All Things New – Free Church Moderators New Year Message

 

 

New Year is as good a time as any to think about new beginnings. As we reflect on the past year and look forward to 2016, whether at an individual, community or government level, many of us would love to start anew again. Renewal is a great idea. And so is re-formation. I would love to see the following in this New Year.

1) A re-formation of the economy – In 2015 the Conservatives were surprisingly re-elected as a majority government because in the face of a divided and weak opposition they were perceived as the party most likely to succeed with the economy. I am not convinced. The national debt is increasing not decreasing (the governments aim is to halt the rate of increase, not reduce the debt at this moment in time). Meanwhile ‘austerity’ means that the relative economic boom is being funded out of private debt, not government bonds. When George Osborne became chancellor, Britons were earning £67 billion more than we were spending. Today we are spending £40 billion more than we are earning.   Household debt on average makes up 135% of our personal income and it is expected to rise to over 180% by 2019. Total household debt has now soared to £1.41 Trillion. And that is not evenly distributed. In cash terms the top 10% now own £5.0 trillion of UK total household wealth – this is up from £4.1 trillion two years ago. They have 44.8% of the wealth. The bottom 50% have 8.7% – down almost 1% in the past two years. In our current economic system it is guaranteed that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer – to paraphrase Churchill, never has so much been owed by so many to so few.   Without a reformation of our economy, the Humpty Dumpty of free market, globalised, corporate capitalism will be heading for another great fall. And all the Queens horses and all the Queens men won’t be able to put it together again.

2) A re-formation of the education system – Scotland’s education system, once the envy of the world, is still in many places good. I pay tribute to the teachers, lecturers, administrators who in general do a great job. But there is no doubt that the system is in decline. A monolithic, one size fits all, state education system is failing. Especially the poor. The rich are able to send their children to private schools, whilst often publicly endorsing a public system that they don’t use.

As a more militant secularism seeks to remove all traces of Christianity from Scotland’s Christian State education system, it is clear that there needs to be a rethink and radical reevaluation of the whole school system in Scotland. I agree entirely with the Catholic church’s Peter Kearney who recently called for a more diverse system and an increase in the number of faith schools. I don’t have a problem with the secularists having an atheistic secular education system for their children. It’s when they insist that being for everyone else’s children as well, that it becomes a problem. Its time for diversity and equality in the education system. Its time for more Christian schools.

3) A re-formation of the family – For a couple of centuries it has been the dream of ‘liberal’ atheists to seek to reshape humanity in their own image – and particularly the family. But they have found this remarkably difficult. However with the development of queer theory, easy divorce, sex without consequences and an increase in materialism, the family is now under attack more than ever. Indeed humanity is under attack. We have moved from sexuality being perceived as ‘fixed’ (God made me this way) to sexuality being seen as fluid.   In the past year we have seen a rapid move to the notion that gender is also fluid.   We can be whoever we want to be. In a free market society, human autonomy is the absolute on which all other values must be based. The impact of this on Scotland’s families and communities is devastating. Broken families ultimately mean a broken society. Its time for healing for Scotland’s families and children.

 4) A re-formation of Islam – One of the most significant differences between Christianity and Islam is that Islam has never had a reformation. Maybe now is the time? There are many serious questions that Muslims need to ask about the nature of their ‘scriptures’, their view of God and most significantly for Western society, their view of the relationship between religion and the state. Islam is a monolithic system that does not clearly differentiate between politics and religion. To those brought up in a Western political tradition where the state and the church are not synonymous, that is a difficult position to understand. But it is why wherever there is a Muslim country you will find that religious (and political) liberties are curtailed. Until Islam reforms so that it permits people to freely change their religion, and those within areas it controls, to freely live different lives, then we will find that the recent tensions and divisions within European society will only be exacerbated.

5) A re- formation of the church – And finally in Scotland we do need another re-formation of the Church. The old has gone – or is going – and its time for the new to come. This is especially true in the Reformed churches, of which the Church of Scotland is by far the largest.   The Church of Scotland has been, and in many areas, continues to be a blessing to the people of Scotland, but it is not shipshape enough to cope with the current stormy waters that the Christian church finds itself sailing in. It is an outdated institution, seeking to hold on to an establishment Christendom, by going along with what the current secular establishments want. Although they are doing this in order to stay afloat, the fact is that taking in the world (in terms of its views, values and methods) is only causing the ship to sink faster.     Without a thoroughgoing reformation and a return to faith of their forefathers, the Church of Scotland will not survive as a vibrant biblical church.

