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Life and Work – The State of the Church of Scotland Today



As we move into pre-Assembly season I want to begin a new weekly series looking at the state of the Church of Jesus Christ in Scotland, and assessing where we are, how things have changed in the past year and look at some of the opportunities and threats to us.   There is no particular order to this but I hope that these musings/observations will be helpful. Like all my writing I issue these with several warnings –

  • Don’t read between the lines – there ain’t none.
  • I fully agree that I could be wrong, in fact I know that I will be wrong in some things…so feel free to correct (in love!)
  • I don’t know the full picture – I don’t I know a fraction of it.
  • I love the church of Jesus Christ, whatever the denomination. Please don’t play the denominational game.
  • Please pray.   For the cause of the gospel in Scotland. And act.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the midst of a major shaking up and many of the Lord’s people are as confused and bewildered as the culture around. As one elderly man told me, I no longer recognize my country, and I am struggling to recognize the church.   So lets see if we can shed some light. Ibegin with this rather lengthy essay on the state of the Church of Scotland in 2016.200px-CofSBurningBushLogo

Life and Work

As I was reflecting on this I started reading the latest edition of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland. It was very revealing about the state of that particular denomination. Don’t worry we will in future weeks look at other parts of the Church as well including my own – warts and all! But if you search ‘Church of Scotland’ you will come across several pieces on this.

At the time these were written I was accused of many things, but reading over them it seems to me that what I predicted has happened, and if anything I was too mild! This is an ongoing story. To set the scene reflect on this: today I had lunch with a Roman Catholic friend who informed me that officially the RC’s are now a bigger denomination than the ‘National’ church for the first time since 1560.


On the positive side there were some interesting articles on investment, ethical banking, army chaplaincy, international justice mission, work/life balance and digital media for the poor. I was surprised how many people mentioned in these articles I actually know!

The adverts also tell us a great deal – especially for vacant churches. I often attended Tain Parish church and it is interesting and sad to see it vacant again. They want a minister who ‘loves the Lord’ and is ‘centred on Word’ and ‘dedicated to his people and share his vision’. Those who know the recent history of that congregation know the caveat that comes along with those fine words. Meanwhile our neighbouring C of S (Logies) in Dundee is praised for having an architectural competition for the local art college. Also interesting to see that my local C of S in Dundee is seeking a minister for a ‘deferred linkage’ who will ‘channel an enthusiastic and hardworking congregation”. On the other hand another old haunt of mine, Sutherland, Lairg and Rogart offers, ‘award winning beaches and a haven for all outdoor pursuits, with the promise that you are in easy reach of Inverness airport (in case you need to get away to some warmer beaches?!)   Clincarthill parish in Glasgow wants a minister with a ‘strong bible teaching ministry’, whilst Kirk of Keith wants a ‘spiritually warm minister….with good pastoral skills, open minded and inclusive’.   Islay and Jura stipulates ‘he or she will have a broad theological outlook’.   Once you learn the code and can interpret the jargon you know what all of this means. It is to say the least, a messy and confused picture.

All of this would be fine – if somewhat bland, along with the care home, hearing aid, monumental sculpture, charity and church fabric adverts, which themselves say a great deal about the demographic the C of S is perceived to have. But the really revealing stuff is in some of the other articles.

Creative Theology


Ron Ferguson makes what he terms a simple ‘pre-assembly argument’.

“It is this: so called conservative evangelicals and so –called liberals need one another if the church is to effectively live out its gospel in today’s tempestuous world”…”we also need the adventure of the creative holy spirit (note the lower case). He does admit that ‘we don’t get to make up Christianity as we go along. You can’t knit your own Christianity. Certain core elements of the faith are given.”

Which is of course true. Yet we wait with bated breath for the C of S establishment to tell us all what exactly are the core elements of the faith.   By definition an evangelical is someone who holds to the core elements of the faith (e.g. the list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15) and a liberal is someone who denies some of those aspects – for example the Bible, the atonement, the virgin birth, the resurrection, heaven and hell, the necessity of the new birth etc. What Ron and other liberals are doing is redefining what ‘evangelical’ means, so that it is just a theological party within the church….it’s on a level with Baptist/Paedo Baptist (except the C of S won’t allow the former) or Post or Pre-Millennial. But that is a perversity of what evangelicalism is and if evangelicals within the C of S accepts Ron’s poisoned peace pipe they are committing suicide. Just how do you have Christian fellowship with people who deny the most basic and fundamental of Christian doctrines?

One of the sad things in Scotland over these past years has been the number of evangelicals who are prepared to work with ‘liberals’ and attack their fellow evangelicals outwith the Kirk as schismatic. C of S unity has become more important than gospel unity.

The Unity of the Church of Fundamental Importance

This article by the moderator, the evangelical Angus Morrison, backs up Ron’s appeal by suggesting that those who leave the Church of Scotland are schismatics and seem to think themselves ‘purer than thou’.

“In the church we all need to reckon with our own fallibility, not only in behaviour but in the way we interpret Scripture and understand the church’s tradition”.

Angus is an expert in Augustine and uses him to argue that those who leave the Church of Scotland to seek a ‘purer’ church are committing ‘arguably the most serious transgression of all’.   There are many problems with Angus’s thesis, although it is one that some evangelicals are desperate to hang on to.

Firstly he presents a caricature of those who have left, or those evangelicals within Scotland (by far the majority) who are not part of the Church of Scotland.   We are just simply people who believe with Ron that ‘certain core elements of the faith are given’, and who along with Angus believe that “There is a place for the proper exercise of church discipline”.  We do not believe that we can create a pure church (although we do believe that we are called to be pure and to be holy as God is holy). We are not trying to have the judgement day before the judgement day. We are passionate about church unity…it’s just that we think it should be Christian unity, that is unity in Christ, and not political unity for the sake of preserving an establishment in a Christendom that is long gone.

