The Church in Scotland The Free Church Theology

The Scottgate Tapes – A Revealing Insight into the Current State of the Church of Scotland

This is one blog I was praying I would not have to write.   So much so that I have held of writing for days in the hope that common sense and Christian decency would prevail. But time has run out. I have to admit it…in my naivety I have been played and suckered. And it’s not a nice feeling.

On Wednesday September 30th I found myself walking down South Clerk St towards Salisbury Mayfield Church of Scotland. I was in a literal cold sweat to the extent that I wondered if I was going to collapse. Why was I in such a state? Because I felt I was walking into the lions den. I was there to debate Rev. Scott McKenna, minister of the Church, on the bible, the atonement and the future of the church in Scotland. You can see the advert linked here:

At one level I was excited. Because the church was packed with over 250 people on a midweek evening to discuss theology; because I liked Scott when I had met him previously and believed that he genuinely wanted to have an open discussion about these vital issues; because it was a great opportunity to speak the good news in a different context. But I was also aware there was something else going on. I won’t go into details but I was under considerable pressure to back off and indeed even to give up and walk away. Even as I walked into the church I sensed not only the sense of anticipation but also the hostility from some, and also a strange sense that something was wrong.

This was made worse when I went into the vestry and met with Scott and Rev John Chalmers, the former Moderator who was there to replace the current Moderator, Rev Angus Morrison, who had called off because of a sore throat. John informed me at 7:25pm that the event would not be recorded. I was somewhat surprised at this because in setting up the event we had offered to film it and we were assured that there was no need to do so because the Church would do so and put it online.   This was an important aspect of the evening as this was a public discussion about subjects of vital importance to the whole church, and rather than rely on out of context quotes and sound bites reported on social media, it was important that people could hear and see the whole debate for themselves.(the interest and demand from people from people has been phenomenal). So I insisted that it be recorded and they agreed.


We went out, had the debate which went much as I had expected. Scott denied the Bible, called the atoning work of Christ on the cross barbaric (and Calvinist!) and at the end suggested that the future of the Church in Scotland rested on leadership styles like the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as ‘mindfulness’.  I did my best to answer him in as biblical and gracious a way as possible. (I accept that I got some things wrong, said some things in a wrong way, wish I had said others,  and sometimes let my tongue run away with things-  God have mercy on me, a sinner).  My concern was for Scott and also for those who hear him preach, that he would turn away from his heresy and man-made gospel which is no gospel at all.   At this point I would normally suggest that you go to the video and judge for yourselves. Except even as I write, the video has been destroyed. The destruction of the tapes of this event is a revealing insight into the current rotten state of the Church of Scotland establishment.  Lets just call it the Scottgate scandal.  

I was informed on the Thursday that the video would not be put online because I had hurt Scott’s feelings by suggesting that I would excommunicate him if he were a member of my church.   He also thought that it would not be a good witness, and he did not want that statement put online (ironically of course it was put on line immediately and tweeted all over the place by some of his supporters).  He informed me today, after further correspondence that he had instructed that the tapes be destroyed.
So what can we learn from this?

Let me qualify what I am about to say that my intention in this debate was not to attack the Church of Scotland. The moderator, Angus Morrison, had indicated quite rightly that he would be upset if this was to be used as an opportunity to attack the Church of Scotland. I was happy to tell him that there was nothing to fear on my part. as that was not my plan nor intention. In fact as I said at the debate, I was there to defend the Church of Scotland and the traditional Confessional theology of the Church of Scotland. I love the Church of Scotland and long for its renewal. I support those within the Kirk who remain to proclaim Christ and his Word.  I would return to the Kirk tomorrow, if it returned to faith of its forefathers. I am upset that the Church of Scotland is currently being attacked, but the attack is not from people like me. Christians within the C of S should not be concerned about those outside who are peering into the tent, but rather about those inside who are pulling down the main poles and causing the whole thing to collapse. In my view it is those who support and promote an unbiblical theology, who are undermining and destroying the Church of Scotland. In Wednesdays debate I would not have been too upset if people attacked the Church of Scotland or the Free Church, but I was upset that this would be used as an opportunity to undermine and attack the gospel.

