Saturday, August 29, 2009

HTML version of the Beaver-Butler Declaration (with endnotes)

Note: The footnotes from the adopted document have been rendered as endnotes in this HTML copy of the document. It is otherwise the same as the PDF document on the Beaver Butler Site (the link for that document is on the right-side rail of the main blog page). --- Albert Stuart

As Amended and Adopted by

Beaver-Butler Presbytery

July 28, 2009

Open Theological Declaration to the PC(USA)


We believe that the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), held in June 2008 in San Jose, California, did in some of its actions transgress the spirit and the letter of the confessions, constitution, and understandings that have long been established to govern the content and practice of our faith; that it violated the relations we are called to as colleagues in ministry and brothers and sisters in the faith; and that it brought confusion to the church communities to which we witness and minister. In so doing, the Assembly failed to honor the authority of Scripture to govern our faith and practice.

In this declaration we seek to enumerate objectionable actions, describe our reasons finding them objectionable, note their nature and/or effect, to state our responses, and propose means for redressing these errors.

We believe that Scripture calls on us to take these actions (see especially Ezekiel 33-34; Matthew 18:6-9 and Mark 9:42-50).1 We do so with sadness, yet with conviction, after much prayer and reflection. We do so with love for our brothers and sisters. We do seeking to be humble, faithful servants of Christ and the Church.

We also take these actions believing that Scripture and our confessions authorize us to call the church and its governing bodies to recognize their errors, amend them, and restore the church to its constitutional and connectional communion. Our stand is consistent with our current discipline and is grounded in the Second Helvetic Confession, (see especially Chapter Two).2

Guided by G-1.0307 3, we affirm that councils, indeed, may err. This one has. The erroneous actions of this Assembly have threatened the very notion of covenanted orthodoxy and orthopraxis. As we are reminded in G-1.0304 4 that right belief and right practice are inseparable.

General Assembly Actions and Presbytery Responses:

I. The 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) fractured the trust within the denomination in the areas of practice, theology, and polity by adopting a new Authoritative Interpretation of G6.0106b. In doing so the 218th General Assembly voided all previous authoritative interpretations, including those of the 1978 and 1979 General Assemblies, regarding homosexual practices and ordination standards. It also voided all previous General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission decisions regarding G6.0106b. The Authoritative Interpretation says, “Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof have no further force or effect.” 5

A. Procedural Errors:

1. The General Assembly erred when it failed to allow debate on the second provision of Overture 05-09. This overture attempted both to change the fidelity and chastity amendment (G-6.0106b), and to provide an Authoritative Interpretation that would nullify all previous Authoritative Interpretations concerning ordination standards, particularly those speaking to homosexual behavior as sin. The Assembly debated the proposed revision of the Constitution to substitute a revised wording for G-6.0106b, but it did not allow debate on the proposed Authoritative Interpretation attached to the overture.

a. It is the Moderator’s responsibility to insure, per Robert’s Rules of Order, that all motions receive adequate consideration through debate. When the Moderator did not allow debate, the Stated Clerk should have corrected him immediately when he called the question on both provisions in the overture, after only having debated the first provision. He did not do so.

b. The Moderator and Stated Clerk neglected to separate these two important issues for individual consideration when they had chosen to do so on matters of much lesser import to the life of the Church.

c. The Assembly itself also erred when it called the question as a body despite repeated attempts by various delegates to separate the two provisions, and to allow for debate on the second provision.

2. Further, after the General Assembly approved an overture rendering all previous Authoritative Interpretations “without further force or effect,” it then corrected a previous Authoritative Interpretation from the 217th General Assembly that it had just annulled. The logical process was thus voided.

3. Intent & Effect: By these actions, the 218th General Assembly stepped outside of the spirit and letter of our shared rules of order. It discouraged honest and open debate, and has thus broken our denominational covenant and damaged our covenant life together.

B. Constitutional Errors:

1. The General Assembly committed its greatest constitutional error by legislating through Authoritative Interpretations. Authoritative Interpretations have been abused by recent Assemblies on a number of occasions in an effort to change the Constitution’s plain meaning without proper ratification by vote of the Presbyteries.

2. Further, by reversing all previous Authoritative Interpretations that have rightly proclaimed the biblical norm of fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman, and chastity in singleness, the General Assembly has attempted by fiat to accomplish what four previous denominational votes have disallowed by ever increasing margins.

3. Intent & Effect: These constitutional errors have violated our trust and broken our denominational covenant by abusing the normal process for constitutional reform.

C. Judicial Errors

1. The intent and meaning of G-6.0106b, otherwise known as the fidelity and chastity amendment, is clear and plain. The Authoritative Interpretation approved by the General Assembly obscures and confuses it. Even if it is removed and replaced, no ruling by any of our governing or judicial bodies could contradict the plain meaning of the Scriptures on this particular subject.

