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.
Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on the topic of “community hermeneutics.” (For a few examples, see my posts “Toward Mutual Hermeneutics,” “Listening to One Another,” “The First Interpreters,” and “Those pesky Bereans.”) If you’ve never heard the term before, “community hermeneutics” refers to interpreting and applying Scripture together in community with one another.
If you pushed me into a corner… ok, even if you didn’t push me into a corner… I’d say that the lack of community hermeneutics is one of the reasons that the church is in the mess that it’s in today. Our reliance on certain people to interpret Scripture for us – not only to tell us what it means but to tell us how to apply it – is one of the causes (perhaps a main cause) of continued immaturity among the church.
My good friend Maël from “The Adventures of Maël & Cindy” has recently started a series on “community heremeutics” using the German term gemeindetheologie. His first post is called “GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How? – An Introduction.”
At one point, Maël writes this:
As Thiselton claims: “All the major traditions of the Christian church formally define doctrine in communal terms, although the emphasis and nature of the community in question varies.” [Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), xviii] For example, in the Catholic tradition, the hermeneutical community is embodied in the bishops that constitute the Magisterium, while in some Anabaptist traditions, the hermeneutical community is embodied by all the believers in the local congregation.
I think Maël makes a good point here (or actually, Thiselton makes a good point, and Maël expands on it). In almost all Christian groups, hermeneutics is a community task. The question is: who is included in that community who is allowed to interpret Scripture for others?
Instead of going into all the different options, I’d like to make a case for interpretation and application being the responsibility and privilege of all followers of Jesus Christ, not just a subset. Why do I think all Christians should (and must) be involved in hermeneutics?
1. Because all Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who is the one who reveals and provides understanding.
Does that mean that we always listen to him and always respond properly and always interpret what God reveals (either through Scripture or through other means)? Of course not. And, that leads to the second reason…
2. Because all Christians need others to help them understand what the Spirit is revealing to them… all Christians… even the experts.
Add to this the fact that interpretation of Scripture is not usually about TELLING what it means as much as it is about SHOWING what it means. And, the “showing” happens best in community as well.
I’ve been part of a group who practices community hermeneutics (that includes the WHOLE community and not a subset of the community) for several years now. In years of schooling, I probably have more theological education than anyone else who is part of that community. But, because we interpret and apply Scripture together, I’m also able to learn from my brothers and sisters in Christ… even from my youngest brother or sister in Christ.
You may be part of a church organization that does not practice community hermeneutics. Perhaps your denomination or your local church leaders tell you what Scripture means and how you should apply it. May I suggest that you can still practice community hermeneutics? It’s true. Gather together with some friends and begin working through Scripture and through life together.
You’ll be surprised at the difference that it makes…
Last Friday, I posted that I’m interested in started another “chain blog.” (See my post “Time for another chain blog? But what topic…” for an introduction to and explanation of chain blogs.) I mentioned a few possible topics, and several people were interested in the topic of “unity.” One commenter, Greg, suggested that we include true stories of how we have prevented or overcome division in order to live in unity with other followers of Jesus Christ.
Greg’s comment reminded me of a book that I read a few years ago. The book is called Your Church is Too Small and was written by John Armstrong. In this book, Armstrong makes a distinction between a unity that is only conception, theoretical, or spiritual and a unity that is both real and relational.
“Relational unity” is visible, palpable. It can be pointed out and experienced. It can also be quenched and grieved.
Few (if any) would argue that the church today rarely shows relational unity across denominations, theological systems, historical traditions, institutions, organizations, or even “local churches.” We occasionally attempt to relate to those who are like us and who believe like us (although even this is difficult in today’s church where acquiescence to a set of beliefs has replaced true community). When we do show relational unity with coworkers, neighbors, family members, etc., it is often considered to be something different than church – less than the church.
Thus, the church today is splintered and fractured, and lives as an anti-apologetic to the good news of Jesus Christ.
How could I make such a strong statement? Well, it comes from one of Jesus’ prayers:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)
If we are “one” as the Father and Son are one, then we are united. If the world around us is affected by the unity, then it is a unity that can be seen, experienced, recognized… it is real. If it is a unity related to “us,” then it is relational. Thus, in just this short part of Jesus’ prayer, we can see that it is our “real relational unity” that is an apologetic to the world that God the Father sent Jesus into the world. Our divisions, then, work against that proclamation.