However in this report I am criticising the Church of Scotland establishment. It will do everything it can to preserve itself and has little or no interest in the gospel. Its guidebook seems to be more House of Cards than the Bible; its prophet is Machiavelli rather than Christ. It is deceitful, manipulative and political. As many who have left the C of S can testify, the establishment is also bullying and vindictive, doing its best to ensure that those who leave are dealt with as severely as possible so that others who stay learn the lesson that if they leave they are in for a hard time.

The disappointing thing about what could have been an open and honest debate is that, once the establishment got involved it was turned into a political event.  Forget all the guff about wanting openness and transparency, they were all about closing down the debate and muddying the waters as much as possible. Their primary aim was to prevent Scott’s heresies (and the challenge to them) being put on the Internet. So Angus Morrison was replaced by the Principal Clerk and it was made clear that this must not be recorded and put out. Scott tells me that the decision was his and his alone and that it was because of my last comment on excommunication that he decided on the Thursday not to post the video. However the Rev Neil Campbell from Dumfries wrote the following on his blog “Before the discussion began I asked whether the discussion was going to be recorded and made available online. John Chalmers told me that it would not.” The decision to destroy the tapes is in direct contravention of a promise that was made to us: Further to our conversation yesterday, I have spoken to Revd McKenna and he has said that, as this is not a Solas event, the video work will be done in-house. I am more than willing to supply you with a copy of the footage.”   In accordance with that promise we have requested the footage. But it has been destroyed. A broken promise.

So the question is why would the Church of Scotland be so concerned to prevent publicity about the debate? (Although Life and Work reported it before the debate took place, there was not a mention by any official source afterwards- after all 250 people coming to a meeting about theology on a midweek evening is not really a big deal at all!). Why destroy the tapes? What was so incriminating on them?  It was not to preserve Scott’s hurt feelings. Nor was it because they are concerned about Christian witness.
This quote from the following letter I received from a life long Church of Scotland couple helps explain why: “We too were horrified to learn in March of Mr. McKenna’s denial of the atonement. We protested to Edinburgh Presbytery expecting disciplinary action. None was forthcoming and we felt made to feel wrong for mentioning this fundamental aspect of the faith. We fear that Mr. McKenna is not only risking God’s judgement on himself but also on his congregation and the rest of us for doing nothing.”   The unpalatable truth for evangelicals and traditional Presbyterians is that Scott McKenna is not on the eccentric fringes of the Church of Scotland. He is one of its mainstream leaders who I suspect is being lined up for higher office.   To have such a man openly and publicly teach such heresy (which itself is against the standards and teachings of the C of S) would be the last straw for many such people. So in order to do damage limitation, and prevent more people joining the growing exodus from the C of S, they decided to try and bury the evidence.

They have done so in two ways. Firstly they have prevented the video of the event being made public and not mentioned the debate at all in any of their communications.  Secondly, as a consequence, they have allowed the narrative to be built up through various online and social media reports, that I am a nasty, arrogant, Free Church fundamentalist. And because the video is not available that cannot be easily contradicted.  It’s classic political spin.  Sideline, manipulate, mock. Appeal to prejudices and misconceptions.   People believe what they want to believe. Haters will hate.

For example, Rev Peter Nimmo immediately tweeted “Free Church minister excommunicates another clergyman who’s not even a member of his own denomination”   – to which another minister responded “I noted that. Stunned by the gracelessness (and worse) of the Free Church Minister. We need to pray for him” (as an aside I wonder right now if this was really meant and not just a rhetorical device. I find the notion that there are some liberal ministers praying for me right now, concerned for my soul and my growth in grace, quite fanciful as well as somewhat amusing).

Then along came this blog from another minister who had been there –

Apart from the astonishing hint that his own moderator’s non involvement was a political move rather than an illness, he then went on to stick the boot into me. “David Robertson came across as arrogant and confrontational. He knew the will and purpose of God. Scott McKenna, as you will hear him state, he would excommunicate. Robertson is (according to Robertson) correct. Scott McKenna was more gracious.”   I was deluded, dangerous and unChristlike (for those not used to the jargon, ‘unChristlike= ‘not nice”). The trouble is that such a narrative now cannot be checked because the evidence has apparently been destroyed.