Therefore, the 218th General Assembly erred judicially by overruling court decisions that rightly interpreted and applied this provision of the Constitution and Scripture.

2. Intent & Effect: This injustice to our Constitution has violated our trust and broken our denominational covenant by incorrectly overruling the GA PJC.

II. In conjunction with the new authoritative interpretation of G6.0106b, the 218th General Assembly’s proposal to retranslate the Heidelberg Catechism appears to be an attempt to advance and influence passage of the proposed amendment of G6.0106b, being debated by the presbyteries, from:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historical 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. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.


Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions of 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 a candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

A. Confessional Errors: The argument proposed for adopting a re-translation of the Heidelberg Catechism is historically, biblically, theologically, and logically unsound.

1. The proposal ignores the historical context in which the current translation was adopted. The current translation was adopted precisely because it spoke to a specific concern facing the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. when it was adopted. Homosexuality was becoming an increasingly important topic for moral and ethical evaluation and discussion throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was not considered an important topic when the catechism was written in 1562.

2. The proposal ignores the biblical warrant for the current translation. The apparent rationale for adopting a re-translation into English appears to center on the desire to remove the phrase “homosexual perversion” from the litany of proscribed behaviors contained in the answer to Question 87. Proponents argue that this language is not contained in the original German of the Catechism, and that most other English translations lack this phrase. This argument is accurate and would be more compelling were it not for the fact that the litany in the question quotes from I Corinthians 6:9-10 6, which definitely refers to homosexual practice in a negative manner. If we are to be Biblically accurate, then we must indeed maintain the current translation contained in the Book of Confessions.

3. The proposal follows a different rationale than governed the text of the Westminster Standards. If fidelity to the original text were the prime criterion, we would be forced to strip the Book of Confessions of all historic amendments made to the Westminster Standards by our antecedent denominations, and then re-adopt the original 1646 version of the Confession of Faith. In so doing we would reject our current adopted standards with regard to marriage and divorce, the place and role of the civil magistrate, ordaining women, and we would advocate covenanted uniformity of religion in any nation where there are Presbyterians. None of us could accept this outcome.

4. Intent & Effect: So then, we are effectively left with an important constitutional and confessional change that removes a reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9 and ignores Scripture. This error, and its apparent motivations, place in jeopardy our standing in the Reformed community of faith throughout history and thus world. Thus, it violates our denominational covenant and further erodes our trust.

III. When the 218th General Assembly adopted the social policy recommendation encouraging Presbyterians to seek and engage in worship services with Jews and Muslims, it invited clergy and laity of the PC(USA) to violate the integrity of Christian worship by diminishing the Gospel that is to be central to Christian worship services. Related to the issue of the equivalency of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian understandings of God, when the 218th General Assembly approved a Study Guide for a previously received Trinity Paper, it failed to follow due process and implicitly a sanctioned a theological statement based on suspect biblical interpretation.

A. Biblical Errors: The most profound errors of this Church Council are biblical. While a range of valid methods and approaches to biblical interpretation is practiced, this range must be defined confessionally, and it must be faithful to a Reformed theological framework. We acknowledge and confess that we look to Jesus Christ as the Word of God Living, yet we also affirm, with the Confession of 1967, that Scripture is the Word of God Written. 7 Faulty interpretation and skewed exegesis of Scripture gave rise to two unbiblical actions of the General Assembly. These were: (1) the recommendation encouraging Presbyterians to seek worship opportunities with Jews and Muslims,8 and (2) the approval of a study guide for the previously received Trinity paper.

1. While specific language that Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship “a common God” was removed from the final resolution, the recommendation encouraging common worship between Jews, Muslims and ourselves was based on the assumption of the removed language. This practical recommendation remained unchanged in final form. This recommendation is not congruent with the Scriptural witness to the Divinity and the univocal Lordship of Jesus Christ, or of the full divinity and co-equality of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father within the Godhead. We worship the thrice-holy, Triune God. Because of their theology, neither Muslims nor Jews can participate in worshiping the Triune God. So, too, we betray our faith when we deny the Divinity and presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in any worship context. This recommendation is based on a profound misrepresentation of the Trinity. Therefore we cannot sponsor worship together and should not be encouraged to do so.

2. Further, the argument has been made and advanced that the Study Paper on the Trinity utilizes only Scriptural language and imagery for the discussion of the Deity. Although this is true, the method employed continuously throughout this paper routinely confuses the natures of simile and metaphor to such a degree that it effectively confuses what we think we know about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a great many places it skirts perilously close to propounding either pantheistic (God is everything) or panentheistic (God is in everything) views of God.

