But let’s just consider the past two months’ worth of classes—about 12 hours. What if, instead of meeting 8 times for an hour and a half each, we met two days for 6 hours of study and discussion each day? Would that be wrong? If we are studying the same thing, participating in the same activities, why isn’t it just another means to edify? And if, because we have a chance to study without children sitting in our laps (due to Christian husbands who are concerned for their wives’ spiritual education), we decide to have it someplace besides the meetinghouse, but we each pay our own way and nothing comes out of the church treasury, isn’t that too just another ladies Bible class? That is exactly what a women’s retreat is—time to get away from the distractions of life for an extended period and do some in-depth Bible study and encourage one another.
These groups are not making themselves into an organization of any kind at all. They are simply doing what the word says—retreating. Jesus “retreated” when he went to be alone and pray. Isaac “retreated” when he went out into the field in the evening to meditate (Gen 24:63). Did that make what they were doing an organization? Even if they had taken a friend to discuss spiritual things with them, no organization existed, just a few people who were spiritually minded enough to set aside the time to study together or pray together.
I have also read the accusation that any time women retreat for Bible study it shows a dissatisfaction with the edification the church can provide. That the church is supposed to be where we find all our spiritual blessings, including prayer, teaching, and encouragement. That women who do these things may have good intentions, but they are doing it in an unscriptural, unauthorized way, separate from the church where they should be finding all their needs met.
The Bible tells us that some of the church in Jerusalem met in the home of Mary the mother of Mark to pray for Peter when he was in prison (Acts 12). Was that wrong? We can easily infer that it was not the whole church—no one’s house is big enough for that. That means a group of Christians that was not the church met for something besides the regular worship, not because they didn’t pray enough at their assembly, but because they felt the need to pray even more. Does that mean they were not satisfied with God’s arrangement? Are we not allowed to come together for even more prayer than we have on Sundays?
A few members of the church meeting somewhere besides the appointed meeting place for more study does not constitute setting up an organization. If women’s retreats, or week-ends as they are sometimes called, are wrong, so are Ladies’ Bible Classes. So are Men’s Training Classes. So are gospel sings in people’s homes or out in the park or in an auditorium somewhere. So are personal Bible studies. But of course, none of those things are wrong. God has ordained that the older women and men teach the younger women and men, that children be taught, the unbelievers be taught by all of us, not just the preacher. In the early church they often met “house to house.” Weren’t their needs being met in the assembly? Of course they were, so this is obviously something other than an attempt to go beyond the purpose of the church.
And then we have that group of men who met to show others exactly what God wanted them to do about Judaizers and their demand that Gentile Christians be circumcised (Acts 15). They did that with a long meeting where they gave approved examples, read the scriptures, discussed and prayed. It was not the church. In fact, it was members of more than one church. Some people call it a Council. What people call it does not make it what it is not. These men “retreated” from daily life for the sake of edification.
“Women’s retreat” is not a name any more than “church of Christ” is a name. Both are descriptions. Maybe some of us need a little more edification about that.
Some of us have become so wedded to our traditions that we have forgotten what is and is not tradition, “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” Fulfilling generic commands to teach and edify with “new” methods does not make them automatically wrong or you had better take that power point away from your preacher.
And just what makes this retreat thing “new” anyway? Aside from all the Bible examples already given, Lydia met with a group of women down by the river. I think we are in good company.
Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, Acts 16:24-25.