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Pastoral Letter from the NSW Assembly Moderator Concerning our Ministers and the Commonwealth Marriage Act

Brothers and sisters,

Greetings in Christ.

Yesterday, the Presbyterian Church of Australia in NSW completed its Assembly. It was a very encouraging time, which began with a celebration of the 150th Anniversary of our formation as a church in the then, colony of New South Wales. The Assembly rejoiced in the fact that God has continued to be gracious to us over those years, and especially how we have grown and developed since 1977. Each afternoon the Assembly spent time praying to God in response to His Word and asking Him to guide and use our churches and other institutions for His mission.

You will hear more about the general business of the Assembly from those in your congregation who attended and in the Pulse.

There is one decision of the Assembly about which I need to inform you immediately and ask for your prayers.

As you are aware there is a great deal of talk about the possibility of redefining what constitutes marriage. The Presbyterian Church has made it clear that we oppose a redefinition to include same sex couples in marriage. A few weeks ago, Rev. Mark Powell, the previous Moderator, wrote to all congregations encouraging members to contact parliamentarians to express their views on this matter.

Our historic doctrinal position has been that marriage is a life long covenant between one man and one woman. We believe that this faithfully reflects the teaching of the scriptures. This is seen for example in Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:4-5 ““Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Assembly considered what the church should do if marriage is redefined in Australia. It decided to ask the General Assembly of Australia to withdraw the whole church from the Marriage Act, so that our ministers could no longer solemnise marriages under the Marriage Act. The report which recommended this decision argued that if the Federal Government were to redefine marriage to include same-sex marriage then it would corrupt a good gift of God into a wrong. That would mean that ministers would then be acting for the government in a system which did not reflect the biblical view of marriage. In this case the positive reason for our co-operation with the Marriage Act would have been removed, and we would be better to avoid association with evil by no longer acting as celebrants.

As you can imagine this proposal generated a great deal of debate within the Assembly. The debate was one of the more impressive which I have seen at an Assembly. There were searching questions and serious discussion but with no rancour or ill-feeling. The proposal was approved by a vote of 140 to 62.

I want to stress that this is not a final decision. Rather, we have asked the General Assembly of Australia to consider the issue. That could take place at the next regular meeting of the General Assembly of Australia in September next year, or an emergency meeting may be called. Some of the other State Assemblies are having similar discussions and may also ask the General Assembly of Australia to act.

It is possible that we may introduce a form of ‘church marriage’ which is not recognised by the Marriage Act, so Presbyterian churches would still be able to be involved in celebrating marriages but these woud be ‘religious marriages’ recognized by God but not by the Government. It is envisaged that couples could participate in that religious service and that they may also choose to have a civil marriage. However, there is no detailed proposal about this at present.

Church members may be surprised by this decision and we will get some more information for you about the discussion and the possible implications. You may hear about this decision in the wider media, and I wanted you to first of all hear this from the church.

Please pray for the ongoing debate about marriage redefinition in Australia, and also for the General Assembly of Australia when it comes to make a final determination on this matter.

Yours in Christ,

Kevin Murray
Moderator, NSW Assembly

Original Letter – http://s1zg.mj.am/nl/s1zg/12474.html