The Church in Scotland

Secession or Being Faithful – is this the real choice facing C of S Evangelicals?

Secession or Being Faithful – is this the real choice facing C of S Evangelicals?

A response to Alastair Morrice

Alastair Morrice, one of the most senior and respected evangelicals in the Church of Scotland, has written a fascinating article on why he believes that evangelicals should stay within the Kirk.  Alastair is happy for his article to be widely distributed and I am more than happy to help with that.  You can read it on Louis Kinsey’s blog here –

At first glance it is a convincing and well-written piece.  One that will appeal to those who are going to stay in whatever,  and one which will cause those who are thinking of leaving to think again.  Alastair in particular takes issue with the analysis given by another senior evangelical who has just left, David Randall, and with yours truly.  Perhaps he will not mind if I challenge what he is saying (I hope my membership of Crieff will still stand as well!).   I recognise entirely his good heart and motivation and his passion for the Gospel and for the Kirk.  However his article is I believe profoundly mistaken at several important points – and he is danger of confusing the two.

Firstly I must apologise again for commenting on this. Alastair points out that though I am not a minister of the Church of Scotland, I have written frequently on this issue.  I know that that really annoys some people who just basically wish I would go away and mind my own business.  Sadly it is my business.  I am not particularly concerned with the Free Church, although that is the denomination to which I belong.  My desire is neither to engage in schadenfreude nor to put down the Church of Scotland at the expense of others. In fact it is a source of sorrow for me that there are several good people in my congregation who have felt compelled to leave the Church of Scotland and come to St Peters.  They are very welcome.  The reason for them coming saddens me though.  My concern is simply this – the cause of the Gospel in Scotland, through whatever denomination. It is for that reason that I have a great interest in the Church of Scotland and why I belong to the Crieff Fellowship.   I recognise the excellent work done by many C of S congregations both in the past and the present.  I also have many friends who are Church of Scotland – some have already left, some are planning to leave, some don’t know what to do, and others are determined to stay, whatever happens.  I don’t apologise therefore for commenting on this – but I do recognise the deep personal issues and feelings involved so I ask for forgiveness if anything I say causes hurt or upset.

Alastair’s case is straightforward and can be summed up in the following way:

1)     The C of S has in the past been liberal but we still managed to work within it and prosper.

2)    We were able to do so because we could just ignore the General Assembly and get on with the work of the local Church.

3)    Those who leave are splitting local congregations and causing division within the body of Christ. They also foster a spirit of spiritual pride that will in turn lead to further divisions.

4)    To leave is to doubt the sovereignty and power of God who can if he wishes turn the dry bones of the Church of Scotland into living ones.

5)    Therefore to leave is to create unnecessary schism in the body of Christ.  It is better to be faithful and remain.

It is a simple case, powerfully put.  But I’m afraid it is completely out of date and does not take into account the current situation both in church and society.  Let’s deal with each of these points:

1) We can live with liberalism 

Alastair writes:  The church as a denomination was predominantly liberal.  We recognised that.  But we could function… we could see people becoming Christians… we could over time see profound changes in congregations.   We could live with the liberalism. In some ways it was not important to us because we could do the work of the Gospel unhindered and in large measure supported by the committees of the church in which many of us had some part. 

No one denies that individual congregations have flourished and that great gospel work has been done.  But looking at the overall situation, where are we now?  Although there are perhaps up to 400 ‘evangelical’ ministries,  one leading senior evangelical told me that he doubted there were even 60 evangelical congregations – and some of these are very weak.   We have often been told that the continuing decline in C of S membership (from 1.2 million to 400,000 and losing 20,000 per year) was due to the ‘dead wood’ falling away and that soon we would be left with those who were really committed and the C of S would have become an evangelical church.  Is there any sign of that happening?  The ‘one more push and we are there’ school, are living in a fantasyland, failing to see the demographic, financial and doctrinal disaster that is happening to the Church of Scotland.

