Credo #77.1 – the Church is not your mother

Posted: November 19, 2009 in Credo, For brothers

Nutshell: We have biblical metaphors handed down to us in Scripture; God is our Father, etc. The only biblical metaphor that involves mothers is in the context of speaking of older women in the fellowship. Do not think this a straining at gnats; it bears upon the greater issue of the feminization of the organized fellowship in unbiblical ways.

One of the most remarkable statements I have come across in my virtual travels is an expression that one “cannot have God as your Father if you will not have the church as your mother.” The phrase comes from Cyprian, a figure in the early history (3rd Century) of the church. He wrote this in the context of offering commentary about how to welcome people back into the organized fellowship who had fallen away during a time of persecution by the Roman Empire.

I immediately disliked this phrase as it was being applied by a pastor in a Vineyard Church, and had to reflect a bit on why. I still dislike it, and beg your indulgence to explain why this matters and why it matters so much as to be elevated to a “Credo.”

The language is highly “loaded” – in an age where masculine dispositions themselves are under assault in the church (e.g. understanding ‘why’ you are to believe something, rather than passively accepting what you are told, for one.) Do we really need this further feminization of the language in our fellowships? Consider also the implications of “cannot” — and lest you think I am straining at gnats, remember those men driven from fellowships because a 20 year old with a G.E.D. wrote an objectionable book about ‘kissing dating goodbye’. Language is a container of ideas, and ideas matter, as well as how we express them.

The forms of organization and hierarchy of an embattled association of believers in North Africa in the 3rd century are not congruent with what you will find, say, in a white-bread suburban church in North America, circa 2009 (or a dark-bread urban church in the same time and milieu, either.) The literary forms and memes of that age are also not the same as, say, those used in the latest pop seller at your local Christian bookstore. So; if one were to blithely repeat what Cyprian said because it sounds cool (ooh! low cost Church history baco-bits for the sermon!) …without giving reflection as to what those words mean in a modern context it would be to engage in foolishness. In the time of Cyprian a father had a kind of position in law and social standing that might not even be understood by, say, your average bible – school diploma holding assistant church elder. Likewise the meme expressed with the use of the word “mother” as metaphor.

It is a constant in Christian life that we are called to be in meaningful fellowship with other believers. It is a natural sequelae of seeking Him that compassion will be engendered in you – and in others – for others in the same boat. Some believers may liken this to the nurturing love a mother has for her offspring. You aren’t hearing me deny, dispute, or otherwise disregard this feeling. Nor are you hearing me dispute legitimate spiritual authority in the assembly. I certainly do not say that you turn away from people who love you with a strong, nurturing love.

What you are hearing me say is that the language in this statement is loaded with assumptions that will take away from you rather than add to you if it is applied at face value, as I believe it has been and can be.

This is a far cry from “mothering” and from saying “you cannot …have God as your Father

In summary, then: You need real community with believers actually seeking Him. You will prosper in your walk with competent help from more mature believers. But neither the community of believers nor their leadership have been called to be your “mother” or to “mother” you. They are in fact called to point you to your Strength and disciple you about those things they ought to… but they are not called to “mother” you.

….And a wise mother knows when to let her sons have their freedom.

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