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The Church of Scotland 'trajectory' rejects God

Following the Church of Scotland's vote in the May 2011 General Assembly there has not been much tangible sign of any reaction. But a meeting on a  wet day in Glasgow last week broke the silence.
 


Tron VideosUPDATE: Video recordings of the six speakers on the day are now available. Click here.

Preamble: The gathering referred to below was essentially a private meeting for ministers and elders in the Church of Scotland and principally (but by no means exclusively) concerns those within the Church of Scotland and the wider Presbyterian world.

There were six speakers (all ministers) but no names have been included; nor does the report contain any photographs of those present: the exception is the interview with Rev. Ian Watson who spoke to camera for a TV news report. Since the report was written recordings of the meeting have been made public

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 St. Georges-Tron Church of Scotland
Tron Church1If the Church of Scotland is struggling with God, then Friday, 17 June, 2011 saw a large meeting of its evangelical churchmen which could become a huge coffin nail for the once-mighty national church whose spiritual condition is now viewed as being in terminal decline.

The gathering was instigated in an Edinburgh coffee shop two days after the denomination – meeting in annual General Assembly – voted to permit practicing homosexuals to serve as ministers within its national network of parish churches.

And so it was, less than four weeks after that fateful decision, that the first collective and large-scale meeting was held. The impressive building of St. George’s-Tron church sits on the main shopping thoroughfare of Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Within its walls, over 650 mainly-male voices of ministers and elders from the ‘the Kirk’, sang with great gusto while contemplating an unforeseeable future; a future perhaps within, but more likely outside of Scotland’s principal, oldest and largest and Reformed denomination.

On an overcast afternoon – punctuated by rain and staring the disastrous Assembly outcome in the face – the volume of singing to God’s praise threatened to lift the roof of the newly-refurbished building. It was a defiant post-Assembly ‘shout’; an expression of undiminished, or even amplified evangelical fervour.

A history of turmoil


John KnoxAs an institution, the Church of Scotland dates back to the 16th century when the Reformation of Luther and Calvin swept through the nation – impelled by the fiery preaching of John Knox and his followers. Though rent and racked since those formative years by many divisions, it has managed to survive successive splits, schisms and reunion: at least until now. (The body politic is expert in its bureaucratic manoeuvrings to defuse any threat to the cohesion of the institution.)

But the events during the General Assembly of last month have provoked arguably the worst crisis since 1843 when the first major split took place over the issue of patronage and the relationship between church and state. At that time the ‘Disruption’ saw a third of the church – ministers, elders and members – leave in concerted and choreographed fashion as a cohesive, if not unanimous response to the concerns of that day.

 

A different dynamic; but a line has been crossed


This time however it has been different. Though the same passion is evident, the response has been of a quite different order. Though much lower in profile – at this stage anyway – the consequences in the longer term may be even more significant; much more significant. In the 19th century a parallel denomination was formed. In 2011 much more is needed; but not, emphatically not, more of the same. There are a variety of options and each minister, congregation and member is now deciding on respective courses of action.

While the individual responses – at personal and congregational level – are and will be varied, the overarching message from the six ministers who spoke on the day was and is essentially the same. To a man they affirmed that the denomination in which they have served has reached a defining moment. A line has been crossed; a watershed has been reached; a new day has dawned and a new terrain lies ahead. In the listening it would have been difficult to disagree.

One parish minister has written in his Summer congregational newsletter:

“Don’t be fooled by the official [Church of Scotland] line that nothing his yet been decided. The decisions taken at the Assembly represented a clear and deliberate shift away from the authority of Scripture as the Word of God and the foundation of our denomination.”

The opening sermonette at ‘the Tron’ was based on Jesus’ high-priestly prayer found in the Gospel of John (Chapter 17). The theme being unity; that is a unity within evangelical ranks based – as only true unity can be – on God’s Truth.

Differing views


It was however acknowledged at the outset that there are, perhaps surprisingly, two quite different assessments of the situation even amongst evangelical ranks. Some, it was said, see no major significance; at congregational level it is ‘business as usual’.
But most would overtly or privately acknowledge the view expressed in the aforementioned parish magazine that that Church has deliberately and with planned resolve departed from the clear teachings of the Bible and the authority of God. Certainly this was the view of every platform speaker. To use the biblical expressions, the Church is now judged by them as being apostate (in open rebellion and unbelief) and, employing one description on the day, a spiritual corpse.

A slow demise


ReportA theological study on the new order has been commissioned to report in two years time. However, only the most optimistic (some might say ‘self-deluded’) would anticipate a reversal of the ‘revisionist trajectory’ which the Church has fixedly set itself upon.

