The True Purpose of the Church – Some Reflections on Dr John Chalmers Sermon in Stornoway – August 2014

I have come to a rather worrying conclusion – which I will share with you at the end of this article. I want to reflect a little on two things in the past week which indicate the state of the Church in Scotland. I recently attended a conference in St Andrews at which there was a considerable variety of Christian leaders. We heard a superb lecture from Dr John Webster on Creation from Nothing. It was brilliant, mind stretching, wonderful. I was so encouraged. And then came the questions and discussion.

Without Me God Cannot Exist
One minister somewhat rudely thanked the speaker for his talk because it had reminded him how ‘creation out of nothing’ should be way down the list of priorities, that it made God seem even more remote and that it was obvious that people had just made up God to replace eternal matter. Another suggested that God had to create because he is love and who else would he have to love (at this point I had to be restrained….I shouted out – ‘have you not heard of the Trinity? Its basic theology!’). Yet another declared “without me God cannot exist”. It was desperate stuff. And this from academics and church leaders!

Lord, Deliver Us From Nutters.
I know that theological legalism has slain its millions. And it is still with us. I have been stalked this week by a strange and unbalanced ‘pastor’ from the US who not only considers himself to be the heir apparent of Knox, Calvin, Luther and Spurgeon but also, slightly more plausibly, considers yours truly to be ‘anti-Christ’ to such an extent that he devoted a whole 90 minute sermon to me. Nuts. Yes I am only too aware that theological legalism has slain its millions. But theological liberalism has slain its tens of millions.

The Modern Chalmers Sermon
And then I listened to the sermon of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Dr John Chalmers, as he was on his morale-boosting visit to what remains of Stornoway High Church (all the Session and 250 members have left to form a new Free Church because of recent Assembly decisions to go against the bible). From what I know of him, and the brief encounter I have had with him, John Chalmers seems a nice man with a pleasant and winsome manner and a genuine concern for people. I listened to his sermon with great interest – not least when he announced that he was going to tell us what the ‘true purpose of the church is” – you can listen to the whole sermon here –

Let me leave aside the political church stuff even though I was intrigued to hear the claim that “there is no other Christian church which is compelled by its belief in the Gospel and by its constitution, to the common good”. I suspect the Catholics, Baptists and even the Free Church would find that a somewhat arrogant and pompous statement. My concern is not with the Church of Scotland but rather with the Church in Scotland. All of us. And the Moderators sermon is a great indication of how much trouble we are in. Why?

Hermless
At one level it was relatively ‘hermless’ (as Michael Marra would say). There was little to disagree with and even less to offend (I suspect it was designed that way). At a superficial level perhaps all could sign up to it. And therein lies the first problem – because Muslims, Methodists, Mennonites, Mormons and Mandeians could all sign up to it, as well as all the other letters of the alphabet. Apparently the purpose of the church is helping lonely people have friends. Jesus is with you in your loneliness, you are agents of his friendship and as you show friendship you cause people to experience the love of the Risen Christ. It doesn’t matter your theology (which is just about point scoring anyway), all that matters is that you are a friend of Jesus. It was consistent with the Moderators earlier message in Life and Work that you can belong to the church without having any doctrinal convictions.

And therein lies the problem. Part of what is said is meaningless waffle, the kind of twee nonsense exemplified in the worst Christian music video ever –

Meaningful Heresy
But part of it is very meaningful heresy. Here is why. If you say you are a friend of Jesus I just simply ask ‘which Jesus?’ If you refuse to answer that question you have just made a nonsense of your whole position. Jesus could be an historical figure, a mere prophet, the first communist or your pet rabbit! The minute you begin to answer the question you are into the realms of doctrine. Jesus is not your own personal Jesus, he is not whoever you want him to be, and he is not the ‘historical’ (i.e. mythical) Jesus beloved of some academics. He is a real, historical, living person. He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the One who performed miracles, was crucified for our sins, rose from the dead and is coming back. The reason I wrote Magnificent Obsession was to introduce Jesus to modern people who have no idea who he is.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Magnificent-Obsession-David-Robertson/dp/1781912718/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1409295294&sr=8-2&keywords=magnificent+obsession

What really surprises me is that so many who are leaders in the church find it easy to use the word ‘Jesus’ but seem to have little idea of who he is, what he did or what he wants.

What is the Church for?
It is the pillar and foundation of the truth. It is the church of Christ built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself both as the Chief Cornerstone and Head. Of course we can sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus”. That’s a great truth. Providing you don’t reduce Jesus to the level of your teddy bear, or imaginary friend. The Church exists to love, worship, serve and proclaim Christ. The trouble with the moderator’s sermon is that it was actually devoid of any meaningful Christian content and therefore in and of itself negated what the Church is actually for.

The Conclusion?
And that is where the conclusion I mentioned at the beginning comes into play. When I hear grown educated clergy asking how God could exist without us, or why do we need to believe in a God who is eternal, self-existent, uncreated, omniscient, omnipresent, almighty, triune? I despair. It’s as though the whole of Gods self-revelation in the bible and 2000 years of Christian theology is irrelevant. This is not progress – this is a reversion to pre-Christian paganism, in the name of Christ! My conclusion is that there are many ‘Christian’ teachers who do not teach God, because I suspect they do not know God and have little or no idea of who He is. They have a ‘form of godliness, but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Now let me take a pause here and deal with the inevitable objections that some of my friends will come up with.

