my Facebook page that I wanted to share with you:

    Dianne says:

    I am a BSF leader and may be able to give a little insight. First, I share some of your concerns about the Message and the Emergent church. I keep my eye looking for that in what they teach and have not seen it yet. They do have a higher standard and statement of faith for leaders that by its very nature excludes all of the groups you mentioned. They truly beleive that if we keep focused on God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s power, the truth will expose the members false beleifs. That is why they welcome Catholics, etc. They do rely on a more reformed view of salvation and that God is doing the work. We are trained every week on how to confront false teaching on the essentials if they come up, yet not step in when it is secondary. Plus it does keep the group leaders reined in from putting forth their own opinion from taking sides. I am not sure why people think the homework is hard. If anyone struggles with it, PM me and I can help. I can do the whole week in an hour if need be. But that is because of how and when I do it. But I agree we always have to be vigilant and Bereans. I appretiate your due diligence Michelle.

    I hope it will also be an encouragement to know leaders must do homiletics, which is an amazing tool and such a joy. And the prayer time we have on our knees as leaders is AMAZING! To start out with a huge gruop of women (we had 80) calling out the atributes of God and lifting Him high and then thanking Him for who He is and what He does and the specific prayers we have for everything that goes on from the equipment to the safety of the kids to that hard converstaion on the phone to asking God to help us glorify and magnify Him. I hope the ladies know how much they are prayed over and the love the leaders have for them.

    Andrea says:

    Our BSF group uses the NIV translation. I don’t know if others use The Message, but I hope not. And we have a comprehensive list of cross references listed at the end of each week’s study notes, which do come up in the homework questions and our small group discussions

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    1. The Message is not used, but it was quoted once in the BSF magazine (spring of 2010) they used to put out and shortly after the new head came on board. They have not referred to it or used it since. Whether women use it in their personal study, I can’t say. I have never heard it referenced in an answer and never in a lecture. I know we are told that we can use whatever version of Scripture we want, however, BSF notes and questions are written using only the NIV as Andrea said above. Women of all churches are welcome but the reason church affiliation is not part of discussion is that it is hoped that no one would be made to feel uncomfortable because of someone’s comment. Who of us would want to return if we were made to feel inferior? So, it’s not part of the discussion. As one of the comments above said, it is through the study of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit that those who follow wrong unBiblical teaching, read the works of false teachers, etc. will be made aware.

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  5. I attended BSF for several years and noticed the decline (I asked the lecturer if she was aware of the errors in The Message that she quoted from that morning. She was not aware, but would look into it). The increased presence and boldness of RCC attendees….I was not the only one at this location to notice it… The RCC is pushing something called New Evangelicalsm…watch out!). I will NOT be returning, because in my view they have turned a corner of convergence/ecumenicalism.

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  6. My first study with BSF was two years ago, Moses. Overall I enjoyed learning about Moses and the Isrealites and gained a better understanding of God’s greatness as He lead His people to the promised land. Unfortunately, I also agree with the points in this article regarding the soundness of doctrine.

    As a Christian, I felt it necessary to correct some of the scriptural views that were not sound, but was quickly discouraged to do so. I was gently reminded that due to the many denominations participating, there were different views of scripture we needed to be respectful of. I found that difficult to adhere to and suppress as the only view we should be adhering to is God’s.

    Scripture is very clear…the only “denomination” is Christianity. All other denominations have been developed through the ages by misinterpreting Scripture. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6

    I tried a 2nd year, studying the Book of Revelation, and found many controversies as well. Due to time and personal beliefs, I was unable to continue after several weeks.

    BSF leaders do inform the members of the denominational mix and specifically asked the members to refrain from expressing their personal religious beliefs so as not to offend others. Although I disagree with that thinking, I tried to respect the request.

    On the other hand, BSF should then respect their own rules and not add their own commentary/interptetation of the Scripture (which is not always sound) and not expect Christians to question it.

    If BSF were run by true followers of Christ, then they would recognize, rebuke, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
    It doesn’t matter if BSF is bringing Bible Study to millions, if any portion of the teaching is false, then BSF is doing a disservice and not following Christ’s command.