As for living with liberalism.  Alastair says “we were in the business of patiently working for the truth in the denomination, believing that doctrinal error would be corrected in the whole church over time.  That was what we saw as part of our call.”  I’m afraid that that faith has been demonstrated again and again to have been misplaced.    How ironic that today when I received Alastair’s article I also received this:  The Herald is reporting that the Church of Scotland is preparing to welcome Bishop Jack Spong to Glasgow (you can read the full report here – ) Glasgow Presbytery came very close to denying that the Trinity was an essential part of the Christian faith a couple of years ago and therefore it is not to be expected that it will deal with allowing someone who denies the existence of God.  Its not that they are incapable of acting.  Today I also received (it has been a busy day) word from that Presbytery that they have asked lawyers to act in trying to get the ownership of the Tron Manse.  So Glasgow presbytery is preparing to go to law to get an evangelical minister evicted from his manse, whilst preparing to welcome Jack Spong to a couple of its churches.  Monty Python could not make this stuff up!

The question for me is – are or should evangelicals be prepared to live with this kind of liberalism?  Do you really want to be part of a church that promotes heresy and persecutes believers?  There comes a time when you have to shake the dust off your feet.  For me promoting atheists as preachers of the Word is that time.  The rot is in too deep.

2) We can ignore the General Assembly

“In that earlier generation of evangelicals, we never regarded the General Assembly as the depository of truth, and disagreement with its pronouncements was never thought of as a reason for leaving.  We would register dissent, go home, and get on with the work God had called us to do, submitting as we’d promised to such directives as came down so long as they did not clash with conscience.  It was possible so to live and the fruit of such an approach was and remains evident.”

Sadly it was precisely because an earlier generation of evangelicals bought into this ‘Presbyterian by name, independent by nature’ ecclesiology that the C of S is now in such a mess.  The trouble with Alastair’s ecclesiology is that it does not fit with the nature of Presbyterian vows or church government.  C of S congregations are not independent, able to determine what they wish to do, unaffected by decisions from wider church courts such as Presbytery and the General Assembly.   Funds are not just sent from evangelical churches to gospel churches but to congregations that would deny the gospel.  Do I think that my money should be going to fund Jack Spong coming to Glasgow to deny the gospel in my denomination?   Is it really the case that evangelicals can just continue their work unaffected by wider aberrations in the denomination?  I would suggest that to believe that is naïve in the extreme.

Remember when the ordination of women was decided?  It was ‘permitted’, but within a few years it had changed from being permitted to being mandatory.  Even then several congregations who did not think it was biblical were able to get away with it and were left alone to get on with their work.  But one by one they were picked off, until this year the moderator after visiting one such congregation, warned that they were going to be dealt with as well.  I remember visiting my local evangelical C of S in Tain, soundly Stillite, fantastic preaching.  So I thought I was safe in taking my sceptical brethren grandfather along to hear that there could be great preaching in the C of S.  Sadly it was a Presbytery service and the preaching was liberal rubbish.  But the local church had to go along with it because that is what the presbytery wanted.  Evangelicals may not regard the General Assembly or Presbytery as the depository of truth, but they have all sworn to obey them.  Pietistic sound bites and theological truisms don’t change the reality on the ground.

3) Those who leave are guilty of schism and fostering spiritual pride

Alastair acknowledges that there are individuals (particularly ministers) who can no longer stay.  He suggests that they should just leave quietly and not attempt to take their congregations.  He throws up several warnings:

And if you can’t take them all, are you prepared to in effect force a division along the lines of your understanding of the only right thing to do?   What of those who come with you?  Will you join Free Church or International Presbyterians, or become independent?   How will you cope with the consequent lack of support?  And what will happen to those who ‘in conscience’, wrongly of course in your judgment, stay?  They have to in effect restart the church impoverished of some of its best leaders and most generous givers?  And what spiritual attitude is likely to be fostered among those who have come out with you?  They are doing the right thing, so by definition; others must be doing the wrong thing.  Is that not a breeding ground for the worst kind of spiritual pride, and possibly lead to other separations further down the road?

