Marriage and the Book of Confessions

By Tricia Dykers Koenig

Would it be permissible for the PCUSA to interpret and/or amend the Book of Order section on marriage to reflect the reality of same-gender marriage, even though The Book of Confessions uses the language of “a man and a woman”?

Based on the way the Confessions have functioned in the church – especially since 1967, when a collection of documents was substituted for the Westminster Confession –  yes.  The Book of Confessions is not a compilation of proof-texts from which to glean answers to questions not contemplated by the authors, and contains numerous examples of assertions that are no longer appropriate or necessary expressions of our faith.  General Assemblies have taken actions in the past that are directly contradictory to the letter of the Confessions.

The General Assembly decides what is constitutional

At the last General Assembly, in Pittsburgh in 2012, those opposed to Presbyterian involvement in same-gender marriage argued at length that an amendment to the Book of Order replacing instances of “a man and a woman” with “two persons” or “the couple” would be unconstitutional, because it would conflict with the sections of The Book of Confessions that declare that marriage is between a man and a woman. Further, because Robert’s Rules of Order states that “No main motion is in order that conflicts with the by-laws (or constitution) or rules of the organization or assembly,” it was asserted that even considering such a recommendation from an Assembly committee would be out of order, absent a prior amendment of The Book of Confessions.

When the question was raised at the GA, the Moderator and the Stated Clerk called upon the Advisory Committee on the Constitution; ACC Moderator Paul Hooker responded on behalf of the Committee, pointing out that the question assumes that the Constitution is of a uniform character, and reminding the GA that the  collection of documents in the BOC has many theological perspectives and internal differences; therefore its nature is as the primary repository of our basic theological commitments, and it cannot be treated as a rulebook.  The ACC advised that it is not necessary to amend the BOC in order to amend a corresponding portion of BOO.

Some have continued to make the “unconstitutional” argument in post-Assembly articles in the Presbyterian press, insisting that the 2012 GA’s decision to consider a Book of Order amendment was an abandonment of the PCUSA’s commitment to being a confessional church.

One of the problems with that assertion is that it assumes an obvious answer to the question of whether or not something conflicts with the Confessions a matter of interpretation. “A man and a woman” are “two people” and “ a couple.”  Furthermore, the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States prior to Reunion had a section on marriage (Chapter 15) without any gendered language, and apparently nobody thought that that section was in conflict with the Westminster Confession held as the PCUS confessional standard.

Confessions are a help in faith and practice without precluding new understandings

Prior to the adoption of a Book of Confessions – in 1967 by the United Presbyterian Church (USA), the northern stream, and at Reunion in 1983 by the whole, reunited Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – both the northern and southern churches had amended the Westminster Confession, though it was rare.  Once a collection of confessions was adopted, we changed our relationship to confessions.  One confession might be internally consistent – but several are obviously not.  The 2002 General Assembly specified a Preface to be printed in the Book, and while the Preface does not have constitutional status, it does explain how the Confessions function for us; here’s an excerpt:

The creeds, confessions, and catechisms of The Book of Confessions are both historical and contemporary. Each emerged in a particular time and place in response to a particular situation. Thus, each confessional document should be respected in its historical particularity; none should be altered to conform to current theological, ethical, or linguistic norms. The confessions are not confined to the past, however; they do not simply express what the church was, what it used to believe, and what it once resolved to do. The confessions address the church’s current faith and life, declaring contemporary conviction and action.   [emphasis added]

As this Preface points out, we no longer take the step of amending the historical confessions when portions of them no longer reflect our understanding of God’s will.  Since the adoption of The Book of Confessions, the only changes have been the addition of the Brief Statement of Faith, and differing translations of existing documents – the Nicene Creed, and the pending fresh translation of the Heidelberg Catechism.

