Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Once again, the confessional controversy-between a rock & a hard place

This posting is connected to the one I wrote several days ago, “The Book of Confessions: A controversy with the Moderator, the Stated Clerk & Paul Hooker of the PC (U.S.A.). But before I even begin, I want to point to another article on this same subject which I was not aware of when I wrote mine. Reading at The Presbyterian Outlook, I found an article by Winfield Casey Jones, “How the 22oth General Assembly almost throw out the confessions.” His article is excellent; I’m not sure how I missed it. Casey Jones goes point by point through Paul Hooker’s (the chair of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution) speech on whether motion 1304 to amend the Book of Order at W-4.9000 to two persons would be out of order since it contradicted the Book of Confessions in four places.

My new posting is a further reflection on the subject of my post. I was reminded by friends of the fact that the moderator’s decision was appealed, debate followed and the moderator’s decision was upheld. And several other questions emerged because of that debate. So what follows will be guided by their words and resources. It will also be guided by some thoughts of Casey Jones. Finally I have some of my on thoughts to express which entails where this might all end.

A commissioner, Doug Megill, asked that the moderator’s decision, that the motion was in order, be appealed. I will quote his reasons for appealing the decision:

Yesterday’s ruling was based on a conflict with a motion involving church property with the trust clause, today we deal with a motion that conflicts with the Book of Confessions. I as a Christian for whose Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, I've been instructed to be guided by the confessions and obedient to the polity of the church. Surely what is said repeatedly in the Book of Confessions is of more weight to our charter from Jesus Christ to use Roberts’s language then the trust clause that is in the form of government.

During the debate another commissioner, Amy Dame, stated that “If our concern is that the Book of Order never conflict with our Book of Confessions I should not be standing here as a teaching elder.” In other words she is insisting that when women were given the right to be ordained the Book of Confessions did not allow women to be ordained, thereby contradicting the Book of Confessions. However, it should be noted that Teaching Elder Mary Naegeli answered this commissioner’s question on her blog posting, “The Women’s Question and The Confessions.

First of all Naegeli points out that when women were first given ordination rights both the “ (UPCUSA in 1955 and PCUS in the 1960s)” used only the Westminster Standards which says nothing about the ordination of women. Secondly she shows how as the two denominations united into one they adopted the Book of Confessions adding to those confessions the Confession of 1967 which as Naegeli puts it: “One of its particular objectives was to affirm the equality of all people (regardless of social-economic status, race, or sex [NB: not sexual practice], based on Galatians 3:28).” Naegeli concludes on this point:

So the GA commissioner spoke in error, that the Confessions alone would have prevented her ordination. The opposite is true, and not just conceptually but in historical experience. Our confessions formed the defining piece of the puzzle, “compelling” the GAPJC to make affirmation of women’s ordination a requirement for service in the church.[1]
Casey Jones also, in his last statement speaks to the real problem which solved the women’s ordination issue but has not yet solved the issue of same gender marriage. Both the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions would need to be amended. With his last paragraph Jones writes:

Probably the issue of same-gender marriage will come up again in 2014. At least the church has time to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28). The important change before the General Assembly at that time will not be (as will be argued) primarily about approving same-gender marriage. That could be approved decently and in order — though not quickly — by first amending or adding to the Book of Confessions. No, the real vote will be on whether the PC(USA) continues to be a confessional church.

And with that and an orthodox person’s question, “What if Belhar becomes a confession in the church” I will give my own thoughts. I agree with Casey Jones. If same gender marriage is voted into the Book of Order at the 2014 GA, we will have a broken constitution, and will not continue to be a confessional church.  

Under such circumstances, if Belhar becomes a confession in our  constitution it will have no more authority over the PC (U.S.A.) than any other confession which means no authority. Those who choose not to be guided by it will not need to worry about being guided by it.

However, if the General Assembly and the leaders of the PC (U.S.A.) bother to do the hard work (if they can) of changing both the Confessions and the Book of Order to allow for same gender marriage then Belhar will have some authority and that in itself will be a double whammy for all of the orthodox. Because unity is raised above Lordship in Belhar, teaching elders will undoubtedly be required to marry same gender couples, as well as ordain LGBTQ persons. Or they will have to leave the P.C. (U.S.A.).

But let us go back to the first thought, that we become a non-confessional church. As I stated in my earlier posting, all essentials, including the uniqueness of the incarnation, will undoubtedly begin to fall. And then the spiritual darkness that results will be unbearable. The cost will be everything that belongs to Christ and his church. In either case, a confessional denomination with same gender marriage or a non-confessional denomination,  relying upon the sustaining and keeping love, grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way forward for the orthodox.

[1]Naegeli lays out her argument in such a concise manner that one must read the whole posting to understand the difference between seeking to change just one section of the PC (U.S.A.)’s constitution and changing (correctly) the whole constitution. Please read her whole posting.

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