The Bible and the Christian moral life: a debate within the Reformed Church in America

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David E. Timmer


In the Reformed Church in America, a denomination that embraces a fair amount of theological diversity and that values fellowship over doctrinal conformity, the fate of theological pronouncements by its General Synod is often ambiguous at best. Provocative and polarizing statements are unlikely to survive the centripetal force of General Synod's consensus-based politics. Any lingering doubt as to the community-building quality of a paper is likely to be resolved by synod's voting "to recommend the paper … to the congregations of the Reformed Church in America for study"—a recommendation that avoids outright rejection but falls well short of putting denominational weight behind the document. (Such reticence, of course, does not always prevent the document's partisans from citing it a few years down the road as the Reformed Church's "official" position.)

This determination to "govern from the center" has its pastoral and institutional benefits. Attempts by study committees in sister denominations to seize the prophet's mantle by forwarding radical proposals to ecclesiastical assemblies have not always had happy results. For instance, the 1991 report to the PCUSA on "Presbyterians and Human Sexuality" may have so raised the temperature surrounding the issue as to set back the possibility of productive discussion by a decade or more. Although rejected resoundingly by the General Assembly (by a vote of 534 to 31 ), the report was widely distributed within the denomination and came to serve as a "sign of contradiction"—for some, as a goal of liberated and inclusive sexuality, for many others as a warning of the consequences of pitting contemporary cultural trends against the Scripture-based moral tradition of Christianity

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Reformed Church in America -- History; Church controversies; Reformed Church in America -- Doctrines; Ethics in the Bible; Bible -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.; Christian ethics; Homosexuality -- Biblical teaching