Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Open Theological Declaration

An open Theological Declaration to the PC (USA) Explicating Major Errors of the 218th General Assembly as a Church Council and the means of Their Redress

Introductory Remarks
The Universal Church of Jesus Christ has long affirmed its role as the declaratory and magisterial Prophet in the world. This is universally acknowledged and accepted by all segments of the Body. After much prayer and reflection upon many selected scripture passages (but especially Ezekiel 33-34 and Matthew 18:6-9 and Mark 9:42-50), we, as presbyters, stand convicted of our responsibility as watchmen and shepherds and our obligation to speak to the sin of our own communion.

We discern multiple errors coming from the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that have breached covenanted confessional standing (Status Confessiones). These errors must be labeled and opposed lest we be guilty of failing to raise alarm or of leading “the least of His little ones astray.”

Therefore, we, the Presbyters of Beaver Butler Presbytery, are profoundly saddened by many of this Assembly’s actions.

What we now say and resolve to do, we do in love for our brothers and sisters. We cry out with fervent voices that the flock is under attack and we, individually and collectively, must return to the shepherd immediately.

Seeking to be humble, faithful servants of Christ and the Church, we offer this statement out of love (Romans 12) rather than anger or malice.

Guided by G-1.0307[1], 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[2], right belief and right practice are inseparable.

We discern six categories of errors made by this assembly.

Diplomatic Errors
While it can be argued that diplomatic errors are benign in nature, they vary in degree and scope. History is littered with diplomatic mistakes that sparked disunity among people groups. Most wars are predicated upon or instigated by diplomatic errors. It is our estimation that this General Assembly committed such an error this year in approving a two million dollar legal defense fund for the denomination to be used for property cases in civil courts.

On its face, this ruling might seem minor to some. It was an action that was certainly within the scope of the powers of the General Assembly, and, it would seem, in line with the provisions of the constitutional trust clause. However, creating this fund as an extra giving opportunity and thus a part of the mission budget equated property defense with the mission of the Church. It further gave the impression to many of funding a war chest encouraging Presbyteries to seek legal action to preserve property interests. We see this as a grave threat to the unity and witness of the Church Universal and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At best, this action has confirmed the opinion of many that our denomination is primarily interested in mammon. At worst, some have received it as a declaration of war against our own congregations.

This action has eroded our trust, damaged our witness to the Church and Jesus Christ, and thus has done damage to our covenant life.

Tactical Errors
The Assembly erred tactically when it failed to allow debate on the second provision of Overture 05-09. This overture was a combined attempt to change the fidelity and chastity amendment (G-6.0106b) and 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 failed to debate the proposed Authoritative Interpretation attached to the overture. It is the Moderator’s responsibility to insure, per Robert’s Rules, that all motions receive adequate consideration through debate. If the Moderator was unaware of this provision, the Stated Clerk should have corrected him immediately when he proceeded to call the question on both provisions in the overture after only having debated the first. The Stated Clerk failed to do so.

Further, the Moderator and Stated Clerk demonstrated neglect by not separating 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. The Assembly itself also erred when it failed to do so as a body despite repeated attempts by various delegates.

Further still, after the General Assembly approved an overture rendering all previous Authoritative Interpretations “without further force or effect,” it then proceeded to correct a previous Authoritative Interpretation from the 217th General Assembly that it had just ruled as having no further force or effect. Not only is this logically nonsensical, it is, at best, tactically irresponsible.

By committing these tactical errors, the 218th General Assembly stepped outside of the spirit and letter of our shared rules of order, and has thus broken our denominational covenant and damaged our covenant life together.

Constitutional Errors
The greatest constitutional error of this Church council has to do with the approach of the General Assembly of 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.
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 sought to do by fiat what four previous denominational votes have disallowed by ever increasing margins. These constitutional errors have violated our trust and broken our denominational covenant by abuse of means for constitutional reform.

Judicial Errors
The intent and plain meaning of G-6.0106b, otherwise known as the fidelity and chastity amendment, has not changed in spite of Authoritative Interpretations to the contrary. Its meaning is plain. Unless it is removed, no Authoritative Interpretation can change its plain meaning. Even if it were to be removed, 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. This injustice to our Constitution has violated our trust and broken our denominational covenant by incorrectly overruling the GA PJC.

