Community Overview

All the teaching materials on this site (text, video, and audio) are always available for your use, no matter where you may be in the world or what your schedule may be like. There is absolutely nothing wrong with never getting more involved than simply accessing the materials on this site as you see fit.

For anyone who does want to get involved with a group of like-minded individuals also interested in these same things, however, this site does formally run a community.

At present, there are three primary community channels:

  • WhatsApp
  • A web forum
  • Weekly in-person meetings, fully tied-in to Zoom so that non-local folks can participate

Following sections on this page will go into more detail about all three of these things. But before that, I’ll go over specific sections within the community, and why things are divided up in this way.

Different community sections

The community is split into multiple different visibility-locked sections, based on user groups. Only people who belong to a given group can view the content within the corresponding section.

On WhatsApp, there is a separate WhatsApp group per community section. And on the forum, there are separate sub-forums per community section (although all share the same general structure). These two platforms are intended to fit together hand-in-glove; each WhatsApp group and sub-forum together compose each individual community section, so that, for example, there is both a WhatsApp group for Protestants and a sub-forum for Protestants, a WhatsApp group for followers of Ichthys and related ministries and a sub-forum for the same, and so on. This is because the sorts of interaction that happen on WhatsApp and the sub-forums complement each other – with different overall goals and focuses.

Why have split-out community sections rather than just having one big group?

Splitting things can be advantageous in fostering more productive discussion for a couple reasons. First off, shared sets of axioms and assumptions help make discussion proceed more smoothly. And perhaps more importantly, people will quite naturally tend to open up more with those who share their beliefs, leading to greater potential vis-à-vis the development of close relationships.

So it can be advantageous to have discussions only among groups of people who have lots in common, in other words. However, there is a flip-side to this. Having conversations among wider groups of people also brings more diversity of opinion (not always an unqualified good thing, but also not always an unqualified bad thing), and more importantly, makes it possible for conversations to benefit much larger numbers of Christians overall. What good is your excellent discussion if only five people can see it?

So there are honestly pros and cons both in having discussions among narrower groups of people and in having discussions among wider groups of people. Things are something of a spectrum. Sometimes perhaps you wish to discuss a more niche topic (something uncontroversial within your smaller group, but not among Christians generally, e.g.), and would rather keep the conversation focused on discussion rather than debating points you would otherwise wish to take for granted. But maybe sometimes you actually would rather share your position with a wider audience, getting feedback from people with points of view that perhaps you had never considered before.

Neither one of these desires is at all improper, so it is a decidedly good thing to be able to do either. And so that is exactly what our community sectioning allows, in that it offers both narrower and wider sections.

In general order of widest to narrowest:

The Debate section

The debate section has the widest range of beliefs represented. With that being said, all people participating here:

  • Self-identify as Christian (so we do not herein engage in apologetics with Atheists and Muslims, e.g., even though some believers are certainly called to such things)
  • Are willing to have conversations about what the Bible says and means (even if tradition and centralized high church authority, for example, play more of a role in their epistemologies than they do for us sola scriptura Evangelicals)
  • Are interested in developing their arguments and coming to better understand and refute opposing points of view

But that’s about it in terms of enforced commonalities.

So, for example, you might find Catholic folks, Orthodox folks, Pentecostal folks, Church of Christ folks, Mormon folks, and others participating here, alongside mainline Protestants and Evangelicals and all other Christian points of view besides.

This section has some of the most heavy-handed moderation (in a relative sense), to keep things eminently civil. There is very little tolerance for being unnecessarily disrespectful, no matter how wrong you might find the other person.

Important note: the debate section is the only community section to exist solely as a sub-forum. There is no debate WhatsApp group

This section only exists on the forum platform in part because it is oftentimes most productive to encourage formality in debate and disagreement. It helps avoid misunderstandings, and also keeps the focus off of personalities and on the truth alone. As a rule of thumb, this mode of communication more readily maps onto the communication patterns of the forum than the more-casual WhatsApp groups.

But more importantly, the forum platform offers much more flexibility in terms of moderation, which may occasionally be more necessary in this community section due to its greater tendency towards heated, spirited discussion, which occasionally needs to be prodded back towards a more constructive and respectful tone.

Important note: despite being the most open in terms of beliefs, this is one of the smaller sections by number of overall participants

This is so for a couple reasons:

  1. Always having one’s beliefs under fire is not healthy for many (perhaps even most) normal lay Christians who are not gifted and called to apologetics. It can, in fact, have the unfortunate consequence of making one unsure of everything, which makes it very hard to make forward spiritual progress. So for this reason, we do not suggest that most people participate here without first demonstrating a reasonably high level of maturity and certainty in their own beliefs, and an accompanying keen interest in the sort of formal debate that governs interaction in this section. To word things slightly differently, the inevitable attacks against the truth that will go on in this section are just not a great idea for many normal Christians to take in; regardless of which party actually has the truth in any given debate, the true position will inevitably be under attack from one or more other parties holding contrary false positions. And the arguments such parties make may be made so strongly and (seemingly) persuasively that it can seriously throw unprepared individuals into great spiritual confusion.