3. One may argue, and many have, that studies of such important topics as the Trinity risk “pushing the envelope” theologically and philosophically, but that such risks must be taken as we delve deeply into the Doctrine of God. We agree that we should study deeply, but we also believe that we must mine with care the great treasure-filled depths of God’s Word. We must always pay primary attention to contexts, historical situations and literary genres of the texts we study. Our goal should always and only be to reflect the truth contained therein, and never to speculatively invent or intuit material that is, at best, tangentially contained. To do so we risk becoming false guides.

B. Procedural Error: Theological issues aside, copies of this thirty-seven page, recently revised Trinity paper were not made available for commissioner review until six hours before the vote, and copies of the study guide were never provided to commissioners at all. Commissioners were asked to approve a study guide that they had not reviewed for a paper whose revisions they did not have adequate time to review—and that with limited debate. In today’s environment of conflicting points of view and distrust following due process is essential.

C. Intent & Effect: In the aggregate, these errors represent a fundamental disconnect between historic, orthodox Christianity and the rulings of our General Assembly. These rulings do violence to our unity with the Church universal and threaten our relationships with mission partners all over the globe. These rulings have violated our trust, broken our denominational covenant, and continue to threaten our unity with the Church universal.

IV. In creating a two million dollar legal defense fund for the denomination to use for property cases in civil courts, the General Assembly increased already strained relations among the member churches of the denomination. Contributions to the fund are voluntary. However, the fund is housed in the mission budget. This presents an apparent disconnect between mission regularly understood and our exegesis of and interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, which is that we do not take each other to secular court. 9

A. Error in Judgment: Although the General Assembly was certainly within its rights and followed due process in creating this fund, the action was unwise because it appears to equate property defense with the mission of the church. Further it seems to invite Presbyteries to seek civil legal action to preserve property interests, rather than seeking reconciliation or, if failing to achieve that, to dissolve denominational ties amicably.

B. Intent and Effect: The action threatens the unity and witness of the Church Universal and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Among the negative consequences are the following: At best, it supports those who believe the PC(USA) is primarily interested in things material. At worst, it can be seen as a declaration of war against its own congregations. The action further erodes our trust, damages our witness, and threatens our covenant life.


The errors of this Assembly fail to live up to its professed theme of justice, mercy and humility. 10 Our trust has been violated. Our denominational covenant has been broken by our own highest level governing body. We refuse to break that covenant. We will honor it by constitutional, confessional and biblical adherence. It pains us, but we must take corrective action in an attempt to restore this broken covenant and the Church herself. Therefore, we, the Presbyters of Beaver-Butler Presbytery, make the following resolutions:

I. We will continue to uphold biblical standards for ordination, particularly in areas of sexuality regardless of any Authoritative Interpretation Advisory Opinion, alteration to the Constitution, or re-translation of our confessions.

A. We will not recognize ordinations that are constitutionally or biblically unsustainable. We will closely examine each candidate seeking admission to our Presbytery.

B. We will not ordain candidates whose behavior violates the clear meaning of G-6.0106b of the Book of Order.

C. We dissent from the Stated Clerk’ Advisory Opinion #22 11 and will not support it, based as it on an Authoritative Interpretation that contradicts our established constitution. “Local Option”(creating the conditions where ordinations are recognized in some presbyteries and churches, but not others) runs counter to Presbyterian polity.

II. We will not seek or promote common worship opportunities with Jews and Muslims, when they do not recognize the Unity and the Divinity of the Trinity, and we must affirm the Trinity. We will dialogue with Jews and Muslims, seeking to introduce them to the Triune God.

III. We will not be governed by the Authoritative Interpretation adopted by the 218th General Assembly because it is constitutionally, biblically, and judicially unsustainable. This interpretation cannot change the plain meaning of the Constitution, which still holds full force and effect in Beaver-Butler Presbytery.

IV. We will discourage or congregations from giving to the new legal defense fund Extra Commitment Opportunity, believing that it encourages actions that run counter to I Corinthians 6:1-8. We urge congregations and Presbyteries to “rather be wronged” than engage in civil law suits over property.

V. Rather than promoting same gender civil unions, we will support biblical definitions of marriage in our society.

VI. We will encourage other Presbyteries and/or Congregations to join us in this declaration.

VII. We will continue to proclaim the Gospel, grow our members in the One Lord Jesus Christ, and participate in the transforming work of God according to His word within our denomination and Presbytery.

We will abide by these statements. Our consciences are captive to the Word of God. We will not accept discipline that, like many of the General Assembly actions, rests on human institution instead of God’s Word. We trust in God through Christ for His deliverance and grace.

Our Defender is Strong,

The Presbytery of Beaver Butler


1 CF. Ezekiel 33-35.

Matthew 18:6-9: ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Mark 9:42-50: If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

2 BOC-5.011 — Interpretations of the holy fathers. “Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures.

Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.”

BOC-5.012 — “Councils. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils.”

