In general, evangelical churches looking for succor or safety, or for accommodation of their enduring beliefs and practices in a progressive era, will be disappointed. Little quarter was given, and other than being able to query candidates about their view of ordination standards, or to expect repentance of the ordained, little ground was gained in the 220th General Assembly.
When the dust settled in plenary late on Friday night, the General Assembly had rubberstamped every single recommendation of the Church Orders and Ministry Committee. The lengthy and painstaking deliberation during a marathon day changed nothing from what had been recommended by the committee, rendering the Assembly rather superfluous.
So what is the state of ordination standards as General Assembly adjourns? What’s new or different?
First the good news: Presbyterians just might be okay with repentance. General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would add wording to the qualifications and manner of life of ordained officers of the church, declaring that it “includes repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace.”
While this may seem self-evident, if approved by the presbyteries, the amendment would actually be a micro-step forward in refortifying ordination standards. That the sin of homosexual practice could not be repented of but rather indulged and celebrated has been a sore spot for biblically faithful Presbyterians. Thus, this re-affirmation of repentance is welcome. But it’s the only step forward for ordination matters from this General Assembly.
Further, the gain did not come without opposition. Unbelievably, there are those who oppose repentance. One teaching elder dramatically called the introduction of repentance “redundant, unnecessary, and possibly confusing.”
To that, teaching elder Pat Thompson from Central Washington Presbytery asked questions he had asked in committee. “Why wouldn’t we want the phrase ‘repentance of sin’ or the use of ‘means of grace’?” he asked incredulously. “What is wrong with the repentance of sin? If you are against the repentance of sin, then vote against it. If you’re against Jesus dying on the cross, then vote against it.”
Evidently a slight majority of commissioners were okay with repentance and redemption, voting 54 percent to approve the constitutional amendment.
Scripture too confusing to use
The tarnished centerpiece of the committee’s recommendation, however, was an amended overture from Sacramento Presbytery, which read in part, “We decline to take an action that would have the effect of imposing on the whole Presbyterian Church (USA) one interpretation of Scripture in this matter” of “what the Scriptures teach concerning the morality of committed, same-gender relationships.” The best this committee and then the whole General Assembly could do was to declare formally that Scripture is too confusing, too subject to varied interpretations to unite around to decide matters of same-sex sexual morality.
[Editor’s note: Original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]