The Secularisation of the Church of Scotland – What Really Happened at the Assembly?

A Report on the 2017 Decision to Permit Same Sex Marriage

CofS GA2017

Much to no-ones surprise, the Church of Scotland General Assembly has just voted to accept the Theological Forum’s report which changes the Churches definition of marriage to include same sex marriages and to apologise to gay people for their previous understanding. I know there are various caveats and nuances but that is the reality of what has just happened – and although some will say ‘its not over’ – in the eyes of the Kirk, it’s a done deal.   One of the devils greatest tricks is that he loves to sow confusion and doubt, and thereby cause division. Yesterday was a great example of that. The following is an attempt to clear the fog and present a clear analysis and to show why the Theological Forum’s report, accepted by the Assembly, is poor theology, poor ecclesiology and poor practice.

My motive for writing this is not to have a go at the Church of Scotland – or to say ‘I told you so’ but is best summed up by John Owen:

“On these and the like considerations I have thought it necessary for myself, and unto the church of God, that the Scriptures should be diligently searched in and concerning this great matter; for none can deny but that the glory of God, the honour of the gospel, the faith and obedience of the church, with the everlasting welfare of our own souls, are deeply concerned herein.”

(Owen – Vol 3 – On the Holy Spirit – p44).

What Happened?

This report was placed before the Assembly. Unlike the previous six reports it makes no pretence to either balance or to assess what the bible actually says. It was argued that it was rather a ‘theological’ understanding – which is a rather interesting definition of what the word ‘theological’ means. Theology without the Bible is like Christianity without Christ.  You can read the whole report Here

Iain TorranceProfessor Iain Torrance, as convener, introduced the report. Iain is an excellent speaker and is an intelligent and compassionate man. I like him. In fact at one point he even did me the honour of referring to me as his ‘friend’, but on this occasion he is clearly on the wrong side of history/theology and the bible.   You can read his whole speech here.

I don’t wish to offer a detailed analysis of the whole speech, or the discussion that followed; just some lessons that we can all learn from it.

Given that the General Assembly accepted the report this is now the official position of the Church so, whilst recognising that there are Christians within the Church of Scotland who do not accept their own church’s teaching, I am now dealing with this as the official position of the Church of Scotland

1 – The Church of Scotland is wrong about Scripture and the Holy Spirit.

Firstly and most importantly – the view of Scripture which was espoused in the speech, and which, to be fair to Prof Torrance, is now the view of the Church of Scotland, is one that is far removed from the Reformed, Catholic and Apostolic view of the Church.  Why do I say that? Because it relies on saying that everything is about ‘interpretation’ and we are all on a spectrum of interpretation. So our interpretation becomes the measuring standard. The bible itself is fundamentally unclear. The Holy Spirit may have inspired the words, but He was clearly not able to make it clear and so he needs us to complete the job – or to re-interpret for the 21st century!

Again it astounds me how spiritual and charismatic our liberals sound when they use this language.   Prof Torrance spoke of being ‘guided by the Spirit of God, as we try to apply Scripture to the concrete messiness of living’. I would say Amen to that – except that I know what it means. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God, which he inspired, to guide and help us.   But this new version of ‘guidance’ largely sets aside the Word of God and relies instead on the courts of the church and the pontifications of theologians who may, or who may not, believe the Bible. In fact, they usually believe the bits of the Bible with which they agree and amazingly enough discover that the ‘Spirit’ is guiding them to reject those bits with which they disagree.   In this new version of guidance, unless you have a PhD in Theology from an institution that denies that the Spirit inspired the Bible, then you cannot be guided by the Spirit! This is not the church being the pillar and foundation of the truth – it is the church being the poisoner and underminer of the truth.

When, in response to a question about the lack of Scripture in the report, Prof Torrance replied, “We had six reports which dealt with Scripture…we were trying to do something else,” he inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. Those six reports had still left the church with the traditional biblical position which the Clerk of Assembly, John Chalmers, assured us even last year meant that the church’s position had not changed. But now they were trying something else – something other than Scripture.

I should also add that this view of the Holy Spirit is theologically and biblically bizarre and heretical. Rather than the Spirit being the third person of the Trinity who inspired the Scriptures, who uses them to regenerate people, and who guides through His inspired word, the Holy Spirit has become an ‘it’; a force which enables those in charge of the church to justify their going against the inspired Word. If they accept the personality of the Spirit at all, it is a split personality where the Spirit guides against what the Spirit guided! I would suggest that instead of reading Prof Song, the Theological Forum would be better off reading John Owen’s The Holy Spirit.

2 – The Church of Scotland first makes something permissive, then declarative.

