Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Father's Day: does it intrude into The Lord's Day?

First, there was Mother's Day and then in these days of equality there was Father's Day. Both occasions provide an opportunity for commercial companies to advertise their products as gifts for Mother or Father, respectively. And, maybe, some good is done to American family life by these "celebrations"—despite the fact that families, where there is a resident mother and father, are now in a minority in the spectrum of modern families. Regrettably, both Mother's and Father's Day are on Sundays, and this causes complications to those who celebrate Sunday as the Lord's Day, the feast of the Resurrection.

Importing the theme of Father's Day into Christian worship and congregational life on the Lord's Day is not without profound difficulties and problems, from both a biblical and a social perspective. With respect to the latter, many children do not know who is their father, or, if they do, they hardly see him; and in many cases "mother' is at odds with "father" because he is not paying her what he should for the upkeep of children. So celebrating Father's Day in a congregation where there is a good proportion of single parent families may cause great pain of heart especially to the children of absent fathers.

But, from a biblical perspective, celebrating human fatherhood on the Lord's Day, the festival of the raising of the Lord Jesus, Incarnate Son, from the dead by the Father, is at the very best only celebrating the image and likeness instead of the Original. Let me explain.

If we are not feminists, and if we believe that it is right to use the Name of "Father" for God, then we have to be clear—especially on this secular "Father's Day—whether the Name of "Father" is a Name that human beings out of their own wisdom and volition have come to project on to, and use of, God, arising out of their experience over the centuries of ancient "patriarchal" and modern "nurturing" fatherhood; or whether this Name has been revealed by God himself, and thus the original and right use of it in Christianity is solely because it is a revealed Name, belonging to a real almighty Person, the First of the Three of the Holy Trinity.

My sense is that most Christians, who are committed to the authority of the Bible and who call God "Father," do generally think of God as Father in terms of an enlarged ideal human father. This is the easier for them if their experience of a father has been, and is, positive and good.

However, such an approach can so easily fail to take into account the claim that the Name of "Father" is revealed by God, and especially is revealed by Jesus Christ, who referred to "the Father" as "my Father." Further, it does not seem to square with the particular statement of St Paul who wrote: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family [fatherhood] in heaven and on earth is named…" (Ephesians 3:14). We need to reflect upon what St Paul said.

The Apostle does not say that God is named by the names used in human families (Father and Mother) but the opposite, that each human family (and the word he uses is of what we call a tribe or extended family) is named after God the Father. This is to say that the human father ( pater), as the head of, and as the representative of, the family (patria), is not only a creature of God, but, also, that he is to reflect in his character and actions, as a father, the character and actions of God the Father. We recall that in biblical thought to be "named" is much more than being given a name or title. It carries the ideas of determining the character and exercising authority over what is named. Thus God the Father by naming the father in the family actually places him under his authority and determines who he is to be, how he is to be and what he is to do within and for the family. That is, human fatherhood is to reflect divine Fatherhood, not the reverse. And the human family is thus to benefit from this refection.

And, we may add, that Christians learn about the Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who had the most intimate relation to him and also taught us much about the identity and character of his Father, who is The Father, and by grace, "Our Father." In fact the only sure knowledge we have of The Father is from his Incarnate Son. Any projections we may from our own experience of human fathers are sure to be imperfect, incomplete and probably very wrong.

So, returning to the secular "Father's Day" perhaps it is alright to allow it to enter Christian worship on the Lord's Day if—and only if—it is to be the occasion for (a) profound, spiritual worship of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and (b) meditation upon the real nature and character of human fatherhood, as provided in the identity, nature and character of God, the Father. Let us remember that baptized Christians are first of all—from heaven's vantage point—adopted children of the heavenly Father! And they are such whatever kind of human family-or no family-they come from on earth.

June 13, 2007

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