BOC-5.013 — “Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much less by received customs, or by the large number of those who share the same opinion, or by the prescription of a long time. Who is the judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided. So we do assent to the judgments of spiritual men which are drawn from the Word of God. Certainly Jeremiah and other prophets vehemently condemned the assemblies of priests which were set up against the law of God; and diligently admonished us that we should not listen to the fathers, or read in their path who, walking in their own inventions, swerved from the law of God.”

3 G-1.0307 — “That all Church power, whether exercised by the body in general or in the way of representation by delegated authority, is only ministerial and declarative; that is to say, that the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and manners; that no Church governing body ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience in virtue of their own authority; and that all their decisions should be founded upon the revealed will of God. Now though it will easily be admitted that all synods and councils may err, through the frailty inseparable from humanity, yet there is much greater danger from the usurped claim of making laws than from the right of judging upon laws already made, and common to all who profess the gospel, although this right, as necessity requires in the present state, be lodged with fallible men.”

4 G-10304 — “Truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

5 The Presbytery of Boston respectfully overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) to do the following:

1. Direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:

a. Strike the current text of G-6.0106b and insert new text to read as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

i. 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. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. 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.

b. Amend G-14.0240 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

i. “Preparation and Examination for Office

ii. “When persons have been elected to the office of elder or deacon, the session shall confer with them as to their willingness to undertake the office. The session shall provide for a period of study and preparation, after which the session shall examine the officers-elect as to their personal faith; knowledge of the doctrine, government, and discipline contained in the Constitution of the church; and the duties of the office; and readiness to assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. If the examination is approved, the session shall appoint a day for the service of ordination and installation (see W-4.4000). If the examination is not approved for one or more elected officers, the session shall report its action to the congregation’s nominating committee, which shall bring nomination(s) to a meeting of the congregation for any office(s) not filled.”

c. Amend G-14.0450 by inserting a new paragraph “b.” and by re-lettering current paragraphs “b.” through “d.” as “c.” through “f.” The text shall read as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

i. “Final Assessment of Readiness to Begin Ordained Ministry

ii. “In the final year of theological education or when a candidate has satisfied all of the requirements of this section, and before the candidate has received a call, the committee on preparation for ministry of the candidate’s presbytery shall conduct a final assessment of the candidate’s readiness to begin ordained ministry. A summary of this assessment shall be reported to the presbytery and shall be transmitted to a calling presbytery when requested. The committee on preparation for ministry shall report to the presbytery when it has certified a candidate ready for examination for ordination, pending a call. This consultation shall focus on the outcomes of inquiry and candidacy and shall include each of the following requirements of certification:

iii. a. demonstration of readiness to begin ministry of the Word and Sacrament as required to fulfill the candidacy phase of preparation;

iv. b. demonstration of readiness to assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation;

v. b. c. presentation of a transcript showing satisfactory grades at a regionally accredited college or university, together with a diploma;

vi. c. d. presentation of a transcript from a theological institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools acceptable to the presbytery, the transcript showing satisfactory grades, and presentation of a plan to complete the theological degree including Hebrew and Greek and exegesis of the Old and New Testaments using Hebrew and Greek texts;

vii.d. e. presentation of satisfactory grades together with the examination papers in the five areas covered by the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates.”

2. Provide the following authoritative interpretation: Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States

and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect.


The opening paragraphs of the Form of Government are a powerful statement of the fundamental Christian and Reformed affirmation that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. In support of this primary affirmation, Chapter I of the Form of Government calls Christians to attend to the Scriptures, insofar as they set forth “Christ’s will for the Church,” and Chapter II identifies the church’s confessions as its guides, subordinate to the authority of Jesus Christ and to the witness of Scripture. Our church thus has bound itself to a hierarchy of authority in which we are to obey Jesus Christ its Head, and, additionally, to heed first the Scriptures and then the confessions, to the extent that they accurately bear witness to Christ’s will. This fundamental hierarchy of authority is accurately and eloquently reflected in the first three of the constitutional questions, the assent to which is required of each candidate for ordination and/or installation. Although the hierarchy of the church’s authority is clear, it is subverted by the current language of G-6.0106b, which substitutes for our obedience to Christ two concepts that are foreign to Reformed understanding: “obedience” to Scripture and “conformity” to the confessions. The proposed amendment would remove this paragraph and substitute new language, which (1) reflects the church’s understanding of where its authority is to be found, and (2) reaffirms the church’s reliance on the examination of candidates by its governing bodies as the principal means by which to ensure the commitment of its ordained officers to the duties of faith. The amendment additionally would insert appropriate language to ensure that each such examination would include discussion of the constitutional questions and the governing body’s determination of the candidate’s readiness to accept their principles and live by them to the extent any of us is able. In order to be able to rely on Jesus Christ as its Head and as its chief guide in all of life, the church must shed any subordinate source of authority that would bind its ability to follow where he leads. The overture therefore also calls for the rescission of past interpretive statements that have had the effect of limiting Christ’s freedom to use his servants as he would choose.

