Church of Scotland Blues – What the May 2015 Assembly Reports tell us about the State of the Kirk

It’s a beautiful glorious day outside St Petes and I really feel I should be cycling along the shores of the Tay, but instead I have been stuck in the church office reading the Church of Scotland Blue book – the book of Assembly reports that has just come out. I thought that given my previous posts on the subject and my interest as the upcoming Free Church moderator, it would be worth catching up on what is happening. I have read most of it (its 428 pages long), although to be honest skim read is probably more accurate for the majority. Like most church reports of this kind you have to be a particular type of Assembly geek to enjoy reading them (I am not), but there are some interesting points which I thought I would share with you and thus save you the bother of reading the whole thing.

If you want to do so you can get it here – http://files.gapublications.co.uk/church-of-scotland-volume-of-reports-blue-book-2015_0.pdf

Here are some of the points I picked up on.

  1. Membership is down 16,000 to 380,000.
  2. Number of ministers is down from 940 in 2009 to 811 in 2014.
  3. The Church of Scotland remains opposed to assisted suicide.
  4. The Church expects to be at least 200 parish ministers short by the 2020’s, even with declining congregations.
  5. There were 67 applications for ministry in 2014 (97 in 2009).
  6. The act re allowing ministers to depart from the ‘official’ stance and practice on same sex partnerships has been passed by Presbyteries and will become law at this Assembly.
  7. The Church of Scotland will does not regard Same Sex Marriage the same as it does marriage.
  8. The United Free Church has moved away from its ‘covenant’ with the Church of Scotland because of the stance on ministers in same sex partnerships.
  9. The Church is concerned that it is open to civil legal action in the future if any of its ministers refuse to conduct a same sex wedding.
  10. The Theological Forum ‘may be instructed to think theologically about SSM’.

Of course there is much more and some of that is good. But overall here is my conclusion. And I’m sorry to any of my C of S friends if it is a bit blunt – but the wounds of a friend are faithful.

The decline in the C of S is worse than I had thought and that the figures initially indicate.   The C of S press office, and doubtless Assembly will put a positive spin on them (look at the good work we are doing, look at how many members we still have, things are bottoming out etc.). They do this every year and every year the decline continues and indeed accelerates.   Just look at the pattern over the past ten years.

2004                           2014                           Decline

Membership –              535, 834                   380, 163                    -155,671

Baptisms –                   7,745                         5,147                       -2,598

Elders –                        41,621                       32,834                      -8,787

Professions of Faith     2,661                        1,273                        -1,388

The truth is simply this – not one presbytery in the Church of Scotland saw growth last year. The decline is accelerating not decreasing, the Church of Scotland is declining by a higher percentage each year.   The Church is losing the equivalent of around 40 churches per year; 16,000 members per year; 879 elders per year; 25 ministers per year. Net. There was on average last year only around one profession of faith per congregation, and two new members by certificate. Yet on average there were three removals by certificate, ten by death and seven ‘for other reasons’.     To put it another way, on average each Church of Scotland congregation gained three members but lost twenty.   For every person who becomes a member of the Church of Scotland by profession of faith in Christ, ten existing members die. The Church of Scotland is literally dying.

It is apparently without a trace of irony that one of the reports on ministry says ‘a flourishing church leads to a flourishing ministry’. Is the opposite not also true?

I pray that the Church of Scotland will be renewed and revitalized and that these figures will be reversed. I long for the day when we can say that for every member of the church who dies, ten are being added though the New Birth!   But I also believe that the C of S is declining numerically because it is also in a theological and moral decline.   Only the robust biblical faith of our Reformation forefathers will be able to stand, and flourish, in today’s secular culture.   But instead of that robust biblical faith this report again indicates that the downgrade in the C of S continues, and indeed may have gone beyond the point of no return (a point that those who still love that biblical faith and yet remain seriously need to consider). One indication of this is the Same Sex debacle.

The C of S is hopelessly confused as it attempts to balance on the one hand those who uphold the traditional biblical Christian teaching, with, on the other, those who just want to go along with the spirit of the age, and ignore the teachings of Christ. To claim that the Church upholds the traditional view on same sex partnerships, but will allow its office bearers to ‘depart’ from that, is as stupid as it is suicidal. To declare that same sex marriage is not marriage, and then allow ministers who are living in a sexual relationship outside marriage, to continue as ministers, is as far removed from the Reformed standards of the Church, as it is possible to be. The Church of Scotland has abandoned not only the faith of its forefathers, but also the faith of Christ. Until she repents and turns, then she cannot expect His blessing.   Repentance and Reformation, come before Revival and Renewal. Turn us O Lord, and we shall be turned!

My earlier article on the reasons for decline of the C of S is here:

https://theweeflea.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/ten-reasons-why-the-church-of-scotland-is-in-decline/

Satan attacks the Church of Scotland – https://theweeflea.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/satan-attacks-the-church-of-scotland/

And some reflections on last years Assembly – https://theweeflea.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/reflections-on-a-sunny-sad-historic-afternoon-at-the-church-of-scotland-general-assembly/


10 thoughts on “Church of Scotland Blues – What the May 2015 Assembly Reports tell us about the State of the Kirk

  1. From what you say about the CofS and about the Free church recently with the problems therein, applying the same standard across the board must require repentance to a greater or lesser degree for both.

    I think more importantly than particular issues such as a focus on SSM or women in leadership is the sense I have of middle class values being pervasive throughout much of how Christianity is represented in Scotland rather than the centrality of Christ. I think this shows itself in how issues are debated and I believe this is more of a hindrance to the fullness of life that Christ come for humanity, and for many is a hindrance to the gospel reaching people. I believe this historically has been an issue in Scotland for the church with clergy being of the gentry for the most part, and now middle class.

    So, if you are “nice”, adopt some kind of “code” that means you are “in” then you become part of “the club”. For others who aren’t aware of and/or don’t adhere to these unwritten rules then church culture can I think, come across as competitive, shallow, alienating and failing to meet very real needs.

    Having said that, this is not to discredit some very important work being done either by churches or para church organisations with food banks, Street Pastors, etc. and the sincere, genuine and real expressions of faith found in many individuals and groups.

    Looking at scripture, it would seem that there is nothing new with this with churches doing better at some times than others.

  2. Firstly, thanks for the executive summary! Would never have read the original.
    Secondly, I wish I could proclaim “don’t believe statistics” or “quality not quantity”, but your analysis of the national situation, however blunt, parallels exactly what I have experienced at a local level. I have to say that “Ichabod” was on my lips after my last attendance at the church of which I am still a member. But am I the coward for leaving? Is revival still possible?

      1. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate that there can easily be an undue emphasis on a specific denomination. If the anguished cry of “Ichabod” is true, then the Spirit will dwell wherever God is truly honoured, even if the CofS dies altogether. But does presbyterianism not require a denomination, or have I completely missed the point of your previous articles?

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