The response to my article on the Church of Scotland’s own figures and reports has been interesting – if a little predictable. I am thankful for people like Alan Williams who remarked that it was a fair and measured comment. We continue to pray for people like Alan who are seeking to turn the tide.
But there were two other responses which intrigued me. The Assembly Clerk’s office put out a statement which was very defensive and accused me of getting it wrong. Apparently losing 16,000 members per year and 25 ministers is a ‘gentle decline’. One hardly knows where to begin! I attempted in my latest article on the Christian Today website.
But there was one article in this months “Life and Work’ which offered both some light and further confusion. The Rev Sandor Fazakas, the minister of Portree in Skye writes of his experience of being the only active C of S minster left in the Presbytery of Skye and Lochcarron. Its interesting to read of his efforts and encouragements. But what struck me most was the following: “At the beginning I was struggling to understand the claim of those who have left the Kirk and said that ‘their theology’ is not comaptible any longer with that of the Church of Scotland. Then I realised that my (?) theology has probably always been that same as Paul’s vision of ministry, shared with the elders in Ephesus, (Acts 20:28” Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
This is surely a right view of ministry but what does it mean in practice? What was Paul concerned about? The context makes clear.
27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
He was concerned about false teaching which distorts the truth rising from within the Church. He is so concerned that he warned them night and day with tears for three years! But the Church of Scotland has said, not only will we not warn against false teaching, but we will welcome the wolves into the flock! If our theology really is that of Paul’s then perhaps we need to take false teaching a lot more seriously…and not just say ‘this is the official teaching of the Church, but we will allow the teachers to teach and practice differently’. That is far removed from the theology of ministry of Paul. Maybe it is not those who have left who are the false shepherds, but those who stay and endorse such false teaching?