Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Tags: Audio, British Royal Family, Church Of Sweden, Pope John Paul II, Prince Harry, Sexual Revolution, Theology
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 28, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see why a change in worship requires a change in theology, we’ll see the church of Sweden revise its references to God, we’ll see France allow a statue of a Pope so long as the Pope isn’t holding a cross, and we’ll come to understand how a marriage announcement about the British Royal family reveals the entire sequence of the sexual revolution.
Why a change in worship requires a change in theology
It seems routinely now that we are watching the mainline Protestant denominations make themselves into caricatures trying to see which church can go furthest left the fastest. This is particularly acute, not only in North America, but also in Europe. Amongst European nations and cultures, Scandinavia for the last several generations has become the most ardently secular. One of those Scandinavian nations, Sweden, had until the year 2000 an established state church, the Church of Sweden. That was a church that was established in the year 1536 under the leadership of the then Swedish King, King Gustav I. That was a church that grew out of ancient paganism. Up until the year 1536, the Swedish king had been involved in the thrice yearly sacrifices that were a part of the Scandinavian pagan background. All that changed with the Christianization of Sweden, but Sweden also became, rather very quickly, a part of the Reformation, with the Swedish church taking on an explicitly Lutheran identity. But even back in the late 16th century that Lutheran identity was not the same in Sweden as it was in Germany. The Swedish church decided to maintain much of the formality of Roman Catholicism maintaining the ordination of priests, the use of priestly vestments, and the celebration of the mass.
So it was the church that intended from the very beginning to blend certain elements of Reformation theology and historic Roman Catholic tradition, but as you look at the 20th century, Sweden, along with the rest of Scandinavia, became radically secularized. Even though the churches Sweden claims to have about 62 percent of the population of the nation as baptized members, in reality those numbers are artificially inflated simply because every single newborn born in Sweden until the year 1996 was simply enrolled in the church. The extent of that true secularization there in Sweden is made clear by the fact that according to the Church of Sweden's own reports only about 2 percent of the church members attend church in any given week. Now that's 2 percent of a church that now claims slightly more than 50 percent of the population of the nation as communicating members and that means looking at about 1 percent of the Swedish population attending church on any given Sunday.
Over the course of the last 20 or 30 years or so the Church of Sweden has, having already been largely liberalized in the 20th century, continued a rather fast march to the left. It became one of the first Western churches to ordain women as priests, it was then one of the first Western churches to normalize homosexuality, it is now, as recent headlines have told us, one of the most recent churches to take on the issue of God language, the very name of God.
The Church of Sweden revises its references to God
As recent headlines have made clear, the church is taking on the issue of language with very deep theological dimensions. The Telegraph of London ran the headline,
“Church of Sweden to Stop Clergy Calling God 'he' or 'the Lord' in Bid to Crack Down on Gendered Language.”
The Telegraph article goes on to tell us that,
“The Church of Sweden is encouraging its clergy to use the gender-neutral term ‘God’ instead of referring to the deity as ‘he’ or ‘the Lord.’”
We are told of the decision was made last Thursday,
“wrapping up an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body. The decision,”
we are told,
“will take effect on May 20 during [the church's celebration of] Pentecost.”
It is then summarized as,
“the latest move by the national Evangelical Lutheran Church to modernize its 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted.”
Now here, even before we look further just to the Church of Sweden, we have an affirmation of the fact that a change in worship demonstrates a change in theology, a change in doctrine. A basic principle of the Christian faith is that we worship as we believe and we believe as we worship. So it's no small thing to change the church’s handbook on worship, if you change the worship you are changing the theology, but this goes, in some sense, hand in hand to such an extent that you would also have to say that a change in the worship handbook for the Church of Sweden is only made possible because of what has already happened in terms of a change in doctrine and theology.
Turning back to the Church of Sweden and the announcement made last week, the Telegraph tells us,
“Priest can now open their services by referring to the traditional ‘Father, son and Holy Ghost’ or to the gender-neutral phrase ‘in the name of God and the Holy Trinity’. Other gender-neutral options,”
we are told,
“are available for other parts of the Church of Sweden liturgy.”
Archbishop Antje Jackelén, who is the first woman Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, already quite well-known for her liberal theology, she told Sweden's TT news agency,
“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human.”