It was astonishing to see how much Prof Torrance relied on the ordination of women as setting a precedent. He declared that heterosexual v. homosexual needs to be reframed like ordination of women.    But rather than support his report, I think his stress on this totally undermined it. Why?

He described how the Church of Scotland gradually introduced women for ordination and then came to a ‘deeper’ understanding that the priest was representing Christ at the Eucharist in his person not his gender.   For a Presbyterian this is a strange argument. When did the Church of Scotland ever think that the minister was a priest who represented Christ at the communion? We have always believed in the priesthood of all believers. We have ministers who are to preach the Word (incidentally removing faith in the Word kind of wrecks that and turns ministers into administrators and glorified social workers – talk about turkeys voting for Christmas!), pastor and care for the flock and to administer the sacraments. We are not priests in the Roman Catholic sense.

But the main issue here is that the issue of women’s ordination IS a clear indicator of how things will go. It is not the centrist/middle of the road way that the report claimed to be.   The position of the Church of Scotland now is that same sex marriage will be ‘permitted’ but not mandatory.  In other words, protections should be in place for those who ‘in good conscience’ (i.e. they believe the Bible and what Jesus teaches) cannot perform them. But this won’t last long, despite these nice sounding, if somewhat arrogant, words:

“After much discussion the Forum saw this as one of those historic points where a deepening occurs in theological thinking, where suddenly the pieces of a long argument come together in a different way. Where both sides can flourish, both may be protected and both may be celebrated.”

What happened with the women’s ordination question? What was once permissive, very soon became declarative – and all without the Assembly voting again on the subject. Indeed at this Assembly there were calls for those who believed that the Holy Spirit inspired 1 Timothy to leave the church! So much for tolerance and the buzz phrase of the Assembly ‘constrained difference’.

Of course the trajectory having been set (and it was set in 2007), there is no way it is going to end here.  Just as the evangelical congregations who refused women’s ordination were picked off one by one (the larger ones were of course left to last because they were the ones who were paying lots of money and providing ministers) so, within a decade, it will be considered sinful to go against what the Spirit has been so clearly teaching the churches. It is disingenuous to claim that ‘both sides will be celebrated’. This is not the case even within the report where the evangelical side is caricatured to the point of mockery.   At best, the biblical side will be tolerated because the C of S cannot afford to lose many of its best givers and workers Besides which, where are the liberals going to get their converts from? Liberalism is so unattractive and has nothing to say to non-Christians, they need to fish in the evangelical pool! At worst, evangelicals will be increasingly marginalized, especially as more and more of them will sell out to the spirit of the age and go silent.

3 – The Church of Scotland is Confused in its Theology.

There was a lack of clear theological thinking. I hate to say this of a respected theologian but there was one stand out phrase which seemed to me theological nonsense. Jesus becoming incarnate ‘changed what it is to be human’. I don’t think it did. A human being before Christ was the same as a human being after Christ. I think he became what we are that we might, to some extent, become what he is.  But he didn’t change what humanity is. He certainly set up the possibility for humans to change; from our fallen, sinful state in Adam, into a new creation. Unless Prof Torrance believes that, by virtue of the incarnation every single human being is saved (even if they don’t want to be) I cannot see this making any sense at all.

4 – The Church of Scotland lacks clear logical thinking.

Apparently it is sufficient if people live in faithful relationships whether those relationships are homosexual or heterosexual. On that basis, the Church of Scotland will have to accept both polygamy (why can’t people be faithful to their two wives or their two husbands?) and incest. Is the Theological Forum prepared to follow its own reasoning to its logical conclusion?

Another astonishing use of illogical language and caving into the culture was the use of the term ‘non-binary’; not in the sense of gender identity (although the C of S will cave on that one much quicker than they have on SSM) but rather in the sense of there being more than two positions.  Forgive me for using that Scottish Common Sense Philosophy but is the question not, “Can same sex marriages be performed in the Church of Scotland?” One position is Yes. The other position is No. What would be the third non-binary position?

Imagine a couple standing before the minister at the wedding and the husband to be being asked, “Do you take this woman to be your lawful, wedded wife?” Imagine if he said, “I’d like to take a non-binary position.” I suspect this marriage would be over before it began! That is the level of illogicality being displayed here.

5 – The Church of Scotland is ignoring the teaching of Jesus.

When it came to the questions there was one cracker.  Did Jesus not teach about marriage as being between a man and a woman?  After a pause for thought, Prof Torrance suggested that this was not a definitive list of relationships blessed by Jesus. The follow up question should have been, “OK. Where is the list of those relationships blessed by Jesus?”  To be fair to Prof Torrance he obviously realised his answer was inadequate and came back later to talk about it being about divorce.

