Thursday, October 15, 1987

Liturgical Texts for Evaluation

Liturgical Texts for Evaluation

A Response by the Faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry

By Stephen F. Noll

BEGINNING in May 1987, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, along with the other seminaries of the Episcopal Church, was invited by the Standing Liturgical Commission to participate in the testing of a set of new "inclusive language" liturgies. The faculty was most eager to have a say in the process but also felt that it would be irresponsible to impose a set of rites on our community without seeing them first. After some discussion on this point, we were allowed to participate on these terms. We have collected, read, marked, and familiarized ourselves with the explanatory documents that accompanied the rites, especially the Occasional Paper 5 by Prof. Robert A. Bennett, the Leaders’ Manual, and the Educational Packet on Inclusive Language.

When the Liturgical Texts for Evaluation at last arrived, we met together at some length to determine whether we could, in fact, commend them for use in our seminary chapel. We concluded unanimously that we could not. The reasons for this decision, we feel, require a lengthy justification. We hope the Standing Liturgical Commission will give serious consideration and response to this statement.

The principal reason we could not in conscience use these rites in our chapel is that we believe they involve major linguistic, conceptual, and theological innovations in the Biblical and historical tradition of the Church. The rule of lex orandi lex credendi — that what we pray expresses what we believe — is particularly applicable in Anglicanism, where the Prayer Book is the main pillar of doctrinal expression. Because liturgical changes have theological implications, Anglicans have always been very conservative about revising the Church’s rites. For all the minor changes in Anglican liturgy over four centuries, the fixed character of the liturgical forms has represented a powerful theological mainstream even as Anglican theologians and preachers were swayed by the eddies of Calvinism, Deism, Methodism, Catholicism and modernism.

In the debates of the 1960’s and ‘70’s over the revision of the American Book of Common Prayer, the overall impression given by its proponents was that the new rites were not intended as a change in theology but as an updating of the language of the traditional liturgy in the contemporary idiom. They argued, in fact, that the new liturgies were more pristine than the Reformation rite and were based on the recovery of subapostolic rites not available to the Reformers. In this sense, the new Prayer Book was portrayed as more, rather than less, "classical", i.e., based in apostolic tradition, than the 1928 Prayer Book.

The accuracy of this "back to basics" apology for the Prayer Book was called into question by Urban T. Holmes, a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission at the time of the revision. In a succinct and cogent essay included in Worship Points the Way (1982), Holmes claimed that there was a definite theological agenda behind the 1976 revision. The new liturgy, he said, was a deliberate reflection of trends within academic theology in the ‘60’s — taking as its starting point the "bankruptcy of so-called ‘classical theology’."

The shift, then, in liturgical renewal in the Episcopal Church coming at this time away from Cranmer and the Tudor deity should not then be at all surprising. It is unfortunate in one sense — although strategically understandable — that we were not clear to ourselves and to others that a real theological crisis lay behind the liturgical movement. This explication of the theological crisis would have served to make what was happening in the new rites not just a pastoral concern or a question of literary taste, but a theological response to our age. It would probably have also made revision that much more controversial. (pp. 131-33)

Holmes’s views, stated with disarming forthrightness (but after the new book was adopted!) were, we understand, denied by other members of the Commission; and in fact his claims do not seem to be borne out by the text of the new Prayer Book. No doubt there were new theological tendencies incorporated in the new Prayer Book; however, with the inclusion of Rite One, many "classical" Episcopalians have been satisfied that, by and large, the book is an adequately balanced expression of basic Christianity in the Anglican tradition, superior to the revisions of many other denominations.

When Holmes wrote in the early ‘80’s, he seemed to expect that the 1979 Prayer Book "would be appropriate for people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries." He either underestimated the addiction to change in modern society and theology, or he thought the forces of inertia in the Church made further revision unlikely. Other liturgical leaders have promoted the notion that there should be perpetual, ongoing liturgical innovation, that everyone should be writing his or her own liturgies for all sorts of occasions and groups. Hence the new Leaders’ Manual speaks of "one prayer in many voices." But the truth of this view is not self-evident. In fact, historically liturgical language is usually "behind the times" and only updated when the most pressing need for such is felt by the Church and after protracted prayer and debate.

So, is there such a pressing need today, ten years after the most recent revision? The Leaders’ Manual (p. 3) speaks of a "general concern" for more inclusive language in liturgy, emerging as a "grassroots" movement that included various interest groups that feel oppressed, including feminists, the elderly, the handicapped, and liberation theologians. But has anyone in the Church actually polled the "grassroots" to see if such a need is really widespread? Are average Episcopalians, many of whom use Rite One or even the 1928 Prayer Book, really pushing for alternative rites? Do the women (and men) of the Church really feel oppressed when they pray to a heavenly Father and confess Jesus as Lord? We would challenge the Standing Liturgical Commission to produce evidence that there is a widespread dissatisfaction among the people of the Church with the existing Rites, such as to justify the time, effort and money, not to mention the emotional trauma and internal dissension, that such revision entails. We would urge the General Convention to make clear to the Church as a whole what its future plans are for a general revision of the Prayer Book.

We have no doubt that there are interest groups (e.g., feminists and liberation theologians) who would like to see the language of the liturgy changed. Theoretically, one could justify new alternative rites in the name of pluralism (just as we have Rites One, Two, and Three, etc.). This would seem to be the rationale of the Leaders’ Manual (p. 2), which speaks of "many voices" and rejoices in the liturgical diversity of our Anglican heritage.

But there is another voice, represented in all the explanations of the new rites, which is not pluralistic at all. It speaks of "the growing imperative" for inclusive language. It labels traditional (i.e. Biblical) usage as a "problem," the product of a "cultural overlay" and "patriarchal bias," "insensitive," an instrument of "masculine domination" etc. There is a strongly apodictic tone throughout all the materials:

. . .every effort should be made to relieve the preponderance of masculine usages in the free prayers. . . . Yet not only in these prayers but in all other contexts mentioned above, masculine pronouns for God should be replaced with the word "God", or else sentences with the objectionable sequence "God . . . he . . . he . . . his" should be recast so as to avoid such sequences." (OP5, p. 8)

This argument would lead us to suspect that the purpose is not only to offer an alternative but to require the Church to embrace one "inclusive" usage.