I will deal with Mr Campbell’s extraordinarily confused contradictory blog at another time (because it is a classic example of how judgemental and illogical ‘liberals’ can be).   But for the moment, let me just deal with the excommunication question. Scott had said that at least we don’t excommunicate one another, to which I responded that if he was in my church; sadly, I would have to excommunicate him, because he does not recognise the body and blood of Christ. We do not worship the same Christ. That seems to be a fairly obvious and Christian position.

Scott regarded the notion of excommunicating another Christian, as being so offensive that it could not be put on the Internet. He had no problem in putting on the Internet that the notion that Jesus died for our sins is ‘ghastly theology’, but suggesting that any church might excommunicate anyone for denying basic Christian doctrine was a step too far. Indeed so appalling that the tapes must be destroyed.

But that means that Scott must believe that nobody can ever be excommunicated. Because after all the only people who can be excommunicated are those who are communicants (i.e. professing Christians) in the first place.   Would Scott not excommunicate a professing Christian who was an unrepentant racist? thief? wife beater?   Why then should it be considered incredible that the Church should excommunicate those who deny the basic and foundational doctrines of the church?

And in terms of being hurt, it may have offended Scott that I think those who sit at the Lords table should actually be Christians who believe in the Christ of the Bible, but offense works two ways. I find it incredibly offensive, hurtful and disrespectful to refer to the God of the bible as a despot and vindictive and immoral.   I think this leaves us with a despot of a god. A barbaric god who is vindictive and immoral.” Coming from Richard Dawkins, that is at least understandable. Coming from a professed minister of the Gospel it is appalling.

The scandal is that the Church of Scotland after inviting the moderator of the Free Church to engage in an open, frank and transparent discussion, have decided to try and bury that discussion by destroying the tapes of it. It’s breath-taking in its audacity and stupidity. And it is a direct contradiction of their expressed desire to have a respectful debate. I feel very disrespected, used and abused. But I am not hurt. At least not for myself. Allowing my name to be trashed is a minor inconvenience. Allowing Christ’s name to be trashed is a major sin.  My heart breaks for the cause of the gospel in Scotland and for the ordinary Christians who are still within the Church of Scotland (many of whom expressed appreciation after the debate).  The implications of Scottgate are incredible.

  • The Church of Scotland is dying. Without a major miracle of renewal and reformation, the Church of Scotland is in its death throes within Scotland. It’s establishment is rotten to the core, its doctrine has become unbiblical nonsense, it’s discipline non existent in some cases – tyrannical in others, its membership and congregations are in free-fall and there is little evidence that many in the Kirk are prepared to wake up to the realities of the situation. The ship is sinking and people just want to argue about what uniforms the band is wearing and what tunes they should be playing.
  • The Tipping Point has come for Evangelicals. Some evangelicals are continually telling me that God has not finished with the C of S yet and that as they have been called by God, they should remain within it to fight for the Gospel. Unlike some, I am prepared to say ‘fair enough, go for it’, with one caveat. If God has called you to remain and fight – then fight! One C of S minister asked why I was engaging in debate with Scott and why it was not leading evangelicals like the moderator or others in the councils of power? That’s a great question.

I want to say to my evangelical brothers and sisters, I feel like I took a bullet for you last week. And I’m probably done.  It’s not my job to fight your battles.  My interest is in communicating the gospel to the 95% of people in Scotland who are not in the Church of Scotland.   But we need you.   When are you going to actually stand up and fight? You were prepared to fight to some degree over the appointment of a minister in a same sex partnership. Is not this denial of the very core of the faith once delivered to the saints even more important?   You know the deal, as Paul told the Corinthians: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1).     I know that you have a formula that says that you can have disagreement about matters that do not enter into the substance of the faith. Can you get anything more substantive than this? Paul states that it is of first importance that Christ died for our sins, Scott says that such a teaching is wrong ghastly theology. Both can’t be right. And both can’t exist in the same church. Scott does not believe in the Bible, he does not believe in the Jesus of the Bible and he does not believe in the Cross of Christ. And yet in a Presbyterian church you recognize him as a Christian brother, a fellow minister, and someone who, as part of the church courts, you have sworn to submit to.

