Posted by: smstrouse | January 14, 2012

On Being a Baptismal Heretic: the Case for Inclusive Language

It’s time to be honest about heresy.

When I was a younger pastor, I was much more intimidated by the word. Planning worship for a conference in which my bishop would participate, I had to run the order of service by him first.  “Only one problem,” he said. “You can’t say ‘In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; that’s modalism.”  I quickly racked my brain, trying to remember what modalism was; all I knew was that it was a (cue the scary music) heresy.

Since those days I’ve become less willing to back off just because someone invokes the H word. Especially when it comes to the use of inclusive language in the liturgy. So when a noted theologian (under whom I, in fact studied) says that those who want alternative names to ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ are ‘enemies of the church’ and implies that they are heretics, I don’t become alarmed. I’ve read enough about the arguments on both sides of the issue and I come down on the side of inclusive language. Having said that, I also believe that we still have work to do on this. It’s not just about the inclusion of feminine names and imagery for God, for example. It’s also about the use of non-gendered language.

And it’s about what we progressive Christians do with the Trinity. I have heard other clergy declare that baptisms not done in the traditional trinitarian formula,  ‘in the name of the Father . . .’ are not valid. Here’s where modalism supposedly comes in. To use different names for God is to be anti-trinitarian and fall into the heretical view that denies the individual persons of the Trinity.

But, as the Rev. Ruth Duck, professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary counters, ” . . . if the real task of trinitarian language is to open us to the reality of the God made known in Jesus Christ through the Spirit, we may need to go deeper than formulas to find the language of witness, thanksgiving and praise.”

Well I’m with her.  And if that makes me a heretic, then so be it.  I accept the appelation, and I call on other heretics to go deeper with me into how our language reflects and affects our faith.

In the name of God: Creator, Christ, and Spirit.



  1. If you adopt so called inclusive language for the Trinity when Baptizing, most other Christians will regard your Baptism as invalid. I know that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches will. You are thus creating a new barrier to Christian ecumenism.


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