Home > American Protestantism, Liberal Christianity, Liberal Lutheranism, Liberal Mainline Protestantism > Apostasy in the Raw: United Church of Christ Scratches “Heavenly Father” Out

Apostasy in the Raw: United Church of Christ Scratches “Heavenly Father” Out

July 11th, 2011
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UCC spokesperson Barb Powell told World Net Daily: “In the UCC, our language for God, Christ and the Holy Spirit … is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity. Heavenly Father is just one vision.”

If you have not heard about this already, you need to be aware that the United Church of Christ has recently, quite literally, lined through reference to God as Father in their governing documents. Friends, you will hear some theologians and pastors, perhaps even ones that claim to be conservative, try to justify this, or make excuse for it, or explain it away, or try to ignore this reality, but here it is: this is apostasy in the raw. There is no fuzz on this peach, no grey areas here. This is nothing more and nothing less than open rebellion against the Holy Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But here is where this raises huge questions for all Christians. Let me put a few of them forward.

How can a baptism performed in a United Church of Christ congregation be recognized as valid and legitimate any longer since the UCC has taken this step?

What implications does the fact that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in full communion with the UCC have for that church body’s commitment to the holy, catholic faith? If the ELCA does not sever its full communion with the UCC over this, that means, frankly, that the ELCA is giving its de facto and tacit approval of this action? And in that case, the implications for any baptism performed in the ELCA are ominous, since full communion is an expression of fundamental agreement and unity in doctrine between church bodies.

Pastor Peters blogged about this and he wisely notes that this decision has implications for all parish pastors in all church bodies. He writes, “It seems that from now on we better check any baptism from the UCC on a case by case basis because any baptism not in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit cannot in confidence be a baptism at all…. just something to think about….”

I don’t think we can afford to stick our heads in the sand on this one.

Here are the important details of this disaster from the Louisville newspaper, the Courier-Journal

“According to a United Church of Christ spokesman, it isn’t news that the liberal Protestant denomination is moving to delete a reference in its constitution from “Heavenly Father” to “Triune God.” Decades of theological change lay behind it. Yet now it is putting the change on record.

The Rev. Bennett Guess told my colleague Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today:

“We no longer use exclusively male language to refer to God. We haven’t for a long time.”

The deletion prompted alarm among from a conservative activist group in the predominately liberal denomination.

It may not be new, but it’s still eye-catching to see the words crossed out in the constitutional change, even if the main point of the change was to merge five boards into one. The change would require ratification by two-thirds of the denomination’s 38 regional conferences by 2013. [PTM Note: I can't do a line through, so the words I've underlined are literally crossed out in the resolution passed by the UCC]

Here’s the salient paragraph from 13 pages of bylaw changes, with the revised language in blue and the deleted language crossed out. It was approved Monday at the denomination’s biennial governance meeting.

ARTICLE V. LOCAL CHURCHES

The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church. A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in the triune 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.

Guess said the denomination was dealing “with bylaws written decades ago, before the denomination’s commitment to using inclusive and expansive imagery for God.” (The term “bylaws” sounds more perfunctory than “constitution,” especially when the “basic unit” of the church is described.) Another spokeswoman said members are free to refer to God as father or mother.

The United Church of Christ recorded 1.08 million members last year, down nearly 3 percent from the previous year and down by about half since its peak in the 1960s.

It was formed by a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church — itself formed by a merger of two historically German Protestant groups, with several congregations in the Louisville area — and the Congregational Christian Churches, whose organizational ancestors included the Puritans. Therein lies a tale.

In more recent years, the denomination has made headlines as the affiliate of President Obama’s former church in Chicago, headed by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; and a controversial TV ad showing bouncers keeping people out of church (in contrast to the UCC’s declared inclusiveness.)”

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  1. July 11th, 2011 at 11:12 | #1

    This follows in line with the teachings of the earlier Re-Imagining Conferences during which women — many Lutheran — re-imagined God in their image. They proclaimed no need for “blood dripping from crosses” and, instead, offered milk and honey. Like Eve, modern women too often speak for God; in fact, add their own words to His Word. Like Adam, men are unable to bring order out of the chaos when they fail to remember God’s Word and use it. For this and many other reasons, the ministry of Titus 2 for Life continues to use the mentoring model of Titus 2:1-8 in the midst of a rebellious and hurting culture.

  2. Christine
    July 11th, 2011 at 13:10 | #2

    “We no longer use exclusively male language to refer to God. We haven’t for a long time.”

    Seems to me the honest thing to do would be to remove the reference to “Christ” in the UCC’s name as well.

    The UCC has become a smorgasbord where one can re-make God into one’s own preferred image.

    I believe the Bible calls that idolatry.

    Christine

  3. July 11th, 2011 at 14:46 | #3

    I’m still trying to figure out how exactly one would go about “accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” (as Article V mentions) all the while refusing to pray as Jesus himself taught his disciples: “Our Father in heaven…”

  4. Rev. Allen Yount
    July 11th, 2011 at 15:09 | #4

    “In the UCC, our language for God, Christ and the Holy Spirit … is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity. Heavenly Father is just one vision.”

    So, would the Hindu concept of “Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer” be another expression of the Trinity acceptable in the UCC? There’s no Father there, either. Plus, as part of that deal I think you also get Kali, a female deity — really inclusive.

    Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison!