So, in this chain blog, I’m asking you to consider “real relational unity” among brothers and sisters in Christ. Your posts can be theoretical, exegetical, conception, and ideal. But, I also ask you to include real examples of living in unity with other followers of Jesus Christ – especially with those who may be different than you. If you don’t have real examples to share, then please share some steps that you yourself are willing to take to live in that real relational unity that we have in Jesus Christ, remembering Paul’s exhortation:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)
Chain blog rules:
1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both on this post and the other link posts in the chain).
3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.
“Links” in the “Real Relational Unity” chain blog:
1. “Chain Blog: Real Relational Unity” by Alan
2. “The Treasure of Unity ‘in’ our Relationships” by Jim
3. “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher
4. “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan
5. “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi
6. “Learn to Live or Live to Learn” by Greg
7. “The Limits on Unity” by Arthur
8. “Joints of Supply” by David
9. “Some Examples of Real Relational Unity” by Alan
10. “An Example of Relational Unity” by Greg
11. “Relational Unity Begins at Home” by Kathleen
12. Who will write the 12th link post in the chain?
Occasionally, I come across a phrase or description that either captures my attention or nicely describes my own thoughts about a subject. This happened last weekend when I read a post called “Family, Fellowship and Friendship” from Christopher at “Life With Da Man CD.”
By the way, if you’re not following Christopher’s blog, you really should. I love the questions that he asks and the stories that he tells from his own life and his own struggles at sharing his life with his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Anyway, in Christopher’s post, this phrase (and then the description that followed) captured my attention:
Church at its best is when a group of people who otherwise have no reason to be together, find themselves entangled in each other’s lives as they are now members of the family of God.
That family is not just a nominal one. It’s a messy one. It’s one with all sorts of oddballs. It’s one with varying types of challenges which often come up when such a diversity of characters meet. Yet in that all, the family is one marked by commitment to fellowship and friendship.
I love the concept of the church as people who find themselves entangled in each other’s lives. Of course, as Christopher points out, it is God (and our identity as the family of God) that entangles us together, but from our perspective, it may seem weird that we’re together.
Here’s the problem, though. Many times today, people CAN point to something that holds them together, whether it’s a certain location, a certain creed or confession, a certain organizational structure, a certain program, a certain leader, etc. We should not be held together by any of these things (or anything other than our mutual relationship with Jesus Christ).
But, as Christopher points out, there’s something special and different about a group of people who find themselves divinely “entangled” with one another, especially when there’s no other good reason for those people to associate with one another. Our lives are messy; we’re oddballs and often at odds with one another; we’re challenging to be around… but we can’t get enough of one another.
Why? Because we constantly point each other to Jesus Christ… constantly remind each other of the grace we have in Jesus Christ… and constantly encourage each other to follow Jesus.
Yes. I love that description of the church as those who find themselves (divinely or spiritually) entangled in each other’s lives. But, more than I love the description, I love that I get to live that kind of life every day.
Yesterday, in my post “Walking as if other people are important,” I wrote that we should live – and even walk – in a way that demonstrates that other people are important to us. In that post, I quoted a post from some friends of mine who are now living in Africa. Some of the people they work with were talking about the way that foreigners walk: “with such determination that you don’t even stop to greet people on the way.”
In a comment responding to that post, my friend Art (from “”) said: “This begins to explain why Jesus was so interruptible.”
Jesus was so interruptible.
Let that sink in for a while… a few seconds… a few minutes… Or, like me, let it rattle around in your head for a few hours.
Jesus was so interruptible.
There’s a famous portion of Luke’s Gospel called “the journey narratives.” This is the last half of the book that begins in Luke 9:51 where he writes about Jesus: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
So, Jesus “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.” He was on a mission… determined… had a goal in mind. But, even while he was moving with determination toward Jerusalem, he was still interruptible.
In Luke 9:51-56, Jesus tries to spend some time with some people in Samaria. In Luke 9:57-62, he talks with some people on the road. In Luke 10:1-12, he stops to spend time with 72 followers before sending them out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. He later rejoices with that same group and spends some private time with them. In Luke 10:25-37, he even answers questions from a man who was only trying to test him, and Jesus then tells a story. In Luke 10:38-42, he stays in the home of Martha and Mary.
And, it keeps going from there. Even though Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem with determination, he was still interruptible.
Jesus was so interruptible.
