Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Examining" Candidates I

The Covenant Network is an organization of like-minded Presbyterians (PCUSA) who support the ordination of gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgendered people (GLBT), and same-sex marriage. Among such support groups they are comparatively low-key, measuring their words and carefully planning actions. As such, they may turn out to be the most effective allies that GLBTs have in the PCUSA.

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-6.0106
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)
To 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.

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,


Anonymous said...

Well, I am curious. Why do you even care since you have renounced the PCUSA? It is not your business anymore!

Ted Rossier said...

The decline of the mainline denominations in the United States is a bellweather of the increasing apostasy of the visible church as a whole. I'm currently a member of a Southern Baptist church because it's one of the few churches in my town that still hold to the inerrancy of Scripture.

However, I have in the past been PCUSA and United Methodist, and I care deeply about what goes on in those denominations. I also follow the Episcopal/Anglican church and its various splits.

On another note, I must say I find this GLBT group's use of the term "covenant" to be utterly offensive and blasphemous. I guess they feel secure in their wickedness (Isaiah 47:10).


TomGray said...

Please check out my earlier blog "Why I Keep Writing."

E.E. Jones said...

Please keep writing about PCUSA. A lot of us are still in search mode, to stay or leave and we need all info possible. We certainly can't depend on the PCUSA to provide it. There take has always been "Nothings Changed" and we know how inaccurate that is. I am leaning toward position that the chasm between evangelical/orthodox and liberal/progressive can never be closed. I believe your Church has done the correct thing. May God bless you with his wisdom and guidance. E.E. Jones

Dave Moody said...

1 Cor 12.25-27. Even though there are denominations, they denominate the same thing, the body of Christ. It is every member of Christ's body's business- to some degree- whether or not one part is not doing its job. Noticing this in public seems to be a rather benign perhaps necessary thing for those who refuse to see.

We are ecumenical after all, aren't we?

Anonymous said...

Tom -

I know what the Church is (The body of all believers, the bride of Christ, etc) and I know the role of a local church (A body of believers in fellowship, communion, etc). It's a bit more of a stretch for me to know the purpose of a 'denomination'.

All of this talk about candidates, judicial commissions, denominations with no 'essentials' begs the question what is role , purpose, or meaning of - or in fact the need for - a denomination? This is not a retorical question on my part.

A clearer understanding of that will perhaps shed some light on what differences within a denomination mean for that denomination and the body of all believer.

Seems a real purpose in past times may have been to identify and support a missionaries in "Africa" - communication means I can now do that through people I know. If the purpose was to work together to build benevolent institutions needed by the community in a new land (hospitals, universities), we don't need to build new ones now -that job's done. If the role was fill a need that used to be left unaddressed by a much smaller govenment (social issues - slavery comes to mind, environmental conservation, etc) there are loads secular organizations that work to ensure equal rights, world peace, relief for the poor, etc.

We are called to be witnessess to the God's Loving and Saving Grace available as a free gift through Jesus Christ. What's a denomination's role in that call?

A denomination isn't the same as the Holy Catholic Church, and it's not a local body of believers. What is it and why does it matter? (Not a rhetorical question). I have some of my own ideas, but I'd like those from people who have given it much more thought than I.

Ford Brett

Larry said...

Keep posting commentaries regarding the PCUSA.

There are still hundreds of thousands of PCUSA Presbyterians who have not heard.

There is no restriction imposed those allowed to comment upon the happenings in the PCUSA. In fact I am seeing theologians in non-PCUSA churches commenting not only on the PCUSA, but the other mainline protestant churches that are infected with similar apostasies.

Some members in the mainline churches have the misguided belief that if there is no news is released about the apostasies running rampant, then all will be well.

Censorship has never worked.

Pastor John said...

Pastor Tom,

Yes, our built-in theological vagueness is definitely at the root of our current struggles within the PC(USA). We have reached the ridiculous situation where the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly can warn Presbyteries that they are not allowed to expect specific answers from candidates for ordination (or transfer) ahead of time. In other words, a Unitarian or Arian cannot be automatically ruled out for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Somehow, the possibility must be left open that we grant such beliefs equal standing with traditional, orthodox Christianity. It's an absurd situation.

Scott said...

I found this website because our church has been influenced by the PUP report to beef up our examination process and I'm looking for viewpoints. We are a church you would call liberal, inspired by PUP to be more faithful.
I agree with some weaknesses you identified in the GECO document. However, it's sad that you dismiss or deride their assertions (some of them based on the confessions) rather than engage with your sisters and brothers in Christ who disagree in good faith.

The reason the PC(USA) does not have a defined list of acceptable answers or essentials is because of our Reformed understanding of how God speaks to us, plus our understanding that we are examining individuals regarding a specific call. Listen to how the Spirit is moving them--then, your session or presbytery is free to say, "That's Unitarian and we won't ordain an Unitarian."

Finally, our church has historically agreed that if God wanted to give us the truth in a smaller or simpler package than the Bible, God would have done it. The Bible is THE book, the essential; accept no substitutes.