Practice, Practice, Practice . . .

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Hermeneutics
The Israelites Leaving Egypt, Oil on canvas 37...

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In past entries I have posed the question about practices and their effects upon a community’s identity. Whenever community members cease participating in the community’s core practices the community’s identity is essentially altered. That community steps outside its seminal narrative and becomes something else. Particularly in religious communities this is significant. Religious communities rely upon the core practices for a number of reasons, one of which is to shape the community’s identity.

In the past I have emphasized the necessity of the Brethren community practicing its distinctive version of the Lord’s Supper. However, recently I have been wondering what happens when the community steps aside from the very narrative that originally gave the community life? It is widely recognized that the reading of scripture in community was also a core practice of the Brethren. The practice of reading scripture in community is unlike the other core practices (baptism, Lord’s Supper, anointing with oil) in that the scriptures that are read serve as the seminal narratives from which the community emerges. In other words it is God’s overarching metanarrative from which the Brethren story extends. It is the act of reading these narratives that remind the community who they are and what their relationship to God is. These are the stories that a community instinctively retells in addition to the ones they need to be reminded to tell. Paul Ricoeur illustrates this with Israel’s continued call to remember past events, such as, the deliverance from Egypt and the Exodus.[1]

In addition to these narratives being derivative of the community’s identity, the act of reading in community additionally contributes to its identity formation. This is a distinct trait to its being a hermeneutical community. Not only are the members to read the scriptures (God’s metanarrative) in private devotion, but their gathering together for corporate reading and prayerful study is a core practice and identifying marker of the Brethren community. So what does it mean if the Brethren community no longer understands this practice to be essential to its life? What happens when the competing (and exclusive) metanarratives of modernity (whether it is the political metanarratives, the scientific metanarratives, or the metanarrative of capitalism) take precedent over God’s metanarrative in shaping the community’s identity? What happens when any of the practices of society trump the practice of reading scripture in community for the Brethren?

I believe the consequences for the Brethren community are becoming a reality. The Brethren community formed as they gathered together to prayerfully study the scripture. How can it be any different today if the Brethren want to remain Brethren?

[1]  Paul Ricoeur, “Structure and Hermeneutics,” The Conflict of Interpretations. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 27ff.

  1. Josh Brockway says:

    As I have been thinking about this, it strikes me that even the practice of Reading in Community has waned. I am just not convinced that Brethren still sense that reading is a corporate action. Rather, it seems that reading of scripture is a private matter which is infrequently brought into conversation with the community.

    I think I might first ask “What does reading scripture together look like today?”

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