We call it “The HOLY Gospel.” We process the Gospel, lift it up, all stand, and we read it among the people with special anthems and songs and responses. For the other readings and Psalm, we sit and listen. For some people, it seems like Anglicans are suggesting that the Gospel is Holy in a way that the rest of Scripture is not. Some folks wonder if we think the Gospel is more holy or that the other parts of Scripture are less holy or inspired.
The answer to that question may challenge a common evangelical notion of Scripture on one hand, and yet at the same time affirm the belief in all of Scripture as inspired by God. Be prepared for a slightly different paradigm that at the same time affirms the holiness of all of Scripture.
The best way to explain this is by analogy. In the Old Testament, Moses ascends the holy mountain, Sinai, where he sees God’s glory (the back of it) and then descends with the 10 Commandments. The mountain is filled with God’s presence, so is holy. The people are not to even come close to the very edge of the bottom of the mountain, lest they die. And yet at the very top, God manifests his presence to Moses in a unique way. All of the mountain is holy, and yet the perspective Moses has from the pinnacle allows him a unique view.
We see Holy Scripture this way. All of it is Holy Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. All of it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is sacred. And yet the Gospels are the holy pinnacle of this All Holy Mountain of Scripture. From the perspective of the incarnation, life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ we can look back at the Old Testament and understand it. We can look forward to the Epistles and understand them. Without the Gospels, they don’t make sense. In that sense, all of Holy Scripture is Holy, but within that holy group of books, the Gospels are “the Holy Gospel.” The word ‘holy’ means “set apart.” The Bible is “set apart” as God’s word written, and the Gospels are “set apart” within the Bible as its pinnacle.
In the Gospels, Christ himself speaks directly to us. The writer to the Hebrews says it this way: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)
Why is this important and challenging? Many of us evangelicals tend to “flatten” Scripture. That is, we see it as an inspired encyclopedia of sayings that have independent meaning, without being read in light of the Gospels. We can tend to misunderstand the Bible because we aren’t reading it as Christians should read it – with Jesus Christ as the main focus. Treating the Gospel in a unique way in our worship service, while in no way diminishing the other lessons, helps us remember to read the whole Bible with the Gospels in mind. The very words and deeds of Jesus Christ should guide us in all that we read in all of Scripture.
I hope that helps folks understand why we place a Gospel book on the altar, read the Gospel in the midst of the people, and call it “the Holy Gospel.”
Photo: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Sharada Prasad at http://flickr.com/photos/11124467@N02/14979299068. It was reviewed on by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Compass (previously known as Anglican Pastor). He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.