  2. Even among people who might be able to handle it spiritually, not everyone is able to participate in formal disagreements without falling into communication patterns that somewhat undercut productive interaction. If that’s too wordy, the basic gist is that some people give offense too easily, even if not intentionally. It’s tricky to not take things personally when someone rips apart your argument, but we do try to give grace where possible so that the focus always stays on the truth, not personalities. It is simply a fact of life that some people have a harder time than others engaging in sharp disagreement in a manner glorifying Christ, and that is all we shall say on the subject. It doesn’t make some people better than others, it just makes some people a better fit for this community section than others. We must be a bit choosy so as to avoid having arguments get out of control.

Together, these things mean we gatekeep this section a bit more than the others, to jealously guard the productive and respectful atmosphere that we have built, while also making sure we don’t unintentionally unsettle certain people by exposing them to fierce theological disagreements – those people who might be more spiritually harmed than helped by reading and participating in such things.

The Protestants section

As one might expect, Protestants tend to have more things in common with each other than with the other Christian belief systems you might encounter in the Debate section. In particular, Protestants tend to rely on the Bible alone to a relatively higher than degree than most other categories of Christians, making discussion that centers on scripture that much more focused.

This is the largest community section by number of overall participants. There tends to be somewhat of a divide in perspective between so-called “Mainline Protestants” (from centralized denominations like Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and so on), and non-denominational Evangelicals and their sort, but all parties do still share a nice wide swath of common ground that makes conversation productive in a wide-group sense.

The Ichthys and Friends section

Narrower still, we have a community section for folks that are readers of Ichthys, or follow associated ministries with similar teachings:

We all tend to believe certain things that Protestantism writ large might find controversial. This means we can occasionally have a much easier time discussing things amongst only ourselves, rather than trying to have conversations in a more open context that might invite constant challenges and tangential arguments about things that we all tend to take for granted and have no interest in debating.

The Teachers section

Finally, we have the narrowest section, composed of teachers preparing for or engaging in ministry under Ichthys and related ministries. (Note that the people involved here are not only people occupying the formal office of Pastor-Teacher in the Church, but also other believers whose ministries call them to teach regularly, including some women who teach other women and children).

Put simply, those people who have grown to spiritual maturity under these ministries (and are now endeavoring to teach others) have probably “drunk the Kool-Aid” more than others, with a much deeper formal understanding of all teachings (rather than just a smaller subset), and an accompanying thirst to have complicated discussions about some of the finer points therein.

Deeper conversations about things can happen in this Teachers section without plugging up the wider Ichthys and Friends section with a lot of technical discussion that won’t be relevant to most lay Christians.

It also helps to keep certain conversations limited to teachers alone, for the same sort of reason as why it might not be the most appetizing for diners to peer back behind the kitchen curtain in a restaurant. If Christian teachers are cooks and their teachings food that has been effortfully prepared from raw ingredients, then seeing too much of the preparation process may make diners lose some of their appetite. In other words, to a degree, it is best to only place the appetizing finished product before them, and leave much of the preparation process out of sight and mind.

WhatsApp

Our WhatsApp groups are international in scope and globally-minded, with folks from

  • The US
  • The UK
  • Nigeria
  • Australia
  • Etc.

We use WhatsApp because it supports talking (voice-over-IP), video, and text chat for folks across the world, without needing to worry about expensive international phone plans and the like. WhatsApp is used quite a lot internationally (although perhaps not quite as much in the US, for whatever reason).

The fact that WhatsApp conversations tend to be more casual to begin with – and the fact that the medium is a bit more impermanent generally (over time, things get covered by new discussion) – these are two of the many reasons that help explain why we have the WhatsApp groups in addition to the sub-forums, rather than just sticking with the forum platform alone. They really are apples and oranges, to a degree.

Sometimes people end up directly messaging or calling each other too, individual-to-individual. That can be a very positive thing. We do ask that people respect the privacy of others though, and be careful to only get more personally involved if both sides truly want it.

The forum

Link: https://community.bibledocs.org/

If conversations get a bit longer and more technical (relative to the somewhat more casual real-time conversations that happen on the WhatsApp groups), it can be a good idea to move them onto the forum. The forum is great because it makes it easy to link back to past conversations over time (rather than having things get buried), and also supports splitting up conversations by topics/threads to keep all related discussion together. (Topics can also be independently categorized and tagged for future reference too, another plus in the content organization department).

There is a bit of a learning curve on the forum, but all the above advantages make it worth it. If you ever get intimidated, please don’t be at all shy in reaching out to me or one of the other mods for help in getting familiar with the interface. We’re here to help!

