Monday, June 1, 2015
STOPPING THE SLIDE DOWN THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
In its May 31 edition, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH of London reported how calls have reached upper level authorities in the Church of England to change its masculine references to God in THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. Following the ordination of Libby Lane, its first female bishop, the Church of England recognizes a growing sensitivity toward more inclusive understandings of the divine. While support grows for this shift, the Transformations Steering Group acknowledges how changes already taken hold in pursuit of gender equality in the liturgy. Some bishops, like Lane, agree with these changes and say no more needs done. She even goes as far as to say, “We are doing God a disservice…” by not making such adaptations to include all sensitivities. Of course, more conservative elements remind bishops that Jesus always prayed to God as Father. Still, advocates of transforming language for both worship and instruction speak to passages which ascribe feminine characteristics to God and that God is, in nature spirit—jneither male nor female. Of course, one need only guess what bias the TELEGRAPH takes on this issue. Rather than consulting a substantial opposing viewpoint, it simply states how some conservatives wish to retain the masculine language. True enough, a growing secularism has seeped inthrough the doors of Lambeth Palace. Nonetheless, the urge to take sides on this hot button issue led the paper to quote only supporters of gender equalization and inclusive language. It’s really a slippery slope—as we have witnessed in American mainline church bodies. The Episcopal’s ordination of Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop and of, Catherine Jefferts-Schory as its presiding bishop shows a trend tilting far left of center when reflecting social sensitivities. In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America churchwide assembly voted to ordain monogamous homosexual men and women to its pastorate. In 2013, it elected Elizabeth Eaton of the Ohio Synod to be its first female presiding bishop. How, then, do we who hold Scripture to be inerrant and verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit react? Pressure mounts against synods and congregations who regard God’s gifting men to be pastors as authoritative. Even in the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, women sometimes serve as lay readers during the Divine Service and as congregational presidents overseeing the business affairs those entities face on a day-to-day basis. This follows just decades after a resolution in the LCMS’s 1969 convention led to women gaining voting rights in congregational affairs. Holy Scripture allows no such slippage in the downward slope of moral decline. Nowhere in its pages do we read concrete references to God as female, though itascribes characteristics such as caring and nurturing to Him which many think reflect feminine qualities. (cf. Matt. 23:37, Ps. 93:10) Proverbs 8 personifies wisdom in feminine pronouns while remaining void of time, spatial or locative qualities. Hence, reading the Holy Scriptures as our Lord intended them, we dare not second guess the concrete language describing God—Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Rather, Scripture interprets itself—clearer passages explaining the more obscure. 1 Cor. 1:30 reveals that Jesus Christ—begotten of the Father from all eternity—has become wisdom for us. Verses such as Ps. 93:10 and Matt. 23:37 comparing the Lord’s care for His people with the motherly protection of a hen over her chicks in no way ascribes a gender characteristic to God. Rather they emphasize how Jesus’ tending nature would drive Him beyond anything mortal men and women can do. He laid down His life for His sheep. The vocation of every Christian is that of repentance. Where a congregation or church body recognizes its error in matters of God’s created and redemptive ordering, she does well to make corrections. Yet, this does not mean adopting new measures in liturgy and practice to reflect society’s moral decay. Neither becoming all things to all people to win some nor a zealous appeal to attract the unchurched justifies a callous abandonment of language that God has ordained for our use by His inerrant, written Word. Gender specific, concrete references for God, Christ, man and woman speak to the distinctions present in heaven and earth. The Athanasian Creed confesses that the Son of God is equal to the Father with respect to His deity and lesser with respect to His assumed humanity. Man is given headship which complements the woman’s helpfulness. In her administrative functions and social offices, the Church seeks to employ discernment. How aught a woman not be given to teach or have authority in the Church? (1 Tim. 2:11-14) Many theologians have interpreted Paul’s injunction to mean headship in spiritual/teaching matters only. Others have shown plausible evidence for the creative order to extend over civic responsibilities as in the home (1 Cor. 11:2-9, Eph. 5:22-27, 1 Peter 3:1, 7) To shortchange the language taught in Scripture regarding the Lord and references to Him does a disservice to us who bear witness to His salvation during His Divine Service when gathering us around Word and Sacraments and in the world at large in our daily vocations. Since, in the realm of salvation by Christ alone—neither male nor female receive higher nor lower rank, our Lord reveals Himself for our good. The oft quoted liturgical maxim proves true here—Lex orundi lex credundi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. The vice versa rings true. If liturgical formularies change for the sake of adapting to cultural sensitivities not warranted in Holy Scripture, the agents behind that change will inevitably jettison Holy Scripture’s relevance before giving an inch in working out their agenda. As with all articles of Christian belief and practice, this one reveals the heart and core issue at hand—a denial of faith alone in Christ alone which justifies us before our heavenly Father. Being the sure confidence in things hoped for (Heb. 11:1), faith/trust is no shot in the dark or a blind leap into the milieu of current fads. Instead, it clings to Christ Jesus’ certain salvation. It rests on Him in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. (Col. 2:9) With the Small Catechism, we confess, “I believe that, with my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him…” but He has gathered us under His protection, care and salvation in His Church wherein He bestows His rich and daily forgiveness of our sins which He purchased for us once for us on Calvary’s cross.