Hermeneutical Shortcomings

I am so sorry to let my avid readers down (both of you) by making you wait so long for me to get back to the blogging drawing board. Yeah, well the past week was crazy. I figured Mary Beth and I were in the car for 35 hours in seven days – just counting long trips. I can sum up our recent happenings this way: Winterfest, Lewisburg, TN, youth rally, funeral, driving, driving, driving, gas station, truck stop, crying baby, ear infections, bronchitis, Toledo, OH, moving, packing, septic backup, wet basement, driving, driving . . . ok, you get the point, I’m done complaining. It really wasn’t a bad week . . . I’m ready to get that behind and move forward.

My thoughts today revolved around the hermeneutic utilized in Churches of Christ. “Hermeneutic” is simply a big word for how we read and interpret the Bible. It is my belief that the standard hermeneutic widely used in Churches of Christ over the past sixty years has contributed to a malnourished, elitist theology which has been bequeathed to my generation. It has put us in a hole that does not connect with the society in which it is set and is not conversant with Christians from other “tribes” “groups” “denominations” whatever you want to call them. That puts us in a bit of a pickle from where I sit.

Our tradition has upheld the hermeneutic of command, example, and necessary inference. In short, there are three veins of teaching found in Scripture applicable to us today.

*Some are commands: the text says “Thou shalt not murder” and, well, we shouldn’t murder, just like it says directly.
* Some are examples: the texts says “They met on the first day of the week and broke bread, so we should get together on the first day of the week and break bread.
* Some are necessary inferences: I think this third aspect of the tripartate hermeneutic is especially flawed so I can’t give a good example, but my best shot is to say that nowhere does the Bible mandate weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, and the example we have of them taking communion was on the first day of the week, and it was a big deal to them, so we can infer that it is something that should be done every first day of the week.

One of the most influential professors I had in my training at Lipscomb was Dr. John Mark Hicks and one of the most influential classes on my thinking had to be Theological Hermenuetics. In this class Dr. Hicks examines the above hermeneutical construct and highlights its flaws proposing a new theological hermeneutic. Check out the syllabus to the class as it contains an invaluable list of references to this topic specifcally within Churches of Christ.

As postmodern philosophy continues to debunk the antiquated system of “command, example, and inference” Churches of Christ must be proactive in prayerfully establishing a new way to read the Holy Scriptures. It is encouraging in schools training our ministers to see professors conversing with those outside of our “fellowship” to learn from the broader scope of God’s kingdom, something that has been completely absent in Churches of Christ until recently. Abilene Christian University,, Lipscomb University, , Pepperdine University, Rochester College, Oklahoma Christian University, and Lubbock Christian University have all taken tremendous steps forward in broadening the scope of influence (and in humbling themselves) in conversing with those traditionally outside of our circles of discussion.

This year talk is centering on the divide with Christian Churches, but I belive for many members of our tribe in my generation that is a very, very small step forward. Discussions with those using instrumental music is a matter of pride (even our antiquated hermeneutic isn’t alot of help on this issue). As I read somewhere Rubel Shelly has written, “My Lord did not hang on the cross over whether or not they would worship him with a piano or not.” How ridiculous is this argument? I have heard a very sincere and “successful” minister argue that CHurches of Christ (acappella) and Christian Churches could never mend fences because, “they’ll never give up the instrument.” How completely arrogant of us! Why must we talk more about this issue than the grace of Christ which Paul spent so many pen strokes articulating?

Another issue I am especially ready to study is the influence geography plays (and has played) in Churches of Christ’s effectiveness. My setting is a large metropolitan area in central Ohio (there’s only one there – Columbus) whose population is over 1 million and grows to about 2 million in the metropolitan area. Consistent members of Churches of Christ may number 1,000 in that city. Christian Churches in the area are much stronger. I have no idea of the numbers but they would be substantial. Christian Churches explode, Churches of CHrist whimper and whine about a member here and there. How important is acapella music? I am beginning to think that we are losing souls to the devil because we are hellbent on worshiping unacompanied by any instrument. Is it that important? Is it that big of deal to unbelievers? That’s another question.

I have rambled too long on this entry . . . I will follow up later . . .

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3 thoughts on “Hermeneutical Shortcomings

  1. You make some good points. I remember arguing with friends in high school over instrumental music. I was well-trained to throw out the scriptures. If only I had realized that these were friends who believed in Jesus like me, we could have done so much more together rather than discuss instumental music.

  2. Good thoughts, Metz. Especially this one:”It is my belief that the standard hermeneutic widely used in Churches of Christ over the past sixty years has contributed to a malnourished, elitist theology which has been bequeathed to my generation.”I have found that the instrumental music question is the Holy Grail of our fellowship. Our folks (mostly the older ones) hold on to it tenaciously. It’s amazing that something not even mentioned in the New Testament became so important to a fellowship that claims to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.I have high hopes that this issue will continue to fade in importance. It’s happening, but too slowly. —

  3. Adam,Thought I’d respond to your comment on my blog by commenting on your blog. 🙂 Regarding geography…yeah, it matters and I think it’s hard to overestimate its importance. Two examples. My girlfriend isn’t from the South and was not raised in with a Christian background. She just about had a cultural meltdown going to church when we visited Nashville. Hand-raising, male-dominated worship…it looked like something out of a cult to her. Rationally, she knew that wasn’t the case, but it was very far out of her frame of reference – which of course had been shaped in a particular location.Second example…most CoC historians will point to geography as a major fault-line running through the instrumental music controversy. When this began to be an issue in the Reconstruction period, wouldn’t you know that churches split along North-South lines (instrument North; acapella South – it’s more complicated than that but essentially accurate). The fact is that as humans we are located both in space (and place) and time. Where we are, and when we’re there, matter greatly for our personal formation. Evangelism has to take that into consideration through a kind of cultural exegesis. As for losing the baggage of the South, I’m not sure we ever quite get rid of it – but we can wear it lightly. Usually the people that don’t acknowledge their baggage (like we haven’t) are the ones oblivious to how it affects them.Anyways, that’s a rambling, late night take on your question. Say hi to Mary Beth. She’ll tell you I haven’t changed since college. 🙂

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