Presbyterians Will Revise Ordination Standards: A Brief Response to This Change in the PC(USA)

In a few days, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will officially revise its ordination standards. Voting in PC(USA) regional bodies (presbyteries) now makes this change inevitable. Newspaper headlines will say things like: “PC(USA) Endorses Gay Ordination.” This is true in a way, but not entirely true either, because no church in the PC(USA) will be compelled to accept actively gay leaders. What is true is that my denomination has voted to change our governing rules in the Book of Order in a way that changes our understanding of sexual faithfulness and biblical authority. Here’s what we have voted to say concerning ordination standards in G-6.0106b:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240; 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.

Out of context, just about any Christian would say this sounds great. What could be wrong with submitting joyfully to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life? What’s the matter with having governing bodies determine fitness for ordination? Who would object to having these governing bodies “guided by Scripture”? What is the big deal here? Is this a tempest in a teapot?

Unfortunately, it is not. You can only understand the new language of G-6.0106b in light of the language that will be removed. Here’s how the section reads right now:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life of 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.

Once the Book of Order is changed, the PC(USA) will no longer require ordained church leaders “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman, or chastity in singleness.” In other words, a governing body will have the freedom to ordain into leadership a person who is and who intends to be sexually active outside of marriage, if that governing body believes this to be acceptable. This allows for the ordination, not only of gay and lesbian people, but also of straight people who are sexually involved outside of marriage. For now, no church elder board or presbytery will be compelled to ordain in a manner contrary to conscience. But every governing body will be free to decide for itself what it expects of its leaders in terms of their sexual practice, and this means some Presbyterian churches and presbyteries will choose to ordain people who are sexually active outside of marriage.

This is a matter of serious concern to those of us who believe that the Bible teaches that sex belongs within marriage and that leadership in the church is reserved for those who intend to live according to biblical teachings. But I am actually more distressed by the way our new paragraph speaks of how we are to regard biblical authority over our personal and corporate life. Until now, we have said “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life of obedience to Scripture . . . .” Now we will say “Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture. . . .” Nowhere do we call individual leaders or governing bodies to obey Scripture. Guidance implies far less than obedience. One can be guided by something most of the time, but not all of the time. One can be guided by something except when one believes that it is wrong. The move from “obedience” to “guidance” suggests a major change in our official understanding of biblical authority, one that appears to put Scripture on a par with other sources of guidance.

Presbyterians will differ widely in their responses to the imminent change in the Book of Order. Those who have seen the ordination of gay and lesbian people as an issue of justice will celebrate a victory in a more than thirty-year long battle. Those who have sought to uphold biblical standards for ordination will be grieved. Some of these folks will no doubt leave the PC(USA). Others will stay in the denomination as they continue to serve the Lord and to seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church.

I am in that latter category. Although the official position of my denomination has shifted in a direction I don’t affirm, I am still free to articulate and live by my convictions with respect to sexuality and ordination. As long as this does not change, I will not be compelled to leave the PC(USA) for reasons of conscience.

I know that many people will disagree with my decision and I understand their consternation. I also respect those who believe that faithfulness to God means that they must withdraw from the PC(USA). But I am trying to be faithful to Scripture as I understand it, and such faithfulness includes “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). I want to continue to work with my Presbyterian brothers and sisters to learn what it really means “to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life.”

Although I am saddened by the way our Book of Order will soon be changed, there is still much in that book that is wonderfully expressive of biblical truth. In fact, the most basic and crucial statements in the Book of Order remain intact. Let me close by quoting several of these that come from the foundational opening chapter. They are, as much as anything, what keep me in the PC(USA).

All power in heaven and earth is given to Jesus Christ by Almighty God, who raised Christ from the dead and set him above all rule and authority, all power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body. . . .

It belongs to Christ alone to rule, to teach, to call, and to use the Church as he wills, exercising his authority by the ministry of women and men for the establishment and extension of his Kingdom. . . .

Insofar as Christ’s will for the Church is set forth in Scripture, it is to be obeyed. . . .

In affirming with the earliest Christians that Jesus is Lord, the Church confesses that he is its hope and that the Church, as Christ’s body, is bound to his authority and thus free to live in the lively, joyous reality of the grace of God. (Excerpts from G-1.0100).

