Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The "Ordination Guidelines" of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians: changed? Update


On November 9th, 2011, I wrote about the Covenant Network of Presbyterian's new ordination guidelines in a posting, “The Covenant Network: disqualifying orthodox candidates.” I followed that posting with an analysis of the Guidelines: “Contradictions aplenty: an analysis of the Covenant Network's “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers.” I was concerned about many problems with the document but basically it was this paragraph that was the biggest concern:


“ … a person who wishes to engage in ordered ministry must be prepared to carry out the functions of office. General Assembly has affirmed that an examining body “cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).”28 Consistent with this, a series of judicial cases has made clear that a presbytery may not ordain or install someone who declares that he will not participate in the ordination of women.29 Indeed, it is fundamental to our polity that the responsibility for assessing the fitness of officers-elect is vested in councils (sessions and presbyteries), not in individuals. Accordingly, the pastor who officiates at an ordination thereby performs a ministerial act that is required by the Constitution (not a discretionary one), and the act of officiating indicates neither approval nor disapproval of the congregation’s choice of leaders and council’s approval of them.30 This point pertains primarily to pastors, who must officiate at child baptisms, ordination and installation of church leaders, and the like. While candidates who cannot agree to perform such functions in conformity with Presbyterian polity may be fine Christians, they may not be ordained or installed in the PC(USA).” [1]


I believed that the Covenant Network felt they had found a way (or a polity) to eventually purge the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of all of its orthodox members since few would stay if they knew that other orthodox members would not be ordained if they felt they must refuse, on scriptural grounds, to ordain practicing homosexuals or those who were committing fornication. Anyone who will not ordain a woman cannot be ordained in the PC (U.S.A.), and because most of the Guidelines were focused on the right of practicing homosexuals to be ordained the paragraph above pointed to those who could not do so.

Ever since writing both of the postings I have asked, either on the CN's site, or by e-mail, how they could press for unity and still have their guidelines. I have not received an answer until today. I posted the usual question on the comment section of Tricia Dykers Koenig's article, “General Assembly Preview.” I once again quoted the paragraph having stated, “I have asked this question many times without receiving an answer, and once again you are speaking about concern for the unity of the church. How can you speak of unity with this in your guidelines.” My comment is still awaiting moderation but today I got an e-mail from Koenig:

"Viola,

I assure you that your assumption is incorrect. 

Recognizing that the wording that appeared briefly in the Guidelines contributed to misunderstanding of our commitments, we changed it long ago:
http://covnetpres.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/2011-Guidelines.pdf.

Tricia Dykers Koenig”


This is the new paragraph:

“ … a person who wishes to engage in ordered ministry must be prepared to carry out the functions of office. General Assembly has affirmed that an examining body “cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).” 28 Consistent with this, a series of judicial cases has made clear that a presbytery may not ordain or install someone who declares that he will not participate in the ordination of women.29 Indeed, it is fundamental to our polity that the responsibility for assessing the fitness of officers-elect is vested in councils (sessions and presbyteries), not in individuals. Accordingly, the pastor who officiates at an ordination thereby performs a ministerial act that is required by the Constitution (not a discretionary one), and the act of officiating indicates neither approval nor disapproval of the congregation’s choice of leaders and council’s approval of them. 30 This point pertains primarily to pastors, who must officiate at child baptisms, ordination and installation of church leaders, and the like, and are not permitted to substitute their own judgment for that of the council.”


The difference is that the last sentence, “While candidates who cannot agree to perform such functions in conformity with Presbyterian polity may be fine Christians, they may not be ordained or installed in the PC(USA).” has been removed. The guidelines have not really changed, instead a sarcastic sentence has been removed.

Update: A friend has pointed out that I missed the addition to the last sentence "are not permitted to substitute their own judgment for that of the council" which definitely "retains the prohibition."


[1] The numbers in the quote are for footnotes in the original paper.






2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Neuhaus's Law ("when orthodoxy is made optional, it will eventually be proscribed") is vindicated yet again.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

Amen!