I want to live interruptible as well. I want other people to be important to me like they were to Jesus. I don’t want to see other people as distractions or interruptions. I want to live interruptible.
Jesus was so interruptible.
And, if we are following Jesus, then we will be interruptible also.
Love one another. Consider others more important than yourself. Serve one another. Care for one another. Encourage one another. Teach one another. Edify one another.
Did you know that there’s an important precept underlying all of the instructions above? Yep. That precept is this: For those who follow Jesus Christ, other people are important.
My friends Paul are Laurel moved to the Congo last year. They are working with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and they’re currently working with several local languages. But, it seems they are learning much more than just languages. Last week, they published a post called “Convicting Language Lesson.”
Here’s how they described an important lesson they’re learning:
A few days ago, I was sitting in the office along with the Komo translators when suddenly one of them, Tony, stood up and walked brusquely across the room with a very determined look on his face. Then they all started laughing. After a minute or two, Amisi, the director asked me, “Do you understand what we are talking about?” When I said no, he began to explain a very interesting verb to me. In Komo, they have a word for going somewhere with such determination that you don’t even stop to greet people on the way. He said “You know, like you foreigners often do” . . . Ouch! It’s true, isn’t it? We are often more goal oriented than people oriented and it really sticks out in a culture like this. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty cool verb.
There’s not much left to say after that, is there?
The way we live… even the way we walk from place to place… demonstrates whether or not we think people are important.
I’ve been to a couple of places around the world that are not event oriented (like most people are here in the United States). I’ve learned so much from the people of these culture. Primarily, I’ve learned how to live in a way that shows that other people are important. I’ve learned to talk to people in a way that shows that I care more about what they have to say than what I plan to say next.
Of course, sometimes my old American habits come to the surface. But, I want to live – and even to walk – in a way that shows other people that they are important to me.
But, then, they have to actually be important to me first…
I’ve invited people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at alan[at]alanknox[dot]net.)
When you can’t find a church to belong to…
“I live in XXXX. Do you know any good home churches in my area?”
I often get emails like this, and here’s how I often respond:
“There are various tools that might help you discover a simple/organic church in your area, (I usually point them to the “find a church” feature on www.house2house.com) but I’d like you to pray about a different approach. You’ve been a believer for a number of years. Why don’t you start something? Work with those who don’t yet know the Lord or the unchurched—it’s much easier. We’d love to help you.”
Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.
This is not the best way for several reasons:
- The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the
- It is more difficult to be missional. Existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
- You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together
outside of meetings.
- Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.
It is far easier to make a disciple of someone who doesn’t yet know the Lord. In Luke 10, Jesus told his disciples to pray and look for a person of peace, someone out in the harvest (Luke 10:1-10). You can recognize them because not are they a person of influence (either good or bad), but they will also offer you hospitality. Work within their existing sphere of influence using their home as the base for what goes on. Use a pattern simple enough that within a few weeks they can lead it. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches is the natural result. Your ongoing job is
to mentor the person of peace.
- The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
- Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
- New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
- It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.
In the book of Acts, there are only two people recorded who became believers as individuals—Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch. The rest all were part of a group—Cornelius and his household, Lydia and her household, the Philippian jailor and his household. Each of these was a person of peace.
Several years ago we started a church in some low income housing projects. God led us to pray for this particular area, and one day, as Tony (my husband) and I were prayer walking there, we were surprised by a heavy storm. Running to take shelter under a balcony we joined two Hispanic ladies sitting in lawn chairs, chatting together.
They asked us what we were doing there, and we told them we were praying for their area. Long story short, one of the ladies, Rosa, invited us into her home to pray for her family. God began answering prayer and soon we asked her if we could share Jesus with her family too.
Would it have been better for us to invite Rosa to the church that met in our home? I don’t think so. We would have extracted her from her environment and her family would probably never have come. But we met in her home, and it wasn’t long before there were 20-30 of us in her tiny apartment, nearly all brand new believers.
It’s time to put our theology into action. What might God do if we let him lead us into the harvest?
Four years ago, I worked with some brothers and sisters in Christ to put on a “conference” called “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology.” I put “conference” in quotes because it was different than anything I’ve ever been part of. But, that’s a different story. In the week leading up to that conference, I met a man named Art on Twitter. Art ended up coming to the conference, and we’ve been friends ever since. In fact, we now work together. After the conference, Art wrote me an email response that I published in a post called “The inadequacy of seminars and conferences.” I think Art shares some thoughts that would be good for all of us to consider.
