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A Last Minute Plea to our Brothers and Sisters in the Church of Scotland _ The Record Editorial – May 2017

The Cover of the May Record 

The May edition of The Record is now out….I love the cover and I hope that the content within is improving. (you can purchase the whole magazine from the Free Church Bookshop in Edinburgh or from your local Free Church).   The following is the editorial.

A Last Minute Plea to our Brothers and Sisters in the Church of Scotland

The Free Church is the Church of Scotland, Free. Ever since 1843 we have been separate from our brothers and sisters in the Church of Scotland, but as Thomas Chalmers declared, we quit a vitiated Establishment but would long to return to a pure one. In a time of increasing secularisation and the challenges of the confused and confusing contemporary world, we can ill afford the divisions of previous centuries. Scotland doesn’t need the Church of Scotland, any more than it needs the Free Church. Scotland needs the Church of Jesus Christ, one that is faithful to him and his Word. But it would be wonderful if the Church of Scotland, with all its resources, were to be that church. If that happened, I for one would be glad to return to the Kirk. Indeed, for a number of years I worked with some to explore how that could happen, but sadly it looks as if the longed-for renewal and reformation of the Church of Scotland is not coming to pass. Even as you read this the General Assembly will be meeting to put the final nails in a process which began at the 2009 Assembly when the Kirk upheld the appointment of Rev. Scott Rennie, a minister in a gay relationship, to Queens Cross Church in Aberdeen.

A Rubicon

At the time there were those who felt a Rubicon had been crossed, but we were assured by many evangelicals, including those allowed to participate in various inquiries, theological commissions, etc. that the matter was not settled. Every couple of years another decision was made, and every couple of years we were told by the evangelical leadership to hang on because the crucial decision was yet to come.

Meanwhile individual Christians, elders, ministers and congregations (including well-known and large ones such as Gilcomston in Aberdeen, the Tron in Glasgow, Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh and St Catherine’s Argyll in Edinburgh) left.

And then in 2014 the General Assembly came up with this very clear statement:

The historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality and their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church are hereby affirmed (for the avoidance of doubt, the Kirk understands this to mean that human sexuality is to be expressed in the relationship of one man and one woman in a committed union called marriage and its ministers, etc. are bound to follow that);

 But this was immediately contradicted by a declaration that ministers and Kirk Sessions were free to go against what the Church ‘affirmed’.

In 2016 the General Assembly then legislated for ministers to be allowed to be in same-sex marriages – whilst ‘upholding’ the traditional biblical position and preventing them from conducting same-sex marriages.

“We are not interfering with our theological definition of marriage”

Speaking after the vote, the Very Rev. John Chalmers, Principal Clerk, declared: ‘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 conduct same sex marriages…. It is an entirely different discussion.’ He even said that those who were upset by the decision should ‘hold on and wait to see how this plays out’.  Well they have held on, and now we know. Although anyone with eyes could see the ‘trajectory’ on which the Church was firmly fixed.

A Familiar Pattern

The pattern was by now of course well established – the Assembly moves a further step away from the biblical teaching and then seeks to keep evangelicals on board by promising an inquiry and ‘respect’ for their views. This year’s proposed deliverance is no different. It recommends that they permit same-sex marriages within the C of S and apologise for the discrimination against homosexual people, but it also asks the legal committee to ensure that those who want to can continue that discrimination!

The problem here is not same-sex marriage. Nor the convoluted church politics, deceit and legalistic bureaucracy which try to follow the culture and yet keep on board those who wish to follow the Bible. The main problem is the theology and reasoning behind the report.

The New Doctrine

The report, recognises that this is a question of scriptural interpretation, but then goes on to provide a (somewhat biased) description of the two sides. On the one hand there are those who just take the words of the Bible, accept them as the words of God, and expect them to be applied today as they were in the past. They are clearly the ‘exclusives’. On the other there are those who are more ‘inclusive’, who recognise the differences in culture, know history (eg that the Apostle Paul didn’t know anything about homosexual relationships), and are much more in touch with the Holy Spirit as well as contemporary society. Jesus is the Word made flesh and we know this, not so much by his word the Bible, but by our feelings, ‘the Holy Spirit leading us into further understanding’ and a new ‘contemporary form of obedience’. God speaks to us in the whirlwind as well as Scripture – for example, when we see the ocean choked with plastic bags, this is God telling us we are misusing the created world. ‘And there are times when God speaks to us through the cries of God’s people who long for inclusion and dignity.’ The report is basically saying that those who take the Bible as being the word of God, as well as containing it, are not really listening to God or the Holy Spirit and are against ‘inclusion and dignity’.

