• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Reading & Studying the Scriptures Together is Two

The early church is described as being “devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) Though this is not an exhaustive list of the possible elements or functions of a church, it certainly provides an insight into those elements which were considered vital. 

The community of believers were devoted to, committed to or “continually keeping in close company with” the Word of God that had been revealed to them through the apostles teaching (the ‘didache’).  In other words, they were giving significant time and effort to reading, listening to and studying the Word of God together .

What we have said so far, most of us would consider a given.  The difficult question to answer is how this works out when the community gathers.  This is where we confront our own cultural backgrounds or biases towards a particular way or outworking of this element of community life.

The Bible, however, provides a variety of examples for our reflection:

*        Sometimes each member shares teaching or challenges with the other members of the community (Colossians 3:16)

*        Sometimes the community “studies” together to understand the Word (Acts 17:11)

*        Sometimes time is given to the straight up reading of the Word (1 Timothy 4:13)

*        Sometimes a person “teaches” others in the community from the Word (Acts 6:4)

*        Sometimes shared teaching is done so as to equip other members of the community for service (Ephesians 4:11-12)

In each of these examples, we see an interaction between members of the community; all are participants together in reading and studying the Scriptures.  Martin Luther talked about the need for “brotherly conversation and the Bible”.

As we think about what we mean by “church”, we must grapple with the appropriate cultural forms of these functions of the community, in particular having a passion for God and reading and studying the Scriptures together.

4 Responses

  1. I have been appreciating this simple and Biblical approach that strips down the church from all of its cultural clothing to see the body of Christ for what it is. I am realizing that I am not very good at recognizing or discussing well the church without my cultural bias and traditions. Thanks for helping us to think beyond our culture and comfort zones. I would like to comment, but with this preface. This is a very deep and difficult discussion to enter over the internet only getting to focus on it here and there. What a powerful time of discussion we could have addressing this subject “full of grace” and “face to face” as a group.
    Okay so here are a few thoughts/questions from the post today in thinking about Biblical church. The scripture verses above raise many interesting points such as; was this around unbelievers or believers or both? who was included in the community? what was the most common form practiced out of the above mentioned forms? does it really matter? Could you elaborate on this phrase from above: “In each of these examples, we see an interaction between members of the community” I think this is a key thought, but how might that look in community life with a gifted teacher or preacher?

    • I know it is not easy to “dialogue” in this way, but this is one way to at least engage in discussion, hopefully to be followed up at other points with face to face interaction. The goal is to get people grappling with the issue. The questions you raise should actually cause us to go back and carefully re-read many of the verses that we use as texts for current practice.

      The examples I shared point to a greater interaction between members of the community then we are normally used to in our Western contexts. We are used to a rather non participatory form of community. What that community might look like with a gifted teacher or preacher among them would be an interesting discussion, probably framed by questions such as: What are the elements which demonstrate that the community is functioning as a community in a given culture? How does the community read, study and learn the Scriptures together? How does the Bible describe the framework or context of the community? There are certainly many other questions we could ask.

  2. What a great post! To distinguish between reading and studying… and not just studying (usually a private activity of an individual in our thinking), but studying together is important.

    One thing I’d point out. The apostolic teaching (tradition) was not written down at that time, it was oral, and there are a number of barely perceptible allusions to this in Paul’s writing. For example, in 1 Cor 15:1-3, the terms “recieved” and “passed on” refer to transmission of oral tradition. And this tradition eventually was written down as Luke points out, and which is one reason he was at pains to make an accurate record of what was “handed down” (Luke 1:2).

    This shows that in the early church–although they could study the scriptues (of the Old Testament),–the oral apostolic teaching was kept alive in by attention to it “together” in the community of faith. And not only kept alive but passed on to the next generation.

    Paul Hiebert wrote of the “hermeneutic community” and in modern, evangelical protestant practice, we have privatized what must still ultimately be a community responsibility.

    I see what we now call “worship services” elevating periods of singing and (in some cases) dancing or other activities as being “worship” whereas in the early church this focus together on the Word was at the heart of their worship and life together.

    • thanks John for the encouragement! And for the further detail on the importance of the “hermeneutic” community engaging in the study of the Scriptures together.

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