So I read an interesting blog post over at the CNN belief blog. Lisa Miller describes how the internet and technology are allowing more and more people to read the Bible for themselves, apart from church direction or control. Her title proves more provocative than her post, but both point towards a belief on her part that this trend will lead to the collapse of the church. She believes that once people can read the Bible for themselves and share what they are thinking with others while reading or hearing what other people think, then they will lose interest in being preached to and indoctrinated by the clergy. I find that idea to be rather silly. People who can and will read the Bible, and think for themselves as they read, are exciting and will only make the church stronger. The important things in the Bible are clear enough for anyone to see (theologians call this the “perspicuity of the Scriptures”) and the true churches teach all of these things. There are no secret contradictions being covered up. The more people read the Bible the stronger the church gets.
There is only one way things could go wrong with so many people reading the Bible for themselves in our cultural climate. That is people thinking that their interpretation of the Bible is just as valid as any other person’s. Just because a person sees something in a passage or the wording there supports some specific interpretation doesn’t make it true. To really understand a passage in the Bible requires really understanding the whole Bible. It also helps to know things like the historical context and to know what other people throughout history have thought about the passage or Bible as a whole. So, while everyone can find truth in the Bible, the people with the most knowledge of the Bible will be the most accurate.
This is not a rule of religion, it applies just as much to science. If one of my students comes in having read part of the chapter for class, but not the rest, or has forgotten the general principles I laid out in the first class he is more likely to be wrong in his conclusions. His interpretation of what he read is not as valid as mine. I know the whole book. I know the whole field (okay, so way more than him, at least). So yes, I am excited he is reading the textbook and thinking for himself, it’s just that his “interpretation” must match up with truth in order to be valid.
Back to the Bible. People reading on their own is great. What will help them though is access to people with more knowledge of the Bible. We might even consider a weekly meeting where people who are reading the Bible get together for encouragement and share what they know. These meetings should be led by a person who we believe has the best knowledge of the Bible. This hypothetical meeting sounds a lot like church, lead by the local pastor. You see, church is actually an emergent property of Christianity not an artificial entity trying to control it.
To conclude, no, people reading the Bible and communicating globally about what they read are not threats to the church. It is the very foundation on which the church is built.