This biased report seems to be based more on the work of Professor Robert Song of the University of Durham than it is on the Scripture. Professor Song has apparently been led by the Spirit to receive a new revelation that we are moving from the position of seeing the argument about marriage as being homosexual vs. heterosexual to now being about procreative vs. non-procreative. The latter is seen in Christ and afterwards. As a result it would be ‘unjust’ to deny marriage to same-sex couples just because they can’t procreate!

The report recognises that there could be a problem with applying this way of understanding the Bible to other relationships, so we are told, ‘We do not believe that extension of marriage to two persons of the same gender opens the door to a rights-based argument that marriage should be extended to polyamorous unions. Nor, for example, do we think the door should be open to marriage with robots.’

Well, that sounds fine until you remember that last year we were assured that the church’s understanding on marriage was still the same. The report admits,

‘We understand that theological reflection has moved on since the report Believing in Marriage which was presented to the General Assembly in 2012 and we have tried to take account of that thinking.’ You could say that again. If a generation is a short time in Scottish referenda, it is an even shorter time in Scottish theological thinking! So the assurance that polygamy will not be included is about as reliable as the assurance last year that the Church still holds to the traditional view on marriage. As for Robophobia…!

Is it just Interpretation? 

What is very confusing for some people here is the claim that both sides are appealing to and following Scripture. And so then it just becomes a difference about interpretation. But is this really the case? The fact is that when you say you believe in Scripture, but then say it is just a witness to the truth, but not the truth itself, you may sound clever, but in reality you are contradicting what Scripture says about itself and you are leaving Scripture open to your interpretation, passing fades and whatever you or your friends ‘feel’ is the right thing. God gave us a more sure and certain word. The worst thing the General Assembly is doing is not legitimizing Same Sex Marriage, it is that in so doing they are taking away the Bible as the Word of God from the people and the Church.

The trouble with this understanding of guidance is that it utterly destroys the Bible as the ‘only rule of faith and life’. Because, despite the lip service paid to the notion of God speaking through his Word, if you can reinterpret that Word according to your feelings and the culture of the day, and have the General Assembly pronounce itself as the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, the Bible then becomes little more than a source book for stories and proof texts for whatever we happen to believe that particular morning. It is not for nothing that we are warned at the end of the Bible not to add or take away from the Scripture that God has given.

As Jerome, a C of S minister, commented on his blog: ‘And where now will it end? Having crossed this line, it is on its own. It has made as its standard the truth of whatever the world says is now right, and it shall be guided by that. Having crossed this line, it can no longer be trusted to speak or know or live by what is revealed Truth. I foresee that any new fad, deviance or trend will ultimately become embraced by it.’

The Plea

Even at this last-ditch moment we plead with the faithful brothers and sisters who remain within the Church of Scotland to stand up, fight and vote this abomination down. I say this to all who care for the future of the Church, not just the evangelicals.  Continuing to go on this ‘trajectory’ is the road to the end of the Kirk. And I say that with great sorrow – for the sake of the Gospel and for the people of Scotland.

For evangelicals who remain: the game has been played out. And they have been played. Sometimes by their fellow evangelicals. The Establishment are relying on them to stay and put up a token fight, as long as they continue to fund the denomination. But for how long will the evangelicals be able to retain the biblical position? Whilst ‘the Holy Spirit’ is currently telling the GA that SSM is permissible, and that they are to be tolerated, who knows what will be ‘revealed’ in the years to come. I know and empathise with the fact that many must be torn between ministering to their congregations and communities and standing for the truth.

Is this about the Gospel? 

