Christians mean different things when they say the “Word of God.”
WRITTEN WORD OF GOD
The default response for the “Word of God” is the Bible—God’s Word on paper…or on your electronic device. Roman Catholics, Orthodox believers, fundamentalists and evangelicals agree that the Bible is the Word of God. Mainline churches, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in which I serve, affirm that the Bible is the Word of God.
INCARNATE WORD OF GOD
Christians refer to Jesus as the incarnate Word of God, although they may wobble on relating the incarnate and the written Word of God. The ELCA, unlike most churches, initiates its declaration on the Word of God by beginning with Jesus rather than with the Bible (Point #2 Jesus, Point #3 Bible):
2. This congregation confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
a. Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation.
b. The proclamation of God’s message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
c. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.
3. This congregation accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
Point #3 is emphatically affirmed by evangelicals. Point #2’s threefold understanding of Word of God has a lot in common with Karl Barth.
PREACHING AND WORD OF GOD
Point #2B, proclamation as Word of God, is the hardest one for me to figure out. Christians sometimes feel like God has told them, or shown them, something during a sermon. We vary on how we refer to this phenomenon. What is it? Can it be God speaking? The ELCA, charismatics and Pentecostals all lean toward saying yes.
The following three diagrams show my attempt to visualize the “Word of God” as used by:
1. Evangelicals & Fundamentalists
2. Mainline Scholars (Historical criticism)
3. ELCA Lutherans & Charismatics
The Mainline Scholars view is exemplified by the Reverend Doctor Clint Schnekloth in his blog, Lutheran Confessions: “Quite a lot of the way the Bible is read in Christianity today [mainline] Lutherans are troubled by, because it assumes that the Bible is the Word of God itself, rather than the cradle in which Christ lies, the space in which Christ is met.” Note: his view sounds contradictory to his church body’s constitution (C 2.03, p. 19).
What do you mean by the “Word of God”? Time for your comment…
For Lutherans only, here’s a bit more stuff for tribal comparisons:
The ELCA view is shown above by the excerpt from its constitution. This threefold understanding of the Word of God is repeated very closely by the more conservative splinter groups—Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ and the North American Lutheran Church. A qualified version of this view is held by The Association of American Lutheran Churches, an earlier splinter group that now works closely with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
TAALC has pulpit fellowship with LC-MS and has a partial version of the threefold understanding of Word of God:
“The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the ‘Word of God’ only in a derivative sense. For all preaching of the Word of God (Law and Gospel) has its only ultimate and infallible authority in the Bible. Therefore, preaching (kerygma) cannot be regarded as a source of the Word of God apart from Scripture.”
TAALC The Doctrine of the Word (TAALC began in 1987)