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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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