_____________________________________

P.S. If you’re looking for a more specific response to the change in the Book of Order, let me refer you to a letter from Presbyterians for Renewal. This biblically-based organization in the PC(USA) expresses well what is in my own mind and heart. I am grateful for the leadership of PFR in this challenging time.

P.P.S. If you’re looking for other things I have written about this PC(USA) crisis, you might check out the following:

The End of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? (2006)

The End of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? Revisited (2008)

Why Not Just Leave the PC(USA)? (2008)

  • Evan

    Mark,
    This is the next verse in the same song. The two things that stand out again: 1) the media and academic elites have decreed that you cannot merely Tolerate, you must Celebrate, and if you do not, well, that is Hate 2) the same elites view the Scriptures the way they view the Constitution: they are “living” documents that change with the times, which basically comes down to they mean whatever the elites want them to believe at the moment. Jesus taught that sexual relations must be confined to marriage, and that marriage was when a man left his mother and a woman left her home and the two of them became one flesh. Well, Jesus needs to change with the times, so there you go.

    Having been on the receiving end of such elightened thinking a great deal, I almost laughed out loud at the pious-sounding phrase, “guided by the Scriptures.” What that means is this: when God says “DO NOT EAT THIS FRUIT,” you consider the times you are now in, the “most loving” action you could take and thus with the guidance of the Scriptures, you eat that fruit anyway. It would be funny if it were not so insidiously destructive.

    This storm will break on every Christian denomination, group and prayer meeting. The bell is tolling, and I am sorry for your plight, but I know what is coming, too.

    Evan

  • Jhayeswildrick

    Mark,
    I’d be interested in how you deal with 1 Corinthians 9:5-13. Frankly, I’m struggling over this.

    “I wrote to you in my letter not to
    associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this
    world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case
    you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must
    not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually
    immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not
    even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside
    the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.
    Expel the wicked person from among you.”

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Evan, for your comment.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this great question.

    You point to a passage that is in tension with the call to unity in Ephesians 4. This is a passage that we who take Scripture seriously will need to consider in the situation in which we now find ourselves. Of course, our situation is not quite the same as that of the Corinthians, in that we’re talking about the exercise of church discipline by the church as a whole in response to the persistent sinfulness of members. How this is relevant when the church as a whole allows sinful behavior needs lots of work. Here’s what I wrote a couple of years ago about this:

    If, however, the PC(USA) were to vote in the next year to approve of the ordination of active gays and lesbians, or if our top judicial body endorses that which allow for such ordinations even without a change in the Book of Order, then we who are seeking to be faithful to Scripture may find ourselves in situation analogous to 1 Corinthians 5. We may end up in a church that approves of what Scripture identifies as sin. And if the denomination fails to exercise appropriate discipline with a person who sins and intends to continue, then we’ll have to consider whether it’s right for us to remain the denomination. In this case, the call to make every effort to maintain unity is in tension with the call to uphold biblical standards of righteousness. We’re caught between our commitment to unity and our commitment to purity.

    Some have argued that if the PC(USA) officially endorses what Scripture reveals as sinful, then the PC(USA) itself has broken the unity of the Spirit. There is no more unity to be maintained, or so the argument goes. I’m not quite sure I buy this argument, though I do believe that it’s possible for the denomination to do that which effectively severs our covenantal bonds.

  • Ray

    I’m nostalgic about the PC(USA), but I don’t want to let my emotional attachment to the denomination lead to an idolotrous “keep it together at all costs” reactionary response. It’s very possible that our denomination has served its purpose in the world, and it’s time now to move on to something post-PC(USA). I’m excited about some of the new ideas for reshaping our life as a connectional body without acquiescing to a world view that waters down Christian orthodoxy, especially with regard to the authority of scripture. Peace, unity and purity are important characteristics of the church, but we can’t achieve peace by imposing unity at the expense of purity. I support the efforts to form new connectional bonds across traditional denominational boundaries such as presbyteries and synods. It won’t result in efficient church governance, but it might be a good way to maintain what is good and right about the PC(USA) as we move ahead. Sorta like keeping the baby and tossing the bathwater…

  • Anonymous

    Ray: You may very well be right. Denominations can serve valuable purposes, but they are not the Church of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are structures to advance mission and promote fellowship. But they are not to be permanent.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    I am getting frightened because I keep running into “coincidences” regarding things that you are posting. Today’s coincidence involves a C.S. Lewis quote. Every day one is sent to me. Todays quote is this:
    “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.”
    He is right. Having an open mind is a wonderful character trait, up until it involves bedrock ideas, e.g. under God’s law, sexuality is reserved for between a married man and woman. I am sorry your church is going through this.