The other problem with Angus’s position is that his citation of Augustine proves too much. If he is advocating Augustine’s position then the Church of Scotland should not exist – it is itself schismatic. I can understand Angus’s desire for unity, not least because he has already left two denominations, with the C of S being his third. But according to Augustine it should not be his last. If he wishes to be consistent with the position he espouses his next stop must be the Roman Catholic Church. He would not be the first former Free Presbyterian who ended up back in the Roman Catholic Church!

I’m afraid that the C of S has put itself in an impossible position – you cannot argue on the basis of Matthew 13:24-30 that one should never leave ‘mother church’ and then justify your own leaving of mother church. If the Reformation was correct, and I believe it was, then it was right for the Church of Scotland to remove itself (or be removed) from a corrupt church that denied the Word of God. It is strange to now argue that those who believe that the Church of Scotland itself has become corrupt and is denying the Word of God should never leave. To accuse them of being Pharisaical purists and schismatics is disingenuous at best.   The key question here is not ‘unity for unity’s sake’ but what is the unity based on? Has the Church of Scotland departed so far from the Word of God, that it becomes almost impossible for any biblical Christian to remain within it, without compromising that Word?

One other problem with Angus’s article is that it is dated and unrealistic – he talks of situations where ‘Christian people of one small village make their way on a Sunday morning to services of worship in four, or even five, separate Presbyterian denominations’. Yes, that did happen. Yes, it was disgraceful. But that was at least twenty plus years ago. The Presbyterian denominations are far too small and weak to staff that kind of system…and if it happens at all today it is fairly rare.

By far the bigger problem are the many villages, towns, and housing estates throughout Scotland where there is no Gospel witness. No vibrant evangelical church. Only a dead and dying church, linked with other dead and dying churches, filled with the dead and dying. Our current problem is not too many churches, it is too few. Let the dead bury their dead. We need to get on with resurrection!

Image over Word


The decline of evangelicalism within the C of S is seen in the article by Rev Alastair Duncan of St Georges Tron. As I have before indicated –  – the demise and decline of the Tron has been disastrous.

Of course out of the ashes has arisen a renewed and vibrant church, even though they were evicted from their building. Evangelicals went berserk at me (remember the infamous 14 anonymous evangelicals who sent me a letter?) for doubting that a new evangelical ministry would begin in the old Tron and the work of the Gospel would continue. I have no doubt that Alastair means well but the new evangelicalism as represented by this relaunched Tron is a million miles away from the church of Eric Alexander and Sinclair Ferguson.

Alastair repeats the tired old caricature that the Reformation was about destroying works of art. I say tired because although like all caricatures, there is an element of truth, the situation was far more complex than that. Alaister suggests that

if a picture can paint a thousand words, them might a new reformation restore art to a place of proclamation, and prevent our preaching becoming merely wallpaper’.

The Reformation sought to take the Word of God out from the scholarly disputes of the academics and the images of the approved artists (paid for by the wealthy) and instead educate every person to be able to read, hear, see and think for themselves. I am totally for using art and for encouraging art but it is through the foolishness of preaching that God primarily brings his saving Word to the people.

Even more I hate the patronizing dumbing down that occurs when middle class Christians talk about reaching ‘illiterate people’ with the gospel by using medieval forms of communication! Art is often the result of the preaching of the Word. It is not itself the preaching of the Word.

Let me issue a challenge. Let the old Tron introduce its new evangelicalism with preaching as wallpaper and art as substance and let the new Tron continue to proclaim the Word of God (with all the creative, mercy and social fruit that comes from that) and lets see what the God who answers by fire does.

The last I heard the expelled Tron was full and was opening up a new church plant, whereas the old Tron is struggling to even have a morning service. If Café church, followed by a late afternoon service of 40 minutes works – fine. I will eat my proverbial hat and rejoice at the hundreds being brought to faith in Jesus Christ. At the moment it just looks like painting deck chairs on the Titanic.


Creative Theology in Action


And now we come on to an article which presumably exemplifies the ‘creative theology’ spoken of by Ron, and the unity in diversity praised by Angus.

My old sparring partner Rev Scott McKenna – – shares with us his insights on two of the central doctrines of Christianity. Given that Scott has already trashed several of them (including calling the notion that Christ died for our sins ‘ghastly’) I was not surprised at what comes in this latest article.   Original sin – gone. The Fall – gone. The goodness of God’s original creation – gone. And after trashing any idea of any historicity of Adam and Eve and the three creation ‘myths’ Scott leads us into a wonderful new ‘creative’ insight.   God wipes out all the earth (apart from Noah) which now means that because Noah was righteous, we are no longer subject to original sin; we have Noah’s righteousness imputed to us. It’s an astonishing piece of theological gobbledygook!

It is certainly ‘creative’ but it’s not the kind of creativity that comes from the Creator.

It has interesting implications if Scott does not believe in a universal flood that wiped out all mankind! Does this mean that only descendants of Noah are ‘pure’ but that others, say the Chinese and the Aborigines are still in Adam?

The saddest thing about this rubbish, apart from the fact it is printed in the Church of Scotland’s official magazine, is the way it undermines and demeans Christ.

In Scott’s article Jesus is just the pathetic victim of violence, not the redeemer who takes away the sin of the world (including Noah’s!). Scott’s Jesus is the ultimate nanny; he just wants us to be nice and stop hitting each other.

Now I expect this from Scott. To my mind he is an honest liberal.  But here is my question for evangelicals and those who argue that there is a place for discipline within the church. Does not a teacher of the Word, who denies that Word, who denies its most basic doctrines and who makes a mockery of the Jesus who both gave and is that Word, does not such a teacher deserve that discipline?   Or is that reserved only for those who breaks the administrative laws of 121, or commit the unpardonable sin of threatening to leave the Kirk? Are you really in union and communion with teachers like Scott? What fellowship does light have with darkness?