But the real importance of that question was simply this. Jesus’ teaching about marriage did not even appear in the report! Remember that this was a theological report for the church about marriage – and it didn’t even mention the clear teaching of Jesus!

6 – The Church of Scotland is in danger in the Middle of the Road

Let’s talk about the middle of the road. Much to my astonishment Prof Torrance cited me as his friend and quoted my statement about ‘the person who stands in the middle of a road gets hit by a bus’.  Other commissioners picked up this analogy as well. Prof Torrance decided to accept the analogy and declared, “I am happy to be in the middle of the road.”

‘‘my friend David Robertson, who blogs as The Wee Flea, speaks about the middle of the road.’  I am happy to be in the middle of the road”.

There are two things to say about that. Firstly, the report is not remotely ‘middle of the road.’ The only carrot it offers to evangelicals is, “We won’t prosecute you and we will try to protect you from prosecution.”   Secondly, the more important issue is illustrated by a friend of mine who, when we were crossing the road opposite Pollock Halls in Edinburgh, pompously mocked us as we ran to avoid a bus.  “It’s not cool to run!” whereupon he got clipped by the bus.  Our response, in the midst of the laughter, was “It’s even less cool to be hit by a bus!”

Rev Lesley Stewart thought that the report had provided a middle ground and she picked up on the bus analogy. “It’s not about throwing people on one side or the other under the traffic.” But here, neither she nor Prof Torrance grasps the analogy. The bus in the road is not one of the various theological camps within the church which they, as skillful traffic policemen, are somehow directing.   No. What is in the middle of the road, coming like a truck to hit us,  is the contemporary secular culture; the ‘elemental spiritual forces of this world’ (Colossians 2;8). ‘The middle of the road’ approach suggested by the Forum is powerless before such forces. The church will be carried along by the culture and blown here and there by every wind of doctrine.

I’m sure Prof Torrance will recall that Jesus spoke about this ‘middle of the road’ attitude. He called it ‘lukewarmness’, blowing neither hot nor cold. Rather then applaud at the ‘tolerance’ and being ‘led in the new way of the Spirit’, it made Jesus sick.   (Revelation 3:15-16.)

7-  The Hypocrisy and Impossibility of ‘Constrained Difference.’

What about this constrained difference? One liberal minister stood up and said that though she had disagreed with a neighbouring colleague who was a strong evangelical, yet they worked and worshipped together. She asked, “Is that not what should be aiming for?”  In doing so she actually placed her finger on one of the key problems and key reasons for the decline of the Church.

Far too often evangelicals have bought into this doctrine of ‘constrained difference’; giving the impression to people that these were just minor theological differences of no great difference and that they were just representatives of one party within the church. This is the road to self-destruction.

Let me put it another way. Supposing I had a colleague who was an out and out racist. Suppose that I just said, “Well, that’s his view. We just disagree on that…but we work together with ‘constrained difference’.” What message would that convey? Why is it any different when someone professes a different faith, a different God and a different Bible to the one I profess?  If you doubt that, please read Gresham Machen’s ‘Christianity and Liberalism’.

‘Constrained difference’ is a lie.  

In the New Testament, Paul faced a similar situation with a church that the C of S faces today.   The church at Corinth was into ‘constrained difference’ about several issues, not least sexual practice and idolatry. Paul’s response was not to waffle, or to create a new theology, or to suggest that we all just be nice to one another (the modern translation of ‘love’).   Nor did he say that they got it so wrong in the Old Testament.  Instead, he quoted Leviticus, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Samuel and applied sanctified logic and theology to ask them:

What fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?’

(2 Corinthians 6 – read the whole chapter!).

8 – Evangelicals are hamstrung by the doctrine of niceness. 

There were some good speeches from evangelicals. Stephen Reid, Hector Morrison, Alastair Horne, Jonathan De Groot and others spoke up for the Lord.   In fact, I think the vast majority of speeches were from them.  And, like in the past couple of years, I wondered why the liberals were so silent.   Admittedly, they were not silent all the time. Occasionally the mask slipped. One liberal minister warning about the ‘lack of respect being shown to the Theological Forum.’   This snowflake theologian was saying, “Play nicely or we’ll take the ball away.”  Usually such passive aggressive threats are met by evangelicals apologizing; because the last thing we can ever do is appear to be ‘not nice’!

But the reason for the liberals being so silent is that they didn’t have to speak. It was already in the bag. I think the attitude is, “Let the evangelicals have their wee rants and their amendments. Why, we can even afford to let them have a few wee victories, but they won’t get anywhere and they won’t do anything.”

Actually, the evangelicals didn’t even come close to getting any crumbs of victory. The evangelicals have been politically and spiritually naïve. The Establishment have played them beautifully. Even today the debate was curtailed and kept very limited. The establishment were so confident that they could even afford to leave the debate to the very end, when at least 200 commissioners were not present or could not be bothered voting.