Our meetings

Thus far all discussion on this page has been about the four different community sections that operate through WhatsApp groups and sub-forums. Some people are probably wondering right about now “OK, that’s great and all, but what about actually meeting together as a community? How does that happen?”

It’s a good question. In fact, we do have meetings set up – in-person meetings for folks in the vicinity of Warner Robins in South Georgia, USA (that is, Warner Robins proper, plus Byron/Centerville/Kathleen/Bonaire and perhaps even Perry and Macon, depending upon where people drive from), and also combined/integrated with these, Zoom meetings for people who don’t live local. This is to say, all the local meetings are fully tied-in to Zoom.

There are two main types of meetings: fellowship meetings, and formal Bible studies. The former focus more on casual conversation about things going on in each other’s lives (encouraging and exhorting one another in the truth in the process), while the latter are more formal organized studies. People are welcome to attend one or both types of meetings.

There is a separate standalone page that goes over all the specifics of our community meetings, including how to join over Zoom.

Communications technology and global interconnectedness

More than many other contemporary Christian fellowships (at least according to my personal observation and experience), our fellowship really tries to support total integration of people that are geographically remote.

I am stressing this mostly to get across the point that I’d encourage people who are geographically remote to actually give things a try before writing off our non-local community as a real fellowship option. Recent(ish) technological developments have afforded many possibilities that did not exist before, allowing us to more and more seamlessly support each other in the body of Christ, no matter the physical distance between us. It’s a great blessing, and in my somewhat-biased opinion, I think it works pretty well.

Joining our community

Joining our private community requires formal invitation, and access can be revoked

Requiring registration (rather than allowing anonymous posts) can help minimize spammers, but it can’t stop truly malicious users. For this reason, for any online community to be truly secure, it must be possible to completely remove users after-the-fact (without any lingering access), and therefore be invite-only rather than completely open and public. (This is because people can simply continuously rejoin public communities to get around bans, if they are truly determined).

If a wolf in sheep’s clothing pretends to be interested, there is no way to exclude them upfront without also running the risk of excluding people we wouldn’t ordinarily want to exclude. So instead, we need a way to remove the sheep-dressed wolves if ever they should bare their fangs.

Ours is a community dedicated to Christian love and fellowship, and I am therefore completely unwilling to expose people to the slightest harm, even potential harm. For this reason, our community is much, much more private than many other online communities, and does require getting formally invited before one can participate.

Fear not though, there is no terribly high bar here, and genuine interest is really the only true requirement.

Lurking is more than acceptable

Many people already involved in the community don’t post much, but just read what others write. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, while we’d love to hear from all who wish to share their views, we’re happy to just have people listening too. It makes us feel like what we do has meaning.

So please, if you are on the fence because you don’t think you have the time to really post much or participate, don’t let that be a barrier to joining the community. Come and lurk with us. It’s fun.

The registration form

Instructions for filling out the form

If you fill out the form below, I will invite you to the appropriate WhatsApp group(s) and forum sub-section(s). The email address is needed for registering on the forum, and the phone number for WhatsApp. (You can choose to fill out only one field and then participate in the community sections through only one platform, if you so wish. You can always contact me – steven@bibledocs.org – later to get added to the other too).

Note the checkboxes for the different community sections (which are explained in detail above). Even if you do not check any of these boxes (such that I only add you to the common/shared section of the community), you will still be able to see announcements and global prayer requests and several other such things, but I would nonetheless recommend participating in at least one of the discussion sections. It’s what they are there for.

The only section that I won’t just immediately add you to by request is the Debate section. Since vetting is more important for this section, if you request access here (and I do not already know you well, or another Debate section member knows you and can vouch for you), I will reach out to talk to you a bit. This is not just for protection on our side (to make sure that everyone involved properly understands the respectfulness we require in disagreements, and things like that), but also for protection on your side, to make sure that you really know what you are signing up for. Fierce theological disagreements can be unsettling, so we just want to make sure that all who end up here will be energized by the environment, rather than oppressed by it. Apologies if this seems too nanny-state to you.

(To be clear, with regard to this screening for the Debate section, this isn’t an interview or interrogation; I’ll probably talk more than you. We admit almost all people who want to join. We just want people to go in with their eyes open).

I highly recommend signing up for all community sections that truly apply to you, rather than just sticking with one. Since the different sections all have slightly different focuses, you can benefit from being able to see discussion in each of them.

Other miscellaneous information:

  • I do not share the information received through this form with anyone. Every form submission goes straight to my email (so that I can use the information to send the appropriate invites), and nowhere else.
  • Filling out this form to join our community is not the same as signing up for the BibleDocs mailing list. You can read more about the BibleDocs mailing list here.
  • Non-US people: please provide your country code in your mobile phone number (including the plus). So, for example, a UK number entered into the form might look like +44 000-000-0000 (not a real number, but that’s the format).

The form itself

For instructions on how to fill this form out, see directly above.