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A compilation of essays and comments by concerned pastors, theologians and laypersons, challenging denominations who are denying Christ’s resurrection, ‘demythologizing’ Scripture, blessing same-sex relationships, ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.
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The namesake of this network, “WordAlone,” is taking on more meaning for me these days. I don’t remember much about the history of how that name was determined and as a “WordAlone” board member; I haven’t thought a lot about that word until recently. The reason I’ve been pondering “WordAlone” as of late has to do with the state we are in regarding the nature and authority of the Word of God.
It’s not that this is a new issue. The nature of and authority of the “Word of the Lord” are as old as our history. Currently, however, the issue is rising to the surface in new ways. Of course, the debates over how the Scriptures speak to the issue of homosexuality highlight this. But the beginnings of the latest rounds of debate over the doctrine of the Word in the Lutheran church took place in the early 1980s as preparations were made for the merger that formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
I have watched for words that signal to me a reason for concern.
Regardless of the issue, when people refer to the Scriptures and say things like “we have moved beyond the ancient writings” or “beyond the Scriptures, we must take into account what science, tradition and human experience have taught us,” our Lutheran ears ought to perk up. It’s not that people of the Word have not and cannot learn much from the world around them.
Wisdom and insight are gifts of God. Luther gifted the Church with a doctrine of vocation that clearly shows that God has called us to be priests in the “secular” world. Jesus has commanded us to love God with our minds.
The words, however, that catch my attention are ones like, “moved beyond the Scripture.” Is there an underlying assumption of progression and improvement here? Is there a cultural arrogance afoot? Is there hidden here an implication that the Word of God (being ancient and all) needs improvement or an update that, of course, only enlightened people like us can offer?
Lutherans are pretty clear about what we mean by authority when it comes to the Word of God. When we talk about the Word of God, we mean some basic things. The Word of God is an external Word. It comes not from within but from without. It has the power to actually do what it claims to us and for us. It is “where the buck stops.” There is no further appeal. It is the end (of the old) and the beginning (of the new). It establishes its own authority over us. It is the Word primarily meant to be spoken and proclaimed. Its ultimate goal is to set sinners in bondage free. This is the particular authority of the Word of God.
It is not the authority and the freedom often spoken of as self-chosen lifestyles and personal preferences. And it is not an authority that functions as something of a legal document, bolstered by human words (for example, inerrancy) that we attach to it. It is as alive as the risen Lord.
Authority as we talk about it in relationship to the Word of God is much different. The Word of God is never something we “move beyond.” It is always something beyond us and over us. Likewise, the authority of the Word of God is not something we give or take away. It is always a peculiar kind of authority that is established over us and in us by God. Its authority is most properly given as a proclaimed Word.
We can debate all we want about Biblical interpretation and hermeneutics. It is an important and helpful exercise. But if you really want to get at what Lutherans mean by the “authority of the Word of God,” it’s quite simple. Regularly place yourself in the pathway of the Word of God, surrounded by other sinning, believing, people of God. Then be prepared for the Word to do exactly what it promises to do. Namely, to put to death our self-centered ambitions and desires and bring to life a new self.
This new self discovers a new authority. There is none higher. Thank God for that!
This new and living authority causes sinners to freely confess that there is no freedom, no life and no identity outside of Jesus Christ. There is no moving beyond that. This is what makes the Word stand alone. And since we’re talking about the Lord of the universe, why in the world would you want to “move beyond” Him, even if you could?