1) ‘David, you are just engaging in Church of Scotland bashing’. No. You don’t get to hide behind that particular red herring. I don’t care two hoots whether that sermon was preached by the Moderator of the C of S, the Pope or someone in the Free Church. Whoever preached it would be wrong. This has nothing to do with the Church of Scotland – except to point out how deep the rot has set into that particular institution. I know that there are many fine C of S ministers who will teach the God of the Bible, the Christology and theology of the classic Christian creeds, but when an ‘evangelical’ congregation can sit in silence and listen to a sermon like that, it is clear evidence of at best a confused situation. Actually there was one other thing that the Moderator said which was specific to the Church of Scotland. He commented on the fact that Herod and Pilate, who had previously been enemies, became friends because of their common cause against Christ. This may have been wicked of me but it reminded me of the Church of Scotland and the Humanist Society becoming friends! A strange alliance indeed.

2) ‘You are being harsh and judgemental. How is all the above an example of the love of Christ?’. The reason I shouted out at the St Andrews conference was BECAUSE I love Christ. The reason I write this, with such deep concern and pain, is BECAUSE I love Christ and I love the people of Scotland and the Church of Scotland. I want them to hear about the Jesus who really IS, not the make-believe one of liberal theology. In Scotland we are in the midst of the great Independence debate just now. It sometimes gets a bit heated because people care passionately about their country. Why are people so passionate? Because nationality is very much part of their identity. And yet countries are really artificial human constructs that will not last. God on the other hand is eternal. We have an eternal destiny. Heaven and earth will pass away but the words of Christ will last forever. How much more passionate should we be about that?

Lost Evangelicals
Here is where I think evangelicals have lost our way. We have bought into the lie of the devil that ‘evangelicalism’ is just one part of the broad church and whilst we must fight for our corner what really counts is that we all belong to the same church and love the same Jesus. Except that, without the ‘evangel’ there is no church and there is no Jesus. What’s the point of boasting about belonging to a Church that claims to have a parish ministry in every inch of Scotland, if much of that ministry is not Christian ministry?! We need to grasp this. If you have never read Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism go out and purchase it now! He demonstrates clearly that liberal theology is not part of the church and that any faithful Christian will do their utmost to remove its poison from within our walls – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christianity-Liberalism-new-Gresham-Machen/dp/0802864996/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409295337&sr=1-1&keywords=christianity+and+liberalism

A Dangerous Anecdote
Whilst the moderator did not preach any explicit heresy, he did implicitly. He gave a moving example of his own personal loss and suffering and how people from different theological backgrounds had been able to help and console him and his family. Listening to that it is almost impossible to disagree and seems churlish and cold to do so. And that is why it is such a dangerous anecdote. I am sure that atheist, humanist and Muslim friends could and would have shown the same human compassion. The moderators point proves too much. It does not prove that there is no need for theology or doctrine; it proves that ultimately there is no need for God. It’s just us. I don’t believe that. I don’t accept that the evidence in our world today supports that faith. We are broken people in a broken world who need the real Jesus. I don’t just belong to one theological tradition that does not really matter. I belong to Christ and I want any minister, priest, bishop, pastor who preaches in any church I belong to, to preach Christ – not to tell me how wonderful the denomination is, or how lonely society is, or how God needs us.

The Mind of Christ
Any Christian worthy of the name of Christ is going to teach Christ. Those of us who profess to be evangelical need not only to have our hearts right, but also our minds engaged and we need some backbone and guts. We need to grow some! We need passion – for Christ. And please don’t be put off by a false humility…the kind that says, “oh we can’t know the mind of Christ, we are all groping in the dark towards a meaningful understanding”. If that’s the case, keep quiet. Don’t teach your groping in the dark. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” And he answers; “But we have the mind of Christ”. (1 Corinthians 2:16). The irony is that liberals think they have the mind of Christ, as they adapt him to suit their pre-suppositions and culture. You will hear them often speak about ‘what the Spirit is saying to the church’ by which they mean what they think and they are saying. Is it not arrogant and dangerous to claim the mind of Christ? Absolutely. Which is why we must not move beyond his Word. That’s why the C of S moving away from the Word of God on marriage is so important. Not because of homosexuality, but because of the blatant and deliberate rejection of the Bible as our authority. When you undermine Scripture you undermine the Church and you attack Christ.

Augustine’s Wisdom
It matters because of who he is, and for his glory. But it matters also in terms of communicating the Gospel. Augustine knew this problem many years ago: “The heretics themselves also, since they are thought to have the Christian name and sacraments, Scriptures and profession, cause great grief in the hearts of the pious, both because many who wish to be Christians are compelled by their dissensions to hesitate, and many evil-speakers also find in them matter for blaspheming the Christian name, because they too are at any rate called Christians” (City of God, Book XVIII, ch.51).

Paul’s Answer
Let me return to those ‘preachers’ who thought that the notion of an uncreated God, independent of us, was somehow not relevant or worth there while. They need to listen to the Apostle Paul, who when faced with the rampant confusion and unbelief of the Athenians, did not say, ‘well all I want to do is show you the love of Jesus, and I just want to let you know he will be your friend, and he needs you”. Paul was a little more robust; “22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else”
(Acts 17:22-25).