It is difficult to know where to begin with this.  Surely those who are guilty of schism are those who promote and defend heresy?  Surely those who do not stand up to those who administer the poison of false teaching are just as responsible?  Alastair is writing out of a particular context.  He is well aware of the situation in Logies and St Johns where the Session voted to leave along with the majority of the congregation.  Indeed 15 elders stood up in front of the congregation and committed themselves to do so.  But after a strong resistance from Presbytery led by the evangelical interim-moderator, the group that voted to leave has itself split.  Some are now staying hoping to see a renewed evangelical Logies. Perhaps they will.  I hope they will.   Meanwhile the breakaway group had a good start as Grace Community Church in Menzieshill last Sunday (led by the aforementioned David Randall), with over 90 people at the morning service.  But it could and should have been more.

If Alaister’s definition of schism and division is leaving the Church of Scotland then I guess Grace Community Church and others are guilty. But if you don’t equate the body of Christ with the Church of Scotland, but rather with all who seek and follow Jesus, then I would suggest campaigning against fellow evangelicals is a more schismatic act.  Seeking to persuade and frighten people that the sinking ship will go down if they leave and thus divide brother from brother, is a schismatic act. Perhaps even writing his paper accusing those who leave of being unfaithful and schismatic and hoping for its wide distribution to discourage others from leaving,  is itself schismatic in the biblical sense? Who caused the schism in the group that were leaving Logies?  Maybe evangelicals would be better off handing out leaflets at the Jack Spong meetings, and setting up an evangelical network to combat liberalism, rather than seeking to combat other evangelicals.   Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that some evangelicals regard Willie Philip, Dominic Smart, Andrew Randall and even yours truly as a greater threat than Spong?!

Alastair is right to warn about the danger of spiritual pride and hubris amongst those who leave.  But it is not just those who leave who have to watch out for that.  When an evangelical can stand up and say that the only show in town is the Church of Scotland, when others can equate leaving with schism and staying with faithfulness, then spiritual pride is indeed not far from the door.

In the midst of all this though is one major reason why many evangelicals will not leave.  It is the fear that Alastair expresses – ‘how will you cope with the constant lack of support’? If you go to the Free Church, or IPC or become independent you will not be supported. There is an unthinking arrogance here and a lack of trust in the provision of the Lord.  How ironic that we are expected to believe that the Lord can and will revive the dead bones of a denomination, but we should not expect him to provide for his people who leave the secure shackles of that denomination!   I suspect that the minister who made a stand against homosexual partnerships within his congregation and was told by ‘evangelicals’ don’t rock the boat, keep quiet; or the kind of ‘support’ given to Willie Philip and the Tron, is not quite what Alastair had in mind!  It really boils down to the perfectly legitimate fear of losing job and manse.  But to be honest I would rather take a pay cut and be in a denomination where there is gospel freedom and discipline (and yes, the two do go together) than continue to be well paid but be restricted by those kind of fears.  Besides which I have known a great deal of spiritual support within the Free Church.   I may have my frustrations with presbytery and some of the strictures but to be honest I know that we are all on the same side.  And believe you me it is much easier to reform a church with a genuine commitment to biblical authority than it is to reform one that neglects or rejects the Bible.  I have been amazed at what God has done in the Free Church over the past decade.  Anyway I would rather be independent than vow submission to church courts that go against the Word of God.  Freedom has a price.

4) God can revive the Church of Scotland

The underlying assumption of those who leave is that the Church of Scotland is beyond rescue.  ‘The battle to turn the established church into a predominantly biblical church has been lost.’  So writes David Robertson. In this judgment it may have been possible for God to breathe life into the dead bones of Ezekiel 37, but it is impossible for God to breathe new life into the Church of Scotland.

