Sunday, October 08, 2006

No Scruples in Sacramento

Sacramento Presbytery had a special meeting on September 9 to consider and adopt four strong resolutions. The presbytery is now committed to
1)not ordaining anyone who has a scruple about any of the church's constitutional standards;
2) not to accept a minister ordained elsewhere with such a scruple;
3) not to make up money due the national church that any congregation withholds in protest; and
4) not to contest any congregation that wants to leave with its property.
Leslie Scanlon's solid article in the October 9 Presbyterian Outlook covers the whole meeting in more detail.

The intent of these resolutions I judge to be a serious attempt to find a middle way of keeping the constitution of the church whole. The presbytery commits to upholding a strong standard of the constitution, but it also makes room for those who do not find even this strong stand to be enough.

The first resolution, which was adopted on a vote of 87 to 59, says:

To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery holds that all candidates for ordination, installation, and/or membership in this Presbytery shall comply with all standards for ordination set forth in the Constitution of the (PCUSA) (G-1.0500), or shall be ineligible for ordination, installation, and/or membership.

I have long wished that the church would take its whole constitution more seriously. We attend minutely to the Book of Order, but neglect the first book, the Book of Confessions. Yet the confessions are supposed to be the real meat of our constitution. If the first Sacramento resolution means that they will now take all the confessions seriously, I applaud them.

But I think Sacramento Presbytery bit off more than it can chew.

The Book of Confessions contains hundreds of tenets. I keep hoping that we will have a serious discussion about usury, prohibited by the Westminster Larger Catechism. Any up for the "undue delay of marriage" fight? Keeping "stews?"


Quotidian Grace said...

That's where the failure to define "essential tenets" becomes important, isn't it? I don't think that most conservative Presbyterians are fundamentalists when it comes to the confessions. So everyone has their own interpretation of what is "essential."

Gruntled said...

There are three important safeguards built into our system. First, the actual words of the constitution itself. There is some room for interpretation of what they mean, and more room for deciding what is essential. But the constitution is a fairly specific and substantial standard -- it does not allow "anything goes." Second, most Presbyterian officers interpret the standards in a traditional way. Third, most presbyteries are large enough that idiosyncratic interpretations on one side and the other cancel out, leaving a loyalist, pretty traditional center majority.

TarHeel Scott said...

I find this debate about ordination standards in the PCUSA fascinating primarily because I am in the ordination process at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. PCUSA's structure is both a blessing and a curse on many level. I just hope that the combination of the PUP report and the "local option" emerging in regards to homosexual orientation does not tear us apart as in other denominations. Just have to pray for grace and unity.
Scott Spence
Centre College Class of 2002
Love the blog by the way. Always nice to hear more viewpoints- we get very "clergy-centered" at seminary sometimes.

Gruntled said...

I think if the stated rules are followed, gay ordination is one of the few things that there can not be local option about. We shall see, though, as the judicial cases roll in.