Confessional Errors
The argument proposed for accepting and propounding the adoption of a re-translation of the Heidelberg Catechism is Biblically, theologically and logically erected on shaky ground for several reasons.

1. There is no truly demonstrated need for adopting a re-translation into English of the Heidelberg Catechism. The translation utilized by the denomination was perfectly acceptable when it was adopted. In fact, the translation adopted was used 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 large topic for moral and ethical evaluation and discussion throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s that demonstrably it was not when the catechism was written by Ursinas and Olevianus in 1562.
2. The apparent rationale for adopting a re-translation into English appears to revolve around removal of the phrase “homosexual perversion” from the litany of proscribed behaviors contained in the answer to Question 87. The argument advanced is 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 true insofar as it goes and would be more compelling were it not for the fact that the litany in the question is a quote from I Corinthians 6:9-10[3] which most definitely contains the phrase. If we are to be Biblically accurate, then we must indeed maintain the current translation contained in the Book of Confessions.
3. The argument is made that we must adopt the new translation because fidelity to the historical accuracy of the original Heidelberg Catechism demands our attention and immediate action. This argument is frankly un-compelling. And, in fact, were this logic and rationale applied to the entire Book of Confessions, then we would be forced to strip the BOC of all historic amendments made to the Westminster Standards by our antecedent denominations and re-adopt the original 1646 version of the Confession of Faith. Of course, were we to do so, we would be rejecting our current adopted standards with regard to marriage and divorce, the place and role of the civil magistrate, reinstate denial of any ordained office to women, and the necessity of covenanted uniformity of religion in any nation where there are Presbyterians. This would be an outcome that none of us would accept.

So then, we are effectively left with an important constitutional/confessional change whose very purpose was to remove a reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9 in a grossly irresponsible way that does violence to the Scriptures. This error, and its apparent motivations, places our standing in the Reformed community of faith throughout history and in our world in jeopardy and thus violates our denominational covenant and further erode our trust.

Biblical Errors
The most profound errors of this Church Council are biblical.
While it is to be acknowledged that there is a range of method and approach to biblical interpretation practiced among us that is agreed upon as valid or acceptable, it must also be recognized that this openness itself is still confessionally defined and, thus, is to be understood through the framework of Reformed theology. We acknowledge and confess that we look to Jesus Christ as the Word of God Living, yet we still recognize with the Confession of 1967 that Scripture is the Word of God Written.[4]


Two of this Assembly’s actions resulted in serious errors being made with regard to faith and order of the Christian life because of either faulty scriptural interpretation or skewed or missing exegesis. These were the recommendation that encouraged Presbyterians to seek worship opportunities with Jews and Muslims and the approval of a study guide for the previously received Trinity paper.

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 univocal Lordship of Jesus Christ, or of the full divinity and co-equality of Christ and the Holy Spirit within the Godhead. Scripture tells us that Christ and the Father are one. Scripture tells us that the Spirit is Divine. We worship the thrice-holy, Triune God. Neither Muslims nor Jews can participate in worshiping the Triune God because for them to do so is, by their own lights, a blasphemy for them. So, too, is it blasphemous for us to deny the Divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit in any worship context. This suggestion is based on a gross error in basic biblical doctrine, a profound misrepresentation of the Trinity. Therefore we cannot worship together and should not be encouraged to do so.
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. To a certain degree this is true, however the method employed continuously throughout this paper routinely confuses the natures of simile and metaphor to such a degree that it effectively confuses the very nature of 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.

One may argue, and many have, that such studies of important topics inherently run the risk of “pushing the envelope” theologically and philosophically, and that such risks must be taken as we delve deeply into the knowledge of the Doctrine of God. We agree that we should study deeply, but also carefully as we mine the great treasure-filled depths of God’s word. We must always pay primary attention to context, historical situation and literary genre 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 is neither smart, nor correct and potentially leaves us in the unenviable position of becoming false guides.
Additionally, 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 with and that with limited debate. This kind of blind faith might have been warranted in a former era of our denomination but in today’s environment of questionable decisions by upper governing bodies it is out of place.

