Protestantism – Democracy

From time-to-time I like to share things that have made me think. It does not always mean I agree with everything that is said or even anything at all, but it has made me think. Sometimes I do fully agree with everything said, but again, it made me think.

Today I came across this little snippet from a writer I read regularly. He was dealing with something I have heard many times and in many different ways;

  • “What I want to know is what does the bible say about this?”, or
  • “I’m not interested in my opinion, I’m interested in what is biblical.”
  • “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Those are just some of the things I hear regularly and they make me cringe every time because it discounts the very real role interpretation plays in the process of reading our bible.

And so this take on Protestantism and a “biblical view” was very interesting to me … it made me think.

(To get definition out of the way up front; a hermeneutic is a method or principle of interpretation)

“… you have to own the fact that you are Protestants (as am I). Which means that you are never going to land on an uncontested ‘biblical view.’ Protestants have never agreed on what the Bible says. Just look at all the Protestant churches. Underneath the conversation about the ‘biblical view’ what you are searching for is a hermeneutical consensus, the degree to which your community can tolerate certain hermeneutical choices.

Stretch the hermeneutical fibers too thin and the consensus snaps. People can’t make the leap. The view is deemed ‘unbiblical.’ But if you keep the changes within the hermeneutical tolerances of the community the consensus holds and the view is deemed ‘biblical.’ … at the end of the day it’s consensus you are after.

The ultimate authority in Protestantism isn’t the Bible, it’s the individual conscience.

Protestantism was created when Martin Luther was asked to recant his teachings at the Diet of Worms, asked to submit to the magisterium (teaching authority) of the church. There Luther famously declared: “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand I can do no other.”

That’s Protestantism. The elevation of the individual’s conscience over the magisterium (teaching authority) of the church.

This is not to suggest that the Bible isn’t speaking into the faith community during the process. Just that when it finally comes down to determining what the Bible says or doesn’t say that will be determined by the individual consciences of the members and that leaders, generally, will go with the consensus. That, or the leaders will, because of their own consciences, make a hermeneutical move to test the tolerances and risk the possibility of schism.

… there is no magisterium for you to fall back on. What you have, instead, are the individual consciences of every person within your faith community. Protestantism is a hermeneutical democracy. Each person with a vote about what they think is ‘biblical’ or not.

Because to go against conscience is neither right or safe. We’re Protestants after all.

Here we stand. We can do no other.”

– Richard Beck (


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