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.