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad
It is not a case of Meat Loafian theology of ‘I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no one I’m ever going to love you”. Two out of three ain’t bad. God does want us. He does not need us. And he most certainly does love us. Not because we are loveable or we can earn it or because he needs us, but simply because he does. The great and difficult doctrine of the Love of God is what needs to be proclaimed in our world today. In order for that to happen we need to get our understanding of who God is, sorted out…we need to marvel and wonder at his awesomeness. We need to be lost in wonder, love and praise. It is in Christ alone that our hope is found. Once we grasp that we will really begin to understand what it means to have Christ as our friend, sacrifice, lion, lamb, brother, Lord, saviour and all powerful-returning King. So can I make a plea to all preachers, of whatever denomination – please stop feeding us drivel, saccharine coated sound bites, legalistic lovelessness or liberal poison. Give us Christ. Give us His Word. We would see Jesus!

39 thoughts on “The True Purpose of the Church – Some Reflections on Dr John Chalmers Sermon in Stornoway – August 2014

  1. Totally with you David in what you say about “”form of godliness, but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).”

    I know we have discussed this before but I would caution about the use if the term “liberal”. This might make me a “woolly liberal” to say thing but I don’t think so. There is tribalism with one side opposed to anything liberal and the other saying things like “Jesus was a liberal and a feminist”. I’ve seen it.

    Is it any wonder that liberalism exist with a special identity with the Exodus narrative and love of God with the danger of syncretism, then on the other hand conservatism with a special identity with the word of God and a danger of legalism? Then tribalism and insensitivity existing between differing groups when affiliation to an identity of position in the conservative-liberal spectrum takes precedence over the centrality of Christ?

  2. I honestly think we are going to see liberal “Christianity” decline in numbers and influence as militant atheism gathers strength.

    Tim Keller argues that the US (and I think this can be extended to western culture) are in a time when there is increasing polarisation between secularists/atheists and the “devout” and at the same time the “mushy” middle are declining (presumably because they have no arguments with which to defend their nominal “Christianity” in the face of the increasing influence of the prevailing secular worldview and no rock on which to stand in the face of ridicule/oppression). On the one hand that’s good if people are being forced from sitting on the fence but on the other it will mean Christians will be increasingly oppressed and denied the right to speak in the public square or workplace.
    So, if correct, the need to critique those claiming to be Christian yet not knowing the Word, nor the Son, nor the power of the gospel will diminish. Nevertheless, absolutely right to call this out until then.

    Keller article here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/08/26/tim-keller-on-the-disappearing-umbrella-over-conservative-christians/

  3. I write as a member of the Church of Scotland who struggles with its stance in relation to society and most importantly God’s word as we have it in the Bible. All of David’s concerns are ones that I share. I’m not a theologian or an elder, an academic or a professional Christian but I do know enough of my Bible to know that the CoS is sadly in error.
    “To introduce people to Jesus as a constant companion and friend” must be the most anodyne clarion call of Church mission ever. But we must remember this is from a man who told us at the end of the GA to button our lips if we disagreed with the major decision on ordination of gay ministers which the assembly had just taken.
    This is also the man who who is going to host a service of reconciliation after the referendum vote on 18 September.
    It gives me no pleasure to say that John Chalmers came across as a typical CEO of a NDPB or QUANGO. Begin with the positive, highlight all the pluses we can ascribe to our organisation. All very positive and uplifting. But it doesn’t deliver anything of substance or truth. As I listened to him I could not stop thinking about Jesus’s address to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. And that is what we expect of a real friend – to tell the truth.
    Unfortunately the CoS sees itself more as a quango than a church these days. It doesn’t want to fall out with its other group of friends – Politicians with a large P. Even in his praise of its politicking with a small p and campaigning with a small c he can give no credit to the Holy Spirit for any changes that are wrought in our society. He can see no works worthy of repentance that bring about real and lasting change for individual and society once Jesus has been accepted as our Lord and Saviour. The Politicians wouldn’t like that because it might not sound inclusive enough.
    David mentions the CoS’s friendship with the Humanists. This is one I am still trying to get my head round and it is one I would like to hear our own CoS ministers speaking out about publicly and openly and, yes, noisily.
    121 George Street will continue its drive to position the CoS as any other organisation which does good things. It will continue to make claims that it is the biggest and best at social welfare. It will continue to make its case for relevance and being seen as the national church.
    But the price it will pay is that it is no longer a confessing church. Jesus Christ is no longer the most important person in the church. You can believe anything you want and still join our club.
    My prayer before it is too late is that CoS ministers will stand up and speak out, step on toes, give offence if necessary, and call out the false teaching and teachers who beset the CoS.
    Until then, David, continue to offer a voice, analysis and a view of what is happening in Scotland to the Church and the Reformed traditions which are being forgotten with each passing day.

    1. As a former member of the Church of Scotland , and also a non academic I take great comfort in what grrod has just submitted . I also endorse his viewpoint .

