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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Times, They Are a-Changin'
May 12, 2011

“The times, they are a-changin” – so Bob Dylan announced in 1963, at about the time of President Kennedy’s assassination. Those were revolutionary days, to be sure – and the revolution has not yet ended. Indeed, history is a record of constant ferment and change, both in general society and in the church.  We Presbyterians seem especially often to find ourselves on the vanguard of changes in Christian life and mission.

This week marks a significant change in our life as a denomination. To inform our presbytery of this change and help us understand it, yesterday I sent via “snail-mail” the following letter to all our sessions. I am publishing it also via the newsletter this week, to assure that it is circulated as widely as possible across our presbytery….

Dear Members of Pittsburgh Presbytery,

On May 10 our 87th presbytery voted in favor of Amendment 10A to our Book of Order, replacing one section of our ordination standards with new language. A majority of our 173 presbyteries has now approved this change. The most notable feature of this change is the removal of language requiring candidates “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” In its place is language directing that candidates “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life.”

This change will lead many Presbyterians to rejoice, while many others grieve. In such times, let us all be especially mindful to continue “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Presbyterians sincerely devoted to biblical authority for faith and life have long differed in their understanding of what Scripture leads us to believe and do with regard to same-sex relationships. The new Book of Order language allows for that variety of understandings to inform local decisions about who may be ordained to office in the church. With fewer specific denomination-wide rules governing who may be ordained, ordaining bodies will need to exercise deeper discernment as to whom God is calling to service as an officer in the church.

As those committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture, God’s people dare not let the world set our moral agenda. We are called to be holy, set apart to God’s glory. The Bible is clear that many practices the world tolerates and even celebrates – greed, envy, promiscuity, slander, inhospitality, and the like – have no place in the kingdom of God, nor do they have any place in the church. This is a time to be more attentive to the call to biblical holiness, not less.

One of the most striking manifestations of the spirit of the world in our time is its increasing polarization, manifest in demonization of those who do not see things as we do. In a world where partisan hostility is increasingly the norm, we are called to bear witness to a Lord and Savior whose arms stretched out to everyone on the cross. Through the cross, Jesus broke down the walls of hostility that characterize “normal” human relations. (Ephesians 2:15-16) The way of his kingdom is to live together as a reconciled people, rather than following the world’s way of polarizing around our differences. When Paul saw such polarization even beginning to emerge in Corinth, he challenged it head-on with the searing question, “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13) A golden evangelical opportunity lies now before us, to show a watching world that because of Jesus, to whom we have all been joined by the Holy Spirit, we can and will walk together in love through times of significant disagreement among us.

Whatever we do in word and deed, let it be done in the name of our Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In Christ’s bonds,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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