We sense that a particular course of revision is being charted following the earlier Prayer Book revision. The rubrics (LTE, p. 60) draw an analogy between the two new rites and the early "Services for Trial Use" which preceded the 1979 Prayer Book, which later became normative (Rite Two). Beyond that, they justify their "conservative" adaptation of Rite Two texts analogously to the conservative revision of BCP 1928, which resulted in Rite One. Finally, they argue that by supplying a recognizable Rite Two service, they are free to experiment with the innovative rites like "Image of God" and "Nurturing God," just as earlier revisers were freed, by preserving Rite One, to introduce the innovative Rite Two eucharistic prayers.

If the commission is serious about this analogy, are we to infer that the next general revision of the Prayer Book would look like this?:

  • 1979 Rite One is relegated to occasional use at minor services and only with the Bishop’s permission. (Thus Joseph P. Russell writes that no changes were made in Rite One because it "was included in the present Book of Common Prayer as a bridge to the language and imagery of earlier Prayer Books," i.e. it is transitional and will pass away in the next Prayer Book.)
  • 1976 Rite Two is replaced by Rite Two Adapted and becomes the traditional "bridge" liturgy;
  • Some version of "Image of God" or "Nurturing God" or some other as yet unseen rite becomes the contemporary and normative form of worship.

If it is not the intention of the Standing Liturgical Commission to work toward making these new liturgical texts normative, we would urge them to say so clearly. Many Episcopalians, who have come to suspect that decisions on how they worship are made, even in the name of "inclusivity," by the interest groups and bureaucracies of the national Church would take comfort in any such disavowal.

We are grateful for the supporting documents that explain the new rites. It is, in fact, essential that Church leaders evaluating these rites read the documentation carefully. Some of the changes in the rites appear to be innocuous in themselves; no doubt that is how they will be taken by some worshipers. One wonders whether this is not in fact the "strategy" which Holmes claimed was used in 1976. The rationale presented in Occasional Paper 5 and the Leaders’ Manual makes clear, in a way never made explicit in the 1976 revision, that the new rites are based on a theological rejection of the "cultural context of the Judeo-Christian heritage" in favor of a new theology which is trying "to find new ways of freeing the liberating word of Scripture and the Christ-experience" (OP5, p. 2).

The Leaders’ Manual suggests, rather disingenuously, that the new rites represent "Biblical, Patristic, Lutheran, Calvinist and Evangelical inspirations," but the true theological debts of this new theology are revealed most fully in the "short annotated bibliography" attached to the Educational Packet. There it is clear that the inclusive language movement is a specific program of feminist theology. Feminist theology is a young movement, still defining itself over against classic Christianity. "For those who want to remain within the Christian tradition and still consider themselves feminists, the question: Can there be a Christian feminist theology? will remain a serious one for a long time." (Patricia O’Connell Killen in St. Luke’s Journal of Theology, Dec. 1986, p. 39).

Some of these Christian feminists are busy constructing alternative rites, including exorcisms of "patriarchal" biblical texts and such "patriarchal" theologians as Tertullian, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther,and Karl Barth (see Rosemary Reuther, Women-Church [1985] pp. 137ff.).

We want to know whether these liturgies are written as a defense of the faith against the aberrations of theologians like Reuther, in the spirit of "thus far and no farther," or whether they are to be regarded as "softening up" rites, breaking ground for a fuller feminist liturgy? It would seem the latter is the case. There is no warning in any of the materials that feminism might contain distortions to the faith: hierarchy apparently is the only threat. Furthermore, the revisers see the present texts as only a bridge to a yet more radical revision: "The time may come when, by using the images of this rite in prayer, another generation may well reform and renew the perceptions and images of God sufficiently to actually call God "Mother" without hurting and alienating many faithful people." (LM, p. 23). Given the foreshortening of the generations in liturgical renewal, would it not be fair to expect that some of the more advanced feminist liturgies will become trial rites before long? Or on what theological principle could they be rejected?

The Anglican commitment to diversity is, we think, based on that Christian freedom which proceeds from a unity in the central affirmations of the faith. Thus the Preface to the Prayer Book (BCP, p. 9) speaks of worship in different forms and usages, "provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire..." This substance has, classically, been summed up in the creeds; and the creeds themselves are seen as quintessential summaries of Scriptural revelation. Our central contention is that the new "Liturgical Texts" involve major and serious inconsistencies with classic Biblical and credal Christianity. We shall now attempt to detail some of those inconsistencies.

The Self-Identification of God as "He"

At the heart of our objection to the thrust of the new rites is their obscuring of the self-identification of God in masculine and hierarchical terms. Underlying all Biblical religion is the affirmation that God has revealed himself. In the Old Testament, that mysterious God reveals himself in specific, personal terms as "I" ("I AM"), as "Thou" (masculine singular) and as "I am he" (Isa 43:10). He reveals himself as Lord, not only in titles of dominion ("Lord," "King," "Almighty," "Most High," etc.) but in word and deed. In the New Testament, this same God continues to be addressed as "he" and "Lord" but now with more specificity as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 1:3). Jesus teaches us to hallow his name as "Father." The masculine referents for God and his lordship are ubiquitous in Scripture, and not once does God refer to himself directly as "she" or "it." Thus the exercise suggested in the Educational Packet of reading Psalm 136 with "she" instead of "he" has no Biblical precedent.

Given the universal testimony of the Bible and orthodox Christianity, we wonder on what possible basis the Leaders’ Manual can assert baldly: "We know that God is not ‘he,’ except in the incarnate Jesus. . ." (p. 8). We would agree that God is not a male, since he is "without body, parts, or passions" (BCP, p. 867). We would claim that God’s self- identification in masculine terms is truly representative, implying no preferential treatment of the human male, since both male and female are created in his image, both have fallen into sin, and both are co-heirs with Christ of salvation. We would also gladly affirm God’s mysterious "otherness" which is beyond the grasp of human language. Nevertheless, while other options were clearly available in Biblical times from the surrounding cultures, he has revealed himself once and for all as one Lord God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and all classical Christian worship, following Jewish precedent, has ever addressed him in these terms.

