THE CONSTITUTIONAL AND LEGAL RATIONALE IN SUPPORT OF AMENDMENT A

Peter Oddleifson, Senior Partner, Rochester Law Firm and Elder, Downtown United Church, Rochester, NY

Prepared for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians

September 1997


* Amendment A Requires High Standards For Ordination

The requirements for ordination are set forth in the Book of Order. Church officers "should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world" (Book of Order G-6.0106). "No person can be placed in any permanent office in a congregation or governing body of the church except by election of that body" (G-6.0107). "Officers shall adhere to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government" (G-6.0108). Amendment A does not change these provisions in the Book of Order.

This Amendment adds to the Book of Order the requirement of "fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life." All relationships of life are defined in The Confession of 1967 (9.44) to include "employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights", thus creating a higher, broader standard than the narrow sexual standard set forth in the second sentence of Amendment B.

The Book of Order provides that these standards may be interpreted by the Permanent Judicial Commission and also by the General Assembly (G-13.0103 r). The new amendment will not change the historic standards for ordination unless an Authoritative Interpretation by the Permanent Judicial Commission or the General Assembly authorizes such change or unless the Book of Order is amended again by the Presbyteries. Some say Amendment A will encourage a permissive, reckless attitude toward ordination. Such an argument cannot stand in the light of the high standards set forth in the Book of Order, including those in Amendment A. It is also offensive to those in our church with strong moral principles and sound judgment who are called upon to interpret and enforce our Constitutional documents.

 

* Amendment A Affirms the Authority of Jesus Christ

Amendment A correctly reflects our theological heritage, our Book of Confessions and our Book of Order by affirming the primary authority of Jesus Christ . It requires church officers "to lead a life in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture...".

Amendment B attempts to make the Confessions equal in authority with Scripture by stating that church officers must live "in conformity to" the confessional standards of the church, and providing further that any unrepentant practice which the Confessions call sin is a bar to ordination. This language in Amendment B is inconsistent with the Confessions themselves which state clearly that the Confessions are subordinate to the teachings of Christ and the witness of the Scriptures. The Confessions are not infallible, unalterable statements of faith and absolute requirements for behavior.

"Confessions and declarations are subordinate standards in the church, subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to Him. No one type of confession is exclusively valid, no one statement is irreformable." The Confession of 1967

The Westminster Confession of Faith says that the Confessions "are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both."

 

* Amendment A Will Be Effective and Constitutional

All of us in our church support high standards for ordination including those who drafted Amendment B, but we believe that Amendment A is a better, more effective way to achieve this goal.

a) The attempt in Amendment B to prohibit the ordination of persons who have committed any one of the hundreds of sins described in the Confessions, if interpreted and applied in an even handed manner to all persons and to all sins, would prevent most Presbyterians from holding ordained office in our church. Amendment B is so sweeping in its catalogue of prohibited behavior that it is impossible to enforce in any rational way and is an open invitation to endless litigation.

b) Amendment B is a major infringement on the rights and responsibilities of sessions and presbyteries to determine who is qualified to be ordained (G-10.0102 I; G-1 1.0103n). It improperly limits "freedom of conscience with respect to the interpretation of Scripture" which is protected within the prescribed standards set forth in the Book of Order (G-6.0108). It also creates a long list of barriers to ordination which makes it impossible for sessions and presbyteries to comply with the mandates for inclusiveness in the Book of Order (G-4.0403; G-5.0103; and G-5.0202).

c) Amendment A creates a standard which is effective and complies with the Book of Order. It eliminates the requirement of "conformity' to confessional standards; providing, instead, that officers shall "be instructed" by the confessional standards. Amendment A also eliminates the sentence in Amendment B which prohibits the ordination of all those who engage in any practice which the Confessions call sin; providing, instead, that candidates for office "shall acknowledge their own sinfulness, their need for repentance and their reliance on the grace and mercy of God...". Amendment A creates a high standard for ordination which can be applied in a fair, equitable and conscientious manner to all the people in our denomination; a standard which is consistent with the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order, and above all one which affirms the primary authority of Jesus Christ.


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