I’ll never forget it.
My first day on campus at seminary and I was participating in what’s called matriculation. That’s a 10 dollar word to say I was registering as a new student. All these fancy words….
Anyways, I was sitting down looking at the classes I was going to be taking. I was going for an MDiv in Christian Apologetics…at least that’s what I started out to do. Anyways, I was looking at the classes and one caught my eye.
I didn’t even know how to say the word, much less know what it meant. So I asked the person assigned to help me, “Hey, what does this mean?” They chuckled in that semi-snarky superior way that makes you feel like an ignorant peasant and said, “Hermeneutics.” I said, “Yeah, I see the word but what does it mean?” They said, “It basically means how to interpret the Bible.” I said, “Then why don’t you just call it that, Biblical Interpretation?” They said, “Because it’s called hermeneutics.” I said, “Right, but if you called it something that people understood…you know what, never mind.” So I enrolled in a hermeneutics class where I was to learn how to interpret Scripture. I remember finding that curious to think that the Bible, specifically the New Testament, had been around for the better part of 2000 years and we still didn’t know how to interpret it…
The class wasn’t bad and taught me many things I did not know. One thing I remember that really stuck out to me was the statement that “a text can never mean what it’s never meant.” I wasn’t real sure what that meant and, frankly, I’m still not sure what exactly that means. I was also struck by the statement made by my professor that a text can only have one meaning. He said the author (in this case the inspired human author) meant one thing only and we must work to discover that one thing.
I found that to be a little unsatisfying, to be honest. I remember thinking that didn’t seem right somehow, that a text could only have one meaning. I remember thinking, ‘Well that’s funny because so many people seem to have so many different interpretations of what different texts mean.’
Have you run into that? It seems like some things are so widely interpreted that you have a hard time determining what it actually means. For example, the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles (the book of Acts) of the household baptisms of the Gentile converts. So I read those texts that say the person who believed and their entire household was baptized and I am quite certain it means exactly what it says; that everyone in the household was baptized, husband, wife, children, servants…you get the picture. A Baptist will read that very same text and argue that it doesn’t mean what it says; that the children weren’t baptized but only those who professed faith.
See the problem?
I had a problem. As a church planter and pastor, I was preparing sermons to feed the flock under my care. As I was preparing those sermons, I was studying the text of Holy Scripture. What wasn’t plain, I researched. That’s how you do hermeneutics, right? The problem became, for me, that different commentators had different things to say about some texts. Take the baptism narratives again, for example. Presbyterian commentators would say it’s a clear indication of paedo-baptism. A Baptist commentator would say the exact opposite.
What’s an honest pastor to do?
Did anyone agree on what Holy Scripture had to say?
Well, as a matter of fact, yes. In the historic Church, the Catholic Church, there appeared to be remarkable agreement on what Holy Scripture had to say. Now yes, there were some variances but what I found was surprising. The Church was remarkably consistent throughout the last 2000 years or so in how she interpreted Holy Scripture. She was also remarkably consistent in how the text of Holy Scripture was to be applied to our daily lives.
Caveat: I am no expert in Catholic hermeneutics. However, I have learned and am learning so here are some things I’ve learned. Historically, the Church has interpreted Holy Scripture with four basic senses, if you will, of how to interpret. They are:
Here’s the point I’m trying to make. I was greatly comforted in knowing, as a pastor and preacher, that my need to interpret biblical texts had been answered. I no longer had to struggle to know if what I was seeing in the text was “right” or “wrong.” Rather, I had the long history of the teaching of the Church to rely upon. What sweet comfort that discovery was for me as a pastor!
Maybe you struggle as well with some texts of Holy Scripture. Maybe you’re like me and wonder what in the world does some of this mean? I want you to know the peace and comfort I have found, knowing that the Church has wrestled with these very things for over two centuries now. She has much wisdom and remarkable consistency to offer us as we feed our own souls and the souls of our flock.
Mother Church has much to teach us. Let us be grateful for her. Let us be humble and accept her wisdom. Let us praise God for His kindness in giving us teachers to show us the way!
If you’ve followed my blog or any of my social media platforms over the last few years or if you’ve spent much time around me during that time, you’ve probably noticed a difference.
I’m no longer protesting.
Here’s what I mean.
I grew up in a religious home. I grew up in a Protestant home. I grew up in a home that routinely criticized and even called into question the faith of people who were not Protestant, specifically those who were part of the Catholic Church. I want to be clear here. I’m not bashing my Protestant parents or relatives. I merely want to relate my experiences and perhaps it will resonate with you as well.
