Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Covenant Network's eleven affirmations and the Lordship of Jesus Christ

The Covenant Network, one of the organizations working for ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has put up three articles related to the coming vote on Amendment 10-A. In this posting I want to address the one entitled “10-A Affirmations.” These are affirmations that the author of the article believes all Presbyterians can agree on. The gist of the article is that Amendment 10-A does not negate any of the tenets of faith that all agree on therefore it should be passed with this additional thought:

Presbyterians will continue to disagree about the ethics of same-sex relationships – the Holy Spirit has not yet brought us to consensus on that, and the discernment will go on as we study Scripture together. But we can move on beyond the conflict over this paragraph by approving 10-A, which lifts up principles upon which we can all agree.

I wish to address several errors the Covenant Network is maintaining with their article. (1) That the 11 affirmations are agreed on by all Presbyterians. (2)That we are moving toward a time when the Holy Spirit will move us to a consensus about the ethics of same-sex relationships. (3)That it is possible to move beyond conflict by removing G-6.0106b.

It is possible to take the first affirmation and subsume most of the other affirmations within or under it. That is the affirmation that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” The very act of ordaining unrepentant LGBT persons would be a clear rejection of the affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus is Lord of the church for two reasons each reason negates violating biblical standards on sexuality.

First of all, to say Jesus is Lord is to recognize him as God, the eternal Son of the Father. That means that the words of Scripture are his words. They are not to be rejected, twisted or ignored. When Jesus speaks of marriage being between a man and a woman as he does in Matthew 19:3-6 it is his words, but it is also his words in Leviticus 20: 13 and Romans 1, etc. So if his Church calls Jesus Lord, and she must, she will obey his word.

Second, to recognize Jesus as Lord is to understand that the Church was birthed from his redeeming work on the cross and because of that its members, through his power, strive to live a holy life. As 1 Peter puts it:

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:17-20)

John H. Elliot, in his commentary on 1 Peter explains that this passage, and the whole epistle, with its admonition to live with awe towards God by good conduct is not implying that believers are living as aliens in the sense that their home is heaven rather than earth. But instead they are aliens because of the unrighteous culture in which they live. And the text emphasizes that the church’s ethics belong to a tradition that reaches beyond all ancient cultural traditions and belongs to the eternal Son who was before the “foundations of the earth.”

Explaining the reason for 1 Peter’s call to holiness, Elliot enumerates the need for blood sacrifice in the Old Testament and then lists the references to the sacrifice of Jesus in the New Testament such as “the lamb who takes away the sins of the world, (John 1:29)” and “the one whose blood confers life and effects a new and everlasting covenant between God and humanity (Mark 14:24 par; John 6:53-56; 1Cor 11:25; Heb 9=10; 13:20).”Concluding he writes, “The Petrine author draws on this Christological tradition and its OT roots to provide a Christological as well as a theological (vv 15-16) warrant for his exhortation to holiness.”[1]

In both of these understandings of Jesus as Lord those on the progressive side of the Church are not in agreement with the orthodox. On the far left of the progressive movement within the PCUSA, are those who do not believe that Jesus is God or that Jesus’ death on the cross is redemptive. Therefore they reject the Lordship of Christ. But even those who are more moderate in their views, yet are striving to change the church’s biblical ethics, are refusing to obey the word of God, which is Jesus’ word. They too are, by their actions, rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Yet the second error I have listed “That we are moving toward a time when the Holy Spirit will move us to a consensus about the ethics of same-sex relationships,” is also a rejection of Christ’s Lordship. The word of God, the words of Jesus Christ are illuminated within our heart and mind by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would glorify him. That the Holy Spirit would take what is Christ’s and disclose it to his disciples. (John 16: 14-15) He also stated that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. (John17:8)

In the midst of a culture so totally given over to deviant sexuality, to resist the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as he opens the words of scripture to the hearts of this generation is to reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is not moving us toward any consensus that would contradict the word of God; the Holy Spirit does not wait for consensus but pleads, convicts and promises judgment on a church that will not listen to the word of God.

The third error, “That it is possible to move beyond conflict by removing G-6.0106b,” also involves rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And with this error the Covenant Network is actually asking the orthodox in the church to join them in rejecting Christ’s Lordship. The church is troubled by those who are insisting, even haranguing the church to ordain unrepentant sinners. The church is troubled by those who, while calling for unity, are willing to fragment the church in order to allow friends and family, brothers and sisters, to continue on in sin.

It would be unreasonable for those who call Jesus Lord to throw away a defense that God has surely given for that very place where one of the intense and significant spiritual battles of the day is being fought. Moving beyond conflict is not particularly biblical, standing firm while loving brothers and sisters is biblical. And sometimes the love of Christ requires that we stand firm, in the midst of conflict, for the sake of erring believers. As Jude puts it, “…on some have mercy with fear hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

The affirmation of Jesus’ Lordship entails an affirmation of his eternal Sonship, the authority of his word, the Bible, and his redeeming life, death and resurrection. Affirming the Lordship of Jesus the church must be willing to live a life unpolluted by the sinful aspect of contemporary culture. Jesus Christ is still Lord; may the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) continue as his church.

[1] John H. Elliot, 1Peter, A New Translation with Commentary, The Anchor Series, (New York: Doubleday 2000).


Debbie said...

Thanks for showing that those "10-A Affirmations" do not truly unite all Presbyterians. In addition, words must mean the same thing in order for everyone to stand by them, and when, for example, we say "Scripture is authoritative", we mean one thing, and progressives usually mean something else, as you have pointed out. As Nietzshe said in Beyond Good and Evil, "To use the same words is not a sufficient guarantee of understanding; one must use the same words for the same genus of inward experience; ultimately one must have one's experiences in common."

Viola Larson said...

Since working in ministry with people involved in new religions and cults I am always surprised when people so glibly suggest that using certain terms or words means everyone agrees.

Debbie said...

Oops, I spelled Nietzsche wrong.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Viola Larson said...

Who wouldn't: )

Jodie said...
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