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  7. Cheryl Edwards Ludwig
    Cheryl Edwards Ludwig Hi Michelle Lesley- Discipleship for Christian Women. I am coming from the perspective of having been in BSF: Bible Study Fellowship for eleven years and I will return this fall. Rick Ludwig and I always discuss the lessons/lectures weekly and many times at the dinner table with our two sons Richard Ludwig and Nicholas Ludwig who attended with me during their high school years. They just finished their last study of Revelation in May. Undoubtedly, this is the most biblical women’s and children’s study in which one could participate. Rick and I “vet” every lesson to be sure that it is in line with the Word of God. If I ever see or think it is “off” in any way, I ask him to read the notes we receive. BSF in my area has always provided the most solid teaching anyone could ever receive on a weekly basis. I will say that we have a very mature Christian teaching leader who does absolutely teach doctrine each week. In fact, at the beginning of the year, she discusses what doctrine is and why it is so important. During every lecture, she points out what the main doctrine being taught is and expounds upon it by using various passages of scripture. I will also say that if a woman doesn’t have 20 minutes to do one day’s worth of homework then she needs to repent before the Lord for her lack of desire to know Him in a greater way. It is not too much and it is not too hard, either. Women who do not really want to be led by the Spirit into understanding the greater things of God’s revealed word will struggle with the homework or maybe they have attention issues? In the case of the latter, then she will struggle with any study she has to do where there is written work. Attending BSF has done nothing but make me more hungry for God’s word, never less. So, the issue you mentioned concerning not using the whole Bible. That statement is not accurate. We are all over the Bible examining passages that apply to the chapter we are studying. We are in the OT and the NT every week. I am not sure where the idea came from that BSF doesn’t use the entire word of God in its studies. Okay…emergent and contemplative? NOT our teaching leader….far from it. I don’t know what the other teaching leaders in other areas are bringing to their classes, but this is not happening in mine. She warns us about false doctrine and teaching constantly. Ecumenicalism? No. This study is open to any woman who desires to know the truth. I would say that what they are receiving at class IS the truth that they might not be getting at their own church. BSF is very conservative theologically. They are trained by some of the most outstanding theologians of our day. Think D.A. Carson and you will understand what I am saying. Discussion Leaders (DLs) do not necessarily correct everything that is said in their group. We would get so off track if that happened all the time. The DL relies on the women in her group to discern when a comment is “off-base” and we DO prove from the Word what the truth is. I will always point out any misinformation that I hear from another participant by citing verses proving the truth. The notes we receive each week are wonderful at explaining even the most difficult of passages or doctrines. Our teaching leader always expresses the truths that are there in the passage we are examining that evening. Truth is what it is all about and if it wasn’t about that, well, let’s just say that there would be no way that Rick would ever let me be a part of this study. So, after dinner tonight, we were discussing your post. Both of my sons, Nick 18 yrs old and Richard, 19 years old both felt that BSF: Bible Study Fellowship has been one of the most influential parts of their teen years outside of sitting under the teaching of their father Rick Ludwig and their youth leader at our church who is a fantastic Bible teacher. They gleaned much truth in the last four years and I enjoyed it that we were all studying the very same portions of scripture each week. It made for lively and informative conversation and learning from one another. I have VERY discerning young men in my home and they listen carefully. We raised them to have the attitude of being a Berean no matter who is doing the teaching. Michelle Lesley- Discipleship for Christian Women….I would encourage you to find your nearest class for BSF and go to it. I hope this helps in understanding what BSF is. Please feel free to contact me about BSF if you would like know about any other aspects of it.
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  8. BSF taught me how to study the Bible and how to.find a Biblically based church thru understanding God’s Word. I am forever grateful for the 5 years of disciplined Holy Spirit taught study that has equipped me to know and follow scripture.