6 I Corinthians 6:9-10 — “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” (niv),

Or — “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (nrsv).

7 Book of Confessions / 9.27 — “The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.”

8 We do not take issue with other aspects of the recommendation, such as dialogue, social interaction, study, and projects of mutual concern.

9 1 Corinthians 6:1-11: “When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?

“In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

10 The official theme of the 218th General Assembly was “Justice, Mercy, and Humility,” based on Micah 6:8.

11 Please see for the official Stated Clerk’s Advisory Opinion #22.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Declaration as Amended & Passed
now available at Beaver-Butler Website

Hey everybody, the final copy of the document has finally been posted!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beaver-Butler Presbytery passes
Theological Declaration concerning
218th General Assembly

Okay, now for the "official" announcement.

Sorry to all that this took so long. Pat just moved to a new call in Wenatchee, Wasington, I'm technically on vacation & Toby's been busy, too. Obviously word has gotten out into blog-land that the Declaration passed. Toby and I both put up mentions of it on our FaceBook pages yesterday.

Further complicating the process here was that Pat couldn't find his password, and I've switched computers since this blog was started, so I had to re-find my "cookies". I realize these are probably tech details that bore some of you, but I offer them by way of apology.

Now for the news:

The Open Theological Declaration to the PC(USA) concerning the 218th GA was adopted Tuesday, 28 July 2009 by action of the Beaver-Butler Presbytery at its stated meeting by a vote of 69-33.

The document had been introduced as new business at the September 2008 meeting as authored by Pat McElroy and Rusty Stuart and posted on this blog last year. At the November '08 meeting the Declaration was refered to a special Task Force on which I served with the Revs. Randall Clow, Ellen Campbell-Gardener, N. Graham Standish and El;der Paul Smith. Elloen had to leave us in April of this year because of a new call and her pending marriage.

We introduced the Declaration at the May meeting when it was refered to the July meeting so we could have more time for study and maximum time and participation for floor debate.

The Declaration is substantially the same document as the one that all of you remember, though it has been re-organized, has many foot-notes and appended documentary citation. I assure you that nothing of substance was lost in the process. In fact, I think it's actually a stronger document in many ways -- an opinion shared by both Pat and Toby.

We are still waiting for the final certified copy from our stated clerk (and this will be posted as soon as we receive it). That said, the document that passed is identical to what was proffered to the Presbytery with the exceptions of a re-written 1st prargraph in the introduction and two one-word changes within the body of the text.

In order to read the document as it was submitted, you can get it from the BBP meeting packet. It is a PDF document and you will find it on Pages 19 - 29 of 73. The URL is:,%202009/Pre-Mail%2007-28-09%20Complete.pdf

We are thrilled by the response and debate we had in Presbytery. The debate was long and hard (more than an hour-and-a-half), but it was civil and intense. People knew what they were voting on and did so (in either direction) from genuine conviction.

God IS good!

Our thanks to all who have labored and prayed with us, supported us in one way or another, and most certainly to those of you who subscribed the initial document. We would encourage you to look seriously as the new version and consider subscibing that as well. As before, if you let us know, we'll post your names, churches and affiliations.

Lastly, we seek to have other sessions adopt and submit this document to their presbyteries for discussion and approval. We are convinced that this is the way forward. The changes we seek must come from the lowest judicatories to the highest and must remain within the governing bodies themselves. As much as we value and are thankful for the work of Affinity Groups, the work that must now be done, must come legislatively. Further it must come in the form of theological reflection as this has, and not via polity. we've labored for 80 years (+/- ) in polity fights rather than in theology and all this has accomplished has been to turn three 1/2 inch thick Books of Order in to one mamoth big bug thumper with which we annually play "Capture the Flag". Something new has to happen!

This is a fight we must commit to. As tired, dispirited and justifiably upset as we are, we must stay carry it through until we are pushed out or win the argument. If we go elsewhere with the issues unresolved, then the same battle will merely follow us elsewhere in a different form 15 - 20 years from now.

Let us give thanks for the intense labors of those who've been battling for three generations. Let us rejoice before the throne for the "cloud of witnesses" who've labored so diligently in the vineyard and have been bloodied and battered for their witness. Then let us "re-Gird our loins" for an honorable fight rooted in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4and armed with the armour of the Spirit (Ephesians Italic6).

Our Defender is Strong!

Grace & Peace,
+Rusty Stuart

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Open Declaration voted down by Beaver-Butler Presbytery; referred to new task force

What Happened Last Night

Beaver-Butler Presbytery voted down the Open Theological Declaration at its November 17th meeting in Aliquippa, Beaver County, PA and referred it to a special task force empowered to look at the issues the Declaration confronts.

