home

Nary An Unpublished Thought

sermons

archives

 

biography

 

 

May 9, 2008: Little Things Make A Big Difference

More on the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) advice and recommendations today. This one is going to take a little explaining. It took two days to write.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the ACC receives questions about constitutional interpretation. The questions can come from individuals or governing bodies. It then is required to report its findings to the General Assembly and make recommendations.

The ACC received two questions (maybe more, I do not know, but the response has been issued for two) regarding an issue raised in footnote #3 of Bush et al v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh (pp. 5-6),

where the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) asks whether the movement of the question used in the ordination and installation of church officers from the Form of Government to the Directory for Worship recommended by the 217th General Assembly (2006) and approved by the presbyteries has created “an oversight that should be addressed by the General Assembly” by changing the reference from “Form of Government” to “Book of Order.”

The ACC response is found in Item 05-16 and 05-17. (You only have to read one, they are the same.)

You may be thinking to yourself, "why would anyone care about something that only merited mention in a footnote?" Ah, that would be the reason for the title of today's post: little things make a big difference.

1. What did the Bush decision say?

Bush (GA PJC decision 218-10) was one of the ordination standard cases decided in February, 2008. (I wrote about the three decisions here.) The gist of the Bush decision was that

During the discussion of the "freedom of conscience" portion of the case, the GA PJC stated,

G-6.0108a defines the limits of this freedom of conscience for ordained church officers. It first states the requirement that all church officers adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity as expressed in the Book of Confessions and the Form of Government.3 It next assures freedom of conscience, but only with respect to the interpretation of Scripture.

That's where footnote 3 appears in the text of the decision. The footnote itself says this:

3 This section [G-6.0108a] of the Book of Order refers only to the Form of Government, failing to recognize that standards for ordination of officers are now found in the Directory for Worship. This is an apparent oversight that should be addressed by the General Assembly.

The questions in Items 05-16 and 05-17 were questions posed to the ACC regarding the issue raised in this footnote. Specifically, they asked,

"Does the movement of the questions used in the ordination and installation of church officers from the Form of Government to the Directory for Worship recommended by the 217th General Assembly (2006) and approved by the presbyteries require amendment of G-6.0108a’s requirement that officers of the PC(USA) “adhere to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and The Form of Government?”

In other words, does the last sentence of G-6.0108a need to be amended for clarity as follows:

"...adhere to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in the Book of Confessions and The Form Of Government The Book of Order." (text to be deleted; text to be inserted)

Stated another way, did last year's amendment process changing all of G-14.000 (by moving ordination questions to W-4.4000ff) result in the unintended consequence that the questions are no longer considered part of the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity requiring "adherance"?

2. What difference does it make where standards are found, as long as they are in the Book of Order?

It makes a difference. Let this be a lesson to everyone considering the wholesale change proposed by the nFoG.

It makes a difference because words mean what they say -- or at least, they should. If G-6.0108a says that "adherence to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in the Book of Confessions and The Form of Government," it means only those standards found specifically in those places. Or, said differently, standards found in the Directory for Worship -- which are not in the Form of Government -- are not to be considered essential and require adherence.

What are the questions and what are we talking about?

The moderator of the governing body of those to be ordained, installed, or commissioned shall ask them to stand before the body of membership and to answer the following questions:


a . Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
b . Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church
universal, and God’s Word to you?
c . Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
d . Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
e . Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?
f . Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
g . Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church ?
h . Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

(and then the specific questions for elders, deacons, ministers of Word and Sacrament, commissioned lay pastor and certified Christian educator).

Oops. That's kind of a big deal.

You can bet -- as the GA PJC footnote raises -- that the argument will come, "Removing those questions from the Form of Government was intended to allow more flexibility and range of 'freedom of conscience' for candidates."

3. How did the ACC respond and what did it recommend?

"The Advisory Committee on the Constitution finds that no constitutional change is necessary, but believes that the question presents the opportunity to clarify confusion as to the recent amendment of the Book of Order that moved the ordination questions to the Directory for Worship."

Here, it is important to remember that the ACC is giving advice. For what it's worth, I disagree with their advice.

The ACC disagrees with the assessment of the GA PJC (that is, an advisory committee is not as concerned as an elected administrative commission with the responsibility to make authoritative interpretations).

The ACC's reasoned that the Form of Government still requires candidates to be examined by governing bodies and that those examinations are capable of including the questions that have been moved. They argue that moving the questions to the Directory for Worship does not restrict governing bodies from asking.

The problem is that the questions are no longer part of the requirements. Under the unchanged language of G-6.0108a -- as the GA PJC footnote revealed -- those questions no longer in the sections that are part of the "essentials" to which a candidate must "adhere."

Then, the ACC wrote this:

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution further notes that G-14.0540 now states, “Ordination questions and installation service information may be found at W-4.4000.” This provision links the ordination questions to the Form of Government and should be understood to make clear that the service of ordination and/or installation remains a requirement of the Form of Government but is found in the Directory for Worship. With this understanding, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises that there is no need for any amendment to G-6.0108b.

With all due respect, this is nonsensical. First, the question was not about G-6.0108b -- it was about amending G-6.0108a. Second, G-6.0108a specifically refers to the Form of Government. The GA PJC noted that the questions were moved out of the Form of Government. The ACC is suggesting that the language "ordination questions and installation service information may be found at W-4.4000" should be understood as the functional equivalent as, "ordination questions and installation service information shall be among the essentials to which candidates must adhere."

May equals shall? Well, that's different.

Tomorrow: Whose ox is being gored by amending G-6.0108a?