Sex and sexuality The Church in Scotland

Et Tu Episcopus? The Scottish Episcopal Church and SSM


The Anglican Communion throughout the world upholds the biblical teaching on Same Sex Marriage (i.e. that it does not exist because marriage is between a man and a woman). The meeting of the Anglican primates at the beginning of this year was quite clear and they backed it up with promises of discipline for any Anglican communion which went against its ruling. This was no Church of Scotland style, ‘we believe in traditional marriage but we will allow our ministers to go against that teaching’.  Of course the mainly white liberal Anglicans who have the view that they are the progressives and who regard the mainly black/Asian southern Anglicans as backward regressives , proclaimed their defiance.   The latest ‘communion’ to do so is the Scottish Episcopal Church at its meeting last week, which took ‘the first step’ towards allowing SSM in its churches, by a vote of 97:33

What does all this mean?  

The Scottish Episcopal Church is, as the name suggests the Scottish version of the Church of England. Despite the common perception that it is the “English’ church it is not. It does however have an identity problem – in the 2011 census only 8,000 people claimed that they were Scottish Episcopalian, another 20,000 claimed they were just Anglican and some 60,000 claimed they were Church of England. The most reliable statistic is the 2014 return by the SEC that stated there were 34,000 members of all ages. I suspect that in terms of actual attendance there are less than 10,000 in an Anglican church in Scotland on a Sunday…The Scottish Episcopalian church is, like most mainstream churches in Scotland, in a steep decline. This decision, if it is carried through, will only increase that decline.


Bishop David Chillingworth, although a keen supporter of this ‘liberalisation’ is aware of the difficulties it will bring and in a most fascinating article in the Herald last week, expressed his main concerns. He knows how serious the matter is. To change canon law and redefine marriage and go against the Scripture, the tradition of the church and the rest of the Anglican Communion is a step that should not be taken lightly. But it appears that the Bishop’s primary concern is none of these things but rather to prevent evangelicals and traditionalists leaving. “That is why the major challenge facing our leadership is that of preserving the unity of our church.”

Others of course will frame it in different terms. As Chillingworth states “Some see the full inclusion of LGBT people as a matter of justice. Jesus was a person always open to those excluded by others – the lepers, the adulterous woman, tax collector and sinners. Would he not have been also open to LGBT people?”. The Bishop himself holds that view so why does he want to appease those who are apparently for such injustice?   I note in passing the passive/aggressive way he frames the argument. Apparently if you are not for SSM then you are not inclusive, for justice, welcoming and Christlike. Which leaves the good Bishop and others in the somewhat awkward position of accusing Jesus of being exclusive, unjust, unwelcoming and not like himself!   This happens of course because they believe in their own personal Jesus – not the Christ of the Bible, not the Christ of the historic creeds of the Church, and not the Christ of the Anglican confessions.

Indeed in a fascinating blog from Kevin Holdsworth, provost of Glasgow Cathedral, he admitted that this was a move away from being a confessional church.

What was fascinating in this blog was the repeated emphasis on being together. Why the focus on this? Kevin Holdsworth is a militant who argues that any church or charity that does not accept SSM should have their charitable tax status removed, so why go all soft and cuddly on this one?   The answer is simple…the SEC are in terminal decline and desperately need the few growing churches they have, which are largely the evangelical ones, to remain. If St P’s and G’s in Edinburgh, St Thomas’s (Edinburgh), St Mungos (Edinburgh), Westhill (Aberdeen) and St Silas’s (Glasgow) were to leave then the SEC would lose major sources of finance and people. And so the liberals want to have their cake and eat it.

They put forward their apostate teaching and then play the ‘unity/love/diversity’ card. The sad thing is that I am pretty sure it will work. It is possible that the two thirds majority required in 2017 might not happen, but only if the rest of the church are convinced that the evangelicals and the few Anglo-Catholics will walk away if it does, or that the Anglicans down south will go along with sanctions imposed by the world wide Anglican communion(but given the St Columba agreement between the C of S and the C of S who have just made the same decision,  this seems unlikely).  The evangelicals will be played like suckers and I suspect that most will just go along with the game – as has happened in the Church of Scotland.  The Scottish Episcopal Church, like the Church of Scotland, will betray the Gospel and hammer another nail into the coffin of the Church in Scotland, with evangelicals standing on the sidelines, wringing their hands and hoping that one day there might be a revival.

