This past week you may have seen on the news or heard through the proverbial “grapevine” about a change in the Presbyterian Church (USA) regarding our ordination standards. As your pastor I feel you need to hear directly from me regarding what this change means and what it doesn’t mean.
So what happened?
There’s been a change in the language of our Book of Order regarding qualifications for those who are ordained as ministers, elders and deacons. The new language was approved at the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) back in the summer of 2010. In order for it to be fully ratified, though, it had to be approved by a majority of the 173 presbyteries in our denomination. This past Tuesday it received that majority when the Twin Cities Presbytery became the 87th presbytery in the country to vote in favor of it. There are still a few more presbyteries to vote, but come July the change will become part of our constitution.
The old language, adopted in 1997 and known as “Amendment B,” reads as follows:
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, 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.
The new language, known as “Amendment 10-A,” will replace the old:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
So what’s changed?
The former language did something that hadn’t happened in the history of our denomination – it elevated a particular issue (human sexuality) above all others regarding suitability for ordination. The new language removes that and instead places the authority in our “submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” It fully empowers both the presbytery and local congregations to determine who is qualified to serve in ordained ministry.
So does this mean we now support ordaining gays and lesbians?
Not necessarily. The new language doesn’t require anyone to ordain gays and lesbians, it simply removes the prohibition against it. Discretion will be left up to the presbytery and local congregation as they consider and ordain individuals to be ministers, elders or deacons. Each ordaining body can decide if it feels a person’s sexual orientation should play a factor in that person’s fitness to serve in ordained service.
Does this mean we’ll start having gay and lesbian ministers, elders and deacons?
It does make that possible. However, the truth is that we’ve always had gays and lesbians serving in those capacities, either because they’ve chosen to remain quiet about their sexual orientation or because those around them have known but ordained them anyway.
But doesn’t the Bible say that homosexuality is wrong?
This will forever be a topic of endless debate. Jesus himself never commented on the matter. People of good faith disagree on the interpretation of a handfull of verses, specifically in Leviticus and Romans, which have been said by some to speak to the issue of homosexuality. Regardless of this amendment, this conversation will continue indefinitely in the church, as it will in our culture.
So what’s your take on this, Steve?
I’m glad you asked! I’ve laid out my personal thoughts in this blog post and encourage you to read it. More importantly, I want you to know that my door is always open to you on this and other matters. As your pastor I thank you for finding out the facts first before believing what you might hear elsewhere.
Let me encourage you to watch the short video below from Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the PC(USA), regarding the passage of 10-A. I think you’ll find it informative and helpful.
In the end, while something has changed, much still remains the same. God continues to be the head of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and First Presbyterian Church of Mount Airy. We will continue worshiping and serving God, helping to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. And for that, praise be to God!
Your pastor and friend,
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