This is somewhat disingenuous and not really worthy of Alastair.  I of course am not denying that God is able to breathe new life into any situation.  Can these bones live?  Only the Lord knows.   But that is a truism that does not really help.  And it is one that proves too much.  It is actually an argument for leaving the Church of Scotland, admitting the Reformation was a mistake, and re-joining Rome.  After all if God can bring new life into the bones in Ezekiel 37 he can bring new life into the Roman Catholic Church.  Given that the RC church is far more effective voice in the fight against militant atheism and secularism why would that not be the more attractive option?  If God does bring renewal and revival to the Church of Scotland I will rejoice as much as if he brings it through any other group.

I know that God can heal. It does not stop me going to a doctor.  I know that God can anoint my preaching.  It does not stop me preparing sermons.  I know that God alone can convert.  It does not stop me proclaiming the Gospel. I know that God can speak through donkeys.  It does not make me appoint them as evangelists.  I know that God can bring dead churches to life.  It does not stop me seeking to belong to a living one.

I had a friend who bought into this whole ‘I can be a living witness in a dead church which God can bring to life’ theory.  After three years of struggling in a liberal C of S he moved town and immediately went to the Baptist Church.  I teased him;  ‘what happened to being a witness’?  “I am never going through that spiritual desert again’!

5) It is better to be ‘faithful’ and remain

As one minister has commented, ‘The vast majority of evangelicals in the Church of Scotland will not be persuaded by secessionist arguments because God has placed on their hearts a deep settled desire to be faithful to what His call is personally, and what He has done and is doing and we trust yet will do within the Church of Scotland’.

The trouble with this is that it is also playing the spiritual pride card.  The ‘faithful’ remain whereas those who leave are unfaithful secessionists (talk about loaded words!).  That is as ridiculous as saying that the faithful leave and the unfaithful remain.  I am sure that there will be those who are committed faithful believers who will stay, and there will be those who will leave. Let each be persuaded in his own mind.

Besides which it is a very strange definition of faithfulness which means that you swear allegiance to a denomination which has set itself against the Word of God and which is being used to spread the poison of a virulent liberalism.  As Alastair himself states the situation has changed, from the nice ‘soft’ liberalism of those who just waffled meaningless pietisms to those who now aggressively promote anti-biblical doctrine. Mind you there has been a change in evangelicalism, from one which recognised that unity across denominational borders was key, to one which sees itself as just a ‘part’ of the church – the church being the Church of Scotland.  Evangelicalism in the C of S has become increasingly soft and increasingly denominational.

What he does not seem to recognise and where he is really out of date is in his failure to acknowledge how much Scottish society has changed.  Christendom has gone.  The parish system has largely gone.  The remnants of civic religion remain but bit-by-bit the last vestiges of that are being chipped away as well.  And the Church of Scotland is proving as useless as a chocolate teapot in preventing that.  Whether it is the debacle of appearing before the Scottish parliament and arguing that you are against same sex marriage for everyone, but for same sex partnerships for ministers; or the current pathetic attempts to retain the privilege of being school chaplains by promising not to promote Christianity, the C of S has become a caricature of what it once was.  Less than 5% of the Scottish population attend the Church of Scotland.  Maybe we all need to wake up and smell the coffee, before it is too late.  Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic is not what I want in ministry.  I would rather be manning the lifeboats to rescue the perishing.

Conclusion: Take the Shackles Off

One phrase that Alaister used really struck home to me.  Do I really want to be part of a church that just ‘functions’?  That for me is the maintenance model of the church.  I want the mission model.  I want to be part of a church that is radical and revolutionary, that turns the world upside down.  I don’t just want to ‘function’.

