I hate to say this, but I have sort of been influenced by Jim West on this, but don’t tell him.
Every week, the professor is intending on posting a journal question which we must answer. This is this week’s:
What is/has been your role in your congregation? Do you feel that you are working in the center of the life of the church? On the periphery? Somewhere in between? Why do you think you are where you are in your congregation? What ministry or ministries are you involved in? How do these things impact the way you interpret Scripture?
My rough draft of an answer?
In my previous congregation, I was a minister, unordained. Briefly, our structure was Bishop, Elder (ministers ordained with a position, such as Pastor or Evangelist), and unordained ministers. There was no training, and even a revulsion to training of any kind. As a matter of fact, when I first introduced them to the fact that I was studying Greek, eyebrows arched, you could hear the faint sound of crickets and the fires of hell could be heard as I entered the room. I was somewhat in the center, being someone whom the pastor trusted as I was forward thinking in certain areas, or sometimes, unlike others, just thinking. Extremely fundamentalists sects abhor thinking individuals and thus, even leaders are taught only to follow, usually by threats of not being able to perform service for God. Further, I had served as youth leader and helped in other administrative areas. It was my calling, if I may use a word I find today extemporaneous, to be a pastor. And now, after all of these things which I’ve seen? I want to be as far away from the pulpit as humanly possible while still drawing a breath.
This previous congregation would not allow discussion on Science, or the tough issues of the day such as homosexuality, women ministers, and whether or not a woman was equal to her husband (to name a few issues). To them, they said if the bible said so, they believed it. Greek and Hebrew were discarded and those who studied such things were disparaged. Tradition was counted as Catholic and thus as part of the Great Whore of Babylon. Even new translations were seen as detrimental to the salvation of the user. There was no such thing as an interpretation of Scripture – the bible plainly said what they said it said. Of course, to acknowledge that this woodenly literal usage of the text was itself an interpretation technique would have been treasonous to them. There was simply no room for reason, logic and biblical studies in my former role and congregation.
In my current congregation, I serve no position and thus no one. It is my wife who is teaching a class and my children involved in programs. I participate in Sunday School as well as a Disciple III class and a MERGE class, but have no leadership roles in them, nor do I desire them. I am still new, and while I had wished to remain completely anonymous upon attending this congregation, unfortunately, I am not. This does allow me, however, the freedom to explore Scriptures and interpretations away from the fear of disrupting someone’s preconceived notions of theology and their own inerrant interpretations. Because I answer to no one, I am able to say what I feel, when I feel it, but as a Christian I try to temper how I say it, at least in regards to Scripture. It is my feeling that too many have long dwelled in darkness due to a simplistic reading Scripture but through biblical studies they can see a great light. This current congregation is led by a pastor who uses his seminary training, Greek, Tradition, and other working tools of a master craftsman in bringing the Scripture to the Congregation. Further, there are active conversations about various passages going on at any random event that I’ve been happy to be a part of. I would like to say that there is simply no room at this congregation for a shut-off mind, know-it-all, self-exiled from logic or reason, bible interpreters but in reality, they make all welcome, even those with a diverse point of view. So, in my role as facit qui tribulant I have the freedom to interpret Scripture according to the knowledge that I am attaining.