Incoming presbytery moderator, the Rev. Connie Dunn was charged by the body last night with appointing members to this new task force and with instructing it to conduct its work so that it may present a report to the whole presbytery at its March 2009 meeting.

The 55-47 (I believe, but may be wrong on the actual vote) to refer the Declaration to the new task force came after nearly an hour of highly spirited debate.

Principle objections raised during the debate centered largely around the Declaration's statements about the nature of Christians' shared beliefs with Jews and Muslims about the nature of our understandings of who God is and what constitutes either valid or invalid promotion of joint worship.

Not a few minister-presbyters raised questions about participation in and conduct of mixed-religious wedding services with Jews. They also raised questions indirectly (or obliquely) about whether or not this Declaration calls into question Christian understandings of the historical precedence of the Jews' status as God's chosen people and whether or not the document calls into question the validity of the Old Testament scriptures.

Where We Go from Here
Those of us who are appointed to serve on the newly created task force will do so. We truly have no choice at this point.

We have invested ourselves, our beliefs and consciences into this debate--seeing it as a fight over matters that truly rise to the level of covenanted orthodoxy. We will continue to stand where we must.

In the mean time, a dozen individual sessions, their collected elders, their pastors have officially signed this document and stand behind it. Our call to other sessions and presbyteries to consider this or some very close parallel statement have lost none of their passion and immediacy. We need to take decisive steps and make a bold, clear but loving stand in the face of what we see as serious steps away from the gospel handed down once-for-all to the saints.

We may not back down. And we are committed to this fight at the judicatory level. This is a church fight that must be appropriately and correctly waged within the courts of the church. Certainly affinity groups and related reform organizations are welcomed and encouraged to share this fight with us, but ultimately, the fight must be waged from the lowest recognizable regional courts to the highest.

Again, our Defender is strong and we are called to stand in place.

Please continue to pray for us and to check in with us regularly regarding updates or questions. We may be contacted via this blog or by e-mail. My e-mail is and Pat McElroy's e-mail is

Grace & Peace,
+Rusty Stuart & Pat McElroy

Monday, November 17, 2008

This is a link to the Book Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord This link is maintained by IVP, the publisher and is a mandatory link to our posted excerpt.

Grace & Peace,
+Rusty & Pat

Status Confessionis in Contemporary Theologians

Taken from Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord by Donald G. Bloesch. Copyright (c) 1997 by Donald G. Bloesch. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.

Relevant Excerpt from
Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord
by Donald G. Bloesch
© 1997; IVP; Downers Grove, IL
LCC #: BT202.B49
ISBN: 0-8308-1414-0

From Chapter 10: “The Finality of Christ” — Pgs. 243 - 249

An Emerging Confessional Situation
Theologians of various persuasions are beginning to speak of a new confessional situation, a status confessionis, as the church finds itself engulfed in a crisis concerning the integrity of its message and the validity of its language. The many attempts today to resymbolize God and to reconceive Christ are signs that people of faith may be called again to battle for the truth, to engage in a new Kirchenkampf (Church struggle).
The problem of theological authority has become especially acute, since it would seem that cultural experience is supplanting the biblical witness as the ruling criterion for faith and practice. An emerging neognosticism locates truth in the alteration of consciousness rather than in the an event in sacred history. The philosopher Schopenhauer, a favorite of New Agers, has declared that we are justified neither by faith nor by works but by knowledge. Tillich’s contention that self-discovery is God-discovery betrays a gnostic mentality. When Carl Jung asserts “I do not believe, I know,” he is placing his trust in intuitive knowledge over historical revelation.
In feminist circles there is a call for a new canon and a Third Testament that would drastically alter the foundations of the faith. Rosemary Ruether pleads for augmenting the canon with writings that manifest a sensitivity to the concerns of women and other oppressed peoples. She recommends including tracts drawn from goddess religions, Gnosticism and marginal Christian traditions often deemed heretical.
The new mood in the culture was strikingly anticipated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, on of the mentors of the new spirituality: “Man is weak to the extent that he looks outside himself for help. It is only as he throws himself unhesitatingly upon the God within himself that he learns his own power and works miracles.” The motto of the New Age is struggle, growth and freedom as opposed to the biblical motto: faith repentance and service.
The loss of transcendence is especially disconcerting when we consider the theological options today. There seems to be a confluence of various theological movements (liberationist, feminist, neomystical, process) toward a religion of radical immanence in which human experience and imagination preempt biblical revelation as the measuring rod for truth.

