Has the PCUSA Ever Had Moral Authority?

March 15, 2012

“Dr. Mike” commented this week:

“Your article implies that the embattled PC(USA) actually had moral authority at some time in their history? When was this? As I look at its history, the PC(USA) has never had unity or harmony. Seems to me its entire history has been marked with one compromise with the world after another.”

This question raises the issue of how one would perceive and measure the moral authority of a church. If a church is not experiencing unity or harmony, does that automatically mean that the church has lost its moral authority? Dr. Mike is quite right that the church has experienced precious few periods of peace, unity, and purity in its life, and I am not referring only to the Presbyterian Church. Nor do I deny that throughout the life of the Church, there has been diversity of theological thinking at the ground level. Neither of these conditions, however, touches on the basis for moral authority the way I understand the term: what a denominations stands for as evidenced by its “books.”

Denominations make decisions about their life together and codify these decisions in church canons, books of order, creeds and confessions, or other constitutional-type documents. The claim to moral authority, beyond the charge given by our Savior and mentioned in a previous post, is based on the orthodoxy of those statements. Orthodoxy can be evaluated, and it has been, by the church fathers, theologians like John Calvin, and (he would be embarrassed to be counted here, but he is such a good example) New Testament scholar Dr. Dale Bruner.[1] Orthodoxy, or right belief, based on the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and practice, is the foundation for moral authority. Regardless of what is practiced by individuals (and they do err), a church possesses moral authority to the degree it conforms its teaching and its life to what is taught in the Scriptures. When a church takes action, adopts new language, or departs institutionally from biblical norms, it relinquishes that authority. I am claiming that the PCUSA and its councils (plenty of presbytery evidence) are now supporting unbiblical actions and beliefs through both commission and omission.  Changes to the Book of Order represent commission. Omission is demonstrated in the failure of the GAPJC to discipline individuals and councils that have defied church teaching and biblical norms.

These acts of commission and omission were preceded by the wink-wink, nod-nod of presbyteries and General Assemblies that gave lip service to what the Book of Order or the Bible said, with the full intent to do something different on the side. I am quite sure, for instance, that at the 2006 Assembly, the reaffirmation of G-6.0106b (the fidelity/chastity ordination standard) by 89% of the vote was accomplished only because those same commissioners believed that the PUP Authoritative Interpretation also passed that year allowed individual presbyteries to decide which beliefs were “essential” and allow departures from the others, including in their view G-6.0106b. During this period, the church retained its moral authority to the degree it acknowledged that “fidelity/chastity” was a standard; but all such notions flew out the window—wrongly, as I have argued before—when the New Form of Government was adopted with G-6 deleted and Amendment 10-A in its place. What we have now is local option in practice, even though it has not been granted officially, at least until we hear the GAPJC rule on Parnell v San Francisco around May 2. Nothing short of GAPJC’s unequivocal reprimand of a presbytery that approved the ordination of an unqualified person can restore moral authority to the church. And I think this can only stick if the General Assembly will follow suit and retain a definition of marriage built on a biblical male-female prerequisite.

Thank you for the question, Dr. Mike. It opens up my grief once again, to realize what we have lost.

[1] Dale’s new commentary on The Gospel of John (Eerdmans) was released last month and can be found at your favorite online book seller.


2 Responses to “Has the PCUSA Ever Had Moral Authority?”

  1. Jodie Says:

    But Mary,

    Surely you can see that G-6.0106b was nothing but toxic to the Church.

    NOBODY enforced it. The church was (is) bitterly divided between those that winked-winked at only half of the Rule and those that winked-winked at all of it. Tell me again why we should spend so much time, money and energy fighting – nay, nuking each other – over what, divining the nature of homosexuality? Millions of dollars a year we waste on this fight. Nobody wins. It’s a trick of Satan to bring down the Church. It can only be. And we have fallen for it.

    Do you have any idea how to make it stop?

    • Jake Horner Says:


      G-6.0106b was only toxic to those within the church who are espousing a godless religion. As near as I can tell, it was only unenforced by those committed to dragging our precious gay brothers and sisters through the gates of Hell.

      We should spend time, resources, and energy fighting the course of the PCUSA because God’s LGBTQ children are worth every penny, second, and ounce of energy we expend; after all, Jesus Christ went to the cross that they might have life and have it abundantly in the transformation of their soul and praxis (same as the rest of us).

      Actually, Jesus Christ will win, His victory is assured. All authority in heaven and on earth has been give to Him. He is the living and breathing LORD of all who is enthroned in the heavenlies, and who is guiding all creation to its consummation in the eschaton, when the true Church will be revealed. The gates of Hell will not prevail, they don’t stand a chance.

      The only trick of Satan here is the misleading of many with a false gospel, same as he has always been doing. It is my hope and prayer that the grace of God in Jesus Christ will lead them to repentance through the Spirit.

      Jodie, we are caught up in a conflict that has been going on for ages, the outcome of which is assured when the purpose of God is fulfilled. It will stop then and only then. In the meantime, we proclaim the Kingdom of God to any and all who will listen.


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