Saturday, 20 December 2014

Integrity, Honesty and Casuistry

When I joined the Free Church of Scotland I did not at that time seek to transfer my ministerial credentials to the denomination.  In part the reason for this was the vows I would need to take as a minister, (they were slightly different as an elder).  I interpreted the ministerial vows as a commitment, not merely to the practice of exclusive psalmody, but to the principle of exclusive psalmody.

I may have been wrong in my interpretation, but given that this was how I read the vows it would have shown a lack of personal integrity if, believing them to say, this I nevertheless committed myself to a principle that in fact I did not hold. I had no problems with the practice of exclusive psalmody, but I could not in honesty say that this was an inviolable principle. 

The situation has now changed and the Free Church no longer holds to either the principle or the practice of exclusive psalmody.  Individual congregations are free to choose, if they wish, to supplement psalms with other scriptural praise.  (They are not free to supplant psalms; those must still be used alongside scriptural hymns.)

It seems, according to some, that I was a fool to be so conscientious in regard to ministerial vows, at least in the view of some in the Church of Scotland.  Given that this denomination is ready to embrace active homosexuals in civil partnerships, and this legislation will become church law in May, it has been asked how professed evangelicals can take the required ordination and induction vows.

In particular:
“Do you promise to seek the peace and unity of this Church; to uphold its doctrine, worship, government, and to cherish a spirit of love to all your brothers and sisters in Christ?”

The “government” of this denomination means, among others things, the acceptance of active homosexuals in office.  (It equally means the acceptance of non-converted office-bearers, non trinitarians,  heretics who deny the deity of Christ, his virgin conception, his penal substitution, and his bodily resurrection.)

However we are told by one Church of Scotland evangelical spokesman:

“Even if the overture goes through GA in May, I can keep these vows with complete integrity and still be completely faithful to Scripture. I can even promise with utter integrity ‘to be subject IN THE LORD … to the General Assembly’ – which is, of course, something quite different from being ‘subject to the General Assembly’ - even a GA at which I would record my dissent were the overture to go through”

This is a Jesuitical casuistry! The law of the church will be clear, but there is no obligation to keep this law, even if I vow to do so, because I am only subject “in the Lord” to the laws that I accept.  Presbyterian discipline has been replaced by rampant individualism. Worse, integrity has been replaced with dishonesty.

There is not even a suggestion that I should publicly affirm before presbytery those laws that I do not consider “in the Lord”, therefore exempt from keeping.  For example, “I wish to make it clear that I believe that unrepented active homosexual conduct is a damning sin and will not recognise the status of any office-bearer who practices or promotes such sin…”  No, I should keep quiet, cross my fingers, keep my opinions private, swallow my integrity and take these vows.

Some might call it casuistry.  I will be more forthright: it is lying, and lying is a sin.

The Westminster Confession (Chapter 22) makes this clear:
IV. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation. It can not oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt: nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics or infidels.

V. A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness.

I do not wish to advise the Church of Scotland, but perhaps they ought to enquire of slippery evangelicals about to take vows if they are doing so in the plain and usual sense of the words, or whether they are reserving to themselves the decision as to which church laws they intend to keep.

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