One speaker rhetorically asked: “Is there any evidence that the General Assembly of 2013 will be swayed by biblical truth?” His pragmatic answer? “I see none.”

Reference was made to an Assembly Commissioner who affirmed: “We know better than the Bible.” That statement, made on the floor of the May gathering and in the eyes and ears of the watching evangelical world, put it in a nutshell.

Accordingly those who are thinking of adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude were invited last Friday to think what they will do in two years time if, as expected, the Church continues on the path it has chosen.

[It is important to note that a cohort of the liberally-minded elite in the denomination worked assiduously, but ultimately unsuccessfully, for a General Assembly non-decision on the whole issue in order to pre-empt the prospect of denominational fracture.
quote

"We know better

than the Bible"

 It is also instructional to note that from an evangelical standpoint the May gathering on Edinburgh’s Mound was “the ‘most prepared-for and most prayed-for’ General Assembly in the last 100 years”. In this context neither the liberals nor the evangelicals got the answer they were looking for. The answer nevertheless was crystal clear: apostasy is the direction of travel.]

A reality revealed


To say that there is a split is stating the obvious. As one speaker put it: “Separation would just be expressing a reality that is already there.” So even supposing that not a single member or congregation left, the denomination has clearly departed from the ‘faith first entrusted to the saints’ and accordingly, anyone and everyone within the institution is now effectively operating in an environment which is hostile to God and in open defiance of His Word.
In the true and biblical meaning of the term, the Church of Scotland can no longer be described as a Christian church. And this, for the sake of the nation and God’s Holy Name, is a tragedy.

A leap into the unknown

 
"I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’"

According to the Bible, ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’. But ‘Trust’ is subtly different, and could be defined as ‘faith in action’.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
This is what the ancients were commended for.  Heb.11:1-2
'Trust' is
faith
in action

For ministers who have preached faith with fervour over the years, a day of great testing has arrived. Every speaker at the Glasgow meeting affirmed that action is essential; yet it was acknowledged on the day that self-interest and personal security can often be powerful incentives to maintaining the status quo.
Aside from the daily stresses (though few in the everyday workplace are immune from these), one of the most secure jobs to be had, is that of a Church of Scotland minister. It was hardly then surprising that more than one speaker admitted to apprehension and even fear when contemplating a life outside of the great big machine. Institutionalisation is not confined to long-term prisoners, and unpalatable surroundings can often be more attractive than the scary world outside. Some ministers have gone for school, to university and into the ministry, and thus have no experience of 'life outside' of these environments.
Please pray for all these men that they will be able to 'hold fast' in the storm. Our security is in God's character and His promises – including those for our personal lives and families. But there are times when these truths are substatially in abstract, and other times when they come into sharp focus.

Faith and Trust


Tightrope walkerThe story is told of the French trapeze artiste Charles Blondin. His greatest fame came in June of 1859 when he attempted to become the first person to cross a tightrope stretched over a quarter of a mile across the mighty Niagara Falls.

A large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the river bank. They gasped in amazement as Blondin carefully walked across; one dangerous step after another; blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow.

Upon reaching the opposite side, the crowd's applause was louder than the roar of the falls. In the face of the wild acclaim Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his enthralled audience: "Do you have faith to believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?"The crowd enthusiastically shouted an affirmative. "Right," said Blondin in response to that show of confidence, "Get in the wheelbarrow....."
As the story goes, no one did! But there again perhaps no one in that gathering preached faith and trust Sunday by Sunday.

Out of  the box

quote

 

"I feel that I have been set free"

Yet there is at least one minister, not long with his present congregation, is prepared to make the big break. When asked by a concerned friend how he was feeling the day following the Glasgow meeting, he replied: “I feel I have been set free.” He said that he felt that a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. (Mal. 4:2)
 
In a further positive acknowledgement of a ‘new day’ ahead, the preacher with the heart of an evangelist added: “I don’t care if I have to drive a lorry [ in order to support myself and my family in my ministry]”. A good man with a good attitude.

If that minister’s readiness to contemplate a complete paradigm shift in his thinking and personal situation is typical across the evangelical spectrum, then there is great hope for tomorrow.
The same however cannot be said for the Church of Scotland.

An Edinburgh congregation has already made up its mind as finding itself unable to:
  • submit to the General Assembly decision on same-sex relationships
  • contribute funds to the denomination
  • accept oversight by the presbytery (local geographical grouping of churches)
  • participate in regular church courts and committes locally and nationally

It will be interesting to see how the instituation responds (or not) to this scenario.

