GAPJC Rules: Believe As You Will—We Won’t Stop You

May 1, 2012

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) released its Decision and Order this morning, agreeing on all counts with the Synod of the Pacific PJC (SPJC) to affirm San Francisco Presbytery’s approval of Lisa Larges’ ordination. “The Presbytery properly exercised its prerogative in determining that the Candidate did not depart from the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.” The Commission did not sustain any of the eight specifications of error put forward by the Appellants, comprising seven elders and one church session within San Francisco Presbytery. The decision puts to rest all procedural questions related to the ordination of committed homosexual persons and enshrines the rule that ordaining bodies (presbyteries and sessions) have sole discretion to determine doctrine and biblical interpretation related to candidates.

In the Decision, the Commission quoted and affirmed the statement within the SPJC’s decision I have commented on before (with thread to follow) but recall here:

“ . . . a vast diversity of interpretation of scripture and the confessions regarding human sexuality evident in the record is also manifest across the churches and members of the denomination. Such thoughtful disagreement among reasonable and faithful Presbyterians is itself an important and faithful part of the Reformed tradition.”

Some key points in the Decision:

1. The Commission went back to the Swearingen Commission Report of 1926-27, which in its view gave presbyteries full authority to determine whether a candidate for ordination adheres to the necessary and essential tenets of the Reformed faith.

2. The Bible is not the only voice that shapes the belief of Presbyterians, citing the array in the Book of Confessions, which is identified as “an instrument of reform” and requiring “discernment and interpretation when its standards are applied in the life and mission of the church.” And since the GAPJC also lifted up the “vast diversity of interpretation” statement from the SPJC decision, it also sees the many voices within scholarly debate as equally valid for shaping the church’s life.

The Decision can be read as upholding the so-called Knox Authoritative Interpretation as a basis for presbytery autonomy in ordination decisions, though Knox was never cited in this decision.

Appended to the Decision and Order were two concurrences with different messages. The first represents the lament of the minority on the panel. The four commissioners concurred with the decision because there was no constitutional way to prevent it after the deletion of the fidelity/chastity requirement and given the history of precedent leading to this outcome (Adopting Act of 1729 à Swearingen Commission).  The authors wrote:

While we concur with this assessment of where the PC(USA) is as a denomination, we lament that it is in this place—where differences over matters of human sexuality have become so diverse and divisive, where slim majority votes create huge shifts in the communal life of the denomination, and where every decision the church makes in this area is a sweet victory for one side, and a bitter defeat for the other, ultimately causing entire congregations to determine that they can no longer remain in fellowship with the denomination. . . . In many respects the denomination has been transformed by a culture of sexual fixation rather than being transformative of that culture.

They go on to demonstrate how the church has lost its moral authority to speak a transformative gospel to the culture because “we have been unwilling to discipline ourselves. . .”

I am gratified that these four also included a quotation from the preliminary Swearingen Commission Report (1926) in which that panel acknowledged that the reason why it could trust presbyteries with ordination decisions was that they were in general agreement about the content of the faith. If this were not so, they said, “our difficulties would be multiplied greatly.”

These words have turned out to be prophetic, and the sad unraveling of our biblical and confessional integrity is taking place. The four commissioners quoted Swearingen’s call for spiritual revival, a return to our knees in confession and repentance, and renewal of our allegiance to Christ. I urge us all to read this and weep before the throne of truth and grace.

The second concurrence by only two other members of the GAPJC basically says we Appellants were wrong to say that the scriptures are clear on the matter of homosexual practice and that we did not follow the same rules of interpretation on this topic as we might have on any other topic. According to them, we made “little reference to contemporary critical analysis or contextual differentiation.” Further, they go on, the matter does not rise to the level of “essentials of Reformed faith and polity” nor is “the ordination of a gay or lesbian person . . . so critical that it would compromise or undermine the ‘essential and necessary’ character of Reformed doctrine.”

In the eyes of our PCUSA judicial system, we have been defeated. In the eyes of God, we have stood faithfully for what is true and covenant-keeping. We conducted ourselves well through the process, and gave the GAPJC lots to think about. We believe they have erred in their conclusion, and it will be the undoing of our denomination.  We can only commend the PCUSA to God’s mercy at this point.

