Two ministers have drafted an open theological declaration to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with the intention of confronting the denomination for its "deviation from orthodox Christian faith."
The Rev. Albert Rhodes Stuart of Highland Presbyterian Church in Slippery Rock, Pa., and Patrick McElroy of Park United Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pa., are taking action to discern what they believe to be "multiple errors" coming from the denomination's 218th General Assembly, a biennial meeting that took place in June.
"These errors must be labeled and opposed lest we be guilty of failing to raise alarm or of leading 'the least of His little ones astray,'" the declaration reads. "We cry out with fervent voices that the flock is under attack and we, individually and collectively, must return to the shepherd immediately."
After consultation with several other leaders within the Beaver-Butler Presbytery, the two ministers recently released the final copy of the declaration, laying out errors from the General Assembly that they want the presbytery to recognize. They did it out of love, they say, and not out of anger or malice.
One of the errors they claim the General Assembly – the highest governing body in the PC(USA) – committed was to approve a $2 million legal defense fund for the denomination to be used for property cases in civil courts.
The Assembly also erred when it failed to allow debate on an authoritative interpretation concerning the denomination's ordination standards, the declaration states.
In June, the General Assembly adopted an authoritative interpretation of the PC(USA) constitution – which currently bans ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians – that would allow gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object the fidelity and chastity standard.
The overture was attached to a proposal that called for a revision of the wording of the fidelity and chastity requirement – a proposal that was debated. But the two ministers in their declaration claim those were two important issues that should have been separated for individual consideration.
The ministers also found fault with the Assembly's actions regarding relations with Jews and Muslims and the Trinity. These specific actions were considered "serious errors ... with regard to faith and order of the Christian life because of either faulty scriptural interpretation or skewed or missing exegesis," according to the declaration.
The Assembly had approved a resolution that encouraged Presbyterians to converse with, celebrate holidays with, and even worship together with Jews and Muslims for the promotion of understanding, respect and goodwill.
In opposition, the ministers state: "We worship the thrice-holy, Triune God. Neither Muslims nor Jews can participate in worshiping the Triune God because for them to do so is, by their own lights, a blasphemy for them. So, too, is it blasphemous for us to deny the Divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit in any worship context. This suggestion is based on a gross error in basic biblical doctrine, a profound misrepresentation of the Trinity. Therefore we cannot worship together and should not be encouraged to do so."
Regarding the Trinity, the declaration spoke against the General Assembly's approval of an overture that commended a study of the Trinity for PC(USA) congregations.
Controversy was first stirred in 2006, when the 217th General Assembly "received" a study paper entitled "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing." The paper suggested additional designations to the Trinity other than "Father, Son and the Holy Spirit," including, "Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb," "Rock, Cornerstone and Temple," and "Sun, Light and Burning Ray."
Critics have called the wordings confusing and an attempt to be politically correct while supporters stressed they were not substitutes, but rather supplementary ways of referring to the triune God.
"[T]he method employed continuously throughout this paper routinely confuses the natures of simile and metaphor to such a degree that it effectively confuses the very nature of what we think we know about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," the two Beaver-Butler Presbytery ministers state.
While McElroy and Stuart agree with studying the word of God deeply, they warn, "Our goal should always and only be to reflect the truth contained therein, and never to speculatively invent or intuit material that is at best tangentially contained. To do so is neither smart, nor correct and potentially leaves us in the unenviable position of becoming false guides."
According to McElroy, the declaration will be considered by the presbytery at a Sept. 23 meeting, where it will either vote to receive it as a first reading or reject it. If received, a second reading of the declaration will take place at a Nov. 18 meeting.
Approval by the presbytery would result in the declaration of "status confessionis" – solemn rebuke against a church council because of false doctrine or confessional compromise – in the PC(USA) until orthodoxy is restored by a future General Assembly.
And until then, the declaration calls on the presbytery to refuse to follow the practices authorized by the Assembly, including homosexual ordination, as reported by The Layman.
McElroy and Stuart, who said their intention is not to leave but to take a stand, expect the upper governing bodies of the denomination to attempt to overturn their declaration. But they don't plan on giving up.
"We will not cease these proclamations if rebuked. We will not accept discipline that, like many of the GA actions, rests on human institution instead of God's Word. Here we stand," they declare.
"The errors of this Assembly fail to live up to its professed theme of justice, mercy and humility. Our trust has been violated. Our denominational covenant has been broken by our own highest level governing body. We refuse to break that covenant. We will honor it by constitutional, confessional and biblical adherence. It pains us but we must take corrective action in an attempt to restore this broken covenant and the Church herself."
"An open Theological Declaration to the PC (USA) Explicating Major Errors of the 218th General Assembly as a Church Council and the means of Their Redress" is not part of a combined renewal effort, McElroy clarified. The idea came from only the two ministers and is the property of them and those who subscribe it. They're not interested in being heroes either, he added, but only in promoting and defending biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy.