Four events in the last 24 hours have revealed God’s sovereign presence at GA, something I had almost despaired of! Here they are:
At various points in the agenda, representatives from other denominations present are invited to bring greetings to the Assembly. Last night a priest from the Belarus Orthodox Church addressed those assembled. He began by thanking us for all the love and kindness he had received, and I thought, “Blah, blah, blah — here’s another blase greeting. But then things took a radical twist. The priest administered a well-deserved theological spanking to the Assembly, and the commissioners were stunned! He reminded us that just as the gospel hasn’t changed since proclaimed by the early church, neither has Christian morality (this came after Assembly discussion of homosexuality and a possible redefinition of marriage). He wondered out loud how a church could claim to be led by the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures and yet ignore or disobey those Scriptures in its decision making. Perhaps, he said, there are many different spirits besides the Holy Spirit, and different churches (like ours) were listening to a voice other than the Holy Spirit. He then admonished the PCUSA to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), rather than trying to change it, and called us away from slavery to our secular culture by quoting the words of the apostle Paul, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect ” (Romans 12:2). What a courageous man! What an appropriate word! All I can tell you is that thick clouds of confusion and darkness had been hovering over the Assembly. As he spoke, it seemed they parted and the sun of righteousness and truth blazed forth, until he stepped from the platform and the Assembly returned to “business.” But it would not be business as usual, as things turned out.
The second sign of God was the unexpected decision by the Assembly to send out to all churches for study not only the majority report of the Special Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage but also the minority report, which contains a strong, biblical defense of marriage and reasoned repudiation of same-sex unions. This was more than most of us hoped might happen.
The third sign was a total surprise. After the approval of these study papers, there were still several battles to be fought concerning overtures that would redefine marriage in our Book of Order as a covenant between “two people” (to cover same-sex unions), that would affirm an “Authoritative Interpretation” of this General Assembly which would give immediate permission for ministers in states which have legalized same-sex marriage to solemnize such unions at their discretion. This would have created a de facto blessing of homosexual relationships by our denomination without people in the pews of our churches having any opportunity to weigh in on its rightness or wrongness. Before these overtures could be considered, a commissioner moved that the study papers the Assembly had just approved for study serve as the Assembly’s answer to all the remaining items of business from this committee. This upset the expected applecart, and everyone, evangelical and liberal, was stunned when the Assembly voted in favor of the motion. With that one simple act, any discussions of authoritative interpretations or of redefinition of marriage were removed from further consideration. The vote was very close (51-48% with some abstentions).
Lastly, this morning there was an effort by the liberal lobby to use Roberts’ Rules of Order to have the Assembly take another vote on the stunning motion of the night before. They offered a “motion to reconsider”, which needed only a majority of votes to put all the above issues back on the floor for discussion. After much debate back and forth, the vote whether to reconsider or not was taken, and it failed 60-40%. I’m told by parliamentarians this means it can’t be brought up again at this Assembly.
Compared to everything that had happened up to Thursday noon, the last 24 hours have been a wild rollercoaster bringing us back to basic sanity in our denomination for the next two years. But some seismic shift needs to happen in the PCUSA so that we don’t repeat any longer what we’ve been going through the last 30 years. Together with other evangelical leaders in the denomination, I’m musing on this. May God lead us clearly.