I was recently talking to an elder who has left the Church of Scotland.  He spoke of feeling free and the shackles coming off.  It reminded me of this song –

It may be that you can operate with the shackles of a bureaucratic Presbyterianism in a declining church in an increasingly secular culture, desperately trying to relive the glories of the past and strengthening what remains and is about to die.  Personally I have no interest in merely ‘functioning’ whether within the Church of Scotland or the Free Church. If you can be free within the Church of Scotland then go to it brothers and sisters. (I pray that Alastair and other friends within the C of S will know real times of Gospel refreshing and prosperity).  But if not – get out.  Don’t allow an unrealistic fantasy view of the Church, or the fear of what might happen, keep you from living in the glorious liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to take the shackles off my feet so I can dance! I just want to praise

David Robertson – September 2013

Footnote:  In an earlier edition of this article I stated that Alastair handed out copies of Eric Alexanders article to members of Logies.  He assures me that he did no such thing.  I got that one wrong and apologise unreservedly to Alastair (thanks for correcting me).  If anyone else spots any other errors (it would not be the first time I have made mistakes!) then please let me know.  Otherwise I stand by what is written above.


  1. I’ve read so many articles on this and listened to so many debates with my brothers in Scotland. Alastair is such a dear man and saint who’s teaching has been a blessing to my Church and many others here in N Ireland. I do not wish to question him or the position David holds for that matter.

    But I do question this: would a mainstream evangelical candidate for ministry be accepted in the Kirk today? Or would he have to be ‘silent’ on certain issues at interview in order to study or be called to a parish? Could I as an evangelical in Ireland be called to a Kirk?

    1. Martin – I agree with you about Alastair. I think you would be welcome – but not if you are against womens ordination. It would also depend on whether you would be prepared to take the ordination vows…

  2. As I indicated in another place, both Alastair Morrice’s piece and David Randall, Snr’s, do not seem to think it appropriate in this matter to engage with the biblical doctrine of the church – it is all pragmatism, and at each end of the spectrum!
    At that level both their cases are articulately put and comprehensive, but …
    Now another commentary on the commentaries appears, and again written at the practical rather than doctrinal level; apparently this is the level at which some of our church leaders in Scotland envisage progress will be made within the church of Jesus Christ!
    Is it possible to even imagine the Apostle Paul beginning to approach the Corinthian Church’s problems with such a mindset?
    At the pragmatic level we’ll never get things balanced or focused or even accurate, and so even our very valid points are spoiled, and no progress is made. cf. here: the attempt to contrast Drs Spong and Philip, and the apparently factual comment is made about being “evicted from his manse” – there’s just the fact that it is not ‘his’ manse!
    If we are genuinely concerned for the advancement of the gospel of our Lord Jesus and His Church in Scotland, it is incumbent upon those who lead to do more than proliferate such commentaries, surely?

    1. Hi William – yes I noticed your remark on Louis blog but saw no reason to respond to it. My post is largely about the biblical doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) and not really about pragmatism – although to be fair the two are not opposed. I think the biblical doctrine of the church is very pragmatic! It does work. You accuse me of not writing at the doctrinal level. I just simply state you have got it wrong. I am writing directly from the doctrinal perspective. I also find some of your comments just nit-picking. For example evicted from his manse clearly means the manse in which he lives, not the manse he owns – how could he be evicted from a manse he owns? If we are genuinely concerned for the advancement of the gospel in Scotland, perhaps we should avoid such nit-picking and complaining, and instead come up with something practical (and doctrinal)! Otherwise it does come across as a wee bit smug and superior?

  3. David, As for something practical, what about you, Alastair and David R meeting up over a series of ecclesiastical explorations and then producing an epistle, just one which you could all sign, as brothers in Christ, in order to give unified guidance to many who are seeking to follow the different guidance that you have separately given heretofore.
    As for something doctrinal, what about pledging yourselves to a study of Book 3 of Calvin’s Institutes, say on the application of the gospel to us sinners and the resultant formation of the local church – and then produce a paper to help the evangelical of our day to understand more biblically what it means to be part of the church of Jesus Christ on this earth, in our communities?
    The flocks throughout the land need shepherding, and many are seeking it.

