1/04/2011

The Archbishop of Canterbury on the Bible in the Life of the Church

BabyBlue posted the Archbishop of Canterbury's reflection on the Bible in the Church. Thanks to her for reminding me that this had been done. BB says, "This is a very good talk and it's not just what he says that resonates, but also how he says it. His audience is broad. It is worth seriously pondering by all sides of the division in the Episcopal and Anglican churches in the United States, especially as we remember this year the magnificent gift to the world of the King James Bible."

BB is right. The talk is quite succinct and clear. I was delighted to hear the Archbishop talk about the "Anglican family" rather than "The Anglican Church."  When he talks about the church he is clearly speaking of a body quite different than that of any specific church. 

The Bible comes to have a special place in our hearts, often for reasons tangential (or at least I think so) to the sort of symbiotic relationship between bible and church or bible and believer to which the Archbishop refers. 

Just after WWII my family lived in Venezuela. We didn't have much in the way of books and there was little to occupy the evenings - no TV, no radio save for local music.  So my father would take down the family bible - a huge thing - and read from it. This didn't happen too often, but I remember because the stories were hard to understand as a six year old but the language and the weight of the book and the formality of sitting at Ed's feet and listening was all quite magical.  I felt as if I was taking part in a project that carried these words forward.

When I was fourteen I took confirmation classes at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans. One afternoon we were being shown around the church and I asked the Canon conducting the class if I could go to the lectern and read from the bible there.  The Canon thought it odd that I would ask, and said, "Of course." I said, "Can just anyone go and read from the bible?"  He found that an interesting teaching moment to talk about how, when the bible first appeared in English, people would go and read from the bible in Church, much as some people in communities where there were not many TVs would go to a public square or other gathering place and watch together there.  It was then that I began to get a sense of just what having the Bible available was all about. 

It took a long time for me to get used to the idea that the Bible - which I knew in English, and in particular in the King James version - was only one of many translations, versions, items of transmission of culture and class in various contexts, etc.  Why a particular Spanish translation was considered venerable, or why the bible in German helped shape the German language, or what it meant in a society that had no written language to be presented with BOTH a written language and the Bible at the same time... these have all been matters that entered my consciousness only over many years.  I have to confess that the Bible in "original" tongues has often been elusive. I am a terrible language student and have stumbled toward some sense of the first meaning of words and phrases in Greek or Hebrew with difficulty.

So now when I hear the word "Bible" it still points to the KJV I heard from Ed, but also to the bible I used in services in Spanish in Puerto Rico, the readings I heard in Kirkentellensfort Germany on Christmas Day, the psalms sung in St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church in Bucharest, the Bib La in Haitian Creole.  And, of course, it took a long time to remember that there is an element of esteem given the Bible that echoes (and sometimes rather dimly so) the reverence given the Torah by Jews. So the Bible in the life of the Church has its elder parallel in the Torah in the life of the people Israel.

The theme, "The Bible in the Life of the Church" is very broad and opens many doors for conversation. The Archbishop's comments only touch the surface of what might come from such an exploration.  In some ways I see this project as a healthy and useful way for Anglicans to talk to each other about how the Bible and the Church are mutually invigorating. We know that mutuality is there - we know the Bible better for being the Church and we know the Church better for being people of the Bible. It will be useful to talk about it.

Still, I am concerned that the word "Bible" refers too readily to the text - in original form or in translation - and not as easily to "The Word," the bible that both feeds and consumes us, the bible written not in words but in our hearts as we work our way through the words.  William Stringfellow remarked that over the years he lived more and more inside the Word.  It ceased to be an object, something to be used or not, and became a subject. It ceased to be an "it" and became a "thou."  That Bible is less easily encountered in conversations about "The Bible."

Archbishop Williams begins by saying, "The Bible is how God tells us what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do." This can be taken, and will be by some, as a statement that the Bible is God's word to humankind, laying out a plan of sorts, or at least assuring us that there is an unfolding of purpose and action.  And that is so.  Yet it is not "just" so.  

The Bible is also how various writers, storytellers, singers, lovers, kings, etc, witness to God in the life of the people. So even there it is not only about God's doing, but about our doing and where God is understood to be in it.  So the Bible cannot be understood as a "plan" of salvation. It is also the record of the understanding of a people, and then a world of people, who struggle with what God has done, is doing, will do, in their lives. 

This video is worth the watching and every word carries weight. At the same time it is good to remember that the word "Bible" has come with such weight that it is almost impossible to remember too that it is how our predecessors help us prepare to struggle with God and God's doings, now.


4 comments:

  1. I would think the ABC would know God did not write the Bible - that would make me doubt God and would definitely make me wonder about the ABC and his theology.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ann, God did write the Bible in the original "Authorized Version" using the King James publishing house. Everyone knows that.

    FWIW
    jimB

    ReplyDelete
  3. How can anyone continue to take Mr. Williams seriously?

    I, personally, seriously doubt his call to ordination.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for the kind words, Mark. God bless you.

    bb

    ReplyDelete

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