In my last two posts (“Putting the ‘community’ in community hermeneutics” and “Some responses to ‘community hermeneutics’“), I argued that the church – as a whole, not just one or a small group – should work together to both interpret and apply Scripture, and I offered several answers to some of the “push back” responses that I often get when I talk about that kind of community hermeneutic. (Remember, “community hermeneutic” is simply the whole church interpreting Scripture together.)
But, let’s be honest, for the vast majority of Christians, this kind of community interpretation of Scripture is unfamiliar and often not allowed. For most follower of Jesus, the norm has been one person – or perhaps a small group of people – taking the responsibility to interpret and apply Scripture for the church.
So, how can these believers (assuming they have the desire) move toward a community hermeneutic?
First, we should recognize that among many churches, leaders control what happens when believers gather together. So, I’m going to answer this question in two parts: 1) What if someone desires to move toward community hermeneutics but the leaders do not? and 2) What if leaders desire to move toward a community hermeneutic?
What if someone desires to move toward community hermeneutics but the leaders do not?
Of course, this is the difficult position that many believers find themselves in. I always think it’s good to explain your desires (and the reasons) to the leaders. But, that doesn’t always result in a positive response. However, all is not lost. Begin spending time with believers who will study and discuss Scripture with you. If your church organization has decided to focus their energies on a sermon/homily type approach, then seek other opportunities to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ for community interpretation. You do not always have to choose one or the other. Your example and growth may persuade others of the importance of community hermeneutics.
What if leaders desire to move toward a community hermeneutic?
Even if leaders among the church and some of the others among the church are ready for a community hermeneutic, there will be some among the church who are not ready. I would suggest several steps toward a community hermeneutic (without diving into the deep end right away).
1) Hold a study session outside of the normal gathering time, and share what some other people say about the passage when you teach/preach.
2) Invite either people from among the church to speak, either taking the entire teaching/preaching time or taking a small part of the preaching/teaching time. (When they speak, you sit down and listen.)
3) Have a time of discussion after the normal teaching/preaching time. Encourage questions and comments, and allow others to answer the questions or respond to the comments. Do not answer everything that’s asked or respond to every comment. (Otherwise, you will STILL be seen as THE person to interpret Scripture.) By the way, don’t be afraid of silence or times when no one speaks. It will take time for people to understand that they really can interpret Scripture and help others when they share.
What suggestions would have for people who are interested in community hermeneutics?