The one possibility of a renewed and reformed confessional Anglican Church happening is if the offer from Gafcon is taken up. Gafcon (the Global Anglican Futures Conference) is the conservative Anglican body that is seeking to preserve biblical doctrine within the Anglican Church. They wrote the following invitation to their brothers and sisters in Scotland:

We are saddened and appalled that the Scottish Episcopal Church will next week debate amending it’s Canon C31, so as to adopt a wholly unbiblical approach to human sexual relationships. To so amend the canon would sever the church from the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, and also the considered and expressed conviction of the vast majority of the bishops of the Anglican Communion at Lambeth 1998, which was reinforced by the Anglican Primates Gathering only months ago. We stand with you and pray for you as you resist this unhelpful and dangerous innovation. Should the church decide to follow the revisionist approach, disobey the clear teaching of Scripture, and thus cause a break with orthodox Christian teaching, the Gafcon UK Panel of Bishops offers to provide alternative episcopal oversight, and thereby you recognition as faithful Anglicans by the worldwide Gafcon movement, which represent the majority of Anglicans world wide. We remind the Scottish Episcopal Church of the cautionary words of Jude that unbiblical standards in sexual ethics “….deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”. This is an issue over which the Scottish Episcopal Church is dividing the church, and we will stand united with faithful Anglicans in Scotland seeking to uphold the plain doctrinal and moral teaching of the Holy Scriptures.

Warmly in Christ, The Rt Rev John Ellison, The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, The Rt Rev Wallace Benn, and TheRt Rev Ken Barham, on behalf of the Panel of Bishops, Gafcon UKThe Rev Paul Perkin, The Rev Michael Ovey, on behalf of the Exec Committee, Gafcon UKThe Rev Canon Andy Lines, Mr. Dan Leafe on behalf of the Anglican Mission in England

Where does this leave us all?   I love the Anglican Church. I use the Book of Common Prayer every day, listen to great Anglican teachers, and encourage any of our people who move to England to attend if possible some of the many great Anglican bible teaching churches.   The decline and apostasy of the SEC gives me no pleasure at all, and I hope and pray that it will be turned around. Is that a vague hope? Perhaps the rot is in too deep?

What can be done?   In an ideal world all biblical Christians would just get together in the one true church, but that isn’t the world we live in. What we need to do is recognise that all believers of whatever denomination are the one true church, and then we need to find ways of working together. In the US they have the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Maybe we need the same thing in Scotland. I suspect that the reasons that evangelical Anglicans won’t leave the SEC are the same that some evangelicals in the C of S have not left – they can’t take their congregations and they feel there is no alternative.   Let me offer our Anglican brothers and sisters help from the Free Church. We don’t expect you to come and join us (although you would be very welcome! And we have really benefited from those Anglicans who have), but we could work together. If we were to do some lateral thinking we could even offer ‘episcopal’ oversight to any Anglican churches wanting to ‘come out’ and not be isolated! In reality I suspect that the more likely outcome is a Gafcon type arrangement, where we could support and help the Anglicans who receive episcopal oversight from Gafcon.   An alliance of the Free Church and Confessing Scottish Episcopalians/Anglicans could be a powerful force for the kingdom….Lets talk…and pray…and act….

One thing that Bishop Chillingworth wrote I do agree with – So this is an important moment for our church. It is not just about whether we can find agreement, it is about whether what we do is within our understanding of our faith. “   The understanding of the faith is crucial. Is it to be the biblical Christ-centred faith of the 39 Articles or the unbiblical man-centred faith of the Liberals?   In one sense this is very like the EU referendum. We are being offered two options – one is to leave but the other is not to stay in an unchanged organization – it is to remain in an organization which is changing so much that it becomes in reality a new one. If, as expected, the SEC votes to change the canon on marriage, the Scottish Episcopal Church as it was (part of the worldwide Anglican communion and the historic Anglican chuch) will no longer exist. Those who stay within are in effect joining a new organization – one that could hardly be called a Church of Jesus Christ. Maybe its time to decide where our loyalty lies?



  1. “Preserving the unity of our church.” This one statement shows something. Have you ever heard from the pulpit or any other statement from a heard the words “our” “we” or “us” to talk of something and find that doesn’t include where you are at? It is not “our” church but as you rightly have commented David it is Christ’s church. Believers must not be unified by group narcissism but in Christ.

    “All believers of whatever denomination are the one true church, and then we need to find ways of working together.”
    Yes exactly and in the case the “we” are those of us who haven’t found ways of working together. Let’s not be all Private Fraser about this and talk of doom but recognise where there is unity “in Christ” and build on it. Some of us are doing so and finding it fulfilling! This potentially could be an exciting time!

    The light casts out the darkness not more darkness – right?

