Historic moments, Part 1


I find myself in complete agreement with the leaders of the More Light Presbyterians on one statement from their May 10th response to the pro-homosexual change in our ordination standards: “This is indeed a historic moment in the life of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but also in the worldwide Christian communion.”

The end of apartheid in South Africa was an historic moment, but so was Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany in 1933.  The discovery of penicillin was an historic moment in human history, but so was the creation of the first atomic bomb.  Historic moments are game-changers for history, but as to whether their impact is good or evil depends on things other than simply their momentous nature.

The passage of Amendment 10-A now permits ordaining bodies to legally ordain practicing homosexuals, as well as heterosexuals practicing any form of sex outside marriage, as long as the ordaining body “determines” that they are qualified to serve, according to whatever standards the ordaining body chooses to adopt.  It opens the theoretical door to welcoming polygamists, adulterers, free-sex proponents, paedophiles, and those practicing bestiality, as long as such individuals can convince their session or presbytery that they are called, gifted and otherwise qualified to serve “in joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”  Many will say that this could never happen because the Scriptures are clear that such things are sin.  But this was precisely the now-defeated argument concerning homosexual practice.  The fallen human heart can always find a way to obfuscate and qualify the clear teaching of Scripture in order to justify the practices in which it wishes to engage.

The language of the new ordination standards actually assists this direction, no longer requiring obedience to Scripture but rather only the willingness to be guided by Scripture, whatever that is taken to mean by individual ordaining bodies.

Indeed, this is an historic moment for the PC(USA).  As a denomination we have crossed the Rubicon, committing ourselves to a course of action from which it will be difficult to turn back.  We have now publicly declared to the world that we Presbyterians have no necessary, clearly identifiable sexual morality — the biblical and time-honored Christian sexual ethic of fidelity within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman and of chastity in all other relationships has been forsaken.

Many will argue that this is simply not the case — all we have done is remove this clause from our Form of Government.  It will remain an unspoken standard for most ordaining bodies.  That, no doubt, is true — it’s hard to kill off truth so quickly.  But the disingenousness of this objection is seen in the fact that those wanting to remove fidelity and chastity language from our ordination standards are openly intent on the legal ordination of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered.  As a denomination we are leaving it up to small groups (of vastly differing theologies and ethics) to decide for themselves what constitutes acceptable morality for this denomination’s leaders and what does not.  We no longer have any national, much less biblical, standards with which to clearly comply.

The response of our denominational leaders to date sickens me because of its duplicity.  A formal letter signed by 24 former moderators of our General Assembly contains the following sentence: “The decision to adopt Amendment 10-A does not bind the conscience of any Presbyterian, nor does it create a mandate for ordaining particular individuals.”  The second clause is presently accurate (I’ll say more about the looming stormclouds in a future post), but the first is intentionally misleading, especially from those who should best understand our presbyterian polity.

One of the distinctive qualities of our polity is that we are connectional in nature.  Most of the time, our leaders remind us of this — it seems to come up regularly in conversations about per capita giving, among other things.  However, with regard to this new law, any talk of connectionalism has  been strangely absent.  Instead, we are being reassured that the decisions of other groups in the  denomination will not impact us — in fact, we are free to follow our own consciences as individuals and congregations.  But our Form of Government rebuts this claim:   “The governing bodies are separate and independent, but have such mutual relations that the act of one of them is the act of the whole church performed by it through the appropriate governing body” (G 9.0103).  If and when a presbytery legally ordains an unrepentant, practicing homosexual (or sinner of any other stripe who refuses to acknowledge his/her behavior as sinful and to repudiate it), its act of ordination becomes my act of ordination (and yours too, if you are a member of the PC(USA).  I am now obligated to accept such an individual’s ordination as valid.  He or she may not ever transfer into my presbytery or church, but nontheless I am implicated in that official “call.”  How does that not bind my conscience as an orthodox, Bible-believing Presbyterian?  Or are we no longer a connectional church?

The liberal wing of the church, now flush with victory, together with the above-named GA former moderators, implores evangelical Presbyterians to now “move forward in unity” with them.  Having now overrun the city after unsuccessfully storming its gates four previous times, the liberals apparently believe that the city residents are overjoyed with their new rulers.  Apparently the battle is now over.  Even though past voting has made it clear that the denomination is still severely split over this issue, we are being told that now is the time to put all this behind us and accept the present vote as God’s will.  Suddenly, after over thirty years of the church resisting relentless assaults, now that the walls have been breached and a new order is being instituted, we are told that now we who have the full weight of Scripture, tradition and church history on our side of this debate should unite in support of the liberal platform.  All in the name of advancing the mission of Jesus Christ.  Wow! Before I drink the kool aid, let me ask one question.   After each of the previous four GA votes on this issue, where were the joint letters from our former GA moderators saying, “God has spoken.  Now is the time for the liberal wing of the church to cease and desist, and to get behind the orthodox view of the church universal that we may be a unified and missional expression of the Body of Christ.”?  I guess I missed each of those four letters — must have been asleep at the switch….