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.

Concluding Remarks
We fully recognize and accept the duty of councils of the church to interpret and apply Biblical and Confessional interpretations and statements to everyday life as circumstances rise and demands are placed upon us to speak to our own times and cultures. Yet, even as we are committed to this principle, we appeal to Chapter Two of the Second Helvetic Confession in its entirety. In fact, our stand is fully consistent with our current discipline and is grounded in that confession’s own words. We cannot abide the ruling of any council which breaches Status Confessiones.

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 tread in their path who, walking in their own inventions, swerved from the law of God.”

Resolutions
The errors of this Assembly fail to live up to its professed theme of justice, mercy and humility. 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:

-We do not now and will no longer recognize ordinations that are constitutionally or biblically unsustainable. We will vigorously examine each candidate seeking admission to our Presbytery, especially from Presbyteries who cannot share this affirmation in good conscience.
-If a session and/or congregation over which any one of us might preside as moderator presents a candidate exhibiting any behaviors in violation of the clear meaning of G-6.0106b, we refuse in advance to ordain them on biblical and constitutional grounds. Our consciences are bound to the Word of God and not the worldly ruling rendered by this assembly that a Minister of the Word and Sacrament has no choice but to ordain in all situations.
-We will not seek common worship opportunities with Jews and/or Muslims. To do so would be to ask all parties involved to commit blasphemy since Muslims and Jews do not recognize the Divinity of Christ or the Holy Spirit and we cannot deny either. We will continue to engage in dialogue with Jews and Muslims seeking to introduce Jews to their Messiah and Muslims to their Mahdi who is the One Lord Jesus Christ in both cases.
-We refuse to act in accordance with the Authoritative Interpretations adopted by the 218th General Assembly. They have no further force or effect in our Presbytery because they are constitutionally, biblically, judicially and tactically unsustainable. Their institution has done violence to our covenant life. Further, these interpretations cannot change the plain meaning of the Constitution which still holds full force and effect in Beaver-Butler Presbytery.
-We further affirm that no Authoritative Interpretation, Advisory Opinion, alteration to the Constitution, or re-translation of our confessions can change the plain meaning of the Bible’s teaching concerning sexual norms, now accurately reflected in our Constitution. Even if the Constitution is successfully altered, an outcome that would profoundly disappoint us and that we will work against, we will continue to uphold biblical standards for ordination particularly in areas of sexuality regardless of any amendments to the contrary.
-We do not and will not agree with Advisory Opinion #22 from the Stated Clerk’s office nor will we support it in our governing body. This ruling denies the plain meaning of our Constitution and wrongly rules that local option is now our reality in the PC USA. Since we cannot abide the Authoritative Interpretation upon which this ruling is based, we cannot abide this ruling either.
-We will actively discourage our congregations from giving to the new legal defense fund Extra Commitment Opportunity created by this assembly as it encourages both our congregations and our upper governing bodies to be actively disobedient to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. We urge congregations and Presbyteries to “rather be wronged” than engage in civil law suits over property.
-We will not work to promote same gender civil unions within our commonwealth nor encourage anyone else to do so in their states. Rather we will support biblical definitions of marriage in our society, seeking to fulfill the great ends of the Church by preserving the Truth and promoting social righteousness.
-We will encourage other Presbyteries and/or congregations to join us in this declaration.
-We will continue to publish the Gospel once and for all handed down to the saints, grow our members in the One Lord Jesus Christ, and continue to participate in the transforming work of God according to His Word within our denomination and Presbytery.

We cannot and will not recant these statements. Our consciences are captive to the Word of God. We will not cease these proclamations if rebuked. We will not accept discipline that, like many of the GA actions, rests on human institution instead of God's Word. Here we stand. We can do no other. We trust in God through Christ for His deliverance and grace.

Our Defender is Strong,

The Presbytery of Beaver Butler
Individual Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Session Representatives undersigned
[1] 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.”
[2] 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.
[3] 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.”
[4] 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.”

28 comments:

Kevin said...

