We're called to honour and love Christ, even if this means conflict with society
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 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.
Very Rev Dr Stafford Carson is the convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Doctrine Committee