What about other churches? I don’t have time to comment on them all, and it is probably not my place to do so, but suffice it to say that there are some signs of green shoots and new alliances being formed. Some Gospel churches of whatever denomination are beginning to grasp the importance of not competing but instead, working together for the renewal of the Church in Scotland.

In my own denomination it has been a joy to get a little taste of that (though we still have a long way to go. In this past year I have seen new Free churches started in Edinburgh, Stirling and Montrose and we have welcomed congregations from Newmilns, Leith, Inverness, Kirkmuirhill, Kilmalcolm and Lewis and Harris.  New churches, new ministers and most importantly of all, new Christians – as the Good news is proclaimed and people respond, like thirsty people being given the purest water. And ultimately that is what Scotland needs more than ever. In a land where there has been a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord, we need more faithful preachers, more gospel churches and more reborn Christians, of whatever denomination. May the Lord grant reformation, renewal and revival in this coming year. I wish you all a happy, blessed and prosperous New Year.

 

Its good to see that already at least two newspapers have picked up on this The Herald has a column on the education part and The Courier a full page).  2015 has been an encouraging year for getting the Christian perspective into secular media, and its nice to end the year as it began! 
Here are the reports in The Herald and the Courier
Free Kirk moderator calls for more faith schools

The Herald31 Dec 2015

SCOTLAND desperately needs more Christian schools, the Moderator of the Free Kirk has said in his New Year message.

Reverend David Robertson argued that while the nation’s education system “is still in many places good”, it was in decline and the “one-size-fitsall” approach is failing.

Instead the church leader believes the country needs a more diverse set-up which would especially benefit the poorest. He said he agreed “entirely” with the Catholic Church’s official spokesman Peter Kearney who has called for a more diverse system and an increase in the number of faith schools.

He also supported Mr Kearney’s call for schools with an atheist ideology to be set up if demand exists.

The Free Kirk Moderator said: “I pay tribute to the teachers, lecturers, administrators who in general do a great job.

“But there is no doubt that the system is in decline.

“A monolithic, one-size-fitsall, state education system is failing, especially the poor.

“Therichareabletosend their children to private schools, while often publicly endorsing a public system that they don’t use.”

Writing in The Herald earlier this week, Mr Kearney said “secular humanist” schools may be needed to satisfy society’s desire to cater for all beliefs.

He also called for an expansion of faith-based schools, claiming there was a “scream for conformity” within Scottish education.

In his own message, Mr Robertson added: “It is time for diversity and equality in the education system.”
Atheist schools put forward by minister

Education: Free Kirk moderator believes greater diversity in range of schools is needed

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition)31 Dec 2015

A Dundee minister has backed calls for atheist schools to be established in Scotland.

In his New Year message the Rev David Robertson, moderator of the Free Kirk, said Scotland’s education system “is still in many places good” but its “one size fits all” approach to teaching is failing.

He called for a greater number of faith schools and the creation of atheist schools for parents who do not want their children educated in a religious school.

Mr Robertson said he believes greater diversity in the range of schools available would improve standards and benefit pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Free Kirk moderator said: “Scotland’s education system, once the envy of the world, is still in many places good.

“I pay tribute to the teachers, lecturers, administrators who in general do a great job. But there is no doubt that the system is in decline.

“A monolithic, one size fits all, state education system is failing, especially the poor.

“The rich are able to send their children to private schools, whilst often publicly endorsing a public system that they don’t use.”

Mr Robertson’s solution is a greater provision of faith schools:

He said “As a more militant secularism seeks to remove all traces of Christianity from Scotland’s Christian State education system, it is clear that there needs to be a rethink and radical re-evaluation of the whole school system in Scotland.

“I agree entirely with the Roman Catholic Church’s Peter Kearney, who recently called for a more diverse system and an increase in the number of faith schools.