  4. Theism is crumbling before our eyes. Theists have no method to test which claim about God is right. Theism is just ignorant men casting assertions back and forth – then claiming the other person is wrong and/or evil.

    David, you said, “It’s as though the whole of Gods self-revelation in the bible and 2000 years of Christian theology is irrelevant.”

    Indeed! It IS irrelevant! After 2000 years, this is where Christianity lies: in a ditch, bleeding out. After 2000 years, smart, good, well-meaning men (predominately) have not been able to make sense of the Bible. It’s not because of sin – it’s because Christianity is a Myth. It has some great things in it that we can use, but not all.

    The Bible is Christianity’s worst nightmare – it simply doesn’t help any denomination – because it was created by competing sects.

    From the view of the secularist, the whole theistic shabang is a useless endeavor.

    Work, live, love.. Life is pretty simple. We don’t need gods. Gods are the problem – they are fantasies that distract Man from the important stuff.

    Some day, even you, David, will see the light and realize your time has been wasted in navel gazing. Maybe you will realize it before your light is finally snuffed out and you are gone forever. Maybe you will see the futility of your search for something that doesn’t exist. Maybe, just maybe, Fate will grant you the time to change and mend your ways. To repent.

    1. Poor Brent – I guess you think that if you keep repeating the mantra enough it will come true! People have been predicting the demise of Christianity for 2000 years and it is still going strong. The kind of theism that is dying is the liberal mish mash that I was writing about. Biblical Christianity is growing – which is why tomorrow I will be preaching in a packed church- full of young people. So sad that you don’t understand the Bible, Christ or the Church….one day you will!

      1. 1. You’ve blogged about declining church attendance, you go to conferences on how to increase church attendance. You’ve spoken at a conference that acknowledges the rise of skepticism where you had to rehash the McDowell-esque reasons for your faith.
        If you think the church is growing, please check the last polls from the last few decades. Church attendance is declining, and people claiming “no religion” is growing.
        You, personally, would literally have to be delusional not to recognize these simple facts that indicate a decline in religious beliefs.
        2. You’ve blogged extensively how so many Christian churches are NOT Christian enough for you. You’ve commented on how people need to be more Christian – even wackos who think they are more Christian than you, telling you to repent! This is not a sign of a healthy belief system if you are stuck between the “Luke warms” and the “true Christians”.
        3. The Bible itself says that few will be saved. Even if Christianity becomes the sole religion, the Bible predicts most of those “Christians” will be nothing of the sort…. Are you going to disagree with the Bible?
        4. All religions go extinct. Chances are, Christianity goes extinct, too.
        5. Polls show most Christians don’t even accept the major doctrines of the Bible (Jesus’s literal resurrection, satan, heaven, hell, etc.) – in a way, Christianity is already dead for 40% of self-proclaimed Christians.
        6. The world is becoming more skeptical of ancient claims that continue to disappoint. Sure, you think they are great, but you are a minority.
        7. Here’s the fact: most people don’t act as if Christianity is true. That’s the most damning evidence that Christianity – and theism in general – is dying.

        David, your anecdotal story about a packed church is just that. It’s meaningless.
        You are welcome to post evidence that theism is winning the day, but you’d have to lie.
        People don’t live their lives as if theism is true. They can’t. It doesn’t make sense.

        Because there is no God. That’s become very apparent.

        Go to all your conferences on how to woo old ladies to give their money, or get young kids to do what ever you like to do with young kids – it doesn’t matter. Eventually people grow up and see you for who you are – money grubbing charlatans and liars.

        It’s been that way since the Pharisee’s and before, it’s that way now and will be forever and ever. Amen.

      2. “By the way, I do agree with you, um, on the, ah, the amount of atheists. I actually think most people in this country, and the United States, live as functional atheists, whatever they say, they live as though their were no God and I know I’m in a minority and I don’t care.”
        David Robertson, 28 March 2009.

        Yet, here, David, you say Christianity is thriving.

      3. Well, I suppose this is consistent with the Christian view – have it both ways, then deny any contradiction!
        If I accept Jesus as my personal savior, does that mean I can declare that I am right all the time, too?

      4. I thought you already were declaring you were right all the time!? Christians rely on reason, evidence, the Word of God and the Spirit guiding. The Word without the Spirit you will dry up, the Spirit without the Word you will blow up…both together you grow up!

      5. David, you said, “I thought you already were declaring you were right all the time!? Christians rely on reason, evidence, the Word of God and the Spirit guiding. The Word without the Spirit you will dry up, the Spirit without the Word you will blow up…both together you grow up!”

        Word salad. OK, so you rely on evidence, reason and other things. What happens if reason and evidence are contrary to the Word and Spirit?

        Plainly put, what is wrong with just Reason and Evidence? Why must we rely on people like you, who claim to have special connection to some occult force, to weigh in on Reason and Evidence?

        And, as I continue to point out, the Word of God and HS are not reliable – as evidenced in the variety of Churches.

        You keep appealing to the HS and Word of God as reliable – as a supplement to Reason and Evidence.

        Please tell us how it ACTUALLY works! Is your HS and assessment of the Word better than others? Whose is the best? Why not simply listen the the best Christian, who has the best connection to God alive today? Wouldn’t that be the Pope? Or you? Or who?

        Why isn’t Reason and Evidence enough, David?

