SoT #48 – Community of the Book

Sacred writings have a unique place in humankind’s spiritual quest.  There is something about words or thoughts, written down, that have power.  Spoken words often disappear into thin air, but written words have a more permanent quality: they can be preserved and passed on from one generation to the next.  More than that they can be copied and spread.

In the book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, we read that God carved sacred writings, the Ten Commandments, into stone tablets.  When we think of how paper fades and crumbles with age, the material carrying these words convey a message as well.   “Carved in stone” has become a metaphor for that which is fixed; meant to last.

The Bible is the book of the church of Jesus Christ.  It is the source book for its faith and life.  It sees the Old Testament as the account of the people of God struggling with life, temptations, opposition, problems, joys, blessings, etc.  It is the story of people by turns seeking the will of God, and disregarding the will of God.  There are prophets, and kings, and plenty of ordinary people, working, slaving, fighting, worshiping, caring, suffering; indeed coping with life as it comes to all: trying to make sense of it in the light of a strong belief in the One God.

The New Testament is occasioned by the coming of Christ, the incarnate child of God.  It tells that story, and its meaning as the early followers of Jesus struggled to be true to Him, and recorded what they saw, heard, and experienced. In the early centuries these writings were gathered and eventually canonized; that is, declared to be the received Word of God for the church.

The church is made up of disciples, which means learners or students, and as such they are students of the Bible.  The Bible is read and studied by individuals for personal guidance and enrichment, and is the central text which shapes the life and worship of the church.

In the Anabaptist tradition the Bible is not just for personal enrichment.  “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” wrote Peter. [2 Peter 1:20] This means that the church interprets the scripture together in community.  Each person can bring forward an insight or understanding, but the larger meanings are worked at together in a move toward harmony.

This points to another key aspect of the meaning of church: namely, that members listen to each other, and respect each other.  This together-approach to interpreting the Bible builds community; it strengthens the church.

Reverence for the Word, and respect for each other, bring us closer to Your truth.

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2 Responses to SoT #48 – Community of the Book

  1. John H Neufeld says:

    “…it strengthens the church, builds community.” Yes, that is the ideal but throughout history, during the 16C and in our time, the together approach in interpreting Scripture, has also had another outcome – namely diversity and conflict,(rather than conformity, sameness). Are our expectations realistic? Are our assumptions biblical? Paul urged the Romans to accept diversity both in belief/understanding as well as in everyday living (Romans 14) and urged all Christ followers to accept each other in spite of differences with enthusiasm, just as God accepts all of us.

  2. Bill Block says:

    My first response is that the aim of the article, as with the others in the series, was not to delve into church history, but to invite encounter with some of the main tenets of our faith. From time to time I have pointed to what appear to be failures in understanding and practice of “the faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
    You raise two questions. First, “Are our expectations realistic?” My short answer would be, NO. Is it not the purpose of ideals to set the “bar” high? Jesus has often been critiqued for his “unrealistic” expectations. The Sermon on the Mount gets that appraisal from scholars and ordinary Joes alike. Other examples could be listed. Does that mean ideals should be abandoned? Does it imply that we should give up on seeking to interpret the Scriptures in community?
    Second question: “Are our assumptions biblical?” In general it would be presumptuous to say, “yes they are”. Whom are you including in the personal pronoun, “our”? (This could apply in regard to your first question also). Without going into a lengthy essay I am unsure as to where to take it from here.
    I have no problem with your interpretation of Romans 14. However, Paul is addressing ethical praxis, some of which arises out of cultural diversity. Still, in Romans 15, Paul expounds on the purpose of scriptures v. 4; and in v. 5 prays for harmony; and in v. 6 concludes with the hope, “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” See also Philippians 2: Paul desires that the church be “in full accord and of one mind.”
    Another thought – Interpreting in community does not preclude diversity in outcome. Part of the significance of this Anabaptist approach lies in that it allows, indeed encourages, all to share/express their insights and understandings. This, ideally again, gives opportunity to increase understanding and respect, even if uniformity is not achieved. The process can be an exercise in love. That, I think, is what Romans 14 is trying to teach.
    It is worth noting that the early church, facing probably its greatest challenge in its young existence, gathered its elders (leaders) and missionaries (apostles) in Jerusalem to consider whether Gentiles had to follow Jewish rites in order to be saved. There was “much debate” (Acts 15:7), but in the end came to a decision, which is described thus: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” (Acts 15:28). The decision was not pleasing to all, nor did it solve future problems around the issue. But it remained the stand of the church. See Ephesians 2.
    Your response is an illustration/demonstration, that interaction in interpreting the meanings within the community is still happening. Thanks!

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