“I don’t have a problem with the secularists having an atheistic secular education system for their children.

“It’s when they insist that being for everyone else’s children as well, that it becomes a problem.

“It’s time for diversity and equality in the education system. It’s time for more Christian schools.”

Mr Kearney, the Catholic Church’s official spokesman, said earlier this week that tax-paying parents should be able to choose to educate children in accordance with their beliefs, whether religious or not.

The Scottish Secular Society was asked to comment but had not done so by the time of going to press.

Elsewhere in his New Year message, the Free Kirk moderator said that the “humpty dumpty” UK economy needed to be radically transformed before it “has another great fall” with Mr Robertson expressing his displeasure at the Tories’ failure to tackle the national debt at Westminster.

 

 

 

 

 

 


20 thoughts on “All Things New – Free Church Moderators New Year Message

  1. Why would you almost word-for-word put an Owen Jones Guardian column as your economic summary, especially given that much of the data in that column is either out of date or just plain wrong?
    There are reputable sources of data and analysis that, if you so wish, could make a similar (less strong, but accurate at least) point.

    1. Thanks Lewis. I took the data from three different sources, including Owen Jones. You are of course welcome to correct it. But the main points stand – government debt is increasing, personal debt is increasing and this is unsustainable. Don’t you agree with that?

      1. Do you believe personal debt HAS to be decreasing (currently) to be sustainable, or is it some lower level of increase (say, somewhat under half, which is what the actual figures are rather than the ones you posted) or something else? What makes, say, 148% unsustainable? What is the ‘sustainable’ level?

        If you say increasing government debt at the current rate is unsustainable, I’d agree with you, as do most informed commentators. Are you saying that any increase in current government debt is unsustainable? How do you get rid of c.£60bn of government ‘over-spending’ in an instant then?
        I believe that personal debt sustainability is an individual assessment and, hopefully, responsibility. The level at which it becomes unsustainable is not in some agglomerated figure. That 80% of the personal debt is mortgage is, in some respects, welcome when it comes to avoiding the inflexion to unsustainability as having the loss of a house should concentrate the mind.
        Government debt, however, is very much at risk of inflexion on a macro scale as its sustainability is, when you are increasing borrowing, based on confidence of the market. The crisis, therefore, is when you need to borrow (as we were in 2008) and the market either doesn’t want to lend or will only lend at extortionate rates. I see the sustainability of government debt as getting the net borrowing under control while still maintaining the confidence of the market and your own economy. On this measure I think the current level and trajectory of government debt is sustainable, though at an undesirably high level.

        What is most frustrating in your message of re-formation of the economy is not the data being largely incorrect but the lack of any credible alternative…it strikes me as a whinge, which is ultimately disappointing.

      2. The good old ‘TINA’ approach – ‘there is no alternative’ used by everyone from pro-abortionists to warmongers and greedy people. Yes – I do think there is an alternative. Instead of an economy based on debt, lies and greed – why not have one based on spending what you earn, truth and generosity? Or do Christian morals only apply in the sexual sphere, if at all?

      3. Where did I say TINA?
        Of course there are alternatives, but did I miss the one coming from you?
        If you would like me to put forward an alternative that would meet your objective to have no current increase in Government debt…reduce public expenditure immediately by about 20%.
        That would seem to contradict some of the other things you express concern about though, which is so often the case when there is a ‘we need to spend more and borrow less’ mantra.

        On the personal debt side, banning mortgages is a tricky step. A large part of my family being able to have a family home was being able to do work on the house I bought (with a large, but affordable mortgage) when I was physically very fit and before I had a family. Without mortgages, it’d be difficult to see how home ownership would be widespread other than through inheritance.
        I’m all for responsible spending, truth and generosity. I didn’t see that your message really had anything toward that goal though. I see the growth of the church and an increasing influence of Christianity on business would only be a good thing (cf http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21629218-rapid-spread-christianity-forcing-official-rethink-religion-cracks ), but I didn’t see that in your post; it did, and still does, come across to me as whinging.