My response to this offer from our Presbyterian liberal contingent is — Sorry, not a chance.  Because I believe wholeheartedly that to walk into the future that you are projecting is not to “move forward” but to move away from Jesus and his Kingdom.  I cannot join you, nor can I remain silent as you seek to lead the PC(USA) into schism from its historical, biblical, theological and confessional roots.

My prayer is not for unity with a culturally syncretistic leadership, but that God will gather all orthodox, evangelical Presbyterians together to pool our resources and use them to forward the great ends of the church, rather than support a bureaucracy and system which has been manipulated regularly to blindly underwrite a post-Christian cultural agenda.  I’m not sure exactly what such a gathering would look like, but I hope to find out.  I’m not interested in leaving the PC(USA); I’m interested in our taking back the city, and instituting sweeping changes.  More on that later.

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15 Responses to Historic moments, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Putting the Passage of Amendment 10-A for Christians Worldwide in Statistical Perspective « Moving at the Speed of Creativity

  2. Pingback: Putting the Passage of Amendment 10-A for Christians Worldwide in Statistical Perspective

  3. L.Lee says:

    The passage of A-10 now takes the battle out of the National-GA arena and puts it
    in the local churches and Presbyteries because each session, pastor, and Presbytery will need to decide how to proceed. Sides will be taken, lines drawn, chaos will reign.
    More energy will be used for this instead of evangelism and discipleship.
    They want a false unity, instead they have taken the divisions and magnified them within this denomination and it will be now played out at the peoples level.
    Woe to those who celebrate.

    Like

  4. The Rev. Deane A. Kemper says:

    My, my, my. All this disaster is coming because the church at long last had the wisdom to remove one badly written, 15 year old amendment from the Book of Order? Having been ordained for 40 years, I don’t remember the church as some kind of sexual playground before G-6.0106b was ratified. Maybe I wasn’t looking under the right bushes (or snooping in the right bedrooms), but I have no memory of a church that was welcoming to “polygamists, adulterers, free-sex proponents, paedophiles,” and those who practice bestiality. What I do recall is that this same end-of-the-world overheated language was used to condemn the GA and affirming presbyteries when we voted to remove the barriers to ordaining women–and that language was published by many of the same people and organizations.

    Like politicians embracing the flag, Mr. Elass seeks to wrap himself in a mantle that is “orthodox”, “biblical”, and “evangelical” while deploring “The liberal wing of the church, that is now flush with victory.” There we have it, as neat as an old western movie–good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. The theological landscape of our denomination isn’t bichromatic, and simplistic reductionism doesn’t help facilitate dialogue and understanding.

    Mr. Elass calls for a gathering of “evangelical Presbyterians together to pool our resources and use them to forward the great ends of the church.” Super idea! Jack Rogers, Mark Achtemeier, and Arlo Duba are prominent orthodox, biblical, and evangelical Presbyterians and eminent scholars. Will they be invited? Certainly they would have much to say that would be valuable. Will this “evangelical of the evangelicals” get an invitation? I’m a graduate of Wheaton College, and Gordon Divinity School, three times a counselor in Billy Graham crusades, and an 18 year faculty member at Gordon-Conwell. Or does Mr. Elass want to restrict his definition of “evangelical” to those who think like he does?

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    • mateenelass says:

      Ms. Kemper,
      I’m curious about all the innuendos in your response, assuming (or implying) all sorts of unseemly things about my motives. I have never implied that the PCUSA was a “sexual playground” in the past, nor that it shall necessarily become one in the future. The issue, with the repudiation of G-6.0106b, is that we have now cast off clear guidance about appropriate sexual behavior for leaders in the church, and that we have done this specifically so that practicing homosexuals may be ordained. One doesn’t need to look under any bushes or into any bedrooms to discover the intentions of the liberal wing of the church in this regard. Or do you believe that all the exuberant celebration of More Light, TAMFS, Covenant Network and others is simply because “one badly written” amendment has been removed from our Constitution? What has replaced it? A new amendment that eschews any necessary obedience to the Bible, inviting us instead to be “guided” by Scripture as we submit joyfully to the Lordship of Christ. Who determines what that looks like in practical terms? When scores of churches and presbyteries ordain gays under the belief that this involves joyful submission to His lordship, and when many other churches and presbyteries refuse to ordain gays under the conviction that such a stance would betray joyful submission to that same lordship, who will determine what is right? Or in good postmodern fashion should we just say both are right, in their own way? And if practicing gays should be ordained by some bodies, why not adulterers, polygamists, fornicators, etc.? Again, I’m not predicting the church will become a sexual playground, but more a no-holds-barred wrestling ring, with different judges for different matches, all offering different rules, or none at all. All in the name of Jesus Christ. To me, that is not a pretty picture.