      1. ‘David R’ – was David Randall, representing the other pragmatic side of the spectrum to Alastair M’s piece – sorry for the confusion!
        Is it still a great suggestion??

      2. Too many Davids! Of course it is still a great suggestion. But I suspect that you will find that both gentlemen might be a little busy just now!

  4. But all three have had time to produce fairly long differing statements – so maybe those who have been influenced in any way by these statements deserve a little bit more of their time!
    If we have genuinely to make progress nationally and ecclesiastically some concerted effort across the spectrum of advisers may be required.

  5. So much of this mirrors our situation in the United States. For many years, I laboured as an evangelical within the Presbyterian Church (USA). Eventually, however, when the “liberty” to believe differently became the requirement to toe the party line, churches began to leave in droves. Over 100,000 members were lost in 2012. The church has shrunk from 4.5m in 1965 to 1.8m today. Along with numerous other local churches, we entered into a period of discernment until, in October of last year, we were dismissed, with our property and assets, to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It has been an enormous blessing to us. The EPC continues to grow at a tremendous rate while the old, liberal mainstream continues to wither on the vine. It seems that our age is witnessing a major realignment within the Reformed family. It’s very sad to witness the death of the old denomination, but it exciting beyond words to participate in the new thing God is doing.

  6. Logies have been Bogled. So has Larbet Old, Newmilns and Coatbridge. To be Bogled = where an evangelical church, which is uniformly against the revisionist trajectory, splits because some are persuaded to remain in the Church of Scotland because officially nothing has changed, while others can see through the compromise.
    This only happens in churches with an evangelical ethos. Nominal congregations couldn’t care one way or the other; revisionist-minded folk have what they want.
    Only evangelicals can find themselves Bogled. In fact, it is the natural outcome of decades of evangelical ministry. Those ministers who were products of the Stillite movement worked hard to build up their congregations. They didn’t flit around. They were steadfast and immoveable. They taught their people to worship, to pray, to witness, to give sacrificially, and most of all, to love the Bible. Who, then, can be surprised, when these Bible-loving people start to question decisions taken at their General Assembly? It is the natural outcome of evangelical ministry.
    This is something my colleagues who wish to remain within the Church of Scotland have failed to appreciate. Many of them, quite honourably, wish to remain in order to build up an evangelical congregation. But look what happens—the day comes when the congregation start asking: Why are we part of, why are we supporting, a denomination which denies everything we are being taught?
    I can understand the distress of men of Alistair Morrice’s generation. Everything they worked for is being unravelled. Men like myself, influenced by them, thought they were working to build God’s kingdom. It seems that they were only working to build up the Church of Scotland. If only Alistair and Eric et al had rallied us to the cause of Christ in Scotland, evangelical congregations would have been united. Instead, they are scattered. Who needs wolves?
    Can God save the Church of Scotland? Of course he can. But first He expects us to put the Word we preach into practice—like disciplining sin and challenging heresy. I haven’t heard Alistair or anyone from his group denounce the revisionists.
    My own view is that the Church of Scotland will always tolerate evangelicals so long as they remain loyal to the denomination. Evangelicals will always lose the vote. At the Assembly of 2012 I narrowly failed to persuade the Commissioners to legislate that only Christian worship should take place on our premises. I lost by a couple of dozen votes. Even to have lost by one vote would have been enough. Meanwhile, look out for more Bogled congregations.

    1. Amen to what you have said. Especially the part:

      “Men like myself, influenced by them, thought they were working to build God’s kingdom. It seems that they were only working to build up the Church of Scotland. If only Alistair and Eric et al had rallied us to the cause of Christ in Scotland, evangelical congregations would have been united. Instead, they are scattered. Who needs wolves?”

