Members of a committee in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will gather this week to consider proposed changes, including the removal of a negative reference to homosexual behavior, to a historic document.
The General Assembly Special Committee on Correcting Translation Problems of the Heidelberg Catechism is scheduled to begin a two-day meeting on March 27.
Last June, the General Assembly, which is the highest governing body of the denomination, approved a proposal to begin revising the Heidelberg Catechism – a document of the Reformed Christian faith that is part of the PC(USA)'s constitution.
Presbyterians at the biennial meeting debated the current Miller-Osterhaven translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, which was adopted by the PC(USA) in 1967. Much of the controversy revolved around a reference to "homosexual perversion" among a list of sinful behaviors that is not found in the original German text.
Opponents of the current translation argued that the original text and all subsequent translations do not contain any reference to homosexuality and are seeking for a more historically faithful and accurate translation.
Question 87 in the translation reads:
"Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?
A. Certainly not! Scripture says, 'Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.'"
Opposing the revision, professors Bruce L. McCormack, E. David Willis, and Michael D. Bush from Princeton Theological Seminary and Erskine Theological Seminary, argued that those proposing for changes fail to understand how the Book of Confessions function.
"It is not the Latin and German texts from the sixteenth century that guide our Church, but rather it is the English texts adopted by the deliberative assemblies of the Church and published in the Book of Confessions by which every officer of our Church has vowed to be guided," they said. "These English versions have been responsibly translated and carefully chosen as 'faithful expositions of what Scripture teaches us to believe and do.'"
This week, the special committee will consider the proposed revision and report back to the 219th General Assembly in 2010.
The meeting comes as PC(USA)'s 173 presbyteries are currently voting on whether to delete a fidelity and chastity requirement for clergy from the constitution and open the way for the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.