We are glad to affirm that God who is the Author of all good things, is also pleased to express attributes of his nature in terms of feminine imagery. It is quite possible that the liturgy has been deficient in drawing from these analogies. But at no point does he ever call himself "she" or "Mother" or any other feminine appellation. The attempt to find a feminine self-attribution for God is itself proof of the contrary. God’s wisdom, which is nothing more than a vivid personification of one of his attributes, is frequently given a feminine Gestalt; but whenever the hymns to wisdom refer to God himself its usage returns to "he." Thus, for instance, in Wisdom 10:20 ("A Song of Wisdom" LTE, p. 19), "Solomon" describes the way the wisdom of God ("she") led the people of Israel, but then he addresses his prayer to the Lord and "your" (masc. sing.) Name. Likewise, in Ecclus. 51:13ff. ("A Song of Pilgrimage" LTE p. 20), verse 22 states that "my tongue shall declare his praises," a fact purposely obscured in the new translation.

The rubrics to Morning Prayer (LTE, p. 6) and the Leaders’ Manual (p. 7) declare the desirability of retaining masculine references to God as "Father" and "Lord" out of respect for Biblical faith, but they also find it necessary to "diminish" that usage by obscuring common Biblical and liturgical references to God as "he," "Lord," or "Father." The new liturgies adopt what could be called the "fig-leaf" approach to masculine language for God. They are not so radical as to introduce direct ascriptions to God as "she," but they try to cover up the masculine pronouns by various circumlocutions. This usage of course only lessens the offense of Biblical idiom in the ears of those who are ready to be offended. It also leads to the wooden or convoluted style characteristic of so many "desexed" texts. Who except the ideologue, for example, would really think the new Magnificat (LTE, p. 25) is a more pleasing rendition or, for that matter, a more accurate translation?

One device for avoiding the masculine pronoun is constant repetition of nouns: "God has cast down the powerful... God has filled the hungry... God has come to the help of Israel..." Another variation of this approach is the revival of the English relative pronoun, discarded in the 1979 BCP. The revisers generally see English as disadvantaged in comparison with Latin idiom (cf. OP5, p. 3) because of the ambiguity of "man" as opposed to homo and vir (however, note Psalm 1 — Beatus vir). In fact, they frequently substitute Latinate for Germanic words ("royal" and "reign" instead of "kingly" and "kingdom") as if that made any difference to the gender connotations of the language. But they are perfectly willing to prefer the English "who," when it hides the masculine gender of the pronoun as, for instance, in: "Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world; whoever [Grk: generic "he who. . ."] follows me will not walk in darkness. . ." (LTE, p. 44). Another technique is the use of passive voice for active voice to avoid mention of the masculine subject ("For great things have been done for me by the Almighty. . .").

When all else fails, they simply omit the offending masculine pronoun even when it is in the original text. Thus all the invitatory antiphons end abruptly with "Come let us worship" and the "Song of Creation" asks us to "sing and give honor for ever." Apart from simply being petty, the removal of the pronoun object encourages a new, subjectivized notion of worship: "Come, let us be worshipful." (For a discussion of the effects of such a change, see D. L. Jeffrey, Reformed Journal, August 1987, pp. 17-18.)

The substitution of the noun "God" either for masculine pronouns or for other titles like "Lord" is ultimately futile because although English "God" does not have a masculine case ending as it does in Greek and Latin, the word "God" is understood in Western culture to have masculine connotations. That this is so is, of course, largely a result of the impact of the Bible on English. In other words, by using "God" the rites are hardly going to stop ordinary people from conceiving of him in masculine terms. What is probable, despite the disclaimers (LM, p. 5), is that the overuse of "God" will convey an abstractness which will diminish the personal identity of the triune God, as is characteristic of all "ground of Being" theologies.

We could multiply examples of this technique of seeking to "diminish the customary emphasis on the masculine attributes of God" (LM, p. 6). This method does not succeed in truly satisfying those who are unhappy with the Biblical and traditional language for God, and it is annoying at best for those who find this idiom natural (and we suspect this includes the vast majority of church people). Beyond that, we see in this attempt to diminish the "customary" expressions an attempt to diminish God as he reveals and names himself. Of course, it is not God who is diminished in this process but we who are impoverished.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The Shema of Israel and the Church’s confession of "one God the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 8:6) were not merely spontaneous ejaculations of praise, nor was the Creed written "merely" to be sung. They also served as a firm boundary against the various fertility cults that threatened the faith of Israel and the gnostic and rationalistic heresies that challenged the apostolic faith. The Church itself developed this defense by articulating carefully its doctrine of the Trinity. In order that all believers may be included in the truth of God’s self-revelation, the creeds exclude certain other views. The Athanasian Creed is most explicit in this regard (BCP, pp. 864-65).

The Leaders’ Manual claims to pay attention to "the Trinitarian relationship of the Persons of God" (p. 5) and to avoid the modalism of those who speak of God as "Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer/Sanctifier" (p. 10; however, note LTE, p. 113). But how can one speak of the "relationship" of the Persons of God without the identity of those Persons. And the undivided witness of the Church has been to that identity as "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." While the new rites do not deny this identity — indeed they include the creeds — they seek to obscure the witness to the Father and the eternal Son by circumlocutions ("God" for Father, "Word" for eternal Son) or abstractions (see the Proper Prefaces, LTE, pp. 121-22, which speak only of the First, Second and Third Persons of the Trinity). While we have no objections to this alternative usage in certain contexts, we cannot accept the implication that they are preferable to the credal terms. Ironically, if the person of the Father can at times be referred to as "God" (as in St. Paul’s usage, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"), it is based on the "patriarchal" assumption that the father can represent the whole family.

The rationale for the new "Gloria Patri" (LM, p. 10) manifests the superficial way in which the new usage can be called "traditional." It is argued that the revisers have recovered the Mozarabic idiom of "Glory and honor. . ." True, but as they themselves admit, the Mozarabic rite offers "gloria et honor Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto." In other words, the revised version has adopted a formal phrase from the past but has changed the substance of that confession at the very point at which the ancients would have insisted on the identity of God as Father, Son and Spirit. (Similarly it is not particularly comforting to know that the new rites retain the four-fold shape of classic liturgies if they express a very different doctrine of the God who is worshiped therein.)