      I think this is the first time I’ve ever been compared to a politician by anyone. My goal is not to wrap myself in any mantles, but to point out in terms that most Reformed Christians from past years used to understand, that the decision to cast off fidelity and chastity is neither orthodox in terms of the long history of the people of God, nor biblical in any detailed or comprehensive study of Scripture, nor evangelical in that it assures certain groups of sinners that their behavior is not sinful and thereby puts their salvation at risk. I would feel the same way were the sins not ones of a sexual nature but those involving any other breach of God’s will for human beings.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that the theological landscape of our denomination is not bichromatic, but I would invite you to return to some study of the Scriptures, where issues of sin and righteousness are pretty cut and dried. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all seems pretty bichromatic to me. No one can serve two masters…that which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit… to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace…let us cast off then the works of darkness and put on the armor of light….Here is just a smattering of biblical texts that cut through the haze of humanistic liberalism. If this is “simpllistic reductionism”, then I plead guilty.

      I am not much concerned with the present theological landscape of our denomination. I do not find it a virtue that in the name of broadmindedness people can profess allegiance to an etiolated version of Christ that has little basis in revealed Scripture, so that they can embrace the latest moral or philosophical fads of this culture, all the while pretending they are intellectually superior in their understanding of “reality.” My goal is to stand within the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and to fight tooth and nail against those who seek to cut the church from her God-given moorings.

      With delight I would invite all evangelicals ready to uphold the orthodox, biblical faith to gather and pool our resources. Jack Rogers, Mark Achtemeier and Arlo Duba, and you as well, would be welcome to such a gathering if you are willing to stand together with the church universal on these matters of faith and practice. I note your evangelical “bona fides”, but must confess that I am not much impressed by external pointers. What matters to folks like me is how one handles the Scriptures and lives in relation to Jesus Christ and the world. I recoil from the notion that I want to surround myself with people who think like me. The fact of the matter is that I want to surround myself with people who think more purely and divinely and biblically and righteously than I do, that I may learn from them and grow in greater likeness to Jesus Christ. My experience is that such people are precisely those whose minds and hearts are steeped in the Bible, not in the values of the world. If you are among that number, then I would be gratified to learn from your wisdom.

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    • mateenelass says:

      Having recently learned that Deane Kemper is a man, not a woman, I’d like to apologize to him for having addressed him by the wrong gender. Having said that, the rest of my comments stand as written.

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  5. Al Sandalow says:

    Well said Mateen!!!

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  6. Mark R. Patterson, PhD says:

    This is excellent Mateen. I agree with so much of what you wrote and hope this is broadly read. My only question concerns the very end. I am skeptical that the city can be retaken. It seems to me that we need to separate as nothing will change the stalwart and very fixed bureaucracy running the church. I would like to be wrong with this but can not help but think, in light of decades of battle, that this will only be a waste of time. Better I think (and my thinking is far from infallible) that we build new structures and relationships and begin the process of separating into a new future.
    In any case, I am with you and want to work in every way possible to unite the churches, pastors, and even presbyteries that are scandalized by the passing of 10a.
    God bless Mateen.

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    • mateenelass says:

      Mark, thanks for your thoughts. I, too, don’t know whether retaking the city will be possible, but one difference from the past is that we were all still contributing support to the armies that overran us while at the same time trying to shoo them away. This time, we declare that the support will go to strengthening the city itself, and starving the invaders. At this point, I think it’s worth a try. If it doesn’t work, I’m all for dismantling and rebuilding.

      It was great to see you at WCPPC, by the way!

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  7. Deborah Milam Berkley says:

    “My response to this offer from our Presbyterian liberal contingent is — Sorry, not a chance. Because I believe wholeheartedly that to walk into the future that you are projecting is not to “move forward” but to move away from Jesus and his Kingdom. I cannot join you, nor can I remain silent as you seek to lead the PC(USA) into schism from its historical, biblical, theological and confessional roots.”

    Woo hoo! Well said! Great rallying cry, really! I’m with you.

    Like

  8. Viola Larson says:

    Thanks so much for all of your words Mateen. They make the heart glad.

    Like

  9. Bob Brooke says:

    As a member of the United Methodist Church, many of us are watching closely to see what becomes of the recent ruling by your denomination to ordain practicing homosexuals for your churches. We Methodists may, or may not, face a similar future, but my heart goes out to you and all in the PC(USA) who are still standing against the assault of Satan as led by those who have bought into the gay christian movement and have given into the secular humanism of these present days. As for “taking back the city,” there is nothing for you who accept God’s will and intention as revealed in Scripture for our sexuality and live it out as best as you can for His glory to take back. It is those who have turned their backs on God’s righteousness who have left His church and must repent of their sin and return to faithful living in Christ.

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