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Are You a Member, And a Member of What?

Christians Together site member John Miller gives a background, overview and comment on the actions of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland to evict the congregation of St. George's Tron Church in Glasgow.
 

 
by John Miller
 
Tron Church1IN 1560 John Knox and his fellow reformers took steps to throw off the hierarchical authority of the Pope in Rome and a new form of church Presbyterian governance was established. This was intended to reinforce the truth that the word of God, the Holy Bible and its divinely inspired teaching was the unchallenged authority for Christian preaching, teaching and doctrine.

Every Christian minister in the fledgling Church of Scotland had from then on to unreservedly commit himself to that truth. The Kirk as a fellowship of Christian folk was thereafter to be bound to this principle.
 
Over four hundred and fifty years later, on Tuesday, October 9th 2012 a meeting of Glasgow Presbytery took place that will have grave and far reaching consequences for members of The Kirk. Recently the leadership of the Glasgow St George's Tron Church, unanimously supported by the congregation, decided to leave the National Church.

This led to a determined action, instigated by the ecclesiastical bureaucrats ensconced in 121 George Street, Edinburgh [the Kirk's HQ - Ed.] to evict their Christian brethren from the iconic Church building in Glasgow city centre. This action was apparently finalised at the aforementioned Glasgow presbytery meeting when agreement was reached to order the Rev. William Philip and his flock to vacate the premises.
 
St George's Tron church has for many years been a beacon of biblical preaching and teaching in the very centre of Scotland’s largest city. Its attendance has risen as the purity of the Christian message from
"While attendances in many churches are falling the Tron is busting at the seams".
itspulpit has been maintained in godliness and spiritual zeal. Its tradition of powerful biblical preaching under the past leadership of such men as Tom Allan, George Duncan, Eric Alexander and others has been maintained presently by William Philip, his assistants and elders.

While attendances in many churches are falling the Tron is busting at the seams.Last Sunday only two seats on the ground floor remained empty and the balcony was well filled. Its daily missionary outreach in the very hub of a great city is a fulfilment of the teaching of Christ Himself.
 
Refurbished interior of the Tron Church
Tron church interiorAny who have not visited this building in recent times would now find its interior almost unrecognisable.

Inside this ancient structure there is a wondrously light, modern ambience, designed to be welcoming and conducive to the worship and witness proper to a place where it is the custom of Christians to gather.

It is obvious that a great deal of money has been spent to achieve this and the accounts show that over £2,500,000 has been raised by the membership, by a huge margin the bulk of renovation costs. There is a willingness to pay the remaining debt and thus free the Church of Scotland from any financial burden from the work.

 Church of Scotland headquarters building
121 George StreetThe title deeds show that the building belongs to the Church of Scotland. This body whose headquarters are at 121 George Street, Edinburgh have no intention of relinquishing ownership or title and their legal position appears secure.

Consider however, the basis on which such a property is held in ownership. Is it commercial, for pecuniary advantage? Is it for the display of human achievement or the furtherance of human ambition?

Is it to further the glory or reputation of its earthly owners and their property portfolio? If the ownership of this building has any rightful purpose it must be solely to be used for Christian worship and witness, based on loyalty to the risen, ascended Head of the Christian Church, Jesus Christ, and devoted obedience to the word of God.
 
The faceless cabal in '121' should reflect that they are either trustees for this great service or merely grasping opportunists motivated by the greed of Judas, the thief who held the purse strings of Christ’s little band of followers. No serious consideration of this matter would arrive at any other conclusion than that this self-interested gang and its legal representatives are behind the Glasgow Presbytery’s actions.

The impracticality of the Glasgow Presbytery’s proposals, backed by 121 George Street borders on financial fantasy and logistical lunacy. The pious sounding statement of the Very Reverend David Lunan chairman of the Presbytery meeting, announcing its decision, is nothing but outrageous hypocrisy. 

"In the sanctioning of homosexuality within its ministry the Church of Scotland has demonstrably departed from the teaching of the word of God"
It boils down to the dreadful but inescapable reality that there is a willingness with the movers and shakers of the Kirk to see the building standing empty and unused for Christian worship rather than allowing it to continue in its present character as a vibrant expression of Christian testimony in an increasingly godless, secular society.
 
It might well be asked what the significance of these goings-on is for all churches of this denomination throughout Scotland and beyond. In the sanctioning of homosexuality within its ministry the Church of Scotland has demonstrably departed from the teaching of the word of God. This is not a homophobic statement but one of fact. Those without the fellowship of Christianity, irrespective of denomination may adopt the homosexual lifestyle without the fear of contradiction according to man’s law.

It is neither the purpose of this article to criticise or attack them. God’s law is a different matter and any who claim Christian ground must bow to it. It is clearly delineated in His inspired word, the Holy Scriptures of truth. To argue otherwise is to give the creature a station above the Creator. However this is the path that the national church of Scotland has taken and its guilty conscience will brook no challenge.

