Eddie and Sue Arthur

Thoughts on Christian Community

You can listen to my latest sermon from Above Bar Church here. The subject is Church: A Community for Mission. It’s a thematic rather than expository sermon, which was interesting for me. The sermon deals with some issues specific to Above Bar but it covers a fairly wide look at what it means to be a community for mission and might be of interest outside of the ABC situation. One thing I look at is the issue of missionary call, which I am convinced is a community function rather than an individual one. The more I think of it, the more I’m convinced that one of the biggest problems facing the Western Church is the way that we have swallowed the idea of individualism hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, when we try and deal with individualism, we often seem to replace it with a fairly structured institutionalism, which is a long way from the Biblical picture of fellowship.

On a similar theme I came across a fascinating quote in These Three Are One: Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Challenges in Contemporary Theology). I suspect that it might sound strange or even offensive to some, but personally, I think that it is spot on. I’d be interested in your comments.

“Every reading of the biblical text is an ecclesial reading, in which the reader is never a solitary individual but is formed in particular virtues and animated by the life of the reading community. And Christians are confident in such readings precisely to the extent that they believe the Spirit to be at work in the communities that offer the particular interpretation. Even Luther’s clarion call to sola scriptura was made with this awareness; he recoiled in horror at (what he saw as) churchless reading of the Bible among some of the Radical Reformers. Today, we have often uncritically assumed that a solitary individual could, quite apart from communal formation, pick up the biblical text and suddenly be brought into a profound relationship with God. Such hermeneutical isolationism, though sometimes attributed to the reformation, might be better understood as the product of Enlightenment individualism.”

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6 Comments on “Thoughts on Christian Community

  1. Recognizing the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the church as well as the individual will help us greatly provided we don’t forget that churches are also fallible.
    I would somewhat take issue with Cunningham however. Whilst I agree that most reading of scripture is Ecclesial, I do personally know at least one former Muslim who came to faith through reading a Bible in his local library.

  2. I agree that the commment about an ecclesial hermeneutic is spot-on. The challenge is knowing which traditions to listen to within the church. If we listen only to our local congregation, we may be led widely astray in reading parts of the Word. Even if we listen to broader voices–a denominational or wider (say, Reformed or Roman Catholic) reading, then we still are limited to the biases of our own kind within the church.

    Is it possible for our reading to be informed by all the church through time? I wonder, but I’m trying.

  3. This living in a culture where community is all has made me question how much of that is cultural and how much Scriptural.

    In short, I have seen the sins of both sides.

  4. Paul, your story could be multiplied probably hundreds of times over in Muslim majority countries where Bibles get into circulation, and that’s just the people that Christians get to hear about, not those who keep their new faith secret out of fear or simply never meet any other Christians. I can agree that this is not the ideal way to read Scripture, but no one can claim that it is not a way in which anyone does read it, and I hope not that it is an invalid way.

  5. Just to clarify, my previous comment was in reply to my old friend Paul Shaddick, not to Paul Merrill who also made a good point.

  6. One of the wonderful things about or God is the way that he breaks the rules! I would still hold that the statement is correct, but that a sovereign, communicating God is able to step out of these boundaries and do things his own way.

    I don’t think that it is invalid for people to read Scripture on their own, but I would hold that we only really get the best out of Scripture when we understand and meditate upon in company with other believers and within a faith tradition.

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