I am concerned over the rebellion that is churning under the banner of More Light Presbyterians. They have set up a page for individual teaching elders to sign avowing that they have married same sex couples or are willing to do so. There is also a place for ruling elders and sessions to sign affirming the right of teaching elders to marry same sex couples. When someone pointed out to me that a teaching elder in Sacramento Presbytery was a part of the rebellion I started thinking of scriptural answers to such actions. With this posting I will begin writing about the issue.
When the Protestant Church speaks of apostolic authority it is speaking of the authority of Scriptures. It is also connecting to a tradition of upholding the authority of Scripture. This succinctly outlines a tiny book of the Bible, that is, 3rd John. In this book John addresses, among other things, the problem of a renegade leader, someone who ignores both the love, teaching and authority of John. Therefore when one looks at the problem the apostle John was trying to correct in his third letter the content can surely be applied to the rising revolt of the teaching and ruling elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
As ruling and teaching elders attempt to change the biblical teaching about same sex marriage, by rebellion against biblical teaching, the confessions and denominational polity, one can understand better the scriptural issues John raises. He is concerned with truth, love and obedience. For the denomination it would be obedience to scriptural authority as well as truth and love.
In the midst of praising Gaius, John writes:
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
Beloved do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (9-11)
There are two problems here. Diotrephes loves being a leader but he is not listening to the teaching of an apostle. He leads while at the same time rejecting godly authority and truth. He accuses the apostle of wickedness and refuses to receive those who have come to him. Further he does not allow anyone else to receive them.
Diotrephes rejects the apostles teaching which comes via a letter. John’s response is to say, if he comes to the church he will point out the evil—but he goes further he admonishes members of the church not to imitate their leader.
Diotrephes is evil but the members must remain good since they belong to God. (Conversely, Diotrephes is not of God.) So here is a single image of what is happening in multi-duplicate. At least close to 400 leaders in the PCUSA (it will undoubtedly grow) are leading while rejecting the authority of God’s word, the confessions and denominational polity. They are doing so to encourage others in the denomination to also reject biblical authority, confessional authority and denominational polity.
There are several contrasts that should be noted in the text. John R. Stott, in the Tyndale Commentary, points out that 1 & 2 John are a contrast in their problems yet point to the same truth. Hospitality must be extended to those who hold fast to truth, but it must not be extended to those who reject truth. The second contrast is between John’s friend Gaius, to whom the letter is written, and Diotrephes. Gaius walks in both love and truth, Diotrephes has neither. As Stott puts it, “Gaius was a balanced Christian. He held the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15) He also loved in truth.”
To add to this Stott explains that those who were not received by Diotrephes were missionaries. And their message was concerned with truth. They went out “for the sake of the Name.” Stott writes:
There is no need for John to specify whose name is in his mind. For there is only one Name, exalted above all others (Phil. 2:9). Moreover, the ‘name’ of Jesus is the revelation of his divine-human person and saving work, and ‘jealousy’ for his name (zeal that it should receive the honour due it) is the most compelling of all missionary motives (cf. Rom. 1:5 and, for suffering for the name for the Name Acts 5:40-41).
Stott concludes that Diotrephes’ problem is not theological but moral. He loves himself above all else. But this means that his love of self causes him to reject John’s authority and to reject the messengers of the Name—those who preach Christ. In other words his unlawful authority even supersedes Christ’s authority and words. He loves himself over Christ. His push for his own rights held the possibility of destroying the church he led. As F.F. Bruce states:
Diotrephes, however, will have to answer for his behavior: the Elder [John] is no private individual, but one who is capable of speaking authoritatively to Diotrephes and to the church which he dominates. How far he could be sure of asserting his authority successfully cannot be determined, but presumably if Diotrephes could carry the church with him against the Elder their fellowship with the churches which did acknowledge the Elder’s authority would be endangered.
If denominational courts and leaders do not step in and at least speak to the rebellion that is fomenting in the midst of the PCUSA, they care little for the unity of the denomination. Fellowship is broken, and it is both a moral issue and a theological issue.
F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John, American Edition, (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company 1979) 153.