The first counter motion failed – 249:149.   As did every other one.  The most stunning was the failure of Hector Morrison’s entirely reasonable motion.  All it asked was that those sections of the report that were clearly biased and misrepresented the evangelical position, should be removed. But even that small, simple and honest request was denied.   The whole thing was a charade and a mockery.

That charade is something that will hurt and wound many evangelicals within the Kirk when they become aware of it.  But sadly there are too many evangelicals who now play along with it. They are more prepared to have ‘constrained difference’ with those who deny the faith once delivered to the saints, than they are to have constrained difference with those of us outside the Kirk. They pay lip service to Christian unity, but denominational unity is the modus operandi of their ministry. This needs to stop. Denominations do not matter – the one Church of Christ does.

9 – The Church of Scotland is inconsistent and hypocritical when it comes to ecumenical relations and evangelicals. 

It was good that Colin Sinclair’s amendment to ‘consult with other ecumenical partners’ was accepted by the convener. But it too will make no difference.

On the one hand, a call was made for those who don’t accept women’s ordination to leave and the Kirk permitted SSM. On the other hand, the Kirk was lauding links with the Coptic church; a church which does not allow women’s ordination and regards homosexual practice as a sin.

Every time the goalposts get moved as different carrots are dangled and different sticks used. We have moved from ‘victory’ being seen as preventing the Kirk from moving away from biblical doctrine to ‘victory’ now being that evangelicals can be permitted to hold to biblical doctrine, as long as they don’t let it interfere with the church!

10 – The Theological Forum Report was clear in its rejection of the Biblical position.

I want to commend Prof Torrance and the Forum for not writing, as he put it, a watered down report. After six reports of acknowledging the evangelical position (and seeking to keep them on board) this was the time to remove the gloves.  Prof Torrance said that they could have written a report full of stories about those who had been marginalized – the usual modus operandi of the liberals – but instead he wanted to take this theological approach. I give him credit for that.

Of course there are other stories that could be recognised, not least those Christians who do experience same sex attraction yet are trying to be faithful to Christ and the Scriptures (only to have the ground cut under from them by the church saying that, after all these centuries, both the church and the Bible got it wrong and now ‘the Spirit’ is leading us into pastures new. Isn’t it convenient that these pastures just reflect the zeitgeist of our contemporary culture?)

I agreed with Prof Torrance when he said, “We owe God honour and worship.” Amen! But it’s what is not said that is just as important. We also owe him obedience and love. If you love me you will obey my commands.

11 – Where is the zeal for the honour and glory of God?

When evangelicals are reduced to saying, “The report belittles my tradition,” then the game is over.   Who cares about our traditions? We should be fired up for the glory of God.  The Church of Scotland today exchanged the truth of God for a lie. That should cause us to tremble…and weep.

But the church is not trembling and weeping….it is boasting about its own humility and grace! If you want to see what I mean have a look Here at what 121 put out as their account of the meeting. I have a feeling that 121 would consider that much of the Bible lacked grace and humility and was lacking in ‘respectful dialogue’!

I’m sorry but I watched the whole thing and I did not see or hear much grace and humility. I heard a church being so arrogant as to say that the Bible was wrong; that the whole church had been wrong for 2,000 years and that the vast majority of the church is wrong today.

I heard dialogue being curtailed, stage managed and manipulated in a way that the control freaks of political parties could learn from.

I saw political manipulation, spinelessness and Godlessness at work.

There were exceptions – but these were notable precisely because they were exceptions.   There was little or no repentance, humility or desire for the honour and glory of God.

12 – There is no going back.

Hector Morrison made a very interesting observation:

“We recognise we are in a situation of constrained difference – there is no going back”. 

Hector Morrison
Hector Morrison

This is a dose of welcome realism. For years I have been listening to evangelicals say that one more push and we will be over the top and evangelicals will reverse the situation.   At least Hector’s position is a more realistic assessment.

 

The Church of Scotland will not return to a more biblical position. The question is now whether evangelicals can live with that in a hierarchical, highly controlled and centralized system?  Can they fulfill their ordination vows by submitting to an Assembly which so clearly and specifically does theology without the Bible?

 

Where do we go from here?

This article is already too long so that will have to wait for another day but let me finish by returning to the title of this article. Why do I describe this as, ‘The Secularisation of the Church of Scotland’?   It’s because the reason the Church of Scotland is affirming SSM has nothing to do with theology (despite Professor Torrance’s well meaning intentions), nor the Bible, nor Jesus. It is simply following the agenda of the culture.

