It takes time for a pastor to lead a congregation to accept his own doctrinal evolution. And then there is the decision to break with the denomination. That requires significant grooming. I wonder if any former PCA pastors would be willing to share publically how long they continued serving in the PCA after their change in doctrinal convictions. One month? One year? Five years? Longer?
Recently I witnessed a man take his ordination vows before the Presbytery to which I belong. I never get tired of those moments. It is a solemn occasion; one accompanied by no small measure of sobriety. The vows are, after all, promises the candidate for ordination makes before God and his brothers in Christ. The promises he makes are specific and, one would hope, binding.
In the Autumn of 2013 I went through the process of transferring my ordination to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Those of you who have been ordained in the PCA know that the process can be rather grueling. That, of course, is a good thing. Upon completing the process I was presented to the Blue Ridge Presbytery (Virginia) whereupon I took my vows as a teaching elder. I will never forget that moment. It stands as one of the most moving events in all my years in ministry.
The following are the vows (by way of 8 questions) that every candidate takes upon his ordination in the PCA:
1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?
4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
5. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?
6. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?
7. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer?
8. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church, agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call? And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to discharge to it the duties of a pastor?
Obviously, the candidate is expected to answer in the affirmative to each question.
Pay special attention to the second vow:
“Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?”
Every man ordained in the PCA makes a solemn promise before God and the church of Jesus Christ to make known to his Presbytery if there is a change in his doctrinal convictions. In other words, if over the course of time the theological convictions of an ordained man change such that he is no longer in accord with the system of doctrine carefully laid out in the Westminster Standards then he is honor bound to inform his presbytery. The implication is clear: Ordained man, since you have taken vows both to believe and uphold the doctrinal standards of the PCA you must surrender your ordination should your theological convictions change.