In my last post, I explained that I think that “community hermeneutics” (i.e., the whole church interpreting and applying Scripture together) to be extremely important for the health and growth of the church. (See my post “Putting the ‘community’ in community hermeneutics.”) In fact, I think that when we do not practice community hermeneutics – when only one person or only a few people interpret Scripture on behalf of the church – then I believe the maturity and growth of the church is hindered.
Whenever I begin talking about community hermeneutics and discussing Scripture together with the church, there are a few responses I receive as “push back.” Here are a few:
But they are not theologically educated
Theological education can be good and beneficial. But, it is not the most important aspect of interpreting and applying Scripture. While the Bible school and seminary students can help the church understand Scripture, the engineering students and business students can help as well. So can the farmers, mechanics, carpenters, realtors, etc. Everyone who is a child of God can and should take part in interpreting and applying Scripture. The best thing that a theologically trained person can do is to help others among the church by sharing those interpretive tools with them.
What if someone makes a heretical statement?
We rarely hear heretical statements. However, let’s assume someone does say something heretical – truly heretical, not just against our pet doctrines. First, remember, that person has that belief whether he/she states it or not. If the person doesn’t state the heretical belief, then no one may ever know he/she has that wrong belief. Second, if someone states a heretical belief, that provides the perfect opportunity for the church (as a whole) to help that person come to understanding. This would never happen if the person is forced to remain quiet.
It will just become a time of everyone sharing their own opinions
It could, but only if there are no mature believers to keep everyone focused on Jesus. From what I’ve learned in the last few years, those who are mature among the church are not necessarily the ones who are always talking. Instead, they are the ones who know when to speak and to keep silent. When they speak, they often move the conversation / discussion / study in exactly the direction it needs to go.
A few people (who love to hear the sound of their own voice) will do all the talking
Again, that’s possible, but – again – only if the mature believers do not disciple those people. If we understand why we’re coming together – both to edify others AND to be edified by others – and if we truly care about what other people are saying, then we will all learn to listen more than we speak. Of course, there will always be those who struggle in this area. The time to help them is when we’re one-on-one… encouraging them in what they HEARD more than what they SAID.
There are other responses, of course. But, these are the responses that I hear most often.
Community hermeneutics and discussion when the church gathers can be a scary proposition to a group who is accustomed to a leader-controlled meeting and leader-interpreted message. But, overall, it’s much better for the church.