Inclusive Language and Worship -- By: David Lyle Jeffrey

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 004:2 (Winter 2000)
Article: Inclusive Language and Worship
Author: David Lyle Jeffrey


Inclusive Language and Worship

David Lyle Jeffrey

The Central Role Of Language In Defining The People Of God

Editor’s Note: This article is an edited version of one which was first published in the August, 1987 issue of the now-defunct The Reformed Journal, pp. 13–22.

The quest for inclusive language in theological discussion and worship continues to unsettle many Reformed and evangelical worship communities. In many of the liberal congregations of mainline denominations, gender neutral Bible translations and the Inclusive Language Lectionary are becoming more widely used. Controversy has resulted from the adopting of these and comparable revisions by Presbyterians, Episcopalians (Anglicans), the United Church of Christ, and the United Church of Canada, among others. The effect has been to put pressure to conform on those of more conservative theological persuasions. Discussions—often heated—have spread across a broad spectrum of denominations, from the Roman Catholic to the various Reformed churches. Thus, innovations that have ostensibly been offered to advocate greater unity in the community of faith have in fact tended toward precisely the opposite effect.

Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer (John 17) we are reminded of the relevance of the issues of unity in the body of Christ generally. In this prayer, the stress our Lord put on unity (or we might say “inclusivity”) is clear and explicit in the language He uses. Moreover, the prayer itself emphasizes the central role of language in “defining” those who will follow Jesus, who, as we see from the previous chapter, are literally and figuratively the ones who take up His cross.

Notice in this prayer how Jesus makes both the content of relationship with God and the continuity of the apostolic message unavoidably matters of language. Ultimately, to belong to God is to bear the name of God (vv. 11–12). That is, our Lord has given us the words given him by the Father (v. 8), which, when we receive them, are the basis of our recognition of God in Christ, “…they understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent me” (v. 8b). At the same time these words are also the occasion of our being despised by a world which rejects godliness, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them…” (v. 14). But that “all may be one,” a phrase repeated three times in this prayer (vv. 11, 21, You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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