But even before we look further at some of the changes to the worship language of the Church of Sweden, we need to note that what this archbishop said is partly right and partly wrong and entirely disastrous. The partly right is where she says that,
“God is not human.”
That's right in speaking of God the Father. And of course we as biblical Christians understand that we refer to God as male because God has revealed himself using a masculine identity, identifying himself as father, he is legitimately referred to as ‘he’ and, of course, as ‘the Lord,’ but this is not a statement about biology it is a statement about God's right to reveal himself as he is and as he wills. So even as we acknowledge and affirm that God the Father is not male, we go on to affirm that the Bible refers to God as Father and uses masculine language to refer to him. That's very important, but when we look at this change, now adopted by the Church of Sweden, we have to understand that it is directly subversive of the doctrine of the Trinity and of the biblical Christology because even as the Father does not have a body and is not male, the Son is, of course, male and was incarnate in human body and is in a male human body even now; a glorified body. Furthermore the church’s language referring to both the Father and the Son as Lord is directly and consistently biblical, even to the point that Paul in Philippians chapter 2 tells us that the Father gave to the Son the title of Lord precisely because of his obedience all the way even to the cross. The church historically, where ever it has been found, refers to the Son as Lord, recognizing the reality of his cross and resurrection, and affirming the fact that Lord is one of the most important titles ascribed to him in Scripture.
Last week some Western media ran headlines and news articles indicating that the church, by means of this change, had forbidden references to God using masculine pronouns and had forbidden using the title Lord. It turns out those reports were overblown, but the reality is no less troubling because this change in the Church of Sweden is a deliberate effort to try to replace all of the language that would include masculine pronouns, even to the point of changing some readings and prayers in the church’s handbook, replacing the word ‘he’ with what's understood to be the gender-neutral term God.
In an interview last week with the BBC in Britain, Archbishop Jackelén and indicated that she understood that she is now battling hundreds of years of inherited language, but she insisted it isn’t so much about throwing out as it is about using new more gender-neutral language. She told the BBC,
“I wouldn't say that this is a language to battle with, I would say it's a treasure we carry with us, but what we also realize,”
“is that we have had this predominance of patriarchal language. We are not throwing out anything,”
“but we’re also thinking of being more conscious about seeing the compliment that we already have in our tradition.”
Archbishop Jackelén, we should note, who was installed in 2013 as the first woman Archbishop of the church, was well known for her liberal theology including referring to the virgin birth as a
“mythological term to explain the unique.”
The Archbishop went on to say,
“Those who interpret the virgin birth as a biological issue have completely missed the point.”
Leading the faithful to note that it's the Archbishop who has indeed missed the point.
A spokesperson for the church said that she knew of no priest who objected to the changes; however, the same media indicated that there were votes in the church’s meeting against the proposal, but there was a backlash including from some who are theologians of the church. Christer Pahlmblad, identified as a theology professor at Lund University in Sweden told the Danish media that the church's decision was,
“undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches.”
He went on to say,
“It really isn’t smart of the Church of Sweden as it becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage.”
He pointed out that this is, as at least the theology professor understands, a significant and dangerous departure from the Christological and Trinitarian orthodoxy of 2000 years of Christianity.
Just a couple of years ago this same church also elected its first openly lesbian bishop, in this case that is the Bishop of Stockholm Eva Brunne. She has indicated that at least one of the churches in her diocese should remove its cross because it might appear to be less inviting to Muslim immigrants. Here we have yet another sad example of a Protestant denomination trying its best not only to redefine and to revise the Christian faith, but at the end of the day simply to abandon it. Our first concern there has to be the concern we find in the New Testament about departures from the Christian faith, and, yet, the second issue is we also have to recognize that those who are trying to please the modern world with this kind of innovation, well they’ll find out they don't even please the modern secular world.
A major respondent in Britain simply came back at the Church of Sweden to say,
“you’re not going to be able to solve this problem by simply changing some pronouns and metaphors. You’re going to have to eliminate the central teachings of the church including the most patriarchal teaching of all,”
“the church's continuing emphasis on marriage. It's not even enough,”
“to include same-sex couples in marriage, so long as you use the word marriage,”
“you are reinforcing sexism.”
Yet more evidence that a church that goes left will keep going left, and, furthermore, even as they abandon the Christian faith for a secular world, they won't even get any credit for it.
