Yesterday, in our first Hermeneutics seminar, Dr. KÃ¶stenberger read the following passage from Adolf Schlatter’s The History of the Christ:
It is the historical objective that should govern our conceptual work exclusively and completely, stretching our perceptive faculties to the limit. We turn away decisively from ourselves and our time to what was found in the men through whom the church came into being. Our main interest should be the thought as it was conceived by them and the truth that was valid for them. We want to see and obtain a thorough grasp of what happened historically and existed in another time. This is the internal disposition upon which the success of the work depends, the commitment which must consistently be renewed as the work proceeds. (Note that at this point we are not studying what the New Testament words mean for us, how they influence our own thoughts and actions, and whether or not and why they achieve over us the compelling authority of truth. At the proper time, however, this question will be very important.) (pg. 18)
Schlatter wrote this in 1909. He says that before we begin to interpret Scripture for ourselves, we must attempt to understand what it meant for the ones who wrote Scripture. We should not begin by asking what these words mean for us, but what they meant for them.
What words? Well, what about words like church, elder, worship, ministry, deacon, fellowship. There are many, many books that tell us how to define these words today – how to be an effective church today – how to be a good elder today – how to worship today – what ministry looks like today – what a deacon does today – how to have fellowship today – but, what about then? Can we really live as the church that Scripture describes without understanding what these terms – and many others – meant then?