From the Pastor’s Desk…

Last Tuesday the 87th of our 173 presbyteries approved an amendment to the Book of Order that has received national attention because it makes possible the ordination of persons in same-gender relationships. The amendment removes a provision of the Book of Order that has been at the center of this debate for over a decade, a provision that I believe was fundamentally flawed from its inception. The amendment replaces that provision with the following language:

 
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
 
What is the effect of this change? First, it removes ambiguous language that misused our Confessions and lifted one aspect of life above all others in our consideration of candidates for ordination; it restores the centrality of the Lordship of Christ to our ordination standards. Secondly, it places responsibility upon ordaining bodies (sessions for elders, presbyteries for ministers) to determine who is fit to be ordained based upon their reading of Scripture and the Confessions, which is where that responsibility has historically been. We know that we do not all read Scripture in exactly the same way; we wrestle with difficult passages and sometimes that leads us to different conclusions as to what faith and faithfulness demand. Nevertheless, we affirm that what unites us is greater than what divides us, for we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst as we seek to follow Christ faithfully day by day. We are one in Christ! Thirdly, those in same-gender relationships will be held to the same standard as those in male-female relationships, the high standard set by our Book of Order: “Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world.” Some ordaining bodies may choose not to ordain persons in committed same-gender relationships based upon their reading of Scripture; other ordaining bodies may choose to do so as they read Scripture and find those persons living in a manner of life that is faithful to the Gospel.
 
We may not all agree on this issue, but what I hope we will agree to is to seek to follow Christ faithfully together, despite our disagreements, worshiping, praying and serving together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and trusting that what unites us in Christ far surpasses anything that can divide us.
 
—John C. Peterson, May 16, 2011