A minister approached me after the debate and said that he felt it was an historic event and could have enormous implications for the future of the Church. I had hoped so. I had hoped that this debate would expose the irrationality and weakness of unbiblical liberal theology. I had hoped that it would inspire others to fight the good fight. Most of all I had hoped for Scotts conversion! I think the debate achieved the first aim, but what about the latter two?   I pray for Scott and I make an appeal to my brothers and sisters still in the C of S. You say that you are not in it at any cost, that there will come a tipping point. Has that point not come? Is it not time to stand up and fight?

And please, ‘stand up and fight’ does not mean go away and write another paper, have another conference, set up yet another evangelical group to talk to yourselves. You are Presbyterian men and women. Behave as such. Forget the politics and the quiet infiltration. Don’t fall for the fantasy of the ‘one more push and we will have the great evangelical victory’. Be open. Be upfront. Love the Lord and his people and the people of Scotland with passion and purity. Pray. Repent. Have faith. Preach the Word. Serve the poor. Don’t hide under the cloak of a powerless pietism. Fight the good fight of the faith. Unite with those who share that faith –within and without the Kirk. And if you lose and get thrown out so be it. Your fight is not to try and keep fellow evangelicals within, or to trash those who have left. Your fight is not to preserve your job or home or ministry.  Your fight is for the very heart of the Gospel. We stand with you. Don’t dare claim to be the descendants of John Knox, the Covenanters or the Disruption fathers, if you are not prepared to do even this one thing. And don’t whine about how difficult it is to stay within the Church of Scotland if you do nothing!

There is another choice. You can just be honest and give up on any hope of the Church being reformed and renewed (even if you throw in a bit of pietistic revivalism to give the flock hope) and instead decide to stay to look after your own local congregation. You can decide to abandon any pretence of real Presbyterianism, act as an independent congregation, refuse to send up funds to central funds and prepare your congregation for being thrown out. Because that is what will eventually happen. Whilst 121 will protect and cover up anti-gospel heresy they won’t tolerate anyone not giving them money or challenging their power.

Angus Morrison was not able to attend because of a sore throat. It was explained on the night that he had ‘lost his voice’. Somewhat unfairly this caused much merriment. Angus is a good man and I take him at his word.  However I do think it is an apt question to ask the evangelicals within the C of S – have you lost your voice? Where is the prophetic witness? Where is the passion for the Lord and the lost? Not the complaining, not the backbiting, not the politics, not the internal conferences and the talking to yourselves. Where is the voice that speaks to the church and through the church to the nation? Because right now the silence is deafening.

A few years ago I was told by a leading evangelical within the C of S that the strategy now was to get a seat at the table, get more evangelicals as conveners and even moderator. In one sense that has worked. In another it has been a disaster. What’s the point of having a seat at the table, if you don’t get to determine the menu?   How can you be neutral or ‘moderate’ in any position of power, when it comes to the basics of the Gospel? Political power in the church is not just about sitting on committees, attending receptions, kissing babies and playing the game of telling everyone how wonderful they are, and how hunky dory everything is. It’s also about prophetic leadership and having the guts to challenge the status quo and the power cliques within the organisation. It’s about in love, speaking truth into power.

I read this today from Karl Dalhfred – One of the greatest threats to the Christian church is not heretics or false teachers, but rather those who have the right theology but are willing to overlook and tolerate gross error for the sake of unity, and castigate those who speak up for truth as being divisive or unChristian.” Is it not time for those who are evangelical ministers and elders within the C of S to protect the flock of which Christ has made them undershepherds by dealing with the gross error that now exists at the heart of the Church? If they are not prepared to do so, can they blame the sheep who decide to leave and look for pastures new?

  • The Gospel of Niceness is not the Gospel of Nicea. I was under phenomenal pressure on Wednesday night. JC (John Chalmers) did not mind me arguing about theology; neither did Scott, as long as I was prepared to admit that we were all Christians who were on the same road, following the same Christ.   I felt pressured and was tempted. After all I could have been nice, said that whilst we disagreed we were all Christian brothers and sisters and gone home saying that I had stood for the Gospel by arguing for the atonement, the Bible and Jesus. Everyone would have been happy. Except me. Because I know my bible. And I know my Lord. I know that the Israelites were told to have no other gods except God. I know that they were not allowed to pick and mix between Yahweh and the idols of the nations around.   I know that the early Christians came under enormous pressure to admit that Caesar was Lord as well as Jesus. They could easily have said Jesus is Lord and then bowed to Caesar as well (to keep the peace, and their heads).   But they didn’t.   They loved Jesus. They were faithful unto death. To stand in front of that crowded church and give into the pressure to affirm the confused liberal non-existent Christ of Scott, as the same as the Christ of the Scriptures, would have been a betrayal of all that is sacred, holy and beautiful. If my answer upset people (and some clearly were), and if it upset Scott then I am truly sorry, but that is a price I have to pay. I actually hate upsetting people, especially those I like. But I am not going to deny Christ, on order to bow to personal or political pressure.  I am not Martin Luther but this was for me a Lutheresque moment – “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God”.

