Dear General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa and Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons:
I was delighted to read aloud to a session last night, as we were studying the Book of Order, the following two paragraphs about our confessions:
F-2.01 THE PURPOSE OF CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states its faith and bears witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ in the creeds and confessions in The Book of Confessions. In these statements the church declares to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do. These statements identify the church as a community of people known by its convictions as well as by its actions. They guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures; they summarize the essence of Reformed Christian tradition; they direct the church in maintaining sound doctrines; they equip the church for its work of proclamation. They serve to strengthen personal commitment and the life and witness of the community of believers.
The creeds and confessions of this church arose in response to particular circumstances within the history of God’s people. They claim the truth of the Gospel at those points where their authors perceived that truth to be at risk. They are the result of prayer, thought, and experience within a living tradition. They appeal to the universal truth of the Gospel while expressing that truth within the social and cultural assumptions of their time. They affirm a common faith tradition, while also from time to time standing in tension with each other. (emphasis added)
The parts that I have underlined affirm and indicate, of course:
- That the confessions are a statement of the church’s current faith (note the present tense), not simply a museum collection of artifacts of what the church used to believe;
- That the confessions are not only a statement of current faith but also, therefore, govern our actions, what we do together as a church; and
- That despite minor variations among the confessions, they continue to affirm a common faith tradition in which we continue to stand, which we continue to believe, and by which we continue to agree to be governed.
This is astounding! What this means, of course, is that the advice Paul Hooker gave you on Friday afternoon, July 6, 2012, in regard to the proposal to redefine marriage, was totally wrong. It is most certainly not the case that we are free to revise the Book of Order into contradiction with The Book of Confessions, since even the Book of Order itself acknowledges (1) that the confessions state our current faith, (2) that our confessions declare what we are to do, and (3) that they do so within a coherent faith tradition.
Therefore, the action of the assembly to declare itself free to propose to the presbyteries that the Book of Order be revised into contradiction with The Book of Confessions violated not only The Book of Confessions and Robert’s Rules of Order, which was done with impunity, but also, strangely enough, the very Book of Order itself (which was purported to be held in higher esteem), because of these two paragraphs. I am sorry I did not remember them then. I hope we shall not make this mistake again.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director, Foundation for Reformed Theology
4103 Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia 23230