  • Evan

    Mark,
    This article caught my eye today: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/267017/another-mainline-implosion-mark-tooley
    I think the final words sum it up for me:
    >>>Although not unexpected, it’s still a sad moment for traditional Presbyterians, who first ratified the “fidelity and chastity” expectation in the 1990s with hopes of staving off sexual liberalization. “This is a lonely day for Presbyterians who believe what the Bible and the Church have consistently taught,” commented my colleague Alan Wisdom, a long time combatant in PCUSA politics. “Now we belong to a denomination that is no longer sure it believes that teaching.”
    And it’s a sad day for America. The mainline denominations date to America’s earliest days. They profoundly shaped our national ethos, mostly for the good. Can Catholics and evangelicals fill the void? Hopefully so. But all of us should mourn the decline of yet one more once-great church.<<<
    Indeed. I am reminded of a friend who finally switched political parties after a lifetime in one of them. He was deeply anguished, and that was just political affiliation. I am grieved for you and others faced with this regarding something far more dear to you.
    Evan

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Tim. Me too.

  • Fidelis

    Hi, @markdroberts:disqus . Thanks for all that you do.

    You wrote that “[w]e’re caught between our commitment to unity and our commitment to purity.” But does God really ask us to be content living in a way that pits one of his commands against another? Doesn’t He expect us to obey everything He has commanded? Surely, we are to repent (i.e., change course) when we discover that we aren’t being completely faithful.

    Moreover, is the PCUSA really the intended beneficiary of the commandment in Ephesians 4:3? Or is the beneficiary actually the entire Christian Church? If it’s the latter, then there are many ways to “make every effort” to preserve unity in the Spirit.

    I recently spoke to a pastor who left the PCUSA for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. She said that leaving was “the best thing that I could do for the peace, unity, and purity of the Church.” She also noted that because there is such profound agreement in the EPC on all essentials of the faith, there is a unity in Christ that she never experienced in the PCUSA. In other words, she now obeys both Ephesians 4:3 and 1 Corinthians 5 by finding unity in the pursuit of purity.

    At a minimum, the PCUSA has lost its ability to preach a coherent message about sin and salvation. It proudly claims that it is following Jesus into something “new,” but simultaneously it disregards God’s Word by tolerating sexual immorality for its leaders. This is the worst kind of hypocrisy. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that can deceive many into thinking they need not repent — God loves them so much they can keep on sinning without consequence. This is indicative of a love grown very, very cold. Can you really stay associated with such ungodliness?

  • Anonymous

    Why not allow ordination of folks whose sexual practices extend beyond their marriage, as long as such is done with honesty, care and respect? The assumption that heterosexual lifelong monogamy is the only responsible path for humans is pretty simple-minded. There are certainly those (I’m among them) for whom this is a path of faithfulness and fulfillment, but I also believe God’s creation to be vastly more complex and nuanced than this often greed- and property-based approach to human sexuality.

  • Anonymous

    Fidelis: Great comments and questions. Thanks.

    Do you think it’s possible that God, whom I believe called me to be part of the PCUSA, might still want me here to bear witness to his truth and love in this context? Do you think it’s possible that God wants me and others like me to remain “associated with such ungodliness” for some redemptive purpose? Or do you think this is simply not possible from a biblical point of view? These are the questions with which I am wrestling.

    The problem is, of course, that every church and every denomination includes plenty of ungodliness (wheat and tares). But it is truly a problem when the official standards of a church seem to allow for ungodliness. I say “seem” because I think the existing statements in the PCUSA documents actually do not allow for leaders to be sexually active outside of marriage. Of course, this is not the majority view. And that makes it complicated.

    Yes, indeed, it would be easier if I simply associated with the EPC. But, at least at this time, I do not feel called to that easier road. I am searching the Scriptures and open to wisdom from others, including you. So thanks again.

