A group of Pentecostal and charismatic leaders put out guidelines on how the gift of prophecy should be handled, motivated in large part by the movement’s terribly haphazard response to the Trump presidency. Christianity Today has an excellent article explaining the background.
There’s much to commend about the statement: it subordinates prophecy to scripture in authority, affirms that prophecy is redemptive and fundamentally about Jesus in nature, that prophets should be in submission to the church and councils of elders in the exercise of this gift, and that prophets are only qualified in the exercise of the gift if they have godly character. These are all excellent standards and Pentecostals and their churches will be much, much better for it if they are followed.
But I’m not optimistic. Believing that prophecy is new revelation from God in addition to scripture inherently invites competition with scripture, even if if the content of the prophecy does not prima facei contradict the Bible…
At their General Assembly last week, the Presbyterian Church in America voted to allow presbyteries to forbid ministers teaching their exceptions. This does not appear to be a formal position of the PCA; the denominational committee that reviews presbytery minutes approved a presbytery forbidding the teaching of exceptions, and then the GA voted to affirm that committee’s approval.
I think this was a mistake. I have written extensively on exceptions and scruples, but the core of my argument is that if a presbytery allows an exception, the minister is vowing to subscribe to the Westminster Standards except where he disagrees. Even though the word “except” is not in the vows, it is implied by the granting of an exception. Otherwise the minister would be lying in his subscription vows. Yes, the church sets the rules on what can be taught, but those rules are enforced through the ministerial vows which have excluded the subject to which the minister took exception. Since the presbytery has granted the exception, to forbid a minister from teaching his conscience is a violation of his conscience, which in and of itself contradicts the Westminster Confession.
Here’s a case study on the impracticalities of this.
If a candidate for ministry takes the most common exception (recreation on the Lord’s Day) and the presbytery forbids him from teaching his view, there are potential three potential scenarios. It is easy to imagine a congregant asking this pastor what his view is on recreation during the Sabbath. Pastoral discretion will have been hampered by the presbytery’s gag order. In the first scenario, the minister teaches the Confession’s view as scripture’s teaching, contrary to his own convictions. This would violate his conscience and be a form of deception since he would not be “from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speak[ing] the truth, and only the truth…in all other things whatsoever” (WLC 144). In the second scenario the minister would simply avoid addressing the subject. This is probably not possible in a Presbyterian church, and is certainly not advisable for a pastor charged with teaching the whole counsel of God. The third scenario is the pastor teaching the Confession’s view, only to then tell his congregants that he cannot affirm what he just taught. This would spare his conscience, but would undermine the integrity of his message and de facto be teaching his exception.
Simply put, if the presbytery does not want an exception taught, don’t grant the exception.
Last week my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, held its 41st stated General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the annual meeting and council (synod) of my church, and every pastor has a right to attend and every congregation may send elder representatives. Though there was plenty else going on at the GA meeting, below is a summary of the official actions taken by the assembly.
To amend the EPC’s constitution requires a majority vote of one assembly, a majority vote of a majority of presbyteries over the next year, and then a majority vote of the subsequent assembly.
We finalized an amendment to the vows and acts of ordination to clarify some differences between phrasing if the ordinand is a teaching elder (pastor), ruling elder, or deacon. We also amended the rules that govern our GA meetings to allow for virtual participation in case of a state of emergency. This change in rules was prompted by our experience with COVID, and not wanting to get caught flat footed again…
George F. Will’s op-ed this morning in the Washington Post is fantastic.
“[Kay Hymowitz] says America’s middle class demands K-12 education that cultivates and celebrates each child’s individuality. Yet the middle class also expects schools to instill this class’s values — accountability, diligence, civility, self-control — ‘that are often in direct tension with students’ autonomy and individuality’…
‘In other cultures, both East and West,’ Hymowitz writes, “parents prize manners and ritualized courtesies over the child’s self-expression. The French teach their two-year-olds to say “bonjour, madame“ or “monsieur” in every encounter.’ Such ritualized greetings strike Americans as artificial and a worrying sign of an overly programmed child.’
They are artificial. As is civilization.”
“The posture of standing [in the public prayer of the church] has been objected to by some…as fatiguing to the feeble and inform. But if the officiating minister be tolerably discreet in the length of his prayers, this objection can have little or no force to those who are in ordinary health. It will, surely, rather be a relief than otherwise to stand up ten, or at most, twelve minutes when the sitting posture is to be maintained during almost the entire remainder of the time allotted to the public services.”
-Samuel Miller, Thoughts on Public Prayer (page 127).
Sometimes I wonder if I pray too long in church (and sometimes my congregants tell me I do) but by Miller’s standards I have been excessively discreet.