Signposts: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
+Michael Ramsey often referred to creeds, liturgies and dogmas as “signposts to the Gospel”. That is, they are not to be isolated or set aside from the biblical narrative, the life of the Church or the central message of the Gospel itself that in the Incarnation, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. When we take any particular aspect of Christian faith and become absolute and/or rigid in our thinking, we run the risk of mistaking the signpost as ultimate, while at the same time ignoring the very Gospel which we are being pointed towards. All this is to say, that creeds, dogma, liturgies and, indeed, daily Christian conduct are to be measured by one thing and one thing only, and that is the Gospel.
If one were looking for a single brief passage that describes the Incarnation that is at the heart of the Gospel, the kenosis passage of the Letter to the Philippians might arguably be the best.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped after, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”
We are now living through a troubled time in which all that was once normal has been disrupted. This is true of our working lives. It is true of our lives with family and friends. It is also true of our life as the Church. With regard to the Church, we have witnessed the disruption of what we consider to be “normal” church life, especially in regard to gathering for worship. I will readily admit that in a country as large as ours, with churches in many differing locales and situations, there may be arguments which can be made on both sides of the issue. What does concern me, however, is twofold in nature.
Firstly, I am concerned about the politicization of the issue. As you might imagine, I have a number of Bibles on my bookshelves. Some of these Bibles have a section of writings called the Apocrypha placed between the Old Testament and the New Testament. These were deemed valuable for believers, but not necessarily canonical. What I have not found in any of these Bibles, however, is the United States Constitution. Now, as a US citizen, I certainly have rights enshrined in the Constitution. Moreover, one might argue that there are religious rights enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, does the assertion of rights, whether individual or corporate, carry greater weight than the central message of the Gospel as put forward in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians?
Secondly, I am concerned that in the clamor to congregate in larger groups once again, we are confusing the “signpost” nature of the Church with what the Church is to encompass, which is the Gospel. If I have come to one conclusion in my theological studies, it is that the Church owes its existence to the Gospel. The Church is, in the words of +Michael Ramsey, “the extension of the Incarnation”. That is, we are to show those very attributes outlined in the kenosis passage above in our daily and weekly and yearly life. It is not about an assertion of our rights or our demands, especially, I believe in a time such as we are living through at the moment.
Now, I fully recognize that there will be those who disagree with me on this matter. All I can say is that for me this is a matter of Christian conscience. While I may have political opinions, to allow those opinions to hold sway over the Gospel and, indeed, my looking “to the interests of others” is something that I cannot do.