What the GAPJC Decision Means for the Presbyterian Church

May 3, 2012

As the dust settles and the reality of the GAPJC’s decision in Parnell et al v. San Francisco Presbytery sinks in across the church, evangelical/conservatives have entered a period of mourning for a series of losses that will change the shape of the denomination quickly.

1. There is no distinctive feature of “the Reformed faith” other than a diversity of opinions about what the Scriptures mean for everyday life, most particularly for the belief and conduct of its officers. The designation “essentials of the Reformed faith” no longer has real, defining meaning for Presbyterians today, and therefore reference to essentials in our vows and ordination evaluation process is vacuous.

2.  Scripture is not the only rule of faith and practice, and the Confessions hold no authority to interpret them. “The Book of Confessions reflects that the Church listens to a multitude of voices in shaping its beliefs.” (Parnell Decision and Order, 5).  It is what I have been saying all along: “Did God really say . . .?” Eve has become our role model for listening to voices other than God’s in moral decision-making. Have we not learned yet that following in Eve’s footsteps is catastrophic?

3. If the Commissioners and other legal interpreters had applied to The Adopting Act of 1729 the same interpretive rigor they claim to use in biblical exegesis, we would not be in this mess. The Adopting Act has been over-interpreted beyond the scope of its historical and cultural context. It was the first domino in a string of incremental adjustments to orthodoxy:

•  The Swearingen Commission of 1926-27, which in a time of relative theological consensus declared that subscribing to a list of essentials (at the time, the Five Fundamentals) was unnecessary and ill advised

•  Adoption of a Book of Confessions in 1967 to replace the Westminster Standards as the sole doctrinal system of the Presbyterian Church

•  Adoption of the Peace, Unity, and Purity Report (2006), and the subsequent obliteration of authoritative interpretations (AI) related to human sexuality by adoption of the Knox AI (2008). By so doing, the church has relinquished all moral authority and the will to state any doctrinal or behavior standard for church officers. This itself is a fundamental denial of the Historic Principles of Church Order that have described “the Presbyterian way” for centuries (F-3.02). I grieve this loss most acutely.

My “Sermon on the Mount” Bible study this week took up the two verses of warning, in Matthew 7:13-14:  “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The PCUSA has taken the wide gate, and while easier and perhaps even more “peaceful” in the short term, it will lead to our denomination’s destruction by our own hand. Unless we repent and enter by the narrow gate, “God will [give us] up in the lusts of [our] hearts to impurity, to the degrading of [our] bodies among [our]selves, because [we] exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Rom. 1:24f).



18 Responses to “What the GAPJC Decision Means for the Presbyterian Church”

  1. Houston Hodges Says:

    Yes, friend Mary, you are at the major point that divides us, I think: the price of change. I see change as essential, applaud it, but regret the cost of unfortunate and unwise decisions to achieve it. But think it had to happen, to ready the church for Century 21. I suspect you see it as inevitable, too, and perhaps even as necessary… but am not clear as to what direction you think it should have taken or should take at this point. I hear (or mis-hear) many of my “evangelical” siblings as holding forth against change of any sort.

    • It is comforting to know that some people never change. Houston Hodges as equivocal as every.

      Mary, I read the sorrow in your fine analysis. I am somehow strengthened to know that folks like yourself still struggle and persist in the work God has called you to.

      What a fine piece of writing!

  2. Jake Horner Says:


    I wonder how long it is going to take the people in the pews to figure this one out, or Joe/Josephine pastor who isn’t particularly connected to all the polity shenanigans for that matter … I wonder if the PCUSA will still exist in 2013, and if it does what it will look like…


  3. Jodie Says:

    Really, Mary?

    This kind of talk reminds me of the white flight syndrome of the 60s and 70s. There goes the neighborhood! It was a self fulfilling prophecy.

    The narrow path is also about resisting our herd mentality.

  4. emd5542 Says:

    Is there no inclusiveness but by travel down the wide road and through the wide gate? Invitation to community does not blur the truth that Jesus is Lord as well as Savior and God loves us but wants to work in us through the Holy Spirit to get us closer and closer to holiness which seems to require daily confession and repentance and not “You’re okay as you are even though you live at odds with scripture.” Mary, please keep expounding the truth. We know Satan is defeated.

  5. Mary, folk like Houston Hodges will confirm most anything to be thought well of by their peers who also are willing to strip the Gospel of that which does not support their PC stance. Having retired from 45 years of pastoral ministry (ordained 1964 in the PCUS), served on GA Council, moderated four presbyteries, was deeply involved in local and international missions, fought for racial justice and women’s rights…it grieves me deeply to witness the death of the church that birthed me, nurtured me, educated me, called me into ministry and ordained me (til recently). Hey, the left knows they are wrong to defy Scripture, they surely know that (!), but they trust God to wink at their sin. To the supporters of homosexuality, the Word is important only so long as they get to decide what part of the Word to obey. Mary, God bless you for your courage and clarity of word.

  6. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    The sad part in all of these happenings, seeing the further erosion of orthodox belief is that leaders who are ordained followers of Christ have denied the commandments of
    God. While we are all fallen, the leaders who brought this about, by their willingness to diminish the truth of God’s word and way are certainly breaking God’s heart.
    “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone,something shaped by art and man’s devising.
    Truely, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He
    Has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him form the dead”
    Acts 17:29-31
    Those who had a hand or voice in the downward spiral of this denomination moving away from God’s Word, repent.

