A Tale of Two Assemblies

The Free Church General Assembly has begun….I am up in the Moderators room waiting for the opening sermon to finish, and my name to be called (there is of course always the option that someone will object!) – but baring that I hope to be inducted as Moderator in about 45 minutes.  I would value prayer….If the rest of the Assembly matches the opening singing we should be in for a blessed time!

You can follow the whole thing live here –

http://freechurch.org/live
Meanwhile here is my latest article on Christian Today

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/gay.marriage.and.the.shaking.of.the.church.in.scotland/54169.htm

The text is below…

For those outside Presbyterian circles it is difficult to understand the importance of the annual General Assembly of each Church. This is especially true in Scotland, where for decades the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was considered the equivalent of a national parliament. Of course, the times they are a-changin’. Scotland now has its own parliament and the Church of Scotland has declined from 1.4 million members to fewer than 400,000.

 This decline has been matched by a fall in press interest. Apart from a few cursory mentions based on Church press releases, there is little that appears even in the Scottish media – unless, of course, there is something that is perceived as controversial. Such was the opening of the Church of Scotland Assembly on Saturday, when the Church finally decided to accept the ordination of ministers in same sex civil partnerships.

This is a process that began in 2009 and has resulted in considerable discussion, church politics and maneuvering in the whole denomination. There has been significant ‘spin’ from the Church of Scotland telling the press that only 21 of 800 ministers have left and only 14 congregations. But that is not quite the whole story.

I was present in 2009 and at the subsequent debates in 2011 and 2013. It was clear from the beginning that there was a concerted attempt, not ‘to discern the will of God in the Scriptures’ (the initial reports made it clear that the Bible was actually clearly against same-sex partnerships) but rather to ensure that as many evangelical congregations, ministers, elders and members would stay.

The evangelicals were a significant part of the denomination, with large city-centre churches. The denomination, which is struggling financially, could ill afford to lose their resources – not only financially but also in terms of manpower. The Church has a major crisis in terms of recruiting clergy, even with a declining number of congregations.

Overall the strategy to keep the evangelicals on board seems to have worked, although significant congregations such as St Georges Tron in Glasgow, Gilcomston in Aberdeen, Holyrood Abbey and St Catherine’s Argyll in Edinburgh and a large part of Logie and St John’s in Dundee, have left.

But there is much more than these figures. The Church of Scotland is losing 16,000 members per year, 40 congregations and 25 ministers. For every one member added by profession of faith and two by transfer, 10 are removed by death and 10 ‘for other reasons’. The decision of the General Assembly to go against what it recognised was the teaching of the Bible means that while congregations may not officially leave (the buildings are centrally owned and the denomination has ensured that those who leave get nothing and take nothing with them), individuals can and do. And these individuals tend to be the most committed: Sunday school teachers, young leaders, elders and so on.

The Church of Scotland has launched a recruitment video that to my mind exemplifies the problem. It is slick, well produced and attractive. It’s a great advert for those who want to be community social workers. In terms of the role of the minister as of word and sacrament, that is completely missing.

Those who regard that as being the backbone of the Church are disappointed, disillusioned and deserting the Church. I suspect that the decision last Saturday will only accelerate the exodus. The ‘gentle decline’ (as one official described it) will continue, people will leave, but others will stay to fight on. The Moderator, himself an evangelical, made a plea for unity, but there are those such as Rev Dr Andrew McGowan who have formed a new grouping called Covenant Fellowship and who intend to fight on.

Dr McGowan wrote of Saturday’s decision: “This is utterly disgraceful. The GA has ignored the plain teaching of Scripture and instead followed the world. What is worse, the intention is to amend this on Thursday to include Ministers and Deacons in same-sex marriages. Covenant Fellowship Scotland hereby calls the Church to repentance, urges all Christians to refuse to accept this decision and urges Presbyteries to disobey the GA by holding to orthodox biblical Christianity.”

Meanwhile the Assembly continues this week and will largely be ignored by the media, except on Thursday when the issue of Same Sex Marriage raises its head. As of this moment the Church of Scotland upholds the traditional position that those in same sex relationships cannot be ministers, though it will allow individual congregations to go against that. But what about same-sex marriages?

