The guy over at Catholidoxies has noticed that Protestant Christians in the mainstream are less and less inclined to refer to God as ‘Father’. He posts on this and expresses his reserve about this practice, wondering if it is heresy or not.
Yes it is heresy for some very good reasons. First reason is that God, while being transcendent, is also personal. Therefore it is right and proper to refer to him in terminology that recognizes his person-hood. ‘God’ is rightly transcendent, but ‘Heavenly Father’ and ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’, imply that there are persons within the Godhead. Not to refer to God as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ denies that aspect.
The same criticism applies to the sometimes substitute Trinitarian formula of ‘Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.’ These are also not personal terms of reference for the three persons of the Trinity, but references to their functions. Imagine referring to your parents not as ‘Dad and Mom’ or even as George and Phyllis, but as ‘Businessman and Housewife.’ Yucch.
Secondly, God is personal because we are called to be in a personal relationship with him. Our person–created in his likeness–is ultimately to be in a loving relationship with Him. That relationship is intrinsically that of Creator and creature, and the most natural analogy for this is of the Father and the child. To do away with calling God ‘Father’ for some shallow politically correct motivation is short sighted in the extreme. How can you have a relationship with ‘God’ that is anything more than abstract and theoretical? On the other hand, the relationship with a ‘Heavenly Father’ carries with it all the passion, drama and upheaval of the relationships we have with our parents.
Finally, and perhaps most telling, is the simple unavoidable fact that God as Father is an intrinic part of Jesus Christ’s revelation of God. His own relationship with ‘Abba-Father’ and his instructions to us to call God ‘Father’ are as foundational to who he was and what he taught as the Sermon on the Mount or the parable of the Prodigal Son. Pull it out of the liturgy and the prayer life and I would argue that your religion has ceased to be Christian.
Am I exaggerating? Not really. If you remove the traditional Trinitarian formula from the Baptism Rite it is not a valid baptism, and the person baptized is formally not a Christian.
On a personal note, I can remember as an Anglican priest fifteen years ago getting so fed up with the liturgies that did not refer to God as Father. Then a week after being received into the Catholic Church I went to Mass and afterwards, wiping away a tear, I said to the priest, “Father, can I just thank you for saying Mass so beautifully and for one thing?”
“What’s that?” asked the somewhat bemused priest.
“Just for opening the Mass with the words, ‘In the name of the FAther, the Son and the Holy Spirit.'”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I then explained this whole issue that had been going on in the Protestant Churches and he was aghast. I told him that it was refreshing just to hear the Trinitarian formula.
“Thank God for the liturgy!” he exclaimed, and gave me a warm embrace.