While the new "Gloria Patri" may be formally in agreement with the Trinitarian doctrine, the explanations which stand behind it are not. The Leaders’ Manual claims that the term Father merely "conveys the important idea" of intimacy with God, exemplified by Jesus’ prayer to "Abba." We deny that the name "Father" is merely functional, serving to convey an idea. Jesus has taught us to hallow his name as Father, not just the idea behind the name. God’s Fatherhood is essential and our ideas of fatherhood are derivative: thus Paul kneels "before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph 3:14). While it is true, as the Reformers taught, that God "lisps" his word to us like a parent to an infant, it does not thereby follow that this language is optional or that his identity as Father can be exhausted in our notions of what fatherhood ought to be.

So, for instance, when the Leaders’ Manual explains that God’s Fatherhood is meant to convey intimacy and is "not a power term at all," it unjustly circumscribes the semantic range of the word. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reveals a Father who is both loving and provident but also whose kingdom and power and glory is over all, transcending and overthrowing all other loyalties. In the moving parable often used in defense of social justice, Jesus describes his coming judgment thus: "Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’" (Matt 25:34). The Father is both creator, ruler and judge, who has delivered the redeemed through his beloved Son.

The Creeds also consistently speak of "God the Father Almighty." The Leaders’ Manual (p. 8) finds the phrase "Almighty" to involve "hierarchical, domineering pictures of God . . . out of place in liturgies focussing on God’s tender and intimate concern for all people in community." This statement both demonstrates a deficient appreciation of fatherhood in general — can’t fathers exercise their authority mercifully? — and a failure to incorporate the whole of the Gospel message, that God’s nearness is an expression of his Lordship and that, in view of human sin, he alone can pay the price by sending his Son to be Immanuel.

The stated goal of the innovative rites of "emphasizing the immanence of God as revealed in the incarnation of the Word" and then suggesting that unconditional love is what John’s Gospel is all about (LM, p. 23) is a dangerous distortion of Biblical and credal Christology. The incarnation of the Word, as fully expressed in John’s Gospel, is the manifestation once for all in history of the eternal Son of God and of the eternal Father: "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known." (John 1:18) The attempt in the new rites to emphasize one side of God’s character, the "intimate," "the unconditional" and immanental, while excluding another is a first step down the road to heresy via either the dualism of the New Age movement or Marxist materialism.

When we come to its "Trinitarian" treatment of the Son, we find the statement that the term "Son" is used when speaking of Jesus in his earthly life but that when speaking of the Persons of the Godhead another Biblical substitute is offered (LM, p. 7). We must ask directly, "Are humanity and divinity united in Jesus, or not?" If not, then Nestorius was right and the Church was wrong at Ephesus and Chalcedon. If so, why should we refrain from speaking of Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father?

Historically, the doctrine of the Trinity was hammered out in the context of questions about the divine nature of Jesus. Similar questions are being raised today by theologians like John Hick when he says:

To what extent is the exaltation in Christian faith of the man of Nazareth into the divine Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, a supreme example of this projection upon Jesus of ideals to answer our spiritual needs?... in the new age of world ecumenism which we are entering it is proper for Christians to become conscious of both the optional and the mythological character of this traditional language. (The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), p. 168)

We must ask: "Are the new rites an expression of this theology or are they a defense against it?" If the former, it is, we think, gratuitous to claim to be "trinitarian" in the classical sense of the word. The Leaders’ Manual (p. 5) seems to make distinctions between "the eternal Word of God, the Risen and Ascended Christ, the Returning Messiah, and the historical incarnate Jesus who was born, suffered, and died as a male human being." Similarly, the innovative rites make careful distinctions as to when to speak of the Second Person as "Son" and "he," and when to use the more abstract "only- begotten" or "Christ" or "the Christ." (The Biblical meaning of "Christ" is "anointed King and Son" — see psalm 2!)

While we would agree that the term "Son," which first referred to Israel or the Messiah, receives its fullest meaning historically with the incarnation of Jesus in history, we believe it is appropriate, especially in liturgy, to apply this name to the pre-existent Word, as we do in the Te Deum. Nor do we see how it is possible to deny, Biblically or theologically, that the Risen Jesus is exalted as Son and Lord, seated on the Father’s right hand in glory (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:1-4).

As an aside, we find the usage for Jesus as "holy child of God" to be anachronistic and misleading. As it was used both in Scripture and tradition, pais (a grammatical masculine) was adopted from the Greek OT as the most exact translation of Isaiah’s "servant of the Lord." Thus when the Fathers use pais, they are not really referring to Jesus as an infant but as an adult bent on obeying his Father’s will and as "Lord from his birth."

Just as the refusal to call God Father depersonalizes his revealed identity, so also the refusal to acknowledge the risen Jesus’ masculine particularity as Son will open the door for the substitution of some abstraction ("the Christ"). The 1982 Hymnal revisers wisely removed Lowell’s unitarian hymn which speaks of "some great cause, God’s new Messiah." Has feminism, or inclusivism, become today’s cause celebre?

The identity of the Holy Spirit, we would gladly admit, requires further discussion. The revisers confuse the grammatical gender of Hebrew ruach (masc. or fem.) and Greek pneuma (neuter) with its metaphorical gender, which in the Bible is normally masculine, or perhaps neuter. To the extent that the Spirit is associated with wisdom, it can be thought of as feminine, or as the associative Person of the Trinity, the love between Father and Son. The Greek tradition has developed this idea most fully, and it may be worth pursuing the possibility of using some feminine imagery for the Spirit, to the extent that it is not contrary to Biblical usage.

The Virgin Birth

While the rationales make no statement on the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, the two "innovative" rites seem intentionally vague at this very point. The "Image of God" text reads: ". . .you sent us your own self in Jesus, who was united with us by incarnation through Mary and the Holy Spirit. Born to a human family, he transcended our sinful culture. . ." (LTE, p. 107). It is not enough just to use the word "incarnation": we must ask what is meant by it? Biblical, credal Christianity has always confessed that incarnation occurred by means of a virgin birth: "incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary." Why then, does the Great Thanksgiving not make clear how Jesus entered a human family by calling Mary "Virgin," as the universal liturgical tradition of the Church would require?

