Thursday, May 2, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

This emphasis on the interaction between the community and the Spirit of God points to a community of regenerate believers, indwelled by the Spirit of God, who are disciples of their Lord Jesus Christ.[1] For the Anabaptists, "obedience as a prerequisite for understanding Scripture meant that only a community of would-be disciples could expect illumination." A community of disciples creates a community of obedience and faithfulness, which is essential, as the Anabaptists knew, for "unfaithfulness could make a congregation unable to function properly as a hermeneutical community."[2] This line of thought parallels Fowl's emphasis on a community that recognizes that it is populated by sinners. Fowl argues that this problem of sin can only be solved by creating vigilant communities where individuals are aware of their sinfulness and the sinfulness of others, and where all are single-mindedly focused on Jesus. This requires a community that is actively practicing forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation, and where the goal is for all to grow in virtue, particularly when it comes to interpreting Scripture.[3] Ultimately, "recognizing oneself as a sinner is necessary but it must lead to growth in virtue, particularly growth in virtue as an interpreter of scripture." This growth should produce individuals who have what he calls a Christological density. In a community, this characteristic allows others to be able to judge the interpreter's interpretation. "Unless Christians can offer this sort of christological density to their judgment about the character of any particular interpreter, they will have good reason to be suspicious of that interpreter's counter-conventional interpretation." [4]
This community has to be tight knit so as to be able to judge each other's interpretation and the to judge the work of the Spirit in each other. As a believing community that is wanting to practice communal hermeneutics, this community also has to recognize and value the diversity of gifts that God has given to it.[5] It has to realize that the work of the ministry of the church is the work of the entire body, not of a select few.[6] Like its Anabaptist predecessors, it should believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to the entire community as it reads Scripture together and should believe in the participation of multiple members in its gatherings.[7]

[1]This can be seen as the ideal of many free churches, and some have identified it as the distinctive mark of Baptist churches. See for example: John S. Hammett, "Regenerate Church Membership," in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcom B. Yarnell (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008). Yet, the free church does not have the corner on this type of community. In many ways, this is the community that is described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he describes the communal experiment that he experienced with his seminarians at the seminary and at his home in Finkenwalde. Since such a community is a spiritual community, Bonhoeffer argues that its basis must be "the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ" and truth. Its essence must be light. It must be a community of called ones who will embody the love of Christ in lives of service. This service is simple and humble and characterized by love: "unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodological, helping love." This community is characterized by order and humble submission to one another. It will be ruled by the Word of God alone, which is binding. In it, all "power, honor, and rule" are surrendered to the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to rule the community. In line with the Pauline emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12, this community recognizes the importance of all its members and therefore does not exclude the "weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people," for their exclusion may well be the exclusion of Christ. See: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, and Albrecht Schönherr, trans., Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 39-40, 45.
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 213, 214.
[3]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 78. In other words, what is envisioned here is a community that practices the "one anothers" of Scripture. For a complete list see: Maël Disseau, Those "one another"s [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[4]Ibid., 83, 159.  Cf. Thiselton's similar thoughts about doctrine presented above.
[5]See: Maël Disseau, Hierarchy in the Body of Christ - another small excursus [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[6]See: Maël Disseau, The NT Concept of Ministry - a small excursus [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[7]Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 101-02. 

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