That real heresy is now a problem in the Church is attested by the frequent attempts to downgrade the Old Testament. Johann Semler, one of the first German theologians to apply the historical-critical method to the study of Scripture, described the Old Testament as “a collection of crude Jewish prejudices diametrically opposed to Christianity.” Complaining that the Old Testament promotes a legalistic type of thought, Schleiermacher recommended that it be ranked as a mere appendage to the New Testament. Radical feminists see the Old Testament as incurably patriarchal and the Sky Father, the supposed god of the Old Testament, as an obstacle to women’s liberation. Existentialist and process theologians view large parts of the Bible as mythological and have assigned themselves the task of translating what they consider basically poetry into a modern ontology. There is some sentiment in liberationist circles to deemphasize the Jewish matrix of Scripture out of a commitment to the rights of Palestinians.
What is ominous is that the new theologies, which are for the most part aligned with ideological movements, are seeking to revamp the worship practices of the church, notably through the production of radically altered prayer books and hymnals. Father language for God is being drastically curtailed and new symbols for God are being offered: the infinite depth and ground of all being, the creative process, the Womb of Being, the Primal Matrix, the pool of unlimited power, the New Being, the power of being, the Eternal Now, and so on. Try praying t one of these!
In November 1989 the Anglican Church in New Zealand introduced a prayer book that not only eliminated allegedly sexist language but dropped most references to Zion and Israel. It was explained that a prayer manual was needed to offer texts more relevant to the Maoris and South Pacific Islanders. Wendy Ross, president of the New Zealand Jewish Council, protested: “The only precedent for this was the German church during the Nazi era that wanted to de-judaize the Scriptures. We don’t have copyright because [the Psalms] are too old, but it is our ancient and sacred literature and we don’t like having it distorted. . . . We regard the removal of the words Zion and Israel in most cases as profoundly anti-Jewish”
Such activities should remind us of the close parallels between the religious situation today and the situation of the church in Germany in the later 1920s and 1930s. The so-called represented that segment within the German church that sought to accommodate to the rising ideology of National Socialism. Hitler was hailed as a new Messiah, and the election that brought the Nazis to power was celebrated as an act of God. The German Christian were especially intent on combating the idea that revelation was limited to biblical times: it continues, they said, throughout human history — in every culture and race. The religious institutions of the German people were deemed equal (if not superior) in authority of the Bible. Scripture was reinterpreted through the lens of the Volkgeist (the spirit of the Germanic people). A concerted attempt was made to purge the Bible of Judaic expressions like “Zion” and “Hallelujah.” They preferred to speak of the people of God rather than of the people of Israel. Interestingly, in some radical circles God was conceived of androgynously and referred to as Father-Mother.
The German Christians enlisted in their support some of the leading theologians and biblical scholars, among them Gerhard Kittel, the erudite New Testament scholar; Emanuel Hirsch, a Kierkegaard scholar; and Paul Althaus, a renowned Luther scholar. Others beguiled at least for a time by the new ideology were Friedrich Gogarten, a former student of Troetsch; Rudolf Otto, well-known historian of religion; Werner Elert; Otto Weber; and Heinrich Bornkamm. The respected Catholic theologian Karl Adam, who later broke decisively with the Nazis, gave this tribute to Hitler at the time of his meteoric rise to power: “Now he stands before us as the one for whom the voices of our poets and sages called, as the liberator of the German genius, who took the blindfold from our eyes and — through all the political, economic, social and confessional veils — let us see and love the one essential: our unity of blood, our German self, the homo Germanus.”
It was against the German Christian compromise that the Confessing Church movement emerged with its vigorous attack on natural theology and its bold reaffirmation of the uniqueness of the revelation of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Scriptures. In the words of the Barmen Declaration, drawn up primarily by Barth:
Jesus Christ, as He is testified to us in the Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God, whom we are to hear, whom we are to trust and obey in life and in death. We repudiate the false teaching that the powers, images and truths as divine revelation alongside this one Word of God, as a source of her preaching.
This statement does not rule out the possibility that God may communicate his light and truth in various ways, but it does insist that the church is bound in its proclamation to the definitive and incomparable revelation given in Jesus Christ. In the fourth article the church is urged to take care not to accommodate its message to prevailing ideological and political winds.
As in prewar Germany, there is currently in the nations of the West a resurgence of interest in the occult, a growing openness to Eastern religions and the rise of a naturistic mysticism. Pluralism is celebrated as something good in its own right; the destructive or demonic side of religion is conveniently overlooked. An inclusivistic mentality regards with disdain any appeal to a particular revelation or an absolutist claim to religious truth. The mst we can achieve is a “relative absoluteness” in which our religious way becomes only one among others, though through dialogue we can gain some further intimation of the infinite mystery that hovers over all religions.
The god of pluralism and inclusivism can be a jealous god; whatever does not fit into a pluralistic or globalistic agenda is condemned as backward and provincial. Theological semanaries in the mainline churches today are remarkably open to including Buddhists and Hindus on their staff but are conspicuously reluctant to invite scholars identified with either the old Catholicism or the evangelical side of Protestantism.
The battle today is between the historical Christian faith with its confession of the reality of a supernatural God and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the new spirituality, which embraces most of the recent theological and religious movements. It is the difference between a biblical monotheism and a naturalistic panentheism, between a catholic evangelicalism and a neomysticism and neognosticism. One side defends both the particularity of divine revelations and the universality of its claims and mission; the other champions an inclusivistic or global vision.
Class conflict is also an important factor in this growing cleavage. Those who constitute the so-called new class — upwardly mobile professionals, teachers and social workers — are open to an inclusivistic and relativistic worldview, for it lends moral sanction to their growing affluence. On the other hand, those identified with the older business and farming interests are more likely to defend traditional moral values and religious claims. The New Age movement could aptly be called a royal theology, for it justifies the privileged status of the upper middle and upper classes by its doctrine of karma, in which social status is determined by merits or demerits accumulated in previous states of existence. Shirley MacLaine, one of the gurus of this movement, argues that “if you’re poor or unemployed — you have only yourself to blame. You have victimized yourself by not living up to your potential.” The key to changing society, they say, lies in a transformation of consciousness.
Against this view biblical Christianity insists that the key to changing the world is the atoning death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The world can be changed because it already has been changed through the miraculous intervention of the living God into human history. The powers of darkness have already been defeated, and therefore the future of the human race is not bleak but filled with hope and promise.
A truly just society is dependent not on experiments in social engineering, not on the cultivation of a global consciousness, not on an amalgamation of the world religions, but on a universal acknowledgment of the reality of the holy and living God of the Scriptures and acceptance of the message that he has acted decisively and irrevocably for the salvation of the human race through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hope of humanity rests on the kingdom of God, which is now at work in our midst, and on its consummation through the coming again of Jesus Christ in power and glory when his universal lordship will be assured to all who repent and believe.
In its witness, the church should not press for a return to a monolithic society in which church and state work together to ensure a Christian civilization, for such an undertaking would only draw the church away from its redemptive message and blur the lines between the church and the world. Neither should the church withdraw from society and cultivate little bastions of righteousness that strive to preserve the ethical and religious values handed down from the past. Instead, the church should witnes to the truth of the gospel in the very midst of society in the hope and expectation that this truth will work as the leaven that turns society toward a higher degree of justice and freedom. The church cannot build the kingdom of righteousness, but it can serve this kingdom by reminding the world that there is a transcendent order that stands in judgment over every worldly achievement and that the proper attitude of leaders of nations is one of humility before a holy God and caring concern for the disinherited and the oppressed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

