Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Has the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “jumped the shark?” Or, to put it another way, Was this past General Assembly the Assembly of Heresy? (Part 3)

The recent General Assembly of the PCUSA made some troubling decisions. In previous posts on this topic I introduced the meaning of “jumping the shark” and I looked at the most serious error of the Assembly. Today we will look at the second error.

Error #2.

The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) contains the following section:

“Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001)), or chastity in singleness.” (G-6.0106b)

The section of the Book of Order quoted above has been referred to as the “fidelity and chastity amendment” or “amendment b.” The removal of this section from the Book of Order is a serious error.

Readers of this blog who are not Presbyterian need to understand what the Assembly actually did with G-6.0106b. A General Assembly CANNOT remove a section (larger or small) from the Book of Order. An Assembly can vote to removed (or add a section) and then that action goes out to the Presbyteries to be ratified (over 50% of the Presbyteries must vote in favor of the change). The recent General Assembly voted to remove G-6.0106b from the Book of Order, replacing it with new language: “Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

I recently heard someone ask, “Why has the Presbyterian Church been so concerned about the ordination of homosexuals for the past thirty years and not before that?” An aunt who is not a Christian recently told me, “There is not a single place in the Bible that calls homosexuality a sin.” Both of these people show how little knowledge there is about the Bible, sexuality and church history.

It is true that the PCUSA has been fighting over the ordination of practicing, non-repentant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (from now on referred to as “LGBT”) persons since 1978—that was the year that the denomination tried to for the first time to ordain LGBT persons. The Presbyteries defeated the proposed change and have done so every time it has come up since then. What changed in the 60s and 70s? What changed is the sexual revolution! Sexual promiscuity had always been a part of American culture but for the first time it was become “mainstream.” The climate for change was ushered in when the church moved away from a high view of scripture AND much of society embraced a more open view of sex, marriage and sexual orientation. The church did not fight over the ordination of LGBT persons prior to 1978 because the church and society would never have stood for the ordination of LGBT persons.

Since coming to Evergreen Presbyterian Church twelve years ago, the General Assembly has tried on several occasions to remove Amendment b from the constitution. On the first occasion I taught a class of the Bible and Sexuality. I was shocked and amazed at how many long-time Presbyterians had no idea of what the Bible actually says about sex (homosexual or heterosexual). These fine people had formed strong opinions based on human experience. I was further amazed at how many were willing to disregard what scripture had to say of the topic—based totally on human experience.

It is easy to see why my aunt was misinformed about what the Bible says about homosexuality. How can a person who never goes to church or Bible study be expected to know what the Bible says about sexuality when those within the church don’t know what it says or are willing to blatantly ignore what it says?

The Bible has a lot to say about sex. The book of Song of Songs (a.k.a. – Song of Solomon or Canticles) sits on the borderline between erotic and X rated. The Bible is filled with instances of lust, love and rape. The Bible condones certain sexual practices and condemns other sexual practices.

Two chapters that focus on sexual practices that are condemned are Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20. Leviticus 18: 20 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 20 says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

The New Testament continues the prohibition of same sex intercourse. Romans 1:26-27 says, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

The same theme is present in all of these texts—same gender sexual intercourse is wrong in the eyes of God. “Detestable” (in the Leviticus 18 passage) means that the practice is so horrible that God will not even look upon it. “Detestable” is an extremely harsh word in biblical Hebrew—this cannot be ignored.

I see the 1 Corinthians passage is a passage of hope—forgiveness. There are times when we are “greedy” or “slanderers” or anything else on that list. When we confess our sin we receive forgiveness. This is what G-6.0106b is all about. It is not just about gay sex—it is about confession of sin and forgiveness. The problem is that those who believe that same gender sexual intercourse is acceptable to God do not see that type of sexual expression as a sin, or that forgiveness is needed.

Those who believe that same gender sexual intercourse is acceptable to God are faced with two possible ways to justify their beliefs: discredit (explain away) the biblical texts or ignore the texts. For years and years those who are in favor of LGBT ordination tried to explain away the prohibition texts. That battle strategy has proven to be ineffective on all but a very few people. The newer tactic is to ignore the texts. You might have heard the argument of “we ordain people who are divorced” or “we ordain women” or “we selectively enforce the things that are prohibited in scripture.” It is s beyond the scope of this post to cover these additional topics. Let me just say that divorced person who do not repent should not be ordained. As for the ordination of women, God appointed Deborah to be a judge. Enough said.

The main issue is repentance and forgiveness!

So, why is removing G-6.0106b such a big deal? First, that section was placed in the constitution because many years ago the GAPJC said that the Authoritative Interpretation of 1978 was not enough—it needed to be in the constitution. So, various Presbyteries submitted the text of Amendment b, it was passed by the General Assembly and ratified by the Presbyteries. Second, when a Presbytery or Session ordains a person they do so for the entire church. There are Sessions and Presbyteries that do not believe that sexual intercourse outside of the bounds of one man and one woman who are married is a sin. Third, sex is a BIG DEAL! The sex drive is one of the strongest drives a person has. In many ways, sex impacts most areas of our lives. There is so much “worldly” confusion about sex that the church needs to be clear about what it teaches and believes. Fourth, the Bible is clear on its prohibition of same gender sexual intercourse. Fifth, Amendment b goes way beyond same gender sexual intercourse—it deals with all sin and forgiveness. Amendment b helps the church deal with pastors, elders and deacons who have “affairs.” Amendment b helps us to deal with candidates for the ministry who are “sleeping around.” Amendment b helps us to deal with pastors who are practicing alcoholics or thieves. Amendment b deals with sin, confession and forgiveness.

3 Comments:

At 5:30 PM , Blogger Kyle said...

The removal of "b" falls perfectly in with the corporate line. They want to tolerate everything. Tolerate other religions, to the point of saying that we all worship the same God just revealed differently. Tolerate unrepentant sinners (not just stating the sexual aspect). The only thing they don't tolerate is an evangelical/historical presbyterian point of view. It won't be too long before it is the church of the Politically Correct USA.
I was thinking about going to the Presbytery meeting recapping the GA, however I had to work late. And figured it would be the "nothing has changed" statement said over and over again.

 
At 9:43 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

Hi Kyle,
I was not able to go the Presbytery recap meeting. I will try to make it to the meeting on Tuesday. It will be a huge waste of time.

Great comments!

 
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