  • Anonymous

    David: Thanks for your comment. The simplest answer is that I do not think we should allow ordination for people who intend to do what is wrong, even if they plan to do it with honesty, care, and respect. Of course, if you see the biblical understanding of sexuality as “greed- and property-based,” then you won’t be much inclined to accept it as the right way. But, surely you can understand why those of us who think sex outside of marriage is morally wrong are not going to be satisfied with honesty, care, and respect. Peace to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639904125 Tom Paine

    Mark, you wrote in part:

    For now, no church elder board or presbytery will be compelled to ordain in a manner contrary to conscience. But every governing body will be free to decide for itself what it expects of its leaders in terms of their sexual practice, and this means some Presbyterian churches and presbyteries will choose to ordain people who are sexually active outside of marriage.”

    But Mark, this is exactly how we treat a plethora of other problems in the human condition. Who do we charge to make sure those ordained aren’t overcome with greed, pride, self righteousness, gluttony, or a host of other issues? Historically, Presbyterians have trusted ordaining bodies to make the judgment on the fitness of a candidate for ordination without making specific prohibitions. There are exceptions but by and large we have trusted one another. It comes down to trusting the judgment of brothers and sisters we do not personally know and not thinking that we know what is best for them without ever even speaking with them.

    You also wrote in part:

    “Now we will say “Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture. . . .” Nowhere do we call individual leaders or governing bodies to obey Scripture. Guidance implies far less than obedience. ”

    That is because I believe the authors intend us to obey God. As much as the Bible is God’s Word to us, it is not God and is very subject to misinterpretation and misuse (particularly because in our culture we are increasingly Biblically illiterate, do not understand the historical context, and have a tendency to treat some passages more importantly than others). We all know the many things the Bible has been used to justify in the past that we would not affirm today. The Bible is God’s Word but it is not God and we cannot treat our readings, particularly of a verse here and a verse there as God.

    I do not think this change is going to change in most Presbyterian churches who they will and won’t ordain.

    We need to trust our brothers and sisters in Christ and focus on the challenges immediately our particular congregations and presbyteries, of which there are many.

    In Christ,

    Tom

  • Eva2691

    Thank you for being a light in the darkness… as a Presbyterian elder who was sent the link to your blog by another Presbyterian elder, I am struggling to find guidance, and your site has felt like shelter amidst the storm. I am deeply grieved by the changes taking place and by what now feels like an unavoidable need to leave the PC(USA) forever. That chastity and fidelity is no longer considered a necessity amongst church leaders speaks volumes as to our lack of concern for scriptural values. What a shame!

  • Todd Lee

    >Do you think it’s possible that God wants

    >me and others like me to
    remain “associated

    >with such ungodliness” for some redemptive >purpose?

    No, I do not.

  • Fidelis

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, @markdroberts:disqus .

    To your points: I am quite certain that there is ungodliness everywhere, including in my own heart. The species of ungodliness to which I referred in my post, however, is that which tolerates unrepentant sexual immorality for church leaders. The PCUSA just voted to remove the prohibition against ordaining unrepentant adulterers and fornicators. While what’s left of the PCUSA’s constitution does not require that those who practice such things be ordained, you and I know that it will now happen openly throughout the country. This is the very result for which the amendment was originally proposed.

    Even worse, prominent PCUSA leaders are telling the flock that that this change is being done in Jesus’ name and in obedience to him. Wouldn’t it be better for us to have a millstone tied around our necks and be cast into the ocean than to participate in the stumbling that this will cause?

    I’m not suggesting that you abstain from interacting with the unrepentant. I’m simply urging you, as a person with a powerful voice and an extensive following, to be sure of your own calling. It may very well be that God does desire your prophetic voice to remain in the denomination. But I don’t think there is any danger, if we leave, that somehow the unity of the true Church is in jeopardy – or that the wheat and the tares will not continue to grow up together.

    I’m sure that you’ve noticed how the progressives are publicly taunting conservatives, saying that we do not have the strength of our convictions. Conservatives, they say, will not leave the significant investments that they’ve made in the PCUSA (e.g., their pensions, their buildings, their relationships with colleagues, their leadership positions, etc.). In effect, they are claiming that we don’t have the strength of our convictions. I fear that there are cases where they may be right.

    For my pastor, leaving the PCUSA would mean losing some retirement benefits as well as severing deep connections to the denomination. It would mean starting over in a place where his name is not as well known. For my congregation in California, it would mean making a substantial payment to our presbytery that we will have difficulty affording. Although my church will now lose staff and members whether we stay or leave, there is nothing especially “easy” for us in joining EPC. It would, however, allow us to be more faithful in reaching our congregation and community with the Gospel. Our witness would cease to be so conflicted.