We had a great time at the “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” seminar last weekend. However, seminars and conferences are inadequate for what the church needs. Why? Because spiritual teaching may include lecture and discussion, but it also must include example. Thus, we learn as much – if not more – from watching someone’s example as we learn from their words.
I “met” Art Mealer online during the week before the seminar. He attended our Saturday sessions and asked some very good questions. Then, he and I emailed back and forth Sunday. In one of his emails, he pointed out exactly why seminars and conferences alone are inadequate. (By the way, his email also explains why a Sunday sermon from someone that we don’t really know if also inadequate.)
I think you’ll enjoy Art’s email below.
I think the time was well used. The first two segments laid biblical groundwork in a non-confrontational way. Personally, I was most touched by your balance and gentleness on these issues. As to the panel time, I doubt most people knew what questions to ask, and just having your panel share from the heart about experiencing community as a family together was a wonderful way of being the epistles we are meant to be for all of us there. A clear and compelling picture emerged.
But this means of shedding light on who we are as the church is a bit like the “evangelist” who wins someone to Christ and then leaves, at least for some of those attending (what was it, 16 assemblies represented?). Perhaps this is the most important thing I’d like someday to talk to you about. You may already be headed in the direction God has burdened my heart, or you may see something altogether different. So, forgive me for what follows if I am out of turn.
There is a formula for change that states C=D x M x P; Change= Dissatisfaction with the present x Model for the future way of being x Process for getting there. I know this isn’t a biblical thing, but observing the world around us carefully–the world designed by God to reflect His truths and principles–can (if not trusted as “gospel”) give us light (in the way we know gravity works from observing it, not from the bible directly). Let me pose the problem in these terms.
Many Christians experience Dissatisfaction with the isolation of “Church” attendance and those suffocating traditions that do void the commands of us being the church together. Yesterday, you folks presented a good chunk of Model, letting the saints get a glimpse of how things could be if we took a more careful, open look at scripture. While you hinted at Process in the language you used (framing the whole matter under “Developing,” learning, walking in some confusion as things are worked out in every day, messier-than-blackboards life). But “Process” for other assemblies regarding the major transition you present, do you think it adequate to produce change?
In your assembly, isn’t it in seeing the modeling day by day, the close interactions with one another, the personal experiences that forge and reinforce a more biblical way of being together that is the Process through which the Spirit works? It isn’t lecture alone that produces obedience and transformation; it isn’t even learning. It is being shown how to by example that births new behaviors and values. It is being held a mirror by the faithful wounds of brothers and sisters so we can see where we are off balance. It is being in a place where we are safe, accepted, for all of our flaws, that we can let go of defenses and face the fear of taking off masks. The place where we can admit sin and find help. Where we can take root in Him. Outside of being present at the birth of new life, nothing is more precious than seeing another man or woman as they learn to humble themselves under the Spirit in this moment and that, and be transformed bit by bit into an image of the Son, pure love beginning to work in and through them.
The panel spoke of this with tears. But most saints know nothing of this.
I think the patterns we see in scripture about how the church developed and grew and was brought back on track when it got tangled in errors presents a function in the church that was designed to provide an up close Model of how we interact/think of/love one another but especially for that Process element of change. How often when you present this material do you hear, “How do we get from here to there?” Sure, a New Testament, the Holy Spirit, and a yellow Highlighter should, in theory, be enough. But God has invited us (more, given us the unimaginable privilege to serve Him, our fellow saints, and our fellow doomed human family) to participate in His work. I think God not only provided for transformation of the saints within an assembly that is healthy, but also to have a sort of “white blood cell” team to provide a way to heal the body that has fallen sick. It seems to me the NT demonstrates that design in the work of itinerants like Paul, Timothy, Titus, etc. Church planters not only plant new churches. Church planters provide a servant leadership team that comes alongside troubled assemblies and quietly “sets in order the things that are wanting” and “ordains elders” (developing biblical leadership).
What if, for example, it would not be out of character for the Spirit to call one or two or three of the families at Messiah (etc.) and make them available to spend two months or eight months (whatever time it turns out to be), living among another assembly as they help them make the transition from a faulty church attendance model to becoming the family of God together?