  5. Another interesting post. I think I would have been equally annoyed at the rudeness of some comments at the St Andrews event.

    However, I do have to take issue with your comments about not attacking the Church of Scotland. It is a very clever strategy to say you are not having a go at the C of S and cleverly counter a potential crititque before it even arrives, thus allowing you to have another go!

    In this article, you try to position John Chalmers’ bridge building sermon as offensive to catholics, baptists, and free church.

    You then draw out part of a sermon to suggest the C of S and Humanist conversations are like Herod and Pilate.

    Your views on the C of S are well known, but I don’t think you can write such things and claim to not be having a go.

    I also think that the taking of such a personal and deeply moving testimony of John’s son and the support and love he got to make a point of implicit heresy and calling it a dangerous anecdote to be very, very harsh. John is making a deeply bridge-building point. The bridge is clearly between Christians, that John is talking about. He is showing how we need to stop point scoring. Ironically, it feels like you are trying to dissect his moving sermon to do exactly that.

    Perhaps you have had people dissect your sermons and seek out points of disagreement. I am sorry if this is something you experience.

    However, John Chalmers is yes, “a nice man with a pleasant and winsome manner and a genuine concern for people”. However, John clearly preached that he loves the risen Christ and prays for all his listeners to know Him. John is so much more than a nice man. He is a committed brother in Christ who is working tirelessly to promote unity in the Church. The qualities you describe in him are not who he is. They are the fruit of his relationship with Christ.

    It is tiring to hear the constant attempts to divide Christians from so many who call themselves Christian. I know you think I am hiding behind a red herring. But you are turning the words of a passionate, loving brother in Christ and trying to portray him on the one hand as merely harmless and on the other as a heretic.

    I deplore the “stalking” are receiving from the person describing you ridiculously as the anti-christ. At times it feels that you are likewise stalking every word spoken by bridge builders in our family as a heresy hunter. Laying out legalism and liberalism as you have done appears to be saying liberalism is far worse. I don’t see things like that. I think all things that act as barriers to grace and relationship to Christ are the real dangers, and no single group is to blame. We all share in this responsibility and our duty is to work together to show just how deep Christ’s love is for all humankind.

    1. So – you accuse me of being deceitful and lying, very very harsh and most seriously attacking a passionate loving brother in Christ as a heretic. If this is the ‘lovin, gracious’ interaction you claim then heaven help us when you decide to be tough!

      I was not having a go at the Church of Scotland. I was having a go at liberals (and legalists) whether in the Church of Scotland, Free Church or whatever. I find it interesting that for all your profession of love and grace, you are so quick to accuse people of lying.

      This was a bridge building sermon? To whom? Building bridges between whom? He says that the C of S is the only church which has a concern for the community in its theology and constitution – is that statement to remain unchallenged? The alliance between the C of S and the Humanists is indeed an example of a strange friendship/alliance (I admit that was the one bit that was C of S bashing!)….

      Sadly you use the ‘moving’ story exactly as I feared – using it to bash anyone who dares to challenge the point it was supposed to illustrate. You are not a stupid man so you know exactly the point I was making – professing that we are all ‘friends of Jesus’ is meaningingless unless we actually define who Jesus is. Even say you have faith in ‘the Risen Christ’ is making a doctrinal statement – what about those who have faith in Christ but don’t think he is risen? And how do you know he is a committed brother in Christ who is working tirelessly to promote unity in the church? How could you have unity ‘in Christ’ between people who believe in different Christs?

      You talk the talk about Christ’s love for humanity – but what do you mean by it? Who is this Jesus you are talking about? What is this love? The minute you begin to define it then you ‘divide’. I actually don’t think the moderator is a bridge builder at all…..I think he is trying to keep the C of S together – at the expense of grace and truth. Actions speak louder than words. If the moderator and the council of the C of S was really into unity and reconciliation, grace and truth, then perhaps you could explain to me why they are throwing people out of their manses and churches – and doing their utmost to attack and denigrate those who dare to leave. I’m sorry I don’t buy all this.

      My critique by the way was of a contentless sermon that could have been preached by a Mormon or Muslim….do you disagree?

  6. grrod –
    I can’t help wondering why, with such an excruciatingly clear understanding of the CoS’s bankruptcy, you remain a member?
    Of course I speak as someone who left some time ago (and have never seen the slightest cause to think it was the wrong decision)

    1. Curlew, thanks for asking this very good question and one my wife and I are grappling with daily in our prayers, conversations and reflection. I think what is still keeping us from leaving is our attachment to our local church in personal friendships but also, as it has a very elderly dwindling congregation, in the sense of duty to help where we can. Of course, some of this borders on sentiment rather than scriptural truth. But if you have already left you are probably familiar with what we are going through at the moment.
      One of the reasons I follow David’s blogs so closely is that he provides a faithfully scriptural view and analysis of what is happening to the church in Scotland and further afield. I find this extremely helpful as I grapple with the reality of your question. What I have said before is that it is a pity that I am not reading or hearing such spirit filled thoughts from CoS ministers. I don’t say that they are not there but if they are they are not as visible or accessible as David’s. Perhaps this provides a clue to where the ultimate answer to your question is leading. Thanks again.