The Church Speaks Out

If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound…I have been involved with politics and media for several years and one thing that stands out is that the Church of Scotland’s voice is weak and ineffectual. Until the recent leadership scandals compelled the Catholic Church to take a backseat, they were by far the more effective voice of the Christian church in wider Scottish society. The C of S has tended to do the ecclesiastical equivalent of political parties seeking to appeal to a broad electorate and show how relevant/cool/compassionate they are by kissing babies, visiting monuments and delivering sound bites based on opinion polls from focus groups. It is bland, dull and predictable. Of course the church is against poverty, climate change, injustice, and for peace, love and understanding. The words are easy. And sometimes the actions have followed. But what is missing is the prophetic proclamation of the Word of God. On issues such as SSM the church has spoken with a divided whimper. And no one listens. Because no one believes that the church believes.

Most of all the church has been silent on the great Gospel issues. If righteousness exalts a nation and sin is a reproach to any people, then surely the Church should be showing the way of righteousness and warning about the wages of sin? Yet it is as though the church is either embarrassed about, or no longer believes these things.   And then occasionally the church does speak with a clear voice – about issues that are frankly none of its business.


An example of this is the article headlined Church backs EU membership in referendum debate. It is beyond irony that the Church of Scotland cannot tell us if the Fall happened, or if people have original sin, but it can officially tell the people of Scotland that we should be voting to stay in the European Union.

When did it become the business of the Church to tell the people how to vote? (It would have been far better to have people within the church giving different points of view – that is a different matter. But the Church having an official political position is another). Of course the language is couched in what some people deem to be spiritual terms

‘the Church of Scotland has repeatedly affirmed the work of the European Union in promoting, peace, security and reconciliation amongst European nations’.

Well I’m sure the EU is glad of that affirmation but it is meaningless. What about those who are for peace, security and reconciliation but who think they are more likely to be achieved outwith the EU? Has the Spirit led the C of S to this conclusion? Have they received new revelation? Is this the new Word of God?  Or is it just a political opinion that suits the culture and zeitgeist of those who make up the leadership?

The trouble is that the Kirk seems so certain about its political and social opinions and so unsure about its theology.   That’s a bit like having a political party that is sure of its theology but not too sure about policies. It’s maybe not a flattering analogy but it’s as though the Kirk has become the Donald Trump of the ecclesiastical world! All populist soundbite and no substance.

Maybe the Kirk should remember that the good old days of the General Assembly being the alternative ‘parliament’ of the Scottish people are long gone? We have a parliament now. Our politicians can tell us about Europe, nuclear bombs and taxes. We need our prophets to tell the nation about Christ and to see that lived out in our communities.

Maybe the problem is that before the Kirk decides it is going to tell the Gospel to our nation, it needs first of all to work out what that gospel actually is?  Because, despite many fine words and ambitions, this edition of Life and Work does not inspire any confidence that the Kirk actually knows what the Good News is.


The Anglicans, the Episcopalians and the Kirk

search In another article John McPake, another evangelical, has an interesting explanation of The Columba Declaration, the widely published accord between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, something that has really miffed the Scottish Episcopal Church. Again what struck me was the meaninglessness of the phraseology. For example

“we acknowledge…..that in both our churches the word of God is truly preached”.

searchWhat does that mean? And in what sense is that true? If anything reminds me of rearranging the proverbial deckchairs on the Titanic, it is these two establishment churches seeking to support each other in an increasingly secular society.


So where does this leave us?

Today I got a letter from a former Church of Scotland member who had been an organist in three parishes. They have had enough and have left.   Last week I met a woman elder who had also just left. This is a pattern that is repeated weekly, if not daily.

What is harming the C of S is not the mass defections or another disruption, but rather the drip drip drip effect of people leaving in ones and twos. These people are often the workers, givers and prayer warriors.   Personally I don’t like seeing this happen (although I do love the sense of freedom that they often say they have) but it seems almost inevitable.

It would be great to see the Church of Scotland renewed and revitalized. Anyone who loves the Gospel and the people of Scotland must want that. Narrow denominationalism is a curse not a sign of faithfulness. But there will not be renewal without reality and there seems little sign of reality hitting home.

I heard an evangelical minister on the BBC actually stating that ‘internet’ church was ‘incarnational’ ministry. This was as part of a discussion on the new report ‘the Invisible Church’ which I suspect will soon become the justification for many of the clergy keeping their jobs!

“There may only be a handful of elderly people attend my services, and a few children in the youth organisations, but my parish has 6,000 people and many of them are ‘churchless’ Christians, who have a real and vital faith.”

It is a mark of desperation that we have gone from church without walls, to messy church and are now in the realms of the invisible visible church!

There are still good and faithful Christians within the C of S. I suspect that some are just keeping their heads down and seeking to survive, others are confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.     And still others are hurt, tired, wounded and angry and will lash out at any who dare to ‘interfere’ in their internal grief. But we only do so because we are fellow believers, and we hate to see the Church being decimated in this way. We stand with all believers who want to fight the good fight.


And therein lies the rub. Are the evangelical leaders who are left, up for that fight? Or is their concern more to be part of this broad church envisaged by Ron, Scott, Angus and John?

I remember after the first Assembly which dealt with the Scott Rennie case, Angus and John both making the case that nothing should be done precipitously, that nothing had been decided, that people should wait until 2011 that evangelicals were now a large and respected part of the Church and that they had a seat at the table and could deliver.  Wait and see they said, look we have Andy McGowan on the theological commission. Well 2011 came and went and we were told wait until 2013. It came and went and we were told 2015. It came and went and now we are not even being told wait until the SSM decision in 2016. It too will come and go.

