The marginalization of Scripture [updated]
[Update] Upcoming oral arguments and the subsequent Permanent Judicial Commission decision in the matter of Parnell v. San Francisco Presbytery (read briefs here) will be a key decision for the future of many evangelicals in the PCUSA. I’d appreciate your prayer for this on-going case (for all parties to it and for a good decision that is in keeping with the witness of Scripture and the tradition of Christ’s church). Specifically, the Permanent Judicial Commission will have the opportunity to rule that, despite passage of 10-A (read about this below), the witness of Scripture and of the Confessions of our Church still make uncelibate homosexuality incompatible with ordained office in the church. In other words, the Church cannot redact Scripture for it’s own purposes.
During the process of my preparation and examination for ordination as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, I had the opportunity to reflect upon an express what I believe about Scripture. Here’s what I concluded:
God is revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ who is God made flesh. And yet, God has also provided us with written revelation. The Holy Scriptures are both testimony to the revelation of God in Christ and revelation per se. Accordingly they are a sure and authoritative guide for all matters of faith and practice. -Credo
Many in the Presbyterian Church USA would choose to drive a wedge between the Word of God written and the Word of Christ incarnate as second person of the Holy Trinity. Calvin compared the Holy Scriptures to a pair of spectacles, a lens through which to make sense of our experience both of God, ourselves, and the world.
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly. -Calvin, Institutes, I.vi.1
Of course, there is also ample testimony in the Confessions of our Church that the Scripture forms our rule of faith and practice. So it is alarming (to say the least) when Scripture is sidelined and replaced by some other authority. In fact, silencing the Scripture is silencing God. Yes, God bears witness in our hearts. Yes, God speaks through the counsel of friends. However, the Christian Church has never allowed these things to be authoritative and binding upon the entire church.
So when proponents of the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian candidates claim that we such an action by the church frees these people to be “who they truly are,” it rings hollow. Part of our Reformed tradition (which, believe it or not, has a content) is the belief that people are deeply flawed and affected by sin. As a result, we cannot trust our “sense of self.” In order to know ourselves we need both to know God and to know God as He reveals Himself in Scripture.
In all of our dialoging around the issue the things I hear most often are that such and such “is a faithful believer” or “a lifelong Presbyterian.” These is an odd sorts of statements on all sorts of levels. First, calling someone “faithful” doesn’t make it so. Scripture teaches us what duty God commands of us. Living in a manner that is marked by unrepentant violation of that duty to God can in no way be regarded as faithful even if the person in question is very nice, gifted, talented, or all of the above.
Secondly, that someone has been a Presbyterian for 40 years or is directly descended from John Knox himself matters not a whit. The test of faith is in the living not in pedigree.
The tenuous position of the Bible in the national life of the Presbyterian Church USA means that the likelihood of a peaceful future is small. Liberals claim that the weakening of ordination standards is the beginning of a new age in the PCUSA will grow because we are finally expressing the love of God to all people. This thinking is deluded and will prove false.
I believe that this move will hasten the irrelevancy of the denomination. As has been the case for almost two decades, there will be islands of fidelity among a sea of indifference and outright rebellion. As the vigor of the denomination continues to erode (how can it not when there is no unity around any notion of essentials?) there are opportunities to form a more vibrant evangelical witness in this part of the global church. Especially exciting is Fellowship PCUSA, a group of evangelical pastors and churches that are actively exploring forming non-geographic presbyteries and/or a new reformed body.
These may be difficult days for the Bible, but God is still sovereign.