Rev. Dr. James R. Edwards, a professor at Whitworth University in Washington, has sent a letter to his presbytery stating that because he “must obey God rather than man,” he must demit his ordination as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
His reasoning: “The action of the 2014 General Assembly to permit same-sex marriages by ministers of the PCUSA and to redefine marriage as a covenantal relationship between ‘two people’ rather than between a man and a woman places the PCUSA in irreconcilable conflict with both Scripture and its confessional tradition. As a consequence of this action, I can no longer endorse or be governed by the polity of the PCUSA.”
Edwards sent his letter to the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest less than two weeks after the PCUSA’s 221st General Assembly approved both an Authoritative Interpretation of the constitution and an amendment of it which resulted in allowing PCUSA pastors to perform same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.
Edwards is the Bruner-Welch Chair, Bruner-Welch Professor of Theology at Whitworth. His areas of specialization and expertise are listed as the Old and New Testament; the Gospels and life of Jesus; Biblical Hebrew; Koine Greek; history of early Christianity; Reformation; German church struggle, communist East Germany; the Holocaust. He has written numerous books, commentaries and articles.
In his letter, Edwards wrote, “I know of no doctrine or practice in Christianity that better qualifies for Vincent of Lerins’s famous definition of orthodoxy – that which has been believed and practiced ‘everywhere, always, and by all’ – than the definition of marriage as one man and one woman before God.”
The General Assembly decision to allow pastors discretion to perform “‘any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform’ separates the Holy Spirit from the word, to which the Spirit bears witness, and from the life of the believing community, through which the Spirit bears witness. This effectively relegates sexuality and marriage to the subjective judgment of each individual minister. This can—and surely will— be used to justify other unions equally contrary to the divine will,” he wrote.
Edwards continued that “In condoning same-sex marriage and redefining marriage the General Assembly of the PCUSA has heard another voice regarding gender and marriage than the univocal voice of Scripture and tradition, and in its decision to embrace that voice it has chosen to follow another lord than the one and only Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. An ecclesial body that turns from its orthodox heritage and teaches its members to do the same can no longer command, nor does it deserve, allegiance from the faithful. What the Apostle Peter said to the Sanhedrin I must say to a denomination that has substituted an alien anthropology for a Biblical and Christian anthropology: ‘I must obey God rather than man’ (Acts 5:29).”
He concluded by saying that his letter was not “a renunciation of the presbytery or its members, whom I honor as faithful servants of Christ. Nor do I intend this letter to be a renunciation of my original ordination vows, which I have endeavored to uphold since my ordination on October 2, 1971. This letter is, rather, a renunciation of the decision of the 2014 General Assembly, and the status to which it would oblige me, which would necessarily require me to disavow the integrity of my original ordination vows. I therefore, regretfully, demit my ordination as a teaching elder in the PCUSA.”
Edwards serves on the Board of Reference for Theology Matters and has been a frequent teacher for Presbyterian Renewal events.