Thursday, January 9, 2014

Intellectual Snobbery

Let's take a trip back in time--500 years or so.

A German monk worked diligently to translate the Bible into the German language believing each person should be able to access the Scriptures and read that which was written there; interpret what was written there; learn to think about God's Word for him/her self. 

The powers that be felt that this would be a horrendous step.  It would lead to multiple interpretations.  It would lead to questioning of Church doctrine.  It would lead to division.  They were right.  Right as rain.

But that German monk pressed on believing that getting the Word of God into everyone's hands was much more important.  There not need be any mediator between God's Word and people.  No preachers.  No theologians.  No scholars or professors.  The Holy Spirit would lead people to understand God's Word handed to them in their plain language.

That German monk was not the only one who pressed to have the Bible written in the language of the people.  Others set forth to produce the Bible in various translation.  Some were killed for their actions--see Tyndale.  Again, it was the powers that be which tried to prevent such actions.  Only those "qualified" to interpret the Bible should go about that business.  The rest of the folks should just listen to those learned "qualified" and implement what they said.  Chaos would rule if everyone was allowed to get their hands on the precious Scriptures.

Well, chaos indeed did erupt.  Multiple interpretations have arisen.  Division has become the rule. 

But I would not trade it.  Not for a second.  I, as Martin Luther, firmly believe the Holy Scriptures should be accessible for each and every Christian.  I believe there need not be a mediator to interpret the Bible correctly for a person or for a group of people.  I believe people who read the plain language of the text in whatever language those folks speak can come to understand the Gospel; understand who Jesus is; and get a sense of what how they are called to live in relationship to the God of grace.  It is part and parcel of the Lutheran heritage to which I belong.

I will take the division and chaos instead of having a certain group have a monopoly on Biblical interpreation.


Sin.  Pure and simple.  Sin.  Human self-centeredness ALWAYS impacts how we read the Bible--from the most learned scholar to those who are barely able to read.  Sin creeps into our interpretive methodologies and leads us astray no matter how pure our intentions may be.  The corrective to such sin is the mutual conversation and consolation of the bretheren.   (Matthew chapter 18 outlines how this takes place in the Church.)   It is our holding one another accountable for our interpretations which keeps us on the right track--even if we don't like hearing it from each other.

Despite this, I believe there is a growing trend in my own denomination which sets scholarship back on the pedestal it once had before the Reformation.  There are those who constantly refer to what "the scholars" tell us the Bible means instead of beginning with the plain language of the text.

This is why, oftentimes, some clergy are confronted by people who say they don't "preach from the Bible."  Or folks leave certain congregations and say that the church in which they now attend "preaches the Bible."  It's not that one church preaches from the Bible and the other doesn't.  No.  That's not what  is being said.  What is being said is, "This church over here preaches from the plain language of the text; you, on the other hand, preach what the scholars say the text means."  There is a big difference.  In one methodology, a person can argue with you based upon what the Bible says.  In the other methodology, a person has to read the scholars and argue about what they say instead of directly arguing about what the Bible itself says. 

To appeal to the scholars takes biblical interpretation out of the hands of the lay folks.  It also implies they are not qualified to interpret or engage in the interpretive process.  I recently read this in blatant fashion on a blog which I follow and which was later linked (in edited fashion) to the Living Lutheran website.   Mind you, I have no love lost for the preachers the author goes after.  But I take great umbrage with the following statement:

Powerful enough to actually believe that Living Proof Ministries would be an attractive name for a company that publishes “educational material” written by someone with no scholarly training in Biblical history or interpretation (that’s Beth Moore’s ministry outfit, in case you were wondering).

I need the living proof that she’s qualified to write material…

Let's travel further back in time.  Back to Jesus first.  Mark 6:

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.

 Apparently, there were those who didn't think Jesus had the credentials to speak as He spoke.  He was not a recognized scholar, scribe, or Pharisee.  He didn't sit on the Sanhedrin.  The powers that be didn't like what He said.  It's no wonder.

Of course, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples (apostles) and empowered them to preach and teach.  What were their credentials?  Were they "learned scholars" schooled in the ancient Hebrew and its teachings?  Were they teachers of the Law?

Not a chance.

Tax collectors.
Ordinary men and women.

These were the proclaimers of the Gospel.  These were the proclaimers of the resurrection.  These were those who became the earliest leaders of the Church--not because they had any sort of scholarly credentials, but because they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit!

As I read through the Bible...
As I look through Christian history and the Reformation...

I see no place for intellectual snobbery in the Church.  It's too damaging. 

This is why I fully agree with the above cited author's final comments.  May we all be able to say them truthfully:

Oh, and Father, forgive me, too.  This reluctant Christian is often just a little too proud in his thoughts.

So scatter my ego as well.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Thankfully, Lutheran teaching has no problem with accepting the plain, simple interpretation of every passage of Scripture.

If one passage says that God desires all to be saved, we believe it.

At the same time, if another passage says that God has already predestined who will be saved, we believe that too.

Lutheran theology is consistent with the Early Church Fathers but we do not need to use them if everyone else would just accept the plain, simple interpretation.

Which they do not.