Voting on 10-A

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.”

Christians and the Law

I’m preaching this Sunday on Growth in Righteousness as an essential aspect of the Christian Life.  My text for Sunday is Matthew 5:17-20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever sets aside one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, they will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (This is my own translation).

I found this text, and the study of it through the week, to be very interesting considering what my denomination is considering right now.  There is a motion being voted upon by the Presbyteries to remove the explicit ordination standard of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” from our ordination requirements, and to replace it with a rather innocuous, confusing, and ambiguous statment that uses a lot of words to say nothing at all.

I couldn’t read and meditate on Matt 5:19, “whoever sets aside one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same,” without thinking of what’s happening in the church.  The church continues to set aside or relax the Biblical teaching on marriage and divorce, sexual immorality and purity, tithing and stewardship – will Presbyterians be the least in the Kingdom?  Will we be there at all?

We are called to righteousness.  To reflect the glory of God is to live a righteous life.  Jesus tells us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We cannot be righteous apart from Christ, it is His righteousness that saves us, His righteousness that covers us.  But at the same time, if the life we now live we live in the Spirit of Christ, then should not our lives reflect and be marked by righteousness as well.

We are quick to argue, “I am saved by grace through faith – not by works.”  Yes, and amen.  But read on, we are saved by grace through faith apart from works, “created in Christ Jesus for good works (righteousness).  The purpose of God’s grace in your life, the goal of your salvation, is that you would give glory to God through the righteousness of Christ manifest in your life.

Martin Lloyd Jones put it this way:

The whole purpose of grace, in a sense, is just to enable us to keep the law.  There is nothing more fatal that to regard holiness and sactification as expereicnes to be received.  No; holness means being righteous, and being righteous means keeping the law.  Therefore if your so-called grace (which you say you have recieved) does not make you keep the law, you have not recieved grace.  You may have recieved a psychological experience, but you have never recieved the grace of God.  What is grace?  It is that marvllous gift of God which, having delivered a man from teh curse of the law, enables him to keep it and to be righteous as Christ was righteous, for He kept the law perfectly.  Grace is that which brings me to love God; and if I love God,  I long to keep His commandments. ‘He that has my commandments, and keeps them,’ Christ said, ‘he it is that loves me.'”
(Martin Lloyd Jones – Studies in the Sermon on the Mount – page 197).

Friends, stand firm, do not turn to the right or left from God’s word, but walk in the light that it shine upon your path, that you may grow in righteousness as you walk with the Lord.