I applaud your presbytery's tone and efforts. As a PCA guy (which may remove my remarks from any pertinence to the discussion here...), I am struck by the biblical inconsistency of some of your appeals:

"We do not now and will no longer recognize ordinations that are constitutionally or biblically unsustainable."

And yet, the PCUSA ordains women to the eldership. I faill to see how that is biblically sustainable.

"We further affirm that no Authoritative Interpretation, Advisory Opinion, alteration to the Constitution, or re-translation of our confessions can change the plain meaning of the Bible’s teaching..."

And yet the PCAUSA ordains women to the eldership, despite the plain meaning of the Bible's teaching.

It seems to me if you are going to take a biblical stand against ordaining homosexuals (as you should!) because it is the plain meaning of the Scriptures (and they are), then you should also consider the plain meaning of the Scriptures as they pertain to women's roles in the church.

Just my $.02.

jim_l said...

Thank you for taking a bold stand. It will bring trouble to you, but it is the right thing to do.

Kevin - your $.02 does not differentiate between sin and doctrine. Last time I checked, actively being a woman is not a sin. Women cannot repent of being a woman (I don't want my wife to repent from being a woman). Now, doctrinally, you (PCA) believe that women should not be leaders/elders. But that is not called out as sin, it is a leadership model that you find inappropriate. Perhaps doctrine is not the the absolutely correct word, but I think you understand the point I am making.

The issue here is openly endorsing what the Bible clearly calles sin (ref. Romans 1). Not non-essential issues like women pastors, sprinkling/immersion, etc.

Adel Thalos said...

Thank you for your good strong stand. How will you be proceeding considering the actions of the Synod? Will you be proceeding with consideration and a vote on this? What is the next step if the Synod and/or GA reject this?

Would Beaver/Butler consider being the first Presbytery to act in accord with New Wineskins? I believe it is absolutely the right time.

Kevin said...

Jim, I think that is a fair distinction, although it does not speak to the question of the clarity of the Scriptures. But, then, I am not trying to start a fight. :)

FWIW, I do not wish my wife to repent of being a woman either.

Pat McElroy said...

To Jim: we are aware that it will bring trouble to us. Albert (who from here on in will be referred to as Rusty, because that is his handle in real life) and I have already discussed this at length before we ever published this document in cyberspace. We have discussed it in terms of Butch and Sundance choosing to jump off the cliff at the end of the movie instead of subjecting themselves to the firing squads of the cavalry or the federalies. Someone had to take this stand eventually. I can think of no better reasons to die.

To Kevin: Rusty is a graduate of Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh the flagship seminary of the RPCNA. I am a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the home of the Biblical Council on Manhood and Womanhood. Douglas Moo was my Greek professor and I had Wayne Grudem for Systematic Theology. I am VERY familiar with the arguments on BOTH sides concerning women's ordination as is Rusty. Simply put, we do not consider this statement to be biblically inconsistent given what we believe to be an accurate interpretation of the leadership greetings in Romans 16. No doubt you would dispute that interpretation and tell us that the Greek word for Junia could be masculine or feminine because the forms are the same and she is actually a he and therefore not a female apostle. You would likely tell us that tell us that the term used to describe Phoebe as a deaconness is hardly a title despite its usage in other places. We find these arguments unconvincing given the historical interpretation of the Church's witness during its first 400 years which assumes our position rather than many of our contemporary evangelical brothers and sisters.

We further affirm that only the latest codecies of the NT text reflect the reading "the church that meets in their house" per the NIV in reference to Priscilla and her leadership given that she is always mentioned first before her husband in the NT. The oldest texts read clearly "her house Church". The former reading is obviously a later amendation.

We write this response to let you know that your comments seem to assume a certain naivete on our parts. Theologically speaking, we are far from neophytes on this particular subject who refuse to argue from culture or experience. Ours is a biblical conviction and we believe a sustainable one.

Pat McElroy said...