As it currently stands the Church is opposed to same-sex marriages, but will allow ministers in same-sex partnerships. It is a confused mess and the issue will be dealt with on Thursday. The general view is that it will be passed down to yet another theological commission and kicked into the long grass for a couple of years, although most people recognise how inconsistent that is, and how inevitable the decision is. The rubicon has already been crossed.

Meanwhile, literally across the road from the Church of Scotland Assembly hall, at the top of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, another Presbyterian Assembly will be taking place: that of the Free Church of Scotland.

It is a smaller and quieter affair. A couple of decades ago the Free Church went through its own tumultuous Assemblies where it was constantly the subject of newspaper headlines – for all the wrong reasons. But in the past decade it has reinvented itself and is now a growing and vibrant small denomination. This Assembly will see several new churches welcomed into the denomination. Yours truly has the privilege of being appointed moderator tonight.

I suspect it will be a relatively harmonious and quiet Assembly – all the problems at the moment are the problems of growth. But we will do what we can to enliven it! New church plants, a new fund for mission, the development and growth of Edinburgh Theological Seminary and the merging of international and home missions will probably be the main issues.

I will try and write a personal blog each evening and you can follow the proceedings online at the Free Church website.

Just as the political nation of Scotland has been shaken up, it appears as though the Lord is shaking the whole church here. Just as the political shake-up sends ripples throughout the whole United Kingdom and beyond, so the Church shake-up could have a similar effect. Pray for us, brothers and sisters!

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Assemblies

  1. Dear David – Thank you so much for this particular momentous ‘Wee Flea’.  We praise God you will be anointed and appointed as  Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland tonight.  You do speak and write with God’s authority and I will pray for an increase in courage and boldness as you are so front line and also protection for yourself and your family.

    This position gives weight to your words which is important for  press coverage.   It is tremendous the amount of opportunities you take and yourability to address topics and situations that others are silent on. You are a  light bringing hope in the darkness surounding the Church in Scotland at the  moment.   Twice you asked for prayer in this ‘Wee Flea’ and so I trust this is the right moment to write to you.

     God has laid you so much on my heart as I recognise you as His voice for the Church in Scotland – the silence is deafening.   The fact of how he literally spared your life was so significant and I believe part of your  preparation for this veryday and appointment.

    I personally commit to pray for you daily but also the Parliamentary Prayer ScotlandTeam are committed to  upholding your arms.   I would very much valuehaving your weekly diary of commitments and I wwould also share these with our whole Team of forty if appropriate with your guidance.      You so blessed us as you came as our Speaker and shared in our Faith and Politics Conference in 2011.

    I am no longer Director of Parliamentary Prayer Scotland as I passed on the Leadership Baton on the 30th March, this year.   The only reason being my husband and I believe it was the right time to do so.   The Core Team of seven have shared the responsibilities at the moment which I believe is right to prepare the way for a new leader to be leading from the front, notimmersed in the Centre and expanding the work as God leads.

    However, perhaps with your new appointment you will be in Edinburgh more often. We meet every week in the Salvation Army Community Centre in The Pleasance based on the corner of East Adam Street.   We meet to praise, pray and wait on Gof for His agenda, and then intercede, every week the Parliament is in Session.  This is  held on a Tuesday from 10.30 – 1.00 p.m. and then we are in Parliament from 1.30 – 4.00 p.m. for Time for Reflection and engaging with all staff who cross our paths. If you were  able to join us one Tuesday, for even a short time, before the end of this current Parliamentary Session that finishes on 23rd June to meet the Team and sharewith us – that would be wonderful but realise your responsibilites will be greatlyincreased.   David I leave it with you and whatever – we are there for you beforethe Throne of Grace daily.   My ‘phone number is 01259 751945 if you wanted to get in touch at any time and you have this email address or my new one is annemcintyre99@btinternet.com

    May the Lord richly bless you and use you to His glory every day of this coming year.  Granting you His wisdom to handle all He has placed in your hands. Isaiah – 12 v 2 – 5.

    Sincerely yours,

    Anne McIntyre.

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