Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"On Amending W-4.9000 Regarding Marriage" dragging the State into the mire of an apostate church

Not now apostate but ...

As I read through Hudson River Presbytery’s overture 020, “On Amending W-4.9000 Regarding Marriage,” I was struck by the many confessional and biblical problems in the rationale section. The overture is asking that the words “man and woman,” be changed to “two people” in some cases and “the couple” in other places.

Also the line “Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman” is to be changed to “Marriage is a covenant between two people (‘the couple’) and according to the state also constitutes a civil contract.” One further sentence that is extremely troubling is the change from “In the name of the Triune God the minister shall declare publicly that the woman and the man are now joined in marriage” to “In the name of the Triune God the couple are [sic] now joined in marriage.”

In the rationale there are at least four glaring confessional and biblical problems.

One problem is in the very first sentence of the rationale, “Marriage is beyond gender.” No, marriage is about gender, and Jesus allows his listeners to understand by basing his pronouncement about divorce on the biblical account of God’s creation of Adam and Eve. He goes to the original creation story, the first coupling, one man and one woman is God’s design. The two complement and complete each other, because of this they are helpers to each other. (Matt. 19:3-6)

Two other problems are biblical accounts that are misinterpreted. One is about Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch and the other is Peter’s vision of the unclean animals and his ministry to the gentiles in Cornelius’ home.

The rationale states:

“We join those in the early church by stepping into line behind people like Philip, who, in his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, was moved to overturn his previously narrow perceptions and prejudices and make the circle of God’s family much wider than his previous religious upbringing had allowed him to imagine (Acts 8:26-38) and Peter, who was given a vision that the lines he had previously drawn between clean and unclean were too narrow and had to be abandoned to embody God’s loving way (Acts 10:9-22).”

In fact, there are many problems with this statement. Philip did not overturn previous “narrow perceptions and prejudices.” Instead he was transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That meant that the laws that pertained to the temple worship in Jerusalem no longer applied to him or to any other who received the gospel. (Deut. 23:1) He had not let go of what was bad, narrow or could be called prejudice.

Philip was not free to sin nor was the eunuch. But now the eunuch could take hold of that promise in Isaiah 56:4-5. He is not given a name in Acts but remarkably from the Old Testament he receives a promise of “a name better than that of sons or daughters.” And it is an everlasting name. That is Isaiah, in Revelation the name expands to all (we are all, after all, eunuchs toward God since we are fruitless without him.). There we receive a new name that is Christ’s name. We are found in him. (Rev 3:12) We are transformed and made holy in him.

I have written in another place about Peter and his vision of the unclean food. In that text, after Peter has been shown a sheet full of unclean creatures and told to eat from them, he hears a voice telling him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Now notice the words “What God has cleansed.” God has taken something that is ceremonially unclean and through the eternal Son’s fulfillment of the law, by a perfect life, death and resurrection, has made the unclean clean. But how does humanity become clean?

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)” Looking also at 1 Peter :18-19 as well as Eph 1:7-8a, we know as Christians that we are made new, whole and clean in Jesus Christ. And we are called to holiness. All of this is about “God’s loving way.” In love he gave the Jews the law that he might bring them to the promises of Christ. In love he gave his eternal Son that all of us might be clean and free. But he has not in his love called us to sin. As Paul writes, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

The last problem I see in this overture I believe forebodes serious events for the Church in the United States if it or others like it passes. It means the Church will lose her soul to both the culture and the State. She will certainly be denouncing both the Bible and the Confessions. It also means that orthodox pastors in the PCUSA will be put in dire straits.

The Hudson Valley Overture states that:

“In a state that already permits same-gender marriages or civil union, ministers and ruling elders would be relieved of the fear of ecclesiastical charges and would be able to respond equitably and pastorally to marriage requests by all, not just some, members of their congregations and to do so without fear of charges filed in ecclesiastical court.”

When I read this I am forced to think of Christians in so many places and so many ages who have not bowed before the unrighteousness of fallible rulers and laws. They have not rewritten their constitutions, Scriptures or Confessions in order to better conform to a decadent society. And in fact some of our confessions were written in just these kinds of circumstances. The Theological Declaration of Barmen is one.

Looking at the first part of Barmen the writers point out that the Church in Germany was being overtaken by “alien principles” and that if the principles were “held to be valid” the Church would cease to be the Church. (8.07)They go on in the body of the Declaration to insist that no government or ruler or anyone even in the Church could use the Church to proclaim another revelation.

Because, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scriptures is the one Word of God which we have to hear and have to trust and obey in life and death,” then we must “reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.” (8.11-12)

Finally they deal with the separate duties of church and state leaving the Church free to proclaim God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

“We reject the false doctrine as though the State, over and beyond its special commission [the task of providing for justice and peace], should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.” (8.23)

"We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission [“calling to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled”], should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.” (8.24)

The circumstances of this insistence that the church not proclaim what the State proclaims when it is not God’s Word is more clearly explained in the sermon on Barmen given to the Barmen Synod before the vote on it was taken. For this part of Barmen, Pastor Hans Asmussen stated:

“When the State proclaims an eternal kingdom, an eternal law, and an eternal righteousness, it corrupts itself and with it its people. When the Church preaches a political kingdom, an earthly law, and the justice of a human form of society, it goes beyond its limits and drags the State down into the mire with it.”[1] (Emphasis mine)

The latter part of Asmussen’s statement is exactly what this overture is doing. The Hudson River Presbytery is asking the Church to both preach and participate in a human form of justice that is contrary to Scripture. It is not a part of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ as he is known in the Holy Scripture. If the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) allows same gender marriage into her constitution and thereby into her churches she will cease to be the Church. And she will by her actions drag the State down into the mire she has created.