When the church decided on a collection of confessional documents, it acknowledged that there would be internal contradictions, and some passages that do not express current theological and ethical commitments. For example, women were already being ordained at the time of our adoption of the Scots Confession, but we did not remove this phrase: “indeed they even allow women, whom the Holy Ghost will not permit to preach in the congregation to baptize.” [3.22] The Brief Statement of Faith later gave confessional status to women’s ordination, but the Book of Order and PCUSA practice were inconsistent with The Book of Confessions in the meantime, and the Confessions are still in conflict with one another.

This paragraph of the Preface to the BOC was added at the direction of the 2004 GA:

Specific statements in 16th and 17th century confessions and catechisms in The Book of Confessions contain condemnations or derogatory characterizations of the Roman Catholic Church… While these statements emerged from substantial doctrinal disputes, they reflect 16th and 17th century polemics. Their condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Catholic Church.

Note that the General Assembly in 2004 specifically chose to assert that portions of the Confessions are no longer binding on modern Presbyterians, if they ever had been – despite the fact that the authors of the documents in question were deliberate in making these statements. The 2004 GA took this action without attempting to amend the Confessions.  Apparently that motion was in order, and the Church has happily been living with the result.

These examples illustrate the fundamental flaw of treating the Confessions as “a rule of faith and practice” rather than “as a help in both,” as Westminster teaches. [6.175]

Confessional authority on marriage must be understood in context

Anticipating that this question would arise again at the 2014 General Assembly, current Moderator Neal Presa convened a group of theologians in December to consider the issue of how the Confessions function in the PCUSA, and the confessional, constitutional, and ecclesial implications of the marriage overtures coming to this summer’s Assembly; you can find some of the presentations at http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ecclesial-and-ecumenical-ministries/gamoderator/second-conversation-unity-difference-princeton/, and perhaps more will be added.

Most of the presentations affirmed that the Confessions do have authority for us today even though we do not conform to them in every detail – they are not to be dismissed as “a museum, housing mildly interesting artifacts of what people used to believe,” nor on the other hand used as “a law code”:

It is true enough that the confessions articulate standards of faith and life, and it is true enough, as our Book of Order states, that while confessional standards are subordinate to Scripture, “they are, nonetheless, standards” that may not be “ignored or dismissed.” It is also true enough that the confessions were never intended to be registers of discrete elements that can be extracted from the whole and employed as incontrovertible precedent in a legal brief. Should the Second Helvetic Confession’s mention of the perpetual virginity of Mary dictate our understanding of incarnation? Or should the church’s social witness conform to the multiple protocols for the relationship between superiors and inferiors in the Larger Catechism’s treatment of the fifth commandment?
[Joseph D. Small, “Confessions and Confessional Authority in the Reformed Tradition,” http://oga.pcusa.org/media/uploads/oga/pdf/confessions_and_confessional_authority.pdf]

About the Confessions and marriage, Joe opined:

I think that focusing on the confessions as a way of dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage is a dead end – because… my reading is… those few places in the confessions that mention marriage assume that marriage is between a man and a woman because it’s the only thing they could have imagined.  I don’t think they teach that; I think they simply assume it… The issue is not settled either by liberals or conservatives by using either the Book of Confessions or Scripture as law books.”

Charles Wiley’s presentation at the December event made this observation:

As far as I can tell, while many pastors and ordinary Presbyterians have spent considerable time reflecting on marriage, planning wedding services, discerning God’s will for troubled marriages, and while many books on pastoral care or Christian ethics have considered marriage in depth, as a tradition marriage has risen to a crucial issue for the church only four times: 1) at the time of the Reformation when we rejected mandatory celibacy for ministers and even encouraged marriage as good for the church’s ministers and good for everyone in society; 2) in colonial New England when there were disputes about the place of the magistrate and the church in establishing a marriage; 3) in the 1950’s to early 80’s when the question of divorce, particularly of ministers, came to the fore; 4) and in our current context when the somewhat unexpected question of same gender marriage has come before the church with particular force.  [http://oga.pcusa.org/media/uploads/oga/pdf/princeton_marriage_presentation.pdf]

The question is raised – when the Confessions mention marriage, what was the presenting issue?  Context shows that same-gender marriage was not in the minds of the authors; as a recent decision of a Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission, finding that a minister in a same-gender marriage was not guilty of offenses, points out, the concern in several instances was originally polygamy. [See http://presbyterianpromise.org/, News from 2013.]