      The generation who complained that their parents confused obeying the church (institution) with obeying Christ seem to be falling in to the same trap with their ‘loyalty’. How can we form united groups of Christians rather than fighting with Christians or throwing our lot in with revisionists? Especially when there are few of us, and scattered geographically?

  7. Hello.

    The late John Murray made the following observations on the nature and unity of the church.

    “The church may not be defined as an entity wholly invisible to human perception and observation. What needs to be observed is that, whether the church is viewed as the broader communion of the saints or as the unit or assembly of believers in a home or town or city, it is always a visible, observable entity.The spiritual facts which constitute persons members of the church, though invisible,nevertheless find expression in what is observable. The people of God do come together, in accordance with Christ’s institution and prescription, for purposes of collective worship and testimony, for the administration of divinely instituted ordinances, for mutual edification, and for the exercise of government and discipline. Hence visible association and organisation are necessary to the church.There are institutions to be administered and government exercised. BUT this administration is executed by men. In view of the infirmity and fallibility belonging to men, we are faced with the anomaly that the visible entity which is called the church may comprise within its membership those who do not truly belong to the body of Christ. In view of this, it has been customary to define the church, viewed from its visible aspect, in terms merely of profession, and thus to allow for the discrepancy between the church ideally considered and the church realistically considered. This allows for a definition that is embracive enough to include those who are not really members of Christ’s body. This, I submit, is an error, and contrary to what we find in Scripture.”

    He goes on to observe that Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, “did not construe the church in such terms as would allow for the inclusion of those persons who might have borne the Christian name, and had been admitted into the privileges of the church, but who were not sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints”.

    He then talks about the church as the body of Christ and how the term is figurative. This means that
    “1 Christ and the church are complementary
    2 The relationship is organic
    3 The church, as the body, derives all its life from Christ the head.
    4 The body of Christ is a unit and all the members are united to the head and to . one another.
    He then discusses the oneness of the church and concludes that the oneness of the Godhead..”in the particularity of prerogative, function and relation of each person in the economy of salvation undergirds the oneness of the church.”

    He discusses John 17 and states that “It is a monstrous travesty to make this prayer of Jesus the plea and the warrant for the kind of affiliation represented by the World Council of Churches….To dissociate the unity for which Jesus prayed from all that is involved in believing on him is to rend asunder what our Lord Jesus joined together. ..Secondly, the pattern Jesus provides – as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee – makes mockery of any unity not based on the doctrine of the Father and the Son which the apostolic witness provides.”.

    He ends the piece by condemning spurious unity but also bemoans the fact that there is a lack of true unity” among those churches of Christ which profess the truth in its purity and calls for them to stop evading their responsibilities by resorting to the notion of the invisible church…The implications for visible confession and witness are unavoidable”

    (‘The Nature and Unity of the Church, Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 2, pp 321-335)

    Perhaps, separation is the only option for those churches.

    Gavin White

  8. Gavin, we are in your debt for bringing to us Murray’s penetrating and biblical perspective on what the church is – “The church may not be defined as an entity wholly invisible to human perception and observation”.
    For [most?] ‘evangelicals’ today their default understanding of the ‘church’ is this ‘invisible entity’, while the ‘visible entity’ is conceived of as a merely secular organisation [obviously so in terms of CoS!!], and so not the church of Jesus Christ. [“What needs to be observed is that, whether the church is viewed as the broader communion of the saints or as the unit or assembly of believers in a home or town or city, it is always a visible, observable entity”].
    When we think in these terms of the local church the very concepts of ‘staying in’ or ‘seceding’ take on a thoroughly different perspective from how such concepts are usually determined.

