As I prepare for the Free Church Assembly beginning this evening, I have been reflecting on what happened at the Church of Scotland Assembly on Saturday. This from the BBC sums it up well:
The Church of Scotland has voted to allow its gay ministers to marry.
The General Assembly meeting in Edinburgh voted 339 votes to 215 to update church law to bring it in line with secular Scottish law. The church already recognised ministers and deacons in same-sex civil partnerships and has today extended that to cover same-sex marriage.
The Church said in a statement immediately after the vote that the decision “does not compromise the Church’s traditional view of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”
And it does not mean church ministers will be able to register same-sex civil partnerships or solemnise same-sex marriages themselves.
Speaking after the vote, the Very Rev John Chalmers, principal clerk, said: “We had a debate which made very clear that we were not interfering with our theological definition of marriage and were not going to the place where ministers or deacons could themselves conducting same sex marriages.
“It is an entirely different discussion.”
“Today’s decision means it will be possible for kirk sessions and congregations to depart from the traditional understanding of marriage to call not only potentially a minister in a civil partnership but one who is in a same-sex marriage.”
“In some ways we crossed the Rubicon last year when it was agreed that kirk sessions could call someone in a civil partnership and for many people what today was about was simply tidying up and making the law of the church consistent with Scots law”
What does all this mean for the cause of the Gospel in Scotland?
The background to this comes from an article I wrote seven years ago – https://theweeflea.com/2016/05/22/back-to-the-future-the-2009-general-assembly/
So here are the lessons and logical conclusions:
- A Rubicon has been crossed – As the Principal Clerk stated. Are Evangelicals aware of this? Or are they looking for another Rubicon? And another?
- The Church of Scotland establishment will now claim that this is over and the Church can go on to more important things. John Chalmers stated: I hope we have now put this issue to one side and we can now get on with what I believe are important issues – developing our vision for the church, increasing membership and developing our work around mission.” The C of S is not concerned with the mission of Christ. It is their vision, their membership and their mission. Not Christ’s. It is hard to believe that evangelicals will continue to buy into, and pay for, this. But most will…
- The Church of Scotland will legislate for Same Sex Marriage (and indeed whatever other marriage our society says should be) within a couple of years. They cannot have the situation where ministers can be same sex married, but cannot marry people in the church. Who marries the ministers? A report on marriage will be given next year.
- The Church of Scotland has cut itself of from most of the worldwide church – the Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical churches are opposed to SSM. Both the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Australian Presbyterian Church warned there would be consequences, but to no avail.
- The Church of Scotland has removed itself from the Bible. The Youth Convener said that “you can’t discard Scripture, but you have to reinterpret it to suit the age” not seeming to realize that when you ‘reinterpret’ Scripture to suit the age, you have discarded Scripture. The ‘world’ seems to get that better than some in the Church. One journalist told the Principal Clerk “It is ok for members in the church to do things that are described in the bible as an abomination.” Perhaps the most chilling example of this apostasy from the Word of God was given from the convener when asked the question “are we going to redefine marriage?”. His answer – “that will be up to the Assembly”. The C of S has moved from the authority of the Bible to the authority of the magisterium of the Assembly.
- The Church of Scotland has nothing of the Good News to say to the people of Scotland. When the Principal Clerk was asked on the BBC ‘is the Bible wrong?’ – he refused to answer. He said he had to be neutral. Neutral about the bible?! The Kirk will have plenty to say about climate change, smacking children and being in the EU – but it has no good news for sinners and nothing of Christ to tell the people. There is a famine of hearing the word of the Lord in our beloved land and all the C of S will give the starving people is sound bites, political clichés and feel good truisms.
- The Church of Scotland is in terminal decline. The Principal Clerk stated that “we have lost some people but we have gained some because of this”. But they are continuing to lose the equivalent of one church per week. Almost 15,000 members this year alone. My own city of Dundee saw 500 members lost in one year. 500. That’s two churches. But the blinkers are well and truly on. That did not stop the retiring moderator from claiming “What I rarely found in the local church was serious discouragement on these challenges….by Gods grace and strategies we can see things reversed.” I have a lot of friends (still!) in the C of S and in general they are very discouraged. They don’t like the propaganda coming out from 121 – e.g. only 3% of ministers have left. As Andy McGowan said – in his short but excellent contribution, thousands of people have left. And they are continuing to leave. The people are voting with their feet. The C of S will soon be all chiefs and very few Indians! Even this past Sunday I had one elder and his family in St Peters and another couple, who had just all had enough. They are going to leave – as will many others. The drip, drip, drip of some of the finest Christians within the C of S will continue.
