N. T. Wright on the Spirit and the Church

spiritchurch.gifThe Spirit and the church: there lie the clues which can help us to understand how we get from the ancient text to the modern situation. Paul intended his letters to be read out in church ([Col] 4:16), and this reminds us that we cannot understand them in a purely individualistic setting. Each mature Christian has, of course, the responsibility to “test all things.” But Christian truth is a corporate possession. The church is the context within which we should expect to have wrong ideas gently corrected and right ones gently suggested, and where we in turn may contribute to the same activities. This will mean active memebership in a local church and perhaps a variety of Christian groups; it should also involve careful listening to Christians of other backgrounds and periods of history.

To set biblical interpretation within the context of the church, however, makes sense only if we hold a clear belief in the Spirit who enables the church to be the church. To hear Paul’s words as if addressed to ourselves, we must understand ourselves both as parts of the same Spirit-filled community that he was addressing and as being ourselves indwelt by the Spirit who enabled Paul to write what he did. This will not solve all our problems of understanding or interpretation at a stroke. It will set them in the context where they can be worked at with faith and hope and (especially between disagreeing parties) love. It is part of God’s plan for his people that they should wrestle, in reading the Bible, with puzzles and problems that a library of mere timeless truths would never produce, and thus to grow into a maturity appropriate for fully human beings.

-From the introduction to Colossians & Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentary

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