The theological views of a Rockville minister have been certified as orthodox by the highest court in the United Presbyterian Church.
The ruling last week by the Permanent Judicial Commission of the church's General Assembly concerning the Rev. Mansfield M. Kaseman brings to an end the nearest thing to a heresy trial the predominantly liberal church has had in years.
The case has been closely watched nationwide by conservatives in the church, who view it as evidence that the denomination has abandoned the central precepts of the faith and fallen into apostasy. Upward of 50 local congregations have split from the 2.5 million-member church in the last two years, many of them citing the Kaseman dispute as one of the reasons.
Early in 1979 Kaseman, who was an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and still holds standing in that denominatin, was called to be a copastor of the Rockville United Church. The Rockville church represents a union of United Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations. Under Presbyterian rules he had to be approved by the National Capital Union Presbytery in order to serve that church.
Kaseman was overwhelmingly approved by the presbytery on March 20, 1979, but the vote was succesfully challenged on procedural grounds by members of the presbytery who also faulted Kaseman's theology.
According to local church officials the bitter dispute was triggered by Kaseman's answer, at the 1979 examination, to the question: "Do you believe Jesus is God?" Kaseman replied: "No, God is God."
On the order of a church court, the presbytery conducted a second theological examination of Kaseman and again, on March 18, 1980, voted approval of the clergyman by a nearly three-to-one majority.
A group of six laymen and one clergyman challenged the action with a 10-count petition that contended that Kaseman did not hold traditional Presbyterian views on Jesus Christ and his role in the salvation of humankind. The appeal was denied by the denomination's Permanent Judicial Commission, the church's highest court.
Some church leaders have contended that the dispute is basically a question of semantics, in which traditionalists fail to acknowledge Kaseman's efforts to express conventional theological phrases in contemporary language. The church's high court appeared to support this view when it upheld the presbytery's approval of Kaseman "after examinations of unprecedented length" and maintained that "difference apparent in his personal wording of his answers were not denials of the doctrines."