Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Word of God (and GAFCON)

From a sermon given at the Church of the Transfiguration, New York, July 13 2008

...the deepest and most extraordinary meaning Christians give to the idea of God’s Word and its economy is our identification of it with Christ himself. The Gospel of John begins with that great Hymn to the divine Word, who was “in the beginning with God” and “through [whom] all things were made.” The evangelist is harking back to the Genesis story, and showing us that God’s creative speech is not merely external action but arises from God’s own being. Then John tells that this Word who was God became flesh, and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.

The ancient Christian theologians we know as the Church Fathers referred to God’s plan enacted in the speaking of the divine Word and his incarnation as the “economy of salvation.” They meant not only that God arranged the resources of the world and human history in a distinct way, but that this economy of abundance reflected the character of God’s own being – the generation of the Son who is the eternal Word and the sending of the Life-giving Spirit were an “economy,” the gracious reality of the Trinity, itself the model of abundant love which is the hallmark of the cosmos and of human life lived to their fullest.

It is one of the tragedies of the current Anglicanism that an odd, un-Anglican and even unbiblical doctrine of the divine Word and divine economy is being taught by those who lay the most strident claims to orthodoxy. For you know, I am sure, of people for whom “Word of God” is just a sort of jargon for “the Bible.”

In scripture itself, “Word of God” does not mean “Bible,” since the scriptures do not thus speak of themselves but of God’s whole self-communication, from creation to redemption and beyond. Saint Paul – a biblical theologian indeed - says that the “Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Of course the Bible is a key part of this; and Anglicans, who are of course a biblical people as well as a catholic one, have acknowledged the authority of the Holy Scriptures by referring to them as “God’s word written,” for instance. This careful phrase ascribes singular authority to the Bible, yet implies that there is more to God’s abundant Word than any written text.

However the background paper written for the recent conservative gathering in Jerusalem known as GAFCON speaks in terms that seem not only to equate the Bible (rather than Christ) and the Word of God, but to divinize the Scriptures themselves. It states that “the core issues [confronting the Anglican Communion] are about whether or not there is one Word, accessible to all, and whether or not there is one Christ, accessible to all.” Context makes it clear that they are presenting the Bible (as “Word”) and then Christ separately, as twin articles of faith. We must remind our biblicist brothers and sisters that it is the one Christ himself who is the one Word accessible to all.