hollow philosophy and human tradition


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?

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10 Comments

Filed under church planting, sunday gatherings

10 responses to “hollow philosophy and human tradition

  1. Love reading about this group! I pray God will use them to launch indigenous churches that reproduce other churches as a natural part of being the bride of Christ.

    How long has this group been meeting? Is it being held in Edward’s home? Is he the Person of Peace, or the natural leader of a group that you met through someone else? Just curious.

    • they’ve been meeting for four weeks now, and this is the group that came about through my friend john paul. he’s away on business a lot, so edward is leading the meetings in john paul’s home. and even john paul, i only met through my landlord. it’s a great group so far. we generally have 13 adults there, and i’ll miss my first week tomorrow (because my truck is in the shop in mwanza and we’re waiting on baylor’s dependent pass).

  2. randy morgan

    wow, brett, this post really resonated with me. so much of what i see (and condemn) in the american church is the vested authority given to the “man of god.” we value charisma over doctrine–and preachers perpetuate that problem–and the church suffers.

    in my fellowship, i use expository teaching almost exclusively. i always try to find a way to apply scripture to the situations my people are facing, but i work hard to be true to the text.

    the way we “interpret scripture together” is by means of a small-group discussion guide that i prepare each week. i encourage people to take the study guide home and answer the questions individually, and then take the guides to their small-groups to discuss their answers. that way they process the teaching three times (as we assume the lord is directing the teaching, then we are reinforcing what he is saying to his church).

    the way we “interact with someone we’ve hired as a preacher or teacher” is that my wife and i are members of a small-group. i do not lead it, i’m just one of the guys. it helps me see and understand how the teaching is being received and walked out.

    i am certainly not saying that we have it “figured out,” but this is how we address the serious problem you’ve raised in our local context.

    • hey randy, great ideas on the study guides and then small groups. there is hearing, reading, processing individually, and sharing with others (/holding one another accountable).

      questions: are most members of the congregation in small groups, when and how often do they generally meet, and how are they decided / divided up?

      • randy morgan

        our small group setup is really kinda’ messy. we had several “false starts” with super-organized programs with high levels of training and accountability for leaders. last year, we made a conscious effort to be more “organic.” i do leaders training every year (but it’s just a sunday afternoon), then i encourage the leaders to “recruit” people they want to do life with. we encourage everyone (especially new people) to try different groups until they find the one where they fit, and we encourage the groups get too big (more than 14) to form another group. i would guess that 60-70% of our people are connected to a small group, and most meet on sunday nights, although we have a few that meet at various times throughout the week. i was really encouraged by larry osbourne’s model in his book, “sticky church.”

  3. Christine

    Hi Brett (although that feels a little odd since I’ve been calling you James for awhile now). Nice to connect with your own blog.

    I really like this post and my own (relatively recent) experience of a community interpreting scripture together has been very rewarding. The whole congregation is about the size of a small group, so, although regular service has a teaching that is lead by someone, it’s always a discussion. And we meet more informally at other times and discuss what we are researching in our own lives. It’s been very rewarding. We also have a small book study where we’ve been discussing and challenging our notions of God and of church. We’ve already spent some time discussing how we approach scripture, but will soon embark on a book about ways of studying scripture that I expect will challenge that group not just on their intepretation of specific sections of scripture, but of how they approach scripture. I’m really looking forward to it.

    I agree completely that we avoid many of the pitfalls by intepreting in community. The group you describe sounds wonderful.

    • personally, i like the idea of small churches. when i lived in china, our churches were (as you say) the size of small groups, and i loved it. and all the informal time spent together, i think, is incredibly important.

      thanks for coming by the blog… though i don’t think i’ll ever catch up to all your comments. you’re a commenting machine.

  4. Jim

    I think it’s a matter of both/and not either/or. Certainly God uses the “foolishness of preaching”, but He also commands us to check the Scriptures to see if what is being preached is true.

    I think the key is getting all of the Scriptures into people (or is that getting them into the Scriptures?) – not just bits, and not just Scripture carefully edited by our traditions….

    • Christine

      Jim, I agree. But I think we sometimes underestimate just how challenging it is for us to confront all of Scripture. There’s been a lot of editing done (in which parts we pay attention to and how we view the parts we do pay attention to) and a lot of the Bible does not conform to our perceptions of it. We absolutely need to look at Scripture as a whole, but that will (and presumably should) shake each of us to our core. I can see why it is so often avoided.

    • jim, i also think both/and. i think most of my questions for large congregations of today is how do we hold one another (especially teachers) accountable once we’ve checked the scriptures. we just don’t seem set up well to do that. we seem to be quite comfortable with one person interpreting — and the rest of us just accepting.

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