  9. As a young boy with an interest in the history of the Church in Scotland, I am intrigued as to why the Good Sir questions how the churches will “cope with the consequent lack of support[of leaving the CofS]?”
    Were not the same questions asked when Hog was deprived of his manse and church in 1661?
    Or how about when Erskine, Moncrieff, Fisher and Wilson were deposed in 1733?
    Or in 1752 when Gillespie was deposed?
    Or in 1756 when the parishioners of Nigg Ross-shire were forced to leave their fine church and manse to form an Associate Congregation – as in many similar cases throughout the country?
    Or in 1843 when you of all people will know the poverty that followed the Disruption in that year. 450 Ministers led their congregations out of their historic churches and fine manses into barns, tents, beaches and forests – even a floating church on Loch Sunart!?
    Or in 1892 when the Free Presbyterian Church left the Free Church?
    Or in 1900 when the Free Church lost almost all her property to the UF Church?
    Or in 1929, when the UF church was re-constituted after losing almost all her property to the CofS?
    Or in 1989 when the APC Church was formed?
    Or in 2005 when the Free Church Continuing was (re)formed?

    I wonder what become of all that? Can’t have been much, or else a man well educated in the Scottish Church would know all about them! I realise that these are different times, but surely food for thought?

    1. What became of all that?
      I am surprised ” a man well educated in Scottish Presbyterianism” has to ask.
      The residue is struggling, both financially and with regard to man-power, apart from the Free Presbyterian Church, which inherited the Forsyth millions some decades ago.

      To say nothing of “breakaway”groups which went into an independent wilderness and perished. ( all in the name of their interpretation of scriptural teaching”!)

      It does not bode well for our secessions and grandstanding of today.

      1. Catriona. If you look at the latest Scottish statistics it appears as though the Free church is growing and so are independent evangelicals. Not quite the picture you paint.

      2. Catriona,
        I’m sorry I sounded so aggressive in my comment – it was not intended to be.
        There are a few points I would like to clarify however:
        1) I stated that I was merely “a young boy with an interest in the history of the Church in Scotland”, I have received no formal education in church history – so I do not know how I became promoted to “a man well educated in Scottish Presbyterianism” – I’ll take it as a compliment!
        2) Whilst by and large the residue may be struggling, it seems that in most cases this is in a similar or in fact lesser degree than the CofS. Some are even growing!
        3) When you refer to “breakaway groups” I assume you mean the very small denominations such as the Relief FPs. These ‘sub-denominations’ (<– not a proper term, just made up by yours truly) are few and far between. In fact, I am struggling to find very many of these ‘independent wilderness’ inhabiting groups at all! Most of these groups were in congregations of less than five. Already, the congregations to have left the CofS have exceeded this number. (I think)
        To further our discussion, please email me at, and I’ll be happy for you to correct me.

  10. What separation is a duty?

    If a church apostatize and forsake the faith, or oif they turn notoriously heretical, denying openly any one essential article of the faith, and this not only by an undiscerned consequence, but directly in express terms or sense, it is our duty to deny to hold communion with such apostates or heretics; for it is their separating from Christ that is the sinful separation, and maketh it necessary to us to separate from them”
    Richard Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, Ch8 section IV. c1664/5

  11. Turretin makes the following points when discussing the Reformers and the Roman Church, which I think are pertinent to this discussion.

    “An usurpation of the ministry is one thing; another is the use of a lawful right granted by God. An usurpation of the ministry which is made without any right is always unjust and unlawful; bit the use of a right cannot be unjust.

    The Reformers cannot be called usurpers because the church at every time has the right to call pastors for her own edification, although all the rights otherwise received cannot be employed. If therefore it happens that the pastors already instituted fail in their office and falsely abuse their ministry, the church (for whose sake the ministry was instituted) always has the right to purge a corrupt ministry.

    And if this cannot be done on account of the obstinacy of men, she ha s the right to leave that ministry and to choose others who will rightly perform their duties……Our Reformers seceded for the most weighty reasons regarding the corruption of doctrine and applied themselves to reformation.”
    (Book 3, 18th topic, question 25, paras 19-21)

  12. Hello. I posted the above Turretin quote but it has come up as inabsentia123. It should be Gavin White

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