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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — The Forgotten Begotten?

With a title like this week's, you start to wonder just how much German managed to sneak into the English language. But this week's question might just as well be about the different languages we sometimes speak even within the English language. One of our Presbyterian number has a question from her mom that she shared:

My mom has a question that's been bugging her for a long time now. Which is: Why is that pastors no longer use the term "only begotten son" when referring to Jesus? She says that from her reading she sees that the "begats", or lineage as it were, are extremely important in the Old Testament and that this was also important in establishing Jesus' paternity.

So the matriarchs' first query is "What pastors?" Many churches that use inclusive or otherwise "nontraditional" liturgies (or dispense with liturgy altogether) still use the traditional creeds. But as Karen points out, one of the reasons some people choose to worship with an updated liturgy is to create a more direct relationship with Christ and God. "It could be simply a desire to use more contemporary language, (the term "begotten" being fairly archaic and not readily understandable to folks who haven't been doing church all their lives)," she writes. "If the "son" term is being changed as well this could be a move away from using gender specific language for the persons of the Trinity. Or there could be a really fundamental theological shift toward a different conception (pardon the pun) of who Jesus was in relationship to God."

Ann agrees that she needs more info: "Is there more she wants to her faith changing? If there is a change by pastors (and I have just not noticed it, at least in the Episcopal Church) I would say it is emphasis on the Trinity and Jesus' place in that concept. Although Jesus is "son," he is God incarnate and "son" is a metaphor for the incarnation of God in human life. The lineage in the gospels differs between Matthew and Luke -so establishing paternity is not the point of the gospel writers - it is some theological point about the Christ. Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan explore this in The First Christmas, their book on the meaning of the birth stories. Also, 'begat's in the Old Testament have a different meaning than just genealogy. Often it is used to make a theological point (often lost to us now, not knowing the people) or to incorporate peoples into the tribes of Israel, especially after the Exodus (those who never went to Egypt) and The Exile."

But we don't know the full context of why your mother is running into the change time and time again, and the matriarchs hate to guess, with a couple of them pointing to the idea of having her engage in a conversation with a pastor who can help address her questions. After all, we had the Episcopal Prayer Book and the Methodist Articles of Confession handy and found "only begotten son" alive and well in both. (Sorry for not having the appropriate Presbyterian reference book handy--the matriarch came through in record time to answer this question and I still managed to post it late.)

Finally, Rev. Abi, who by replying two weeks in a row I think we can say happily "WELCOME BACK ABI!" has some really wonderful information (with just a touch of humor) that I'll just share outright:

First of all, I think St. Casserole's Aunt Bostick should answer this one, seeing as how she did such a fine job with Holy Week and Easter. Having said that, My Aunt Etta Mae, who is Aunt Bostick's third cousin twice-removed and went to grammar school with her, said she would be willing to take a shot at this, since it had something to do with one of our mamas. She figured she spoke her language better and understood better than me with all my degrees and learning.

Aunt Etta Mae says it depends on what brand of denomination you are, what kind of locale you are in and size of your church. She is Methodist, hard shell, and still has her class tickets to prove it. She lives in the South, in an undisclosed rural area of Alabama, (and she says that 'cause you couldn't find it even if she told you). And she goes to a small church served by one of them Licensed Local Pastors. He already knows not to use that newfangled "seeker friendly" words; there just aren't any seekers within a mile of the church, unless they are seeking moonshine, which some of the members are known to have sold in their younger crazier days. However, she realizes that if she were in town or worst yet a big city, that they might do things differently, but she is glad she is not.

But she says the language we use nowadays is to make the worship more friendly to those who have never come or quit coming to church. Then, as they become part of a Sunday School, Bible Study or membership class, these other words can be introduced and taught, words like begotten.

She also said that if her area ever grew she would be the first to welcome a newcomer or a visitor to the church, its been so-o-o-o-o long since a new face has showed up there. However, since her pastor uses the Methodist Book of Worship and they bought them new hymnals, they will on occasion say a more inclusive word or two. She says it doesn't bother her like it used to the first couple of times they said it or sang it.

In fact, now she says it makes her feel like God really does love her as a woman, and that her say counts. She thinks it is even better, even the menfolk don't mind it so much either. Its true she said, Christ died for all, including us women.

Now as for the begats and begots, here's what she said: You can look at your family bible and see all the people in her family and how far back they go and which way they go. In her old age, she likes to go back and look over the tree and remember the people, and the stories about the family. And when the great-grandchildren come over she can tell them about their stories too. She said she is saying all this so we don't forget how important Jesus heritage is, even it includes people who made mistakes. Heck, her Uncle Billy Bob is the biggest black sheep you ever met in a family, and it don't bother her no more cause of them people in Jesus' family. She says to tell you that came from a sermon that her preacher preached one Christmas. She wants you to know that, so you know people in the pew really do listen.

Now, all what my Aunt Etta Mae say, I don't get all upset about what Creed the preacher has us to say or whatever else kind of liturgy we do, cause it's just an instrument to get us to worship God. Too many people like Bessie just say their Lord's prayer and creed without even knowing what they are saying or whether they even mean it. She tries to think about God when she says those things and make sure she means them. So if you need to think about those things when you are saying a liturgy then just think about them.

I'm sure this will inspire a few comments about the changing traditions of church, but I also want to underscore: please send questions our way! Maybe there's been a hot topic on your blog that you'd like our matriarchs' insight on, or perhaps there's a new need emerging in your community that you want to address but don't have experience with. Send your questions to


  1. I cannot believe Aunt Etta Mae got through on "Ask the Matriarch". I will never hear the end of this, neither will her church, or Sunday School class.

    Very good answers from those who are at much more liturgical churches.

    "Yes, I am coming right now with the Ice Tea and carmel cake Aunt Etta Mae." See what I told you.

  2. I think it might simply be that begotten is an archaic term.

    Most probably all churches I've been to still refer to Jesus as God's son -to fail to do that would be to deny Jesus his earthly gender and I doubt anyone would really want to do that!

  3. I thought we got away from begotten because it was too risque...we all know what all that begatting was, right? So if all those folks in Genesis were "begatted" and Jesus was "begotten" as well...
    OK maybe this is just me.


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