Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Not yet ready for Prime Time

In a letter dated 17 September 2018, the Moderator of the Arkansas Presbytery sent a petition to amend the CPC Constitution on matters relating to persons ordained as elders and ministers of word and sacrament with regard to marriage, ordination, and service to a particular church as a session member.  That letter was forwarded by our stated clerk to pastors in the Red River Presbytery.

While discussion began at this year’s General Assembly; this correspondence may accelerate the process.  It will surely be a topic for discussion at the Presbytery meeting this month.

My thoughts are twofold.  First, this petition in its present form is insufficient.  Second, a broader discussion is required before producing an amendment.

To the structure of the proposed amendments:

Why would these not be addressed in 2.6 and 2.7?  If these are criteria for satisfactory service on a session, why not address them as essential to ordination as ministers and elders?

Both may be necessary if this is to go forward.  Addressing only in 4.2 and 7.2 is flawed and will cause issues if the standard proposed is sufficient for self-disqualification but not applicable during the licensing and ordination process.

To intent and syntax:


When persons find themselves – Is this intentionally self-disqualification?

makes those persons ineligible to serve as an elder on a session of a church:  Does the elder retain his/her ordination and is he or she eligible to serve elsewhere in the denomination.


When persons find themselves – Is this intentionally self-disqualification?

makes those persons ineligible to serve … in any of the [aforementioned] relationships on a session of a church:  Does the minister retain his/her ordination?  Are probationers and licentiates retained in their ministry programs?  May they serve elsewhere?

To the unstated but precipitating question:

This general language and the unstated context is obviously about ordaining as ministers of word and sacrament and as elders individuals who are homosexuals and bisexuals and who are sexually active in such partnerships.

These practices are sinful.  If they were not, grace need not be applied.  Read:  We are people of whosoever will not whatsoever goes.  We must minister to this community but not conform to the worldly model that states these practices are no longer sinful. 

The problem with the proposed amendments is that we create our own taxonomy of sin and set aside one group of people as especially sinful.  Yes, the word abomination is powerful.  The death penalty is prescribed by the Law of Moses.

But a stronger word than abomination or detestable is hate.  God hates divorce.  Should ministers who have been divorced disqualify themselves?  They have been forgiven.  They don’t continue in their sin, or do they?  They have not reconciled and been reunited with their original partner.

I understand that this line of thinking is contrary to the nature of our denomination who receive members, ordain ministers, and elders who have been divorced.  But if God truly hates divorce, should we ordain divorced men and women?  Should those already divorced be disqualified from further service should they desire to continue in that condition?

What if they remarry another partner?  According to Jesus, they have moved from their divorced status to adulterer status.  Adultery made the top 10 list, so this does not seem to be an improvement.  Instead of continuing in divorce, they continue in adultery.

What about shacking up?  Is that condition covered in the proposed amendments?  I see so many people these days with a 10-year fiancĂ© who may or may not one day make this a sacred union, but the consummation of the present union is already complete.

What about the obese?  The proverb states that we should be so vigilant here that it would be like holding a knife to our throat whenever we ate more than we could metabolize.  Whoa!  That could thin our ranks (double entendre intended).

But that’s biblical wisdom, not law, and besides the context seems limited to dining in fine company.  So gorging at home is surely not as bad.  In our ordination of ministers and elders do we discount God’s wisdom and apply only those things prescribed by commandment or decree?

But God’s grace covers all of these things, well, except homosexuals who continue to practice?  

Continue to practice seem to be the operative words, until we want to forgive divorce or remarriage resulting in adultery but not the homosexual or bisexual lifestyle.

There should be a higher standard for ministers and elders but placing our own taxonomy on sin creates issues of hypocrisy.  I don’t think we can be myopic on this single issue of homosexuality while ignoring God's other counsel on marriage and produce a quality position on who may serve in an ordained capacity.  We might even have to look beyond marriage if we are to truncate grace with continuing in factors.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of homosexual pastors and elders, but I like even less institutionalizing hypocrisy. 

We need to have a full discussion on this issue before making changes to our Constitution.  The Arkansas Presbytery Petition may have jump-started the discussion, but it is insufficient to move forward in its present state.

The petition should be rejected in its present form and returned to Arkansas Presbytery for revision.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Church Year 2019

I have shared with many that I often do my annual sermon planning in late summer.  The Church year begins with Advent (end of November/first of December) and messages generally focus on this special season.  I have often used the lectionary.  I have preached the Confession of Faith for a year disguised as traditional sermons based on the supporting texts and have worked in the One Month to Live challenge, Paul’s letters, and other thematic seasons. 

First Light has been several years of working our way chapter by chapter through books of the Bible, including Leviticus, Proverbs, and the Psalms.

While I believe the Holy Spirit was at work in these planning sessions; He has also nudged me to change a message or two when the time came.

This Church Year (2018), we have moved topically in the traditional service, venturing into love, love and action, love and peace, and we will wrap up with rest. 

First light tackled Leviticus and then Hebrews, which will wrap up soon.

For the next Church Year, we will begin with Advent scriptures and then continue our topical journey with faith, truth, and mercy.

Next year’s First Light services will focus on Gifts and Gifts of the Spirit.

Some may just want to gather for worship and be surprised by the message.  That’s great.  Worship is truly about what you bring more than what you receive.  Others may want to have a general idea of what’s ahead.  Now you know.


Pastor Tom