Teaching with a Little “t” and a Big “T” image

Teaching with a Little “t” and a Big “T”

A while ago, I made reference to a distinction I see in Paul's letters between teaching (with a little "t") and Teaching (with a capital "T"). The stimulating discussion that followed my post on Paradoxes of the Miraculous made me think that it might be useful, in view of that conversation, to try and explain the idea in more detail. Here goes.

My claim is that Paul uses didasko (and, obviously, its cognates) in two somewhat different ways, based on his view of the way a charismatic community should function. In his letters to churches, he normally talks about teaching as something that all sorts of people in the church can do. There is no expectation that it will be done primarily (or exclusively) by people with good character, or by older people, or by leaders; “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul exhorts the entire church at Colossae, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” The only requirement is having the gift: if your gift is teaching, then teach, and if your gift is exhortation, then exhort (Rom 12:7-8). The impression given in Corinth, in fact, is that charismatic meetings involved people all across the congregation bringing their gifts, one after another, and that this included teaching (1 Cor 14:26) - so there might have been a number of people teaching, as well as prophesying and so on, in the course of one Christian meeting. The idea that the teaching ministry might be the preserve of a handful of leaders with proven character does not, in the main, come through in Paul’s letters to churches.
In the Pastorals, however, things are a bit different. The didasko word group is used far more frequently, for a start. The concern with false doctrine in the church causes Paul to speak more directly about correct doctrine, and he urges Timothy and Titus to ensure its preservation by confronting some, and entrusting Paul’s apostolic deposit to others. The overseers/elders have responsibility for defining doctrine in the church, and the right to instruct others is repeatedly connected with godly character and maturity in the faith. In this sense, I see Paul as using didasko in a more authoritative, more doctrinally definitive way in the Pastorals than in the church letters - hence my distinction between teaching and Teaching.
So: can the two coexist in the same church? Well, it depends who you ask. For some New Testament scholars, the two approaches are so different that the Pastorals cannot have been written by Paul, since they obviously reflect an incipient Catholicism that was more concerned with buttoning things down in the second generation than in the charismatic free-for-all that characterised the earlier, authentically Pauline, communities. Evangelicals will typically reject this claim - rightly - but many will operate as if the two are incompatible anyway. Emergents, and not a few charismatics, can emphasise the open, Spirit-led, egalitarian model of teaching so much that the sort of authoritative Teaching envisaged in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 is neglected, or even specifically rejected as autocratic and abusive. Conservative evangelicals in the Reformation tradition, on the other hand, can do the reverse, and insist that all biblical instruction must be communicated by the ordained pastor(s), with the charismatic dimension of the Pauline churches, in which meetings involve all sorts of people bringing their gifts, including teaching, lost altogether. (It doesn’t help that many such churches have been theologically or functionally cessationist.) The same can be true, for very different reasons, in Pentecostal churches in which the gap between the pastor and the people is very large, as well as in churches which believe themselves too big to be charismatic. So in many quarters, amongst liberals, emergents, charismatics, evangelicals and Pentecostals, the very notion of holding together teaching and Teaching - of meetings in which all sorts of people with the gift to do so can read Scripture, explain it and apply it, yet in which doctrine for the church is defined with authority by leaders with godly character and maturity - has been thrown out the window without even being attempted.
Having said that, although many churches do not hold the two together in their Sunday meetings, lots of churches operate with both in some setting or other. It is extremely rare, for example, to find a church where the only explanation and application of Scripture takes place on a Sunday morning. Most churches that believe in Teaching allow, and in fact encourage, all sorts of contexts in which teaching takes place: life groups, youth work, children’s work, Bible study groups, courses, and so on. The teaching that takes place in these settings is usually understood to be of a different order to the Teaching that takes place on Sundays, based on who delivers it, how it is brought, and the way it is submitted to the elders. In that sense, Teaching and teaching are compatible not only in theory, but in practice - so in principle, I cannot see any reason why both should not take place on a Sunday morning. In my church, and in many others, they already do; last Sunday, several of the contributions brought in our gathered meetings unmistakably involved gifts of teaching, comprising nothing but the quotation, explanation and application of Scripture. It just needs to be clear which of the two is taking place.
So how can they be distinguished? My guess is, in many charismatic churches, the difference is something like this: Teaching is prepared in advance, lasts for 35-50 minutes, is delivered on the stage or at the front, by an individual with a tie mic and a lectern, and is uploaded to the website. In contrast, teaching is spontaneous, lasts for up to about three minutes, is delivered from the floor, using a hand-held mic (or no mic at all) and no lectern, and is not uploaded to the website. Needless to say, this is not a biblical basis for differentiating the two at all.
The issues that concerned Paul so much were not the location, length of time taken or technical accoutrements involved, but the accuracy and faithfulness of the doctrine being communicated, and the character, maturity and authority of the individual (and Paul assumes in the Pastorals that Teaching is done by elders). In fact, I would suggest that it is possible for an elder to Teach for three minutes during a time of singing, and also possible for a non-elder to merely teach for forty minutes from the platform, as long as the church is clear which is happening. This August, when we have several non-elders teaching at Kings on Sundays, we will explain this to the church: these people are teaching with a little “t” (quoting, explaining and applying Scripture, under the guidance and oversight of the elders), rather than Teaching with a big “T” (defining doctrine: this is what should be believed, and this is what should be done). So long as it is clear, I think the two can coexist quite happily.
For some, this distinction will appear too confusing by half (just as, I imagine, the distinction between Apostles and apostles was thirty years ago), so let me conclude with an illustration. When Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is performed, the members of the orchestra - the violinists, trombone players and so on - are interpreting the music. The music is their authority, and they are interpreting it, so that the audience can experience it. But they are interpreting it in submission to, and in close dialogue with, the conductor, who knows the music even better than the orchestra and carries the can for the whole performance. You could say that the trombone player is interpreting the music, but the conductor is Interpreting it. And there is no conflict between them - far from it! - as long as the former operates in conscious submission to the latter, and as long as both seek to faithfully represent the music, and of course the composer. Something like this, I propose, is true of the relationship between teaching and Teaching.
But you may disagree. After all, I am only blogging, not Blogging.

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