Speaking the Truth in Love: Celebrating Ten Years as a Confessing Church, PC (USA)
Imagine a world in which the laws about driving your vehicle on public streets are removed from the books, and everyone is encouraged to drive according to traffic safety principles in the way they feel is appropriate or applicable to them. Would you feel more or less safe driving to church next Sunday?
Recently, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), changed a constitutional provision in our Book of Order that details the standards of ordination in our denomination. Clear, time-honored and biblical standards about sexual behavior and ethics, for those being ordained as pastors, elders and deacons in the PC (USA), were removed. The replacement language now states that churches and presbyteries are to be guided by Scripture and our confessions in making their decisions about individual candidates being considered for ordination.
I wrote about this change, and our response, in last month’s Vine and Branches. In one sense, the standards applied for those who might be ordained are now left open to interpretation – by each congregation and presbytery, and that, at first, doesn’t sound bad. And yet, when you think about it, it is extremely disconcerting that our national church has decided (by a slim majority) to remove clear and biblical guidance from the constitutional roads we travel upon, roads of the church that relate to key offices of leadership.
For this reason, it is important to remember that our response to this constitutional change includes an identity we have adopted and held for now over ten years. This month of July 2011 marks the ten-year anniversary of Northminster’s Session Resolution of us becoming a confessing church in the denomination. The full details of that sessional resolution are also available here. The three key elements of this faith confession are:
- That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, alone is Lord of all and “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)”
- That holy Scripture is God’s revealed Word, the Church’s only infallible rule of faith and life. We celebrate that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)”
- That God’s will and guidance for all people, as revealed in Scripture, is a call to holiness and wholeness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity and fidelity of marriage between a man and a woman and chastity in singleness. We uphold that “the body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Corinthians 6:13b)”
These three touchstones, along with additional explanation and inclusion of the theological statement, “Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church,” was a statement of clarity and confession we felt led to make in 2001 — and to continue to affirm over these past ten years. In stating these convictions, we want to be clear about how we read and apply time-honored principles from God’s Word, while living and serving each day as a community of grace, healing and transformational hope!
The confessing church movement began at the grassroots level of Presbyterian congregations simply linking and providing a clear witness as to where they stood. It is good to know that in these days of denominational tension, we remain linked with other churches and members of the broader church. While we continue our commitment to be an active and supporting member church of the PC (USA) in every way that we can, we are also considering carefully the witness of the Spirit in and among other groups who are concerned for the vitality of our Presbyterian Church and our witness to the world. We remain connected and encouraged by such groups as Presbyterians for Renewal, Presbyterian Global Fellowship, the Presbyterian Coalition … and we hope to learn more from the gathering of The Fellowship in August.
So it has been ten years. And just as it is important to be clear about where we stand, it is equally important to address these topics, and to treat others with whom we disagree, with grace and humility. We want to not only stand for what we believe is true, but do so in a way that honors Jesus and is a witness to his grace and love.
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”
– Colossians 1:17