Someone sent me an email a few days ago asking if I had anything that would help him to articulate the Anabaptist “community hermeneutic” to someone. The first thing that came to mind was the first point in my lecture next week on an Anabaptist approach to Scripture. The whole lecture uses the 2006 MWC statement on Scripture as a guide.
“As a faith community, we accept the Bible as our authority for faith and life, interpreting it together under Holy Spirit guidance, in light of Jesus Christ to discern God’s will for our obedience.”
I then divide it into four distinct statements, but since the question was about the first I will only use that for my blog: “As a faith community… interpreting together”
“There are many legitimate and profitable personal uses of Scripture… [but] its primary intended use is to enlighten and guide the life and decisions of the church.” (C. Norman Kraus)
The individual or private reading and study of the Bible is really an invention of the modern era, yet we often make it into a most important value. John Howard Yoder says provocatively, that “the text can be properly understood only when disciples are gathered together to discover what the Word has to say to their needs and concerns.” The Bible is best read and interpreted by ordinary people as they converse together, not by leaders and learned powerful people who make pronouncements behind podiums or pulpits.
This means that correction of interpretations may come as new communities gather and discern together. This may be frightening to some but it is both a privilege and an opportunity. The community hermeneutic provides a safeguard from individual bias and heresy, but also an opportunity to hear Scripture afresh in new situations that a community encounters.
How does it work?
“When they have come together they teach one another the divine Word and one asks the other: how do you understand this saying?” (Ambrosius Spitelmaier, 16th century)