New Ordination Standards for PC(USA)

It’s interesting to note the spin which some members of the mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) are putting on the recent decision of their General Assembly to lift the ban on the ordination of practising homosexuals. They claim that it may actually raise the standards. Many Bible-believing Christians will find that hard to believe.

Theresa Denton, moderator of the PCUSA’s Church Orders and Ministry Committee, is quoted as saying that she does not view the proposed amendment to the ordination standards as lower standards but rather as higher ones.

“The standards that the governing bodies will be held to is to evaluate the totality of a candidate’s life, to interview them and see what their gifts are, what their talents are, what their whole life is about rather than one aspect of their life and … all of this to be done under the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” she contended. “I think that is an incredibly high standard.”

What exactly did the Assembly do? And what has changed?

The 219th General Assembly (2010) proposed a change to the PC(USA) Constitution regarding ordination standards by a vote of 373‐323‐4. This action does not change the Constitution. It is a first step in the process. A majority of the 173 presbyteries would have to vote in the affirmative to approve the replacement by July 10, 2011.

The amendment approved by the Assembly is a provision in the PC(USA) Book of Order (Constitution) that sets the following standards for persons ordained as church leaders (deacon, elder or minister). The current version reads:

“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 219th General Assembly (2010) recommends deleting the above provision and replacing it with the following language:

“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.”

By removing the requirement that ordination candidates live in fidelity within the covenant of marriage or chastity in singleness, the General Assembly has in effect lifted the ban on practising homosexuals being ordained, and now awaits the endorsement of the presbyteries. Many will view this move as a serious departure from what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality, and certainly not a higher standard.

Since the PC(USA) is a sister denomination of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and since another sister denomination, the Church of Scotland, is due to receive a report on the same issue at its General Assembly in 2011, Irish Presbyterians will be watching closely how their fellow Presbyterians handle this issue, especially since there is a mutually recognised ministry among these denominations.

10 Replies to “New Ordination Standards for PC(USA)”

  1. I was wondering about this decision yesterday Stafford. Are you aware of any move to distance the PCI from PCUSA in the past?

  2. This is an interesting comment: “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.”

    On the PC(USA) website another sentence illuminates this idea further, “This proposed change would focus ordination examinations on the individual calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability of candidates for the responsibilities of the office, in joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life,” and mirrors the comments by Theresa Denton quoted above.

    And here’s what I’m thinking, ‘That kind of requirement rules me out from the ‘get-go’. I *won’t* reach those standards.’

    Is nobody a ‘sinner’ anymore?

    It’s a kind of theology which doesn’t need Jesus.

  3. In comparing the 2 versions, the second is more appreciative of gifting and is in general terms a more contemporary perspective. This, I like. However the key is clearly what they have omitted. It would appear that the reason for this contemporary language is to gloss over this omission.

    Although I’m a fan of more contemporary, accessible language, this highlights that people, especially young people like myself (relatively young!) need to be careful that we are not deceived such language and inspect the content.

  4. Stafford, does PCI have the same or similar rule “the requirement that ordination candidates live in fidelity within the covenant of marriage or chastity in singleness” in our constitution or how do we deal with this matter?

    I had a quick at the code and didn’t find any reference.

  5. So how do we deal with such matters? By interview and honest/personal response?

    Surely if we are to be true to our beliefs and the thrust of our concern here, issues like fidelity, chastity and moral integrity should at least be addressed explicitly in our criteria for ordination. Especially if we are disagreeing with others, who it could be argued are moving closer to our position, albeit I suspect for totally ulterior motives.

    Maybe PCI should show its committment to biblical principles by including the afore mentioned rule in our code.

  6. On the wider issue, why do candidates for the Ministry not submit themselves to their own congregations to recieve endorsement, as required for appointment as ruling elders?

    Many candidates keep their applications to Union College secretive from the congretation until they are accepted. Ruling elders are are subject to endorsement and even challenge, while teaching elders are not, can this be justified?

  7. What does the word of GOD say, not what man says,sometimes these ministers when they get a few letters after their name they think they know better than GOD.

  8. @Eglises en bois
    Am just catching up with Stafford’s July-Aug blogs. A few facts on this one: (a) Candidates apply to the Board of Christian Training not Union College; (b)The first step in the process requires the completion of a detailed ‘questionnaire’ by the applicant’s Kirk Session i.e. the spiritual leadership of the local congregation; (c) the next step involves a searching interview by the Presbytery Students Committee which has access to the K.S. views and is required to report to Presbytery.(d)Presbytery as a whole must endorse its Committee’s recommendation at a stated meeting.(e)If the application proceeds further thorough references are required, including one from the local minister. How then can ‘many candidates’ keep their application secret?

  9. As a member of the PCUSA (as of this current moment) I would ask that the PCI consider carefully how they will treat this issue regarding the wording of ammendment 10-A recently passed in the PCUSA. This ammendment is tearing our unity apart. Churches are debating their future within or without the PCUSA. It is heartbreaking that we must define sin again because the PCUSA General Assembly has decided that scripture is no longer the reference point.

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