There will be those evangelicals in high office within the church who will just say ‘my personal view is…’ but then go on to say ‘I have to be fair and bring balance…’ In other words they have capitulated to the liberal agenda. The question then is what’s the use of having a seat at the table if you don’t get a say in the menu? Have you not just become another church politician, dividing up the crumbs from the increasingly stale bread, and not actually distributing the Bread of life?

My view has always been that making the fight about sexuality and SSM was always going to be a losing battle. Why? Because it is not immediately obvious that it is about the gospel and it does make evangelicals look like homophobes. It also allows the Church Establishment to speak of a ‘mixed economy’ and fools some evangelicals into thinking, ‘isn’t this great, we get to keep our opinions about this issue and we can all live in peace and harmony’, not realizing that they have been bought and sold for fools gold. Of course I agree with what the Bible says about sexual issues, and I know that our stance is primarily about the bible not sexuality – but this was the wrong fight. And SSM is also the wrong one. It must be fought but it should be seen as a side issue.   The key issue is the role of Scripture and the place of Christ as Head of the Church.

If Covenant Fellowship and others are going to stay in and fight, where should the fight be?   How about the foundational gospel issues?

When I debated Scott McKenna I did so because I wanted to reach him and his people with the Gospel, and I wanted to shift the focus from issues of sexuality to basic gospel issues. I hoped that one of the results would be evangelicals taking up the baton. But is that happening? I don’t think so. Yes in our own congregations and conferences we reassure our own people, but are we taking the fight to the enemy?

According to some evangelicals, there is no enemy – at least within. All the enemies (including those who actually believe the Gospel) are outwith.   Scott McKenna, a man who denies the basics of the Gospel is not an enemy of the Gospel. It is little wonder that if evangelicals think, speak and behave like this,  the ordinary Christian in the pew gets confused. I know of one congregation where the minister told me that some of his (evangelical) congregation were furious with me for debating Scott McKenna, because they believed I was only doing it to show up the Church of Scotland! That kind of cynicism just makes me despair. I am not interested in attacking the Church of Scotland, I am interested in defending the gospel – and I would like to do so shoulder to shoulder with all those, whatever the denomination, who believe that same Gospel.



The hardest thing about this message is to get people to listen to it. We have a tendency in Scotland to personalize things, shoot the messenger and ignore the message.   I know that this will automatically get dismissed as ‘this is Robertson on his anti C of S crusade again’.   I deny that…and I am not the only one who sees what is happening. John Haldane, the Roman Catholic philosopher, scholar and advisor to the Vatican writes:


search-1The reality is that the Kirk has lost its way, lost its confidence and largely lost its faith. I fear it is finished as a significant force in Scottish society and is visibly dying.

I have thought this for a while but I am writing it now having received earlier in the day an email from a prominent agency of the Kirk, which, I fear, may be an expression of its desperation and lack of supernatural sense. I reproduce the main part of this message below and provide a link to the attachment that came with it here. Let me say that I am not disclosing private correspondence, for this is a pro-forma letter that has been sent out to a large number of leaders of groups and institutions on behalf of the Church of Scotland Church and Society Council. Here is the message:

‘Scotland is changing and we want to make sure that it is changing for the better.

The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council is currently running a campaign called Speak Out! 10,000 voices for change. Over a four month period, we are asking over 10,000 people—from every part of Scotland—to tell us about the key issues that inspire or concern them. As a result of what we hear, we will identify up to six core themes for our work over the next decade. These will be the issues which, if we address them together, will help to make Scotland a fairer, more equal, and more just nation in a fairer, more equal, and more just world.’

Nowhere in the message or in the supporting material is there any mention of God, creation, revelation, scripture, covenant, sin, redemptive sacrifice, atonement, sacraments, repentance, salvation, death, heaven or hell—only of “the issues which, if we address them together, will help to make Scotland a fairer, more equal and more just nation in a fairer, more equal and more just world.” The latter stands rather, as once a passage of scripture did, as the text for sermons and homilies. It begins “Scotland is changing” and in the accompanying material “Imagine Scotland in 2035—it is a fairer, more equal and more just place. . . .” Whether it will be I have no idea, though I suspect, as with the claim that the 20th and 21st centuries are ones of moral progress, it forgets the recurrent facts of human folly and wickedness; facts which for the Christian have a clear and compelling explanation: sin.

We have reached the surreal stage in Scottish church history where it appears as though the Roman Catholic Church is in general more faithful to the Gospel than the Church of Scotland! If he were not in Glory Knox would be birling in his grave!

John Knox

But it is not the Church of Knox, nor the Church of the Pope that concerns us.   We are concerned for the Church of Jesus Christ. He is the Head from whom everything flows. I leave the last word with him.

To the angel of the church in Sardis (Scotland?) write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Since I wrote this I was made aware of Scot’s latest sermon on the ‘myth of resurrection’.  It is a classic example of what I am talking about.  Is this the price that evangelicals are willing to pay for ‘unity’?





  1. Thanks David. Helpful analysis. I understand the difficulty in leaving a church as I am sure you do. When is such leaving non-schismatic? I say this as someone whose history and conviction is non-established. Perhaps part of the answer lies in recognising that ‘the Church’ is not denominational. Denominations are man made artefacts.

    Whatever the difficulties of ‘leaving’ there is certainly the mandate from 2 Timothy 2 to separate from what is evil (within the great house of Christendom) and meet with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.

  2. Dear David,
    Although we have often had disagreements within your comments section, I would like to commend you for this article which is a good summary of the issues facing the whole of the church at the moment.

    Many of the issues you raise here were the same ones that caused me to leave the Church of Scotland to join a local baptist church back in 1991. Like many of my peers I just could not see myself spending a lifetime working to maintain an institution. To me the gospel was not about buildings or committees, but simply “good news”. What you write about here is the logical conclusion of the trajectory everyone was on back in 1991. Nothing seems to have shifted that momentum.

