Thursday, May 16, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Congregational Participation; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

This vignette could have multiple expressions. It is the one that is most fully participatory and which truly requires the threefold characteristic community described above. Murray claims that this type of communal hermeneutics would have distinguished Anabaptists from state churches, Spiritualists, and Catholics. "Given what Anabaptists believed about the nature of the church, the work of the Spirit, and the ability of all to interpret," it is not surprising that many among them seemed to assume the need for a communal process. This can be seen in The Swiss Order, which circulated with the Schleitheim confession and was also known as the Congregational Order. In it, Article 2 states that "when the brothers and sisters are together, they shall take up something to read together. The one to whom God has given the best understanding shall explain it, the others should be still and listen, so that there are not two or three carrying on a private conversation, bothering the others."[1] This also is attested in some tracts where the listener, "bound by Christian love," is compelled to share with the congregation "if something to edification is given or revealed to him." The contributions might "include reading texts of Scripture, expounding them, asking and answering questions, prophesying, and discussing what has been said."[2]
In this model of hermeneutical community, individualism is criticized since due to it "consensus is seldom sought; discussions are mere forums, and in most cases are not intended to lead to binding commitments; controversial issues are avoided."[3] In opposition to this, Burkholder introduces some structural lines describing the framework of what he refers to as a discerning community. First, congregationalism and the congregational meeting (which could take the form of open forums) should be the basic decision-making instrument. Second, discussion should "be considered just as 'spiritual' as preaching and no less central to the congregation's life." Dialogue should "be conceived as an avenue through which the Holy Spirit speaks." Third, "the congregation would live 'under' the Bible, while employing critical methods of interpretation." Ultimately, these discerning communities would need to seek to 'listen' to the Spirit.[4]

[1]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 161. This practice was often referred to as lex sedentium, the Latin for the "law of sitting." The practice was historically connected to the school of prophets instituted by Zwingli, and biblically connected to 1 Cor 14. See: Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 101.
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 161. Also see Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 76-86.
[3]J. Lawrence Burkholder, "The Peace Churches as Communities of Discernment," Christian Century 80, no. 36 (1963): 1072. Dumais and Richard, in M. Dumais and J. Richard, Église et Communauté (Anjou, QC: Fides, 2007), 95-96, connect an individualistic relationship with God, due to Calvinism in France, with a loss of communal identity and the exiling of one's religious identity to individual consciences. One can see then why individualism (which is a plight in Western culture) is antithetical to communal hermeneutics. It is not possible to have an individualistic outlook on life and want to participate in a hermeneutical community. Ultimately, the former will inhibit true community formation, rendering the latter impossible.
[4]Burkholder, "The Peace Churches as Communities of Discernment," 73, 75.

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