To Adel:

We have no idea where this will take us from here. We don't even know if the Presbytery will pass this. If the Presbytery does pass this (which we will know by mid-November at the earliest), which we hope will happen, then we will deal with those upper governing body reactions as we go. The bottom line is, we are done arguing. We don't have high hopes of winning. It is a strategy that I have summarized in one word: stand. The last paragraph summarizes our approach. You can't make us recant. You can't rehabilitate us. We will not be moved. We are hoping that others will stand with us in this but if no one else does we are still prepared to do so ourselves. In short, we are not leaving but the Presbytery or those above the Presbytery may choose to kick us out, with our without our property. Our intent is not to leave. Our intent is to stand. Our lives and our calls are in His hands.

Toby Brown said...

Pat,

Whoa! You HAVE studied... :)

I think that making a faithful witness is our calling. Labels, denominations and groups are secondary or even tertiary at best.

This Declaration makes a good witness. That's enough for me.

Kevin said...

Pat, actually I would have approached the question from a completely different angle. I do not believe any of the folks who posted this are theologically naive. No need to be defensive. As I said, I was asking a question about an inconsistency with your appeal to a "plain reading of Scripture." The verses I had in mind did not turn on Greek grammar, but on broad Pauline arguments.

As I said, not trying to pick a fight. I hope you are successful in your efforts.

will said...

Adel - "What is the next step if the Synod and/or GA reject this?"

Personally, I think that is a foregone conclusion. However, the important part at this stage is taking a stand - and you are to be commended for that. It is an act of courage.

I hope BBP can endorse this as a group.

However things play out, I think it important to make the case to the people - rank and file members, elders, and pastors. I don't personally believe the orthodox within the PC(USA) make up a silent majority, but they do probably make a silent plurality. And they should make their presence felt in the denomination.

When I speak of making the case, I mean making this widely available, but also making the distinctions (for example, the one Kevin raised) - that explain your stand and thinking that is behind it.

Pat McElroy said...

To Kevin:

Sorry if that reply seemed overly defensive. Perhaps my trigger was worn to a hair after having to make those arguments daily for four years...

To Will:

We have several contributors lined up to write on the issues related to this declaration. While we hope for the Presbytery to pass this statement, we too consider the upper governing body's responses to be a foregone conclusion. That said, whether BBP passes this or not, in the end, is inconsequential. Here we stand. We can do no other.

will said...

pat mcelroy - "We have several contributors lined up to write on the issues related to this declaration."

That is good news. I look forward to reading them.

Kevin said...

Pat, no problem at all. I should have probably kept the question to myself, since the purpose of this blog is more to garner support than foster debate.

I will watch your efforts with interest. My heart breaks for the "Mother-Ship."

Rev'd Chris Larimer said...

Reading that made my socks go up and down...TWICE.

There Alan goes again...stirring up trouble. Ask him about playing paperboy for the Layman at LPTS.

danho said...

This is a truly powerful statement of fact and a keenly insightful and appropriate response to the errors of this GA. This step may provide the rallying point for those in the evangelical camp.

I have struggled since the 2006 GA to put into words my own belief that the “progressive” leadership has “schism-ed” from us. We are not the schismatics because we did not splinter away, but, still hold to the historic standards of faith. We are not the ones who need to be restored. Where is our error?

I have spent only a few hours trying to determine how to bring a disciplinary case against the GA. This may be the way.

May our session adopt this, as is? I have no delusions that this might be adopted in our presbytery, but, if we do not try, then the answer is a guaranteed "NO".

PrRustyStuart said...

Dan,

Please feels free to submit this to your session and have them pass it if they will. Our only request if they do, is that you let us know so we can post "yunz all" as subscribers to the declaration. Blessing be upon you.

Grace & Peace,
+Rusty

Jim Hodges said...

God Bless you men of God. I have also delivered a letter to the session on which I serve covering much of the same thoughts but not as eloquently or cogent. Thank You for stand and you may count Jim Hodges, Elder, First Presbyterian Church of Nitro, WV as a prayerful supporter. And, I will offer your Declaration to be voted upon at our next session meeting. Here I stand!

Anonymous said...

Some questions about the "Open Declaration" have been rolling around in my mind for a while and I woke up with it on my mind, so I decided it was time to ask them.

I presume this will be a typical majority rules vote. But this seems to be an all or nothing document, right? If it passes, I guess my question is, how will this "Open Declaration" affect the minority who vote against it?

