Renouncing sin is nothing new for church membership
Most Presbyterians--including me--think such a policy is entirely appropriate and biblical, while neither easy nor particularly popular in this age. Some theological innovators wish our policy weren't that homosexual practice is sin, for a number of reasons. But with homosexual practice definitely considered sin, then logically, not just the act of ordination of practicing homosexual persons as deacons, elders, and pastors is considered wrong by the Presbyterian Church; it is the homosexual practice that is wrong, which is what makes any such ordinations innately flawed.
And that led to the subject of church membership, and I contended that it would not be lovingly pastoral to admit to church membership anyone bent on publicly flouting Christian morality, anyone unwilling to acknowledge sinfulness and begin to bend one's will to God's gracious purposes instead. Certainly there are no perfect church members; the church is a hospital for sinners. But a key prerequisite for admission needs to be the admission of sin and a desire for healing. Confession is agreeing with God, and that's a necessary starting place for healing to begin.
I referred to a part of the Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of 1978, which read: "Homosexual persons who sincerely affirm 'Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior' and 'I intend to be his disciple, to obey his word, and to show his love' should not be excluded from membership" (at the end of PDF page 57). That led a friend to ask where the AI got that specific language about members needing to affirm Jesus as Lord and to obey his Word.
Is this some new requirement the AI cooked up? Is it an ancient requirement now repudiated? Good questions, but neither is the case.
As best I can discern, the AI quotations come either from the Book of Order of the UPCUSA at the time (1978) or from The Worshipbook (copyright 1970 for use in both the northern and southern churches). Most likely, they came from both. They were nothing new in 1978, in other words.
I don't have the 1970 Book of Order, to see if the phrases are directly from that, but the service for commissioning baptized members in The Worshipbook (page 49) includes four questions:
____________, who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
Do you trust in him?
Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word and to show his love?
Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever you may be?
As you can see, those questions asked of prospective members contain the wording used in the 1978 AI. Those who couldn't honestly respond in the affirmative could not join a church.
But now since 1983, we have a new constitution, some might argue. Yes, but our constitution retains similar statements (emphasis added):
G-5.0103 states in part, "The congregation shall welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God's grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church...."
W-4.0203 is even stronger. Of new members, it says, in part: "They shall reaffirm the vows taken at Baptism by:
a. professing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,
b. renouncing evil and affirming their reliance on God's grace,
c. declaring their intention to participate actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of the church....
G-5.0202 talks about what is expected of an active member, including voluntary submission to the government of the church. It also permits churches to be more stringent if they believe it necessary:
Other conditions of active membership that meet the needs of the particular church and are consistent with the order and confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may be adopted by the session after careful study and discussion with the congregation.
Further, in 1985, a book referred to as the "Supplemental Liturgical Resource 2" was published by the Office of Worship of the PCUSA. Note that this is after reunification in 1983. The resource is titled "Holy Baptism and Services for the Renewal of Baptism." This book recommends appropriate liturgy for various worship occasions.
There is a service for "Renewal of Baptism for Those Who Have Been Estranged from the Church" (pp. 78ff). Here is a powerful part of the service, meant for those who are being presented to join the church by reaffirmation of faith:
Now, as you publicly declare your faith, I ask you to reject sin, to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, and to confess the faith of the church, the faith in which you were baptized.
Do you renounce evil, and its power in the world, which defies God's righteousness and love?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?
I renounce them.
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior?
Do you intend to be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying his word, and showing his love, to your life's end?
[And so on. This same wording for the questions is used for baptisms and for confirmations.]
Obviously, renunciation of sin plays an important role in church membership, as well it should! We become new creations in Christ, and our lives ought to show it and our lips proclaim it. Imperfect we will be. Mistakes we will make, and we will make them again and again. But renouncing sin is necessary, rather than embracing it or declaring it of no consequence.
No. Asking for the renunciation of sin is no new requirement for membership, sprung as a "deeply pernicious heresy." Seeking metanoia--repentance, the turning from sin toward God--is a deeply loving act of nurture.
Heresy would be the Gnostic notion that one's practice is not a part of one's profession of faith! The intention to obey Christ through obeying his Word is part and parcel of genuine faith. And the profession of genuine faith is a requirement for church membership.