BY GRACE ALONE

Dear Presbyterian friend

I have serious questions about the theology of those who are voting “No” on 10-A. I sense that they are speaking of law, law, law, without any mention of grace. I sense that those who oppose 10-A are failing to stress the gospel that we are saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. From my study of the Bible during the last two or three years, I see grace, not law. It is on the basis of that study that I urge you to vote “YES” on Amendment 10-A.

No one will deny that Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts provide a continuously growing inclusiveness in the Judeo/Christian tradition, from calling Anna a prophet, calling Levi as the fourth disciple, to the Macedonian Call that brought the gospel to Europe (for which we Euro-Americans are indebted). I am convinced that Jesus himself willed that inclusiveness by repeatedly going beyond the restrictions of the Books of Moses. I believe that this growing inclusivity reaches a penultimate point with Peter’s dream and the conversion of Cornelius and his household.

Those who oppose 10-A don’t seem to emphasize that we are saved by grace, not by works. Some of them make it sound as if they have discovered the unforgiveable sin. I believe that the Bible will not support considering any decree of God as unchangeable, except one: that we are saved only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Jesus himself said, “You have heard it said by those of old time, you shall not . . . . , but I say to you . . . .   Five times in Matthew 5.  And I am finding in most who object to 10-A, that there is hardly a hint of the saving gospel. Rather, they lean on a doctrine of works, not of grace. We Presbyterians have always believed  that we are saved by grace, not by our works, not by our practices, lest anyone should boast.

Let those who boast, boast in the Lord. Read again Romans 3:9ff. Read again Romans 7:7 through chapter 8. Yes, this is the same Paul who wrote Chapter 1. Paul reminds me of John Calvin who would excommunicate for a list of sins and sinners that would include virtually every human being. In the next paragraph he says “yet, while we abide in this world . . . we are all poor sinners. . . Yet for all our faults and sins—which are too many to count—humbly and lowly in heart we ask mercy of our very good Father” who invites to the Lord’s Table all of us who ask God to look not on our iniquities, but on Jesus. Read again the account of Peter and Cornelius. Read in particular, Acts 11:1-3. Note that it was those disciples from Jerusalem who challenged Peter. The thing that was bothering them was not Peter’s theology, but his failure to keep Levitical law. They were appealing to a theology of works.  “The circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’”

In response Peter retold his story, ending with verse 17: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should hinder God?”

That is the question that Candidates’ Committees should be asking: has God given this person the gift of Christian commitment and the gift of leadership ability? In this Bible study I noted what I now believe God has been trying to show us, ever since Isaiah 56:3-8, and Jeremiah 38 that God is no respecter of persons of different identities. Luke’s writing picks this up more graphically than any other books of the Bible.  He does this through the sequence of Philip’s preaching to previously outcast Samaritans and then to the Ethiopian eunuch, whose gender condition I believe is a metaphor for people who are gender and/or sexually “different.” He climaxes that by the vision of disgustingly different and inedible creatures to Peter. God caused Peter to “see through” this as a metaphor, showing him that he should call no human being “profane or unclean.”

Then I believe Peter would ask us, if we turn down a person who is a believer, who has gifts for ministry, though he or she is of a “different” sexual or gender condition, are we hindering God? I pray that we will not find ourselves as those who hinder God. God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

I will not consciously hinder God any longer. I urge you to do the grace-filled thing, of letting God call whom God will. If we refuse, are we putting ourselves in the place of God? I believe Peter would say, we may be hindering God. Let our presbyteries deal with candidates, not according to some identity or practice, but only by examining their call, if it be of God, whose grace surpasses all that we could ask or think.

I believe that covenant faithfulness is what God desires, a faithfulness between two persons with each other and with Christ, and none other; yet who will boast only in the grace of God and the love of Christ, living out their covenant of faithfulness to each other and to God, God’s will, and God’s reign.

Yours in the service of the gospel,

Arlo D. Duba

The Rev. Arlo D. Duba, Ph.D., is Professor of Worship Emeritus and Former Seminary Dean, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.  He presently resides in Princeton, N.J.

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