      1. grrod,

        it’s not three years since I left the Kirk, but I vividly recall the six or seven (at least) years previous when it was becoming increasingly, uncomfortably clear that there was no future there for a believer. Just as you say, I had friends and duties I couldn’t imagine kicking behind me – it was in every way a seriously difficult step to take.
        Praying for you and your wife and all the faithful remnant, that whether you stay a while or leave (as I can’t help feeling you must eventually), God will give you the peace of knowing you’re walking in accordance with his purpose for you 🙂

  7. Thanks for the quick reply David.

    If you look carefully, you’ll see at no point did I accuse you of lying. I think you are inaccurate that you are in fact having a go, although to be fair you did in your reply admit the bashing! But I do agree that I am saying your attack on his personal story to be very harsh.

    Do you really not know the answer to the question of bridge building? I was not there, but if John is preaching in the Stornoway church, he is preaching to a hurt and damaged Christian community. I felt his words to be highly appropriate as an attempt to bring people together and respect difference of opinion. His focus is on what unites and not what divides . This also reminds me of another point you slipped in your openers… “recent Assembly decisions to go against the bible”. This is one (divisively expressed) view only. It is far more complex and many disagree with your statement, as you know I do. I actually believe the Assembly to be acting incredibly biblically but choose not to attack more conservative believers for what I personally believe to be an unbiblical approach to difference of opinion on sensitive and controversial matters. I am happy to state I disagree, however.

    If we go around trying to find all doctrinal differences between believers, we end up destroying fellowship. If we focus firstly (note, I did not say solely) on the love we share of Christ then we can have fellowship, relationship and growth. From here we can grow together and learn more how to be Christlike in our world.

    Do you really believe John is a heretic? Does this mean you don’t think he has a saving faith? A tree is known by its fruit, and as you said, John clearly professes the risen Christ and shows himself to be a “nice man with a pleasant and winsome manner and a genuine concern for people”. From my perspective, I clearly see the fruit of the Spirit in his life and teaching.

    What worries me is the type of person who professes Christ yet picks on other Christians and calls them heretics and anti-Christs, such as you have sadly been subjected to.

    You ask “If the moderator and the council of the C of S was really into unity and reconciliation, grace and truth, then perhaps you could explain to me why they are throwing people out of their manses and churches – and doing their utmost to attack and denigrate those who dare to leave.” I don’t think this is an accurate portrayal whatsoever and lacks any awareness of what is genuinely happening. The situation is far more complex and the accounts I hear are much different. There will no doubt be truth and exaggeration on all sides, such is human nature when emotions are involved.

    1. I did look and you did accuse me of lying or deceit.

      Was John really trying to build bridges between the majority of the congregation, including all the KS, who have left, and the ones who remained? I heard nothing addressed to them. I did hear a rallying call to the ones who remained telling them how wonderful the C of S was and how right they were to remain. A strange idea of bridgebuilding.

      Yes I know you believe the Assembly was acting biblically – which shows the level of intellectual disconnection from reality. I was at the Assembly and there was no attempt to pretend the Assembly were acting biblically. In fact the report itself indicated that the Assembly were going beyond and against the bible.

      But you are being disingenous when you think that I am trying to find ‘all doctrinal differences between believers’. That of course is not my position – but I guess it suits yours to use that kind of hyperbole. My concern is finding out the doctrines that actually makes us believers – which was of course the point of the whole article. We can’t have fellowship without Christ…and we can’t have fellowship with darkness.

      Do I believe John is a heretic? I have no idea from that sermon – it was totally empty of any Christian and biblical content. I note you did not answer my observation that it could have been preached by a Muslim or a Mormon.

      I personally don’t have the ability to judge the fruit of the Spirit in someones life. I leave that to God.

      And I love the way you accuse me of misrepresenting what is happening on the ground and lacking any awareness of what is genuinely happening. You may be right. It may be the case that the ministers (from different sides – including some at the heart of 121) who have told me that the Council and the legal department are determined to ensure that any who leave get nothing, are lying or mistaken. So perhaps you can provide us with some evidence? COuld you tell us what is happening to the church buildings in St Catherines Argyle, St James (Broughty Ferry), Holyrood Abbey? Could you let us know which congregations are being allowed to keep their buildings – especially in Edinburgh where the Presbytery are having to unite and close churches but still insist that no congregation which leaves can retain their buildings. I know most of the situations of the people involved who have left – the way they have been treated is disgusting. And yet you, in your desire for ‘grace,truth, reconciliation and unity’ defend this terrible behaviour. I will repent of my comment if you can give me one instance of the C of S seeking to bring reconciliation and helping those who feel they cannot remain. I’ll hear from you after the weekend…

      1. So should bridges not be built.
        Should we just shake the dust from our sandals.
        Are we so sure of ourselves that we should shun the rest.
        That is the problem with Scotland.
        We are the people is so passé.
        God teaches us to turn the other cheek and seek out the lost not to try to be the clever one who wins every argument.