    After moving to Edinburgh I joined Carrubbers, and although I currently do not attend a church my heart is still on the evangelical side – but with big questions. The basis issue for me is that we need to take the bible seriously and actually read it. Liberal theology doesn’t work for me because it is not read out of the bible. It often seems to be a search for justification for a persons personal political position, or the use of the church to advance political ambitions without having to stand for election.

    I could respond further, but I am sure you realise I am constrained by my work role.

    Thanks for writing this. I will pass it on.

  3. Hi David.
    It is time for the Trumpet to sound a clear note by all bible believing Church ministers and elders to sit down with the Holy Scriptures and Westminster confession of faith regardless of being CofS,FC,FCC,FP or any other biblical adhering Church and become one denominational church.Taking the Bible and Westminster confession of faith as the only rule to direct us .Where there is biblical unity and obedience I am convinced blessing will follow.2nd Chronicles chapter 7 verse 14 David as you are one of the Church leaders of our day may I suggest that General Assemblies should discuss our coming together as one denominational body and move on from there.

  4. I would like to see an analysis of the decline of the Church of Scotland compared with any changes in what was being said in the pulpits and then matched to general societal changes. My personal biases and anecdotal evidence (and therefore subject to challenge) would show that Church teachings adjusted to changes in society. It was, and still is, behind the curve. The thing is, I think this is something that has happened to mass movements over the last half century or more.

    Look at political parties. Recent SNP membership explosion aside, party membership is in declines. Broad coalitions of people focused on a range of objectives have collapsed into a range of organisations focused on single objectives. Some of these single objectives are claimed as the purer version of the broad party coalition had adopted as policy. This is happening to the Church of Scotland.

    Going to Church was, and still is for people I know, much more about the sense of community, shared experiences, opportunities to volunteer in the community etc. with the religious part giving a framework to all of this. Obviously other people were there for the teaching of the Gospel as you would do it. As society has changed, as opportunities for community, shared experiences and volunteering were offered elsewhere, the Church part of their lives fell away. They looked for the purer expressions of these things just as people have left political parties. The political parties have tried to change to appeal to a narrower and narrower base of people and the Church of Scotland is the same. Thus more liberal Christianity has pushed those of a more evangelical bent to one side. Hence those people are leaving and finding themselves in places like your Church who give them the purer version of what they had under the Church of Scotland. And the younger people who would have maybe found it first in the Church of Scotland are, again, finding it in your church and other evangelical churches.

    Mass movements grow and die and I wonder what is wrong with the Church of Scotland, in effect, slowly reducing in size until its congregation sizes match the reality of the demand for those types of services? Your church continues to grow as it offers something different to those who want it and cant find it elsewhere. If the Church of Scotland became evangelical like your church, do you really think that it will stop declining? Sure, some people will stay but a different group of people will start to leave (or leave faster). Could the congregation that delights in having a gay minister cope with Church like yours. I doubt it. It would be them that eventually leave.

    Society as a whole is changing and it is moving away from a society that you would like it to be. The Church used to be in a position to tell people how to behave, you do realise the best you can offer is to tell people how you think believers in Christ and God should behave? Your reach, religions reach into peoples lives can only extend to people who let it in by believing in it. Otherwise its a form of oppression. As it would be if the state told your church what to believe and how to behave.

    You have often complained that humanists like me want Churches to be nothing more than knitting clubs or Sci-Fi appreciation groups. What you have to understand is that what society as a whole has concluded. Humanism is in the same position. We offer a purer version of what some people seek. People are choosing to belong to several organisations that meet their needs and not one of those organisations is greater, more deserving, etc of any of the others. Trekkies might feel themselves superior to Jedi, Secularists might feel superior to Humanists, Knitters superior to Needleworkers, Free Church of Scotland superior (understanding of Gospel) to Church of Scotland etc.

    You ask “are we taking the fight to the enemy?” I would ask who the enemy is and why its a fight?

    1. Thanks Douglas – interesting analysis. Yes – if the Church of Scotland returned to the Bible I believe it would first shrink and then grow. With deeper roots. We don’t tell people how we think they should behave – that is the position known as theological moralism/liberalism and incidentally it is the position of the humanists – who believe that their values are universal or should be! The enemy is spiritual – the devil, the flesh and the world!

  5. An insightful piece of work, that requires no further comment from me! I would only declare that, as a former minister of the CoS, who demitted status over the issue of paedobaptism, I pray regularly for those evangelicals who have chosen to remain within the Kirk, that none will be there outwith the Lord’s will and purpose for each individual life. I know what it is like to come away from a ministry in which one does find a certain fulfilment. I also know that He Who calls us into a ‘settled’ ministry is equally capable of calling us out of it.

    Blessings, and shalom.

  6. “If he wishes to be consistent with the position he espouses his next stop must be the Roman Catholic Church”

    The Orthodox church is still waiting for Rome to return!

    Thanks for the article. I’m an outside observer of Scotland, but not dispassionate since I’m a member of PCI and although I’m not blind to my own denomination’s problems I don’t want PCI to fall the way the mother Kirk has. Anecdote time: I overheard in a PCI prayer meeting once a prayer that the CofS would be confused! The context was that a CofS minister had called for an assistant and a fine upstanding evangelical from PCI had applied. The prayer was that they would be confused from their liberal ways so that they would accept an evangelical.

  7. David. Can you please explain your brief (although it seems less than supportive) view of Messy Church please?


    1. Sure – I have no problem with ‘Messy’ church or indeed ‘church without walls’ or any of the other attempts to try and make church more relevant, reach out. I do have a problem when it becomes a substitute for the church and just ends up being a spirtualised kids club. We may even do messy church in one of our church plants, but it cannot substitute for the main things. I just felt that the title is itself indicative of what is going on in the wider context – its a mess…

  8. Hi David
    I wish I had time to read Life and Work in the detail you manage to. Hope you enjoyed criticising the C of S again. Some prayerful support would be more becoming to your office and role in my humble opinion.