Our questions about the "Nurturing God" text at this point are even stronger, when it reads: "...your Spirit entered into Mary, the maiden of Nazareth, that they might conceive and bear a Son, the holy child of God." On biblical grounds, this prayer seems to prefer the Isaiah’s almah — maiden, to Matthew’s clear pronouncement that Mary fulfilled prophecy as parthenos — virgin. Further, who is the "they" that conceived and bore a Son? Certainly not Joseph: human males do not conceive or bear children. But neither is the Holy Spirit "father" of Jesus. Again, why not specify Mary as a Virgin and clean up the obscurities of this text.

We are not sure whether the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is inconsistent with the theology of inclusivism, as the issue is not addressed in the supporting documents. If it is a red herring, we suggest the revisers make the simple changes necessary to clarify their solidarity with the Creeds on this point.

The Sovereignty of God

It may come as a surprise to some that the censoring hand of the new revision extends not only to those words which identify God specifically with masculinity or patriarchy, but also with any understanding of hierarchical order whatsoever. And whereas some classic Anabaptist theologies have rejected the pretensions of human hierarchy on the grounds of God’s sole Lordship of church and world, feminist theology objects to the idea of lordship altogether, whether in the divine or human spheres.

The apologia found in the Leaders’ Manual (p. 7) for continuing to use "Lord" is typical of the subjectivistic methodology of this document. First, the use of Lord is exposed to be a problem, such that "some have found its masculine overtones so oppressive that they have proposed its complete elimination." However, there are mitigating reasons for retaining it in moderation: early Christians found the title useful in combating Roman imperialism and blacks in resisting racism. Yet not all interest groups are equally served by the title: Native Americans have found the idea of Lord inconsistent with the Great Spirit of nature. Finally, the Manual concludes, "total disuse of [the term Lord] raises the suspicion that a fundamental Christian tenet is being denied." Indeed it does. The reason early Christians and oppressed blacks have found the term "useful" is because they believed it to be true, that the LORD is king and Jesus is Lord — over against worldly masters.

Despite the expressed willingness to be faithful to Biblical usage, the Eucharistic texts do not in fact use "Lord" at all except for the Creed ("Nurturing God," LTE p.ú124, uses "Ruler" once in imitation of Jewish prayer.) The grudging use of references to God or to Jesus as Lord in the new liturgies is totally opposed to the joyful spirit which Biblical Jews and Christians have always confessed him, as in "The LORD is King!" and "Jesus is Lord!" Worship "is intrinsically, and not artificially hierarchical" (so Jeffrey, p. 20), and the renunciation of the language of lordship distinguishes the new rites from any previous Anglican liturgy. The Prayer Book sees God alone as a King "whose service is perfect freedom." Christians, whether male or female, are to delight to be called his "servants."

We rejoice that Christ has given us himself as the true model of authority, not like the Gentiles who "lord it over one another," but rather in giving up his divine prerogative, he humbled himself taking the form of a slave, and in our fallen flesh, he was exalted and given lordship over every principality and power in this age and the age to come (Mark 10:42ff.; Phil 2:6ff.). We believe that to refuse to God in Christ the honor and obedience due a good and righteous Master is to open the Church to the ideological spirits of this age, which will oppress and destroy the people of God. We are not only opposed to the minimalistic use of the word "Lord" but to the idea that God’s sovereignty and our obedience involves some kind of "domineering" oppression.

God and Creation

Holmes (p. 139) argued that the 1976 Prayer Book was theologically innovative with its emphasis on God as Creator. In fact, the emphasis on the creative purposes of God completed in the redemption by Christ, and our stewardship of creation, was a salutary rounding out of classical Christian doctrine. It is hard to find anything in the 1979 rites that goes beyond the traditional theology of God’s creation by the Word and his lordship over creation.

The new rites, however, take a major step toward identifying God with creation or seeing creation as an emanation from God. This is found in the designation of God as the "source" of creation (LTE, pp. 96-97), whose glory "embraces" creation (p. 115), who "brought all things to birth in creation" (p. 119), whose Spirit and Wisdom brooded over the deep, bringing to birth heaven and earth. . . (p. 122). Prayer is made that God might "draw us with cords of compassion to your heart, at the heart of the world" (p.ú125; note that "cords" is interpreted umbilically). Similarly, human beings are seen as offspring of the creator, God "conceiving us in your image." God not only gives us life but "you are the life within us. . . ." (p. 103). The Church is identified not just as the Body of Christ but as the body of God: "God, we are your body. . ." (p. 102) We are not only the stewards of creation but co-creators with God: "We thank you for giving us the privilege of creating with you." (p. 103)

The Leaders’ Manual claims to have given attention both to God’s transcendence beyond this world and immanence in the world (p. 5). The fact that the adapted rites retain traditional language for the transcendence of God may be considered "attention"; but the innovative rites are heavily oriented toward God’s intimacy with creation. It is curious, given the preference for "Word" as a title for Jesus the Son, how few references occur to creation by the Word, which is surely the central and distinctive metaphor of Genesis 1 (the "brooding" of the Spirit in Genesis 1:2 has been rejected by most modern exegetes). We would suggest that in the "nurturing" metaphor for God, the new rites are introducing pantheistic notions of God’s identification with the cosmos, which are very much at odds with the Biblical view of God as the sovereign creator. The ideas of continuous creation and co- creation are also deserving of much serious debate and theological refinement before their adoption into the Church’s worship.

Another manifestation of the one-sided creation theology of inclusivism is the implicit universalism of the liturgies, that redemption in the new creation is not only potentially available to all, but actually accomplished regardless of one’s individual response to that act. This theological Tendenz was one of the significant, and questionable, additions to the 1979 Prayer Book (note, e.g., the Prayers for the Dead and the omissions from the lectionary of references to God’s judgment). The inclusive rites carry this view forward: "The entire human race, each and every one of us, has a holy birthright and a blessed lineage..." (LM, p. 1). Creation reveals to us that "humanity is a never-ending we." (p. 2) While there is, we would agree, a potential inclusiveness in God’s creation of the whole race in his image, he also created us responsible agents. The problem of sin is not merely myopia but personal rejection of his grace, offered us in the Cross of Christ. It is not necessarily more honoring to human nature, nor does it satisfy the demands of justice, to include among the redeemed those who have consciously refused the offer of redemption.

