“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
This oft quoted phrase has never been more applicable than today when examining two denominations and their recent decisions.
The Presbyterian Church USA recently voted to allow congregations the option of using “alternative phrasings for the Trinity.” Instead of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, PCUSA members may be praising the “Rock, Redeemer, Friend” or “Mother, Child and Womb.”
Now, I understand why they voted to allow this. They do not want to limit God or establish Him as male. (Yes, I said “establish Him as male.”) Leaders said the terminology of God the Father “has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women.” They want to correct those problems and that is a laudable goal.
However, in attempting to correct one problem they created a much more serious one. Their solution is much like reverse discrimination. How is calling God “Father” a problem, but calling God “Mother” is okay. If the male terminology established God as a male, which I would argue it does not, then all the female terminology would do is establish God as a female. 500 years from now the PCUSA will be meeting to allow the usage of “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” because women are viewed as superior to men because of “Mother God.”
In our inclusive age, we forget that male terminology has regularly incorporated both males and females. The word “mankind” (which has also been attacked) speaks of both men and women, the entire human race.
The term “Father” when applied to God is not speaking of God’s gender (nonexistent), but rather our way of relating to Him. As Christians we model ourselves after Jesus, who called God “Father” and told us to do the same in “The Lord’s Prayer.” The father/child relationship is the best way to describe our relationship with God. Just as the marriage relationship is the best way to describe the Church’s relationship with Jesus. The analogy is not perfect (no analogy is), but when not stretched farther than it should, it provides us with a useful way of looking at things which are impossible to fully understand.
While PCUSA is seeking to liberalize the message in order to not offend, Southern Baptist are working to harshen the message in order to appear more holy.
Clearly, the Bible teaches that it is a siin to get drunk. The SBC is right to discourage drunkeness. It could even be argued that they should encourage all church leaders to abstain from drinking – to avoid the apperance of evil and not allow drunkeness to develop. But what many in the denomination are calling for is beyond Scripture to the point of legalism.
I think it may be wise to not drink at all. I have a personal conviction to not drink at all, but I cannot and should not apply that personal conviction to Southern Baptists (or Christians) all around the world. Simply because something can be abused is no reason to automatically condemn the behavior, but it appears too often many believers take this position. Martin Luther, known to drink himself, said, “…wine and women bring many a man to misery and make a fool of him; so we kill all the women and pour out all the wine. Again, gold and silver cause much evil, so we condemn them. Indeed, if we want to drive away our worst enemy, the one who does us the most harm, we shall have to kill ourselves, for we have no greater enemy than our own heart … And so on – what would we not do?”
Clearly, Jesus and early Christians drank wine. Now there are arguments about the alcohol content, cultural differences, access to other drinks, etc. I understand all that, but you cannot get around the fact that Jesus did drink wine. He was actually accused (falsely) by the religious leaders of the day of essentially being a “drunk.”
Why would a denomination seek to model itself after the legalistic Pharisees, instead of Christ? Jesus told us to take His yoke upon us, but it seems that is not enough for many Southern Baptists. They insist on adding more things on top of Jesus’ yoke. “It’s not quite heavy enough. It needs a few more rules and regulations.”
I don’t agree with John Piper on everything, but I love his quote on this subject:
Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.
Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.
Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.
Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.
Both of these denominations are seeking to do things to reach people for Christ, either through inclusiveness or avoiding sinful behavior, but both are doing things that denegrate the message of Jesus.
Liberalism and legalism will both fail. Neither is a complete understanding of Jesus and what He taught. Both undermine Scripture in favor of man’s opinion. Making the standard higher or lower is still changing the standard set forth by God. I am afraid that while many in both denominations may think this is “the best of times,” their decisions will ultimately cause many to go “direct the other way.”