A three-fold ministry of the Word

The book Incarnational Ministry, the presence of Christ in Church, Society and Family contains an essay by Geoffrey Bromiley, The Ministry of the Word of God.

Bromiley notes that some (including many of the Reformers) define the Word of God as the Bible. However, Bromiley (following Karl Barth and others), views that definition as incomplete. For him, the Word of God is three-fold: a "triune perichoresis" of the written Word of God (Holy Scripture), the proclaimed Word of God (the church's proclamation of the apostolic gospel), and first and foremost the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. For Bromiley, this three-fold Word informs and shapes a three-fold ministry of the Word. Following is a summary of his thoughts concerning each part:

1. Ministry of the incarnate Word
Ministry is not our own - it is our participation (as the body of Christ) in the ministry of, by and through the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God:
We often forget the threefold nature of the Word and its ministry and rush on too hastily to our own role as ministers of the Word of God, and the problems associated with that role. We thus overlook the more important fact that primarily and properly the ministry is the Word's own ministry. This is preeminently true in the case of the incarnate Word. Christ the Word came into the world to minister. He "came not to be served, but to serve" (Mat 20:28)....He had, of course, his own specific ministry during his earthly years from Bethlehem to Golgotha and Olivet. But Christ also continues his ministry through his disciples and by his presence in and through the Holy Spirit. It is his Word that they speak, his acts that they do, and in his name that they minister. Their ministry is his ministry (p82).
No church at all has an autonomous ministry of God's Word... all that any church can do is participate in the ministry of Christ the incarnate Word (p83).
This participation in Christ's ministry is not the purview of clergy only:
Is it sufficiently appreciated [by the contemporary church] that the ministry of Christ the Head [of the church] implies the ministry of the whole body, the taking up of all believers in different ways and according to their different gifts, into the ministry of the incarnate Word?... All our ministry rests on commissioning by the word into the Word's own ministry (pp83-84). 
In every age one of the most urgent needs of Christian ministry is that the churches, their leaders, their synods, and their members should realize that the incarnate Word into whose ministry their own is incorporate, and from whose absolute authority their own relative authority derives, is indeed the living Lord of the church, who is not merely present on occasion (in the Eucharist!), and the invasion of whose prerogatives can bring only confusion, disruption, and failure (p85).
Bromiley addresses the structural dimensions of the church's ministry of the Word, including challenges related to church growth:
The problems of growth admit of no simple solutions, but the time has surely been long overdue for the churches to stop adapting their structures to secular models and to start conforming them to the pattern of Christ's own servant ministry, so that in this regard and at this level, too, their ministry can truly be, and be seen to be, the ministry of the incarnate Word. 
2. Ministry of the written Word
Holy Scripture is given to us as a means for us to encounter the person and ministry of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. This occurs through the Holy Spirit's work of inspiration and illumination:
God caused the Word to take written form in order to teach us that he has shown his benevolence to us through his Son... He..enables the written Word to perform [this] function by means of the Holy Spirit, whose inner witness gives it its dignity and authority... and whose illuminating makes it possible for us to perceive it to be God's Word. Nevertheless, within this ministry of Christ and the Spirit, the written Word has its own ministry into which the ministers of  the Word of God are integrated as they participate in the ministry of the Word incarnate.... The written Word has this ministry in its normative function as the original, divinely inspired, prophetic and apostolic testimony to God's revealing and reconciling Word and work. All subsequent ministry, to be authentic, must be tested and informed by this ministry (p87). 
3. Ministry of the proclaimed Word
How the incarnate Word ministers through the proclaimed Word is no less important than his ministry through the written Word, but may not be as obvious. The proclaimed Word is an "historical entity" - sometimes referred to as the church's "tradition." This word is found in the great creeds of the early church as well as in its confessions, writings, rites, ceremonies, practices, policies and institutions.

The proclaimed Word derives its authority and power from the incarnate Word, mediated by the written Word. Under this norming authority, "the proclaimed Word has a valuable ministry of insight, direction, warning, and example....[offering] helpful hints for the presentation of the gospel, the living of the Christian life, and the shaping of the church and its mission" (p91). Though the proclaimed Word is to be regarded and respected, "it does not bind us absolutely" (p91).

Conclusion
We are faithful as ministers as we give each part of the three-fold Word, "free course in proclaiming its own vital message... [letting it] say what it has to say, to teach ourselves and others how to let ourselves be told what it has to tell" (p93). As we do, Jesus uses these means not merely to present information about himself, but to present himself in a real encounter with himself - a real experiencing of his love and life, leading to our active sharing in his ongoing incarnational ministry in the world.

Bromiley concludes with an important question and comment:
Are we setting our...human ministry within the perichoresis of the ministry of the Word incarnate, written, and proclaimed? Do we here and now present Christ according to the normative biblical witness and with regard to [the church's] tested tradition [proclamation]? If we do not, no facile talk about the moving of the Spirit will give our ministry of word and work validity as the ministry of the word of God (p96).

Comments

  1. All I can say is WOW! Thank you brother Johnston for this post and the work you're putting into another great review of what appears to be another great book. It strikes me that this understanding is a welcome salve to the burn of bibliolatry rampant in neo-fundamentalism in our time. I know, because I was burned. Thanks be to the Father, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit for His communication to us. One of my favorite parts - "To be faithful ministers, we must allow each one of these parts of the Word of God to do their God-ordained work, shaping our participation in the ongoing ministry of Jesus. We must give each part "free course in proclaiming its own vital message. Our primary task is to let it say what it has to say, to teach ourselves and others how to let ourselves be told what it has to tell" (p93). As we do this, we allow Christ to present himself - not merely convey information about himself. This presentation is a real encounter - a real experiencing of Jesus' own love and life, leading to our active sharing in his own ongoing incarnational ministry in the world." Amen.

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  2. And amen. Thanks for your comment Michael.

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  3. Thanks Ted
    I just find this proper order of the Incarnate word by His faith first so restful, as opposed to my past of always trying to separate my right from the others who were of course wrong when I tried to live from the written word. Thanks again!

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  4. Anonymous5/10/2011

    Hi Ted,

    I'm curious, much of the theology I read here is identical to much of what I read from within the Eastern Orthodox church.

    Why not, if they're so similar, embrace the orthodox church? What are the differences between what GCI believes, and is trying to do, and what the Eastern Orthodox faith believes and is trying to do?

    Obviously I realize the ecclesiastical differences, but are those the only ones?

    Thanks,

    Erkki

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  5. Hi Erikki,

    I'm not an expert on the theology, doctrine and practice of the Eastern Orthodox church. However, I do know that they place a strong emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the teachings of the early church fathers - one's we often quote on this blog.

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  6. Anonymous5/10/2011

    Okay, no worries. And thanks for your response. I was just curious...

    In case you're interested, here is someone from within the Orthodox church explaining the difference between their view of the Gospel and the Protestant view. It's a short video, but in my opinion, it's a beautiful illustration of the love of God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WosgwLekgn8&feature=player_embedded

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  7. Thanks for sharing this video Erkki. It powerfully illustrates some of the differences between a *transactional* (or *forensic*) model of the atonement (which is embraced by many, but certainly not all Protestants) and a *Trinitarian-incarnational* model (the one we seek to explain on this blog).

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