Christians are reactionaries. All too often it seems that we grab a ride on a pendulum out of one ditch only to swing ourselves right into the opposing one. This is definitely true when it comes to our method of hermeneutics. We must beware that there are two equally dangerous ditches on both sides of our approach on how to interpret the Scripture. The great American pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards wisely wrote:
“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embraced the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider “communion of saints” down through the age.”
Many of us are well aware of the dangers of embracing “the infallibility of tradition” since it has been so aptly demonstrated by the Roman Catholic Church. However, it seems that in Evangelical and non-denominational Christianity our sin tends towards the embracing of the “infallibility of the individual.” A few experiences lately have help confirmed my postulate. For example, I once confided in a friend how I was having an argument with a church member over the particulars of the Lord’s Supper. Our debate centered on whether elders had to physically administer the sacraments themselves or if the task could be regulated to just another godly church member under the elders’ oversight. I explained to my friend that as I struggled through the subject I had been reading John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Sam Storms, and a couple of lesser known Puritans to gain some clarity. My confidant stopped me and informed me that he thought I was making things way too complicated. I agreed that it had become a pretty complex debate but I soon realized he thought my whole approach to forming a position on the Lord’s Supper was somehow flawed. Consequently, I asked him how he had come to his position regarding communion. He replied, “Honestly, I just read the Bible.”
Oh, I knew I forgot something…
My friend, like myself not too long ago, had succumbed to the infallibility of the individual that often masquerades as just being a humble student of Scripture. This usually is nothing more than a carefully veiled arrogance. You see, I had read and reread all the relevant passages in Scripture in regards to the Lord’s Supper in my study just like him. I had also discussed these passages with the church member and found that we were still at odds. It was then we both had turned to the wider church community, both dead and living, in our attempt to arrive at a true interpretation of Scripture. We did this not because we had a low view of Scripture and a high view of tradition. It was just that we wanted the input of wiser and godlier men that God has given to the church throughout history. God has given us pastors, teachers, brothers, and sisters for a reason. They are here to sharpen us and keep us in check. As previously stated, I understand the dangers of traditions but we must not overreact. It is not enough to just read the Bible alone. That will undoubtedly lead to naïve conclusions. We should listen to Pastor Edwards and work hard to keep ourselves out of ditches through a communal interpretation of Scripture.