 

And out of the camp


out of the campLet us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.  Heb 13:13-14

'Out of the camp’ was the only option for Moses when faced with a situation of spiritual dereliction; and departure is perhaps the only honest-to-God recourse in the present situation. It will be spiritually dangerous to stay. (The principle of the mutual influence of the ‘clean’ and the ‘unclean’ was expressed by the prophet Haggai (Haggai 2:12 - 13). In spiritual matters the ‘clean’ is invariably the loser.)
In a chilling follow-through, the prophet declares the mind of God where sin is involved: "So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,' declares the Lord. 'Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.'" (Haggai 2:14)

The Church has made its agenda clear: the body is set on its chosen trajectory.
As one minister put it: “The Church of Scotland has now publicly committed itself to be unholy, uncatholic and unapostolic.” In acknowledging both the need for and the risk of radical action he said: “I would rather put my head above the parapet than simply stick it in the sand.”
quote

“I would rather put my head above the parapet than simply stick it in the sand.”


Terminal trends


ruined churchAside from the spiritual decline in the Church, a secular analysis regarding the denomination’s health and life expectancy comes up with the same answer.

The organisation is already in numerical, demographic and financial meltdown. Faced with increasing liabilities, grossly-reduced income from disaffected evangelicals; retiring ministers; expensive buildings; ageing congregations and a liberal membership which is comparatively illiberal in its financial givings, the prospects are not good.

(As an aside, when splits occur, there is usually a fight over possession of buildings. However many of these could represent heavyweight liabilities which neither side of a separating body might necessarily want to hold on to.)

But spiritual life beyond..


Bible StudyIn our 21st century nation, it is not just the Church of Scotland which is in crisis. There are profound and chronic problems right across the denominational spectrum; and these issues are causing all those who have any respect for the Word of God to ‘get back to basics’.

So what all of this might produce is a re-energised and faithful remnant of Bible-believers who will proclaim and live out the true Gospel of Truth and trust in Jesus Christ – to the glory of God and the saving of souls. This is the heart of the Great Commission. It is a calling to and the responsibility of every follower of Jesus Christ. A nation deserves nothing less; our nation needs nothing more.

 Interview with Rev. Ian Watson in St. Georges-Tron 17 June 2011 
Get the Flash Player or an HTML 5 compatible browser to see this player.

 
Since the above report was prepared, video recordings of the six speakers have become available. These are now available below.
 
 1. Martin Allen 
 2. Calum Jack 
 3. William Philip 
 4. David Court 
 5. Robin Sydserff 
 6. Jerry Middleton 

COMING SOON: Recorded interviews with Rev. David J. Randall and Rev. Louis Kinsey


 Footnotes:

St. John's Shaunessey, Vancouver
St Johns ShaughnessyAt the meeting in Glasgow one speaker showed a recent video interview with the highly-respected Rev. Dr. J.I Packer who is on staff at St. John's Shaunessey (the largest Anglican Church in Canada).

Back in 1966 there was a huge controversy in England when, concerned about evangelical compromise, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called on believers to leave their denominations.
Rev. Dr. John Stott who was chairing the meeting immediately took the platform to publicly disagree with his evangelical colleague. The record states that Packer aligned himself with Stott on that occasion and urged believers to stay where they were.

In the video interview shown in Glasgow last week, Packer stated that while some matters were 'secondary' the issue of sexuality is primary. In this context the theologian and the rest of the congregation of St. John's have removed themselves from the authority of the Anglican Church in Canada.
The day before meeting in Glasgow, St. John's were refused a right of appeal over the removal of ownership of their building. On Thursday, 23 June the congregation met in a gym to discuss the 'transition'.

Further analysis: It is hoped to offer further thoughts from Scripture on the implications of the above report in terms of the estimated impact on the structure, leadership and membership of the Church of Scotland (for those who stay and those  who go).

Christians Together, 24/06/2011

Feedback:
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Peblo (Guest) 08/01/2013 19:28
Dear dbao,

It seems to me that as Church we have no other choice but to accept the way our society is going. As individuals and individual Church fellowships, we must, as far as it depends on us, be obedient to God's Holy inerrant Word, you in your little corner and me in mine!


John Miller 10/01/2013 11:28
As far as I can see the church is not given any instruction to change society. The gospel of Jesus christ is a call to individuals to repent, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and as new born children of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God live lives in obedience to the word of God. Doing this we find ourselves in church fellowships with other believers.

Individually and collectively we are instructed by the scriptures to separate ourselves from evil and have no fellowship with its practice. God's holiness is to find its reflection in the holiness of His people whether as individuals or collectively.