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  9. I have been in BSF for ten years. I hope you will go to the BSF website and read both their statement of faith and about the courses they offer. Please, please, please, dear Sister in Christ, contact our headquarters rather than relying on hearsay. We have a wonderful board which includes several noted theologians. I can not imagine that Dr Mark Bailey or Dr Walter Kaiser would be involved in the spread of false teaching. I have been in leadership for three years and I have never encountered anyone in leadership using a paraphrase of the Bible. Bible literacy is one of our main goals so why would we ever use a paraphrase like The Message. If group members saw it being used by a group leader or teaching leader it is absolutely tragic that they did not notify the Area Team or Headquarters. All BSF classes recommend but do not require use of the NIV. This is because it is the most widely available translation for our international classes. All leaders must agree to the statement of faith and they cannot lead if the statement conflicts with their churches teachings. Thus, there are no Catholic or Mormon leaders although people of those faiths are welcome to attend and hear the true Word. Doctrine most certainly is taught. More than 10 books of the Bible are covered in our courses. The Life of Moses, for instance, covers Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We do encourage everyone to spend time everyday in their Bibles. The questions we use for discussion are designed to be done over six days. I find I spend one half to one hour per day on questions and homiletics. I also spend several hours a week contacting discussion group members, assisting them with questions, soliciting their prayer requests and often praying with them. We do not discuss the denominations we belong to because we do not want differing positions discussed. We do not discuss pastors, teachers or authors, only the Bible. One of the most challenging aspects as a group leader is controlling without suppressing discussion. We are not there to discuss philosophies such as Arminianism or Calvinism. If a member is actually wrong about doctrine they are usually corrected by other group members before I need to. Group Leaders and possibly the Teaching Leader may contact the person privately to correct misperceptions and we do always rely on Holy Spirit to guide our members. We ask our members to use only Scripture to answer questions in discussion. All of Scripture can be used. Some references are provided to aid new Bible students. We all members to refrain from the use of commentaries until after they have finished the lesson. We do believe Scripture interprets Scripture and we want our members to rely on Scripture and leading of the Holy Spirit.

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  10. After attending bsf for several years I’m becoming uneasy with the idea put forward in discussion groups: “there are no wrong answers.” This sounds like God’s Word can mean whatever each one thinks it means. Also, they’re becoming so worried about not “becoming political” at a time when almost every moral issue has been politicized. I asked for clarification re avoiding “controversial issues but can’t get a clear answer. Trying to discern it theyre moving on a direction that I’m not willing to take.

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    1. I am discussion leader in BSF. In our training meetings we are frequently told that we will hear wrong answers and we are trained in how to handle these matters. Rest assured that BSF has sound protocol in place for dealing with this particular matter. We do not allow unsound doctrine to go uncorrected within our groups.

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  11. My biggest problem with BSF is that it takes ladies away from the bible study in our church. We offer a variety of weekly inductive studies or sometimes topica,l but solid studies, and some women are so bogged down with BSF that they won’t attend. I think that these women miss out on the benefits of the local church and the protection of the elders. If you can attend a bible study in your local church than I beleive that that is where you should be.

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    1. Melissa, I agree wholeheartedly. Assuming someone goes to a doctrinally sound church, her first “loyalty,” for lack of a better word, should be to her own church because that is her church family and that is where her primary bonding, fellowship, and service should take place. If she can do both BSF and her own church’s studies, great, but if she has to choose between the two, she should choose her own church (again, assuming the Bible studies her church offers are doctrinally sound).

      There are some women, who, unfortunately, attend churches where the preaching is sound but the women’s ministry uses materials by false teachers for their “Bible” studies. In those cases, I would certainly support someone attending a doctrinally sound study outside their church rather than false teaching inside their church.

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  12. Bible Study Fellowship’s name embodies exactly what they strive to be.
    At BSF we study the Word of God, the Bible. BSF is nondenominational so that we can focus on the actual WORDS in the Bible, what God actually has said to us, not mans opinions about His words.
    As a STUDY, BSF works much like traditional ‘homework’ – there is the bare minimum of questions, the ‘skeleton’ you might say, of what is detailed in the dozen or so questions. Anything over and above that serves to enrich your knowledge of the Bible, but is not required by BSF.
    Lastly, as a Fellowship, there are opportunities to learn and grow with other women as you seek to know God, understand His word, and apply it to your life.

    As an organization made up of humans there are definitely flaws. There will be leaders and fellow attendees you do not like. People will come to slightly off base conclusions. And you have to choose whether it is something you can deal with or not.

    BSF is a good and healthy organization for not only Believers of any stage in their faith, but non believers as well. We all benefit from better knowing the Word of God. As someone who has personally benefitted from the ministry of BSF, I would ask that you attend a class before you piece together an optinion. Try it out.

    You might be pleasantly surprised.

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    1. I would love to “try it out,” but I was told that as a pastor I am not allowed to attend a BSF group. Believe me, I tried, but was told it was against the rules.

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