It will be argued that the evangelicals still currently have freedom to preach the Gospel and that this is not a Gospel issue. But is it that simple? What if this is about the Gospel? Surely it is about how we understand and know the Gospel and how we are faithful to Christ. When the early Christians were asked to bow down before Caesar I’m sure it could have been argued – ‘this is not a Gospel issue, you can continue to preach the Gospel and live in your Christian communities….why create a fuss about this? Why not just acknowledge Caesar and continue to try and reach out to your communities?” But the Lord calls us to be faithful at precisely the point where the culture/world/devil is attacking us. For us to compromise at that point and to take the easy ‘culturally sensitive’ option is surely for the church to be defeated.

‘For a Christian, there is only one right way to use the gift of sex: within marriage between one man and one woman. This is heresy to the modern world, and a hard saying upon which hearts, friendships, families, and even churches have been broken. There is no core teaching of the Christian faith that is less popular today, and perhaps none more important to obey.’ (Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, p196)

The desire of the report’s authors to see ‘mutual flourishing’ is a noble desire. But we need to remember that Glasgow’s motto is not ‘Let Glasgow flourish’ but rather ‘Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word’. I pray that the Church of Scotland will flourish, but it won’t. Not if God’s Word is to be so traduced, mocked and abused.

The Church and its Authority

When we had our discussions about the Free Church rejoining the Church of Scotland, they collapsed not because of tradition, personality or culture, but because at core there was a fundamental difference in our views of the Bible.  The Church gets its authority from the bible; the bible does not get its authority from us. We are faced with the stark choice of being guided by the Word which the Holy Spirit infallibly breathed out, or the General Assembly moving along with the cultural trends of the day. When the two contradict each other we cannot have both.

Where is the Free Church in all this? Standing on the side beaming with pride and glowing with barely concealed schadenfreude? God forbid. The Free Church is not the answer to Scotland’s woes. I don’t believe that we have compromised on this issue and in theory we do accept the authority of the Bible. I am profoundly thankful to be in a denomination where the bible is the authority.    But we have much repentance to do and problems of our own.   It is one thing to accept the authority and sufficiency of the Bible and another to act upon that. Traditions, cultures, personality and our own sinfulness often leads to a different kind of compromise. We need humility, renewal and repentance as much, if not more than the Church of Scotland.

“O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech you for all sorts and conditions of men; that you would be pleased to make your ways known to them, your saving health to all nations. More especially, we pray for the good estate of the Catholic Church; that is may be so guided and governed by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.” (Book of Common Prayer).

The Record Editorial – April 2017















  1. And those of us, in whatever denomination, or independent, who refuse to be ‘moved on’ or to ‘welcome debate’ or to ‘accept another’s viewpoint’ on these matters are simply told we are bigoted, stuck-in-the-mud, barstewards who are unloving and uncaring. Remember though, whatever they say, we love the Lord Jesus Christ, and we love the Word of God. And that’s why we take our stand.

  2. Bravo David. I am a hard man to please and hold a high view of the Church and the Word of God. Your piece was spot on and I pray it gets a wide audience.

  3. I left the CoS last year because I could no longer accept the theological, intellectual and spiritual contradictions it seems to expect its members to hold. Its joint campaign with Humanists to end Christian observance in schools, its partnership with the Islamic Finance Council to develop ethical financial products and, of course, its approach to SSM were just a few of its activities which made membership of the CoS and adherence to the Word of God mutually exclusive. I had to get out and I feel much the better for it, at peace within myself and clear in my conscience with my worship of God. Shortly after I left the Moderator signed the St Andrew’s Declaration, an inter-faith manifesto on our shared humanity. At least two of the 10 point declaration contradict and are incompatible with scripture and the gospel message which we have received from Jesus Christ.
    I have come to the conclusion that in believing everything – for that is what all of the above affirm – the CoS believes nothing. It has ceased to be a church and is now no more than a franchise seeking NGO status from a state which it slavishly obeys and seeks to please.
    As always, your analysis of the various documents emanating from CoS committees is spot on. Sadly, my erstwhile minister on being told about this document said that it contained nothing new and was “old hat.” With that kind of understanding of what is happening in the CoS coming from ministers what hope is there for its future?
    Within your own analysis we can see the subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) shift in the CoS’s stance on what it calls traditional church belief. Last year this was marriage between a single man and woman which individual congregations or Sessions could depart from following a vote. So last year the CoS introduced the concept of actually voting on whether to adhere to God’s commands or not. This year, within the context of “constrained difference” the “area of allowable disagreement within the tradition of the church” is not between traditional heterosexual, monogamous marriage and homosexual marriage but between “a covenanted relationship between two people” and for example “polyamorous unions…and marriage with robots.”
    What has become of the CoS? Of course, these two examples – extreme and unlikely as they are meant to appear thus ending all debate on the subject of marriage – are actually hostages to fortune as anyone following recent cultural developments in UK and advances in Artificial Intelligence will understand. The CoS will be back in a few years debating exactly these proposals in the name of progression, inclusion and freedom. It is another argument they will be forced to concede as they have no base line from which they will not depart i.e. the Word of God. It is therefore doomed to relive this experience to its utter destruction as a church. One can only hope that this time they do the deed quickly instead of dragging it out for twenty years or more.