By The Numbers

Here is a brief update on recent developments on the cusp of our Presbytery vote.

  • We have eleven Sessions from Beaver Butler Presbytery who have endorsed the Declaration.
  • We have ten minister members of Beaver-Butler Presbytery who have endorsed the Declaration.
  • We have had several meetings with various evangelical groups within the Presbytery and are confident that the Declaration will pass on the floor but not without significant debate and some serious dissension.
  • We have received phone calls and e-mails from Churches in Coastal Carolina Presbytery, San Diego Presbytery, Presbytery of Atlanta, Shenango Presbytery and West Virginia Presbytery who are interested in potentially getting this document to the floor of their own Presbyteries. The First Presbyterian Church of Nitro, WV, along with one of their elders and their Pastor, have endorsed the Declaration and intend to present it to West Virginia Presbytery just as we have presented it to Beaver Butler in order to make it a Presbytery Declaration rather than just the Declaration of one congregation. Our prayers and support are with you Nitro!

Some interesting developments have taken place over the last few weeks throughout our denomination concerning the issues our document raises.

  • San Diego Presbytery has made a Declaration of their own asking for the re-convening of the 218th General Assembly to reverse its decisions. We appear to share the same concerns.
  • San Joaquin Presbytery has made a Declaration of their own outlining their intention to study the issues and write a more thorough response while still expressing their grave concerns over the 218th GA. We appear to share the same concerns.
  • Central Washington Presbytery has made a Declaration of their own outlining their intention to study a possible departure from the PC USA as a Presbytery because of the actions of the 218th GA. We appear to share the same concerns.
  • While all this has been progressing, the Covenant Network has held their annual conference and marshaled their plans and legal muscle to move their agenda forward under the auspices of the decisions of the 218th GA. They have also expressed their clear intent to never quit this fight until they get what they want.

Where do we go from here?
We obviously have a fair bit of affinity among us concerning the issues pressing us. We appear to have several Presbyteries who are prepared to take similar steps to address those concerns. It would seem providential and prodigious for us to combine our efforts as one. We are game for an e-meeting with representatives from interested Sessions, Presbyteries, and even Synods, should they be so led, to discuss what we might do as a corporate, univocal statement and/or plan. We will begin promoting a time for a get together in cyberspace after our Presbytery meeting.

In Christ

Pat and Rusty