It could be that 49% of pastors disagree and yet lose the vote; do you expect an exodus of pastors who do not want to be a part of BBP anymore? And for sessions that do not want to sign on to this--what is their course of action? Would they align themselves with another presbytery?

If it passes and some sort of repercussions are handed down from the General Assembly, they will be handed down on the entire presbytery, right--even those who may have voted against it? How would the presbytery deal with that?

I look forward to your response to these questions! Thanks

Toby Brown said...

Anon,

That is a great question. You have pointed out one of the flaws (?) of our system--majority rules.

As I'm sure you are well aware, we could switch the question you pose onto a variety of other topics other than this Declaration: Local Option, Gay Ordination, Abortion, Per Capita, Property, etc.

ANY issue can be foisted upon the minority in a simple majority vote of a GA, Synod, Presbytery or Session. In fact, our own history shows that denominations can split in just this way--as we did in 1861 as just one example.

Majority rules is our rule, our blessing and our challenge.

The alternative?

I have yet to hear of a better one, but I know the flaws of our system, as I've lost many votes in my time!

I will enjoy reading the responses of Pat and Rusty.

Pat McElroy said...

Dear Anonymous,

As Toby said, you raise some important issues. Clearly these are concerns that need to be addressed. Rusty and I have discussed them and we have some thoughts to offer.

You write: “I presume this will be a typical majority rules vote. But this seems to be an all or nothing document, right? If it passes, I guess my question is, how will this "Open Declaration" affect the minority who vote against it?” Your assumption of this being a “typical majority rules vote” is our assumption as well. Your assumption of this being an “all or nothing document”… we might contest your wording there. Regardless, we understand what you mean by that. It is a demonstrably clear statement where there is little room for compromise. That’s intentional. We understand that we are asking the Presbytery to make that statement and that some will be uncomfortable with its clarity and the potential consequences.

You ask: “How will this affect the minority who vote against it?” That is anyone’s guess as the answer depends upon how the denomination chooses to respond to our call. We have no idea, though we can list some possible outcomes, of what that response might be. As you rightly point out though, since we are asking that this be an action of the Presbytery, any consequences would be levied against the Presbytery as a whole. The Presbytery will have to prayerfully discern if the situation in which we find ourselves as a result of the 218th General Assembly is as grave as we believe it to be and if the benefits of addressing the issues by this means outweigh the potential consequences. We believe it to be so. Whether the Presbytery agrees or not remains to be seen. So, in one sense, the answer to your question is that the consequences will be the same for all of us, whether we voted in the majority or the minority, regardless of how large that minority may be. That is our polity.

You raise the possibility of the minority vote being as large as 49%. That is certainly possible though we hope and believe that the declaration has broader support in Beaver-Butler Presbytery than that. As you rightly point out, a possible significant minority raises some concerns. We would argue that even a small minority vote would raise some concerns. We have no intention of “pushing people out” nor do we expect an exodus. We will certainly not lead one. In fact, an exodus is exactly what we are trying to prevent by making this statement in the first place. It is our hope that through this proclamation the Church will recognize its folly and return to its Shepherd en masse. Our hope is to galvanize and unite the Church, not divide it.

That said, we recognize that with a statement of this magnitude there is potential for division in the body. We believe the potential benefit of unity in our confession outweighs the fear of the possibility of division. We hope for and stand in our ordination vows to promote the peace, unity and purity of the Church. We believe this to be the best means of restoring all three.

Perhaps the best way forward with your question, since we are advocating constitutional adherence, is to ask another question: What options does a minister or Session have in the case of disagreement with a majority vote? There is the constitutional option of registering formal dissent with the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery while still submitting to the will of the majority. If there is formal action from a higher governing body, perhaps that higher governing body would take into account the difference between the majority congregations, Sessions, and Pastors who favored this stand and could choose to embrace the minority who voted against it. We could speculate about what that might entail or how it might develop. Ultimately though, that is in the hands of the upper governing bodies as to whether or not they act and how they choose to do so. Regardless, the possibility remains that those who disagree could formally register themselves as having done so with the Stated Clerk and potentially avoid certain consequences.