    1. Lesley – that kind of sarcasm doesn’t really help. I indicated in the article itself…I take no pleasure in criticising the C of S and it is unworthy and wrong of you to suggest otherwise. And yes there is prayerful support….but prophetic critique is also needed….or would you just prefer to shut me up!

  9. “Please don’t play the denominational game.”
    Not sure what the rules of that game are. Could you elaborate?

    “a corrupt church that denied the Word of God”.
    Is that an example of playing the ‘denominational game’? As I don’t know what the rules are I can’t be sure. But it sure sounds like a rather strong criticism of the Catholic Church. If you’ll permit me I’ll suggest that there might just be a distinction between ‘a corrupt church’ and a ‘church in which corruption exists’. Is there corruption in the Catholic Church today? Probably. In the sense that there are people who belong to the Catholic Church and may be guilty of corruption, although that might depend on how ‘corruption’ is defined. But let’s suppose that you consider that the Catholic Church is no longer a ‘corrupt church’. That might change over time. However, the Catholic Church’s doctrines haven’t changed (that’s one of the strengths of the Catholic Church) so presumably you would still argue that the Catholic Church denies the Word of God. (Small point – big point? In Catholic theology the Word of God [capital W] is not the same as the word of God [small w].) We Catholics would respond by saying that that’s just your own private individual interpretation of the Scriptures and that it would be more accurate for you to say that the Catholic Church denies the Word of God, as you interpret it.

    “officially the RCs are now a bigger denomination than the ‘National’ church for the first time since 1560.”
    Well, that depends on how membership is measured. The Catholic Church defines a Christian (never mind a Catholic) as one who is baptised. But the number of Catholics in Scotland might be measured even more broadly than simply the number of baptised Catholics. It might be measured by the number of people who respond to the Census by saying that they are Catholic. Both these measures would give a figure well above the number who attend Mass on Sundays. Now, how about the Church of Scotland? How is membership there being measured? So, is your Catholic friend comparing apples with apples or apples with oranges? Even finding (and I don’t know that this is necessarily the case) that there are more people inside a Catholic church on a Sunday (including Saturday Vigil) than there are inside a Church of Scotland church on a Sunday isn’t necessarily comparing apples with apples as the people in the Catholic Church are likely to be the same people each Sunday whereas that might not be the case in the Church of Scotland.

    “The Reformation sought to take the Word of God out from the scholarly disputes of the academics and the images of the approved artists (paid for by the wealthy) and instead educate every person to be able to read, hear, see and think for themselves.”
    “On issues such as SSM the church has spoken with a divided whimper. “
    I think that the irony of those two statements, taken together, needs no elaboration.

  10. “I don’t believe the purpose of sharing the good news is fundamentally building the membership of the church but enabling the world to look a bit more like God intends it to be. That is our calling when the environment is all about how we pay the bills. Our calling is to enable the world to look more like the kingdom of God and ours is not to bother too much about the future of the church.”
    A minister of the Church of Scotland. (It’s on the website of a Church of Scotland church.)

  11. Great article again David, thanks.
    Only one thing – you say sexuality and SSM are the wrong fight, because the Gospel is what’s at stake.
    True of course in one sense, but it also seems to me like saying that because the whole Kingdom of England was at stake, a little place like Hastings was the wrong fight.
    You have to defend the ground the enemy chooses to attack. If it happens to be poorly defensible that’s unfortunate, and you can infer that you have a clever enemy, but the necessity is the same.

    1. I would suggest that the situation is a bit different that your analogy. What if the attack is a diversionary attack that keeps you away from the main fight? Which is more important to the church – that society permits SSM or that our ministers deny the Cross?!

      1. I take your point David re the church, but maybe there’s a distinction to be made. Mr McKenna understood, at least, that the motion you debated him on had relevance. Where the world is concerned, I’m not sure it’s always an either/or.
        Just supposing Duke William had actually intended his main attack elsewhere – if he’d found Hastings undefended I’m sure he’d have been thrilled to save himself the trouble and walk in that way. Then you can picture the English complaining bitterly that their capital was all garrisoned and ready, but he didn’t attack it in the proper way :-s

  12. Hi David
    I apologise for the sarcastic tone. As a member of the Church of Scotland, I feel hurt by the constant barrage of criticism from you. Are you aware that the tone of what you write seems very harsh? You will probably think that is justified when criticising what is wrong. However, I would argue that criticism has a limited benefit to you and the C of S. It is for you to decide if you have got the right balance between prophetic critique and prayerful support.

    1. Apology accepted. But please don’t judge ‘tone’ – and I don’t agree that it is a constant barrage of criticism. What you should be concerned about is not my perceived (by you) tone but whether what I write is true or not. I don’t consider that prophetic critique and prayerful support are opposites. It may help you to know that I get far more letters from C of S people thankful for what I write than I do critical. Most are wondering why I, an outsider, have to tell them what is going on, when their own leadership seems to be so silent. I agree with them. I would much rather be quiet…or at least writing in support of those who are challenging the establishment within.

  13. I think the Moderator of the Church of Scotland misapplies Augustine’s view of the sin of schism or at least takes it out of its original context of the Donatist controversy. The unity of the Church flows from its union with Christ, the Indwelling Holy Spirit and the right administration of the sacraments. (You can get a complete assessment here – In other words, he lays out the basis of what constitutes a true church, in my opinion.

    In his introductiory remarks leading into the sin of schism (Institutes Book IV.1.10-16)Calvin makes a similar claim by saying that the distinguishing marks of the church are “the preaching of the Word and the observance of the sacraments” and that being the case, “no one is permitted to spurn its authority, flout its warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its chastisements – much less to desert it and break its unity.” He says that scandal in the church is no occasion for leaving it; fellowship with wicked persons is no occasion for leaving it; the imperfect holiness of the church does not justify schism but affords occasion for the exercise within it of the forgiveness of sins.

