Moral ground moves but church must stand on the rock of Christ
Anyone reviewing the media clamour, over the decision of the Presbyterian General Assembly on Friday 8th June 2018, may well find the reports both confusing and incomprehensible.
Some of the headline writers have done themselves no favours as they postulated the great untruth: “Presbyterian Church in Ireland votes against gay membership” (BBC), “Presbyterian Church in Ireland votes to deny gay people full membership of the church”(Belfast Telegraph).
Such coverage only gives credence to President Trump’s ofter stated affirmation – “Fake News”.
This was not, of course, the only “fake news” to be presented to a bewildered world. We had the spectacle of former minsters coming out of the woodwork, and politicians going beyond their remit into areas they failed to understand.
Many of the statements require at least clarification if not correction:
1.There is a difference between same-sex attraction and engaging in a same-sex act.
There are many Christians and some Ministers who acknowledge that they are attracted to persons of the same sex, but they have chosen to live by Christ’s standards and not give in to that particular temptation.
2. The PCI have always, in keeping with the universal church, required that a person coming into membership has a ‘credible profession of faith’ – a verbal profession of faith in Christ which can be seen in a Christian lifestyle. Jesus makes the distinction between true and false disciples in Matthew 7:21- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
3. While the PCI states, “The Word of God as set forth in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and the supreme standard of the Church”, in keeping with the catholic (universal) church the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have always held that, “Marriage is between one man and one woman.”. This is clearly stated in the Westminster Confession which every Minister and Elder is required to sign ‘as a confession of my faith’. It is therefore alarming to hear some Ministers and Elders suggest that this does not meet the requirements of the modern world. The General Assembly of 2014 emphases this in a resolution which stated that marriage is “exclusively between one man and one woman”. No one dissented from that resolution.
4. Statements have been made by various people that the PCI is ‘lurching to the right’ and no longer a ‘broad church’. Nothing could be further from the truth! Being present on the Friday of the vote what I saw was overwhelming support for Appendix 2 of the Doctrine Committee Report. This support came from both a wide and broad range of views within PCI.
5. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland stands by the clear teaching of scripture, (Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 etc). All these scriptures underscore the fact that homosexual activity is a sin. It is not the only sin mentioned in the Bible, and like all sin it can be forgiven. The heart of the Christian message is that Jesus died for sinners – that was the purpose of His birth, life and death.
6. Some of those in the political realm who have come out to condemn the church have claimed to wear the badge of ‘Presbyterian’, however the allegiance of some to the Presbyterian Church is not evidenced by their regular attendance a public worship.
7. Some of the statements quoted in the media have been incomprehensible in their distortion of the facts and have taken us into the world of fantasy. Some individuals, like the Rev.Dr. Mark Grey questioning the long standing relationship between Queen’s University and Union College is one example. Another is Naomi Long taking offence at a statement, that one of the purposes of Marriage is pro-creation, often quoted at Marriage Ceremonies, and re-quoted by Dr Stafford Carson.
8. The fact that the General Council issued a statement on 22nd June to be circulated to all active ministers should be no surprise, as this is often the case following the General Assembly. The fact that it was given to the media, within hours of its issue along with a particular slant, is not the kind of behaviour to be expected of a Presbyterian Minister. The call by the General Council giving “Clarification regarding public debate”, is evidently both timely and welcome.
To agree with ‘Same-sex Marriage’ with the implication of same-sex acts might well be the popular opinion of the masses. It does however fly in the face of the historic moral stance of the universal church.
The moral ground beneath us is constantly moving BUT the Church collectively and Christians individually must stand on the solid rock of Christ.
This article appeared in the Belfast News Letter on Thursday 28th June 2018