Yet as demonstrated by the disclaimers from the 2004 GA about Presbyterian attitudes toward the Roman Catholic Church, even if it could be shown that the “man and woman” phrase was intended to address the issue of same-gender marriage, that does not necessarily settle the matter.  Presbyterians seeking to be faithful today must take seriously the confessional witness (and Scripture, of course), and listen also to the Spirit speaking in our own time, as we discern the will of Christ and pursue the course TDKthat best reflects the Gospel.

Clearly, the 221st General Assembly (2014) will be within its rights to consider and approve a change in the PCUSA’s stance on same-gender marriage by interpreting and/or amending the Book of Order, without threatening the place of The Book of Confessions in our common life.

 

 

Comments

  1. I think it was 1982 when I attended what must have been a 15th anniversary conference for the Confession of 67. I was privileged to sit next to Ed Dowey, one of the writers of the confession, during the presentations. Bev Harrison of Union Seminary in New York lambasted C-67 for its certain proclamations regarding sexuality in the BOC 9.47. When she analyzed the paragraph and found inherent assumptions of heterosexual missionary sex, Ed groaned and acknowledged that he hadn’t been able to see it that way. C-67 does assume that sexuality is between a man and a woman and is primarily for the purpose of procreation. Looking at 9:47 now, I see hesitation to say and avoidance of saying what “anarchy in sexual relationships” and “moral confusion” might be. However, there is a lot in that paragraph that could form the basis for a new approach to issues of human sexuality:

    What is “God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which God created humankind?”
    In what way are sexual relationships “a symptom of alienation from God, neighbors, and self?”
    What is “responsible freedom of the new life in Christ?”
    How can the church show that “Reconciled to God, people have joy in and respect for their own humanity and that of other persons?”
    What is “the full meaning of life together?”

    C-67 never says. It is time to talk specifics as was attempted in the paper on human sexuality in the ‘90’s. C-67 was as confused as the society it addressed. If the church is to survive in any form other than 17th century orthodoxy, it needs to witness to the realities of human life as we currently understand them. Such realities will be a surprise to no one but a challenge to some. Perhaps with the withdrawal of our most conservative congregations, the PCUSA now can become honest with itself.

  2. Thomas L. Fultz says:

    I need some one to help me with the last paragraph…..is honest evaluation possible only if certain voices are removed from the discussion? Why cannot a 21st century orthodoxy be developed for the PC(USA) without throwing out the entirety of historical Reformed theology and even a confession from half a century ago? I thank God in all this, for God who will see the Church survive in whatever form God chooses.

  3. Thomas L. Fultz says:

    My questions refer to the Maher post, and not to the last paragraph of the essay by Tricia Dykers Koenig.

  4. Tom, I don’t propose throwing out the entirety of historical Reformed theology, but merely admitting that a lot of it was not objective gospel truth that we can bring into the 21st century without a lot of trouble. “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” ― Jaroslav Pelikan.
    I can love the 17th century without wanting to live there. Can we get past literalism? Is that where God wants us to be? What if we built our theology and ecclesiology on the new knowledge that we have received in the past 200+ years? A lot of the NT is about the “new.” How do we build a church on what is and will become new? Whether new or old we must be specific and not throw out generalities that are unexamined. That was my problem with the paragraph in C67. How many of us TE’s have given sermons on sexual ethics? Not many, I would guess. But a sermon against gays or any other particular behavior in itself does not constitute ethical analysis.

