When Muslims pray the 99 names of God they don’t believe that there are 99 different gods. They believe that there are 99 different attributes of God. God has many names but is still one God.
It is kind of like me. I am Betsy, but legally I am Elizabeth. To my husband I am his wife, to my coworkers I am their coworker, to my friends I am their friend. I am always me, but other people have different ways of interacting with me and know me in different ways. It depends on how they see me as to how they refer to me.
God is the same. “God” is just a descriptive, after all, not a name. In the Bible, God uses the name “I AM”. God is known as Elohim, as Jehovah, as Lord, as the Almighty, the Creator… the list goes on and on.
While there are different names for God, we are still talking about the same God that created the Earth, spoke to Abraham, and was made known on Earth as Jesus.
I’m not so sure if people are talking about the same God when they refer to Spirit.
I know a lot of people who are disillusioned with church and have left. They seem to like parts of it but not all of it. I get that. I left church too.
Some of them like the ritual. Some like the community. Some like the hymns. They are creating their own version of “church” with the pieces they like, but leaving out the pieces they don’t.
They are having circles where people talk about what is important to them, or they paint, or they drum, or they recite poetry.
I get that too.
But I’m strongly opposed to them calling it “church” if Jesus isn’t present. If they don’t read the Word of God and they don’t celebrate Communion, then why call it church? It is more coffeehouse gathering than church.
Let us call things by their true names. Let us not deceive ourselves and say that we are going to “church” when Jesus isn’t present. The same is true of the “mega churches” with their “Prosperity Gospel”.
Things evolve, of course. I left a medieval reenactment group because it stopped being a medieval reenactment group. Years ago, people who were thinking about joining asked if they could dress up like fairies and vampires, and the members told them no. They said that had nothing to do with the group. The focus of the group was “A day in the life of a European court.” The time period was pre-1500s. But then slowly it became more and more “early period” with more and more people showing up in shapeless garments with animal skins tied around them. Then, the Middle-Eastern re-enactors started showing up.
Now this group looks nothing like what it looked like when I joined. It has stopped being “A day in the life of a European court” and started being a “come as you want to be” party. When will the Klingons and the Silurians show up?
I’m all for everyone feeling welcome and included. I like the idea of “All are welcome” and “radical inclusion”. But I feel like at some point a line has to be drawn. Are we talking about the same thing? Are we still on the same page?
Hummus has a few basic things that make it hummus – garbanzo beans, oil, citrus juice, and tahini, all blended up in a food processor. While you can exchange black beans for garbanzo beans, and you can use lime juice instead of the traditional lemon juice, that is as far as you can go. After that, it stops being hummus. You can’t put apples in a blender and call it hummus. You can’t add tahini to a pot roast and call it hummus. There are certain things that you must have, and if you don’t have them, you don’t have hummus.
Church is the same way. You can strip away the ritual and the hymns and it is still church. You don’t even have to gather together in person – you could have a videoconference. You can add in dance, or painting. You don’t need musical instruments, or you can have a whole symphony.
But you have to have God, and you have to have Jesus, for it to be church. And they can’t be implied or guessed at. There has to be no doubt about it.
What about “the Goddess”?
While I’m fine with the idea of the many sides of God being welcomed and included, actually including the idea of the “Goddess” is totally not acceptable in church. Remember “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”? That is a big one. To worship the “Goddess” is a complete violation of that commandment.
God has many aspects, not all of them related to gender. You can be a feminist and still worship God. But the Goddess isn’t God – she is another thing entirely. If you want to worship the Goddess, fine. That is your choice. But then it isn’t church. It is something else. To call it church is deceiving to yourself and others.
So what about those names of God? At what point does God stop being God? At what point are you worshipping something else? At what point are you not in a worship service at all?
These are important questions to ask yourself.