This was seen in so many other ways.  In fact, for all the pious spiritual talk, the Assembly sounded more like the Lib-Dems at prayer than it did a Christian Church!  After writing this article I came across this in Nick Spencers ‘ The Mighty and the Almighty.  It seemed apposite.  Speaking of Gordon Brown –

 “Theologian Doug Gay finds Brown to be one among a generation of high profile Scottish Protestants who would display a residual loyalty to the Kirk as a source of identity, but who show very little sign of ever having been emotionally, spiritually or intellectually captured by the Christian gospel: Brown is the ‘quintessential, modernist, demythologised, liberal, kultur – Presbyterian'”

The C of S has become the ‘quintessential, modernist, demythologised, liberal, kultur – Presbyterian'” church!

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Prof Torrance used Martin Luther’s phrase somewhat jocularly, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” It’s actually a matter of dispute as to whether Luther actually used this phrase but, if he did, it came at the end of a speech in which he stated:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”  

The Theological Forum was not taking a Luther like stand on the Word of God. It was going precisely against Luther’s position. In fact, it’s even worse. Instead of, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other,’ the Church of Scotland’s position is now, ‘Whatever the culture says we will meekly follow on. It doesn’t matter what the Holy Scriptures say.’

I know that the Convener of the Youth Report meant well when he spoke about gender non-conforming, transgender and gender justice but he might as well have been speaking at the Scottish Youth Parliament, as at a Christian Assembly.   The secularization of the Kirk is almost complete. It is a disaster for the whole church in Scotland and for the people of Scotland.

Earlier in the Assembly the following was unanimously accepted:

“The General Assembly issue a call to the Church of Scotland to pray that God will do a fresh work amongst us as God’s people and instruct Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to consider how best to respond to this call”  

This was described by one evangelical organization as a ‘good start to the Assembly’.  It would have been if it had had any meaning. As it stands, it was just pietistic, meaningless, spiritual waffle.  I would simply ask – which God? Who are God’s people? What is a ‘fresh work’?   If we are calling out to a God whom we just invent and ignore the God who is there, then we are wasting our time.

The Church of Scotland – like all of us – needs to stop being so arrogant, proud and blind. We need to recognize what is going on. We need to stop telling God where he has got it wrong. Ironically, we need the very thing that the C of S was boasting that it had, whilst demonstrating it did not; grace and humility.

And those of us who are professing bible believing Christians should repent of our own cowardice, lack of love, repentance and humility. We should stop commending, working with and supporting those who mock  Jesus, his Bible and those people who seek to remain faithful to him.  And we should do our utmost to work with believers who accept the words of Christ and seek to be faithful to him.

Let The Word have the last word.

John 17:6                               “I have revealed you a to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.

8 For I gave them the words you gave mea and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me…

 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.


UPDATES

In the early evening edition of Reporting Scotland on BBC 1 last night, there was a rather interesting providence in the running order of the news items on the programme.  Watch to see what comes after the report on the Church of Scotland. (for those who don’t know Hill’s most famous photo hangs in the Free Church Presbytery Hall in Edinburgh – it is a photo of the Disruption).


LINKS

I have followed this issue for ten years and written much about this trajectory. Sadly, although I was mocked and abused for predicting this day, what I feared has come to pass.   If you type ‘Church of Scotland’ in the search facility of this blog you will come across the articles.  Here are some:

What the Bible Really Says About Sex and Sexuality

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

https://theweeflea.com/2015/10/23/whither-church-of-scotland-evangelicals-now/

https://theweeflea.com/2014/05/22/reflections-on-a-sunny-sad-historic-afternoon-at-the-church-of-scotland-general-assembly/

39 thoughts on “The Secularisation of the Church of Scotland – What Really Happened at the Assembly?

  1. Strong stuff. Good stuff.

    As for ‘mutual flourishing’ – well, we’ve seen how that works out in the CofE, its utterly one-sided. It isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that the CofE will take this CoS report and rewrite it for their own use. The major denominations are making a positive out of apostasy.

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  2. Thanks for speaking out so clearly, David. I thought 10+ years ago that the CoS had lost its way (so chose the Free Church instead), but now it’s given up on The Way! I’m grateful there is at least one denomination in Scotland that is still essentially Biblical.

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  3. A sad day for all Christians.
    As for the Lib Dems at prayer, I was a member of the party (Lord forgive me) for many years and would say that the leading members of the Scottish Party were probably either atheists or liberal Protestants. Catholics were very much notable for their absence. Over the years I would say that the influence of the atheists has grown and the influence of the liberal Protestants has probably declined, simply because there are fewer of them.
    Both groups are united in their fanatical hostility to Catholic schools as was shown by several debates at the Scottish Party Conference where speakers in favour were almost non-existent. And the only thing that stopped them making the abolition of Catholic schools a party policy was a plea from an elder statesman that this might not be wise from an electoral point of view. Nothing to do with principle.On the issue of abortion the party at one time held it to be a matter of individual conscience. We know from the Farron farrago that that is no longer the case.

