Lesson 10: Bible

Bible Study with friendsLast week, I suggested the church of the future might well be a community of friends who gather face-to-face to share a lifestyle that suits following Jesus in our time. Every indication points to these groups engaging in more Bible study. However, I think the emphasis will be on honest sharing rather than dogmatic teaching. People will go to the Bible for the Truth spoken by Jesus, but they will not be as interested in what the words originally meant as in how they speak to their situation.

I see this in the youth groups that gather in my home. The young people choose the topics and want to hear what I, as an elderly clergyman, have to say. However, they make it clear that they are even more interested to hear what the others in the group believe. They value the group as a place where they can speak their minds and hear what others really think. Often they will ask why there are not other groups where they can speak honestly about critical matters, clearly indicating a role the church plays.

That, of course, brings up questions about quality and accuracy. How do you avoid simply hearing what you want to hear, making Jesus say what you want him to say?

From the very beginning this has been a challenge for the Church. She recognized personal relationships with the Risen Christ are the basis of the movement. Yet there was a need to make sure these personal charismatic experiences were not abused. How do you handle an individual who claims God spoke to him last night and instructed him to kill all unbelievers?

The Church came up with a number of standards by which to control this sort of thing. Often people think the Bible itself was the only one. Certainly establishing a canon of authorized sacred writings that could be used to evaluate other writings and experiences was super-important. However, there are a lot of ways to read these writings and anyone who studies them has to acknowledge they do not all agree with one another. So there was a need for other standards such as creed, clergy, ceremony, custom, and community.

In our time, and I suspect in the future, the community will play an ever more important role. I shall have to weigh what I hear the Bible saying against what others hear.

That sounds like heresy to many who say it is putting Jesus’ words up to a vote. However, we live in a time when the laity is educated. Some lay people read more theology than their pastors. They want to hear what their pastors say, but they are going to evaluate their words. And I never attended a Bible Study that judged truth by a raise of hands. The Truth emerges in the conversation.

At least some of us believe all biblical interpretation relates Jesus’ words to the situation at hand. Fundamentalism clearly was and is a fearful reaction to the new world of science. Biblical literalism was often simply a way for immigrants to keep their identity in a strange land. Often, claims that the institutional Church is the final authority in how to read the Bible is more about control and privilege than faithfulness and accuracy.

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