Hopes, intentions, and aspirations aside, we do recognize that there is a possibility of division within the Presbytery. In an extreme case, where division is initiated by an upper governing body in a formal disciplinary action, it is our estimation that those who voted in the affirmative would be the group “facing the music” (so to speak), while those opposed would likely be labeled a “remnant” by the upper governing body and be reconstituted as “the Beaver-Butler Presbytery”. We have seen this scenario play out the Episcopal Church with the diocese of San Joaquin and will likely soon see in the diocese of Pittsburgh. The possibility also exists that the minority could be folded into a neighboring Presbytery. We believe the potential for the latter would increase as the size of the minority decreases. Obviously we hope for a better outcome than this but we recognize that this is a political possibility. In fact, we would call this a “worst case scenario”.

Let us be clear on this score though: we will NOT initiate division. We will stand. It has never been our intent to initiate division and we will not do so. If an upper governing body chooses to initiate division, we have little control over their actions. All we can do is stand as we have said we would do.

Just how bad is this potential “worst case scenario”? Certainly it would profoundly sadden us and others on both sides to have to endure this kind of an outcome. In our estimation, it is worth the risk and might actually be better for both sides of this argument if the upper governing bodies prove to be that aggressively divisive. Negotiations would likely commence over property in this scenario. We could speculate as to what form those negotiations might take but that would be fruitless at this point. What we do know is this: our stand is upon Christ Jesus for His Gospel. Anything else that we might count as gain is actually loss compared to this. We believe this worst case scenario to be a small price to pay compared to the rich blessings of standing for the truth of the Gospel in our time and place. We are convinced that this is a matter of eternal health for the body. This is our primary concern. We love people on both sides of this issue and want to see them healthy and secure. At the same time, we hope to avoid divisive scenarios and we will advocate against them. Regardless, God’s will be done and may He strengthen us for whatever may come.

In Christ


Pat

Aric Clark said...

Alas this sentence near the end of the document invalidates your enterprise:

"We will not accept discipline that, like many of the GA actions, rests on human institution instead of God's Word."

I respect your conviction, but for a peaceful resistance to what one perceives as an unjust law to be coherent, effective, and legitimate you must not only refuse to comply, but also accept the lawful consequences for your noncompliance. See Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. etc...

By announcing that you refuse to submit to the discipline of your governing bodies you have made this declaration into an announcement of revolution and schism, rather than of reform as I think you intended.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Willikers, Aric. You think that they'll have to live with the consequences of their actions just like...say, Janet Edwards and Janie Spahr did?

Let's hope so. We all know how even-handed PCUSA just-us is whenever there's only principle - not principal or property - on the line.

Aric Clark said...

That's just the point isn't it Chris? The injustice of the enforcement highlights the injustice of the law. Firehoses and barking dogs are the instruments peaceful resisters use to raise the consciousness of society. Janet Edwards and Janie Spahr accepted the authority of the denomination to discipline them hoping it would highlight what they perceived as an injustice. That you think our disciplinary system is broken doesn't change that.

If you refuse to follow the rules, but then also refuse to accept the consequences of lawlessness you are not a reformer you are just an outlaw.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

And if the rules only get enforced when there's money on the line, then what does that say about the denomination's system of just-us?

I stood for what I believed. I got drummed out. I took it on the chin, because I knew my position was right. Now I struggle to grow a church full of needy people wounded by the Romanists and the Episcopal Apostatizers, while working a full-time job because they can't pay me. Some of us stand up to the wrong we see even when we know it will cost us dearly in terms of day-to-day needs.

But others only stick their neck out after they've seen just how defanged the denomination is over matters of sexual ethic (regarding homosexual perversions, at least) and doctrine.

That's hardly courage. That's just conditioning...like when a kid knows their safe because their parent screams all day, but never puts any other consequence on bad behavior.

Acta, non verba or something from James 1.

Aric Clark said...

Thank you for continuing to argue my point, Chris. By standing up and accepting the consequences you revealed what you (and those who agree with you) believe to be an injustice. Your course was honorable and distinct from the one this declaration avows.