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  4. I listened to the debate and this is a truly excellent and graceful analysis and account of what emerged yesterday in Edinburgh, David. As I have written before I left the CoS last year and your article just confirms again that to remain in that church would be akin to remaining in a burning building in spite of the pleas of those outside to get out.
    In my view Prof Torrance, on behalf of the CoS, announced that this church has cut a deal with the secular world which will probably buy it a few more years of funding and teas with the First Minister of the day. Can you imagine Jesus Christ cutting a deal with Pilate in order to get out of prison while Barabbas goes free? No, neither can I. Shame on CoS.

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  5. Thank you David for your usual clarity …

    I have noticed a couple of things regarding the media coverage of the CofS decision … the first is that there is very little … this is not really considered news ! Yes, there are lots of important things going on in the country at the moment but the CofS has changed its doctrine of marriage and no-one is taking any notice.

    Secondly, it seems that the acceptance of SSM is always to be tied to apologising for past sins of homophobia, this re-enforces the impression that if a church does not agree with SSM it is automatically homophobic, bigoted etc.

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  6. Some points from your post, in the order in which they appear, rather than following your numbering. Caveat- I’ve not read the full transcript of the speech.

    1 “After much discussion the Forum saw this as one of those historic points where a deepening occurs in theological thinking, where suddenly the pieces of a long argument come together in a different way…”
    Not sure where there is evidence of a “deepening:” facile and flaccid, more likely, especially as this theological thought seems to have taken place outside the confines of biblical theology. And it was so “sudden” that everyone, even those of prophetically gifted, could see it coming. It could be said that it smacks of an easy and contemptuous, incontrovertible , untouchable, untouched detached superiority, wrapped up in a generalisation.

    2 “Jesus becoming incarnate ‘changed what it is to be human”. Again this is theologically sounding, obfuscation. How? In what ways? There must be some unrevealed, deep, professorial unattributed reasoning here, otherwise, as you say, “it makes no sense at all Let’s have that explanation. please. You’ve been kind in your comment here David. Jesus, the last Adam, initiated a new humanity, in Him. We are either “in ” the first Adam or in Christ, the last Adam.

    3 “non binary” language shows the the influences on current academic theological thinking. There is not a “spectrum” here. It is binary that is , it is” either/or”, not “both/and” God’s way or ours. The first rule in the canon of interpretation of Statutes as in scripture is, if something has a plain meaning it must be given that meaning, as intention has be made clear in the use of words.

    4 Middle of the road and bus. This reminds me of seminars as an undergraduate, where analogies could be deliberately, or ignorantly misused, mischievously misapplied, distorted and duffed-up.

    5 “The General Assembly issue a call to the Church of Scotland to pray that God will do a fresh work amongst us as God’s people and instruct Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to consider how best to respond to this call”

    What this, a call to prayer to give God multiple choice for doing “fresh work”? They don’t know what they are asking for. Is it asking God to do a fresh work to reestablish His dealings with His Old Testament covenant apostate people. Is it a call to winnow, to sift and shift and leave a remnant of true believers.

    It is part of God’s present judgement that He is “giving us over to our desires”. Your sermon on Romans, below, deals with this.

    6 In the video link to the BBC News, following on from Alistair Horne’s point that, “The the rights of God are being forgotten and the rights of man are being ….(elevated? – can’t make out the word).” Lesley Stewart said this “To bring God’s name into it all, calls into question MY calling, MY understanding of God, MY witness to scripture.” – post modern Deism defined, as has been said numerous times it is “(im)moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” “How dare God contradict me” is the word on the street, is the word in the theological enclaves. So much for the eternal counsels of God, when I can keep my own far better, counsel. What does God know? He couldn’t possibly have foreseen how western society has progressed, evolved. She will get a rude “awakening” on Judgment Day. Has she read the Old Testament and God’s dealing with His people and their “marrying” other gods, assimilating other cultures, their idolatry and “wearying Him with words.”

    What are we all going to say to God when we meet Him – ask for a second opinion when He is so morally inferior?

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  7. “The question is now whether evangelicals can live with that in a hierarchical, highly controlled and centralized system? Can they fulfill their ordination vows by submitting to an Assembly which so clearly and specifically does theology without the Bible?”

    Exactly.

