Saturday, I published a post called “Mutual Hermeneutics“. I that post, I recalled a discussion in a PhD seminar on Hermeneutics concerning the fact that most believers do not practice hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) on their own. Instead, Christians tend to wait for teachers and leaders to interpret the Bible for them.
Concluding that post, I made one statement and asked four questions:
There seems to be a tendency in the church today that leaders are responsible for interpreting Scripture for everyone else. 1) Do you agree that this is a tendency? 2) If so, should something be done about this? 3) What can leaders do about this? 4) What can others (non-leaders) do about this?
There was a great response to this post – especially for a Saturday. So, I decided to respond to the comments and my own questions in a separate post.
First, I do believe that there is a tendency in the church today to leave interpretation up to the “professionals”. Second, I believe that this is a very unhealthy tendency. So, something should be done about it. But, what should we do?
As I consider what should and can be done to encourage mutual hermeneutics – that is, for the entire church to be involved in biblical interpretation – I recognize that churches meet in many different ways. There are many different teaching styles, learning styles, discipling styles, leadership styles, and organizational styles. Because of the variations, my suggestions will not make sense in some contexts. I recognize this, and I do not think that all churches should or even can meet in the same way that we meet. However, I think that all churches can consider and implement ways to encourage everyone to take part in biblical interpretation.
Certainly, we can move toward mutual hermeneutics by encouraging, exhorting, training, and expecting everyone to study Scripture for themselves. Likewise, modelling and explaining is very important. Since people teach and learn in different ways, those who are training others to interpret Scripture should use different methods themselves. But, these should be considered the first steps – and small steps – toward mutual hermeneutics.
The next step – and perhaps a more important step – is giving people opportunities to practice biblical interpretation and opportunities to present what they have learned. If any time is considered off-limits to anyone but the pastors, then people are taught by implication that they really can’t interpret Scripture for themselves. Yes, Bible studies are good contexts for those who want to begin interpreting and teaching Scriptures, but if we honestly want to encouraging mutual hermeneutics, then we should open “the pulpit” for any who wish to teach.
Yes, it is a scary proposition to allow anyone to teach the church. There are steps that can be taken to make this proposition less scary. Those who are comfortable studying and teaching Scripture to the church can help train those who want to learn. Similarly, we should not expect everyone to use our teaching or study methods. Homiletics and professionalism are not necessary to communicate God’s truth to God’s people. The most important aspect of teaching is life transformation – actually living what is being taught.
If the idea of allowing “anyone” to teach is just too much, then consider teaching teams. There are many ways to implement teaching teams. 1) Have a different person teach each week. 2) Have each person teach two or three weeks at a time, then rotate. 3) Have different people teach shorter lessons during the same church meeting. Either way, you are explicitly teaching people that they can interpret Scripture for themselves.
Giving other people opportunities to teach means that some pastors will need to give up “the pulpit” – even when they are present. This, in itself, is an excellent example for people. Pastors and leaders should be learners as well as teachers. What better model for the people than a pastor who is willing to learn along with others.
Another positive way of encouraging mutual hermeneutics is to allow people to discuss the teaching or “sermon”. Some people are not willing or able to adjust the “worship schedule”, so consider having a discussion period at another time, perhaps even during lunch immediately following the “worship service”. Discussion was certainly a part of early church meetings, and I think that spiritual growth has been hindered by adapting a monologue type meeting.
Humility – especially on the part of leaders – is also important in encouraging mutual hermeneutics. Leaders must be willing to seriously consider viewpoints and perspectives that are different than their own. If all interpretations that differ from the pastors’ interpretations are dismissed with consideration, then people will soon learn not to try to interpret Scripture on their own.
Finally, for all of us, we should seek to understand Scripture on our own, and we should expect that our brothers and sisters are seeking to understand Scripture on their own. We must be willing to share with one another what God is teaching us through Scripture, and we must be willing to ask others what God is teaching them. If someone never wants to talk about Scripture, then there may be a problem. This is a good opportunity for discipleship and to help someone begin to study Scripture on their own.
All of this presupposes relationship. Allowing “anyone” to teach assumes that we have relationships with the people who will be teaching. Through relationships we help one another interpret Scripture, we know how they are living their lives, we know if what they say matches what they do, we are willing to speak up when they say something heretical (not different… heretical), we are willing to help them mature, and we are willing to let them help us mature.
Today, in the church, relationship is rare. We tend to deal with one another from position instead of relationships. If we want to see mutual hermeneutics develop in the church, we must have mutuality first – relationship.
Sermons are powerful way to communicate information about God. However, in reality, most sermons that are heard are usually forgotten within a few days – if not a few hours. However, someone who studies Scripture for themselves, who allows the Spirit to transform their lives toward what they are studying, and who then teaches that to others both through their words and their lives remembers what God did in them and through them.
In what other ways can we encourage all believers toward mutual hermeneutics?