Some egalitarians remind me of parrots. Their stock of phrases were taught to them by Betty Friedan and Kate Millet 30 or 40 years ago, and their constant repetition is getting pretty stale. Never more so than when you find one of them railing against hymns that – by their lights – denigrate women.
Case in point: this blog which complains bitterly about a hymn by William P Merrill entitled “Rise Up, O Men of God.” For purposes of discussion, here are the offending lyrics:
1. Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength to serve the King of kings.
2. Rise up, O men of God! The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong.
3. Rise up, O men of God! The church for you doth wait,
her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!
4. Lift high the cross of Christ! Tread where his feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man, rise up, O men of God!
Now, this hymn, like many from that era, plausibly takes sides in a controversy. Merrill unashamedly sets forth a clear-sighted post-millennarianism in this hymn, an eschatological view that had considerable favor among the liberals of Merrill’s day, and still finds favor among some streams of orthodox Calvinism today. Fault-finders will hail from amillennial or premillennial camps. It’s a controversy about our route to the heavenly city.
As an inhabitant of the premillennial camp (yes, Anglicans can be, have been, and still are premillennialists; Dallas Seminary was founded by one of these, though the school today strives to ignore this), I’ll give Merrill a pass, for premillennialists ought to travel a very long way down the same road as postmillennialists. They may find themselves together on that road for different reasons, but that should only invigorate their fellowship while they advance toward the New Jerusalem.
However, the hymn is not controversial at all in its view of the sexes and their relationship to one another. On that score, Merrill is locked arm in arm with Chesterton’s awful mob known as The Church, which has championed the Bible’s view on this matter for the previous 20 centuries. The complaints lodged by the blogger above provide a fascinating study in the doctrinal myopia of modern egalitarians and the foolishness this condition inflicts upon its victims.
Her criticisms (yup, this blogger’s a woman), are three. Let’s examine them in turn.
First of all, this hymn reeks of “this text doesn’t apply to me” when sung by the female half of the congregation. Why? “… an unescapable [sic] fact of the English language is that it is changing. Women no longer consider themselves part of ‘men.’ ”
This kind of challenge sounded revolutionary and daring back in the Seventies (!), but now it just sounds whiney. The use of the masculine in English to comprehend both male and female is as common as ever, except (perhaps) in some highly rarified departments of English, sociology, and women’s studies in the intolerant corridors of academe.
For what’s going on in the real world, consider the sign at the left, found in an international airport. What does it mean? As an ideograph, it informs people who may actually speak dozens of different languages about an airport policy. By using pictures, the sign communicates something like this: “No Littering Permitted!” or “Do Not Litter!” or the like. The figure in the picture is the figure of a man, not a woman, but no one seeing the sign mistakes the sense of the male figure displayed. He is not the “generic” man, so much as he is the “inclusive man.”
Consider, now, this hypothetical sign at the right. How would people read this sign? The only difference from the previous sign is the substitution of the “woman symbol” for the “man symbol.” But, now the meaning communicated is different, perplexingly different: “Women may not litter!” or “No Littering by Women Permitted.” And the befuddled onlooker would be wondering, “Why do men get to litter, but women don’t?”
Paul Mankowski discusses these very signs and a great many similar features of the use of “man” and the “inclusive masculine” in his article “Jesus, Son of Mankind?” in the October, 2001 edition of Touchstone. You may (and should) read the whole article by clicking here. The point: when feminists and religious egalitarians express this kind of complaint, they tell us far more about their own neuroses than they do about language or literature. And, with respect to Merril’s hymn, they tell us nothing more than how consonant his hymn was with classical modes of expression, and how out of synch with their own culture his detractors are.
Wrapping up this complaint, the egalitarian blogger complains “… this hymn never really means to address women. So do we really need to use a hymn that excludes (over) half the congregation?”
But, hymns do not need to address everyone. Many of them address only God. Others, like Merril’s, address subsets of the Church, in this case men. As a hymn, this one fits well within the mouths of all Christian women, who by this hymn call on men, whose allegiance is to God, to … well, to rise up and to accomplish a variety of tasks that belong to them to do.
And, this brings us to the second complaint:
“[The Church’s] strength unequal to her task/rise up and make her great” simply isn’t true. The Holy Spirit’s power makes the imperfect Church equal to whatever task God calls us to do. It is not the strength of the male half of the church that will make the church great, it is the strength of the Lord Jesus himself.”
Well, … uh … of course. But that’s not what’s at issue here. Merril, following Scripture, understands that Christ has laid on the shoulders of men in the Church the task of guarding the deposit of faith, teaching it faithfully as Christ’s under-shepherds, and defending it against interlopers who deny it. Merril isn’t calling upon the men of God because their masculine strength is equal to the task. Rather, he is calling upon those whom Christ has appointed as under-shepherds, to act as shepherds are supposed to act when the flock is threatened.
Of course, egalitarians hotly deny that this charge is laid solely on the men. That’s why they insist that women be made elders, pastors, priests, bishops, and so forth. It’s not a question of who can do what, for women can and do teach, pastor, and evangelize. In the catholic communions (Romans, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and those like them) women may even baptize in exigent circumstances, though in more ordinary situations this sacrament is administered by the Church’s officers.
Nevertheless, Merrill, following the Church which has followed Apostolic teaching received from the Lord, understands that if the Church is to advance in her mission, she shall do so only insofar as those whom Christ has charged with her leadership fulfill their destiny. For this they were created and those who qualify take up the offices in Christ’s household which Christ appointed for … well, for men of God.
Finally, the egalitarian faults Merril for this: “… this hymn reinforces the church’s historical error of thinking that men can more fully conform to the image of Christ than women can. … Women obviously cannot be ‘brothers of the Son of Man.’ ”
What lies beneath this complaint is nothing other than vexation at the incarnation of the eternal Son of God as a human male. Because of that fact of our faith, it is inescapable that men have a capacity to resemble Christ in ways that women do not. Christ is the Bridegroom, never the bride. He is our brother, never our sister. He is our King, never our queen. He is the Son of God, never the daughter of God. God is Christ’s Father, never Christ’s mother.
When the egalitarian protests that the Church errs by thinking in these terms, we learn from this that it is the egalitarian who knows neither the Scripture, nor the power of God – a power which stamps the human race with a shape, actually two shapes (male and female) which in their relationship to one another mimic the most fundamental relationships of all, that between God and His creation, between Christ and His Church.
And, this is why the Bible, and the Church, and William P. Merril sing “Rise up, O Men of God!” The entire hymn is rooted in the Bible’s ancient sexual polarity, which itself springs from God’s very good design at the beginning of all things, and which moves to the glory of the wedding of the Lamb and His bride at the end of all things.