New Guidelines for Examination Published

As sessions and presbyteries begin to implement the revised Form of Government, including the substitution of G-2.0104b for the obsolete G-6.0106b, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians offers an updated edition of its resource Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers.

From the Introduction:

Examination is a good and faithful practice that contributes to the health and vitality of the church.  It helps to ensure that our officers are well prepared for leadership.  At the same time, it is a wonderful opportunity to affirm the importance of our calling and service; to share the faith and build up the church as we celebrate each other’s journey in it; to acknowledge with gratitude the gifts of those who were elected, and those who are completing periods of service; and to affirm our vital connection as part of the PC(USA).

This paper reviews some of the basic principles that guide our examination of persons who have been elected to office – both when examination is easy and joyful and, on occasion, when it raises more difficult questions that we struggle with in the church.

The pdf file is available here.


  1. http://Thomas%20L.%20Fultz,%20Teaching%20Elder says

    The guidelines state: “The Constitution requires that candidates for ordered ministry “shall adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity” (G-2.0105)….There are at least two features of Reformed polity that a candidate must affirm if he or she is to serve in ordered ministry in this church.”

    I suppose the Covenant Network favors “local option” in the determination of essentials of both faith and polity. But the Network’s guidelines in addressing polity indicate that a council could affirm the two national standards you identify and determine someone in ordered ministry fails the test of “persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” and their “manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world” (G-2.0104a). Inadequate forbearance or refusal to perform the function of their office by not participating in an ordination service — will these be reviewed under “local option” or a national standard?

    Remember what the guidelines say: ” Presbyterians have always resisted defining “essentials” in the abstract. In order to ensure that we honor the individual’s biblically-formed conscience, we have a conversation, not a checklist.” While I might argue that on many issues from time to time Presbyterians in the USA have determined to define certain essentials, for today I agree that the current approach in the PC(USA) is “local option” and I question the intent of the Guidelines – do they follow that approach or do they elevate certain elements of polity to a defined national “essential?”

    Would the Guidelines support a council’s review of a candidate who advocates exclusion from office of those who advocate against ordination of practicing GLBT and determination that the exclusionary view is grounds for denying ordination? Or what about the other hand? An examining council might well conclude that neither Scripture nor the confessions permit a candidate to serve in ordered ministry who advocates against ordination of persons in same-gender relationships – but the Guidelines would indicate that is the discretion of the local council and not an “essential and national standard” – is that an accurate description of the Guideline’s intent. I would base that on this portion of the Guidelines: “examination in some cases clearly may involve debate about whether Scripture and the confessions permit conjugal, same-sex relationships. There is significant disagreement about what the Bible and confessions teach in this regard.”

    So does our requirement for mutual forbearance mean automation rejection of either claim of exclusion?

    Many questions, so I trust we can dialogue and find unity through Jesus the Christ as we continue the quest for purity/justice. May grace grant us peace that we share with each other.

  2. http://Doug%20Nave says

    Mr. Fultz’s comment is a thoughtful and welcome contribution to our continuing conversations about how we can all be faithful participants in the life of the church when we disagree about what should be required of church leaders. He raises several questions to which I would offer the following responses.

    1. Presbyterian law does not permit sessions and presbyteries to use “local option” in assessing the fitness of officers-elect. All of us across the church are required to apply the same constitutional standards. However, every time a council of the church examines an officer-elect, its members must have a conversation with that person and then discern together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whether that person is fit to serve.

    The Constitution requires that when we have these conversations, we show each other mutual forbearance on points of conscientious disagreement that the council discerns, in light of the particular life and witness of the person being examined, are not essential. That is a key part of what makes us Reformed Christians (rather than, say, Roman Catholics). In well-earned humility, we acknowledge that we are all fallible and “see through a glass darkly,” and that others whom Christ has called into the Presbyterian Church deserve the same respect for biblically-formed conviction that each of us asks for ourselves.

    Opportunities for forbearance arise in individual examinations, and the majority in some councils may be disposed to treat each officer-elect’s position on a given question as “essential.” Where such members try to establish their personal convictions as council policy, or refuse to engage in good-faith discernment with other members of the council in examining individual officers-elect, they have adopted the kind of “local option” that our Constitution deplores (and that numerous PJC decisions have struck down). However, so long as members of the council conduct each examination in a good-faith effort to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit, in true openness and grace, our Presbyterian system is working as it is supposed to do. In that case, differing decisions from one examination to the next do not reflect “local option;” rather, they reflect the fact that we struggle still to discern fully the will of God and, in the meantime, are honest and gracious enough to honor each other’s efforts to live faithfully.

    2. A somewhat different rule applies when examination raises questions whether the officer-elect is prepared to perform tasks that the Constitution vests exclusively in that office. This has become a point of concern for some who feel that they cannot officiate at the ordination of persons who are in same-sex relationships.

