9/7/11

'Father' God, Rejected by the UCC

I always begin my prayers with the words "Father God."

In doing so, I acknowledge two things ~ I humbly acknowledge that God is my Sovereign, my Master; and I express gratitude that God is my Heavenly Father.

Apparently, the United Church of Christ (UCC) would not be comfortable with my prayer.

According to a report from Eric Anderson on the denomination's website, delegates to the UCC's "General Synod 28" met in Tampa, Florida in July and agreed to a series of proposed amendments to their constitution and bylaws that included a deletion of a reference to God as "heavenly Father." (The tally of the vote was 613 in favor of the changes, 171 against, and 10 abstaining.)

In Article V, in reference to local churches, the constitution previously included this statement: "A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness." This language has been intact since the UCC's founding in 1957.

The new language, which was slated for review before regional ratification, would be changed to say, "A Local Church is composed of persona who, believing in the triune God, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

While not all male references have been removed from the UCC ~ the traditional language "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is still used for baptisms ~ the shift in the primarily liberal denomination is toward speaking of God in gender-neutral terms.

UCC spokeswoman Barb Powell told World New Daily (July 9) the change was made because the "heavenly Father" reference was too restrictive. "In the UCC," she said, "our language for God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity. Heaven Father is just one vision."

The UCC is changing traditional language to "more inclusive" language, she said. Some of the denomination's pastors refer to God with terms like "Creator" or "Father and Mother" God. "There are a lot of people who decided, if God still is speaking to us, there is more light and truth to break forth," she said.

David Runnion-Bareford, a leader in a group within the UCC ~ the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF) ~ criticized the change. "Rejecting God as Father in an age of fatherlessness is unthinkable," he said. "God acted toward us in amazing grace when He offered to be our Father through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, who offers us life in His name. This is not something we humans made up in some other time.

"Rejecting our Father is [an] act of arrogant rebellion in the name of cultural conformity that only further alienates members, churches, but more importantly, God Himself."

Runnion-Bareford also noted that the language in the original constitution, including "Heavenly Father," helps to keep churches "affiliated who are otherwise alienated by the denominations very liberal agenda;" and he warned the UCC to be careful since it is "the leader among Protestant denominations in member loss."

The UCC, "having rebelled against the Word of God, is on sinking sand ~ with our members, churches, historic witness, and identity in Christ washing away before our eyes," he said.

While I tend to say, "come out from among them" and be consecrated unto biblical truth, I am thankful for groups like the BWF that push back against denominational decline. Runnion-Bareford said the group was formed "in alarmed response to decades of continued denominational decline that has resulted from the UCC's theological surrender to the moral and spiritual confusion of contemporary culture."

The UCC ~ the denomination from which Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright issues his racist statements ~ is also encouraging ordination of those who choose "alternative" lifestyles (homosexuality, bisexuality, and sexual activity outside of marriage). The UCC embraces moral relativism, exalting human experience above the authority of scripture. Runnion-Bareford is also concerned about the "ambivalence" in the denomination regarding core Christian beliefs, such as the resurrection and Lordship of Christ.

The truth of God as Father has been part of Christendom from its earliest years in its documents and statements ~ for example, The Apostles' Creed states, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...."and the Nicene Creed begins, "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty ...."

More than that, the teaching of God as Father is biblical. Certainly, God was Jesus' father (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:32-33; Isaiah 9:6), but Jesus also encouraged us to pray to God, "Our Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:6-9). We are to glorify our "Father who is in heaven" and live in holiness before Him now (Matthew 5:16; 5:48); and someday, the just will shine in "the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).

Many other scriptures in the Bible speak of our Father in Heaven. How can anyone, any group, faced with this clear reality ~ this doctrinal truth ~ simply write him out of their constitution?

I note with interest that this intimacy with a Father God is a special part of Christian and Jewish faith. Islam's god is never described as a "Father." The relationship is more of a slave and master, with obedience being the primary motivation for acceptance. In Islam, it is not in God's nature to be a father (see "Islam Has No Father").

I'm glad to know the Father's love. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!..." (1 John 3:1a).

How grateful I am that I can pray, "Father God...." and know that He, in His goodness gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

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