The clear intention of the new amendment’s supporters has been to make possible the ordination of noncelibate gay and lesbian persons. The big question is, how widely has that door been opened?
How are sessions (when examining elders and deacons) and presbyteries (when examining candidates or those transferring from other presbyteries) for the office of minister of Word and Sacrament to determine whether these examinees are qualified for these offices? And, the national fidelity/chastity standard having been done away with, may local governing bodies still make judgments based on an interpretation of Scripture and of our confessions which upholds the necessity of fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness? I believe the short answer is “yes.”
Our Book of Order
Our Form of Government says at G-6.0106a that those who are called to be officers must be “persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship and love of Jesus Christ as Savior. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world. They must have the approval of God’s people and the concurring judgment of a governing body of the church.”
Also, new G-6.0106b says ordination standards reflect the church’s intention to “joyfully submit to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life.”
So, according to our Book of Order, sessions and presbyteries examining officers need to make decisions about the following constitutional issues which pertain to lifestyle:
» Does the person’s life demonstrate “dedicated discipleship?” G-6.0106a
» Is their “manner of life” a “demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world?” G-6.0106a
» Are they submitting “to the Lordship of Christ?” G-6.0106b
There are manifold constitutional resources for affirming that God’s will for the human exercise of God’s gift of sexuality is either fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. These resources appear in our Book of Confessions as it interprets Holy Scripture.
Portions of Part I of our Constitution (Book of Confessions) with italics added for emphasis.
Q. 108. What does the seventh commandment teach us?
A. That all unchastity is condemned by God, and that we should therefore detest it from the heart, and live chaste and disciplined lives, whether in holy wedlock or in single life. B.C. 4.108 (Heidelberg Confession)
For marriage (which is the medicine of incontinency, and continency itself) was instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord (Matt. 19:4 ff). Whereupon we know that the apostle said: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). B.C. 5.246 (2nd Helvetic)
Of Marriage and Divorce
Christian marriage is an institution ordained of God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter, cherishing a mutual esteem and love, bearing with each other’s infirmities and weaknesses, comforting each other in trouble, providing in honesty and industry for each other and for their household, praying for each other, and living together the length of their days as heirs of the grace of life. B.C. 6.131 (Westminster)
Marriage is a union between one man and one woman, designed of God to last so long as they both shall live … Marriage is designed for the mutual help of husband and wife(,) for the safeguarding, undergirding, and development of their moral and spiritual character (and) for the propagation of children and the rearing of them in the discipline. B.C.6. 133, 6.134
Reconciliation in Society
The Confession of 1967 states:
“The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization, by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation. The church, as the household of God, is called to lead men out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ. Reconciled to God, each person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons; a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents receive the grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality. The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by man when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time.” B.C. 9.47
Clearly, the confessional statements above, in their interpretation of Holy Scripture, contain more than ample reason for any governing body, in good conscience, to conclude that fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness is God’s command and therefore necessary for church officers in order that they exhibit “dedicated discipleship” (G-6.0106a), in order that they display a “manner of life” which is a “demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world” (G-6.0106a) and in order that that they show they are “submitting to the Lordship of Christ.” (G-6.0106b)
On top of all of that, B.C. 7.249 (the Larger Catechism) says that the seventh commandment (against adultery) applies to “fornication,” and “sodomy and unnatural affections.” The reference to sodomy” and unnatural affections” contains a Scripture footnote referencing Romans 1:26-27. The references to sodomy and to Romans 1:26-27 are part of a much larger and broader confessional argument (about which all governing bodies must now make their own decision) that God in Scripture commands either marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.
In fact, even after the passage of Amendment 10-A, those favoring the ordination/installation of sexually active GLBT persons have a much harder confessional case to make than those who oppose such ordinations. It would take a whole new effort to change those constitutional standards in our confessions requiring a two-thirds vote of the presbyteries to amend or add to them.
Lacking such an amendment to the Book of Confessions, advocates of GLBT ordination “as a right” are on very weak ground, since the overwhelming weight of our confessions affirms that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful and therefore supports governing bodies denying ordination to those involved in same-gender sex on the basis of G-6.0106a and (new) G.6.0106b.
It can be reasonably argued that these confessional statements (along with the Scriptures they quote and reference) taken together make a case against same-gender sex in Part I of our Constitution. At the same time it must be said that no hint of an argument for same-gender sex is present in our confessions.
Conclusion: When one compares all the confessional statments listed in this whole document, it is clear that sessions and presbyteries have strong grounds when examining candidates for office to conclude that same-gender sex or lack of fidelity in marriage by an examinee does not exhibit “dedicated discipleship,” display a “manner of life” which is a “demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world” or indicate that the person is “submitting to the Lordship of Christ.”
WINFIELD CASEY JONES is pastor of First Church of Pearland, Texas, and was a candidate for GA stated clerk in 2000 and 2008. He may be reached at [email protected]