Opinion Columns & Blogs

Bill Douglas: Moral discernment, not judgment

The term "Presbyterian" has been in the news recently because of actions by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) to sanction and bless same-sex marriages. St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, which I serve, is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) which is a completely separate denomination.

It has never been the practice of St. Andrews to make public comment on what any other church doing and saying, but this moment requires clarity. I believe it is fair to call attention to actions the PCUSA has chosen to take and it is fair, as the PCA, to distance ourselves from those actions since we strongly disagree with them. We in the PCA are satisfied to stand by our theological commitments, our body of teaching and our decisions as those in the PCUSA stands by theirs.

The PCA was formed in 1972 by ministers and churches who were convinced that the PCUSA had begun to move away from many former doctrines concerning nature, the Bible and the person and work of Jesus Christ. The commitments of the PCA remain 1) the ultimate authority of the Bible as the word of God, 2) the system of doctrines known as the Reformed Faith, summarized in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and 3) the commission of the church to take the good news about Jesus Christ to all people.

The issue of the moment is not in the final sense about the nature of morality and marriage. It is about authority (or in philosophical terms, it is about epistemology). Chasing the latest cultural zeitgeist is never good policy. Anglican theologian W.R. Inge once warned, "He who would marry the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower."

The key questions to be faced are 1) Is God there? and 2) has he spoken? Once someone faces the claims of Jesus of Nazareth, the compelling evidence that he rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion and as a result begins to believe in him, then the Bible becomes ultimate authority. When we begin to follow him it means we are not allowed to reserve to ourselves any part of our lives as our own. Our decisions about our time, our money, our hopes and plans, and our sexuality all belong to the one who died and rose again on our behalf. Writing over a half-century ago C. S. Lewis commented, "I do not think all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road It is still either-or."

The gospel of Jesus Christ means good news. I Corinthians 6:9-11 is a list of behaviors, including forms of immorality that carry the most serious eternal consequences. But the text closes with the words - and such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the church of Jesus Christ has always been -- and still is -- for those of us who were far from God and in rebellion against him but who want to come home. St. Andrews is above all things a gospel church joyfully proclaiming the truth of the scriptures and the sufficiency of Christ.