6. Faithful interpretation of scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God’s redemptive action — the church.
Scriptural interpretation is properly an ecclesial activity whose goal is to participate in the reality of which the text speaks by bending the knee to worship the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Through scripture the church receives the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God and, in turn, proclaims the message of reconciliation. Scripture is like a musical score that must be played or sung in order to be understood; therefore, the church interprets scripture by forming communities of prayer, service and faithful witness. The Psalms, for example, are “scores” awaiting performance by the community of faith. They school us in prayer and form in us the capacities for praise, penitence, reflection, patient endurance and resistance to evil.
What does “participation in the community” entail? Does it require particular creedal or sacramental understanding? At what point does a community lose its status as an identifiably Christian community? How does the disunity of the church affect the interpretation of scripture?
Earlier on, in my T4 post, I confessed to having to fight off worries about affirming multiple meanings for a passage within scripture. And I think a large part of what was troubling me was the fear T4 –by itself– releases rogue christianizers to run wild with interpretations to suit their own agendas. T6 balances out those worries though.
On the whole, T6 fits right in with the collected theses. Some of the other ones have been “oh, yeah, that’s great, but I might not sense something missing if it wasn’t among the nine.” Not so for T6. Absolutely integral.
One thing where the authors could have been more pointed is where they say, “Through scripture the church receives the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God.” More accurately, I think it’s through scripture the church receives the good news that they are the inbreaking kingdom of God. A community of believers in faithful dialogue about scripture is the only way the kingdom of God is going to break into our culture and society. I agree that scripture is essential to inform us of our role in reconciliation, in taking part in this inbreaking (an outward focus, basically). But an equally important role scripture serves is to tell us how to be that community in the first place (an inward focus). I know that being a community is an essential in the inbreaking, but it’s not just and ends to a means. Being community is intrinsically important, even if there’s –by some miracle– no reconciliation left to facilitate.
- What does “participation in the community” entail? It’s tempting to use this question as a platform for minimum participation requirements. Believe me, working in youth ministry, I totally have to fight off the desire to build participation in Bible studies by making it a prerequisite for other “more fun” activities in my programming calendar. Bad Russell, bad! But the fact of the matter is that Christianity doesn’t mesh well with the lone ranger paradigm. Sure, we have shining exceptions like Bonhoeffer, where Christ-followers have prospered in the absence of community, but that’s not the norm. Israel, 12 disciples, Paul & Timothy, letters to collected churches throughout Galatia… the whole of scripture points to our need for others to come around us in our journey. So, down to the nitty-gritty… Some essentials: Be in honest conversation with a handful of Christ-followers (some farther down the road, some in the same place, some fresher into their journey as you) about your encounters with scripture. This is what’s essential for community-centric interpretation of scripture. But also, be in conversation with people in your cultural neighborhood that aren’t Christ-followers, and just be telling your story, because verbal introspection like this will teach you something too. If you’re sincere, it will point them to wards God, without you memorizing the “Roman Road” or “Way of the Master.”
- Does it require particular creedal or sacramental understanding? If you can affirm the Apostle’s Creed, you’re golden. The “handful” I mentioned in the above question should more or less be able to stand with you on these essentials. Now even though I really see the sacraments as rooted in community, I don’t think harmony in sacramental beliefs is necessary within your handful, but a mutual respect of any divergent beliefs is key.
- At what point does a community lose its status as an identifiably Christian community? When telling our stories of each of our encounters with scripture is pushed out of the center of importance. A group of devoted Christ-followers gathering for breaking bread and mutually partaking in this week’s episode of LOST is not identifiably Christian. While conversation about our journey with the scriptures is not always the most pleasant (not always the highlight), it must be the highest priority, the most important part of that evening.
- How does the disunity of the church affect the interpretation of scripture? While a lot of disunity occurs when the sacraments come up in conversation, it’s ok, because as I said above, consensus on sacramental theology isn’t central to being able to engage in those all-so-important conversations about our journeys through scripture. So, I think disunity, while unfortunate, isn’t necessarily harmful in the interpretation of scripture. If anything, individual and charitable disunity enhances our community interpretation of scripture.
Matt’s post here.