I have been trying not to blog about the General Assembly or the highly controversial Peace, Unity, and Purity (PUP) report. But as I’ve been reading the news, other blogs, and reactions, I just really feel the need to say some things.
The passage of the report in its entirety is, in my opinion, a good thing. I understand the objections about “local option” (which, technically, this is not) and the other standard objections (content-wise) as well. But, realistically, I think what this report does is say to presbyteries and sessions, to Committees on Preparation for Ministry, that we expect them and trust them to do their job.
When a person feels/hears a call to ordained ministry, they go through a few years of pretty intense scrutiny. They meet with their session, with their Presbytery Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) and with the whole Presbytery at a stated meeting. During this process, they write essays, statements of faith, and various other statements (about 9 essays per year). They sit in meetings in which the session and CPM grill them on all topics—both related to what they’ve written and not. At the “end” of the process, they stand on the floor of the presbytery they are being called to and answer more questions. And during this whole process, the session, the CPM, and the Presbytery figure out what the person believes and doesn’t believe, whether the person has a genuine call to ordained ministry, and whether the person has any “scruple” (to use the 1729 language) with the teachings of the church or the constitution of the church. And those bodies--session, committee, presbytery--regularly decide whether those things are so essential or not.
In other words, the sessions, committees, and presbyteries charged with overseeing the ordination process for church officers already do exactly what the PUP report suggests they do. They already apply the national standard to each person and their sense of call. They already use the spirit of that clause in the Adopting Act of 1729 and the constitutional standard that says that those being ordained are entitled to freedom of conscience, at least as far as non-essentials are concerned--and those bodies regularly decide what’s essential. And we don’t see a whole bunch of atheists being ordained. We don’t see a bunch of people who declare a scruple with the resurrection or the Trinity.
What we do see is diversity of opinion and diversity in expression of faith. What we do see is a reflection of the Body. What we do see is that some people make it through the ordination process and some don’t, for a variety of reasons. What we do see is historic Reformed processes at work every day. And so I predict that we won’t see a substantial change because of this “authoritative interpretation”--except that we will, hopefully, see CPMs across the country taking their job seriously, knowing that the trust of the nationwide church has been placed in them.