David Robertson

St Peters Free Church


  1. As we went into the debate I had a suspicion that something was not right and I said to two of the Solas people, ‘there is something up here….I think you should record this on your phones so that we have a record”. And so they did. Here it is.

 Of course the sound quality is not great and you don’t get the body language or the facial expressions but you will certainly get a flavour of it. And for the record we have transcribed it and will put it on this blog later. As I warned John and Scott in the vestry before the meeting- any attempt to suppress the debate would rebound badly upon them. They either did not listen, or thought that the benefits of suppressing the truth were worth the risk of the bad publicity.   Well now they have both the bad publicity and the truth.   Spin that.

We now also have a full transcript of the evening – you can get it here…

Speaking of spin, perhaps these words from another Scott, this time Walter, are apposite for the situation. In his poem Marmion he writes:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave

When first we practise to deceive!

 And from the same poem, in terms of the fight for the Gospel, these words are also appropriate,

Where’s the coward that would not dare

To fight for such a land?

If we love the land of Scotland and its people, then lets fight for the gospel (not our denominations).

Christian Today carried an article about this – here –







  1. Having been at this public conversation and having seen the underhand way in which the C of S reneged at the last minute on it’s undertaking to permit filming etc, only served to demonstrate how cynical conniving and manipulating the organisers were.
    I was shocked at the Very Rev John Chalmers, Principal Clerk to, and former Moderator of, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The fact that a clergyman of his position within that organisation did not bring a Libel for Heresy against the Reverent McKenna the very next morning, is evidence were indeed any needed, that the organisation is spiritually rotten to the core and is apostate.

    Having read Church History for some years now, I can see that within this organisation, there is no Theological Datum by which to hold ministers to account. In fact, I cannot perceive how any heresy trial could ever be possible in the Church of Scotland today, as a consequence of the events in the late nineteenth and twentieth Century. The subscription to the Westminster Confessional Standards is so lax and the adherence to Scripture as the inspired inerrant word of God is so loose, that there is no accepted Christian standard by which to measure Christian life and morality. Other than that which takes the fancy of the General Assembly at any given time. Which amounts to a return to the papist dictates of the sixteenth century.
    ‘A little Levan works through the whole batch of dough.’ In the same manner, wrong teaching (heresy) has spread throughout this organisation infecting it and corrupting the truth causing serious delusion and harm. 2 Timothy 4:3 seem to me to be the very picture we are see here.
    “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

    I made a point of recently listening to a dozen or so of our friend Mr McKenna’s sermons. Very slippery with his meanings, but all roads do not lead to Rome! Mind you, I think he would be quite at home their. He loves getting dressed up in his goonie and being the centre of attention. He is no doubt genuine in his beliefs, but he is genuinely deceived. More worryingly he is deceiving others who do not know any better. Woolies pick & Mix Preacher. He takes the bits he likes, spits out and trivialises the rest.
    I remember thinking, I hope this place isn’t a white washed tomb, when I walked into Mayfield on 30th September, 2015. I walked out the doors in full assurance that it most certainly was the blind leading the blind and the place stinks to high heaven of spiritual death. Which apparently was confirmed by a survey which they themselves preached about in their online sermons, which says the C of S is THE most rapidly diminishing denomination bar none.

    By all means folks, you can continue to deceive yourselves as much as you like, but as long as you stay and finance the C of S, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. This idea that you can change the organisation from the inside out is deluded claptrap. The inmates have taken over the asylum.
    You are only kidding yourselves, no one else.

    In conclusion, given the theological depth of the C of S, I think the best advice I could offer anyone in the organisation it that offered to Forrest Gump, Run Forrest Run!

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