  5. Ms. Koenig:

    Thank you for this article. I am writing to ask whether, perhaps, these two paragraphs about The Book of Confessions from the Book of Order itself apply to what you have written above:

    F-2.01 THE PURPOSE OF CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS

    The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states its faith and bears witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ in the creeds and confessions in The Book of Confessions. In these statements the church declares to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do. These statements identify the church as a community of people known by its convictions as well as by its actions. They guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures; they summarize the essence of Reformed Christian tradition; they direct the church in maintaining sound doctrines; they equip the church for its work of proclamation. They serve to strengthen personal commitment and the life and witness of the community of believers.

    The creeds and confessions of this church arose in response to particular circumstances within the history of God’s people. They claim the truth of the Gospel at those points where their authors perceived that truth to be at risk. They are the result of prayer, thought, and experience within a living tradition. They appeal to the universal truth of the Gospel while expressing that truth within the social and cultural assumptions of their time. They affirm a common faith tradition, while also from time to time standing in tension with each other.

    It would seem that these two paragraphs indicate:

    1. That the confessions are a statement of the church’s current faith (note the present tense), not simply a museum collection of artifacts of what the church used to believe;

    2. That the confessions are not only a statement of current faith but also, and therefore, govern our actions, what we do together as a church; and

    3. That despite minor variations among the confessions, they continue to affirm a common faith tradition in which we continue to stand, which we continue to believe, and by which we continue to agree to be governed.

    This is astounding! This means, of course, among other things, that the advice Paul Hooker gave to the General Assembly on Friday afternoon, July 6, 2012, in regard to the proposal to redefine marriage (which advice, by the way, was his alone, since the Advisory Committee on the Constitution did not meet to consider the point of order), was totally wrong. It is most certainly not the case that we are free to revise the Book of Order into contradiction with The Book of Confessions, since even the Book of Order itself acknowledges (1) that the confessions state not simply our past faith but actually our current faith, (2) that our confessions declare what we are to do (so that actions are not merely the purview of the Book of Order), and (3) that the confessions do so within a coherent faith tradition.

    The action of the assembly that afternoon (the vote concurring with the chair of the advisory committee on the constitution, the stated clerk, and the moderator) declaring itself free to propose to the presbyteries that the Book of Order be revised into contradiction with The Book of Confessions violated not only The Book of Confessions and Robert’s Rules of Order, but also, strangely enough, the Book of Order itself, because of these two paragraphs.

    Did not that action render us both non-confessional and post-constitutional? Surely we do not want to commit that error again.

  6. Tricia Dykers Koenig says:

    Certainly the Book of Order section cited by Dr. Goodloe is applicable, and I agree with the principles in his three numbered points – but not with his further conclusion that the General Assembly is not free to decide, constitutionally, that faithfulness to the will of Christ in our day may lead the church to adopt an understanding of marriage that varies from the letter of The Book of Confessions.

    Like the 2012 General Assembly, I base my conclusion on the way The Book of Confessions has been used in the PCUSA. Again, it was not considered unconstitutional for the General Assembly in 2004 to repudiate whole chapters of several Confessions that remain in the BOC but “reflect 16th and 17th century polemics” against the Roman Catholic Church and no longer express our theological and ethical commitments. I do not recall whether anyone argued in that Assembly that the motion to take that action was out of order; but clearly, if that objection was raised it was not sustained – even though it’s obvious that the motion was in direct contradiction to the meaning of the texts. Nor am I aware of any Presbyterian ministers being charged with an offense for participating in ecumenical activities with Roman Catholics or for refusing to “condemn the Jews and Mohammedans” [5.019] or “the Anabaptists” [5.192]. The PCUSA can continue to value its Confessions and allow them to govern our actions without following every detail. That’s what we are already doing.

