I was unable to attend this weeks presbytery meeting due to illness. I had prepared remarks for the floor discussion of the marriage redefinition amendment. They are included below.

I rise to speak against the amendment offered which would redefine marriage in the Book of Order. I do so in the knowledge that the amendment has surpassed the number of presbytery affirmations required to be adopted and will become the practice of our denomination. My reason for speaking against this amendment, and in full knowledge the futility of so doing, is not simply to register my conviction regarding the nature of Christian marriage as between a man and a woman.  On a larger level, it is to register my belief that–at a fundamental level–the work of pastoring and indeed the work of this presbytery is theological task. For that very reason it is important that this conversation be engaged in Lehigh Presbytery regardless of the outcome of the legitimate political process that has caused this amendment to be adopted.

When the church gathers in its council it does so in full knowledge that a variety of opinions and convictions are represented and, as a result, we have each of us, pledged to practice mutual forebearence, a pledge that I hope will extend to my comments here.
I recognize that in passing this amendment our church has attempted to preserve unity in the face of strongly opposing views. I further acknowledge that the amendment that is before us is, on a practical level, just about the only thing our church could do in order to attempt to achieve that goal. I disagree, however, on the primacy of unity over against other factors like truth.
Ultimately, this intent will not be realized. 

When the church speaks of something as deep seated as our sexuality, it doesn’t do well to affirm a contradiction, or worse, to assert that we cannot agree and therefore will “decide not to decide” as Barry Ensign-George and Charles Wiley argue in their paper, “Our Challenging Way: Faithfulness, Sex, Ordination, and Marriage”. [I think we can be glad we weren’t asked to write that paper.]
If, as so many of my progressive friends contend, the ability for GLBT+ persons to serve in the ordered ministry in the church and to enter into Holy Matrimony is an issue of fundamental fairness and justice, then how are we to approach this amendment, which essentially preserves (in the minds of those who disagree with me) my fundamental ability to discriminate against poeple whose theology and understanding of sexuality differs from my own? 

The only plausible way in which such an accomodation to traditionalists can be taken seriously is as an intermediate step toward a national standard that does not allow teaching elders who share my convictions to follow our/their consciences. As you might guess, this concerns me. It is a well-worn pattern in our church over the last one hundred years: the “mays” eventually become “shalls.”
With Calvin I am both wary and weary of division within Christ’s church. It is a mistake to conclude that division doesn’t exist.

Since this amendment has passed the only remaining question is whether this “decision to not decide” is egregious enough a departure from the witness of Scripture and the practice of the church to warrant departure? I am unclear about the answer to this question. One thing upon which I am clear: this amendment constitutes a significant abdication of the church’s responsibility before God to shepherd Christ’s flock. 

The ministry of elders–both teaching and ruling elders–is crucial to maintaining a healthy congregation that follows the biblical pattern of leadership. We often take elders for granted and shape the office around secular leadership positions that we’re familiar with. Some see elders as board members and others see them as heads of a family. Neither is fully true to the New Testament’s description of elder, which has seven marks:

1. Elders watch over the people as a shepherd watches over his sheep. The office is one of oversight designed to maintain the faithfulness of a congregations life and ministry in reliance on the Holy Spirit. See Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Acts 20:28-31; 1 Peter 5:1-4.

2. Elders lead by example. They should not be domineering but should be examples to the flock, people they can emulate. 1 Peter 5:3.

3. Elders must lead the congregation away from error and into truth. Eldership is spiritual leadership and those who entrusted with this sort of leadership must guide the congregation to right belief and practice that accords with the Bible rather than, “every wind of doctrine.” Ephesians 4:11. 

4. Some elders will teach. The New Testament assumed that some elders have a teaching function and others simply have a spiritual leadership or ruling function. In modern parlance we talk about teaching elders as “pastors” and ruling elders simply as “elders.” 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9.

5. Eldership is a heavy responsibility and it demans mature faith and character. The New Testament advises that we not cavalierly wish for spiritual leadership. Being placed in a position of spiritual leadership too early can be the undoing of a young believer. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.

For these reasons and more, every believer should make it a priority to pray for those in leadership of the congregation. When they make decisions, trust them. And always make sure to root your faith and participation in the life of the congregaiton in the Word of God.

Precisely twice in my life a conversation partner has warned me lest I be guilty of worshipping the Bible. It’s an interesting warning and, depending upon the context, there could plausibly be some merit to it. By and large, however, it’s a red herring. In my case, there is rather more danger to be had from worshipping popular interpretations of the Bible than worshipping the Scriptures themselves.

Ours is an age not given to the discipline of reading. We are functionally literate. We can complete forms. We can read and respond to emails. We can read one to two verses from the Bile or a page from a classic. We can follow printed instructions to assemble a new stand for our flat screen television. Beyond this, however, our literacy is sadly lacking. We haven’t even the most rudimentary knowledge of the classics of Western Civilization, let alone other races and cultures. And the Bible? The Bible demands way too much from us in order to understand it. Better to simply follow the guidance of someone who will confirm your pre-existing bias.

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John Stackhouse makes precisely this point in his recent post at the blog of the Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The wave of evangelical defections to affirm and endorse GLBT+ as normative is based not a new and closer reading of the Scriptures. There is virtually nothing in any of the documented “conversions” that evince a careful study of the Bible. Rather, most come from a reorganizing of the Scriptural witness to place a higher and broader value on Biblical witnesses the affirm values consistent with those predominant in culture today: unconditional love, acceptance, inclusivity, etc. 

These verses and witnesses become the lens through which other, more specific witnesses are dismissed as somehow inconsistent with Jesus’ message of unconditional affirmation. To borrow the title of a book by J. R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus have I loved, but Paul…? 
Everyone loves Jesus; some get bent out of shape when the apostle applies Jesus message to the specifics of messy lives in the ancient church.
And once your favorite pastor has endorsed the GLBT+ message then those who follow him–who, incidentally, rely upon him for their knowledge of the Bible–immediately and easily turn the corner to believe as he does and in line with the culture. It’s as easy as stopping swimming against a current. Off you go; it feels so easy, so natural. And yet it is so wrong.

If we consider briefly what the Bible says of itself, we may set aside some of anxiety some have regarding our esteem for it.  The Bible’s purpose is to provide guidance in our belief and practice (2 Timothy 3:16). It is a rod that prompts us to remain faithful as we follow our risen Lord. This guidance isn’t arbitrary or entirely culturally bound. The Bible’s guidance flow from it’s source, which the Bible itself and the earliest church affirm is God himself. 

The Bible is a efensive weapon in spiritual warfare. St. Paul refers to the Scripture as “the sword of the Spirit.” It is the weapon the Spirit uses to do his convicting and sanctifying word. When wielded toward us this sword is and any wound is superficial and short-lived. Wielded against the world, the flesh, and the devil the blade cuts through to the heart of the matter delivering us the counsel of God and the grace to persevere.

The Christian who uses the Bible often and as the source of his beliefs shouldn’t be too concerned about the charge of worshipping it. It is, after all, the word of his master and his lord and should be esteemed as such.
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We follow our Lord along a path and the curbs that run along either side of that pathway of Christian experience are the doctrines of the church that keep us walking along a straight and trustworthy path. Straying from the trail can be dangerous and consequently God has given us his church and his word and sacraments, in order to guide our steps and assure us of his presence with us as a guide.

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Change is difficult for many of us. We don’t like it because it disrupts our settled rhythms of life and causes us to have to renegotiate our commitments and our ways of being.

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