    But there is a limiting principle to be applied. He says that “The pure ministry of the Word and pure mode of celebrating the sacraments are, as we say, sufficient pledge and guarantee that we may safely embrace as church any society in which both these marks exist. The principle extends to the point that we must not reject it SO LONG AS IT RETAINS THEM, even if it otherwise swarm with many faults”(IV1.12), adding at IV.2.9 “We therefore conclude that among the godly the communion of the church ought not to extend so far that, if it degenerates not profane and corrupted rites, they have to follow it headlong.”

    It seems to me that the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland have two options. One is to bring church discipline to bear on those who do not adhere to the central tenets of the faith or to detach themselves and their congregations from the denomination. They have shown no enthusiasm for either so far and that is to their shame.

    1. Sadly, I have to agree with your final conclusion! I have, in the past, written to some of my personal friends who would class themselves as “evangelicals”, hoping that my own demission of status (albeit over a doctrinal issue that is, imo, NOT “of the essence of the faith”), of which they were aware, would assure them of my empathetic position. Since I do not know the mind and plans of Almighty God any more than any other, my regular prayer, as stated above, is that none of them are remaining in the Kirk, outwith His plan and purpose for their individual lives.

  14. On the issue of ‘a corrupt Church’:
    Alister McGrath, one of the leading Protestant church historians today, strikingly downplays Catholic corruption as the primary cause of the upheavals of the period: [I]t is unacceptable to determine the state of the pre-Reformation European church through the eyes of its leading critics, such as Luther and Calvin. It is increasingly clear that attempts to depict the late medieval church as morally and theologically corrupt, unpopular, and near-terminal decline cannot be sustained on the basis of the evidence available. As in every period, the church possessed strengths and weaknesses and sought to consolidate the former and address the latter. It is now clear that Catholic reforming movements were not a response to the criticisms of the Protestant reformers but were deeply enmeshed within the pre-Reformation church – where, paradoxically, they created an appetite for reform
    that laid the ground for Protestantism in some respects.

    I notice that my earlier comments at 7.18pm and 7.35pm are still awaiting moderation whereas comments made later have aleady been moderated. Wonder why?

    1. Mike – I guess you will believe what you want to believe and see the evidence you want to see. As as student of Reformation History I think your view is as simplistic as though who just blame the corrupt church.

      As regard your comments I only post comments when I get a chance – especially when I have to reply to them…be patient….I get many comments each day..!

  15. One more for the moderation queue (otherwise known as the Everlasting Queue of Eternal Banishment). (Sorry, David, just my sense of humour.)
    You said, “The Reformation sought to take the Word of God out from the scholarly disputes of the academics and the images of the approved artists (paid for by the wealthy) and instead educate every person to be able to read, hear, see and think for themselves.” I don’t think that Felix Manz would be too happy with that statement. According to Wikipedia:
    On 7 March 1526, the Zürich council had passed an edict that made adult re-baptism punishable by drowning. On 5 January 1527, Manz became the first casualty of the edict, and the first Swiss Anabaptist to be martyred at the hands of other Protestants. While Manz stated that he wished “to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to purchase the rest in their present conviction”, Zwingli and the council accused him of obstinately refusing “to recede from his error and caprice”. At 3:00 p.m., as he was led from the Wellenburg to a boat, he praised God and preached to the people. A Reformed minister went along, seeking to silence him, and hoping to give him an opportunity to recant. Manz’s brother and mother encouraged him to stand firm and suffer for Jesus’ sake. He was taken by boat onto the River Limmat. His hands were bound and pulled behind his knees and a pole was placed between them. He was executed by drowning in Lake Zürich on the Limmat.

  16. Helpful analysis, David, and plenty to think about. However I think your analysis of the Tron is a bit simplistic. I firmly believe that where the gospel is preached, the church grows. The speed of that growth is up to God. The expelled Tron has been doing so for decades and so has been built to a point where they can plant. The new Tron is a baby church. Of course they will have small numbers! And their situation is complicated by the perception people have of their denomination as a whole; the old Tron does not have this baggage for people. So long as the word is preached faithfully, does the format of that preaching matter? Are we in DFC doing it wrong in the evenings, too, because we are not following the traditional format? I do see corollaries with what DFC have needed to have done, and the new Tron need to do (and what Caley CU needed to do when I was on exec, and what CMF in Dundee needed). Build strong fellowship through preaching the word and pointing to Christ – growth of the church from the inside out.

    1. Ewan – we shall see. I hope you are right. IS the word being preached faithfully? This is not about traditional formats…its about what is actually being done and said. I accept my analysis was a bit simplistic – but I suspect you wouldn’t want to hear the indepth one….!

    1. Theo….good to hear from you. Just a few comments in response.

      Firstly if you are wanting to engage in Christian dialogue then I would leave out the sarky remarks about my ‘acolytes’ (I have none…and as you will note there is plenty disagreement on here) and ‘my spending precious time reading life and work. Such cynicism is not worthy of you.

      Secondly you state that you are not bothered by the facts I cite but the tone. And therein lies the problem. Because you don’t know. You can just make up whatever tone you want. I don’t think my remarks concerning the Old Tron/New Tron were either unnecessary or unkind. But you do. And your perception trumps everything because its not the facts that matter, it’s the ‘perceived’ tone. I am much more interested in the facts. I am interested in how the Willie Philip and the Tron were treated, I am interested in the kind of meetings that are now going on in the Old Tron building, and I am interested in the article written by the minister in Life and Work. Which is what I was commenting on .
      You can’t understand why I am obsessed with the Church of Scotland. I’m not surprised, because I am not. That is the self-defence/attack mechanism you use. I am obsessed with the gospel and how it impacts Scotland and therefore of course I am concerned with the Church of Scotland, because, although it is not ‘the only show in town’ it is significant in the life of the whole church in Scotland – and I care deeply about that.

