Does the word "clear" mean that someone is going to present an undeniable truth that is evident to all, or is it a red flag signaling that a position not unanimously held is being propped up by a high-sounding word?
After almost 25 years of debate on the matter of women's ordination, Synod 1994 declared, "The clear teaching of Scripture prohibits women from holding the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist.” Because of our lengthy debate on this matter, almost everyone on both sides of the issue knew that wasn't true. Perhaps that's one of the reasons the very next synod voted to honor the two differing perspectives in our denomination on this matter. Because of Synod 1994, however, whenever I hear the word "clear" I instinctively, and sometimes unfairly, reach for my barnyard shovel because I know I'll have work to do.
Two members of the 1991 study committee on Creation and Science asked synod to adopt recommendation F: “The church declares that the clear teaching of Scripture and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as imagebearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race.” The six other members of the committee advised synod not to adopt that recommendation because “the church should not bind the consciences of its members beyond what is the clear and indubitable teaching of Scripture and the creeds.” All members of the committee said Scripture and the confessions were “clear” on this matter, and yet they recommended two opposite positions. Clearly, this is not clear.
Synod 2007 mandated the Faith Formation committee to "formulate a clear statement about the participation of baptized children at the Lord's Supper." (I'm not aware of any synods that have asked a study committee to give it an "unclear" statement on the matter assigned to it.) The committee’s report informs us that the confessions "clearly convey" some things, that the Belgic Confession "clearly asserts" something, that “Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 74 clearly asserts” something and that Ursinus, one of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, "clearly argues" something. The committee also addresses those who assert that Paul's encouragements about the Lord’s Supper are "clearly intended for all participants in all circumstances." Thanks to such clear guidance from the confessions and the saints of old and thanks to its response to those who believe Paul clearly teaches something contrary to the committee's proposal, the committee is now presenting its clearly mandated clear statement to Synod 2011.
Overtures in the Agenda clearly illustrate that some folks don't see things the way the committee clearly does. Maybe Synod 2011 will not only make a clear decision on this matter but will also give supreme, authoritative weight to its clear decision by saying something like, "The clear teaching of Scripture is...” I wonder if that will be clearly convincing.
It's clearly time for me to write an overture asking synod to forbid the use of the word "clearly" in any synodical decisions, study committee reports or overtures submitted to it because committed Christians clearly hold differing positions on almost any matter clearly or unclearly discussed at synod. If things are as clear as some say they are, clearly we would have only one clear position on every issue.
Just to make it clear, this is my last pre-synod blog. Leave some room in your life for laughter, but seriously pray for the delegates as they gather to do the work of the Church.