As a denomination, you men of God will face a major issue this year that has already caused many congregations to leave the PCA, and may very well cause a major split in the PCA. Will teaching elders (and ruling elders) who identify as gays (or homosexuals) be allowed to hold office in this branch of the Lord’s Church? The answer should be clear. Absolutely not! Action must be taken now. It must be taken this year.
Because of age and health reasons I will not be able to attend the 48th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in St. Louis this year. My heart is broken and my burden is heavy as I contemplate the importance of this Assembly. My prayers are with the commissioners who bear a great responsibility to speak the mind of God not only to our own denomination, but also to the world who watches.
Our nation has blatantly and proudly renounced the Word of God. There is very little common grace to restrain the temptations and sins of our generation. God no longer matters, God’s law is rejected, and there is no toleration of any ethics that bears even a slight resemblance to the Christian Faith. I fear that this putrefaction will infiltrate our Church.
As a denomination, you men of God will face a major issue this year that has already caused many congregations to leave the PCA, and may very well cause a major split in the PCA. Will teaching elders (and ruling elders) who identify as gays (or homosexuals) be allowed to hold office in this branch of the Lord’s Church? The answer should be clear. Absolutely not! Action must be taken now. It must be taken this year. Waiting another year to deal with this issue will only make the problem worse.
What can be done this year? There is only one realistic avenue that can be taken. Let me explain.
Overtures 2 from Central Georgia, 4 from Savannah River, and 25 from Southeast Alabama invoke a seldom-used provision of the Book of Church Order (BCO) (Section 34-1) that calls for the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) to assume original jurisdiction when a presbytery “refuses to act in doctrinal cases or cases of public scandal.” These presbyteries allege that Missouri Presbytery “refused to act” on allegations against Teaching Elder Greg Johnson and the session of his church, Memorial Presbyterian of St. Louis.
These overtures are presently in the hands of the SJC, and therefore will not come before the commissioners at this General Assembly. Likewise, a complaint filed by a member of Missouri Presbytery seeking to reverse the decision of the Presbytery on this issue will not be considered by the SJC until the status of the previous overtures is declared.
The Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality takes no stand on the ordination of men who identify as gays or homosexuals. It is an excellent theological paper that expresses even the best nuances of Reformed theology on sexuality. However, its silence is its failure. It says nothing about the issue at hand. Adopting this paper as representing the mind of the Assembly will only increase the divide and will not bring the brethren together.
The only fair and judicial way for the Assembly to act properly on this issue is to adopt the overture from Westminster Presbytery (#16) or the overture from Gulf Coast Presbytery (#23) which would begin the process of changing the Book of Church Order that would make it unconstitutional for men who identify as gays or homosexuals to serve as elders in the PCA.
The Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB) will recommend to the Overtures Committee and to the Assembly that these overtures are out of order because the responsibility of determining whether a man is qualified for ordination belongs to the lower court. However, this ruling is inconsistent.
It is interesting to note that the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms say nothing about an elder being a male. At the same time, this qualification to hold office in the PCA is not left up to the local courts. The primary reason (next to the Scriptures themselves) that an elder must be a male is because the Book of Church Order requires that every candidate for office be a male. Females are restricted by the BCO from serving as an officer in the PCA. BCO 7.2 says that “In accordance with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.” This is a qualification for church office that is not left to the jurisdiction of the lower courts, but is specified in the BCO. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to add to the BCO a restriction that prevents those who identify as gays or homosexuals from serving as officers.
Not only is this change to the BCO legitimate, but it is also fair to our members. If adopted by the General Assembly, the proposed change would be sent down to the local presbyteries for further adoption. This would give the church as a whole the opportunity to speak on this issue. Local courts represent the people in the pews and the men who serve on these courts will definitely hear from their local constituents. Even though Presbyterianism is a representative system, every member of the PCA should be involved in this decision. It can no longer be hidden from many PCA members who have heard little to nothing about it.
The consequences of a change in the BCO may be considered disastrous for many, but it will be disastrous regardless. The controversy has gone on for far too long already. The only question is who will suffer.
Again, my heart goes out to the PCA and to the men who serve at this General Assembly. I am thankful for your service to the Church. As a charter member who was present at the First General Assembly, I will pray that the Assembly will do the right thing before Almighty God and be faithful to the Scriptures, to the Reformed Faith, and to the Great Commission.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.