France allows a statue to the Pope, so long as the Pope isn’t holding the cross
Next, very quickly, further evidence of the secularization of Europe, in particular in this case the court enforced, court coerced secularization of Europe, a major report in a French newspaper Le Figaro tells us that a court there has just ruled that a cross atop a statue of the late Pope John Paul II must be removed because it violates a 2004 law against any kind of religious symbolism on public land. But of course that raises a huge question: How in the world can you have a statue of a pope that isn't religious? But that just shows you the kind of coercion that courts are now attempting as they are trying their very best to make certain that there is absolutely no public reference to Christianity. The article in Le Figaro, by the way, noted the irony, that's perhaps an understatement, of the fact that the French government is here seeking to remove all references, even symbolic references to Christianity, while going to rare extents to try to encourage religious expression by others including Muslims. Yet, another reminder of the fact that secularization is not nearly so secular as even the secularist claim.
How a marriage announcement about the British royal family reveals the entire sequence of the sexual revolution
Next, given worldwide fascination with celebrity, Monday’s announcement that Britain's Prince Harry is going to be marrying an American actress, who was also an American divorcee, got a great deal of attention. From a Christian worldview perspective what's most important here is the intersection of this announcement with history, and more importantly, the intersection of that history with theology. This is of course not the first time that a British prince has fallen in love with an American divorcee, we’d have to go back to the 1930s when the British prince was then Prince Edward the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, and the American divorcee, later twice divorced, was Wallis Simpson. Of course you know the story that prince became the king, King Edward VIII, he eventually abdicated his kingdom and married Wallis Simpson, later becoming the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and moving to Paris. But what’s most important to recognize is that the king was required to give up the throne because the king of England is simultaneously the head of the Church of England and the Church of England did not recognize legitimate marriage after a divorce if the spouse were still living. In the case of Wallis Simpson, by the time she married Edward VIII she actually had two former living husbands. The abdication of Edward VIII was one of the most controversial and memorable events of Western history in the 20th century and that's really saying something, and many Americans lately became introduced to the story for the first time through the popularity of the Netflix series “The Crown.” But that same series in its first season also introduced many Americans to the fact that the current Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, was forbidden to marry a divorced British Air Force officer precisely because of the issue of divorce, and thus they had to break up what was expected to be their engagement, another major controversy concerning the British Royal family in the 20th century.
But let's fast-forward to 2017 and wait just a minute, the current Prince of Wales Prince Charles is himself both divorced and married to a divorcee, but when Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles they were forbidden to have a major public wedding in the Church of England, and instead had to resort to a civil ceremony, later euphemistically blessed by a cleric of the Church of England. But what makes the announcement on Monday so remarkable and of interest in terms of the Christian worldview is that the current Archbishop of Canterbury has indicated that he has no problem with the prince marrying this American divorcee, and he has no problem with the fact that they intend to get married in a church of England church. That's the really significant development, and it's reflected in a headline from Religion News Service. The article’s by Catherine Pepinster, but the headline is this,
“Prince Harry will Marry a Divorced American — and the Church is Fine With it.”
In a statement released yesterday, Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, said of the couple,
“I wish them many years of love, happiness and fulfillment and ask that God blesses them throughout their married life together.”
In an apparent reference to the fact that the couple has chosen a public wedding within the Church of England, the Archbishop went on to say,
“I am so happy that Prince Harry and Ms. Markle have chosen to make their vows before God.”
All of this should remind us that the normalization of divorce was one of the essential preconditions for the normalization of the entire sexual revolution. As I made clear in my book We Cannot Be Silent, we bear responsibility as Christian churches for legitimizing divorce, at the very same time undermining marriage. Most weddings attract far less attention and celebrity than the wedding of a member of the British royal family, but in terms of theology and doctrine, in terms of biblical issues, we need to note that every single marriage is of equal importance, and every single compromise is thus equally dangerous. We should also simply note that in the years from 1936 with the abdication of the king to 2017 with the announcement of this wedding, there has been an entire theological revolution in the Church of England. The succession in terms of this question from King Edward VIII to Princess Margaret to Prince Charles to Prince Harry is a progression in terms of the sexual revolution, a progression deeply injurious to the institution of marriage and to the witness of the Christian church. Or put it this way: What in 1936 required a king to abdicate his throne, now produces appreciation from the Archbishop of Canterbury? That just about says it all.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.