A few weeks ago, my friend Rodney was teaching the church from Matthew 23:1-12 where Jesus begins to warn the people about following the example of the scribes and Pharisees. At one point, Matthew writes:
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:5-7 ESV)
While discussing the Jewish leaders’ desire to have the “place of honor at feasts,” Rodney read a similar statement from Luke’s Gospel:
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11 ESV)
Since I’ve been studying “religious feasts” in both the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, I shared a few things about what might be the “place of honor” and the “lowest place” at such a feast.
Rodney thanked me for sharing, and reminded everyone that they could share something to help in the teaching. He said (something like), “If you have expertise in any certain area, feel free to share about that.” Now, I agree with what Rodney said, but as I’ve been thinking about this, I also realize that the idea of “expertise” and “experts” can be a problem for the church. (By the way, I talked to Rodney about this, and, as I suspected, we both agreed on this subject.)
You see, the problem is not that some people have expertise in a certain area. This is certain. For example, I know a little about Greek and a little less about Hebrew. Thus, when we’re studying Scripture together as the church, there will be some things that I may be able to offer to the discussion because of that knowledge.
But, like I said, this is not the problem. Expertise becomes a problem when the church begins to believe that only certain areas of expertise or knowledge gives someone the right or even the responsible of interpreting Scripture. I think this is one of the problems that we still have today from a decision that was made by the Reformers. (I’ve written about this in more detail in my post “Reformation period church meetings.”)
During the Reformation, I think the early Reformers correctly wanted to turn the church’s attention back to Scripture. However, their understanding of “teaching” came primarily from their University background. Since the majority of people did not have a university education, they could not teach Scripture in the way that it “should” be taught. Thus, while the Reformers attempted to do away with the clergy-laity divide, they actually perpetuated it between those who could (were allowed) to teach Scripture, and those who were not.
Today, that same mentality persists. In fact, when I talk with many Christians about interactive church meetings and community hermeneutics, I’m usually asked one of these questions at some point: 1) But I’ve studied Scripture more than they have, and I’ve been taught how to interpret Scripture… or 2) But what if someone teaches heresy (meaning, what if someone teaches something that I – or my denomination – disagrees with).
I think it is good to have a theological education – obviously, since I’m in a PhD program at a theological seminary. I think that people can gain certain types of expertise (knowledge) from this type of education, and this knowledge can help the church in understanding Scripture.
The question that we should ask ourselves, though, is this: Is theological education the only type of expertise that can benefit the church in interpreting Scripture?
I think for many Christians, the answer to this question (whether expressed or not) is, “Yes.” We can see this answer in the way that churches meet.
However, I think that the answer to this question is “No.” I think there are other types of knowledge that can help the church interpret Scripture. I’ll discuss this more in my next few posts.
For now, what do you think?