    P.S. The only reason I’m taking the time to comment is that I do respect you highly. Your writing has touched my life and strengthened the faith of students with whom I have volunteered. God bless you as you work thorugh all the denomational changes.

  • Anonymous

    Tom: Thanks for your comment. I fear that the trust of which you speak has been lost, not just in the last week, but a long time ago. That is sad, and leads to major institutional dysfunctionality. But that is our reality in the PC(USA).

  • Anonymous

    Well, okay. That’s you’re opinion. I’d be eager to hear your biblical reasons. In light of Scripture, why do you think as you do?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Deborah Milam Berkley

    Really good insight about how the new wording focuses on guidance rather than obedience.  Obedience is not seen as cool by many in the church now, but I find it to be a key part of my relationship with God.  And it is not harsh; it is a joy, and comes with many rewards.  God does not ask things of us that are not good.  God asks us to obey; obedience is therefore good.  And so I have found it.  Changing our standards away from obedience is disturbing.  Thanks for your insight here.

  • Pilgrim

    Hi Mark:

    I have minister colleagues that tell me that the ONLY reason whatsoever to withdraw from the PC(USA) is if the denomination proclaims explicitly that Jesus Christ is no longer Lord. Is this the line in the sand for you? In other words, what would it take for you to leave the denomation? Would you stay in an explictly apostate church to continue ministry? Can you envision ANY circumstance where you would leave?

    Thanks,

    Pilgrim 

  • Anonymous

    Pilgrim: Well, an obvious situation would be one in which I was required either to affirm something I believe to be wrong or to do something I believe to be wrong. The most obvious situation would be one in which the denomination rejected core theological truth, like the Lordship of Christ. It would not longer be part of the true church. But I can also envision other circumstances in which I was called to leave the PC(USA). Let’s say, for example, that God called me to serve in an EPC church. Denominational membership is not like a marriage. But, there is not a clear line in the sand, as far as I’m concerned, for many reasons. I do think this is a situation in which Christians will come to different conclusions, and that’s okay.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. It is not only right but also in our best interest to obey one who wants the best for us and knows what that is. It is foolish not to obey such a one.

  • Pilgrim

    Hi Mark:

    If others in the body of Christ ordain practicing homosexuals (an act that you, Mark D. Roberts, believe is wrong and have said you would leave the denomination for if required to do the ordaining yourself), aren’t you an accessory to the crime by contributing per capita assessments to the General Assembly and financing (at least indirectly) their proactive agenda (things to do)which is antithetical to your own agenda? Wasn’t the whole point of the Reformation to separate from the Roman Catholic Church when it became intolerably sinful? Were the Reformers wrong? Should the Israelites not have separated themselves from the nations around them? Certainly, God loved them but His primary thought was for Israelite safety over their contamination and ruin by foreign and godless influences.

    Thank you,
    Pilgrim

  • http://www.facebook.com/barnold6035 Bob Arnold

    In 1978, the United Presbyterian Church (USA) started the decades-long battle over ordination of avowed practicing homosexual persons which it brought into the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the merger of the UPCUSA and old southern Presbyterian Church (the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.).  Before 1978, the constitutions of both denominations did not specifically cite sexuality as a standard of ordination — something that did not occur until the early 1990s in the PCUSA.  Avowed, practicing homosexuals, in fact, could well have been ordained in the UPCUSA and PCUS  before that action, although, as a practical matter, an ordaining body probably would have asked for guidance on the issue from the denomination’s higher judicatories  (which is what happened).  The current action by PCUSA merely returns the denomination to its pre-1978 status, although it is understood now, but not specifically stated that nothing bars service of homosexual persons simply because of their sexuality in an ordained office of the church.  In all due respect to Mark Roberts’ commentary, there is a solid body of scriptural interpretation by respected theologians and Biblical scholars that support the church’s current position. 

  • Anonymous

    Bob: Thanks for your comment. Your history is right. But, having read those theologians and scholars whom you reference, I have not found their scriptural interpretation to be persuasive. Whether one likes it or not, the Bible is consistently clear that sexual intimacy is not right in same sex relationships. The attempts to make the Bible say otherwise have not been successful.

  • http://jbsmallcabinetshop.blogspot.com/ jim

    If the mind is that open, the brain falls out. 