Where does this leave Lisa? She remains under care of San Francisco Presbytery, but her work with the organization that was validated at the time of her examination for ordination is coming to a close. If she secures a new call, I believe it will be necessary for her to undergo another examination, but this Decision makes that outcome predictable and probably a formality only. I sincerely wish her well as she determines her next steps.

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27 Responses to “GAPJC Rules: Believe As You Will—We Won’t Stop You”

  1. Viola Larson Says:

    So much sad news-this will undoubtedly in the end affect our Christology. But Jesus is still Lord-we can find our hope and endeavors still in him although no longer in the PCUSA.

  2. Jason Huff Says:

    It should also be noted — especially by those planning to leave for ECO, since they will use the same document — that the majority report explicitly cites the non-uniformity in the Book of Confessions as proof that we listen to “a multitude of voices.” That is particularly notable given the brevity of the decision itself. While there is much debate within the opinions, the decision itself in essence says that anything is game based on the fact that we have a changing confessional tradition.

  3. Jake Horner Says:

    But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for

    if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Act 5:34-39 ESV)

    Jesus Christ is still LORD. He knows exactly what He is doing in both judgment and grace. The gates of Hell still don’t stand a chance.

    • Pat Kinzie Says:

      Yes, Christ if Lord and I am eternally grateful. However, this is one elder who will be moving to another denomination as I stand on the Word of God for my witness to the world. It is so hard for me to understand why we would discipline a man for sex outside of marriage but not a woman. This seems upside down and not within any of my Bible studies. Thank you Mary for your faithfulness, patience and mercy which you brought to this long, long case.

  4. sandalow Says:

    Mary, thank you for all your blood, sweat, and effort on this. I felt it was a longshot from the very beginning, but an important part of not leaving any rock unturned in an effort to keep the PCUSA on a Biblical track. Perhaps it was good to quote Swearinger, since in some respects the problems began with that report:

    “In retrospect, however, it appears the Machen’s fears about the secularization of the church without distinct doctrinal boundaries were well founded…without a focused theological identity the church and the church’s mission to the world have suffered.”
    “The decades since, however, have witnessed the theological fragmentation allowed by the church’s earlier decisions, so that a report adopted by the 1988 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church could conclude, “our unity is merely formal and our diversity is divisive.” Dr. Bradley Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy.

  5. rickcarter Says:

    The commission managed to stay in the realm of polity, despite the herculean efforts of plaintiffs to coerce a ruling on theology. In appealing to Swearingen, the commission reaffirmed that this denomination long ago confirmed that all questions of aptitude for ordination are to be decided by presbyteries and sessions.

    Further, the commission evinced an awareness that it would be folly for them to try to lead the denomination where it does not want to go. In the commission’s view, the denomination has come to accept a plurality of opinions on sexual ethics.

    We are presented with an interesting affirmation of our polity. This ruling reinforces the idea that the church lives at the grass roots. Presbyterians refuse all but the most necessary elements of hierarchy. We won’t be coerced.

    This exemplifies a remarkable course correction, in recent years, from the strong-armed, centralized denomination of the mid-twentieth century. The Kenyon case was perhaps the last gasp of that hierarchical organizational model. Following the same principles that guided today’s ruling, this current commission would never have prevented the ordination of Walter Kenyon.

    Regarding Presbyterian polity, this commission broke no new ground. We may share the lament of the minority, in their concurring opinion, that we have lost theological consensus, but the commission understandably determined that it was beyond them to enforce consensus on a denomination that wants to decide matters (or evade them) for themselves.

    • Jake Horner Says:

      Rick,

      What you wrote is true until a congregation tries to leave the PCUSA, then they immediately morph into a strong-armed, centralized, hierarchical denomination.

      Jake H.

  6. Lisa Larges Says:

    Blessings Mary, to you, our church, and on each of us as we seek to listen to God’s calling in our lives and to follow faithfully. One small correction: That All May Freely Serve is not folding. Your main point in this regard is still correct that I am finishing my work with TAMFS and will be seeking new ministry. In Christ’s peace, as ever

    • revmary Says:

      Thank you for the clarification, Lisa. I must have misunderstood the TAMFS memo awhile back. I have fixed my post to reflect your correction.

  7. Houston Hodges Says:

    Particularly appreciated your closing thought of concern for our sister Lisa, regardless. As it should be. As I regret — and empathize with — your sorrow and pain.