"The Christians who meet in the Tron have dared to make that challenge and, it seems, they must be taught a lesson".  
The Christians who meet in the Tron have dared to make that challenge and, it seems, they must be taught a lesson. More than that, any others who might possible have sympathy for them and lean towards a similar course of action must be firmly discouraged.
 
In a recent article on the Christians Together website, the editor made an observation –
 
Evangelical clergy facing the 'carrot and stick' of maintaining their secure C of S positions, or being left to swing in the wind if they don't, is a powerful influence. So the minister and the good folk of the Tron could find themselves - as an example to any others contemplating similar moves - deprived of a building and ‘out in the cold’: expediently utilised as per Voltaire's satirical description of Admiral John Byng's execution: "..... pour encourager les autres" ("it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others").
 
 
These events signal a clear departure for the Church of Scotland’s hierarchy, its presbyteries and  members in their perception of morality and behaviour pleasing to God. Sadly there are many local congregations that will be unconcerned but some will be deeply exercised.

The Christian fellowship that meets in the Glasgow’s Tron Church has been hung out to dry. This treatment has already been meted out to a congregation in Aberdeen led by the Rev. Peter Dickson, which now meets in a hotel. The message is stark in its brutal simplicity, “Step out of line and you will suffer the consequences!” Like the opposition to Christ when here on earth, the bitterest enmity comes from those who profess to be the most religious.
 
Benjamin Franklin, “The First American” said: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
 
John Bunyan’s hymn makes the call: “Who would true valour see, let him come hither….”

Those who remain as members of a denomination that now sanctions and practises what is contrary to God’s word and denies its teaching of Christ’s Lordship should ask themselves:

”Does membership of the Church of Scotland take precedence to membership of Christ’s church, His body here on earth? Is membership of the Church of Scotland now indeed compatible with that infinitely greater membership?”

The question to all Christians of every denomination is: “Am I a member, and of what?”
 

Footnotes:
Tron church31. The first church was built on the present site around 1687 as The Wynd Church. At that time the area was on the western extremity of the City Centre and was an area of some squalor and degredation. Around 1808 the decision was made to build a new church as part of the expansion of Glasgow. The architect chosen was William Stark (who Sir Walter Scott regarded as a genius) and he built the distinctive 'bulky' church which now stands at the very heart of modern Glasgow.

2. For an historical overview and chronology of the post-Reformation church in Scotland see 'Presbyterianism - Scottish Style'.

3. A Church of Scotland minister who is part of Glasgow Presbytery has remarked on an on-line forum: 'We have instructed the Trustees etc to get vacant possession "by all means necessary". Whether that's fair is a matter folk will differ on. I hope they will leave, because if they don't then we'll be in court."

If in fact the eviction goes ahead, while the Church of Scotland may have the best intentions of establishing a new congregation in the Tron church, it will be a very brave evangelical minister who would take up the charge in the light of what has happened. Of course there will be a queue of liberally-minded clergy who would very happily inherit the iconic building and prestigious city-centre site.
 

4. On the Sunday (6 Oct 2012) prior to the meeting of Glasgow Presbytery, the Tron's minister Rev. Philip spoke to his congregation (see link below). In his pre-prayer address he made the point that it was persecution which resulted in the 1st-century expansion of the church; and that those who left and lost everything for the cause of Christ will find great reward in spiritual terms.

John Miller, 12/10/2012

A briefing to the Tron congregation Rev. W. Philip
A briefing delivered by Rev. William Philip on the Sunday prior to a meeting of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland which was to decide on the Presbytery's response to the congregations secession from the Church of Scotland over the matter of sexuality and gay clergy. In the event the Presbytery voted 2:1 to repossess the church and the manse.
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Andy Smith (Guest) 14/10/2012 12:25
Dave, your remark puts you in danger of sounding as devoid of spirituality as the secular world which judges all these things in the same manner as you have stated.
william (Guest) 14/10/2012 20:46
John, statements such as those contained in the two paras in your article - beginning "The faceless cabal in '121'" - do not help the cause of understanding the situation the Tron folks find themselves in.
As one who has the wellbeing of the Tron very much at heart, and who in no way condones the trajectory which the CoS is pursuing, the resolution of the Tron's chosen trajectory will not be resolved by such language - rather the initial action of the Tron's unilateral secession from the denomination into which it was bound as the local manifestation of the Church of Jesus Christ, will need to be carefully, prayerfully, biblically and ecclesiastically pondered. That is where substantive engagement with Presbytery can alone take place, and as I understand from Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen - is taking place with meaningful cooperation from both sides, according to their Church Record.
Simon Mackay (Guest) 14/10/2012 22:34
William, it may be that John could have used different words to describe the mandarins in the HQ offices, but in fact this liberal elite continue to call the shots - and this is why the Church of Scotland is in such a mess.

