Today, my presbytery meets and will vote on the proposed replacement to our Book of Order regarding the much debated “fidelity and chastity clause.”
Currently the book of order states:
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.
The proposed replacement states:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
Let me be clear, G-6.0106b is not simply about homosexuality – it is about the submission to the authority of Scripture for all who have been called to ordained ministry. Read the last sentence again, “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.”
As Theology Matters put it, “This is not a call to perfection, but repentance. No candidate for office is without sin. The issue is whether any sin is defiantly embraced, or is repented of with a desire to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live an amended life. Scripture is clear that sin is a denial of Christ’s Lordship and no leader can be effective in leading others to submit to the Lordship of Christ when he/she has rejected it in his/her own life.”
The proposed language calls the church to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, but seemingly separates submission to Christ from submission to Scripture; they are the same. Moreover, the new language removes not just an explicit standard that fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness, but also an ethos of humble, repentant, submission to Scripture as the word of God which reveals to us the person, work, and will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am saddened by the vitriol, the arrogance, and the back-room politicking perpetrated by all sides of this matter. This proceedure has made it quite clear that “ordination standards” are the least of this denomination’s problems, and the only thing holding us together may be a well-funded endowment and property rights (it certainly isn’t a common faith and mission). As it seems inevitable that this amendment will pass in the denomination, my heart is grieved and I am ashamed.
Still, the question before us today is shall the PC(USA) open the door for the ordination of those who knowingly and willingly continue in any activity (not just homosexuality) that the confessions, (which “guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures,” and are for the church the standards of our faith and practice) call sin?
My answer, my prayer, will and must be an emphatic and resounding “No!”
1 John 3:4-10 – “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared to us was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
Thank you for these words. I appreciate your faithfulness to God’s word and to church polity. Praying for you and your presbytery today. This is most certain a benchmark for our denomination.
Interesting. As a Baptist, we do not have a book of order. I find it interesting that the proposal not only seeks to allow homosexuals in leadership, but to totally eliminate Scripture as authoritative.
I have seen and heard about similar tendencies within our fellowship, but this little gem is uniquely bold in its moving from the Scripture narrative to each persons personal narrative as authoritative.
Thanks for sharing.
Great observation on a subtle but dramatic shift. During examination of candidates, we are encouraged to ask about their “personal faith journey” (whatever that means) but questions about their actual statement of faith are greatly curtailed.
“uniquely bold” that’s a very kind way of stating it, FT. 🙂
i find myself torn between the good wording (which is why I think it is passing) and how it leaves so many things open (which is why I don’t want it to pass. removing chastity in singleness? the beauty of covenant marriage? obedience to scripture? not good.). i worry that some of the people voting are just seeing the inclusiveness aspect of it (which tends to make everyone feel good…) and are not fully seeing the implications it may bring.
i am one who normally dislikes “slippery slope” arguments. in this case, i think it’s merited. which breaks my heart.
Steph, thanks for the comments. While there is nothing objectionable about the proposed language, the problem is, it doesn’t say anything definitive, and it removes the clear standards already accepted. I think I would have been in favor of a motion that would have excluded the “fidelity and chastity” clause, had it left the final paragraph about any person who does not repent of any self acknowledged sin shall not be ordained. That’s not to say I don’t like the fidelity and chastity clause, but the discussion should be about more than just the sexual immorality issues.
Our presbytery voted against the motion, while the Twin City’s Presbytery approved it, and so it has passed, and our debate and vote was really a moot point.
Now comes the hard part. Keep praying!
I see what you are saying, but if the wording has been your way – “any person who does not repent of any self acknowledged sin shall not be ordained” wouldn’t that be just as open for those people who don’t see homosexuality as being sinful? (i.e. the “self-acknowledged” part.) Seems to me it would, which takes us right back to what the PCUSA has been arguing about from the beginning.
Steph, let me correct what I wrote last night (it was around 9:30, and after a long Presbytery meeting). The original language, which has now been removed, stated, “Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained…” So the definition of the sin had been set in the standards of the confessions, which guide us in our understanding of the Scriptures, and the responsibility of the individual is to acknowledge such sin and repent of it.
According to the new language, “governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual cases.” There is no longer a clear standard, governing bodies are merely guided by the Scripture and confessions, rather than subject to their authority, and the decision will be made on a case-by-case basis, so there will be no uniformity.
That’s what I meant to say last night.
Completely understandable. Thanks for helping me understand. And if that had stayed, that I would have been in favor of 10-A as well. But this whole issue was about the inclusion of LGBT individuals, so I’m sure that’s why that language was removed. I wish others understood what you were saying – that the issue should be more than just about sexual immorality – but about all unacknowledged, unrepentant sin.
I know many people who feel those on opposite sides of the issue can work together in the denomination despite the different view on this (even without the creation of a non-geographic presbytery). What are your thoughts on this? Is it possible? Is it too idealistic?
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