I meet with Edward every week. He facilitates a small group Bible study here in Geita. He uses the Discovery Bible Study method, which basically seeks to instill in a group of non-Christians the core values of church from the very outset of their gatherings. In our meeting last week, Edward and I discussed why it’s important for us to read our scripture text so many times in one meeting. Each week we read through a passage four times and then put our Bibles away as we summarize the text as a group, piecing it back together bit by bit, using our own words. All of this comes before there is any discussion concerning what we learn from the text, or how we can apply it to our lives.
I reminded Edward that we had agreed to make the Bible primary and authoritative in our studies each week. I then told him how, in America, preachers will often spend a couple of minutes reading a few verses, followed by a full half-hour of their ideas on those verses. Edward offered that many Tanzanian preachers will read only one verse, and yet expound on it for over an hour. I’m not suggesting there is never a time for a preacher to give his thoughts on a passage, or to make it applicable to a congregation, or even to tell stories in order to bring it to life. But I really appreciate the way Edward’s group reads and understands a passage together before discussing its importance or applications. And even then, this discussion is also done together.
When a group interprets scripture together, I would argue they are much less prone to heresy and false doctrine. I would argue they are more likely to grow in faith, to strengthen one another in Christ, and to hold one another accountable to God’s word. In essence they are in a better position to be the body of Christ in their community.
Hollow theology is not the fixed result of reliance on a single teacher. But when that teacher does not properly revere scripture, and the church as a whole fails to hold him accountable to doing so, the gospel of Christ and his kingdom is forced to bow to human intellect, popular reason, and entertainment. I’m reminded of this passage from Colossians:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.
I’m afraid many of our churches (and much of Christian culture as a whole) are already prisoner to hollow philosophies, human traditions, and worldly principles. I’m not saying the answer is to stop letting one guy preach every Sunday. The answer, Paul says, is to depend on Christ for our very lives. I guess what I’m getting at is this: as members of Christ’s body, whether we have a preacher or not, it’s our responsibility to keep scripture core to our understanding of Christ and our lives in him. Scripture was intended to be interpreted in the context of community, and doing so safeguards us against human reason and worldly theology.
What are your thoughts? How does a congregation interpret scripture together? What would it look like in our larger congregations? How do we interact with someone we’ve hired as a preacher or teacher? Or have I missed the point — and group interpretation and accountability to scripture isn’t as important as I’ve made it?