    1. That is the ONLY example and even that is not what it seems….Gilcomston have to pay a fortune to use their own building. What I want to know is why St James BF can’t use their building? Or St Caths in Edinburgh can’t….it is petty, vindictive and manipulative. And you should not be defending it…

      1. Hi David
        You asked for “one instance”, and if found stated you would repent. Pressed for time, I did just that. Now you say it is the ONLY example! Then bring in other examples, portrayed from only one perspective to avoid having to acknowledge that I answered your challenge. Would it be so hard to just say thank you for giving you one example as asked and acknowledge that yes, there have been instances, that yes, the situation is more complex and that yes, wrongs and kindnesses have been done on both sides?

        There are other examples of acts of kindness, of giving of time and support etc. I do not need to source each one for you to try and dismantle.

        However, you forget the remaining congregations, such as in St Caths. The Church of Scotland cannot effectively throw these people out because a group wishes to leave the denomination. Has the current minister at St George’s Tron (C of S) been allowed into the manse with his family yet? It is always much more complicated than a simple one side is right and the other wrong…

        The continuing members also need their pastoral care and place of worship.
        You try to make a black and white case, when it is anything but.

        If a large majority group of believers wanted to leave a Free Church owned building, do you think it would be right for them to ask the Free Church to leave them their manse, give them their building rent free and ask those who wished to remain in the denomination to find a new building?

        The situation is always more complex and nuanced than it appears in the press. There are wrongs on both sides, but I will not stand aside and hear the Church of Scotland maligned in this way as if it is a petty, manipulative and vindictive organisation.

        This is my biggest problem with so many of your posts, David – they are so black and white.
        MM

      2. Monk, I actually was too hasty – although on the service it is an example of a reasonable compromise (C of S allows congregation to use building) in fact it is not that at all…the ‘rent’ they charge is exorbitant and designed to ensure that what the Old Gilc paid to central funds is continued. I don’t deny that there have been wrongs on both sides. I detest when that obvious truism is used to support a greater wrong..you know as well as I do that this has nothing to do with the ‘continuing members’ (in most cases a handful) but with punishment to discourage ‘les autres’…

        You ask about the Free Church – the answer is yes – that is exactly what happened in many instances when the Continuing left. With one or two exceptions we have allowed people to remain in our manses and buildings, and we have not charged them rent!

        And I am not talking about what is in the press. The press have not run with these stories at all….mainly because those who have been punished have kept silent. I am going by what I know from direct experience. And from what some at the heart of 121 have said – not least that the Assembly Council and the legal department are determined not to give one penny, manse or church building to anyway. The Church of Scotland is at heart corrupt and rotten. It IS petty, vindictive and manipulative – and all its actions indicate so. I say that for the admin and the centre – not for the many fine Christians and churches who know little about what is being done in their name.

        I actually find your posts just as black and white….but I guess you see them as 50 shades of Grey…

  8. Another short reply as time permits.

    You noted I did not reply to your accusation that his sermon could have been preached by a muslim or mormon. I started to listen once more to note down the explicit Christian references and there were so many that I stopped writing. Here are a few:

    Only 20 seconds in, John prays to the Lord our Redeemer.

    He then talks extensively of the Church of Scotland and its parish mission, its service, mission and worship.

    From 7 minutes onwards, John talks of the true purpose of the Church, of the cruxifixion, of the disciples of Jesus, and speaks from John’s gospel and Luke’s gospel. He speaks of the life of Jesus, his values, standards and beliefs.

    At 10 mins he talks of the Communion celebration and the deity of Christ.

    I decided to stop there, as if you genuinely cannot see the overtly Christian message, then we are on different planets. Either that or you have been attending some unusual mormon or muslim services…

    I hope you can at least acknowledge that John preached a Christian sermon? It might be that you disagree with him, which is fair enough, but this accusation was a step too far.

      1. I will need to ask my Muslim friends if they pray to Jesus our Redeemer, read the gospels, share in Communion and yes, acknowledge the deity of Christ.

        I cannot believe you meant that comment seriously David!

      2. Indeed you know. My muslim friends are happy to refer to Jesus as the greatest of the prophets and to read the ‘injil’…they would not of course acknowledge the deity of Christ. I’m curious – do you think the Church of Scotland should discipline and remove from membership, those (including ministers) who would deny the divinity of Christ?

      3. Hi David
        Just before I move on to your follow up question, I would like to affirm that we are now at the point of acknowledging there was biblical, Christ focused and Christian teaching in John’s sermon. You have backed away from the claim a mormon could have delivered it, and I have no problems accepting that some muslims would be comfortable hearing much of the Christian message, without of course acceptance of the deity of Christ that the Moderator referred to.

        I also accept you were too hasty in offering to repent if I found an example that went against your potrayal. I do not demand the repentance of others, it is not my style!

        But your new question is this: “I’m curious – do you think the Church of Scotland should discipline and remove from membership, those (including ministers) who would deny the divinity of Christ?”

        To satisfy your curiosity, I am not one for black and white measures (nor 50 shades of grey as you humorously suggest – I think there is more of a rainbow to the Christian life). So I would not set up a witch hunt to identify those who had difference of opinion and expel them from membership. I do not see this as progressing the gospel and showing love. If anything, it can create more pain and division with draconian measures, and I see this as fruit that is most definitely not of the Spirit (I notice you didn’t refer to this again – do you still believe we cannot discern the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of Christians?). I think there are other ways of dealing with situatons like these that are much more productive in the outworking of the great commission. I know you disagree and that your denomination is likely to approach these issues differently from my own, which is why I could never feel at home in the Free Kirk sadly.

