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.