  8. noelanderson Says:

    Wow–I bet the PCUSA really starts growing now!

  9. Jim Berkley Says:

    Mary, you have served God and the church well in this task. Remarkably well!

    As I have observed for some time concerning the General Assembly, so it is with the GAPJC: The faith, the biblical rigor, the reasonable votes are no longer there! Excellent argumentation, flawless logic, the sweetest spirit, the most careful reasoning, masterful coordination of efforts, impeccable biblical reference–all are for naught in the crazy-making environment of theological liberalism, where all that truly matters is “what’s happenin’ now.”

    You have performed a major task; you have given all of us a clear and decisive marker. When the highest court of our church was forced to choose explicitly between what the Bible says and what our culture is saying, it clearly and decisively chose the cultural cacophony. It has listened to another voice; this denomination has gone “a whoring after the strange gods of the land.”

    Now it is very clear: The PCUSA has abandoned the Bible to listen to and follow voices strange and foreign to the people of God.

    Mary, you have made that sad reality as clear as the nose on one’s face! Thank you. That is a valuable service. No one is guessing now. We know the tragic truth that the PCUSA has chosen to drift precariously, having loosed its biblical moorings.

    Jim Berkley
    Roslyn, WA

  10. Jodie Says:

    Mary,

    I thought your argument was flawless. And I hope you feel good about your conduct and manner, as well you should. But the conclusion your argument led me to was (again) that nobody, really, can be ordained. Between the sola scriptura lack of direction on the establishment of ordination, and the lack of sola scriptura standards that would deny church office (or is it servanthood?) to some but not others, I would extend your conclusions to all the members of the Church.

    And I for one would be OK with that.There is a certain flatness that should be in the Church, between there being no master or slave, no male or female, no Greek or Jew, and the teaching that the one who would be the greatest of all should be the servant of all. It is only because we are trying to put people on pedestals that we ask of them to meet certain standards of – what exactly I am not sure. Sola Scriptura asks for slaves, and what is the sola scriptura standard for slavery?

    But of course we know that nobody in the Presbyterian Church would ever go down that path. If your are reading this I already saw your eyes roll up. We have leaders and we ordain our leaders. It’s a given. And the precedent that has been right before us all along, is that we ordain whom we want to ordain, and we do not ordain whom we do not want to ordain. And from time to time we change our minds.

    Obedience to the letter of the Scriptures, as far as I can tell, is exactly where it has always been at least since before the time of Jesus: here and there yes, here and there no, and here and there, it depends. The lines between them have always been in flux.

    If we could learn to embrace that simple fact, there is a good chance we would all be a much more powerful witness to the Gospel.

    And that is really all we all want to be, is it not?

  11. Viola Larson Says:

    Jodie,
    There is a difference. All are sinners, but all must repent of their sin. Those who refuse to repent no matter what that sin might be should not be ordained. The practice of homosexuality is a sin. The word of God says so.

    “If we say that we have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanes us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are decieving ourselves and the truth is not in us. if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned we make him a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:6-9)

  12. Jodie Says:

    Viola,

    Are you saying that you have numbered all your sins, and repented from each and every one of them? I can’t wrap my head around that. Either your definition of sin is too narrow, or your definition of repentance is too soft.

    I don’t think anyone can satisfy that burden of behavior. If it really is a requirement for ordination, than we should just abolish the practice.

    • Peter H. Ng Says:

      God is perfect and we are not. We have sin but we will repent and ask for forgiving if we feel that we did something wrong. Homosexual is like worshiping idols, you can not come to God and at the same time worshiping idols. If someone worshiped idols and believed in God, he or she should remove the idols and worship God only. The one who practiced homosexual should do the same. If he or she practice that again, it is like the one who worshiped idols returned to worship idols. God will depart from that person and he or she will be like someone who does not believe in God.

  13. John R. Kerr Says:

    I am reminded of a statement made by the chair of the Committee on Preparation (Presbytery of San Francisco, ironically enough) back in 1987: “The presbytery may ordain. God may not.” How true! I’m also reminded by the decision of the GAPJC of the quip that Steve Martin made concerning his philosophy training: “There are only two true statements: ‘All chairs are green,’ and ‘All chairs are not green.'” We have embraced the confusion of our culture rather than the truth of the Word of God.