  4. In his book, “J.C.Ryle:Prepared to stand Alone,” Iain Murray has a chapter on Herbert Ryle, who was to become the Bishop of Exeter and who was the son of J.C. Ryle. Here are some quotes. “He introduced his belief that Scripture is not the only standard. There is a continuing revelation of the mind of God. He saw the progression of knowledge in the 19th century as part of the evolution of man, led by the Spirit ‘that sanctifies our progress into fuller truth and larger hope’ Our witness is to be the declaration of the ‘word of God’ which is Christ in us and in our world; a new life not a dead tradition…the Christ of our country and of our century…it shall ever be that there will be truths both new and old revealed by the Spirit to successive generations.” , So it is not unfaithfulness to the word of God to accept ‘the interepretation of doctrine in terms of modern thought.’ Indeed that must be the way, for not to do so is to be left with ‘some very narrow isthmus of traditional orthodoxy’ with theology which ‘knows no expansion’ and ‘no room for intellectual freedom.'” , Iain Murray opens the chapter on Herbert Ryle by saying, “It was not a difference between one generation and another – it would affect many generations to come – but a difference between what Protestantism had been and what it was becoming; between Scripture as the authoratative word of God, and Scripture re-interpreted by new principles. Herbert Ryle was representative of a current of belief that would carry all before it for more than a century to come.” All this made me think there is nothing new under the sun!

  5. There appears to be a parallel situation in the Church of England where a compromise was agreed on the issue of the ordination of women but an opponent was bullied into not accepting an appointment to a bishopric. And there is a parallel on the issue of blessing so-called same-sex ‘marriages’.
    As in the Church of Scotland, the ‘progressive’ side gets its way and makes certain promises to the traditional side. But the promises are rather like the piece of paper Chamberlain flourished on his return from Germany.

  6. There will come a time when this will be seen in the same light as those who used the Bible to prove the Sun circulated the Earth and enslaving captive nations was a God given right.

    1. Yawn….its the arrogance of this statement that always gets me….you just know that you are on the right side of history – even though its clear from the comment that you don’t even know what the history really is…

  7. Did I read something about a prize for spotting the elephant in the room? I think it is actually a wooly mammoth, with the emphasis on wooly. I have recently left the Piskys in anticipation of their change to the marriage cannon removing all references to male and/or female. I was told Scripture is inconclusive. Now I accept there are areas where Scripture is inconclusive or silent (some branches of Christendom would thing Talisker was forbidden) but the nature and purpose of marriage is not one of them. I am not a cessationist, nor are you David. God does speak and reveal Himself and His will today: if not we are in big trouble. “Fide sola” and “I found my heart strangely warmed within me” were both interventions and revelations by the Holy Spirit, but they were not in contradiction with the written Word. It is not unknow for one truth to be overemphasized to the detriment or obscuring of another truth. Luther may not have been all that enamoured with the Epistle of James but it is there and accepted as Scripture.

    On the question of church unity the difficulty with the Kirk is obvious, but I was glad to see the UF (my origins) had held (stead)fast and declined to maintain formal cooperation links after the Kirk’s pronouncement. Perhaps a shade more theological distinction between UF and the Free Church, but that should be a possible.

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