WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Last week I wrote about a somewhat dumb move my denomination made recently. This week I’m writing about something much more serious. A few years ago the Powers-That-Be produced a new service book and hymnal. Unlike the previous one, this book was done in house by staff at the publishing house and at headquarters rather than appointing a special commission. In many respect it’s not a bad book. It has lots of resources and option, ten musical settings, plenty of hymns–some of which are an improvement on earlier books–with a fairly wide range of styles. What slipped through, however, was a theological shift which endangers a fundamental principle of Christian theology. Here’s what I observe.
Our liturgy has an optional order for confession and forgiveness, something we have always had. It begins as have all our liturgies with an invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” However, there is an alternative to these words: “Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God, who forgives all our sins, whose mercy endures forever.” Naturally a confession ends with an absolution. Here is the ending of one familiar to many: “I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father , and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” There is a alternative that ends “In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.”
There is a familiar Eucharistic prayer that ends: “To you, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be all honor and glory in your holy church, now and forever.” Again there are alternatives like this one: “All praise and glory are yours, Holy One of Israel, Word of God incarnate, Power of the Most High, one God, now and forever.” At the end of the service is a familiar benediction: “Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you now and forever.” And a familiar option in a new form: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”
Anybody notice something odd about the alternatives? Every one is written so as to avoid the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The only time those words can’t be avoided is in the Creeds, although use of the Creeds is optional. The Lord’s prayer is not optional and they haven’t substituted anything for “Father,” but give them time. Something terribly wrong has happened. It probably started with avoiding masculine pronouns for God (I have even heard some radicals tamper with the service so as to remove masculine pronouns referring to Jesus), but it has now progressed to removing masculine nouns. The result is to make optional the formula given in Scripture (Matthew 28:19) and used in the Creeds to describe the Holy Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Is it just a coincidence that the options skip those word? No way. The book contains the orders for Morning and Evening Prayer also. Morning Prayer begins in the way it has for centuries: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise,” followed by the Gloria Patri, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.” Aha! There are there traditional words. Except there is an option: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, O God, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Praise to the blest and holy Trinity, one God, who gives us life, salvation, and resurrection.” There we are: a way to avoid the dreaded language. Next comes the Venite which always ends with the Gloria Patri. Not any more. The Gloria has been banished here and with the psalms and with the canticle Benedictus. Father, Son and Holy Spirit do appear in the benediction, but one can choose to do the Thanksgiving for Baptism and avoid them. Now I don’t know how it happened, but the Gloria Patri IS included with Psalm 141 in Evening Prayer, but you can use something else if you want. There is also an alternative blessing at the end so as not to say “those” words. Compline also provides ways to avoid saying Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As far as I can tell, the only time the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit have to be said is in Baptism, first in the Apostles’ Creed and then in the Baptism itself. As I recall some years back the Lutheran Bishops issued a statement in no uncertain terms that no other Name could be used in Baptism.
Oh, but we’re just talking words here, some protest. No we aren’t. We are talking about the words that express a central Christian doctrine. We are talking about language that goes back to the very beginning. Others whine, but it’s only in the worship service. The way we worship, the words of our prayer shapes and determines our belief. If we stop praying to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we will stop believing in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So far including or excluding the Trinitarian formula is a matter of choice. I worry about the time when the choice will be taken away. Until then I am putting in the Holy Names every chance I get. I expect I’ll get dirty looks from the Powers-That-Be if they discover what I’m up to. Maybe not. They’ll probably just shake their heads at my stubbornness knowing that it can’t be too long before all us old traditionalist fuddy-duddies retire or die. Then they can get rid of that old junk and bring things up to date. Will we pray: “To whom it may concern wherever you might be, if you exist at all”? Think not? Just a reminder that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is already in full communion with another body that has congregations with dual membership in the Unitarian-Universalist Association. That went through with barely a whimper.
I consider myself an orthodox Christian, orthodox in the literal sense of “right-praise” for if you praise God rightly you must hold right beliefs. I hope I go forth from this vale of tears with the words of the last stanza of “For All the Saints” on my lips:
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gate of pearl stream in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia!
May the Lord bless you on your journey and greet you on your arrival.