    Since adopting a Book, the PCUSA has let the Confessions stand in their historical particularity even when we might wish to change them – perhaps, in part, because of the realization that if we began to amend the Confessions to be perfectly consistent with authentic contemporary expressions of faith, there would be no end to the process. There are numerous parts of The Book of Confessions that we would not adopt today – and would not have adopted in 1967, if they were considered binding in every particular.

    There are affirmations about the topic of marriage itself in the BOC that are not followed to the letter, even without considering the matter of the gender of the partners:
    • “Let marriages be made with the consent of the parents, or of those who take the place of parents…” [5.247] Do we refuse to marry couples whose parents do not consent?
    • “Let lawful courts be established in the Church, and holy judges who may care for marriages, and may repress all unchastity and shamefulness, and before whom matrimonial disputes may be settled.” [5.248] We have neglected this admonition even while we affirm about the Confessions that “In these statements the church declares to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do,” because we acknowledge that “They appeal to the universal truth of the Gospel while expressing that truth within the social and cultural assumptions of their time.” [F-2.01]
    • “No marriage can be fully and securely Christian in spirit or in purpose unless both partners are committed to a common Christian faith…” [6.135] And yet, the Book of Order in purporting to govern “Christian marriage” allows that a marriage might appropriately happen in a Presbyterian church even if only one partner is “a professing Christian.” [W-4.9002a(1)] An accommodation has been made in the Book of Order to current practice, despite the teaching of the BOC.

    Like our relationships with people of other Christian churches and other faiths, and many other matters, our understandings of marriage have changed over the years. We no longer consider a woman a commodity to be “given” (or sold), even though some still value the traditional question to the father of the bride. A growing number of us believe that the purposes of marriage can be lived out irrespective of the gender of the partners

    At the General Assembly this summer, surely there will be debate about whether the PCUSA *should* revise the traditional understanding of marriage as only between a man and woman; and what The Book of Confessions has to say is, of course, a legitimate part of that conversation. However, the subject of my article is whether it is *allowable under our Constitution* to do so. Given the way we have lived with The Book of Confessions from 1967 till now, I join the 2012 General Assembly in affirming that it is allowable without rendering the PCUSA “non-confessional and post-constitutional.”

  7. Ms. Koenig:

    Thank you for your reply to my comment. I am certainly concerned about the definition of marriage. But I am far more concerned about the status of our confessions of faith and about the governance of the church.

    I do not understand how you can agree with my three numbered points about the two paragraphs in the Book of Order and disagree with my conclusion about what the general assembly can and cannot do legitimately. I do not see how it is possible to have it both ways.

    I cannot deny that the church has from time to time, as you have indicated, acted against the confessions (and therefore against even the Book of Order’s understanding of the confessions). But given the church’s willingness to do that intentionally, I do not see how we can pretend that they are any real or continuing part of our constitution.

    If we, as the church, are willing to do whatever we want to do by sheer majority vote, without regard to the content of the confessions, we need to admit that we are not being guided by them at all and that, instead, we reject them out of hand. We should, for instance, remove from the Book of Order the two paragraphs I quoted in my earlier reply, and we should remove or revise the ordination question that indicates that we agree to be guided by the confessions.

    Or, to come at this another way around, we should remove the confessions from the constitution and simply publish them as a separate history book of what the church used to believe when it subscribed to the historic faith of the Christian church. That would be cleaner, clearer, and more honest.

    But to keep the confessions as Part I of our constitution and then routinely to ignore, deny, and belittle them as being no part of our constitution is messy and confusing at best and dishonest at worst. That is how we have reduced ourselves to being non-confessional and, by living outside not only The Book of Confessions but also the Book of Order, at least the two paragraphs of it that I quoted above, post-constitutional, also.

  8. Let me ask a question, if I may: Why do not those who want to redefine marriage in and for the church propose a single, comprehensive, and simultaneous amendment to all occurrences of definitions of, or statements about, marriage as they appear now in both Part I and Part II of our constitution, both The Book of Confessions and the Book of Order?

