In a recent article in the Presbyterian Outlook, Jack Haberer decries the presbyteries who have passed resolutions to abide by the ordination standards in the Book of Order. He states, "Well intended as they are, these overtures miss the real spirit of the work of the Theological Task Force."
I must admit that I am unsure what the real spirit of the work of the Theological Task Force is. The task force members argued that we shouldn’t find legislative solutions to our problems, yet they recommended a byzantine Authoritative Interpretation that most still don’t understand. They were charged to lead the church in theological reflection, yet they merely produced a report with policy recommendations. They claim that they want governing bodies to apply "group discernment methods," yet when sessions and presbyteries try to discern what God wills for the church, they are accused of missing the point.
As I read the task force report, the focus is clearly on ordination standards. The report culminates in that Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108. Assuming the best intentions of the task force, the report seems to suggest that ordinations must occur on a case-by-case basis. That no belief or conduct should presumptuously exclude a candidate for ministry. According to the report, standards are aspirational. Only after careful examination, should a determination be made if a candidate meets the standards. I can agree with much of this. This is simply pastoral. A candidate who differs with a minor theological point may not necessarily be in violation of the ordination standards. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t suggest that there are only shades of gray. The candidate who claims that the universe was sneezed out of the Great Green Arkleseizure and fears the coming of the Great White Handkerchief would be readily dismissed.
However, the task force went further. In it’s rationale for the Authoritative Interpretation, the task force suggests that governing bodies must determine whether a departure from the standards violates the “essentials of faith and polity.” Only if a violation of standards is such a departure will the candidate be automatically disqualified. The task force members seem to want congregations and presbyteries to debate what constitutes an essential at every examination.
Beyond making a mockery of the constitution, this is a horrible way to treat candidates. Every examination has the potential to move beyond the candidate’s life and faith. Moreover, two candidates with the same qualifications might receive different treatment based on a prejudicial whim. Those presbyteries and sessions who have passed resolutions have acted pastorally. They have removed the rancorous debate away from the time of a candidate’s examination. They have leveled the playing field for all candidates. If necessary, these resolutions can be re-examined and modified again and again. Jack Haberer suggests that those who pass such resolutions and overtures reject grace for the sake of polity. I do not see how a desire for coherence, clarity, and civil discussion is contrary to grace.