I was reading a blog I often turn to, but often disagree with. It was written by someone with a PHD which a friend of mine says that it means 'Piled High and Deep'. In this case, he was right. Well, this Doctor of Something or Other tells us that he is does not like the divisions within the Protestant community - too many denominations. And he thinks that the cause of this "problem" is the fact that the laity can read the Bible for themselves and interpret it. They interpret according to their own individual tastes and make a mess of it. Then they create new churches and denominations. He thinks that all Bible teaching should be left to the educated 'experts'.
First of all, I would like to point out that the differing viewpoints that we have on any given Bible subject don't really come from the laity as such. There seems to be more disagreement in the scholarly community and the clergy than among faithful laymen. I do not mean to suggest that laymen are not prone to certain kinds of errors - they are. And I certainly do not suggest that formal Bible education is not valuable - it can be.
But I would suggest that the biggest problems in the churches are not caused by the laity that reads the Bible. (Laymen, it seems to me, will more likely split the church over practical issues rather than theological ones.) The biggest problems have come from the scholarly community. Frankly, it has failed the church.
First, our seminaries accepted unbelieving scholars into the seminaries. By 'unbelieving', I mean those scholars who are called "critical" scholars whose methods assume that the Bible is not the Word of God, but of men. They produced unbelief in our budding, young ministers who, in turn, brought that unbelief into our churches. Naturally, churches declined and the society with it.
Meanwhile, our fundamentalist and Pentecostal assemblies exploded. They grew tremendously, and still are. They have opened their own Bible schools and seminaries, but their scholars never had the broad influence of the older seminaries. Nevertheless, the laity in these churches know their Bibles much better than even the faithful who are left in the mainline churches.
I have noticed, as a seminary-trained layman, that it is the Bible-reading laity that is far more faithful to Christ (even when they being are a pain in the neck) than many mainline ministers who have had faith educated out of them. I know personally ministers who were on fire for God and perhaps had some supernatural experiences like tongues or healing who, after seminary, lost all zeal for God and never said anything about the Holy Spirit moving, ever again. Instead of God speaking to them through the Word, they read the Bible through the prism of critical hermeneutics. They try to figure it all out in their head rather than let God speak to them through it.
Although I say this, I want to express my appreciation for those ministers, scholars and seminaries who have remained faithful to Jesus and the Bible as the Word of God. I think our mainline churches would have vanished by now without them. However, I must note also that some conservative scholars are compromising the Bible. This same blog that I mentioned above is hosted by a seminary professor whose "conservative" seminary never even brings up the subject of biblical inerrancy, much less teach it. They compromise the Bible. They even claim that Jesus was wrong about some things. This is the worst kind of hubris. And they are supposedly the ones who are 'orthodox'. "Well," they say, "none of our creeds require that we believe the Bible is inerrant." So, they are technically orthodox.
If the best thing that you can say is that you are 'technically orthodox' then I wonder where the church is going. The reason that the ancients did not include stuff like "the Bible is without any kind of error" or "everything that Jesus said was true, even historically" is that it never occurred to them that it could be any other way. They took it for granted. The creeds were established over controversies that argued over what the Bible actually taught and not about the Bible itself. The fact that they argued about what the Bible teaches proves that they believed the Bible was true, and not just theologically or conceptually.
I have written about this before, but my point is this: a layman who truly listens to the Spirit when reading the Word has as much authority as the 'expert' who has all the education.
“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes." Matthew 11:25 This is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus. Scholars don't like it because it can put an uneducated layman above them.
With all this being said, I certainly do not approve of how many laymen have acted. They sometimes act as if they are the only ones who can hear from God. I will agree with this from the article I have referenced above. It made a very good point about submitting one's "revelation" to the body to be judged. As Paul said, "prove all things, hold fast to what is good." He was talking about judging what someone in the church has taught or prophesied. That does not always mean that the body has judged correctly, but it does mean that we must be humble and be subject to authority. If you have something from God, that's fine. Don't make a big deal about it.