Overview: What Are We Proposing?
At our upcoming June 7th Stated Meeting, The Presbytery of Seattle, being mindful of unresolved differences and distinctives in the application of standards for ordained service, may establish administrative commissions and/or may commission standing committees, with the power to examine and receive candidates for membership in this presbytery.
Membership for examination commissions shall come from teaching elders who are affiliated with, and commissioners from congregations whose sessions have through membership or affinity aligned themselves with, PC(USA) organizations whose purpose it is to provide counsel in matters of conscience regarding the application of ordination standards. The Fellowship of Presbyterians and the Covenant Network are two such PC(USA) organizations that Seattle Presbytery recognizes as organizations who provide counsel on matters related to the interpretation of Scripture, and faith and practice within the Reformed tradition, regarding the application of standards for ordination.
Candidates for membership in Seattle Presbytery shall meet with the Committee on Ministry and be assigned an Examination Commission based on input from the candidate his/herself, the PNC, and/or the Screening Team of COM. (The Screening Team of COM is a subcommittee of COM whose job it is to meet with candidates at the interview stage, before they are called, to advise the COM and the PNC as to fit to the church and presbytery).
Examinations for membership in Seattle Presbytery shall be conducted in accordance with the Book of Order, in particular sections G-2.0104, G-2.0105 and W-4.4003. An examination for membership in the presbytery is sustained by a majority vote of those present in the examination. A full report of the results of the examination shall be given at the next presbytery meeting.
Rationale: Why Are We Proposing This?
The Polity Regarding Presbytery Examinations
Our polity states that councils of the church “may frame statements of faith, bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in life, resolve questions of doctrine and discipline, give counsel in matters of conscience, and decide issues property brought before them under the provisions of this Book of Order.” (G-3.0102) It further states that councils “have the power to establish plans and rules for worship, mission, government, and discipline of the church to do those things necessary to the peace, purity, unity, and progress of the church under the will of Christ. They have responsibility for the leadership, guidance, and government of that portion of the church that is under their jurisdiction.” (G-3.0102)
The presbytery is a council of the church “responsible for the government of the church throughout its district, and for assisting and supporting the witness of congregations to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that all congregations become communities of faith, hope, love and witness.” (G-3.0301) Together as the presbytery, teaching elders and ruling elder commissioners elected by the sessions of congregations within its district, has particular responsibility to “coordinate, guide, support, and resource the work of its congregations for the most effective witness to the broader community.” (G-3.0303)
Among its many responsibilities and powers, the presbytery has the responsibility to ordain and receive teaching elders and to guide the preparation of those preparing to become teaching elders. (G-3.0301) “The presbytery shall examine each teaching elder or candidate who seeks membership in it on his or her Christian faith and views in theology, the Sacraments, and the government of this church.” (G-3.0306) The standards and the means by which the presbytery applies these standards are found in G-2.0104 and G.2.0105.
The application of these standards has always been exercised with the understanding that the individual being examined is allowed to express their “freedom of conscience with respect to the interpretation of Scripture...within certain bounds.” What is not clear however is what the church does when, in the exercise of our freedom of conscience, a sufficient number of individuals articulate a shared sustained difference in regard to the interpretation of Scripture.
Yet Scripture itself is clear in its instruction: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18) “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom 12:10) “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:2-3)
By utilizing examination commissions, we are as a presbytery are seeking to honor the relationships that nurture and sustain our fellowship in Christ’s mission. Though we have differences in some areas of our mission, we continue to seek to God’s wisdom together in all things, even in those areas we disagree. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)