The Gospel as the unique witness of Jesus
the heart and longing of God for all people.
By Rt. Rev. Cate Waynick, Bishop of Indianapolis
Addressed originally to the Bishops-Deputies Discussion List
Reprinted here with Bishop Waynick’s permission.
I so seldom respond to these postings that it can be tempting to post a very long response to this one; I'll try to be brief. Count it as my next six postings in one!
I find myself both weary and wary of comments that imply that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is identical to the entire corpus of sacred writ. The declaration I have signed three times in my life - before God and the Church - states that I believe the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation.
But this is not at all the same thing as saying that these writings are the words of God, as if they all carried the same weight, or were each equally accurate in their description of God's motivations, activities, or Being.
Neither is it the same thing as saying that all things contained in those writings are necessary to believe - the declaration could have been worded that way, and was not. What is necessary to believe is there - but it is not all necessary, and much of it has been misunderstood - Jesus pointed that out more than once.
An African bishop recently told our House of Bishops that when the missionaries went to Africa "they brought the Gospel - and the Gospel was a book." He went on to say that it had taken all these years for some of the churches in Africa to learn that the Gospel is a good deal more than the Book.....and when they were just beginning to feel they were getting alongside the western church in understanding that, ECUSA headed off in a direction they could not embrace. "You left us behind," he told us. It was electrifying to hear.
The Gospel of Jesus is about God's unfailing love - even for those who have been considered unacceptable by the church. This Sunday's lesson from Matthew is a case in point. And lest anyone respond by saying that Jesus described Matthew as being "sick" for his decisions, let us also recall the occasions on which he rebuked his followers who wanted to cast "others" out by telling them "if they are not against us they are for us."
The Hebrew Scriptures give us holy and unique accounts of the way in which the Jews perceived God to be working among them. They provide us the historical religious underpinnings of God's activity in the Incarnation, ministry, death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus the Christ. We read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them because we still encounter God's challenge, promise, rebuke, healing, comfort, forgiveness, and reconciliation in them. But we do not count them inerrant, nor should we give any of them priority over the teachings of Jesus. Not the prophets, not the writings of Paul, not the Apocalypse of John. Many of them point to the Gospel, many attempt to provide apology for it, many help us understand it; but they do not equal it.
We have to be consistent here; if Jesus is the utterly unique image of God among us, if Jesus is the Incarnate One we claim him to be, then we simply must give his unique witness to the Being and character of God a unique and most weighty place in our faith and teachings. His witness is "the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and there can be no usurpation of that place by other writings any more than the Christians at Corinth could faithfully identify themselves as belonging to Paul or any other apostle rather than Jesus.
But as our friend pointed out to us, the Gospel is more than the Book. It is the accumulated witness of people who have experienced Christ and the Holy Spirit within them, and whose lives have borne witness to the transforming, healing, reconciling love of God in Christ. When that transformation turns persons from promiscuity, abusiveness, exploitation, and wanton-ness, and towards mutual regard, commitment, fidelity, monogamy, and love then it seems to me we must count that as evidence of God's grace at work.
In the end, I have become convinced that our disagreements are not really about how we interpret and honor the writings. What is at stake in this controversy is power and control. The Bible has always been useful in the attempts to beat others over the head, and this circumstance is not different. Power over others is heady stuff, and we each need constantly to guard and examine our own motivations in trying to gain and use it.
What Jesus described as life in the Kingdom was often perceived as unfair and wrong by his “orthodox” hearers. And until we face the possibility that the "unforgivable" sin against the Holy Spirit may be the refusal to believe that our forebears were wrong about some thing(s) they didn't understand any more than they understood cosmology, and that the Spirit may now be leading us into one of those truths the first disciples "could not bear to hear" two thousand years ago, we run the continued risk of casting out those who ought to be included.
When Jesus described the last judgment to his friends it was all about works of mercy to the least and last - not about keeping the leadership group "pure" according to some standard they found elsewhere in the writings. And when he had the chance to strike a definite blow for the purity of the congregation, he asked that those without sin cast the first stone. They left before he had a chance to ask them to give account for their actions.....he might have asked them about their motivation - what they were really thinking when they brought the adulterous woman to him, just as he may one day ask us, "What were you thinking?"
Just as we have to stand up and reclaim "Christianity" and "Christian Values" from their growing captivity by the religious right, we have to reclaim the Gospel as the unique witness of Jesus to the heart and longing of God for all people.
Which brings me to my second point of great weariness -- the continued pronouncement that ECUSA is selling out to the values of the sin-ridden world. The world in our neck of the woods has no intention of providing anything like parity for persons of homosexual orientation - whether they are in committed, faithful, monogamous relationships or not. Provision of marriage-like benefits is not even on the horizon. In fact, the City-County Council of Indianapolis has recently voted that employers are justified in denying benefits and rights to gay employees which are routinely granted to others. Far from embracing the values of the world around us, we are an alternative to them.
All the above for what it's worth... probably far more beneficial to me to write it than for you to read.:-)
Peace to all of you and all whom you love,
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