It’s the Tron today: but what next?
The current upheavals within the Church of Scotland rumble on with implications for the wider presbyterian body.
Irrespective of the ultimate outcome of the current ‘eviction notice’ served on the congregation of St. George’s Tron church, the decision of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland will reverberate into the future; and affect more than just that denomination.
Whatever the underlying dynamic amongst Glasgow Presbytery members when they met last month – hubris, hurt, anger, sympathy, compassion – the decision to expel the minister, elders and members of this city-centre church cast a big boulder into the already-turbulent waters of the Scottish ecclesiastical mill pond.
By background and prevailing circumstance, ministers and congregations within established denominations are essentially institutional in their culture and thinking. Life outside of a structured organisation would be a ‘step into the unknown’: for clergy, it would be the equivalent of asking a career civil servant to set up and run a corner store. One minister – a godly and spiritual person with strong spiritual and financial support around him – recently pondered aloud the questions of what he would do for legal advice, help with tax affairs, pension arrangements and the like if he were to leave the denomination. A visit to one or other of the various on-line discussions reveals debates which are constrained by a mindset which would seem unable to contemplate or understand a world beyond the cloisters of organised religion.
Stay or Go?
In this context the prospect of being thrown out in the street – as is the fate of the folks of the Tron – is a daunting prospect. So for Bible-believing ministers who may feel that they can no longer – presently, or following the 2013 General Assembly - live within an increasingly apostate denomination there is a real dilemma. Should I stay or should I go? If I stay, I have to live with my conscience. But if I go, where do I go?
The answer to the second question will be for many (for most; even for all?) a move to another denomination.
Those for whom ‘security’ is a big issue could very well find the Free Church an attractive alternative. (In a ‘bitter/sweet’ fashion, there continues to be some scathing comments from that camp directed at the Church of Scotland as a denomination; but sitting alongside, and from the same quarters, there are also enticing invitations to any disaffected ministers to ‘come on over to my place’.)
The relatively-recent ‘innovation’ within some Free Church congregations to relax the previously-strict constraints surrounding sung praise fits well with the customary use of instruments and hymns within the national church. While there may be disparities with respect to terms and conditions of employment (ministers are employees in all but name) between these two denominations, such matters are not insurmountable. Match a denomination looking to enhance both its stature and clerical headcount with a clutch of ministers from another denomination looking for an alternative home, and we see a win-win situation developing. Or do we?
Any substantial influx of Church of Scotland ministers into the Free Church could create its own problems for the latter; not least relating to finance. (The Free Church is not awash with cash.) The financial position would of course be improved if whole (and freely-giving) congregations cross the denominational boundary. However mass-migration is not likely; and regarding what to do with ministers and elders who are women would also be a huge issue.
But beyond that, the Free Church has been in recent turmoil regarding the aforementioned introduction of hymns and instruments. At the present time there is a more-or-less even split between those – ministers and congregations – who favour the innovation and those who don’t. (Some ministers are also fighting inner conflicts between personal convictions and what their respective congregations will, or will not, allow.)
So to have an inrush of hymn-singing (and possible senior) clergy from the Kirk could well upset a fragile balance, and tip the Free Church denomination into another round of angst; with the ‘progressives’ emboldened by a swelling of their ranks while the traditionalist wing look on with apprehension.
Meanwhile discussions have also been taking place with the United Free Church of Scotland. The majority of that denomination joined (re-joined) the Kirk in 1929. However some remained apart, and it could be that a ‘reverse transfer’ takes place from the Church of Scotland to the United Free Church remnant.
It's deja vu all over again
Of course in the greater scheme of things, and as history affirms, such moves of schism and subsequent reunion achieve absolutely nothing other than to great a temporary ‘peace’ until the next round of aggravation and upset rends the ecclesiastical air.
The root problems of clericalism, denominationalism, institutionalism, traditions, insecurity, individualism and status continue to permeate the body politic. The ‘conservative/reform’ tensions which permeate most organisations eventually polarise around the two extremes and, at this point, another rift occurs.
Yet there is hope
But lest all of this sounds a discouraging note, let this writer at least suggest that God is above all of that. He knows the hearts of men and women. And He will select His crack troops; those who are wedded to Christ and his cause; those who are focussed on the glory of God and His Kingdom. And a holy remnant – from across the denominational spectrum - whose vision lies away beyond the machinations of Presbyterian tribalism will surely be the army that the Lord of hosts will use for His sovereign purposes.
Listen closely: tune in to the voice of the Spirit. There is a work going on in the cave of Adullam which will manifest in due course. The anointed Davids (and Davinas) are surely being readied for their vital and anointed roles as the ‘King Saul’ of institutionalised religion succumbs to the attrition of persistent civil war in ecclesiastical ranks.
Many of the warriors that the Lord will take into position will come from unexpected quarters. They will often be the ‘shepherd boy’ which David’s family kept ‘out in the fields’. But in similar fashion to David, who both as a boy and then as a man learned and developed in places of isolation - in the fields and in a cave - it is in these lonely situations that the Lord hones the spiritual character and God-given abilities of those whom He plans to use.
While the man in the street sees the institutions in turmoil, Christ Jesus is still building His church. The Bible tells us so.
Footnote: A blogger has written elsewhere:
"We should never underestimate the work that we do in the name of the Lord.God is able to be bring extraordinary results from the most ordinary of people. The Lord doesn't look for ability or talent when seeking servants,but He does seek for a surrendered heart ready to follow where God leads.When we take the limits off of God and allow Him to work through us, we will see amazing results in our life and in the lives of those around us.Be encouraged to surrender your will to the Lord and allow His will to take root in your heart where your life will be used to minister God's grace to a hurting and dying world." (1 Samuel 16:7) (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)