Some of you locals may have seen our church marquis and wondered about it. Right now it says, “The Bible is not the Word of God; that’s Jesus.”
Hyperbole? Sure. A cheap shot at biblical literalists? No, not intentionally. But it is meant to provoke conversation. A church sign doesn’t always do that, but it can. Many of the messages you’ll typically see on church a church marquis are strictly informational: Name of church, worship times, maybe the pastor’s name, maybe the web address and/or phone number. We’ve got that covered on one side.
Sometimes a church sign will have a little whimsical musing, a message, a verse of scripture. All too often, these become unintentionally hilarious. (For example)
Every once in a while, a sign will provoke people to wonder, “Now just what the heck are they talking about?!” This seems to be the case this time around. We’ve already had some inquiries. The most notable was from a gentleman who has studied Scripture, but says he’s not a believer at all. That was a valuable conversation!
But some of us sitting in the pews might also wonder what the heck it means. Today we were asked for a 30 second run-down, so here goes:
According to John 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (or face-to-face with) God, and the Word was God (or divine).” This does NOT refer to the Bible. The Bible, as it’s currently assembled in our particular faith tradition, hasn’t been around for more than 1700 years, let alone from “the beginning.” John is referring here, as he unfolds in his Gospel, to Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who dwelt among us, who is the perfect image of God. That is the beginning of our understanding about what the Word of God means or is.
In the Lutheran tradition, proclamation about Jesus (aka preaching) is secondarily the word of God. In a tertiary place stands the Bible as the word of God.
That’s the 30 second answer, and so far, that has seemed to satisfy those who felt provoked enough to inquire.
But in case people care to dig a little deeper, we’ll add about another minute and a half worth of run-down, because people might object: “But don’t we know about Jesus in the first place because of the Bible?” Yes, more or less that’s true. Although there still was not “Bible” within the Church for around 200 some years after Christ. Still, that Scriptural witness to Jesus is one of the primary ways we come to know about (and perhaps to know) Jesus. So, we’re not throwing out the Bible entirely as the “word of God,” but we are putting a caveat on it and hoping people will ask what we mean.
The Bible is our authority, but the Bible is complicated. It’s not so much a book as it is a library of books, containing multiple viewpoints, a number of voices – voices that contradict one another in many places. Part of what it means that Jesus takes precedence as the Word over the Bible comes from that contradiction. We have to ask as we read our Scriptures: “Does that sound like something Jesus would say or do?” If the answer is no, we have to follow the Jesus thread as authoritative.
If Scripture says we should dash the heads of our enemies’ babies against the rocks, and we ask the question, “Would Jesus command that?” I’m pretty sure most of us would say, “Absolutely not!”
Some might object, appealing to dispensations or appealing to God giving different messages to different people at different times, but that requires a lot of mental gymnastics, whereas simply asking the cliched-but-valuable question WWJD really simplifies it. If Jesus Christ is, as Scripture attests, the perfect reflection of the Father, and if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (again as Scripture testifies), that leads us to ask serious questions about the multiple voices in Scripture. And it must lead to the conclusion that either the Bible is schizophrenic (of that God is two-faced, sometimes wrathful, sometimes merciful), or that our view of the Scriptures needs a serious corrective.
So, neither this post nor the sign are meant to be conclusive statements, but are meant to provoke conversation, reflection, maybe even a little consternation and unsettlement. It’s Lent, after all. What better time for some deep mind and soul work?