Friday, March 21, 2014

Brian Ellison and an Authoritative Interpretation, the true crisis in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Brian Ellison, Executive Director of the Covenant Network, believes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in a crisis and the way to solve the crisis is to pass an authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order which would declare that teaching elders may perform same sex weddings. But Ellison, with his posting, “Why an Authoritative Interpretation Matters” is wrong.
Such an authoritative interpretation would throw the church into a far deeper crisis than its present crisis. And the present crisis is not about the inability of teaching elders to perform same gender weddings for those in their congregations, rather it is a crisis of rebellion against the authority of the living word of God and the written word of God.
Because of the rebellion the denomination is suffering painful losses. And the constant theological quirks which keep rising to the surface of our theological dreams will continue coming and multiply in number and nonsense, because a people who reject both their Lord and the authority of the word are without a solid foundation.

Further, this constant push to align with culture and civil authority will cause the denomination to eventually let go of any true form of justice and righteousness. 

When the original AI, the 1991, occurred, it was simply to affirm what both the Bible and the constitution of the denomination already stated. It was an interpretation of what was already held. And that would include the Book of Confessions which is extremely clear:
“For marriage (which is the medicine of incontinecncy and continency itself) was instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and live together in complete love and concord. (Matt. 19:4ff). …” (The Second Helvetic Confession 5.246a)

Ellison is holding up a AI which adds to polity from a cultural context rather than a real interpretation of what is already there. He has stated that, “The Directory for Worship as currently crafted reflects a reality much different from our current context. We as a church can address our practice of marriage without changing our fundamental understanding of it, and an AI allows us to move forward in a faithful way.”
He also states “An AI at this summer’s General Assembly would resolve this crisis. It would allow for weddings in states where same-sex marriage is legal.” What he is actually saying is that as the law changes, so must the denomination. And he is basing that on what can only be seen as unbiblical views of love, and unbiblical sexual acts.

A church so involved with the world is truly a lost church, an empty shell that may be called a denomination, but not the Church. Furthermore, a denomination which embraces the dictates of civil government when those dictates collide with biblical teaching is preparing to stand against some of it on members who still hold to the authority of Scripture.

Ellison insists that his evangelical friend is wrong, that neither the PC (U.S.A.) nor his own organization the Covenant Network of the PC (U.S.A.) would think of insisting that orthodox TE would have to marry same sex couples and yet it is the Covenant Network itself which has laid down guidelines that will eventually, if adopted by the whole denomination force out orthodox TEs over ordination. Ellison insists:

This is not the goal, it is not the language proposed in any AI before the assembly, and it is not something the Covenant Network would ever support—in fact, the proposed AIs explicitly preserve conscience for those who do not approve of same-sex marriage. What we stand for is pastoral discretion and freedom—the ability of ministers to do what they always do with marriages, discerning the appropriateness of a marriage, offering counseling and prayer, and officiating at those weddings they feel are God-honoring and wise. No church would ever be required to host any wedding. No minister would be forced to perform one. On the contrary, this authoritative interpretation would best preserve our traditional affirmation that “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” trusting the Spirit to lead our ministers and councils, on a case-by-case basis, to know what is best.

But the Covenant Network guidelines insists that a TE must ordain whoever a session or presbytery chooses. That it is not “a discretionary one” but a requirement. The TE may not “substitute their own judgment.”[1]
Still, when one turns to the force of a denomination aligned with government laws the scenario is far more potent.  If a baker, or a photographer, or a florist who does not want to participate in a same gender wedding can be fined, forced out of their business, even jailed, what will happen to a pastor who is a member of a denomination which allows same gender marriage, when someone files a discrimination suit against her? She will not be able to state that her denomination does not allow same gender weddings.

For all of Ellison’s assurances, if a trap has been placed within their guidelines on ordination, and it was not there until the change on ordination was passed by the Presbyteries, how can anyone be sure of the future decisions of the progressive community within the PC (U.S.A.)? Ellison cannot guarantee and he stands, with his promises, on a very flimsy foundation. If the AI passes, the crisis, the true crisis, will surely tear the PC (U.S.A.) apart in so many ways.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of his word, the standards of the confessions will disappear. The PC (U.S.A.) undoubtedly will last many years—but hopefully not as an empty shell waiting for the darkness.

[1] For more information see The "Ordination Guidelines" of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians: changed? Update at


Eleanor Duffield said...

I have often wondered if PC(USA) arrived at this marriage point due to so many Teaching Elders "coming out" quietly and so reinterpreting God's will became the next thing. We really don't have to follow the world, culture, the flesh, whatever but when the Ordained speak up listening follows.

Tom Taggart said...

This is the same battle being fought in the secular world--using the same tactics.

Rather than changing the laws of marriage through the democratic process; our elected assemblies are being bypassed by Federal judges to impose a new order.

Viola Larson said...

Eleanor I believe you are right. In Sacramento presbytery right after PUP, one church ordained a ruling Elder who was gay. Although there was a fuss about it and a complaint filed with Presbytery, the leadership dismissed it as no problem. The next year that man was a commissioner to the GA. He was a nice guy in many ways but so political. And when he gave his little speech to go to GA he said he liked the PCUSA because you could understand God in anyway. He led, others followed.

Viola Larson said...

Tom, I agree-I certainly think that the AI Ellison is wanting passed is bypassing the rights of the Presbyteries to vote on something that cannot be interpreted because it is a new idea.

Reformed Catholic said...

If a baker, or a photographer, or a florist who does not want to participate in a same gender wedding can be fined, forced out of their business, even jailed, what will happen to a pastor who is a member of a denomination which allows same gender marriage, when someone files a discrimination suit against her? She will not be able to state that her denomination does not allow same gender weddings.

In some states with 'religious exemptions', there is no exemption for pastors where the denomination has OK'd SSM.

Viola Larson said...

Tom, I meant re-interpreted.

Reformed Catholic I wasn't aware of that.