"Brief Comments on the Stated Clerk's Polity 'Reflection'"


Bill Youlton

[Moderator's Note: These comments were posted on the PLGC mailing list in April in response to a question as to "how official" the thirteen questions were. At the time, the questions and answers were attributed to Mark Tammen, lawyer in the OGA. Mr. Youlton will expand on his comments, if time permits, in the near future.]

I thought then (see above note) that the list of questions and answers was appropriate - and was a moderate effort to provide guidance for typical questions. Of course, the stated clerk is not going to oppose the action of the General Assembly and of the Presbyteries. (No one was minding the store when Amendment B went through!)

Nor is the Stated Clerk going to preempt the Permanent Judicial Commission or the Advisory Committee on the Constitution on the matter of the contradiction of this new standard with the rest of the Book of Order. (National Capital Presbytery has sent up an overture to General Assembly to give the Stated Clerk back the power ceded to the ACC to interpret the Book of Order.)

The issue of what is a sin is finessed. Not only does the Book of Confessions, assuming that is what is referenced in "what the confessions call sin," have lists, it has definitions. Frank Baldwin, III adds a narrow lawyerly list to named sins to those already circulating. What he does not do is examine what the confessions call sin by establishing a definition and by setting forth duties, which if not followed are surely the source of sin.

The Book of Confessions has both forms of Sin listed. The Sin which is original to us, in our defiance and disobedience to God, as well as, I would add, our finitude, are the source of the sins. The pedagogical use of the law will show us the way we should go, and so the confessions, responding to the problems of their own times, have those anachonistic lists of sins.

Since Sin "is any want or lack of conformity to the law of God," we can expect some efforts to discover what the law of God is. These efforts will appear in a number of areas potentially, but expect to see the "law of God" referenced in prevalent conservative notions that, in the eyes of many believers, gay and lesbian unions are invalid .

In the minds of many conservatives, this is a "revealed natural law." The cultural myths of Genesis include notions that will be claimed to be God's law. Some conservatives do claim that sex and marriage (its legitimization) exist for procreation. The Reformers, however, stressed the purpose of sex and marriage as companionship - and thus supported the notion of intention and mutual love. The conservative view is more like that of Roman Catholics, who ground marriage in nature, our animal nature, in which sex is for progeny. (Therefore if procreation is not possible, marriage is invalid for lack of proper intention; hence anullment.)

The definition of sin, coupled with positive obligations set forth in the confessions, will also develop a doctrine of what the confessions call sin. One instance is the duty to obey the civil magistrate, to lay down our lives for him, to bleed for him if he goes to war.

Those in the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship are thus self-acknowledged sinners, unrepentant - for by their membership they pledge that they will reject war and violence. In that, they are disobedient to the Second Helvetic Confession and to the Westminster Confession. (Both of those confessions are composed in the context of wars of religion.)

So, as is widely mentioned, Amendment B is the Stated Clerk's nightmare.

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