The world and its evil goes on to judgement. The true church goes on to glory.
Peblo (Guest) 10/01/2013 19:51
"As far as I can see the church is not given any instruction to change society."

By being salt and light and Christlike etc surely we are to effect change, or be agents of change as God's Kingdom is being established through us? Maybe to some degree this is where we have failed because too many of us are too much like the world and simply blend in?!!
Peblo (Guest) 10/01/2013 19:54
P.S. (To above), or we have gone to the other extreme and become too seperate from the world.
John Miller 12/01/2013 11:19
Peblo that is a good reference.

I believe that we are intended to be a witness to the power of divine grace but only individuals can be changed. In John ch.1 the darkness did not aprehend or understand the Light but whoever (individuals) received Him was and is given the power to be children of God.

This world and its society is going on to judgement. If we witness to the saving grace of God, His righteousness and holiness, by that same grace individuals may be changed. This world as a society ruled by Satan will never be changed. Change for the world will only come when Christ returns to reign.

Reading through the Acts, the futility of an expectation to change society is powerfully demonstrated. What is also clealy shown is the Gospel's power to change individuals and bring them into the church. There they find themselves in a fellowship that is seperate from this world and its corrupt society.

That fellowship is not only with other Christians but also with the Father and the Son. When the glorious reality of that sinks into the soul, this world's filthy, corrupt society is exposed for what it is.
Peblo (Guest) 12/01/2013 18:53
"I believe that we are intended to be a witness to the power of divine grace but only individuals can be changed"

However, Christians are not meant to operate in isolation,but as part of the body of Christ. With your reasoning we should sit on our hands and do nothing about the redefining of marriage, which is really a redefining of society!

The whole Gospel also includes a social element which requires action for God's Kingdom to be established and justice and rightness (rightousness) to be done. That won't happen if we are all sitting on our hands.
Editor 12/01/2013 20:58
The article to which this thread relates in about the situation in the Church of Scotland.

For discussion on Christian involvement with socio-political issues please go to -
http://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/320917/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Christians_and_Politics/Towards_a_theology.aspx

Thanks.
John Miller 13/01/2013 17:03
Peblo, with respect I made it clear in the last paragraph of my previous post that I am absolutely committed to the Christian fellowship. I fully understand and cherish the truth that the church is the body of Christ here on earth.

However nowhere in scripture is the church in its collective setting or believers as individuals given any instruction or even the suggestion that we have a mission to change society. We must have a judgement of evil but we have no authority to judge it. That is God's prerogative and he retains it to Himself.

I do not sit on my hands. I have had articles as well as letters published on the subject of the true meaning of marriage and the evil of homosexual marriage. Having done that the responsibility is on those who read to come to a judgement of this evil, or not.

Satan is the ruler of this world as a system this is antichrist in character. We cannot change that but it will change when Christ returns to reign. In the meantime we can only bear witness to the truth of God's word and seek to obey God's will.

We must always remember that we are save firstly to worship, then to witness.

The establishment of God's kingdom is at present found only in the hearts of those born again by the Spirit of God. Its public manifestation in power awaits the universal enthronement of God's King. Every knee will then bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Peblo (Guest) 13/01/2013 17:35
John, you are right in saying that Satan is the ruler of this world, but it is still God's world not Satan's. I maintain that the Church at large, locally and individually is to work for change, to be transformative in nature as God's Kingdom has, is and will be established.

As for you and I, we shall have to agree to disagree on the details of how God works through the Church. I agree that evil is God's to judge, but is not to be tolerated or accepted by us, and indeed is to be exposed for what it is!
John Miller 14/01/2013 10:11
Peblo, thanks for your reply.

When Jesus was hear He told the Jews that the Kingdom of God was among them. He was referring to His presence in the world and the power of God's Holy Spirit working through Him. The Kingdom of God is still in the world although Jesus Himself has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven.

It is here in the saints of God individually and the church of God collectively. The world does not recognise it and will not do so until Christ returns to earth with His saints to establish His earthly kingdom, sitting on the throne of David and reigning in Jerusalem. The Kingdom of God will then be publicly established on earth and nobody will be able to oppose it. Every knee WILL bow at the name of Jesus. Scripture tells us that reign will last one thousand years.

I believe that our service is now is to demonstrate the principles of God's Kingdom in our lives as followers of Christ. The Spirit of God may graciously be pleased to use His work in us for the furtherance of that Kingdom in any way that He chooses if we are obedient to the word of God and subject to the Lordship of Christ.

I do not think that we are in disagreement.
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