3/8/2018 - Pastor Tim
God as Father
If my children and grandchildren are raised singing hymns and songs that no longer include references to God as Father, will they have an incomplete understanding of God?
Is the movement within our denomination and in many others to replace “Father” with “God” theologically correct? And is it wise? Do we want our children and newcomers to the Church to lose the sense of God as Father? Do we really want to remove “Father” from our hymns, songs, and creeds?
Last Sunday our choir sang a song called “The Lord’s Prayer,” which begins, “Our God in heaven....” It was beautiful and uplifting! But was it really necessary to change the words? The argument goes that since God is neither male or female, and that as the writers of the Bible were influenced by a patriarchal society, in our modern society we should remove all gender descriptions referring to God. In many ways this makes sense. However, is it appropriate for us to change words given by Jesus? Unless we discredit the writing of the gospels as being completely unreliable, Jesus referred to or directly addressed God as Father 65 times in the Synoptic Gospels and over 100 times in John. It would behoove us to hesitate before changing the words of Jesus.
The word Father is a basic tenet of the Trinity. If we describe the Trinity as God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, then the belief in God as three in one is no longer tenable. It reduces the status of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be separate from God. Without “Father,” our faith becomes not much different from other monotheistic faiths. If we neglect or distort God’s nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we risk slipping into the void of universalism. If my children and grandchildren are raised singing hymns and songs that no longer include references to God as Father, will they have an incomplete understanding of God? Will something really crucial be missing? Will this only further water down the uniqueness of Christianity and erode the truth of our faith in Jesus who knew God as Father?
Knowing God as Father teaches an intimacy with God that was modeled for us by Jesus, who referred to God as Father and taught us to do the same. If we take Father out of our Christian hymns and even alter scripture, then it imprints an impersonal and distant deity upon our consciousness not dissimilar to gods in other religions. For me, personally, if we replace God with ‘parent’ or ‘creator’ - that just doesn’t work for me. These words do not bring a strong sense of intimacy and trust. I recognize, however, that this is personal and likely different for others, especially for those who have lived through abuse or neglect from their earthly fathers or for those who have not known an earthly father. But, rather than removing anything that could cause offense, can we embrace the opportunity to discover what our heavenly Father is like? Is taking the struggle away the right solution?
Removing the word “Father,” no matter what we replace it with, means that we assume intellectual superiority to the writers of the Bible. We have rendered judgement that God is no longer Father. We have decided for ourselves what the nature of God is like - creating a god that is to our liking, rather than accepting God as revealed to us in scripture. If we acknowledge that God is beyond our understanding, then how can we limit God to what we understand? Leaving the names and descriptions as they are in God’s word acknowledges that God is mysterious, higher than ourselves, and that any description of God will always be inadequate. Let’s remember that “Our Father, who is in heaven” is followed by “hallowed by your name.” This requires us to show honor and respect in how we address God. Praying as Jesus taught us to pray shows our reverence for God in that we will not assume that we have God figured out. It affirms that God is not created by the created but has made us and remains omnipotent. In our worship, let’s respect the holiness and omniscience of God without requiring that God fit within our human constraint.
Yes, we continue to seek to know and understand God. We teach, preach, write, and walk with others in understanding the God of the Bible. We can teach about understanding that God is neither male or female while still praying, “Our Father.” We wrestle through this mystery and walk with others doing the same. But, let’s not delete a way of addressing our mysterious God as revealed in scripture.
11/20/2017 - Pastor Tim
Excellent article about preaching the entire word of God by Kimberlee Johnson.
As I work on this Sunday’s message about unity in the body of Christ, I’m finding this difficult while I witness much disintegration in our denomination. So, just what is unity that honors God? Is it loyalty to a denominational structure? Is it tolerance that pays no attention to anything other than unconditional acceptance of all? What does the unity that Jesus calls us to look like and how do we achieve it?
Sometimes we have to deal with the inevitable disintegration of people-made structures in order to experience the new wine that God is preparing for us. Steve Kriss’s aptly put article in the Mennonite World Review, “A falling tower” helps me view things with our denomination with a kingdom perspective. His invitation to “a faith so strong that mountains move and storms calm while towers and empires around us fall once again" inspires me to look eagerly to the unfolding of God's mysterious plan without worry.
You can find his article here:
This morning as I started reading through Proverbs during my devotional time, verses 22-23 stood out to me - especially the part about mockery.
22“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
Ouch. How easy it is to delight in mockery - to try to make myself feel better by putting someone else down; to dwell on negative thoughts and then, far worse, to let critical or complaining words escape through my lips. Sometimes I feel like I rightfully have the right to complain about others especially if I feel I have been treated unjustly. But, the truth is, allowing myself to indulge in negative speech about someone else is sin - a grievous sin. God’s word is full of warnings about slander and the power of words. James 1:26 says, Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Again, ouch. My religion is worthless if I do not diligently guard and keep a watch on the things I say. This is serious.
This morning, I needed to spend some time repenting and examining my heart. It makes me sick to my stomach to realize that I’ve allowed this in my life. But, there is hope. The passage above says that if we repent at his rebuke, then the Lord will pour out his thoughts to us and make his teachings known to us. That is an incredible promise. Yes, I want to know the thoughts of God and I really need his teaching.
How often have I blocked the voice of the Lord with the attitudes of my heart and with critical words?
Written by Pastor Tim Bentch