All Analogies Aside

October 8, 2011

In case my readers have been snowed by analogies of salt, cable noise, or Apple, let me close the week with a clear statement of why I believe the PCUSA and its judicatories must make a significant correction. Though the Parnell et al v. San Francisco Presbytery case is still pending, the Caledonia v. Twin Cities Area case comes full circle today with the ordination of an openly gay man to PCUSA ministry. As this happens, the church is jolted off its foundation.

The question is whether Presbyterianism is truly a faith and polity grounded in the Word of God.  If it is, then one can only conclude that the presbyteries erred in their original ordination decisions. If it is not, the future of the PCUSA as we have known it is in doubt.

The SPJC decision in the Parnell case, if permitted to stand, is a declaration to Presbyterians and the world that the PCUSA is no longer anchored in the Scriptures as “the only rule of faith and manners” (F-3.0107). Cut loose from our scriptural mooring, we become a church “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14), a church with “itching ears, accumulating for [our]selves teachers to suit [our] own desires” (2Tim 4:3). And thus, adrift, having relinquished our moral authority, which the denomination possesses only when its laws and decisions are founded upon the revealed will of God (F-3.0107), we can no longer offer spiritual refuge to a lost and hurting world.

For those Presbyterians who believe the Bible’s witness on this issue is outdated, inaccurate, unreliable, or insufficient, then loosening the Church’s biblical mooring would be good news.

But to those Presbyterians who believe the Bible is true, trustworthy, and the only rule of faith and practice as our Reformed heritage has maintained, it would be bad news indeed to sustain the Synod’s decision.  It would be seen as a betrayal of our historic faith, a violation of ordination vows, and misuse of apostolic authority.  And to what would this Body be drifting instead, if let loose from its biblical ties on matters of sexuality?  To an amorphous, fluid, and relative “morality” that has not yet been written and which the Church has not enacted.  This is what happens when a governing body waives a clear teaching of the revealed will of God.

By advocating that candidates are ineligible for ordination because they refuse to abide by the clear mandate of the Scriptures, our Reformed heritage, and history, we are not saying that they are not Christians or that they do not possess ministry gifts.  Consistent with our Reformed tradition, we do not condemn them as they seek to find their place in ministry. But the PCUSA has the right and the obligation to declare its qualifications for ordained office (F-3.0102), and those seeking office understand that those qualifications limit their freedom of conscience. By affirming this historic principle we are not leaving candidates without a remedy, that is, to peaceably withdraw in recognition of those limits (G-2.0105[footnote]) and pursue ministry elsewhere, while all concerned act in charity toward one another

On appeal, my sincere hope is that the GAPJC will choose the biblical and constitutional course by not permitting San Francisco Presbytery to carry out an unjustified ordination.  It can act confidently in this matter, because our biblical, Reformed, and denominational moorings are strong and well-established:

1. We do have the Bible, and it does have meaning, which, if believed and embraced, leads us into obedience and fullness of life (Mt 7:24-27; Jn 2:30f).

2. We do have a Constitution, and it does have meaning that binds us because all ordained officers have agreed to let it order their lives and our covenant community. Its words have been chosen with care, debated thoroughly, and adopted by the whole Church. They accurately describe and promote godliness in obedience to Jesus Christ under the authority of Scripture  (G-2.0104b, W-4:9001, BOC 9.47).

3. We do have a Church with distinguishing “marks” that render it “true.” In addition to the “true preaching of the Word of God, … [and] the right administration of the sacraments,” all church officers have placed themselves under “ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered” (Scots Confession, Book of Confessions, 3.18). In order for church discipline to have any meaning or influence, we must actually exercise it in a particular case. This is one such case in which the Church must be brought back to order in the true spirit of the Reformation (F-1.0303).

We do every Presbyterian—including individual candidates—a favor, and the Church will be blessed as promised in the eighth Historic Principle of Church Order (F-3.0108), if we would have the courage to apply “the vigor and strictness of the church’s discipline” and call the SPJC’s ruling an error and reverse our course in ordination. It’s too late in the case of Twin Cities Area, but not too late in San Francisco. We still have a chance to get this right.

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2 Responses to “All Analogies Aside”

  1. L. Lee Says:

    Thank you again Mary for standing firm in encouraging PC(USA) to move toward God’s will as dictated by Scripture so that the Church can receive more of the work of the Holy Spirit to transform it. When the judges fail us and everyone does what is right in their own eyes, then the blessing of God is diminished for the whole. Scripture bears this out.

    But I want to also advocate for seeking God for an out pouring of the Holy Spirit. Too often we lift up the “letter” of the law and forget that transformation comes by the Holy Spirit. That is what is missing in the church and we must ask the questions how can we as leaders foster and encourage the work of the Holy Spirit in those we minister to. 2 Corinthians 3 speaks to this:
    6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life……9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!….”
    When judges do not see the law that condemns as glorious and they stop at condemnation, they fail to lead us to the transformation that the Holy Spirit can bring to those who repent. They remove that glorious part that lets us know how little we are to make changes toward righteousness and leave us in our sin because we are not led to Christ as our source of change.

  2. TPT Says:

    Mary, it’s too late. That’s why I’ve left. We’ve witnessed a slow moving coup. The new regime will drift farther and farther from the reformed tradition towards some kind of Unitarian congregationalism as they consolidate their power. The rest of us face of choice of going along to get along, or leaving.

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