I originally wrote the post “Imagine all the people” about six years ago. No, this post is not about a John Lennon song. This post is about thinking about people who are different than us. But, the post is not about changing people so that they’re more like us. It’s about learning to live with and love people who are different than us. Why would we want to do that? Because, according to Scripture, we are one family in Jesus Christ.
My family is studying Ephesians. Now, I know that some of you who know me well are laughing, because I LOVE to study Ephesians – it seems that I am ALWAYS studying Ephesians. Anyway, this is actually for a class assignment for which I have recruited my family to help.
We are supposed to read through Ephesians (and 1 Peter later) and answer the following question: “What do these texts say about faith as a way of life?”
As we were reading through chapter 2 of Ephesians, we noticed the emphasis on how God had created one new people from the Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14-16). This new people was to live as a family (household) and citizens of a new kingdom (Eph 2:19). Again, in chapter 3, Paul says that when Jews and Gentiles lives as one people (the church) they demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). Paul also reminds us again that we are one family named for God, such that God is the patriarch of the family (Eph 3:14-15). He then calls us to strength, knowledge, and love (Eph 3:16-19).
We discussed how difficult it is for us to live with and love people who are different from us. Certainly the Jews and Gentiles found this kind of life difficult. Yet, God expects us to live as a family and to love one another – and not just any family, but His family – and not just with people who are like us, but with all believers, even if they are very different from us. How do we do that?
So, we did a quick exercise that really helped me, and hopefully it helped them. Maybe it will help you as well. Here is the exercise: Think of someone who is completely different from you. Think about their race, ethnicity, education level, economic level, hygiene, clothing, housing, language, culture, etc. Picture that person in your mind, and ask yourself, “How can I possibly love that person and live together as family with that person.” Then, read the end of Ephesians 3 below:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
Certainly this passages applies to more than our living together in love with those who are different from us. But, it does apply to this as well. Because of God’s power at work in us, He is able to love someone through us that we would never love on our own.
I have thoroughly enjoyed studying some of the “heretical” groups of the middle ages, that is, groups of Christians who sprung up from place to place before Luther and the Reformation. Many of these groups bear striking resemblance to later Reformation-era groups, especially the Anabaptists and other “radical reformers.”
For example, in England, there was a group called “Lollards” who followed the “pre-reformer” John Wycliffe. (By the way, if you’re not familiar with Wycliffe, I’d encourage you to investigate him and the “Lollards.”) These groups of believers opposed the Catholic Church in several areas, specifically in regards to the clergy and transubstantiation. (In fact, their Catholic opponents often asked suspected Lollards if the bread was actually the body of Christ, to which the Lollards would reply that it was just a piece of bread, thus condemning them.)
In many ways, the religious leaders of the day did not know what to do about the Lollards, because they did not make sense to them. They didn’t know what to call the simple meetings that these believers held in homes and public places. They couldn’t understand why these “Lollards” kept quoting Scripture (in English, though, which was always suspect). Although there were a few “leaders” (from an outward perspective), the groups continued to thrive after the leaders were, um, removed.
Speaking to this last point, consider this passage in The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History by Anne Hudson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988):
If there were few ‘prophets’, in the mould of Swinderby, Thorpe, or Wyche, in the later period, there was a host of lesser figures, men and women, who in the course of their everyday activities proselytized, encouraged and upbraided the wavering, and fostered the faithful. It seems clear that the dominating figures were not to be found in Lollardy of the last sixty years before Lutheranism. In part this is doubtless the effect of the continued persecution, and most notably of Arundel’s Constitutions; conventional wisdom would add the effect of Oldcastle’s rebellion in removing lay support for the heretics amongst the aristocracy and gentry. But it is worth examining whether in part it is not also the result of the success of the Lollard educational programme. For it is clear that the communities themselves had effectively taken over from the individual preachers as teachers and maintainers of heresy. (449-50)
In a theology course, a seminary professor once told me that if the seminaries were doing their job correctly and the church was doing its job correctly, then the seminaries would not need to exist. So, considering the quote above, it seems that the fact that seminaries continue to exist is a demonstration of the failure of that educational program.
On the other hand, those who persecuted the Lollards for their “heresy” found that their “educational programme” was vastly successful. And, what was that educational program? “The communities themselves had effectively taken over from the individual preachers as teachers and maintainers of heresy” (with “heresy” referring to the beliefs and practices of the Lollards).
What would happen if communities of believers today took over from “the individual preachers as teachers and maintainers” of the way of Christ? Would we see a similar success to that “educational programme”?