  2. There is a general feeling by many in the main denominations that if they get this issue right (i.e. start solemnising same sex marriages and accept homosexual clergy) then there will be a huge influx of liberal minded members which will recover the church financially, and in influence. There is a genuine belief that people stopped going to church over this one single issue, which is portrayed as the greatest injustice. I am not convinced. I expect the outcome to be “glad to hear it, but I still won’t be coming to church”.

  3. For the past 18 years my wife and I have attended our local Scottish Episcopal Church – within walking distance it was that or CofS. Sadly it now appears walking to Church will have to stop! I will be writing to Bishop David in prayerful hope that the proposal can be reversed during the discussions between now and next year. I am not however optimistic.

    When the American Episcopal Church addressed the SSM issue at least they, very carefully, avoided use of the term marriage, referring to a “Covenant Relationship”. The proposed Canon 31 of the SEC goes further deleting any reference to male or female. The existing Canon 31 refers to marriage as being “an institution created by God”. Either it believes that, and presumably has done so since it first adopted the wording, or it doesn’t. If the existing Canon is true, and for the avoidance of doubt I believe it to be so, is it not impertinent of any body, even one as august as the General Synod, to change the definition particularly on the flimsy basis of there being a lack of common understanding in the SEC? If it is not true why have SEC clergy been lying to us at weddings all these years?

  4. Unity in Christ, unity in the Spirit is always more than, but never less than, like – mindedness. It is never and never has been, like- mindedness with ways and ideology of the world.

    I’m asking from ignorance: is there a difference between the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in the US and the Evangelical Alliance in the UK? Do either provide support and oversight for non-denominational churches?

    It seems to have been a long time since Angilcan ministers subscribed to the Articles of Faith. My understanding is that to become ordained a prospective minister had to affirm their belief in and acceptance of the Articles. I don’t know if or when that was jettisoned. There will be ministers who said “Yes”, lied just to get in.

    As with the CoS many ministers will not leave if to do so will jeopardise their livelihood and selp perceived status. The opposite of the New Testament church.

    Peter’s first letter appears to be more and more apposite in these times.

    1. Yes there is a difference…and yes the EA does support non-denominational churches – although whether any would want ‘oversight’ is another question…

    2. As a COE minister, sadly, we only need to affirm the 39A as part of our inheritance at Ordination.

  5. Thank you for your observations. It is crystal clear that the plate tectonics you refer to here concerning the SEC post an SSM ratification in 2017, will both de jure and de facto mean that anyone who remains within the SEC, is in fact signing up for an entirely new framework of faith. Indeed, any links with the then legacy Faith that you and I love and share, rooted as it is in the outrageous meta narrative that spans Holy Scripture from beginning to end, will be demonstrably severed. That may in and of itself bring clarity that many have and continue to try and avert at all costs.God may yet be honoured in such an unequivocal restructuring. I have no interest in ‘unity’, wiggle room and/or obfuscation when the Honour of God’s Name is what is at stake here. I speak as a former Foreign Office man who can smell such nonsense at a considerable distance!
    I am steeped in Biblical exegesis not eisegesis and having seen and heard the changes in the C of S’s geomorphology in recent years, I suggest that many of its members, Elders and perhaps even some Ministers, haven’t quite realised that they too are continuing to try and play a game of cricket on a lawn tennis court – similarities, yes, but a very different game nonetheless. Such behaviour is a mug’s game and few call it as clearly and succinctly as you do. Who indeed is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
    I think you and Dave Richards should go and have a coffee with Tom Wright over in St Andrew’s and let’s see whether the Church of Jesus the Christ in Scotland might get some new legs – my nearest Bible-centred church is 55 miles away! As a Vicar’s son, may I just ask you not to forget your family – your prodigious output benefits and encourages many of us – but it can often come at a price on the home front. I speak from experience!

    1. I would love to do that – but sadly Dave’s recent sermon on the subject has paved the way and done a great deal of harm – see the link in my latest blog…

  6. Mmm. Oversight. It could be said that the EA exercised oversight when Steve Chalk was excluded, greater than that exercised by the CoS. It is an oversight that will not have been welcomed, but ignored as the EA has no authority except over membership.

    There is a dearth of authority within and without the church and where it exists where or in what does it reside? In scripture, certainly, but ulitimately in the triune God of scripture.

    Notwithstanding the benefits of the Reformation with an emphasis on personal salvation, it could morphe towards the individual supplanting the collective (church), rather than as was and sometimes remains, the church supplanting Christ Jesus as the “place” of salvation. In my view the pendulum has swung too far towards individualism and independence resulting in schisms, within and between denominations and independent evangelical churches, from a separatist/party spirit, rebellious falleness, rather than acknowledging and delighting in being, in Christ, elected and chosen before the foundation of the world to be a worshiping people of God of all denominations and none. But here I painfully convict myself.

