Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Michael Ramsey: "The central fact of Christianity is not a book but a person"

The Bible is the sacred book of the Christian Church, but it would be wrong to infer from its exalted place in every form of Christianity that Christianity is a religion of the Book.  The central fact of Christianity is not a book but a person - Jesus Christ, described as the Word of God.  The books of the Old Testament came to have authority within the Church because Jesus Christ set the seal of his own authority upon them, and interpreted them as preparing the way for himself.  The books of the New Testament came to have authority because the Church recognized in them the authentic testimony of the apostles to Jesus Christ.  It is this relationship of the books to a person that makes them very different from a collection of oracles itself providing the basis for a religion.  Indeed both in Judaism and in Christianity, the religious belief in and experience of revelation preceded the making and the canonization of the holy books.  In both the Old and the New Testaments, therefore, the collection of sacred books was not the basis of the belief in divine revelation, but its consequence.

The conviction in the Church that Jesus Christ was himself the Word of God (John 1.14; 1 John 1.1) rested on the belief that there was in Jesus the divine utterance, not only in his teaching and message, but in himself: the Word and the person were one.  Furthermore, the Word, who was made flesh, had himself been 'in the beginning with God', at work in the creation of the world, and in giving life and light to human beings.  Thus, in a sense hard to describe yet decisively perceived, the scriptures of the Old Testament not only prepared the way for Christ, but also revealed him, as the Word of God, now incarnate in him, who had been at work from the beginning.

~ Michael Ramsey, "The Authority of the Bible" 


Jon in the Nati said...

While I agree in principle with what Ramsey is saying, it seems to me that his suggestion, in the hands of less-thoughtful persons, might be a useful way to attempt to downgrade importance of scripture to the believer and the church. While Jesus Christ is and must always be the center around which the faith rotates, it seems to me that we don't know all that much about Jesus at all apart from what is told us in the scriptures, and if the scriptures are untrue in whole or in part then we have some serious thinking to do about who and what Jesus is.

Bryan Owen said...

Thank you, Jon in the Nati, for an excellent point. It serves as a reminder that orthodox teaching can be misused and its meaning twisted.

Perhaps we do well to read what Archbishop Ramsey says here in conjunction with the Rev. Fleming Rutledge's criticisms of those who say that "Jesus Trumps the Bible."

Jon in the Nati said...

While I can't say that I was thinking directly of Rev. Rutledge's blog when writing that, I have read that post before and she is precisely on point. Indeed, there are few voices so clear and reasoned in the Anglican blogosphere as hers; would that she had been our first female presiding bishop.

I was, however, thinking directly of people who say things like "Jesus trumps the scriptures", and set up Jesus against Paul, or Jesus against the OT prophets, or even some imagined Jesus against the Jesus of the Gospels. Jesus without the scriptures is no Jesus at all; at best, he is a benign figment of our own vain imaginations, and we are in the territory long inhabited by the Jesus Seminary folks. Which is fine, I suppose, for some; but it is not historic, orthodox Christianity. Not close.

Bryan Owen said...

Thank you for the clarifying comment, Jon in the Nati. In response, I can only say: "Hammer hits nail on the head!"