Saturday, August 28, 2010

Slipping Down the Slope

The Rev. Jane Spahr was tried this last week on the charge of performing marriages between persons of the same sex. She had been tried earlier and found not guilty through an orwellian torture of language and logic. Her presbytery judicial commission said she couldn't be guilty of "marrying" same sex couples, since such a thing didn't legally exist (at that time). Therefore, they reasoned, whatever she did wasn't a "marriage."
Complaints were filed with a higher judicatory, and said judicatory demanded another trial take place. This time, Spahr was found guilty. Had the denomination come to its senses? No. All you have to do is read the judges' remarks in the text of their decision:

The Permanent Judicial Commission, in sustaining the first three charges, recognizes that while the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr has indeed performed these marriages, which were and continue to be legal marriages, she did so acting with faithful compassion in accord with W­7.3004. These marriages were legal in the State of California, being civil contracts (W­4.9001), and are different from same sex ceremonies. The testimonies of those at court clearly demonstrated this difference.
We commend Dr. Spahr and give thanks for her prophetic ministry that for 35 years has extended support to “people who seek the dignity, freedom and respect that they have been denied” (W­7.4002c), and has sought to redress “wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples in the church, in this nation, and in the world” (W­7.4002h).
In addition, we call upon the church to re­examine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.(G­3.0401c) We say this believing that we have in our own Book of Order conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the Gospel. In this particular case, in W­4.9001 we have inclusive and broad descriptive language about marriage, “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well­being of the entire human family.” This sentence is followed immediately by “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.” The language of the second statement draws on our cultural understanding today of marriage that is rooted in equality. But it is not faithful to the Biblical witness in which marriage was a case of property transfer because women were property. Nor does it specifically address same gender marriage.
This follows a General Assembly that has recommended removing the one paragraph in their Book of Order that insists on Biblical sexual behavior. The Bible warns against this kind of false teaching:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. (2 Peter 2:1-2)

Yet, not everyone believes that Scripture is authoritative in the PCUSA. None other than the current vice moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, has declared "Sola Scriptura is dead."

"...the most important questions of our day is 'Where is the authority?'  'Sola Scriptura' is dead most places, and dying rapidly in others. So where do we lodge the authority of our faith? That's the real battle we see fought in the church." 

 This specifically means that an elected leader of the denomination (2nd highest) believes that Scripture is just another book in the denomination's library. What is the point of having a whole book of Confessions if the Source of those confession is declared dead? Why do PCUSA officers still vow to believe and teach the "essential tenets" of the Reformed faith, when no such tenets exist.

The argument over sexuality is not the central point of the church. It is symptomatic, though, of a church that has demonstrably lost its way. I wonder still why those who truly believe in Scripture maintain membership and support in an organization fundamentally opposed to the fundamentals?

There is no perfect church. There are no perfect denominations. To those in the PCUSA who slyly say this to those of us who have left, we can at least answer that there are many denominations, such as the EPC, who choose to follow Scripture first, and trends last.
Keep praying, keep the faith.

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