For this reason alone it is important for orthodox members of the PCUSA to examine a recent document published by the Covenant Network, entitled “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers.” I believe it is intended both for churches that wish to ordain GLBTs, and for such candidates, as well. The document is clear, well written, and revealing.
Portions of this document demonstrate the struggle for the soul of the PCUSA. The document advises readers to use the theological confusion in the PCUSA and also to use language in careful, crafted ways in order to work around pertinent constitutional issues.
The paper points out what is the central theological problem in the PCUSA—a lack of identified essentials, even though every officer must swear to adhere to those essentials.
We don’t have any very clear tests for determining when something is “essential” or not. Perhaps the best test for whether something is “essential” is what the Adopting Act of 1729 first reflected: that our disagreement relate to something so fundamental that we are “incapable of communion” with each other. Given our faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ, and his prayer that his followers “all may be one” (John 17:21), we should reach such a conclusion only with the greatest reluctance and care.There are simple ways of determining what is essential. Most people accept certain words as imperative (note that the Covenant Network document places the term, essentials, in quotes). The document effectively instructs readers to ignore essentials, even though the constitutional standard is that statements using words like “are to,” “shall,” or “should” must be obeyed.
The most debated part of the PCUSA constitution in this regard is the passage regarding the standards for officers in chapter 6.
Book of Order § G-6.0106To most readers it couldn’t be clearer: the requirements of paragraph “a” mandate conformity to paragraph “b.” The latter paragraph clearly defines marriage, reminding all of us that God designed sexual activity to occur exclusively in a covenental, heterosexual marriage. Any other “arrangement” violates constitutional requirements, and persons so engaged must not be ordained.
a. To those called to exercise special functions in the church – deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament – God gives suitable gifts for their various duties. In addition to possessing the necessary gifts and abilities, natural and acquired, those who undertake particular ministries should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world. They must have the approval of God’s people and the concurring judgment of a governing body of the church.
b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. (emphasis added)
In the next couple of blogs I’ll examine how the document goes on to radically alter common-sense definitions of key words in order to allow practicing, unrepentant GLBTs to seem to conform to the above paragraphs. In order for such a radical redefinition to be “acceptable” requires not only the elimination of essentials, but the assertion that there are no theological standards by which to establish essentials.
The Covenant Network accurately describes the current theological vagueness of the PCUSA, using it to the advantage of those who challenge G-6.0106b.
In 1967, we adopted a Book of Confessions, which supplemented the Westminster Standards with seven other creeds from different times and places. Those statements differ from one another in various respects. That action reinforced that candidates need not – indeed, cannot – subscribe to a single formulation of belief when they are being examined. (emphasis added)Why would anyone want an organization to drop its essentials, or even be satisfied that there are none? The only reason I can think of is that such people want anything to be possible—they want no restrictions.
What is more ominous in that the arguments of this document apply not only in presbyteries friendly to GLBT issues, but seeks to influence sessions and presbyteries across the board. The point is to bring these arguments to bear throughout the denomination. Add to this the fact that the PCUSA Stated Clerk has warned that presbyteries and sessions trying to establish any standards will be in violation of the constitution. This document is designed, I believe, to argue that no presbytery or session can hold standards that might exclude an active, unrepentant GLBT from ordination.
Stay in tune.
Keep praying—keep the faith,