  • http://jbsmallcabinetshop.blogspot.com/ jim

     in addition to “guided by the scriptures”, Carlisle Presbytery has been reminded, in the past, that we are the “church reformed, and always reforming”, with “according to the Scriptures” somehow forgetting to be said.

  • Anonymous

    Which is not a good thing!

  • Anonymous

    Which is a rather significant omission.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639904125 Tom Paine

    But Mark, one of the points I was making is that we do already trust others to decide if someone is fit for ordination in their church or presbytery on a host of others issues from the nature of the atonement, to the authority of Scripture, to their views on money, pride, and honesty.  What is it that makes sexual fidelity the one item that we can not trust our fellow Presbyterians to discern?  It sends the message that this one area of our lives is of ultimate importance over everything else., to the authority of Scripture, to their views on money, pride, and honesty.  What is it that makes sexual fidelity the one item that we can not trust our fellow Presbyterians to discern?  It sends the message that this one area of our lives is of ultimate importance over everything else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639904125 Tom Paine

    There was an “echo” in my above reply.  It should just read:

    But Mark, one of the points I was making is that we do already trust others to decide if someone is fit for ordination in their church or presbytery on a host of others issues from the nature of the atonement, to the authority of Scripture, to their views on money, pride, and honesty.  What is it that makes sexual fidelity the one item that we can not trust our fellow Presbyterians to discern?  It sends the message that this one area of our lives is of ultimate importance over everything else.

  • Anonymous

    Tom, as far as I know, sexual fidelity is the only area in which people who have sought ordination have said plainly that they intend to do what Scripture forbids. Yet there are governing bodies that are willing to allow this. They have said so. Therefore, one who believes that Scripture is clear about the issue of sexual fidelity has not option but not to trust those governing bodies to do the right thing.

    It makes no difference the kind of behavior. If a person seeking ordination says “I am prideful and I intend to remain prideful because I believe God made me this way,” then that person should not be ordained. You could go right down the list. Sure, we’ve ordained plenty of prideful people (perhaps even me). But, to my knowledge, nobody has said in advance “I’m going to do what Scripture says is wrong.” Yes, there may be some candidates for ordination who believe that Scripture actually endorses their intended behavior. But I have heard and read many who have openly said that they think the Bible needs to be qualified by their experience of the Spirit, as in “That’s what the Bible says but I know otherwise.” This, it seems to me, is a real problem.

  • Anonymous

    Tom, as far as I know, sexual fidelity is the only area in which people who have sought ordination have said plainly that they intend to do what Scripture forbids. Yet there are governing bodies that are willing to allow this. They have said so. Therefore, one who believes that Scripture is clear about the issue of sexual fidelity has not option but not to trust those governing bodies to do the right thing.

    It makes no difference the kind of behavior. If a person seeking ordination says “I am prideful and I intend to remain prideful because I believe God made me this way,” then that person should not be ordained. You could go right down the list. Sure, we’ve ordained plenty of prideful people (perhaps even me). But, to my knowledge, nobody has said in advance “I’m going to do what Scripture says is wrong.” Yes, there may be some candidates for ordination who believe that Scripture actually endorses their intended behavior. But I have heard and read many who have openly said that they think the Bible needs to be qualified by their experience of the Spirit, as in “That’s what the Bible says but I know otherwise.” This, it seems to me, is a real problem.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Dr. Roberts – Thank you for your blog.  I have a couple of points for why I believe it is important that some stay for the time being.

    1. One group of people that has been ignored in the discussion are those that have had or continue to have struggles with same-sex attraction.  I do expect with this change in our Book of Order that one of the first steps will be to disallow participation of OneByOne at the next General Assembly.  The issue of ordination “rights” was presented as a “justice” issue and for the More Light Presbyterians and their friends, it would be an injustice and an offense to even tolerate those that they consider self-loathing.  I am all too familiar with the way gay rights groups work and how very intolerant they actually are especially of those that leave  the gay lifestyle.  We will need your voice in support of ministries such as OneByOne in the midst of these changes. 

    2. We also need your voice to stand up for congregations that vote to leave.  I am already seeing many that have pushed for the removal of the fidelity and chastity clause state that congregations are free to leave be they cannot take their property.  It’s interesting that those that supported the removal of connectedness and trust regarding our ordination standards  are now declaring that trust is intact over property that congregations have actually bought, paid for and maintained.  Removal of the sexual purity standards results in the manifestation of other sins such as bearing false withness (calling conservatives “haters”) and imposing their will with threats of theft of property.
    I do believe God is calling for some men and women to remain, such as yourself, to be a voice for those that begin the battle of departure from the PCUSA.  Thank you. 