      I have considered many times joining the Church of Scotland, but I wouldn’t be allowed to. And I would not presume to lead the evangelicals. I havn’t time to get involved in church politics in a denomination which refuses to have church discipline or even a basic standard of doctrine. And I am a Presbyterian and believe in submitting myself to the courts of the Church and taking my vows seriously. So sorry – I will not be submitting myself to heretics like Scott McKenna or to church courts which allow and encourage such heresy.
      I am sorry that you don’t find my comments helpful or encouraging. Sorry but not surprised. If you are going to judge me by what you perceive is my tone – then no wonder. To be honest I no longer care. Because here is what gets me. People write in public about ‘evangelical unity’ etc but then slag each other off in private and do their best to undermine any kind of prophetic witness. Where was the evangelical unity when evangelicals voted to throw the Tron out? What about the anonymous letter from 14 evangelicals to me? I remember being at a prayer meeting where we were all urged towards evangelical unity and we prayed together. Then two of the men who have been most vehement in this request went off and voted at a presbytery to throw out of his home another man who had been present in the same group. Words are cheap. I am fed up of the constant playing of the ‘evangelical’ unity card by people who are not prepared to stand up for the Gospel and who in some cases, have even gone further and actively undermined other evangelical ministries. You may condemn me for what I write….you should be thankful for what I don’t write about what I know!

      I am very happy to stand beside any evangelical in the Church of Scotland who is prepared to fight for the Gospel, defend the faith and take the bullets. What I object to is my taking the bullets and then you all complaining that its my fault I get shot.
      For your interest I get as many readers of this blog from the Church of Scotland as I do from any other denomination. And most are ordinary members, elders and even some ministers who are grateful for what is written, because as they put it – no-one else within the Church is stating what is going on. Given the abuse that anyone will get (especially from their fellow –evangelicals) I am hardly surprised. Maybe its time for you and others to start speaking out in public and not shooting the messenger from outwith?
      And despite what you think – I write this because I do actually care about the Church of Scotland….which is in a far worse state than even I have written…but I guess you don’t want to hear that….?!


  17. I WANT to respond to that robust response (and I have read the original comment) – but am unsure as to how to do so!!! This is when a simple Facebook-style “Like” button would be a boon!!! 🙂

      1. Sorry! I was referring to the actual content, not to the mechanics of posting same!!!!! Simply felt that I wanted to make a response – but don’t wish to end up writing 500 words and/or coming across as an acolyte!!!!! 🙂

        Blessings, and shalom.

  18. I’m with Brian – though I assume the wordpress format is just a given.
    Would be useful to be able to register agreement, without the need to producing a comment when I’ve nothing but agreement to add…(like now)

  19. David, thanks for the reply.

    I can assure you that I have neither my head in the sand nor my eyes closed, and I am grateful and celebrate that the Kirk is far from the only Christian show in town.

    I apologise for what you perceived as sounding sarky; as you mention tone is very hard to perceive online;-) But it’s possible to attempt to derive tone from content. I should perhaps have said that I often don’t like the way that you speak to or about some fellow evangelicals.

    Perhaps, I have also been misunderstood regarding ‘facts’. I meant that I was not concerned about possible factual errors in your post. That does not mean I have no interest in facts in general. As you are, I am deeply concerned about the facts of the state of the Kirk.

    I am sure we will differ on this, but I believe that personality, more than theology, has shaped the evangelical response to the issues of the Kirk. The other factor is resource, the churches which have left, have generally been wealthy. Please don’t mistake remaining in the Kirk as agreement with all of its choices. And please don’t mistake a quieter or more gentle approach as lacking understanding or conviction.

    Kind regards


    1. Thanks….I think that you know that your remarks about life and work and my taking time to read it were not really a compliment! I am sure that you are correct that personality is a big factor, but I don’t think I am in any position to judge whether it is the sole or the main factor. I don’t agree that the churches that have left have largely been wealthy. I realise that some are, that is by no means true of them all. Furthermore a significant number of the people who have left, are not wealthy. I don’t doubt that finance and buildings play a part in both decisions to stay and decisions to leave, but it seems to me that your overview is somewhat simplistic and judgemental. The bigger problem for the church of Scotland, not the number of churches who have left, but rather the number of individuals and people who have drifted away from congregations.

      Of course I do not consider that those who remain in the Kirk agree with all of its choices. That is a rather silly remark. And I cannot let you accept the accolade of a quieter or more gentle approach. I am sure that we all have different ways of working, but you seem quite happy to be very robust with me, and I would urge you to share that robustness with people who actually matter!

      I am constantly defending church of Scotland evangelicals who say that they are staying in in order to fight. I guess it would be a whole lot easier to defend you, if there was some evidence of that fight actually occurring! Maybe an open letter to your fellow evangelicals encouraging them to stand up for the truth of the gospel in the courts of the church? Where ever or whoever you are, I pray that you would know the Lord’s blessing as you seek to serve him, whether within or out with the Kirk.

      1. Hello Ronnie,

        I sent you an email several years ago to which I did not receive a reply. My name is George Kirk Rall born in Keir Street today living in Florida.You remember me. Like you I love the town in which I was born and the people but why do you celebrate for example the fact that Cowdenbeath nearly exited from Scottish senior football. In your writings about Cowdenbeath and the people and the football club you should try and lead as an author and a clergyman to impress upon the Cowdenbeath folks in no way are they inferior to any other part of society which in my opinion is implicit is your writing. For example why cannot Cowdenbeath win the Champions League in 10 years time? You tell me.

      2. George – I’m not sure what this post is doing here but I think it is in the wrong place. I am not Ronnie and I don’t live in Cowdenbeath!

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