  7. […] the full article here. Read the response of one of the complainants here. Share […]

  8. David L. Bierschwale Says:

    Thank you Mary for this (as usual!) lucid analysis. If find it highly ironic that the congregational form of church government which so many liberals lampooned for years (especially in the scoffing at the Baptists–which I heard a lot of when I was in the south) is now what we have become! Many of my best friends in ministry have been Baptists, but I cannot fit in that form of government.

  9. presrevrob Says:

    I respect my colleagues enough to respect that they may hold opinions that differ from mine without becoming personal and attacking them. I wish my colleague Naegeli would extend to me the same respect. By assuming to describe what others who may not share her own point of view believe, Rev. Naegeli appears more concerned with getting her way than with engaging a brother or sister in Christ. We may disagree on major points of theology, but you, Ms. Naegeli have no right to imply that I or anyone else is apostate, heterodox or otherwise unfit for our offices. You and I have never met and you have no way of knowing what is in my heart or my soul. To speak in universals the way you do is and offfense against the vow you make to further the peace, unity and purity of the church. Your obligation is not merely to further the purity as you understand it, but to further all three. As someone who has spent many years in the center-left of the church arguing for the unity of the church and against the marginalization of my friends and colleagues of a more conservative posture, people like Ms. Naegeli make that increasingly difficult.

    • Rob speaks of respect, of peace, of unity and, briefly of purity. He addresses himself to none of the points made by Ms. Naegeli. Instead he addresses his understanding of her assumptions. He claims that somehow the blog writer has offended her vows – I assume he means “violated” by the word “offended.” Rather than showing what particular vow was violated he begins to lecture her about “speaking of “universals” in the way she supposedly does. If we don’t hold some truths as true for all persons throughout all times, then we are relativistic and make no truths true for all persons throughout all times.

      The question is, can anyone who is not a gross relativist every claim to uphold the peace and unity of the Church?

  10. Rob Lowry Says:

    Very well, to the points raised:

    1. Claim- “There is no distinctive feature of the ‘Reformed Faith’ other than a difference of opinion about what the scriptures mean for everyday life…” Response: The GAPJC decision is careful to say that recognition that scripture may be interpreted differently within the church is A feature of the Reformed Faith. At no point do they claim that it is the ONLY feature. That claim is incorrect.

    2. Claim: “Scripture is not the only rule of faith and practice, and the Confessions hold no authority to interpret them.” Response: Again, the GAPJC was clear in its ruling that scripture is the rule of faith and life and the confessions do indeed interpret scripture. What they also said is that it is not acceptable to cherry pick those bits and pieces that fit your own argument. That hermeneutic was rejected.

    3. Claim: “If the Commissioners and other legal interpreters had applied to The Adopting Act of 1729 the same interpretive rigor they claim to use in biblical exegesis, we would not be in this mess. The Adopting Act has been over-interpreted beyond the scope of its historical and cultural context. It was the first domino in a string of incremental adjustments to orthodoxy…” Response: The phrase “incremental adjustments to orthodoxy” in this context clearly intends to direct the reader to a conclusion that what results from this incremental adjustment i heterodoxy if not down right heresy. What Rev. Naegeli and others fail to understand is that they are not the sole arbiters of what shall be orthodox.

    To your comments, Mr. Miller:

    I did not mean violated her vows I meant offended. To claim that another officer of the church has violated his or her vows of ordination has specific ecclesiastical legal meaning and consequence. What I said stands. To offend is very different than to violate. I may offend the spirit of a law without breaking the actual law itself.

    To your point that I was speaking in universals and did not specify which vow, I clearly stated that I referred to the shared vow of all officers to “further the peace, unity and purity of the church.” How can that be more specific?

    To your statement, “If we don’t hold some truths as true for all persons throughout all times, then we are relativistic and make no truths true for all persons throughout all times.” Response: I could not agree more. What the GAPJC said is that this particular issue is not one that rises to that level of mandated uniformity in the church.

    To your final question, the answer is yes someone who is not a “gross relativist” can indeed uphold the peace of the church. Peace does not mean uniformity of belief. I can and do live in peace with colleagues who disagree with me on this and other issues. Peace comes, I believe, when we all confess that we see through the glass dimly and none of us claim to have the whole and universal truth sewed up in a neat little package. Some in the church claim that they have the absolute truth and they will not even consider any other point of view. That is the position the GAPJC firmly rejected in this case.

    I hope that is sufficiently clear.

  11. “Sarcasm is a low form of wit.” Author is uncertain. Check out Wikipedia’s informational relativists’ hermenuitic’s referentials’: Christian communism, Christian communists, Progressive Christanity, and Principle of Hope, by Ernst Bloch. “Where Lenin is, there is Jerusalem.” may reveal some differential guidelines for identifying generalized posturings’. Their banners are insightful.

  12. Rev. Adel Thalos Says:


    I have been puzzled by the case of two adult sisters who live together and desire to be married. Is there anything currently barring a progressive pastor in the PCUSA from performing such a marriage or even a “blessing” except state laws?

  13. John E Says:

    Adel, is that for real????? Or am I being gullible as usual?

    John Erthein
    DeFuniak Springs, FL

  14. Jodie Says:


    What an absurd implication. Anybody can perform a wedding that is legal by the State. You can go to Vegas and be married by Elvis if you like.

    You keep wanting an autocratic authoritarian disciplinarian Church. It’s been tried before. It doesn’t go anywhere. Not even if you rack and grill infractors, or burn them at the stake. Its all been tried.

    And, of course, it’s a horrible witness to Grace.

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