Jim Brown of AgapePress reports that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has approved a plan to eliminate the "Father" terminology and male pronouns used in reference to God for the hymnal. "The hymnal overhaul will include other gender-neutralizing and diversity-affirming changes to traditional Lutheran worship lyrics and liturgies as well. For example, in the Lutheran Creed, God and Jesus will now be referred to as 'Holy Eternal Majesty' and 'Holy Incarnate Word' instead of 'Father' and 'Son.'"
Not all Lutheran ministers agree with the move. Dr. Roy Harrisville asserted, "At base, what needs to be asked is not can we be somehow inclusive in our language, but rather, when we do alter our language, are we altering our theology and our basic values -- and I think that is what's happening."
Moreover, as in most moves of this nature, the issue of cultural relevance was invoked. The desire of course is to attract more people to the church. Harrisville spoke to this issue as well. "Relevance is a huge issue for many of them...and they think that if they acquiesce to a particular ideology that is regnant in society, that therefore they will be relevant and thus influential and thus, of course, attract more folks to their churches. I don't think it works that way."
Sadly, "The ELCA's worship director, Rev. Michael Burk, has said the new hymnal will reflect the fact that the denomination is a 'global church.' Use of the new hymnal will not be mandated in local churches, but likely will gradually be adopted by most of the ELCA's approximately 10,600 congregations as they either purchase the book immediately or buy it when the time comes to replace their old hymnals."
Much is to be lamented in developments like these. Harrisville is right to point out the reality of theological defection. While gender inclusive language is indeed an issue, other issues foundational to that discussion loom larger in the fog of evangelical drift. While many issues stand out, perhaps five emerge as rocks in that increasingly dangerous sea.
First, there is the rejection of the authority of Scripture by an increasing number of evangelicals. The only way to relate to God is through the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. Lutheran leaders would do well to read Paul's words to Timothy setting forth the fact that the Scriptures are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). The "Baptist Faith and Message" nicely summarizes the doctrine of Scripture: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." Note that the Bible is God's revelation of Himself to man. Further, it is the supreme standard by which all religious opinions are tried. Finally, the Scriptures reveal who Christ is.
One cannot change what God has revealed about Himself, appeal to his own authority, nor assert one's own notion of Christ and adopt or impose it upon the Scriptures. In truth, the Scriptures contain the very words of God. The Bible is God's word to us.
Second, there is the replacement of the God of Scripture with an idolatrous notion of God. The very nature of God is changed when we change the way we think and speak about Him. One cannot concoct a god of his imagination and continue to worship and know the Christ of Scripture. While phrases like "Holy Eternal Majesty" and "Holy Incarnate Word" are wonderful descriptors of the Father and the Son, they mean absolutely nothing unless connected to the Father and the Son revealed in Scripture. To replace the Father and Son language with such descriptors is to replace the Father and Son altogether. To describe the Father and Son in this way is one thing. To replace the Father and Son with this terminology is to replace the one true and living God as He has revealed Himself to us in the specific persons of Father, Son, and indeed Holy Spirit.
At the same time, to speak of God as Father is to speak of His care for us as well. Again, the BF&M is instructive: "God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men." God is not some blind, neutral, or neuter cosmic force. He is the Heavenly Father.
Third, there is the myth of cultural relevance. In one sense, the Bible is always relevant as it speaks to the deepest need of the human heart: Christ. It reveals the nature of God and human beings, uncovers our need, and presents us with the Savior. It does not need to be dressed up in cultural language as its truth and power transcends all cultures of all times and presents the only message that can give anyone hope beyond the grave.
On the other hand, the Bible has never been relevant because human beings are totally depraved and do not and indeed cannot receive the things of God. The things of God are foolishness to those who are not saved (1 Cor. 2:14). To dress up the language of Scripture in an effort to accommodate the culture is to appeal to the very foolishness the Bible tells us resides in the hearts of all human beings. Such action may make the Scriptures more palatable to some readers, but such palate soothing change will have no power. The same Bible that says that the Scriptures are foolishness to the natural man and therefore cannot be understood by natural man also says that it is the gospel itself that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).
Thus, to mix the powerful word of God with cultural notions of what is politically correct or publicly palatable is to dilute its transforming power. It is to put water in the gas tank so that the engine will not run and ultimately suffer destruction. The Bible itself is God's eternal and transcendent answer to the human condition. Leave it alone!
Fourth, there is the fact that worship becomes meaningless. To remove God's language about Himself from the hymnal is to the lead the people to worship and idea: not a person. The Lord Jesus said that God is seeking true worshippers. Those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4). To do such is to worship the God of the Bible: to worship God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. As one is enthralled with that God, the heart is moved to worship Him. To be sure, an orthodox understanding of God without a heart for Him cannot lead to worship. At the same time, a passion for worship without an orthodox understanding of God is not true worship. In either case, worship does in fact occur: idolatrous worship. Only when the heart is engaged by revealed truth does the true worship of God in Christ occur.
Fifth, there is the loss of biblical Christianity. If the Scriptures are changed and thus rejected, then Christ is ultimately rejected and Christianity becomes nothing more than a horrible mutation of what it once was. Without the purity of the gospel, God's revelation of Himself, Christianity is meaningless. If one is going to change the Word of God to suit his own notion of reality, he might as well forget Christ altogether and spend his Sundays at the ball game. Without the Christ of Scripture, man worships in vain. He is involved in a man-made religion of dead works. He has relegated himself to a life of trivia and indeed meaninglessness.
The problem lies in the fact that the erosion of which we speak is increasing in the evangelical world. Unfortunately, the ELCA is representative of too many denominations and too many individual so-called Christians. Evangelicals are adrift and the rocks of destruction loom larger. Indeed, to follow the ELCA vision of God is to follow just that: a human vision. It is to follow a god of our imagination. It is to follow a lighthouse that does not exist. If ecclesiastical leaders succeed in attracting more people to their churches with moves of this nature, then they will only succeed in attracting more people to a life apart from Christ. Satan loves this move.