Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Changing God's Name is an Insult

Recently, the United Church of Christ modified its bylaws and constitution which weakened or removed Trinitarian language and references to the "Heavenly Father".  This is all part of a long standing trend in liberal denominations to eliminate the gender-specific references to the Triune God (i.e. "Father", "Son", etc).

You will find absurdity at the radical edge of this trend.  The feminist fringe will replace it with alternate language like "Mother" or "Daughter".  Most rational people can easily see why this move is simultaneously inaccurate, politically motivated, and offensive.  The problem is that in this modern age of compromise, we are tempted to strike a middle ground to please everyone.  A popular blending of this radical trend and historically Biblical references to God is to replace His name with the roles or attributes of the persons of the Trinity.  So instead of "Father" you say "Creator".  Instead of "Son" you say "Redeemer".  Instead of "Holy Spirit" you say "Sanctifier".

At this point, it is very easy to slide into Aristotelian philosophy in talking about natures, essences, and accidents... forms and modes... blah blah blah...  The truth is that most people don't care about philosophy and even fewer really understand it.  (And almost no one can remember how to spell "Aristotelian" off the top of their heads!)  So here is my attempt to plainly explain why "Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier" is unacceptable and insulting as an alternate Triune name.

1.  In every other aspect of life, replacing someone's name with their function is considered an impersonal insult.  You don't refer to your Mother as "The Cook".  You don't refer to your kid as "Potential Organ Donor Match".  If you are in court and you want to win you say "Your Honor" to the guy with the gavel and not "Hey Judge".  In the military, I can refer to an individual who is not in the military as "You there, Civilian."  All of these qualities may be true.  Your mom cooks.  Your kids might be able to give you a kidney some day.  The man who passes sentence is the judge.  Civilians are civilians.  There are cases where using the description is apprppriate in a given context, but to constantly use the function or role of a person as a name communicates a kind of impersonal distance which can also imply disrespect.  In some cases, you can get away with this... but a refusal to use personal names with those to which you have a personal relationship would indicate bizarre antisocial behavior.  Why do we want to treat God this way?

2.  The fact is that God has told His name to us.  It is the name by which we are saved.  It is clear and nonnegotiable.  He has said about Himself that He is "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and that is the name in which we are baptized.  When someone introduces themselves and you call them by another name, you communicate an even greater disrespect than my first point.  It is such a culturally understood faux pas that comedy writers us as a standard tacitc the inability to get someone's name right as a way to show the audience that a given character is either a moron or an egotistical jerk.  If a girl says that her name is "Stacey", I suggest that you start calling her "Jane" from that point forward and see how far you get with her!

Better yet, when she says her name is "Stacey" tell her to her face: "I don't see you as a Stacey.  I will call you Jane.  You are more of a Jane to me."

...again... Why do we want to treat God that way?

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