My “faith” meant almost nothing to me as a child and teenager. I didn’t understand most of what was talked about. I was “saved” at some point around the age of 8 because I said some prayer one Sunday morning, the “sinner’s prayer.” I have no memory of it but know I said it and made a “public profession of faith” and was baptized at some point soon thereafter.
It was not until many years later that I actually came to a saving faith in the person of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
Since my conversion and re-birth, I have walked a bit of a winding road. It has taken me through seminary (at a Baptist seminary), church planting, leaving the Baptist practice and becoming Reformed (Presbyterian), re-planting a church (tried to), completing the ordination process in the Anglican Church of North America to where I am today.
What has led me here is what I’d like to talk briefly about before launching into a series of posts about the beliefs and practices of the Church catholic.
I came out of Baptist seminary knowing beyond a doubt that I was not Baptist. It was a bit ironic to me that my professors encouraged us to love and read and study the Bible. But when I began to do the very thing my Baptist professors encouraged me to do, it led me away from the Baptist practice. There were things in the Scriptures that my Baptist friends simply could not answer for me or, if they did, I found their answers to be unsatisfying or explained away.
I’ll give you an example; actually I’ll give you two. The first was baptism. Baptists, of course, believe that baptism is only for those who have made a “public profession” of faith in Jesus. Nothing wrong with making a public profession of faith and being baptized but that didn’t seem to square (at least in my mind and reading) with most of the accounts of baptisms of converts in the book of Acts. Those accounts almost all involved household baptisms. Hmm….that seemed odd to me that members of the family of a professing Christian should be baptized without making a “public profession of faith” in Jesus. So as I dug deeper, I found myself in previously uncharted waters. I was developing what I believe is a more robust and biblical view of covenants and how those play out in the life of God’s people. Thus I became “reformed.”
The second example was the offices of the Church. I began an in-depth study of 1 Timothy in preparation for a sermon series I was going to preach at our church in Nashville (I was the lead pastor of a re-planting effort). As I began my exegetical work, I was a bit surprised to find that Paul uses three distinct Greek words for offices of the Church. He used the word ‘episkopos’ which is best translated ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer.’ He also used the word ‘presbuteros’ which is best translated ‘elder.’ And he used the word ‘diakonos’ which is best translated ‘deacon.’ I found that to be shocking to my formerly Baptist sensibilities. You mean Paul was advocating for three offices, not two?!
That led me to doing some study on the early Church. I thought, ‘Okay, these terms have been hotly contested for many years now. So, how did the earliest leaders of the Church after the Apostles take the meaning of these words?’ I was supremely surprised to find that they all, and I mean all, took it as three offices; bishop, presbyter and deacon. That was jarring for me.
You have to understand…actually, if you’re Protestant, you probably do understand. I was taught from a very young age that anything that looked or smelled or sounded remotely Catholic was evil. Not just, ‘Hey, this is how they do but we do it differently and that’s okay.’ No, I was taught that anything connected to Catholicism was evil.
This discovery about the practice of the early Church shook me to my core. I could not reconcile what I had been taught with either what the Bible said or with the practice of the Church. I didn’t know what to do. So I made a decision that has forever changed my life and the practice of the faith that has been handed down to us.
I went back to the beginning.
I wanted to know what else I had always been taught was contrary to the teaching of the early Church. I had to know how deep it went for me. So I went back to the beginning. I began to study the early Church and her writings. I began to read what we call the Fathers; mostly the Fathers of the early Church, i.e. the first 6 centuries of the Church. What I found shocked me and shook me.
I want to encourage my Protestant friends. Some of you have found modern Protestantism to be lacking in some things. I mean, when churches are dressing people up in movie costumes and having concerts that they call “worship” we’ve drifted a wee bit from a biblical practice so I get it. I want my discouraged Protestant friends to know that there are deeper wells out there. The wisdom of the Church in her reverent worship practices is out there for you. The water is warm.
I want to encourage my catholic friends, both Roman and otherwise. Some of you may not know why you do some of the things you do in worship or what it means or where it came from. You may not understand exactly what’s happening with all the symbolism and ritual. I want my catholic friends to know that those same deep wells are for you also. Go back and read and study as to why we do the things we do. Test what you do and say and believe in the teachings as they have been handed down from the beginning.
My prayer is that we may all be one again.
I fear we may not see that day until our Lord returns.
But we can all strive for it; for His glory and our good.
Soli Deo Gloria!