    Rev. Allen Yount
    – Oratio, Meditatio, Tentaio Faciunt Theologum –

  5. July 11th, 2011 at 15:58 | #5

    I was reading Carl Braaten’s memoirs- my Dad loaned it to me- he talks extensively about this problem as it was cropping up in the Lutheran church, radical feminism indeed.

  6. July 11th, 2011 at 17:12 | #6

    What is the UCC’s new Trinity? Gaia, Mohammed, and Buddha?

  7. July 13th, 2011 at 08:22 | #7

    This is very sad, but predictable. The UCC has been heading in this direction for a long time. However, what is much sadder is that the ELCA is heading in the same direction. As an ELCA pastor I have sorely grieved over the new worship book (ELW) which contains many options for alternative liturgical formularies for those who want to cut out Father and Son language from the liturgy. “O Lord, Holy Father” was torn out of the proper prefaces and simply replaced with “O God.” The words of the Psalms have been altered so that all male pronouns for God have been removed. The “re-imaging God” movement in the ELCA is alive and well (or alive and sick). I predict that soon the ELCA will take a similar step and simply get rid of the Father and the Son altogether. That we ever jumped into bed with the UCC to begin with is proof of this denominations theological and confessional decay. We should admonish the UCC for this, but instead will hold them up as a model of tolerance and inclusivity.

  8. melxiopp
    July 13th, 2011 at 11:24 | #8

    This may be a tempest in a teapot for those reading the UCC Article in question closely and who have a firm grounding in Trinitarian theology. I would submit that the original language of the Article is itself problematic in that “the triune God” is not, properly speaking, our “heavenly Father”. Our Triune God is one God in three Persons, only one of Whom is, properly speaking, our “heavenly Father”. (That being said, I seem to remember there being some ancient prayers addressed to Jesus Christ – the Son – as Father, too.)

    However, I agree that the primary, practical reason non-UCC Christians should be concerned with this change relates to whether the UCC’s baptismal formula remains “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), or not. If it has been changed to baptism in the “Name of Jesus” alone (cf. Acts 2:38) or “In the Name of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ or anything else, then UCC baptisms should, as a matter of course, be rejected unless proof positive can be provided that a trinitarian formula was used (e.g., video, audio, multiple witnesses) – and even then, a provisional form of the baptismal formula should be used.

    • July 13th, 2011 at 12:38 | #9

      If I may, please let me caution against, a “provisional” form. It would only rob a person of confidence. There is never such a thing as a “provisional” baptism only a baptism. If the one coming to you for baptism can not prove that he/she was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he / she should simply be baptized in that Blessed Name, and leave it at that.

  9. melxiopp
    July 13th, 2011 at 11:28 | #10

    At the Riverside Church of New York (theriversidechurchny.org), which is a preeminent member of both the UCC and the American Baptist Convention, the only requirement for membership is that you acknowledge “Jesus is Lord”. That’s it. That allows for a great deal of latitude in what a given believer – clergy or lay – believes about God, Jesus, ‘Lordship’, the Christian life, sacraments, salvation, etc.

  10. melxiopp
    July 13th, 2011 at 13:49 | #11

    @ptmccain
    Perhaps “conditional” would have been a more accurate term. The idea is that if there is a question about whether a person was, in fact, baptized a conditional phrase such as “If not already baptized, the servant of God N. is baptized in the Name…” is used in a full baptismal ceremony. This balances the need to assure the person that he/she was truly baptized with the Church’s belief in but “one baptism”. In this way, it is clear to all involved that the person is not being ‘rebaptized’ or ‘baptized again’.

  11. Greg H
    July 17th, 2011 at 05:40 | #12

    Just a note. The official web site has not yet posted the change. Also, the words “the triune” do not appear in the section of relating to constitution. It reads, “…believing in God as heavenly Father,…”

    The UCC statement of faith comes in three versions, Traditional (English and Spanish, 1959), Contemporary (inclusive language), and Doxological (1981). The traditional version retains the naming of Father (Padre). Other “Faith Testimonies” continue to acknowledge God as Father.

    The constitutional change for congregations referenced in the original blog is indeed troubling. However, there is still a witness within the other documents of the UCC. Straight forward Trinitarian naming is weak even in some of the older documents, but the acceptance of the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds, along with the other “Faith Testimonies” has not yet changed officially.

    • July 19th, 2011 at 14:25 | #13

      Pathetically small comfort and in some ways, makes the whole mess even worse when you think about it.

  12. August 2nd, 2011 at 19:26 | #14

    Grace and Peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, each and every one. These things wound the hearts of believers–they wound God’s heart. I am sorry to hear of the decision of our fellow Christians in The UCC. I am sorry that they are enabling heresy. “God, Christ, and The (Holy)Spirit. There are problems of theology in that wording. If it is God, and then Christ–then Christ is not God. This stands to reason. With the proper language we say GOD the Father, GOD the Son, and GOD, the Holy Spirit. In their inclusive formula only the first person of the Trinity is God. Christ is God’s Son? God the Who’s Son? Just God. Well…Christ is God also, and The Holy Spirit is God also. Thus, God, the Father, God The Son, and God The Holy Spirit. All of the unfortunate triumphs of those who are (willfully) eroding the Christian faith in protestant churches should recieve thank you notes from the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches–because we are swelling their numbers with every ill concieved new abandonmnet of Christianity……….

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