  14. Thank you, Mary, for your faithful witness. You are truly a blessing to us. This decision will cast long shadows over the work of the coming Assembly, but you have directed our eyes to the Light of the World. Thank you.

  15. Chas Jay Says:

    Thank you, Mary, for your wisdom and continual work to stand in Truth and always showing His love It is so sad that disobedience under the then Book of Order (and is still disobedience according to other areas of the BoO and Scripture) is celebrated by this ever shrinking denomination.
    For Jodie – the liberals voted to willfully ignore and twist Scripture. Servants do not dictate to the Master the rules and declare they have a right. There are no “rights” in being a servant. Those that have same-sex desires have always had the same choices as straights, in either being chaste in singleness or fidelity in marriage to a person of the opposite sex. They did not want to obey then yet I do know that those that remain in the PCUSA will be forced to accept this and the “diversity” speeches given by liberals are just lies. We’ve been called names such as homophobic, intolerant, heterosexists, bullies and many more. The PCUSA now proclaims that what God declared to be sinful is not sinful, but good. They are proclaiming that their disobedience is good as well. Jesus said otherwise.
    I am fortunate to be at a congregation that is going to leave the PCUSA. Those of us that are leaving are actually showing much more love and respect to those that “continued to call for a vote until they got their way.” Sadly too many congregations aren’t allowed to leave peacefully with property in tact, but are being forced to pay large sums of money to depart the PCUSA. Many congregations are taken to court for an extended battle by selfish people for the sole intent of stealing property from the congregation has owned, paid for and maintained for decades.
    Once again, Mary, thank you. Viola, thank you as well for your continued faithfulness.

  16. George McIlrath Says:

    Well done, good & faithful servants.

  17. hallead Says:

    Of course the response to this silliness is to simply reexamine each and every teaching elder as they move from Presbytery to Presbytery and to make a decision whether or not an ordination is in order in each and every case. It short it becomes incumbent upon each presbytery to validate or to refuse to recognize another Presbytery’s ordination…

  18. Peter H. Ng Says:

    Homosexual is not adultery any more so will all the laws about adultery will be acceptable now. A man can marry his daughter, a son his mother, or even A father can marry his son for the laws in the Old Testament does not say anything about it, The people who violated the laws in the Bible can be ordain as pastor or elder in the PCUSA churches if majority members of the church vote for it. People are born to be sin. The serial killers are born to be like killing and they should be allow to kill because homosexual is natural born and the practice is allowed by the PCUSA Church.

  19. Caroline Debs Says:

    Dear Remnant within: I am deeply grateful and eternally thankful for the “faithful witness” sown within these comments. The Word says: “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (King James Bible)

    It is very encouraging to hear in action the 7,000 that were predicted to stand against the tide(s) in each subsequent generation…as it was in the times of Elijah, and as it has come once more in our current generation…and especially in the gentle but strong testimony of “Mary”.

    Also…We can plead Matthew 24:24 for “Lisa”, that those who love and seek the truth can yet be rescued, even when deceived–a danger we are all subject to except for His grace and mercies–which “mercy” is accessed by a love for Christ and for His truth.

    Sincerely, an outside but concerned observer to the PCUSA deliberations between the reality of eternal truth vs the reality of man’s opinions…Caroline Debs

    P.S. Here is the Roman’s 11 affirmation and summation of Elijah’s OT stand, and ours…taken in context below:

    “You know what the scripture says in the passage where Elijah pleads with God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.” 4 What answer did God give him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not worshiped the false god Baal.” 5 It is the same way now: there is a small number left of those whom God has chosen because of his grace. 6 His choice is based on his grace, not on what they have done. For if God’s choice were based on what people do, then his grace would not be real grace.

    7 What then? The people of Israel did not find what they were looking for. It was only the small group that God chose who found it; the rest grew deaf to God’s call. 8 As the scripture says, “God made their minds and hearts dull; to this very day they cannot see or hear.”


  20. […] defeated. In the eyes of God, we have stood faithfully for what is true and covenant-keeping,” said Mary Naegeli, lead attorney for the complainants. “We believe they have erred in their conclusion, and it will […]


  21. […] I read news reports about the onslaught of sexual permissiveness and the final decision coming from the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC)concerning the Lisa Larges’ […]

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