You know a bit of my personal story so you know I'm speaking from experience.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

At the end of the day, somebody is going to have to belly-up and act like a Christian. Whoever does should expect the same royal treatment our Crucified Lord receives.

I have it on infallible authority that if you get knocked down, you'll get up and everybody is going to be surprised.

Aric, thank you for talking with me. As always, I appreciate the conviction you have - even when I disagree with them. A spine...any way it twists...is better than the noodle that so many in the mainline have had to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Hi folks, this is Pat McElroy. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my user ID and password for the blog so I am posting as an anonymous blogger. I just moved last week to a new call on the other side of the US so I am having difficulty finding some things.

While I appreciate your concern for our integrity Aric, I think you may have misread what we wrote. If you look at the statement in its context, what is meant is this: certainly the upper governing bodies have every right to discipline the lower governing bodies and even the authors of this document. That statement does not deny the force of that discipline, only its effectiveness as regards the statements made in the document itself. This statement is not a blanket rejection of the authorities above us. Theologically speaking, politically speaking, or even with regard to process, we do not believe there to be anything judically actionable in this document. Should an upper governing body choose to act, they would be disciplining a Presbytery for holding to the confessions and the Book of Order in spite of GA strong-arming to the contrary. We are simply saying in that statement that we will maintain our position even if discipline comes our way, regardless of the number of appeals made. In this way, this is different from Jane Spahr's and Janet Edward's form of protest and much more akin to Martin Luther King's because we are not trying to get someone to change our covenant. The progressive side is interested in breaking and has broken our covenant. We are interested in abiding by it, even if it means we are turfed out through a disciplinary procedure. Martin Luther King was ultimately interested in getting the United States to abide by its own Constitution which would force some states to change their own laws. That is the kind of stand we are taking here, informing other Presbyteries that covenant has been broken but we have not broken it, nor will we, nor can we change our positions simply because those who have broken it happen to hold positions of power over us.

I am sure there could have been a better way to phrase this particular line to which you object but neither the authors, their editors, nor our task force found one with this force and clarity.

PrRustyStuart said...

Aric,

I'm following up on Pat's comment's.

I do understand and respect your comment. That said, Pat is correct in his statement of our position. We do not believe, constitutionally, that there would be any grounds for discipling us for constitutional adherence.

Clearly, if someone in authority wants us gone, we'll be gone. You can't change the laws of physics. But, our point, and maybe it could have been better stated, is that they have no legitimate warrant for disciplining us for constitutional adherence.
Grace & Peace,
+Rusty

Aric Clark said...

Pat & Rusty,

Thank you for your response. I, like you, do not expect there to be any action from governing bodies since in essence you have said that you will exercise your constitutional rights as a presbytery to make determinations about who may become a member. There is nothing objectionable about that.

However the declaration does have an adversarial tone that suggests that even if the constitution were to be changed you would hold to your present stance which WOULD then place you in defiance of the rules of the denomination. Given such a circumstance I was arguing that the appropriate path is to protest the perceived injustice, but submit to the legitimate discipline of higher governing bodies. The phrase you use, "We will not accept discipline..." suggests you would not submit to said discipline were it ever to come.

Pat explained that I have misread you and I am happy to be corrected. Though this is already adopted, perhaps I might suggest ammending that sentence to read: "Even if subject to the legitimate discipline of higher governing bodies we will not be swayed from our reliance on God's Word."

Perhaps I am quibbling over small matters.

As for King and other reformers I think we have different understandings of their enterprise. King certainly was asking America to change, as Calvin and Luther were undoubtedly asking the Church of their day to change. It was a change that, as they viewed it, was more consistent with the better character of the institution in question. Martin Luther King Jr. knew well that slavery and discrimination had been enshrined in our laws and constitution from the beginning, but he persuasively argued that this was an inconsistency in our own society and that we ought to claim equality and liberty as our better legacy. Progressives view our reform attempts in the same way. We know that we are asking for a change to rules that have been around for a long time, but they are rules which are inconsistent with the deeper truth of the gospel which is that all people are set free in Christ to love and serve the Lord.

I don't expect you to agree, but perhaps, if you see yourself as reformers rather than schismatics you will be able to acknowledge that others with differing viewpoints have the same intention.