    There could be an up or down vote for the whole thing all at once. It seems to me that would be a clear, clean, proper, and appropriate way of doing things.

    It would certainly avoid any appearance or reality of knowingly and willingly amending any part or parts of the constitution into conflict with any other part or parts of the constitution.

    And let me note the The Book of Confessions has been amended many times in many ways. The Westminster Confession of Faith has been amended by rewording sentences, deleting statements, and adding chapters. The current version of the Nicene Creed is a new translation. I believe we are replacing the current version of the Heidelberg Catechism with a new translation. We have added a Brief Statement of Faith since the reunion, and even now we are considering adding yet another. This is simply to say that we amend The Book of Confessions whenever we wish. So it is not the case that we cannot or do not amend The Book of Confessions.

    Why is there reluctance to do so now?

    Why is there such a refusal to take up the work of amending the confessions? I have some ideas about that, but I would like to hear from someone who actually knows.

    And if such a proposal to amend the whole constitution were to pass, would not the consequent redefinition of marriage be all the stronger?

    Or again, to come at this another way around, consider the unintended consequences of advancing the amendment of the Book of Order only, so that it comes into conflict with The Book of Confessions. The price willingly paid for that is the admission that the confessions are merely historic and have nothing to do with, or to say to, the current faith and life of the church.

    But once that is established as official policy and reality, why bother ever amending The Book of Confessions again? Why, for instance, bother adopting a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, if the church has already said that it does not and cannot have any impact on the current polity or behavior of the church? Why bother adding Belhar to the book, if its pleas for racial justice and harmony are dismissed, in advance, as historical relics of what the church used to believe? Would it not be the case that advancing the redefinition of marriage by amending only the Book of Order would undercut and destroy any confessional support for any other causes and concerns that might also be of interest?

    Is the church willing to pay this price?

  9. Tricia Dykers Koenig says:

    As I believe I have already demonstrated, amending and/or or interpreting the Book of Order on marriage would not be out of character from the way we have been living with the Confessions since 1967. If they are thus “ignored, denied, and belittled,” that happened long before this particular question arose.

    Just as we can submit to the authority of Scripture without agreeing to live by every verse – I trust I do not need to give examples of Scriptural admonitions we no longer feel constrained to follow, and that we all agree that the Bible is a higher authority than the Confessions – we can continue to be guided by the Confessions in all sincerity without agreeing to live by every word. I have yet to meet the person who DOES follow The Book of Confessions to the letter, and certainly the PCUSA as a whole has not pretended to do so, even from its adoption.

    There is a huge difference between amending an existing Confession to say something its authors did not say, and approving a new translation that maintains the integrity of the original. Before 1967 – when there was but one confessional standard, Westminster – that Confession was indeed amended, although rarely. When Westminster was understood to be the sole confessional standard and officers who dissented from a particular article were expected to declare a scruple, amending the standard to reflect more contemporary commitments made sense. Since 1967 (or since Reunion, in the southern stream), the only changes to The Book of Confessions have been new translations of existing Confessions, or the addition of entirely new statements. That practice follows this principle articulated in the BOC’s Preface:

    “Thus, each confessional document should be respected in its historical particularity; none should be altered to conform to current theological, ethical, or linguistic norms.”

    Following this principle, it would be inappropriate to amend the existing Confessions. According to the way the Confessions have functioned in the PCUSA, it is also unnecessary.

  10. I have written a blog posting on your essay. And one of my questions I have here, because of what I wrote there has to do with the consistencies in the Book of Confessions. They are all about Jesus in his person and work. If they were to be changed the Book of Confessions would be heretical. I see over-riding the man and woman content of marriage in the Book of Confessions since they are really tied to the person and work of Christ in the same way. So let me ask would you be willing to use different language in the Book of Order that would be contrary to the Book of Confessions view of Jesus Christ. Why or why not.