        Happy New Year! 🙂

  2. Paragraph one leaves me wondering, not for the first time, if there is any place for right-of-centre people in the Free Church, or at least the Free Church as you would have it. I’m not very happy that this is being put out there in your capacity as moderator to be frank.

    1. I assume you think that questioning the level of debt and people getting into increasingly personal debt is somehow left wing? What a strange concept! Could it not be argued that staying out of debt is as much a conservative policy as a left wing one? And since when did the Free Church have a political stance – either right or left? It seems as though you want to equate conservative theology with conservative politics. If you do then I’m afraid there is no place for such in the Free Church – such as there is no place for those who wish to equate the church with left wing politics. We welcome people of all political persuasions – we do not welcome those who wish to politicise the gospel and somehow think that Jesus supports their particular political stance. If your politics are more important to you than Christ – than we bid you a fond farewell. If on the other hand you are willing to stay in a Church with a variety of political views then you are welcome!

      1. The factual issues on the data on debt notwithstanding, which were alluded to be Lewis above, I was in fact not referring to the issue on debt, but rather especially to the two sections quoted below:

        “In 2015 the Conservatives were surprisingly re-elected as a majority government because in the face of a divided and weak opposition they were perceived as the party most likely to succeed with the economy. I am not convinced.”

        This seems to me to imply rather strongly that other parties would have done a better job.

        “Without a reformation of our economy, the Humpty Dumpty of free market, globalised, corporate capitalism will be heading for another great fall. And all the Queens horses and all the Queens men won’t be able to put it together again.”

        This especially seems be quite a strong statement against people (like myself) who believe that a free market is generally the better way for a country’s economy to function.

        Most of the rest of your comment is a reply to things I’ve never said. I am very familiar with your political leanings, as well as with the fact that it’s probably true that most Free Church ministers are left-of-centre. I could hardly have missed that after having been a member for five years, and don’t have any problem with that. But when you make this sort of comments in your capacity as moderator, you make it very hard for those of us who disagree with that stance, precisely because it forces us to disavow our leadership.

      2. Vasco you are reading too much into this.

        1) I never stated nor implied that other parties would do a better job. In fact I don’t think they would. There is very little difference between them all.

        2) Likewise the statement on the Humpty Dumpty economy – says nothing against the free market. And it is not a statement against people like you (and me) who believe that a free market is the best way to go – economically.

        So on the basis of two very skewed misreadings of what I wrote you feel free to write in public that you are wondering if there is any room for people like you in the Free Church?! Its hardly the most proportionate of responses.

        I doubt you are familiar with my political leanings at all. I don’t trust any political party and think it is just stupid of Christians to rely on any particular political philosophy. I am often accused of being right wing, communist, nationalist and liberal. I have voted for every political party in Scotland – apart from UKIP and the BNP!

        You don’t have to feel bad about disagreeing with me. I’m not the Pope. And the Free Church is not a political organisation with one political opinion – we have all sorts. This is not the US where Christianity is far too often equated with one political stance. Disagree all you want…..but please don’t make daft statements about there being no room for right of centre people in the Free Church!

  3. Dear Vasco and Lewis I fear that you may wasting your efforts with the Rev Wee Flea. He is plainly most comfortable with the standard left wing narrative.
    Like others of that hue he is ready to rake up any loose set of real or imagined data that supports their narrative. Then voila, those holding these views are automatically more informed, more considerate, more kind. Anyone not agreeing with their apparently superior knowledge is therefore wrong.
    Unfortunately this approach also reinforces the impression that they are in fact lacking in intellectual honesty. That is regretable in any commentator on public policy . More so if the commentator acts as the Moderator of a Scottish church.

    1. Bill, I’m sorry that you feel that way. I can’t really respond because all you gave me were your feelings and your accusations. If you want to defend the increasing indebtedness of the nation, and of the population, feel free to do so. But can I suggest that next time you come up with some facts and figures – as indeed Lewis has done. At least name calling on the basis of perceived politics is different from name calling on the basis of religion!

