LETTER FROM AMERICA

GOOD-BYE TO THE FATHER

 

I THINK THE SITUATION is somewhat different in England, but here the official liturgical body is a group in whose works the Christian faith is slowly erased — subtly and quietly and often indirectly, but effectively and energetically.

The Standing Liturgical Commission has just released a new report, titled Enriching or Bankrupting Worship. It offers rites written in what is now called "expansive language," but was once called "inclusive language." The reasons for this change in the approved term I do not know, nor can I intuit, but I do not trust it, given that it originates with the people it does.

In the preface to the book, the new presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, announces that the new rites included in the book reflect "the prayer experience of women, and the desire to honor that experience." "Women," here, it goes without saying, is a category that does not include women like my wife and Sara Low and Mother Theresa. It means "Women who agree with me," which is, let me just point out, a fairly patriarchal thing to say (even when a woman says it).

The child but not the Son
According to Peter Toon, for whose ministry of slogging through this stuff the rest of us give thanks, "The results of seeking to meet the experience of women is that no prayer in the new forms of Morning and Evening Prayer (except the Lord’s Prayer if used), the Great Litany, or the Holy Eucharist actually addresses ‘the Father.’ In none of the three eucharistic prayers is Jesus Christ called ‘the Son.’ He is ‘the Word,’ ‘the Christ,’ ‘the Child,’ and ‘the human’." ("The human." Now there’s a title to inspire devotion.)

The rites replace the Trinitarian opening acclamation with "Blessed be the one, holy and living God" and replace the closing blessing with "Holy eternal Majesty, Holy incarnate Word, Holy abiding Spirit, bless you evermore." The Names of the Father and the Son are still used in the Nicene Creed, but only, I am sure, because even the Standing Liturgical Commission doesn’t yet feel quite safe in substantially rewriting the Creed.

Nor do they need to. The effect they evidently wish their rites to have, of reducing the content of the Christian revelation to one set of metaphors among many, is achieved by putting the Creed in a liturgy which denies any status to the Names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Placed in that context, afloat in a sea of "expansive" language, the Creed becomes a sort of memorial or reminder of the Church’s heritage, but not an authority for its life today. This justifies them in choosing metaphors more to their taste, and the God of the "expansive" liturgies is always an expansive sort of God, a sort of uncle who cheers your best efforts and winks at your misbehavior and might even help pay for it.

The danger of these rites is that the changes are so subtle. The formulas they use to speak of God are tripartite and always given in religious and often biblical language — they look trinitarian even though they are not. They use a trinitarian form and somewhat traditional language, but in fact speak of the Trinity as three ways God works in the world or three ways He (or She or It) shows Himself (or Herself or Itself) to us, not as three Persons in an ordered relation into whose life we can enter.

The average layman, who is a bit hazy on the doctrine of the Trinity, may instinctively cringe or even bristle when he first hears these rites, but he will not be able to object. Indeed, he will not want to, as we have been taught that such instincts are simply prejudices — prejudices not in the sense of reasonable prejudgments, but in the sense of biases or bigotries.

The new rites’ trinitarianism seems close enough to the old one’s as not to be worth fighting about. And after using them awhile, the layman will be even hazier on the doctrine of the Trinity than he was before.

Now — this is the fun part —Bp Griswold believes that these rites are consistent with the normative Trinitarian and Christological formulas of the Anglican tradition. "The evidence," Dr Toon notes, "points to a totally different conclusion, that the Commission has rejected the classic dogma of the Church to embrace a form of modalism: one Deity who has three aspects or manifestations and who may be named out of human religious experience, but not according to the Names of sacred Scripture or of the historic liturgies."

Official feminism in Canada
Incorporating such things even more officially, the Anglican Church of Canada will at their convention this summer consider and presumably approve three new eucharistic prayers to add to their Book of Alternative Services, two of which are openly feminist and the third feminist or feminized Evangelical.

The first begins (again I've taken the quotations from Dr Toon) "Lover of creation, you conceived us before all time and contained us in the ocean of your steadfast love" and at another point prays "Gracious God, mother and father of us all." The second begins "Ancient Love, Source of all being, you

sent your firstborn child to stand with the poor, the outcast and the oppressed." Neither speak anywhere of the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit. The third prayer does not include such "inclusive" language but neither does it address the Father as "the Father," speaking to Him instead as "holy and gracious God" and the like. In keeping with its design as a compromise between traditional and feminist liturgical language, it does refer to our Lord as "your only Son" (not as the "only-begotten Son," which is to lose an important fact), though even that Name is of ambiguous meaning when the Father is not also named.

The first two can be rejected out of hand but the third may prove seductive to well-meaning conservatives. One might argue how often the Father and the Son ought to be named in a liturgy, though one would think the converted heart would want to say "Father" over and over again, but it seems obvious to me that a liturgy in which their Names are spoken as little as possible is a decisive step away from orthodox Christianity. It is, at best, a choice to be neither hot nor cold, for which our Lord prescribed a particularly unpleasant penalty.

Other news
I
n other news, Bp John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, one of the four remaining active bishops in the ESA — the American equivalent of Forward in Faith, though less bold — has let an ordained woman, who had moved to the area with her husband, serve a parish in his diocese. She is serving without a license, but Bp Schofield has agreed not to charge her for doing so, as she is canonically resident in one diocese and under the care of the bishop of another.

He is the third of the four to make some sort of arrangement to let women work in his diocese. William Wantland of Eau Claire, who is retiring after the Lambeth Conference, had already allowed a woman to celebrate in the cathedral, and Jack Iker of Fort Worth has arranged with a neighboring bishop to oversee a parish in his diocese that calls an ordained woman.

 

David Mills is director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, where he edits their magazine Mission & Ministry (www.episcopalian.org/tesm/missmini). He is editing a book of essays titled The Pilgrims’ Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, including essays by Harry Blamires, Kallistos Ware, Stratford Caldecott, and Sheridan Gilley, which will be published by Eerdmans this summer.