The Atonement

The "word of the Cross" is, we believe, absolutely central to the Christian Gospel, and the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian worship derives from this fact. It is therefore of utmost importance that the sacrament show forth the atoning death of Christ fully and clearly (Art. 28, BCP, p. 873).

It is essential to any doctrine of inclusion (or at-one- ment) to make clear that Christ died for our sins, i.e. that as fallen sinners we are unable to save ourselves but for the merits and mediation of God’s own Son. We are grateful to our Reformation heritage for emphasizing and clarifying this aspect of the atonement, while we are happy to admit other emphases expressed in other liturgies of the Church. (For a cogent contemporary statement, see John Stott, The Cross of Christ [1986]).

Any doctrine of atonement has as its backdrop the doctrine of sin. The new rites picture our sin as essentially a problem of ignorance, a failure to recognize God’s love in creation and the consequent violation of human relationships by means of oppressive systems of hierarchy. The assumption that sin is at root a structural problem to be corrected by enlightenment and "Newspeak" seems both naive and ominous in a century cluttered with the human wreckage of various utopian ideologies bent on "educating" a new humanity, if necessary by force.

Consistent with the immanental world view, the texts view sin primarily in horizontal terms and not in terms of rebellion against a transcendent Lord: ". . . we failed to recognize your image in ourselves, each other, and your world" (LTE, pp. 104, 107). Furthermore, sin is a matter of immaturity, not the willfulness of a rebel but of a toddler who is constantly wandering off (LTE, p. 123). Theologically, this kind of sin hardly warrants the sacrifice of the Son of God: surely God through his Wisdom could simply have enlightened us. While we would agree that creation in God’s image is a supreme gift of grace and that God in his mercy has preserved his good creatures, we would also note the fallenness of our nature such that we cannot of ourselves help ourselves. We are in bondage to sin and Satan. The continuing image of God in humanity is not a cause of honor but of shame and guilt, a reminder of how far we have fallen and our desperate need for God’s mercy. The image is also as badge of hope, hope that in wrath God will remember mercy.

The Leaders’ Manual (p. 1) applauds the Incarnation as "the most spectacular revelation of God . . . the highest praise of humanity. . ." without noting the judgment implied in this gracious act. Christ was born to mortality "in the likeness of sinful flesh," and he bore our fallen humanity as a high priest able to sympathize with our weakness. Unfortunately, the rites do not adequately present or help us reflect upon the crowning act of his incarnation, his sacrifice on the cross, which is the central event commemorated in the Holy Eucharist.

The strongest statement of Christ’s atoning is in "Image of God": ". . .giving himself freely to death, he triumphed over evil and became our salvation" (LTE, p. 107). At the institution, "Nurturing God" says: "At last the time came for him to make sacrifice of himself, and to be glorified by you"; but these words are not integrated into the Eucharistic Prayer as a whole. Thus its Easter sentence curiously fails to say that Christ died for us, possibly suggesting a purely exemplary atonement, and its Proper Preface for the Second Person of the Trinity mentions only the incarnation and not the cross and resurrection. Further, the words of institution speak of his blood poured out "for all" rather than "for many," which has universalistic overtones not present in the original idea of a new covenant received by faith.

The "Image of God" text emphasizes the restoring work of Christ’s death but not its costliness. "Nurturing God" does not even use restoration imagery but rather implies a developmental process: "Then you acted anew in creation. . .". While both new rites speak repeatedly of our inclusion in the Body of Christ, neither of them reflects on the central Biblical metaphor of the "Blood of Christ." This failure to include sacrificial imagery, we would suggest, is symptomatic of a theology of inclusivism without the exclusiveness of God’s gracious offering of his Son for us. Rite One, while perhaps too narrow in viewing Christ’s death only in juridical terms, is nevertheless closer to Biblical idiom: "He made him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).

Use of Scripture

The nature of Holy Scripture as the revealed Word of God is both foundational for the liturgy and essential for the "deposit of faith" which unites Christians (cf. BCP, p. 877). The Leaders’ Manual (p. 4) likewise seeks to sound the essential note of "faithfulness to the Biblical images and language which gives birth to and disciplines our worship. . ." The revisers say that they have scrupulously checked all translations and explored the Biblical heritage for neglected images of inclusiveness.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the Scriptures constitute a "problem" for these writers. The problem is that the vast majority of references to God in the Bible are "exclusive," i.e., to God as "he," or "Father" or "Son" or "Lord." The solution to this problem (EP, Session 4) is to distinguish between the "biblical message" and the cultural biases which accompany it, between the revelation and the record of revelation. They wish to retain a deep respect for the sacredness of Scripture while seeking to excise language affected by cultural factors.

We share this reverence for Scripture because we believe that God has been essentially truthful in his revelation of himself to us. While we would not deny that this revelation, given as it is in history, includes cultural particularities, we cannot accept that these particularities are so central as to call into question the basic world view and affirmations of the Bible itself. It seems to us that such major doctrines as the Fatherhood of God, the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, his Lordship over the world, and his atoning sacrifice for our sins, are either true as expressed in Scripture or falsehoods unworthy of our belief and worship. This language for God is not occasional or "customary," like that about veils and baptism for the dead, but penetrates the whole of Scripture. Put another way, we believe that God in his wisdom chose an apt time and culture in which to speak, with sufficient clarity, his eternal Word.

The determination of what constitutes "cultural overlay" is a notorious problem of philosophical relativism. Why should we receive the claims of modern feminism as revealed truth over against the cultural biases of patriarchal society? Perhaps it is the very passages that make us uncomfortable that God would use to challenge our own cultural biases. We smile at the Victorians for "improving" Shakespeare, but what is this revision doing but censoring one of the foundational works of Western civilization? Would it not be possible simply to educate those readers who may take offense at patriarchal biases that the Bible was written in a different age and they must make allowance for that historical distance?