  • Anonymous

    When the commandments regarding sexual behavior are broken, other commandments are always broken.  In Romans 13:9, Paul lists thou shalt not commit adultery first and then the other commandments.  When there are affairs, lies are told, murders are committed, there is stealing (from the other spouse) as well as money used to pay for such infidelities, coveting, etc.  Other sins always follow when sexual sins are practiced.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment. I hadn’t thought about the implications for OneByOne. You’re probably right, though that effectually means that many faithful Presbyterians cannot live according to their conscience.

    Yes, on the property issue. I have been encouraged by the wisdom shown by many presbyteries with respect to property, whereby a fair settlement is reached that allows churches to leave with property and also to honor their commitment to presbytery in some reasonable way. I hope all presbyteries will act in this way, and will continue to advocate for this.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, that’s true of all sins, actually. One generally leads to another and another. That’s part of what makes sin so pernicious.

  • Warren

    To remain, I believe, is to agree with the changes in the Book of Order. Would you remain in an organization, for example, which sexually harassed women in order that you may “bear witness to His love and truth”? At some point, either the church represents your views or it does not, and either one believes the change is minor or it is not.

    Being a Presbyterian means something different now than it was last year. The words of Judges echo in my ear – “Everyone did as they saw fit…”

  • Anonymous

    Warren: I know many who think as you do. I respect this view. If I shared it, I would leave. But, at least right now, I do not believe that staying means agreement. I have stated my disagreement and my reasons for staying, so there should be no confusion. Yes, I would remain in an organization that sexually harassed women if: 1) I believed I had been called to that organization by God; 2) I believed that I might be able to help that organization get on a better course; 3) I had the opportunity to minister to women who had been harassed; 4) I was not compelled to harass women or condone it. I don’t see biblical evidence that suggests God tells some people to abandon his people when they are sinning. On the contrary, God sent people (the prophets) to Israel precisely when it was sinning in order to call the people back to God.

  • Nathan Wright

    Hi Mark.  I appreciate your blog and your thoughts.
     
    I have been wrestling through these PCUSA discussions and have recorded some of my thoughts.  I ask your wisdom.
     
    http://www.viceregency.net/podpress_trac/web/71/0/The%20PCUSA%20and%201%20Cor.%205.mp3
     
    http://www.viceregency.net/podpress_trac/web/73/0/The%20PCUSA%20-%20'What%20presbytery%20does%20doesn't%20affect%20my%20church'%20refuted.mp3
     
    More clips at http://www.viceregency.net

  • Nathan Wright

    Hi Mark.  I appreciate your blog and your thoughts.  I have been wrestling through these PCUSA discussions and have recorded some of my thoughts.  I ask your wisdom.  http://www.viceregency.net/podpress_trac/web/71/0/The%20PCUSA%20and%201%20Cor.%205.mp3 http://www.viceregency.net/podpress_trac/web/73/0/The%20PCUSA%20-%20′What%20presbytery%20does%20doesn’t%20affect%20my%20church’%20refuted.mp3 My position is adjusting, and there are more clips at http://www.viceregency.net

    Thankful to Jesus Christ who has called us together in this.

  • Anonymous

    Nathan: I’d be happy to interact with your stuff, but the podcast format is inconvenient. Have you posted any of it in writing?

  • Harold A. Hein

    The church body needs the good leaven.  May the good leaven permeate many minds and hearts that have been deceived by the present culture and so-called ‘toleration’. Brother Mark,may God use you as the good leaven to the glory of Christ and the principle of ‘sola scriptura”.  Illinois has just permitted “civil unions” , and the Ev. Luth. Church in America agrees with the decision. After all, they have permitted gays and lesbians as ordained pastors.  
        The 21st century is going back to first century licentious, not only in toleration,but “they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32)
    ….   Rev. Harold A.Hein (LCMS retired pastor)

  • MWS

    I watched as this began to unfold many years ago.  First, it was discussed.  Second, the PCUSA started voting on it.  Third, the PCUSA leadership kept up the voting until it got the result it wanted.  It took years, but they finally got their way. (I could complain about the voting system and how it is hopeless stacked against any real democracy, but that is just whinning at this point.) If you vote long enough and there is some chance your side will win, then eventually you will win.  That’s just basic probability theory.  I wonder if the side opposing this change will get as many chances to change the standard back to the way it was?  Of course not. 

