In the wake of the passage of Amendment 10-A, which deletes the fidelity/chastity requirement for PCUSA ordination, editor Jack Haberer of Presbyterian Outlook wanted to let the orthodox know that he Feels Their Pain.™ “As one who poured his lifeblood into promoting and preserving,” he writes, “I hurt with you who hurt.” He then goes on to beat the orthodox about the head and shoulders with a five-point “reality check” (apparently the orthodox in the PCUSA are so grief-stricken by the passage of Amendment 10-A that they’ve come unhinged from reality, and need someone to drag them back into connection with it):
Reality check #1: The PC(USA) still affirms that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God and the only source of salvation — per the policy paper “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” approved by nearly unanimous General Assemblies of 2002 and 2003. Both volumes of our Constitution still affirm the divine inspiration and authority of holy Scripture. And we still affirm the norm of sexual intimacy being shared in the marriage bed (see pp. 18-19). We have not eliminated the ordination standards that provide skeletal strength to our connectionalism.
On paper, the theological standards are still there, but in the reality that most of us inhabit, they’re more or less meaningless in the PCUSA. Many, perhaps most, presbyteries are completely unwilling to take those standards seriously, whether for new ordinands or current ministers (e.g., John Shuck). As for the “norm of sexual intimacy,” give me a break. Even after the New York vote, gay marriage is still not allowed in the vast majority of states, and most gay PCUSA clergy are unlikely to be married or questioned regarding their sexual activity, even if they are living with a partner.
We have changed just one national standard, at worst taking one behavior off the sins-that-disqualify list, and adding it to the sins-we-indulge list. The latter list already includes such sins as “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, [and] envy” about which Paul tells the Galatians, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:19-21). When’s the last time anyone committing those sins was disqualified from ordination?
Here’s a better question: when was the last time anyone committing those sins demanded that the denomination declare them to be no longer sins? The problem here is that the PCUSA is not going to treat homosexual behavior as a “sin-we-indulge,” but rather that it is not a sin at all. Does Haberer really not get that?
Reality check #2: We didn’t invent such confusion. The Corinthians dabbled in incest, dismissed Paul’s apostolic authority, and denied the resurrection. The Galatians traded the gospel of grace for legalism. Yes, the apostles condemned these sins, but as the letters to the seven churches of Revelation indicate, both the committing and rationalizing of sin (e.g., “practicing fornication”), continued throughout the apostolic era.
Indeed, as Reformed (“total depravity”) Christians we reject the notion that ours is a sinless church led by sinless leaders. Other traditions may promote an image of a holy clergy. We know better.
I really don’t get the point here. Is it that since the Corinthians “dismissed Paul’s apostolic authority,” it’s OK for the PCUSA to do so as well? Because the Galatians traded truth for heresy, the PCUSA should be indulged? Of course there’s no such thing as a sinless church–does that mean that the church is therefore free to ignore the biblical call to holiness?
Reality check #3: Those N.T. churches also argued intensely how to interpret and obey their holy Scriptures (i.e., Old Testament). Clear, biblical commands regarding circumcision, Sabbath observation, keeping kosher, and avoiding the appearance of idolatry were practiced by some but jettisoned by others – some debates still unresolved after the apostles’ deaths. Other theological controversies have arisen in every subsequent era of the church. Our tendency to react with righteous indignation to today’s debates needs to be tempered accordingly.
My reaction is the same to this point. I simply do not understand why the controversies of the early church, or those of the church through the centuries, means that the clash of two different religions that is taking place within the PCUSA today is of any less consequence. The debate over homosexuality, after all, is only a symptom of a far more important conflict, one which goes to the heart of the gospel.
Reality check #4: It’s easy to condemn behaviors we’re not tempted to indulge in ourselves. In the present case, those tempted by same-sex desires number less than 10 percent of us, maybe as few as 2 or 3 percent. So it’s easy to condemn them while minimizing our own gossiping, materialism, laziness or gluttony. In the process, we turn Jesus’ teaching on its head, disregarding the beams in our own eyes while judging the specks in others’. Indeed, our conservative-evangelical habit of spending more time fighting the gay agenda than loving gay and lesbian persons also turns Jesus’ people-dealings on its head.
This is the one point Haberer makes that has real validity. It is easy to condemn behaviors that don’t tempt us. We all do that, and we all need to repent of the habit of making some sins more grievous than others, simply because they happened to be indulged in by “those people.” At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the reason this particular sin has taken so much time and attention: it’s because there has been a concerted effort (funded in part by people outside the denomination who don’t care about Presbyterianism or even Christianity, but instead operate with an agenda of normalizing behavior once condemned almost universally in America) to change a 3000-year-old moral standard having to do with this particular sin. Without that effort, there is no debate, no conflict, and no fixation on defending an embattled standard.
Reality check #5: Let us revisit biblical teaching about the church. The God of the Bible is invested in reconciling estranged peoples — not dividing them. Ephesians extols the building of God’s dwelling out of formerly segregated Jews and Gentiles. The letters to the Corinthians and Romans command the pursuit of unity, and the Gospel and letters of John teach one essential ethic: love your brothers and sisters in Christ. To do otherwise is unbiblical.
As is immorality, heresy, and apostasy. Yes, unity and love for brethren are important, central values in Scripture. But the idea that either can be achieved at the expense of truth and holiness is simply false, and of a piece with the alternative reality that Haberer presents throughout this article.