Error, truth, and “the fellowship of Christ’s religion”

The surest way to dumb down a church’s theology is to tamper with its liturgy, and there is no more reprehensible way to wreak havoc on the liturgy than to pepper it throughout with “non-offensive” or “inclusive” language. Mainline churches today are dead in large part because their liturgies are lifeless expressions of rancid sterility laced with the deadly poison of idolatrous gender neutrality. The “God” who is “worshiped” in these liturgies is not a loving Father of infinite goodness and mercy, but a faceless functionary who is apparently so distant as to be beyond personal pronouns. If “God loves all God’s children,” why can’t this loving “God” be addressed as Father or referred to as he, him, or his?

A “God” who is not personal is neither capable of loving nor of being loved. The prophets of inclusiveness will insist that “love” is all that matters. But “love,” to them, is not unconditional self-sacrifice, but narcissistic self-exaltation. Thus, it is no longer “right to give him thanks and praise,” but “right to give our thanks and praise.” That subtle alteration, now standard in many eucharistic liturgies, illustrates profoundly the shift which inevitably takes place when “inclusive language” is the main concern. The focus is not on God, but on ourselves. God is no longer the object of worship; we are the object of our own self-congratulation.

It should go without saying that inclusive language liturgies are but the culmination of a process of dumbing down the liturgy which began over half a century ago. It is a long and winding road littered with ironic twists and contradictory turns, one of the clearest illustrations of which will take place this coming Sunday–the Fourth Sunday of Eastertide, commonly called “Good Shepherd Sunday”–when Anglicans of varied theological persuasions across America will pray this collect from the 1979 BCP, also retained by the ACNA in its provisional Common Prayer texts:

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people; Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

There is nothing objectionable about the language, theology, or content of this prayer. It was composed to correspond with the Gospel reading for Year A of the lectionary, Jesus’s well known discourse on the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-10). In that regard, it is biblical and most appropriate for the occasion.

It is also, however, a radical departure from the collect Thomas Cranmer originally appointed for what was previously called the Third Sunday after Easter and included in every American Prayer Book before 1979.

Almighty God, who shewest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness: Grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Cranmer borrowed this prayer, one of the oldest in his original compilation, from the Sacramentary of Leo I. It emphasizes one of the principle themes of the Easter season, namely, the incorporation into the body of Christ of new members via baptism and profession of faith. Barbee and Zahl, in their commentary on Cranmer’s collects, offer these observations:

The Collect for the Third Sunday after Easter draws its power from the relation it represents between “the light of thy truth” and “the way of righteousness.” We might have expected the Collect to posit God’s showing forth His light to all “that be in error,” to the intent that we would return to His truth. But no! The intent of our receiving His light is, in Prayer Book logic, that we return to “the way of righteousness.” Truth creates right doing!

How can this be so? Truth here must be something potent in practice. It must be more than an abstraction. It must be more than principles or correct thinking. It is in fact right relationship. It is fellowship with God, to use the Collect’s phrase. Truth enables relationship. The link between truth and relationship is the truth about ourselves in the light of the truth about God. When we are truly known, particularly in the darkness and shadows of our lives, by a Love which does not reject, we are cemented to God. To be known in truth and at the same time loved is the coup de grace to our retreat from relationship.

If what you believe is God’s truth (grace) and your truth (the way you really are), the fruit of your belief will be works of righteousness and “all such things as be agreeable to the same.” The relation between what you believe and what you do will be of cement, or better, of steel.

The ancient Collect posits the formula for true and lasting inclusion in “the fellowship of Christ’s religion,” namely a turning away from the darkness of error and a joyful embrace of the light of God’s eternal truth.

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