  11. Tricia Dykers Koenig says:

    While it’s probably dangerous to respond to a hypothetical question in this context – no, I would not be in favor of amending the Book of Order to say something about Jesus Christ that I understand to be in contradiction to what the Confessions teach. I believe that “Obedience to Jesus Christ alone identifies the one universal church and supplies the continuity of its tradition.” [9.03]

    However, I can imagine that Ms. Larson and I might not agree in every instance about what constitutes a contradiction; and I am certain that we have differing views about our interpretation of Scripture and how Jesus would treat a same gender couple seeking to enter the covenant of marriage.

  12. Ms . Koenig:

    I have long realized that having multiple confessions tends toward having no confession. Now you are helping me realize that this not only has been the accomplishment of The Book of Confessions but also very well may have been its precise intention from the beginning.

    Still, I am left to wonder why the church maintains this collection of documents. If the church wants to insist that it is free to put anything it wishes in the Book of Order, whether it agrees with The Book of Confessions or flatly contradicts it, then surely the confessions are superfluous. Would we not be better served by getting rid of them entirely?

    Mr. Hooker, for instance, asserted on the floor of the assembly that since the confessions (of faith) are not like constitutions (rules and regulations), they effectively are no part of the constitution (despite what it says on the title page and in the Book of Order), and that the sentence in Robert’s Rules of Order against motions that conflict with the constitution simply did not apply. It is, perhaps, telling that the Advisory Committee on the Constitution itself does not deal with The Book of Confessions at all but with the Book of Order alone.

    If even the ACC does not know, or does not care to operate on the basis of knowing, what documents the constitution itself says are in the constitution, have we not reached an untenable impasse in church governance?

    Would the church not be better off to remove The Book of Confessions from the constitution entirely and so to declare honestly that it has no intention of following or being bound by any confession of faith but that it chooses instead to be governed only by the majority vote of the party in the ascendancy?

    I continue to think that the people most interested in promoting the new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism and the addition of Belhar to The Book of Confessions would do well to consider exactly how destructive of the confessions is the strategy to redefine marriage in the Book of Order only and so to relegate the confessions to irrelevancy and uselessness.

  13. Speaking of contradictions in the context of the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions, I at least believe you cannot say that Jesus is not God-that is. he is fully human & fully God. I believe you could not say that in Christ we do not have unity. I believe that if Jesus Christ is fully God he, with the Father & the Holy Spirit all as one God create all things and ordain, that is degree what is to be. I take this from Westminster, ” Christian marriage is an institution ordained of God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter cherishing a mutual esteem and love, bearing with each other’s infirmities and weaknesses …” to connect to the very being of Christ.
    As does this from the Second Helvetic Confession, marriage was “instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord.” This also connects to the very person of Christ who Colossians teaches was the Creator of creation and it was created for Christ.
    The Confession of 1967 speaks of how marriage between a man and a woman “exemplifies” the order and unity in Christ.
    To create, in the Book of Order, a different set of words meaning something more than the man and woman of the Book of Confessions is to tread on the very person of Christ.

  14. Jim Caraher says:

    I’ve been enjoying this conversation between Ms. Dykers Koenig and Dr. Goodloe. It has me wondering if the current state of the historic mainline Protestant denominations such as the PC(USA) isn’t analogous to the prestigious, historically Christian universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Harvard, for example, was founded in 1636 with the intention of establishing a school to train Christian ministers. Harvard’s “Rules and Precepts” adopted in 1646 stated (original spelling and Scriptural references retained):

    “Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him (Prov. 2:3)”

    To the best of my knowledge, Harvard, Yale and Princeton have never formally renounced their founding Christian precepts (analogous to the PC(USA)’s Confessions) but everyone recognizes that those precepts are quaint expressions of historic heritage totally incongruent with their thoroughly secularized mission today. I’m intrigued by Dr. Goodloe’s view that there is more institutional integrity in just throwing out centuries old pronouncements which no longer reflect 21st century conviction.

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