[1] “An Address on the Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation in the German Evangelical Church,” Pastor Hans Asmussen, Appendix VIII in The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, by Arthur C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1961), 261.


Unknown said...

A few comments

1. We don't know enough about the eunuch. He may have been a Jew. He was, however, banned from the temple (if Jewish) because of his castration. So he is brought into the heavenly community (those who now can approach God in the spiritual holy of holies. His problem was physical not a matter of moral behavior. Also we know that he was reading Isaiah when Phillip arrived on the scene. Probably a Jew.

Peter's dream is specifically about what is unclean. The animals Peter is told to kill and eat are unclean but not in any way sinful although God changes the Covenant to now include Gentiles. But being a Gentile was not a problem of sin. It was a problem of ancestry. Again God welcomes the excluded for reasons of ancestry into the people of the covenant who were excluded not for their behavior but rather because of their ancestry, which we could also see as a physical problem (born to the wrong parents).

Finally an observation as a pastor. I am uncomfortable serving as an agent of the state. As Asmussen said there must be a clear demarcation between the task of the state and the task of the Church. This does NOT mean that the Church should not advocate for laws that bring justice and care for the wanders, the widows and the orphans. The Church can give all the advice it wants but the State makes the decisions. In the opposite direction the state provides answers to this world's problems. The Church's main task is to preach the gospel. I wonder if the time has come to make the step of separating the work of the Church and the state in this case.

Way back the state didn't record births, marriages, deaths (or baptisms but the state never took this over). Later the state started keeping records of births, marriages and deaths. For death the paperwork is tremendous to the point one would prefer not to die if only to relieve their loved ones of the work. But notice that the state and the Church keep similar but separate records in the case of birth and death. When we baptize we record not only the date of baptism but also the date and place of birth. The state records the date and place of birth for its own records and purposes. For example the Church doesn't care how many people live in a particular area for the purpose of deciding to draw the lines between congressional districts.

The same is true at death. Churches only record the death and other information about its members. The state not only has different forms (a lot of them) but different reasons for recording deaths.

So why in the case of marriage do we retain the task of performing a civil act for the state? Why shouldn't we do what is done in France and other places - get married at the courthouse and then have a separate Christian wedding if we want one?

Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

But Bob that still doesn't solve this problem (and a lot, almost all of what you wrote was very helpful) that the Hudson River Presbytery wants to align the church's practices (which for now are biblical and confessional) with the state's, whether sinful or not.

Viola Larson said...

By the way, it would be fun to think that the eunuch was a Jew. But of course we can't be sure. And several of my sources point out that at that time Sudan was referred to as Ethiopia so he was probably from Sudan. In that country at that time most of the rulers were women and were called Candance.

Unknown said...


I don't think there IS an answer. There are some churches and some presbyteries that are going to send overtures like this one every time there is a GA. The only answer is to see if there is a majority GA to vote it down or if not to encourage people in presbyteries to vote it down. And some are going to go ahead and do what they want to do no matter what the constitution says.

There is nothing we can do about that. The question at hand now is how the GA PJC will rule on same sex marriages in states where such marriages are now legal.

There is a confluence of PJC cases and overtures.

Viola Larson said...

Well, that and prayer--not a small thing.

Noel said...

Either the Church or the State have to get out of the marriage business, because we can't set one another's boundaries in this matter. Presently the State continues to veer from the Church worldview.

Better that the PCUSA Book of Order be amended by having every occurrance of "Marriage" replaced with "Christian Matrimony" and "Wedding" with "Christian Wedding," etc. Caesar can do whatever he wants with civil marriages, and the Church can continue to define marriage with scriptural integrity.

Clergy who push for same-sex marriage should be corrected or defrocked. They have no case.

Debbie said...

Excellent point about the confession of Barmen and the dangers of letting the state set the rules and doctrines for the church. That is definitely something that we need to heed!

I also can't help but wonder where the people who drafted the Hudson River Presbytery overture get their authority for saing that marriage is a covenant between two people or a couple. Why two people? If it's not necessarily a man and a woman, if they're going to discount what the Bible says on the gender issue, then why should they care about what the Bible says about two people? Why not three people or a group? It makes the same logical sense as having two people of the same sex.

Either you follow the all the words of Jesus as stated in the Bible, or you open yourself up to all kinds of possibilities that you may not want.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Pastor Bob said...


When my wife(also Debby) and I were talking about all this I suggested that the Bible is clearer on another issue: that I should be allowed to have a concubine. There's much better Biblical support for having a concubine or a second wife that for same sex sex or marriages.

Needless to say, my wife was not amused. I of course explained that I was only attempting to interpret the Bible. She threatened my life if I ever even thought about getting a concubine.

I can't speak about it from a woman's point of view but one wife is more than a man can handle. As evidence I suggest that folks read the stories in the Bible about people who have more than one wife or a concubine. Start with Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Don't skip Jacob, Leah and Rachel and the servant women. Check out David and Solomon.

All those who have more than one wife or a wife and a concubine get in trouble. Underlying message: God doesn't want people to have more than one wife. And if having more than one wife is bad same sex couples (and sexual behavior) is beyond the pale, according to the Bible.