Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Please pray for the Baltimore Presbytery

OK. So you're about to find out that my previous post about the divinity of Christ had an underlying motivation. Here's the set up. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided last year to allow candidates for ordination (either as a minister or an elder) to express a "scruple" (i.e., a conscientious objection) to a provision of the ordination requirements as long as the body granting them ordination (either the Session or the Presbytery) does not believe that the particular belief they object to is an "essential tenet of the reformed faith." This whole issue actually arose in the context of homosexual marriage, but as you'll see it has far broader implications.

At the November meeting of the Baltimore Presbytery, there was a lot of debate over whether to actively support legislation in favor of gay marriage here in Maryland. That resolution ultimately failed, but a substitute resolution passed stating that the Baltimore Presbytery supports the same legal and civil rights for homosexual couples as marriage confers.

Because of the heated discussion around that issue, a group of churches decided to make a resolution to unify the Presybtery. Basically, they wanted to make a resolution affirming something that is so fundamental to the Christian faith that it would remind us of our common ground and what we are really called to do in this world. That resolution asked the Presbytery to affirm the full humanity and the full divinity of Christ beyond all possibility of scruple.

Well, would you believe that what was meant to be a unifying resolution looks like it will actually lead to another potentially volatile debate? The Presbytery meets this Thursday, January 25, 2007, in Frederick, Maryland. One of the issues at that meeting is to debate this resolution. The advance "buzz" seems to indicate that people object to the phrase "beyond all possibility of scruple" because they believe that members of a Christian church should be free to deny the divinity of Christ. In other words, the pastor or elder at Presbytery may personally believe in Christ's divinity, but they believe that in the spirit of unification the church should welcome in people as members who do not share that belief. It remains to be seen whether any of the pastors or elders at Presbytery are actually going to argue that they personally do not believe in Christ's divinity.

It seems to me, as I described previously, that this is a fundamental belief that defines what it is to be a "Christian", and the shepherds of God's flock absolutely must hold this to be true "beyond all possibility of scruple". Otherwise, what teaching are they tolerating in their churches? The potential fallout of this meeting within the Baltimore Presbytery (if the resolution does not pass) could be devastating.

I will be attending the Presbytery meeting this week as an elder from Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, Maryland, and I will report back afterwards so you can follow what happened. Please send up your prayers to God so that the Presbytery will be able to clearly discern His will.

God bless.

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