    Which is why, in the explanatory statement I wrote when leaving the Church of Scotland, I wrote:

    “When I was ordained to the ministry of the Church of Scotland, one of the questions that I was required to answer was “Do you promise to be subject in the Lord to this Presbytery and to the superior courts of the Church, and to take your due part in the administration of its affairs?” I believe that it is right for ministers to have to answer such a question. I believe that ministers should have to promise to be subject to their Presbytery, and to the higher courts of the church. I also believe that this is simply an extension of the duty of all Christians to listen to their church and to obey its leaders and submit to their authority.

    But behind the Biblical instruction for Christians to obey their leaders and submit to their authority, lies the assumption that those leaders are able to provide faithful leadership. This does not mean that one expects those leaders to be perfect or infallible. It does, however, mean that one expects those leaders to have a reasonable knowledge of the Bible’s teaching and to be faithful to that teaching.

    To put it another way, it is the job of the church to exercise quality control over its members, and in order to do so, it needs to exercise quality control over its leaders. That is why ministers and elders in the Church of Scotland are required to subscribe to a confession of faith. It is also the reason why the New Testament says that those who are in positions of church leadership should hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that they can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

    A church that is not willing to ensure that its leaders hold firmly to the teaching of the Bible, does not itself hold firmly to the teaching of the Bible. A church that does not hold to the teaching of the Bible is lacking an essential and necessary characteristic of a real Christian church, because it will be unable to carry out what is one of its most basic tasks: to guide its members in following Jesus faithfully.

    Since one of the main reasons that Christians are obliged to be part of a church is so that they can be guided in faithfully following Jesus, then Christians should seek to be members of churches that hold firmly to the teaching of the Bible.”

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  8. Pope Pius X against the one-world religion
    “And now, overwhelmed with the deepest sadness, We ask Ourselves, Venerable Brethren, what has become of the Catholicism of the Sillon? Alas! this organization which formerly afforded such promising expectations, this limpid and impetuous stream, has been harnessed in its course by the modern enemies of the Church, and is now no more than a miserable affluent of the great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a one-world church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy, neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions, and which, under the pretext of freedom and human dignity, would bring back to the world (if such a church could overcome) the reign of legalized cunning and force, and the oppression of the weak, and of all those who toil and suffer. We know only too well the dark workshops in which are elaborated these mischievous doctrines which ought not to seduce clear-thinking minds.”
    (Our Apostolic Mandate, Pope St. Pius X, 1910).
    http://www.tldm.org/Directives/d12.htm

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  9. Thanks for this clear analysis David.
    One thing I thought was rather interesting, was the seemingly contradictory ways in which the nature and purpose of the report was represented.

    On the one hand, Prof Torrence claimed that the forum was made up of a variety of theological viewpoints including evangelical voices, and the conclusion of the report that they “find” there to no longer be grounds for denying SSM, all give the impression that the report was a comprehensive inquiry into the issue and that the conclusion was just that – a conclusion emerging from investigation without being predetermined.

    But on the other hand, as you point out, the response “we were trying to do something else” to the lack of scriptural engagement, the very title “towards a theology…”, and the intellectually-questionable method of basing the whole thing on precisely one unconvincing recent strand of thought (and not dealing with any of the other aspects of the theology of marriage and gender) give the impression that the report is rather a socratic exercise to find some kind of justification for an arbitrary predetermined conclusion. But if this is the case, how can the conclusion carry any moral or theological weight?

    The problem is that one of these things can be true, but not both! Prof Torrence would have us believe the former, but it seems to me rather plain that it is the latter that is true, but with the undeserved intellectual authority of the former.

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  10. David,

    I can only thank you for, and applaud your article and position on Scripture.

    I’ve sat through similar conferences and similar outcomes and watched what were once faithful congregations become nothing more than social clubs which gather on Sunday, sing songs and listen to speakers, an action which is simply the cost of attendance at the meeting.

    I can only think that those who speak of a “fresh work of God” have no concept of what that “fresh work” may mean for them. I suggest it may not be what they think!

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  11. After listening to some Alistair Begg teaching on Belonging here is a further thought on “middle of the road ” and “binary “. He clearly. pronounced “The plain thing should be the main thing and the main thing the plain thing.”
    Is that not plain enough?

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  12. A cautionary note. – It is to be remembered that even atheists are theologians and theologians can be atheists, or non – Christian. The question is, what sort of theology is subscribed to?

    This is not to place prof Torrance in either category, expressly or by implication.

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  13. GRANDVIEW pastors On Fri, May 26, 2017 at 4:49 AM THE BLOG OF DAVID ROBERTSON wrote:

    > theweeflea posted: “The Secularisation of the Church of Scotland – A > Report on the 2017 Decision to Permit Same Sex Marriage Much to no-ones > surprise the Church of Scotland General Assembly has just voted to accept > the Theological Forum’s report which changes the Churches” >

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  14. David, thank you a considered post as always.