    Such concerns are deeply troubling because our Presbyterian form of government vests the responsibility for electing church officers in congregations, and the responsibility for determining the fitness of officers-elect in sessions and presbyteries. We do not have “bishops” in the Presbyterian Church, and we do not give individual ministers the power to veto the collective discernment of congregations and councils. Pastoral candidates who say that they cannot participate in the ordination of someone who has been duly elected (by the congregation) and found fit (by the council) are essentially trying to act as bishops, with the final say about who can serve the church in leadership. Such candidates may be very fine Christians, but they are essentially rejecting the Presbyterian form of government.

    As a practical matter, these kinds of problems almost certainly will not arise. Presbyteries have enough members that they can certainly form ordination commissions without requiring the participation of the unwilling. A pastor who opposes same-sex relationships strongly enough to override both the congregation and the session almost certainly will not win as members any persons who are in same-sex relationships to begin with. Councils whose members have constructive relationships, being the friends among colleagues in ministry that they promised to be, will not try to “nail” candidates in examination about abstract questions when the candidate cannot consider the issue (as our polity requires) in the context of a particular officer-elect’s life and witness. In short, debate on this question may stir up fears and discord, but almost certainly does not address a genuine problem.

  3. http://Thomas%20L.%20Fultz,%20Teaching%20Elder says

    I find it very interesting how very seldom there are comments to articles posted on the Covenant Network’s website and wondered if that might be because your “official responders” such as Mr..Nave so clearly begin with uplifting words, praising the comment maker with such as::
    “a thoughtful and welcome contribution to our continuing conversations about how we can all be faithful participants in the life of the church when we disagree”
    but end on a negative note like: “debate on this question may stir up fears and discord, but almost certainly does not address a genuine problem.” My comments went from thoughtful to not of a genuine problem very quickly in what I found to be Mr. Nave’s dismissive and exclusionary comments. My aim was not to stir up fears but to ask questions from fellow Presbyterians whose perspective is vastly different from mine.

    Mr. Nave’s response caused me to consider that the limited comments also might be that the general readers of the website are all of the persuasion that presbyterian polity is definitive and justifiably stable and more significant to our unity as a denomination than is Reformed theology, and thus as proponents for the status quo are conservative regarding polity; while those inclined to see presbyterian polity as but one way to organize a Christian denomination might be called progressive on polity and accordingly not likely to consider information from a group that is exclusionary in its approach to polity. I wonder what the new FoG says about presbyterian government being essential to the faith and life of the church or of our denomination – I encourage any readers to search for answers to the question: Does the Book of Order take an exclusionary approach or one of “this form of governance is identified in Scripture, but not to the exclusion of other forms of church polity?

    While the negative view Mr. Nave has of Bishops may enhance unity and even perceived purity among advocates of presbyterian governance; I do not find Mr, Nave’s expressed view of Bishops to promote unity in the larger community of disciples of Jesus Christ beyond Presbyterians and to be unnecessarily exclusionary when elevated to such a matter of essential purity for the church to strive to maintain. I would appreciate it if others offered their perspective on the nature of an exclusionary approach to polity.

    Also as to “local option” the first I ever heard of it was from the PUP Task Force and it was also used in many of the explanatory documents after the adoption of Amendment 10-A. I thought I used the term as generally expressed in those documents. and I would find it helpful to review the quote from the Guidelines to help me better understand why there is no “local option” to determine fitness for service in ordered ministry? The Covenant Networks Guidelines state ” Presbyterians have always resisted defining “essentials” in the abstract. In order to ensure that we honor the individual’s biblically-formed conscience, we have a conversation, not a checklist.” While the Book of Order states that those in ordered ministry chose to hold his or her conscience captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church, with the decision as to whether a person has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity made initially by the individual concerned but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the council in which he or she is a member. (G-2.0105)

    So while we disagree on many points, i am grateful for the opportunity to raise questions among Covenant Network folks and to make comments on your articles, for I sense it is time I take every opportunity for spiritual growth, biblical understanding, theological reflection, and ministry skill development. The God-desired outcomes are dependent upon provision of discipleship and equipping occasions, along with focused prayer.

  4. http://Thomas%20L.%20Fultz,%20Ruling%20Elder says

    A correction is in order – I am a Ruling Elder not a Teaching Elder.

    I also just discovered in the Presbyterian Outlook of Wednesday, 22 December 2010 18:30, the presentation of Doug Nave to the “Covenant Network Convocation Dinner; General Assembly – Minneapolis; July 2, 2010 – it helps me understand the issues with Bishops; and also other reasons as to why Mr. Nave and I have limited common ground to build any unity on.

    I wonder why the core principles affirmed in the ordination questions do not rise to the level of essential tenets? Is it not essential for all candidates to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? Is it not essential for each and everyone of them to accept Scripture as the God-breathed rule for faith and life?

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