28 May Taking the bible seriously
There has been some recent discussion, and misinformation, about the Uniting Church in the national media. That a journalist would misrepresent people of religion is not a new phenomenon. Within the context of this episode of hurtful mis-information, I am grateful to our President Dr Deidre Palmer for clarifying the unity and diversity within the Uniting Church: https://crosslight.org.au/2019/05/27/uca-reaffirms-same-gender-marriage-stance/.
In line with Uniting Church processes, Richmond Uniting Church council voted about marriage equality last year and decided unanimously in favour of having weddings for all couples – same gender couples and heterosexual couples – who seek a Christian wedding.
This is not because we dismiss the teachings of the bible. This is because we take the bible seriously. The bible is not a simplistic text from which to draw easy answers. It is complex and rich, and has conflicting voices. The notion that the bible is the ‘word of God’ is not the understanding of New Testament writers, nor is this the understanding of the early church. The belief that the bible is the word of God is a fairly new construct, that has grown in popularity over the last few hundred years, and one that has done extraordinary damage.
The Basis of Union, the Uniting Church foundational document, celebrates the bible as ‘unique, prophetic, and apostolic testimony’ but not as the word of God (paragraph 5). The Basis makes a far more astonishing claim. Drawing from earliest expressions of Christian theology, the language of John’s gospel is utilised (John 1.1-18) as it is proclaimed that Jesus is the Word of God.
That is, Jesus is the Divine enfleshed among us, the one who breaks into our world, coming to us as a vulnerable outcast baby, living among us and healing, challenging, forgiving, including and nourishing in radical generosity, dying in a state sanctioned murder in non-retaliatory love and rising to life breathing forgiveness. This is the Word of God in 3D, the Divine uttered in person, and this is the one we give our allegiance to and follow.
Following Jesus, as the Word of God among us, does not provide easy answers. This is the holy human One who asks questions, disrupts and tells parables about the strange ‘un-kingdom-like’ reign of God and calls us into radical love for neighbours and strangers and enemies. This includes other Christians who we utterly disagree with, or who dismiss us as unfaithful.
When you dare to understand Jesus as the Word of God – not a set of rules or particular verses from the bible – in my experience God turns your life upside down. Following Jesus, as the Word of God is costly and transformative, because all our hating and arrogance and easy answers are destabilised as we are called more and more deeply into the ocean of Divine compassion. While this is a painful process, this is also an experience of homecoming like no other.
May Christians everywhere lean in to the love of Jesus, the Word made flesh, at this time when division and hatred are such popular forms of clickbait.
Rev Dr Sally Douglas