Clearly the decisions made at our Churches General Assembly have been of significance to many people. Not withstanding that there is a whole wealth of discussion and Good News that comes from our denomination and we do well to keep in context the whole story and the many aspects of our churches life and witness.
You can watch again some of the days discussions here to get a flavour of the week
The media not surprisingly picked up on the more hotly debated subjects during the week and you can watch the discussion regarding decisions made on Friday of the General Assembly:
Faith in a changing world
Writing for the Belfast Telegraph, Very Rev. Dr. Stafford Carson the convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Doctrine Committee explains the purpose of the report that was debated at the Church’s recent General Assembly.
Last week at our General Assembly, which is made up of ministers and elders from our congregations across Ireland, we discussed many topics that resulted in 100 resolutions being affirmed over the four days that we met.
As well as discussing a wide range of issues that included climate change, the political situation here, the situation facing Christians overseas and the challenges facing our education system, we also discussed the Doctrine Committee’s report on what we understand to be a ‘credible profession of faith’ – something that applies to all, regardless of background or orientation – and who want to be communicant members of our Church or have their children baptised.
The report was not about preventing anyone from attending worship, coming into church, receiving communion, or having access to pastoral care. Neither was it about being attracted to someone of the same sex. In the context of the Church’s position on biblical marriage, the report was providing guidance to our ministers and Kirk Sessions with particular reference to couples in same sex relationships.
A credible profession of faith is something that goes to the heart of Christian discipleship. The General Assembly reaffirmed what the Presbyterian Church has always taught, namely that everyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord are committing themselves to being faithful and obedient followers of Jesus Christ and his teaching. This means that what we profess with our lips, we affirm by the way we live our lives. Ultimately the life of the Christian is lived under the Lordship of Christ.
It is important to remember that marriage and sexual behaviour are not the only areas where Christians may fall short of God’s will for their lives, and our report of was very careful to point this out.
We recognise that following Jesus Christ as Lord often challenges us at the deepest level of our beings. That is why many of the personal issues of Christian discipleship are best discussed confidentially with wise and godly pastors and friends rather than being made a matter for public debate and comment through social media.
The Church offers support and love in the name of Christ to everyone, irrespective of a person’s views, opinions or lifestyle, lovingly pointing people to God’s truth and calling all to live their lives in conformity with His Word.
The Church has a particular responsibility to support all who desire to honour Christ, especially those who in that quest experience significant struggles, whatever they may be. None of us can progress in the Christian life without the support, counsel and encouragement of other Christians and without seeking the ever-sufficient grace of Christ, which He freely gives us.
Looking on and reading much of what has been said and written, it may seem that the Church is out of step with society. That’s not surprising, since the days of the early church, the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord has often placed Christians at odds with their surrounding culture.
That is why the New Testament writers encourage us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). We are called to honour and love Christ, even if this means we do come into conflict with society’s prevailing views on this and other issues.
The Bible makes clear what God’s will is for us as sexual beings, and it speaks unambiguously about the nature and purpose of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. As followers of Christ, we cannot ignore this clear teaching. Jesus’ own teaching, and his attitude toward the Scriptures, means that they are our final authority in all matters of faith and practice.
In view of what Jesus Christ has done for us by his death and resurrection, and out of love for Him, we should set aside our own choices and preferences willingly, to live in a way that pleases Him who loves us beyond measure.
For Christians, the teaching of Christ in Holy Scripture determines what is appropriate and that is what is reflected in the report of the Doctrine Committee. As everyday disciples of Jesus, we affirm that our commitment to Christ means that we honour Him in everything, in all our relationships and all that we do. That commitment is not designed to exclude or offend anyone. It is not an easy road to travel, but it is an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Writing in the News Letter today, Presbyterian Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles McMullen, reflects on the events of the past week, which he says ‘has witnessed much hurt’. Addressing some of the misunderstandings, Dr. McMullen also talks of needing to ‘somehow combine unconditional love with the absolute truth of God’s Word.’
I think that it was Harold Wilson, the late Prime Minister, who said that ‘a week was a long time in politics’. It can also be said of life in a church.
At last week’s General Assembly there were wide ranging discussions on various pressing issues of our time. Most of the media coverage, however, concentrated on our decision not to send our moderators to future Church of Scotland General Assemblies, given the Kirk’s position on same sex marriage. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland holds to the biblical and global Christian perspective that marriage is between one man and one woman. The Church of Scotland’s trajectory in recent years has been somewhat different.
Our Doctrine Committee also brought guidance in relation to our understanding of a ‘credible profession of faith’ – something that applies to all, regardless of background or orientation – and who want to become communicant members of our Church, or have their children baptised. Simply put, it means that we declare with our lips that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our lifestyle is consistent with His example and teaching.
There have been some misunderstandings as to what was agreed, but nobody is being prevented from coming into Sunday services, or from taking Communion as the Lord’s Table is open to all. In our reformed tradition, baptism has nothing to do with denying children anything, but with the promises parents must be able to take on their behalf – However, this week has witnessed much hurt.