It is plain to those who have eyes to see and honest enough to confess it openly, that there is an agenda running which is contrary to the Truth of God's word. And evangelicals who remain within the ranks are in fact in great peril of damage to their own witness and spiritual wellbeing.
Editor 15/10/2012 09:03
To expand on the reference above to 'Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen' - this church is in a very similar situation to the Tron in that both of these churches are -

* substantial and 'landmark' buildings in the centre of their respective cities of Aberdeen and Glasgow

* committed to maintaining a true Gospel ministry in the face of the developments with the Church of Scotland

* wealthy congregations which have spend very substantial sums (millions) on refurbishing their premises over the last 2 years or so.

The difference lies with respect to the legalities regarding ownership.

PS A report from the Christian Institute on the Tron situation can now be found at -
ww.christian.org.uk/news/kirk-to-seize-st-georges-tron-in-gay-clergy-row/
william (Guest) 15/10/2012 09:13
As the editor rightly points out there is a difference between the Tron and Gilcomston in terms of ownership of buildings, but probably more significantly, Gilcomston did not unilaterally secede from CoS before any negotiations even began!
I would imagine it is this specific difference which has enabled the reported amicable discusions to take place between the local congregation and its Presbytery.
Editor 15/10/2012 11:57
Thank you William. I should have included that as a difference. It is indeed an important difference.

It illustrates the complexity in all of this in that every church - minister, kirk session and congregation - have to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to them; in and for their particular (unique) situation.

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' model, and in this context no one can say that another (person or group of persons) has done it 'right' or 'wrong'.

[There is a human tendency to expect the rest of the world to mirror our individual thinking, responses, attitudes, etc.
And it this dynamic which the enemy of God uses to set one genuine believer and truth-defender against another.

For anyone interested in the subject, there is an article 'Who I am in Christ' which looks at this issue; particularly a paragraph -

'The root is insecurity...even in the church'

See - http://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/294470/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Who_I_am.aspx]
John Miller 15/10/2012 17:27
Paul defines the threat to the Christian and the Christian church in Ephesians 6:10-19. He describes the armour that is available to the Christian. His advice is to engage in the conflict with the greatest of spiritual energy. First line of defense is prayerful dependence on Christ and that is certainly true of our church fellowship and many others that I know.

We must not shirk from naming the evil and its perpetrators for fear of causing offence to men that are acting contrary to the word of God and are denying the Lordship of Christ. Furthermore the refusal to utterly refuse and condemn the practice of homosexuality in those who parade their sexual perversion from the pulpit is a Satanic attck on the unchanging principle of God's eternal holiness.

I would go so far as to raise the question, "Is this not sinning against the Holy Sprit of God?"
allen (Guest) 27/10/2012 14:21
It seem that Church of Scotland want the Tron Congregation to pay off all the outstanding loans and then to hand over the Buildings and any congregational funds to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland and walk away. The Church of Scotland will only cause distress to those members who have given sacrificially. The Church of Scotland pays no regard to the ongoing work of the Tron amongst the students.
Alasdair (Guest) 05/11/2012 14:36
The Tron situation just seems to get worse and not better with feelings and statements showing a tendency on both "sides" (if that is the appropriate word) of the debate to become more entrenched. And in places the language is positively apocalyptic. It certainly has not been helped by some evangelical Christians (who should know better) firing off gratuitous insults at people within the Church of Scotland. Folks must do what they believe to be right. As a lifelong member of the Church of Scotland who would call myself "evangelical" the recent events at the Tron have been more like a bereavement. The Church of Scotland has lost a remarkable congregation. No one asked them to leave. No one asked the minister to modify his message. I cannot help feeling rather angry at the minister and office bearers for leading the congregation in this direction. It all feels that a grand gesture has been made to no great cause and over what many would see as a trivial issue. Insults have been flying against those who are still in the membership of the Church of Scotland. We are, it seems "..denying the Lordship of Christ" Really? Maybe some folks need to look to themselves before judging others quite so harshly. The Tron congregation has chosen what it sees as the moral and Biblical high ground. But what positive good to the wider church of Jesus Christ in Scotland is coming of their gesture? I suppose time alone will tell.
Roy Brown (Guest) 05/11/2012 18:31
Alasdair, I totally agree with you regarding the sadness and upset that this whole affair has caused. And there is obviously a varied response to the actions of the Tron congregation.

However regarding a defence of God's Truth, the Tron has shown considerable courage in taking the stand that it has in the face of the most grievous of actions by the denomination itself in allowing practisiing homosexuals to hold office as ministers in pulpits.

The Tron and the Church of Scotland both have to stand before God and accountable to him. I know which side I would feel safer standing amongst.
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