D. E. Hinkle passed along an obituary for Prof. Wynn Kenyon, who sparked a controversy in the Presbyterian Church back in 1974 for not going along with the ordination of women. For our purposes here, consider the last paragraph in this excerpt:
Mr. Kenyon, who belonged to a forerunner of what is now the Presbyterian Church (USA), was an honors graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In his ordination trial he was questioned about women and said that because he believed the Bible forbade women to hold authority in the church he could not participate in an ordination ritual. But he said he would work with ordained women and wouldn’t stop his own congregation from ordaining a female elder.
Pittsburgh Presbytery voted 147-133 to ordain him, but that decision was appealed to the highest court in the denomination. It ruled that “refusal to ordain women on the basis of their sex is contrary to the [church] constitution.”
Coupled with a decision allowing a Maryland presbytery to install a minister who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, at least eight churches and some prominent theologians in Pittsburgh and Beaver-Butler presbyteries left for the new Presbyterian Church in America.
The case still reverberates, said Charles Partee, emeritus professor of church history at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. It marked a shift from creeds to constitution for defining the church’s beliefs, he said.
“You didn’t have to believe everything in the creed. Of course, the constitution cannot be scrupled. It must be obeyed,” he said.
In this mindset, which one sees quite a bit in church politics, the church constitution is not only supremely authoritative, it is clear in what it says and admits no wiggle-room in its interpretation. Creeds, Confessions, and the Bible itself, though, are flexible, obscure in their meaning, and can be interpreted away.