As I said in my opening night address to the Assembly, when we deal with so many complex issues in today’s world, we need somehow to combine unconditional love with the absolute truth of God’s Word. If we err on the side of truth, we become harsh and judgmental and can easily forget that we are dealing with individuals, families and friends.
At the other end of the spectrum, we can run the risk of diluting the high standards of Christian teaching and behaviour to the extent that it becomes meaningless. Jesus had the amazing ability to show grace, but also the ability to bring strong challenging messages. To the woman caught in adultery, for example, he showed compassion and saved her life, but also instructed her to sin no more.
As I reflect on last week’s Assembly, there are two personal comments that I would like to make. When it comes to our human sexuality and the challenges that we face in so many other areas as well, we all stand in greenhouses and none of us should dare to throw the first stone.
Secondly, now that this decision has been taken, more than ever we need to show the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. No outsider will believe in Jesus until an insider treats him or her as a brother or sister. Therein lies the challenge! I am deeply grieved for those who have been hurt, but now even more committed to my theme for the year – ‘Building Relationships: Christ’s love compels us.’
- 4.6.2018 – 7.6.2018
- 7:00 PM – 2:00 PM
- Assembly Buildings, Assembly Buildings, 2-10 Fisherwick Place, Belfast, BT1 6DW
- General Assembly
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will meet in Belfast from Monday 4th to Friday 8th June.
The General Assembly is the principal decision-making body of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The weeklong gathering is an important time of coming together, of fellowship, worship, Bible study, celebration and debate where decisions taken will set the direction for the life and ministry of the Church over the coming year and beyond.
The vast majority of its business is open to the public, as are the worship services:
- Tuesday 11.45am – as part of the Assembly Communion Service
- Wednesday 12.15pm
- Thursday 2.45pm
and the Wednesday Evening Celebration at 7.45pm – all are welcome.
Following a resolution passed at last year’s General Assembly to make each more accessible, changes were made to the times that the Assembly would meet, with additional evening sessions being included.
The 2018 General Assembly will meet at the following times:
|Monday, 4th June
|| 7pm – 8.30pm
|Tuesday, 5th June
|| 10.30am – 9pm
|Wednesday, 6th June
|| 9.30am – 9.15pm
|Thursday, 7th June
|| 1.45pm – 9pm
|Friday, 8th June
|| 9.30am – 2pm
Attended by upwards of 1,000 ministers and elders from the Church’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland, on the Opening Night, Monday 4th June (which is also open to the public) the Assembly will formally elect and install Rev. Charles McMullen of West Church, Bangor, County Down as Moderator of the General Assembly for 2017/2018.
More details on this year’s General Assembly will follow in the coming weeks on this website and via social media. You will be able to follow events at this year’s Assembly @pciassembly on Twitter using the hashtag #PCIGA18 and @pcimoderator. You can also catch up on Facebook/pciassembly.
30.4.2018 | Moderator, Statements, Public Affairs
The Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely, along with former Moderator and minister emeritus of Lucan Presbyterian Church, Dr. Trevor Morrow, and the Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev. Trevor Gribben, has written to fellow ministers and congregations in the Republic of Ireland outlining the position of the Church in relation to May’s referendum on abortion.
In their letter, which was sent on Wednesday in time for yesterday’s Sunday services, the senior Church figures said that in light of the Government’s clear intention to introduce unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the Church had concluded that “meaningful protection for the unborn can only be secured if the Eighth Amendment is retained in the forthcoming referendum.
Describing the Government’s proposals as “regressive, incompatible with human dignity and morally unacceptable”, the senior ministers explained that representatives of the Church had written to TDs and Senators in January during the debate on the Oireachtas report on the Eighth Amendment, affirming the value of every human life, while emphasising the importance of care for women, children and families in times of crisis. They said that they had also urged them “to work for a truly progressive Ireland where the weak and vulnerable, including children in the womb, are cherished and protected.”
In writing to every active Presbyterian minister in the jurisdiction, the Moderator and his colleagues said, “As Christians, we see the scriptures speaking consistently of the importance and value of human life, including that of the unborn. On that basis, we are responsible before God to honour the sanctity of human life.
“While recognising that there are mixed views within our Church about the adequacy of the current Constitutional provision, particularly around those exceptional circumstances in which the termination of pregnancy may be necessary, we consider the proposals for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks to be regressive, incompatible with human dignity and morally unacceptable.”
“Having monitored the developments of recent months closely, the General Council of our Church, acting with the authority of the General Assembly, has concluded that meaningful protection for the unborn can only be secured if the Eighth Amendment is retained in the forthcoming referendum.”
The letter concluded by saying, “We therefore encourage Church members to consider these matters prayerfully and with great care over the coming weeks and to vote in accordance with their conscience.”
You can read the full text of the letter here.