Second PC Presbytery Adopts Essential Ordination Tenets

The Presbytery of Santa Barbara adopted a list of essential tenets and Biblical doctrines for use in the preparation and examination of new pastors, becoming only the second Presbytery in the PC(USA) to espouse auxiliary guidelines of ensuring that candidates for ministry adhere to the Reformed tradition.

The Presbytery’s “Essential Tenants: Common Biblical Doctrines and Reformed Distinctives” document does not oppose or reject current standards for ordinations in the national denomination.

To be ordained in the PC(USA), each candidate is required to answer affirmatively to the questions: "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?"

However, the Santa Barbara Presbytery’s guideline is meant to reinforce those “essential tenets of Reformed faith” in light of recent challenges to the traditional interpretation of Biblical text.

In 2003, the Presbytery of San Diego first approved a list of essentials and Reformed distinctives, facing criticism from more liberal Presbyteries that said such a list would violate other parts of the denominational constitution allowing ordained persons to be “continually guided” by the confessions “without being forced to subscribe to any precisely worded articles of faith.”

Such freedoms to interpret Biblical texts and tenets have led to the current debate surrounding homosexuality in the denomination. Gay rights advocates say ministers can be homosexual as long as they believe they are “led” by the confessions, even if they may be violating “non-essential” laws prohibiting ministers from partaking in sexual activity outside of a man-woman marriage.

According to a May 15 report by the Presbytery Layman, a conservative watchdog group within the PC(USA), the Santa Barbara resolution would help ensure that the candidates to the Presbytery are in the Reformed tradition.

The new document is meant as a “tool for instructing congregations in the foundational truths” a “reference for training prospective church officers as they prepare to take vows and enter office,” and a guideline to communicate the “theological expectations concerning what Reformed ministers must sincerely believe and proclaim.”