The biases of the revisers are themselves fairly evident in the educational packet. While admitting in Session Two that "generic usage" has been a widespread linguistic convention, they cite the Bible translators’ use of such language as an example of exclusivist distortion of the original text. This argument is not only anachronistic (since generic usage was universal until a decade ago and continues to be widespread) but ignores the fact that the original Biblical languages also used generic forms. It is therefore an overstatement that "translations may unintentionally distort the revelation" because they use generic language.

This is not to say that the ancient translations are sacrosanct. It is probable that the King James Version reads back into Paul’s "bishops and deacons" (Phil 1:1) the church order of a later time, and the birthing analogy of Deuteronomy 32:18 has also been obscured. The revisionist tendency, however, cuts both ways, since the new rites themselves freely adapt the literal text of Scripture to suit their inclusive agenda, as noted above. The revisers note that in Psalm 19:12 the original lacks a masculine suffix, but in the "Song of Zechariah" they themselves change the Greek "his way" to "the way." And their assertion that in Jeremiah 31:20 "heart" means "womb" is a forced reading based on an etymological fallacy. The fact that "mercy" and "womb" have the same root in Hebrew is irrelevant syntactically and hardly an indication of conscious mistranslation.

Most important is the claim of the new liturgies, especially the two innovative rites, to be based in "Biblical metaphor" for God. In fact, "metaphor" is a slippery term. Some philosophers of language would say that all language, even statements of fact, are symbolic. Normally, however, a distinction is made between truth statements made didactically and those made by analogy. Thus, for instance, Meir Sternberg in his Poetics of Biblical Narrative (1985, pp. 41ff) distinguishes the dogmatic, historiographic and aesthetic strands of Biblical rhetoric. And even when we focus on analogic speech, there are several levels of directness, from "steno-symbols" to more complex images. (For a further discussion of this issue, see Donald Bloesch, The Battle for the Trinity [1985], pp. 95ff.)

The new rites have, in our opinion, failed to distinguish between the different meanings of metaphor. To say "Jesus is Lord" or "Yahweh reigns" (confession) is different from saying "The Lord is my light and my salvation" (metaphor). And both of these are different from saying: "How often would I have gathered your children as a hen gathers her brood. . ." (simile) or "I sought Wisdom in my prayers . . ." (personified attribute). Furthermore, by far the most common feminine metaphors in the Bible are not analogies with God but with the people of God, mother Zion or the Church as a bride, responding to God’s grace. It is ironic that most "inclusive" revisions that remove such references to the responsiveness of the believer in feminine terms want at the same time to portray God in just those terms.

We think the way forward in any revision which seeks to incorporate more feminine imagery while remaining faithful to Scripture is to use the imagery in the way the Bible does. Thus we find the citation of Wisdom canticles, the addition of the sentence from Baruch likening the Church to Jerusalem as a mother, and the prayer likening God in Christ to a mother hen (LTE, p. 119) to be potentially helpful additions to the liturgy.

The main approach of the innovative rites, however, of using "root metaphors" of the LORD conceiving us in his image and of his nurturing us as a mother are both questionable Biblically. The conceiving image is based solely on the shaky exegetical interpretation of the Spirit "brooding" over the deep in Gen 1:2. (The second pillar for this root metaphor is equally shaky: Isa 42:14 describes the LORD as a "man of war" who, having held his peace, will now cry out with the vehemence of a woman in childbirth.) Even if this translation of the Hebrew were correct, the creation account makes no use of, and in fact may wish to demythologize this "trajectory" (cf. Brevard Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament [1960], pp. 30-42). Instead Genesis emphasizes God’s sovereign creation by the word: "God said . . . and it was so." This is the emphasis rightly picked up both in the Old Testament (Ps 33:6) and by the New Testament (John 1; Heb 1:1-4) in its identification of Jesus with God. Theologically, the main Biblical metaphors emphasize transcendence; the emphasis of both innovative rites is in the opposite direction and therefore working against the spirit of the text.

The "root metaphor" of cords of compassion from Hosea 11:1-9 is also curious. Hosea, who consistently speaks of Yahweh as either a husband or a father, employs the primal patriarchal metaphor of a father’s love for his only-begotten son, his heir (cf. Exod 4:22). In describing his love for Israel, the LORD uses words of tenderness and patience. The exegesis found in the Leaders’ Manual (p. 20) is highly tendentious, since there are no feminine analogies to God in the passage at all and it is incorrect to say that Hebrew ‘ish cannot be used generically (Hos 11:9; cf. Ps 1:1) and that therefore God is speaking as a woman. The Manual goes on at great length likening "cords of compassion" with umbilical cords, but surely the main reference is to "cords of discipline" (cf. Ezek 4:8). Hosea marvels that God has not manifested his righteous wrath against an adulterous Israel. The implication is that the LORD’s fatherly patience is far stronger than that of a human being like the prophet. Hosea’s picture of God, in fact, is wonderfully captured in the Great Thanksgiving from Rite One: "All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. . .".

In the "Nurturing God", however, the imagery of Hosea is feminized: "Yet as a mother cares for her suckling child, you would not forget us." (LTE, p. 123) The Leaders’ Manual (p. 22) acknowledges that this imagery was not necessarily Hosea’s intention, but "in Euro-American culture as we know it, it is principally mothers who teach their children to walk, who take them up in their arms." The argument then proceeds to suggest that the nurturing imagery should be appropriated by modern men as well. If so, why not simply say that the Biblical culture of patient and compassionate fathers challenges modern fathers to adopt new patterns of relationship to their children? Of course, to be truly fair to the Biblical imagery, one would also have to emphasize the need for obedience to elders as well (i.e. hierarchy).

Finally, we would question the wisdom and appropriateness of the Church adopting, even for experimentation, idiosyncratic eucharistic liturgies built around one or another "Biblical metaphor." The central focus of the Eucharist should be on the atoning death of Christ for our sins, which is its original Biblical setting. A related problem is the list of suggested Scripture readings assigned for the inclusive rites. Is the idea that these lections will be used only occasionally (e.g., for the testing period), or that those groups that regularly use the "inclusive" rites will also use only those texts that are inoffensive? Is this the beginning of a canon within the canon?