    I was raised and baptized in the Lutheran Church (now ELCA) and was Lutheran for nearly 37 years of my life.  In the Lutheran Church I was a Deacon, then a member of the Congregation Council (equivalent of The Session in Presbyterian Churches).  I became a Presbyterian (PCUSA) when I moved to take a job in another town.  Why I switched from the Lutheran Church is beyond the scope of this comment and irrelevant to it. The PCUSA church was wonderful.  In terms of size, it was one of the top 25 in the country.  I considered myself a very committed Protestant and a Calvinist to boot.  I was never a fundamentalist, though I was very evangelical in my outlook. I was in the PCUSA church for about 8 years.  I was very active in the Church: First a Deacon, then an Elder. 

    When the the PUP (Peace, Unity and Purity) Report was approved some years ago, I realized something had gone badly wrong.  I naively thought that God would just not let this happen. Alas, with PUP I knew the handwritting was on this wall.  We got a new pastor at my PCUSA Church at about the same time, and everything began to change.  He was in lock step with PCUSA leadership on these and other issues, he was a true company man.  I thought I could attend a local PCA Church, but that was not a real solution as I figured out.  I had always read deeply about my faith.  The works of Calvin, Luther, and the early church fathers were not unfamiliar to me.  I began a long period of soul-searching about what to do.  I am not homophobic and know many wonderful gay and lesbian people, but I also know that “homosexual practice” is not condoned by biblical Christianity. Initially, I was fortified by people like Mark Roberts and others, especially Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but the PCUSA continued to slide.  I was not and never have been a “church hopper,” and just going to another PCUSA church would simply postpone the inevitable.  Besides, choosing a church is not like choosing your lunch.  You don’t go to one church now and leave just becuase you don’t like it.  Real “Church,” I believe, is more basic, more fundamental than that.  I knew God didn’t intend the “churches” to be like a fast-food chain: burgers today, chicken nuggets tomorrow; Lutheran one day, Baptist the next.  And, I could not go back to the Lutheran Church, alas they are in the same boat.  Other denominations seemed no better, and the ordination and marriage of openly gay and lesbian persons was only the tip of the “modernist-secular” creep in the church. I saw a bad slide underway in all the denominations.  For the few that seemed to be holding firm, there were other issues.  Besides, would I “switch” again someday because of some other debate that might arise?  I always believed that real Church is like family, you have only one!  You can’t just leave.  You may not have to see or like your family, but they are still your family.  So, what to do…?

    After much soul searching, I did what I thought was unthinkable.  I resigned from the Session, and, eventually, on Easter Sunday 2007, I entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I went home to my family.  It’s sometimes a dysfunctional family, but it is THE FAMILY!  It took two years of hard reading and arguing with myself.  I am not trying to start a fight, just pointing the way to another option.  The problem, I concluded, was far deeper than this issue.  I know there are many who have left Catholicism for Protestantism.  I pray for them.  I pray for the Protestant churches.  I simply came to the conclusion that Jesus and the apostles did not intend multiple “denominations.”  Jesus and the apostles founded one VISIBLE Church and that Church (family) still exists!  If we do not come to understand this and realize its importance to doctrine and Church governance, this splintering and fragmenting will only get worse.  It has only gotten worse since the Reformation.  Fragmentation, factions, and splintering are not signs the the Spirit is fully present.  It has constantly plagued Protestantism for 500 years.  The model reformers of the Church are St. Francis of Assisi, Pope St. Gregory the Great, and John Paul II not Luther and Calvin.  I fear I will start a bad fight, but this is the root of the problem….

    DOMINUS VOBISCUM

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Harold. Yes, we do need good leaven!

  • http://jbsmallcabinetshop.blogspot.com/ jim

    Thanks, MWS, for the thought you put into this.
    I am right with you up to the Catholic part.  I am leaning toward more of a house-church solution. 
    The wonderful part is that there is actually only one Church, and that you and I can be members, known to God, wherever we worship.  I see it as INVISIBLE until that Day when she is presented to Christ, spotless. 

  • Polecat

    The change of the Book of Order is not blblical.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. The church of Jesus Christ will one day be all God intends it to be.


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