  4. Ian ‘feelings and accusations’ really?? I had thought that I was offering a criticism of your methodology whilst you tried to argue an economic case. However I suppose such terms prove useful when trying to dismiss such criticism.
    You now find yourself in a position where the basis of your argument has been questioned by previous posters as you offer no verifiable basis for the figures you quote apart from Owen Jones apparently. In my case I have concentrated on the methodology or lack of it in your economic analysis as you seem to relying instead on a bien pensant type narrative.
    At this point I would have hoped that you would have perhaps thought it wiser to pause for thought rather than continue to try and set the terms of the debate
    To be kind that you may have wandered into an area where you rely on the received wisdom of those who share your world view rather than a more profound economic understanding. As a far better economist than me once said, ‘ it is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is after all a specialised discipline and one that many people consider a dismal science. But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects whist remaining in that state of ignorance’
    Or perhaps he too sufferered from a surfeit of feelings and accusations??

    1. ” 4) A re-formation of Islam – One of the most significant differences between Christianity and Islam is that Islam has never had a reformation.”

      Err… Sorry, but Islam has already had a Reformation, and it was not good. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) is to Islam what Martin Luther is to Christianity. Wahhabism is to Islam what the Lutheran Church is to Christianity. Wahhabi started by condemning popular Muslim practices such as the popular “cult of saints”, and shrine and tomb visitation. Sound familiar? Luther saw similar corruption in the Church, was revolted by it and Reformed the Church back to the sole authority of the Bible and the person and work of Jesus Christ as the central necessary facts of the Christian life. Wahhab saw the corruption of the Islam, was revolted by it and Reformed Islam back to the sole authority of the Koran and the person and work of Muhammad as the central necessary facts of the Muslim life. The very last thing that Islam needs is a Reformation!

      On the other hand, Islam has never had their Muslim equivalents of the Tübingen School, Schleiermacher, Baur, Wellhausen, etc. Unlike the Bible, the Koran has one author writing difficult poetry in a brief period of history, so it is a much smaller target. Islam’s nearest equivalents are secular scholars like Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. Christoph Luxenberg is so fearful of retaliation for writing ‘The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Qur’an’ , that he has to publish it under a pseudonym. Secular scholars are never going to offer themselves as martyrs as Tyndale, Latimer and Cramner were willing to, so they will keep their criticisms to a small circle of scholars willing to read tedious articles in obscure journals. In other words, they will be ignored by mainstream Islam.

      On a more local level, there are many moderate Muslims in the UK who are perfectly happy to live in a secular state, are respectful of others and find radical Islamism as repugnant as anyone else. However, they are broadly in three camps: Those who are only partially engaged in their mosques (think nominal Christian), and so have no influence, those who are engaged, but who will not speak out for fear of their community ostracising them, and those who are trying to moderate their faith from the sides and are ignored by the more radical.

      The other principle reason I am not expecting Islam to reform “so that it permits people to freely change their religion, and those within areas it controls, to freely live different lives” is because of Saudi oil wealth. In 1744 Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud swore a mutual oath of loyalty (bay’ah) that they would bring the Arabs of the peninsula back to the “true” principles of Islam. So long as Saudi Arabia is SAUDI arabia, the Saudis will be using a substantial part of their oil wealth to promoting Wahabbism. In Christian terms, the nearest equivalent we have to this was Lynman and Milton Stewart using their oil wealth to finance the publishing of The Fundamentals, 12 booklets defending the basic teachings of the Christian faith, which strengthened the American church in the early 20th Century. (Sadly, we never had an equivalent in the UK).

      So, is there hope? No. Not within Islam itself. Islam is not Christianity, and while drawing some parallels between our respective faiths can be helpful, it also makes us have unfounded assumptions that blind us to the reality of Islam. Islam can only be understood on its own terms, not by knowing the basics and assuming that words like “faith”, “alms”, “religion”, “prayer” etc have the same meaning as Christians give them. As a result we should not think that Islam’s Reformation will bring about the same results as Christianity’s.

      Does that mean there is no hope? Of course not. The answer to radical Islam is radical Christianity. The answer to Muhammad and the Koran is Jesus and the Bible. When the Church learns to love the Scriptures and our Lord as Islamists love their prophet and their book, we may recognise that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Then, and only then, Radical Islamism will be overcome by prayer, supporting missionaries, local evangelism and by God’s Spirit and grace.

  5. Pingback: The Wee Flea

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