To repeat our overriding concern: We believe that the Liturgical Texts for Evaluation, especially when read in light of the explanatory documents, represent a sea change in our worship of God by introducing major theological innovations into the classic statement of the Christian faith preserved in the Book of Common Prayer. If even a portion of the theological objections we have raised were to have validity, it seems to us that the Church needs to enter into extended debate over the whole inclusive language project. This being the case, we must pose serious questions about the whole process which led to the production of these materials.

1) Was the charter of the General Convention to "produce inclusive language rites" properly understood - either by the delegates to Convention or by the Standing Liturgical Commission? That is, did the Convention intend the scope of "inclusive language" to mean revising the Church’s language about God?

2) Why was no task force, with representation of all theological perspectives, appointed to study and present reports to the General Convention?

3) If Occasional Paper 5 represents the theological thinking of the Standing Liturgical Commission, why was this paper not more widely circulated before the appearances of the liturgy? Did the Commission consider asking a theologian from the evangelical-catholic perspective to write a response paper - or were we excluded from having a voice?

4) The Educational Packet is, to our mind, not truly educational but promotional. Never once, at any point, does it suggest that there might be serious theological objections to these rites. It treats all objections as an affective problem or "cultural bias." Since the packet comes with the imprimatur of the Church, it will inevitably persuade some laypeople that their intuitions in favor of the traditional liturgy are outmoded and that there is nothing at stake in terms of their basic Christian convictions.

5) The production of "Services for Trial Use" in 1970 was preceded by an extended series of "Prayerbook Studies," which gave the clergy and people of the Church time to read, digest and debate the proposed directions. It seems as if the intermediate step of producing materials which are studied but not used is being sidestepped. In fact, our faculty and students have treated these materials as study documents. If it turns out that our "test results" are not tabulated along with the others, we would suggest that our exclusion would be a methodological flaw, due to the overly hasty method in which these rites are being promoted.

6) Since, in our opinion, major theological innovations are involved in these rites and their rationale, we believe that it is the role of the bishops first to discuss and propose whether and in what ways the apostolic faith can be expressed in "inclusive language." Indeed, it seems to us such a major theological revolution that it should become part of the agenda of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It would of course also have major ecumenical repercussions. In our view, only when the basic theological presuppositions of such a liturgy are agreed upon is it the appropriate place for the Standing Liturgical Commission to write texts that will express accurately and beautifully the Church’s theology.

We are at this point not convinced that an Inclusive Language liturgy of the sort represented in "Texts for Evaluation" is either practically necessary or theologically workable within the framework of Nicene Christianity. While we are not opposed in principle to truly biblical additions or revisions which enrich our liturgy from the feminine point of view, we believe that the present Book of Common Prayer is adequately inclusive both in intention and in reception by the vast body of the laity. We think new liturgical innovations are uncalled for ten years after the ratification of the present Prayer Book. Further turmoil over liturgy would be poor stewardship for a Church which has lost its evangelistic and missionary zeal and has been losing members steadily over twenty-five years.

However, if this project goes forward, we pledge our full engagement in evaluating it — which probably means taking the position of the loyal opposition. We think it would be consistent with the proclaimed policy of the Presiding Bishop that evangelical-catholic theologians and other appropriate clergy and laity of classical convictions be included in the deliberative process. As one theological faculty within the Episcopal Church, we are not willing to affirm that "there are no theological objections" to these new rites. If our response seems uniformly polemical, it is because of the great seriousness with which we take these rites. We are attentive to the voices in the Church which are proclaiming a "theological revolution." At this point we agree with Bishop Spong when he says:


. . I am convinced that the church conservatives have understood and appreciated more profoundly the dimensions of this revolution than have the church liberals. The liberals tend to see the women’s movement, for example, primarily in terms of justice and human rights. That is too shallow a judgment in my view. The conservatives on the other hand see the women’s movement as a fundamental break with history and tradition. . . . They recognize, as the liberals seem not to do, that much of what we Christians think of as crucial to the life of the church will not survive the revolution in sexual consciousness that is upon us. They are correct. (Into the Whirlwind, p. 69)

There are those in the Church who would prefer to think that "modest" revisions of language for God can simultaneously accommodate the tradition and the new voices calling for the reconstruction of Christian theology. We would urge such moderates to read such a "mainstream" feminist writer as Sallie McFague (Models of God [1987]), who makes quite clear the incompatibility of classic Christianity with feminist theology.

McFague’s starting point is the rejection of orthodoxy as the product of a "bygone age" which must be "deconstructed" and replaced by a "new sensibility." That the godfather of this deconstruction project is Nietzsche (p. 23ff.) reveals McFague’s indebtedness both to the "God is dead" movement of the ‘60’s and the current relativistic fashion in academia exposed in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. Unlike Nietzsche’s bold nihilism, however, McFague would salvage a bare remnant of the tradition - that "faith in the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is faith in the ultimate trustworthiness of things" (p. 29). From there she proceeds to "reconstruct" a pan(en)theistic world view based on metaphors which she herself admits have little place in Biblical or ecclesiastical tradition (p. 85).

Is it an accident that the ideas and terminology of feminist theology represented by this noted theologian also occurs repeatedly in the new rites? Is it not the radical dichotomy between the Church’s language of faith and the grammar of feminism that makes any combination of "inclusive" language for God and the creeds a hopeless mishmash? Can the revisers give us an example of any theologian who seriously and successfully integrates credal faith with radical feminism? Or is it not simply the case that in the world of theology a house divided against itself cannot stand?

If the new rites are advance agents of the revolution in theology which Bishop Spong announces, we want to unmask them now. If they are not, then we expect the ecclesiastical leaders will have to spend a lot more time explaining how they are consistent with the unbroken faith of the Church. We want to make clear that the present supporting documents do not constitute an adequate or persuasive apologia.

I wrote this essay in 1987, one of my first forays into church polemics, in conjunction with and on behalf of the Faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. I wrote a second paper paper called "From Black Book to Blue Book". Both essays were subsequently reprinted in the Prayer Book Society's journal, Lex Orandi, vol. VII, no. 1 (Spring, 1990) pp. 39-89.

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