    Having said that, I could not fall in line with, under that authority, of the CoS or SEC. But if my own minister and leadership did not buy into the denomination’s teaching that would be a more difficult decision. Again, where does the authority reside, in the local church or at denominational level? And in all conscience could the minister stay in the the denomination, while their evangelical teaching and preaching is at odds with and undermined, contradicted and denied by their denomination’s leadership. There could be no true fellowship. Do they continue to sow the seed of the gospel, in season and out. This is a serious question many are/will face.

  7. Sometimes precise numbers about a church’s membership are hiding in plain sight. The SEC’s 2015 annual report was submitted to the General Synod and placed on their website. At p71 of the pdf, we can see that weekly attendance (to be precise, “attendance on Sunday next before Advent”) was 12,956 last year, a decline of 4.8% from 2014. Link here: A breakdown of membership, communicant roll, and attendance for every congregation in the SEC is given.
    Looking at the precise numbers can be revealing. The CoS numbers (2016 Blue Book, p75 of the pdf) give a breakdown of how membership changed. The CoS is not declining because people are leaving over this issue. Over the past dozen years, the number of members dying has fallen 25%, and the number of people leaving has fallen faster at 29%. People have not left the CoS over this issue — “progressives” know they can push through this issue and the evangelicals will just live with it. The real reason for accelerating decline is that the number of new members has fallen by 54%, from 9136 in 2004 to 4186 in 2015.
    Data health warning: Precise does not mean Accurate, for the CoS in particular.

  8. It is worse than this. The number of new members by confession of faith in the CofS is less than the number of congregations. All of the other “new members” are transfers of one sort or another in the statistics. More worrying still is the increasing rate of decline. Even excluding this years loss of members (7.1%) as it could be an outlier the rate of attrition is increasing year on year. At this rate the Church of Scotland will decline to a point where it can not sustain its own structures by 2030. It will have plenty of cash but be unable to produce the necessary number of volunteers to maintain the institution. I was surprised nobody mentioned any of this at the General Assembly. In any sane organisation this would have been the number one issue for discussion. Instead there was a discussion on “invisible church”. SO nothing to worry about at all. Everyone is a Christian really, they just don;t know they are.

    1. No, not a 7.1% fall last year. More like 4%. The CoS numbers are unreliable in a number of ways. Look at the table on p75 of the Blue Book. It shows 18,752 people leaving and 4,186 joining for a net loss of 14,566, but the total membership dropped 27,251. There’s a mystery here that took me some time to unravel. There are several reasons for the discrepancy — and there’s a discrepancy almost every year — but the big reason this year is that this year’s Blue Book misses out a presbytery, Buchan, which last year had 11,133 on the rolls. Correct that mistake and you can see the decline is the usual 15,000 or so per year, a stable number that is a steadily accelerating proportion of the declining whole.

      1. Thanks for this. This was why I considered this year to be an outlier and ignored it in terms of the trend. Even ignoring it the percentage of decline per year is increasing each year. Presumably because the number leaving is the same but the size of the whole is declining so the percentage goes up.

      2. I took another look. The CoS issued corrected numbers here: (p59 of pdf). The actual decline last year was 14,922, or 3.9%. I also took a dive into the CoS’ data, set out in General Assembly reports going back to 2010. There’s a detailed breakdown of the reasons for decline (death, removal) and growth for 1991 and 1999-2015, with roll numbers going back to 1980. For 35 years, the CoS has been shrinking by an amazingly consistent 16,000/yr or so, but all the numbers to get there have been shrinking (fewer deaths, fewer professions of faith, etc.). It looks like the CoS has lost very few members over the SSM issue — there has been only the gentlest uptick in non-death removals from the roll over the past few years from just over 2%/yr to about 2.5%/yr. What has really changed — as you pointed out — is the long term and ongoing crash in additions to the roll, especially by professions of faith. In 1991, growth by profession of faith was 1.1% of the roll. That had halved by our next data point in 1999 to 0.6%. That has halved again to 0.3% of the roll. (The raw numbers are more shocking, 8447 to 3553 to 1188). A church is like a bath full of water with the stopper pulled out at the bottom and the taps open fully at the top. But the CoS has shut off the taps.


  9. Yes, the 1188 is the real story. Less than one new member per congregation during 2015 which shows that none of the initiatives aimed at bringing in new members has worked. No amount of “making the church relevant” news sory spinning either.

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