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Presbyterians For "Fidelity and Chastity"
Source: The Presbyterian Layman Sept/Oct 1996

The Right Time, The Right Way, The Right Spirit was the theme of "A Gathering of Presbyterians" held September 16-17 near Chicago. Almost 500 Presbyterians came to the gathering which was to communicate to ministers and elders and help them promote the new "fidelity and chastity" amendment passed by the General Assembly which requires the approval of a majority of the Presbyteries before becoming part of the "Book of Order".

The amendment reads: "Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament."

The article continues, "In a seminar to help participants develop strategies for passing the amendment in their presbyteries it was interesting that at least two presbyteries are specifically forbidding the use of Scripture when the amendment is debated on the floor. The rationale being given is that it is a polity matter." (matters of Church government but not specifically doctrinal issues).

Some additional comments by Bill: As a sometime Presbyterian I was interested to see what the "historic confessional standards of the church" referred to in this amendment say about fidelity and chastity. Persons unfamiliar with confessional churches should bear in mind that for people in such churches who feel that they take both the Bible and confessions seriously, a reference to the confessions INCLUDES the "Scripture Proofs" which are given to support any statement of the confession. Thus, if the confessions teach that chastity and fidelity are scriptural matters, this ranks the matter higher than one of church polity, i.e. simply a matter of practical church government or policy.

Having checked the Westminster Confession and the Larger Catechism, it seems to me that those in this debate who hold that these issues are only matters of church polity are incorrect--SO FAR AS THESE DOCTRINAL STANDARDS ARE CONCERNED. Interestingly the Confession does not directly PROHIBIT adultery and fornication in its section on marriage, referring to them only as grounds for divorce. The Catechism, on the other hand, lists adultery and fornication (along with a laundry list of other sexually-related vices) as prohibited in the Seventh Commandment. The scriptural support given ranges all the way through the Old and New Testaments. This approach reflects a view of biblical theology which understands all "moral" teaching of the Bible as deriving from and consistent with the Ten Commandments.

Why do I bother with all this commentary? Simply to say that while in many ways I respect the confessions (written hundreds of years ago) as products of sincere men who were trying their best to interpret the Bible correctly, yet in many cases their methodology was flawed. These flaws have tended to preserve in stone erroneous interpretations of scripture for following generations.

For example, we at Liberated Christians hold that the Old Testament law, including the Ten Commandments, was fulfilled in the life of Jesus and that those who follow him are to follow the Law of Love which incorporates the essence of obedience to all that God wills for man. Unfortunately, those who slavishly follow the confessions actually find themselves following and promoting minute legalisms which become no less burdensome than the laws of the Pharisees which Jesus condemned.

As for the matter of "chastity and fidelity," I personally hold that the seventh commandment speaks only of ADULTERY (fidelity), not of FORNICATION (chastity), which was an entirely different matter in Old Testament times. In addition, we hold that the Old Testament view of adultery was not fundamentally a problem of HAVING SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, but a matter of STEALING A MAN'S PROPERTY. Thus, in modern polyamory or swinging, the CONSENSUAL SHARING of one's primary partner does not constitute adultery and is not sinful.

This issue illustrates, among other things, the problem of hanging on to ancient biblical interpretations without seriously considering the cultural content in which they were originally given..



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