        I also wish all in the Church to appreciate the wonderful deity of Christ and what this glorious truth enables and means in terms of God’s love expressed to humankind. However, I think we need to approach the situation of understanding why this could be the case (if indeed it is as widspread as you appear to imply?) and ask ourselves where in our witness and relationship this message has been lost, or worse, associated with other un-Christlike attitudes that might have turned people away from these deeper truths. We can then focus on how we journey together as followers of Christ and how we wrestle with core doctrine together.

        MM

      4. Sadly we are not at that point – there was a smattering of Christianity and a few buzz Christian words but very little substantive Christian content. I find it fascinating that you would not remove from membership in the Church of Jesus Christ those who actually deny who He is. That kinds of sums it all up. I wonder if you would be so ‘understanding’ if members were overt racists – would it be ok for them to remain members in good standing?

      5. Hi David
        I am glad you find my comments fascinating. If that fascination is a grounding for learning more about other viewpoints and a willingness to hear different perspectives to further enlighten our own, then I think we could have some really good, healthy conversations.
        The answer to your question is a very complex one. If you have a genuine desire to have this conversation, we can do so. If you’re on a clay pigeon shooting exercise, then just like my political response, it’s a No Thanks from me.
        MM

  9. I have carved out some time for you now David…

    Finally (although I hope you will take the time to acknowledge my attempts to answer you other points also?), as to the issues you raise about the C of S badly treating those who left: In addition to the link I gave (you asked for a single example of a time when the C of S tried to help those who felt they could not remain, which I duly did), I do not want to spread gossip about individuals, but I have heard some horrendous tales of bullying, manipulation and frankly shockingly unchristian behaviour from some (not all) who have left. I am not saying everyone within the C of S has acted angelically either, of that I am equally sure. But my issue is with your cariacature of a holy, biblical and gracious people departing and “disgusting” behaviour of those within the C of S who remain. The truth as seen by God is no doubt somewhere between both positions and we have all sinned in how we have dealt with these issues.

    Going back to the assembly issue, we will never progress if people such as yourself continue to speak to people such as myself with terms such as having “intellectual disconnection from reality”. We have different views, there is no need for insult. I agree that some on the revisionist side do not believe their position is biblical, but that does not mean that the way we are handling this is not or that there are some who do.

    The tragedy is that Christian is speaking against Christian, that brother and sister are fighting. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed, but these peacemakers and bridge builders appear to be first in line for the firing squads these days. I felt the need to stand up and take a bullet or two for John who is doing some amazing work for Christ.

    I mentioned the fruit of the spirit and am a great believer in the words of Jesus that a tree is known by its fruit. I was surprised and deeply saddened to hear you say you do not have the ability to discern the fruit of the Spirit in someone’s life, and that you left this to God. To me this wonderful light shines before men and helps us in our discernment. But perhaps, if we are so poles apart in our views there will never be a point where you agree with me?

    One day I hope and pray we will understand one another better. God bless.

    1. Monk – you must argue against what I say, not what I don’t say. Surely that is only fair. I did not say that those who remain in the C of S are ‘disgusting’ etc. I do say that the Establishment of the C of S has a deliberate policy of giving nothing to the rebels and ensuring that they are punished as far as possible…that is disgusting. Almost no-one believes that the bible endorses SSM and yes you do have an emotional and intellectual disconnect if you do!

  10. The congreagation I am part of left the Church of Scotland – so I speak with some knowledge of the way they deal with matters. Before we left a meeting was arranged at which members of Presbytery and representatives from ‘121’ addressed the congregation – before taking questions from the floor. The one subject on which no questions were allowed was the recent decision of the General Assembly on the issue of same sex relationships and ministry. This was deemed off limits as it was a decision already taken by the ‘highest court’ of the Church.
    What followed was effectively a ‘dialogue of the deaf’!
    In the end the attitude of the CofS – and it is coherent – if ultimately pointless for themselves in their current financial position if nothing else – is that a congreagtion CANNOT leave the denomination. All the mebers and office bearers can leave BUT the church remains within the denomination even if no-one ever atttends. Having started down this road there is no way they can go back on it for any congregation now seeking to leave. They see no reason to build bridges with those of us leaving as they believe that we are the ones who have ‘blown up the bridge’ in the first place.

  11. David, just in case anyone has understood you in a way you didn’t intend, can you please explain what you mean when you write “It doesn’t matter your theology (which is just about point scoring anyway)”.

    Why would you consider theology being just about point scoring? Or is it that you would discount theology because for someone to be well versed in such is a threat to you promoting the theology you ascribe to? No offence.

    I do hope that you don’t consider theology point scoring. If you do then it would follow that any postings you make that contain theology (which they frequently do) is point scoring.

    All theology is, is the study of God. My understanding is that any study of the bible is practicing theology and and prayer is applied theology. There is bad theology and good theology but there is no getting away from theology, it just is.

    I apologise if this has come across as confrontational or “point scoring”. That hasn’t been my intention. My intention is to understand what you mean. I suspect (I hope) what you are wanting to communicate in this is not how it may have come across?

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