[Moderator's Note: Mr. Baldwin's contribution responds to "Covenants of Dissent: a Reach Too Far?" by Mr. Julius Poppinga, Elder, Grace Presbyterian Church, Montclair, New Jersey.]
Are those who sign Covenants of Dissent, expressing an intent to resist, or refuse to participate in, enforcement of Amendment B, renouncing the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), risking loss of office, or otherwise wrongfully contributing to disorder in the church? Mr. Julius Poppinga's submission to Hesed suggests that they are. I disagree, for many reasons, three of which I will briefly state:
1. There is the purely legalistic reason: this dissent does not run to an "indispensable" or "essential" of Reformed faith and polity. (See G-6.0108.b and footnote thereto.) To the contrary, it seeks to return to our pre-Albuquerque understandings of call, grace, and obedience. If we ever agree on the essential tenets of the Reformed faith, I am sure that qualifications for ordination will not be among them. Because this dissent is not over an indispensable or essential, persons signing it are not called upon by our Book of Order to leave the PC(USA).
2. In our ordination vows, Presbyterian ministers, elders, and deacons have traditionally promised "obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and [to] be continually guided by our confessions." Amendment B's requirements of "obedience" to Scripture and "conformity" to the confessions are corruptions. We dissenters do gladly affirm that the Scriptures are "by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ and the Church universal, and God's Word to [us]." We do gladly promise to be led or guided by the confessions. But our gracious God has given us minds to use, and is alone the Lord of the conscience.
3. Even more important than legal analysis and church polity are the teachings of Scripture and our predecessors in the Reformed faith about the duty to resist unjust laws and their enforcement. In this connection, I think of two (out of many) examples:
- Queen Esther believed that she did not have to worry about the threatened extermination of the Jews. (See Esther 3:7-4:17.) She was the favorite of King Ahasuerus of Persia and lived in splendor. She risked everything after being reminded by her uncle, "Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
- The courageous Christians who gathered at Barmen might have kept silent too. Thus they could have avoided concentration camps and death. The pogroms were not for them. Nevertheless, they declared, as I hope Presbyterian Christians can still declare:
"I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6.) "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." (John 10:1,9.)
Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and beside this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation."
We will not escape the corruption of Amendment B by keeping silent and assuming that its unjust hand will fall only on others. Fortunately, we have for our present guidance a cloud of witnesses who have modeled courage in perilous times and situations, ranging from a fiery furnace to a cross. We also have Matthew's wonderful account of judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).
I respectfully decline to be among those to whom the Son of Man assuredly will say, "Why did you revile me and persecute me for being the person God made? Why, when God called me, did you reject me?" Then all denials of prejudice and all the clever reasoning in the world will be unavailing.
Count me among the dissenters. By dissenting I faithfully fulfill each of my ordination vows, and will in the long run further the peace, unity, and purity of the church.
Sola gloria Dei.