Saturday, May 4, 2013

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

Given the last paragraph, one can ask legitimately: what is the role of scholars, if any, in this type of community? While Murray claims that Anabaptists "searched the Bible for themselves and participated in the congregational process of discerning its meaning and application," he also claims that this did not underplay the role of their leaders, especially educated ones. Instead, this created a special dynamic in the hermeneutical process. The leaders' sermons and writings provided "foundational teachings," but "they did not give authoritative answers to every doctrinal question or final interpretation of every biblical text." In addition, the leaders also provided guidelines that "prevented Anabaptists from lapsing into naive subjectivism." On the other hand, since non-leaders were very involved in "exploring and interpreting Scripture," Murray sees their contribution, "which was encouraged and expected," as providing a way to help "prevent leaders from uncritically adopting traditional or Reformed hermeneutics." According to Murray, it was the leader who set the tone as to whether the congregation would operate as a hermeneutical community or not. The ones who did allow it saw themselves as guides, rather than dominating figures, and acted as facilitators, rather than sole participants. Therefore, "their task was to ensure that Scripture was being read and that, through the contributions of all members, it was being understood and applied." This did not prohibit them from still exerting much influence on the congregation by providing "basic teaching and guidance in selecting and interpreting biblical texts." Even if many Anabaptists underplayed the need for education, Murray believes that in practice, the contribution of educated and respected leaders would carry greater weight, "for in congregational hermeneutics, there is no requirement that every contribution carry the same weight, but every contribution must be weighed."[1]
Even the topic of leaders, though, has the potential of being at the genesis of a hermeneutical community. Although among Anabaptists "communal emphasis was well-established in the very early years while the movement still had some scholars and theologians at its head," Murray postulates that there might also have been some pragmatic reasons for the development and continuation of communal hermeneutics. Murray sees the eventual lack of theologians and leaders, due to persecution, as requiring the congregation to "develop ways of operating that could survive the removal of their leaders."[2] He supports this theory among the Hutterites by quoting Oyer's and Miller's conclusions:
It is possible that for the Anabaptists sharing preaching or instruction . . . was a necessity, since many of the educated leaders were killed off. . . . Maybe they made a virtue out of necessity - since there were few strong, literate leaders, everyone needed to help out. . . . This became known as zeugnis, 'witness,' and such commentary was open to anyone, even those who had quite contrary words to speak.[3]

[1]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 16-17, 163-65.
[2]Ibid., 173, 171.
[3]Ibid., 171. Murray also points to other possible reasons that led to the development of communal hermeneutics. According to him, anticlericalism could have been a reason for communal hermeneutics, since in this hermeneutical model the congregation assumed for itself the key clerical responsibility, that of interpreting Scripture. Murray also suggests that the lack of formal meeting places with typical "church architecture" could also have been a probable facilitator of multiple participation. (171-72)

No comments:

Join my blog network
on Facebook