- The Evangelical tactic of infiltration and influence failed – spectacularly. I was blasted and accused of being mean because I said that the purpose of all the discussions and delays, of the mixed economy’ idea was simply to keep the evangelicals on board. That was confirmed in a chilling bout of openness when the incoming moderator, thanked the outgoing moderator, Angus Morrison. He thanked him for the job he had done and stated that given his standing within evangelicalism and the Highlands it was important that he had stood out against schism – “It was for this message, for this year that God prepared you to be our moderator.” As I feared Angus was not there to be the evangelical voice into the establishment – he was there to be the establishment voice to the evangelicals. And it largely worked. The Establishment was exultant. They even had a PowerPoint slide displayed which boasted only 25 ministers had left over this – that 97% had stayed. Angus was thanked for having done his job.
Evangelicals have no hope of reversing the situation. Now that the Kirk has decided it is no longer governed by Christ through his Word, the Establishment will resort to the type of underhand politics, spin and macro management that I have witnessed this past year and which was once again evident on Saturday. The Moderator wanted to get it over with ASAP and so the debate was curtailed. Evangelicals will keep being played with the carrot and stick approach. They will be insulted and praised in the same breath. As long as they play the game they will be allowed a seat at the table – on the condition that they keep other evangelicals in line and don’t rock the boat.
And there is no chance of evangelicals rocking the boat…there will be a bit of shouting and murmurs of rebellion, but given what has already happened the Establishment know they are home and dry. Their tactics have paid off and largely because evangelicals were weak, disorganized, nice, divided, and at the end of the day not prepared to fight, they have lost what should have been a no-brainer. I had hoped that when the Scott McKenna debate came up, the evangelicals would have picked up the baton and continued the fight for the gospel – but not a word in public, and in private, instead of taking on the aberration of Scott’s anti-Christian teaching, some moaned about me doing it and accused me of being anti-C of S because I challenged a C of S minister to uphold C of S standards! And Mr. McKenna has been rewarded with a regular column in Life and Work. Whither Evangelicals now?
The Curates Sermon
Let me finish with some reflections on Angus’s final sermon which was like the curates egg: It had some good stuff in it, but overall ended up being really frustrating because it shows both how close and how far, Establishment evangelicals within the C of S are.
Speaking from 1 Peter Angus argued for three excellent things.
- A commitment to unity – the strengthening of our unity in diversity over against the tendency to fragmentation. The question he did not address was what that unity is based on. Is it unity with people who deny that Jesus was virgin born or that he died for our sins? It cannot be a unity based upon Christ and his Word because we believe in different Christ’s and have different views of the Word. It can only be a unity based upon the denomination. Watching the Assembly it comes across to me like a giant social club where everyone knows everyone and understands the in-jokes and the friendly bonhomie. How can any self-respecting bible believing Christian buy into that?
- A commitment to mission – Mission is one of those buzz words, that everyone including the devil likes. But it is meaningless without some content. What is the mission of the Church? To be the pillar and ground to the truth? To proclaim the glories and beauty of Christ and advance his kingdom here on earth? Angus made an astonishing statement that Bultmann and Tillich would have been proud of. He stated that we have a mission “to work with people of other faiths and none, to work for the common good for the advance of the kingdom of God.”. The Kingdom of God is not advanced by faiths that deny Christ, the King. What is the mission that the Church of Scotland is going to work with atheists for?
- A commitment to Christ – against the forces of secularisation. Its time to give the church back to the one who owns it. The Church belongs to Christ. We must have the stamp of those who have been with Jesus. We must fight against secularism and the idols of this time. This was all excellent stuff – if only it had not been preceded by what went before. Yes indeed it is the time to give the Church back to the one who owns it (was this an admittance that we had taken it away?). Christ is the head of the Church. So why then has the Church of Scotland departed from his Word and set its face against what He says?
The Assembly sang To God be the Glory after Angus’s sermon. It contains the wonderful line ‘Who yielded his life an atonement for sin’? Is that what the C of S believes? Does it believe it in the same way that it believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, unless you happen to be a minister with an exemption?
Perhaps the last word should be left to Angus – who quoting Augustine declared
“Keep focus on Jesus himself, the only foundation of the church and the pioneer and perfecto of our faith. Our agenda in every respect must be his (Augustine). “
Amen and Amen.