    I am going to change from my usual position of defending the C of S and agree with you about what amounts to apostacy to a point. What I mean by a point is not dissimilar to what you mentioned a few years ago about everyone including those who claim to be evangelical needing to repent.

    I’m glad you brought up Luther. Of course he spoke of the invisible church of which part of the visible church is belonging to.

    There’s nothing new under the sun.

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  15. Lastly, thank goodness.

    This whole debacle put me in mind of the “Jesus Seminar” from a number of years ago, a notoriously skeptical, unbelieving, liberal, bunch of academics, steeped in “higher-critical” methodology, which, in turn, absorbed atheistic philosophy of the “Enlightenment” and subsequently in Rudolf Bultmann’s espousal of myth in scripture.

    They were/are the “Bash Street Kids” of theology, dressed in , suited and booted, in the gowns of the respectable academy, but living in, not Ivory, but, “Bash Street Towers” where they give anguished communal voice to Gnipper’s mantra “What would Gnasher do?”

    Their Bash Street theological motto is “One for all and all for (fun) love.” They are frequently heard to sing the Stephen Still’s chorus “Love the one you’re with.”

    Among them is “Smiphy” or Aristotle Smith, whose motto is “I don’t get things wrong. I just answer questions in a different order.”

    Then there are the “Squelchy Things” which are everywhere. Fact: Only the Squelchy King can tell a squelchy thing what to do.

    Of course, there is “Sydney Kate Pye”, “Toots” to her friends, whose motto is, “I’m in charge”

    Who could forget “Roger the Dodger”: Motto “If at first you don’t succeed, dodge, dodge again.”

    Must stop.

    Apologies to the Beano.

    All Bash Street theologians are fictitious and their characters are not to be attributed in any way to members of the CoS Theological Forum, who I do not know at all.,

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  16. Many, many apologies, but this is from CS Lewis, which I’ve just read on Andrew Wilson’s blog. Oh, how apt, in this whole matter. It merits reading, even if previously read.

    C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter 27:
    Only the learned read old books, and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View.

    The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (especially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present sate of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be regarded as unutterably simple-minded.

    And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to Our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that ‘history is bunk,’

    Your affectionate uncle,
    Screwtape

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  17. I must admit that as I watched some of the debate the other day I was waiting – in vain as it happened – for an evangelical with backbone to stand up and oppose the Convenor’s presentation in terms of ‘You are wrong’. I am confident that had John Knox been there he would not have been as respectful of these false teachers as was the case on Thursday. My 1st year hermeneutics students could drive a coach and horses through the appalling and inept handling of Scripture of one of the CofS’s ‘finest’ theologians.With him at the helm, no wonder the CofS is in the theological mess it is in. I pray for the church’s renewal and revival but in it’s present form and mindset, as a friend said to me earlier today, the sooner it dies the better.

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  18. Thank you David, for ploughing through those dreadful reports and extracting the substance for us, which must have been a dismal task.
    Thank God I left the CofS no later than I did, though I could wish it had been earlier.

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  19. At the 2016 General Assembly of Australia, the following resolution was agreed to:
    That the Assembly:

    1. Express its concern at the decision of the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to allow congregations to call ministers who are living in a same-sex relationship, a relationship which is not allowed in Holy Scripture.

    2. Advise the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland that:

    a) while this Assembly is thankful for its heritage, which owes much to the Church of Scotland, it cannot consider the Presbyterian Church of Australia to be in fellowship with the Church of Scotland in the light of that decision.

    b) notwithstanding the foregoing resolutions, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia will continue to pray for the Church of Scotland, especially that the King and Head of the Church would give it a renewed conviction of the truth, relevance and authority of the Word of God in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

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  20. If you want to understand the Church of Scotland then these statistics from this year’s reports tell the story:

    1375 congregations
    944 new members by profession of faith

    This is why they are reframing themselves as a service organisation and engaging more with the government.

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  21. That’s all very well and good, David, and there is much truth in what you say, but you do belong to a church that holds two different scriptural positions on both baptism and the worship. If this is possible for these fundamental doctrines, why not marriage? These positions are no less illogical and irrational than the CoS position and on marriage. Scripture only has one meaning. God is not the author of confusion.

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    1. I don’t belong to a church that holds two different scriptural positions on either baptism or worship. We hold to what the Westminster Confession teaches about both. What ‘fundamental’ doctrine is being disputed? Scripture only has one meaning? So you would exclude everyone who does not agree with your interpretation of EVERYTHING? I suspect your church would be very small!

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  22. The Apostle Paul began 1 Corinthians 5 by saying:

    “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: a man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” New International Version – UK (NIVUK).

    The author of arguably half the New Testament concludes in verse 9-13 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.” (NIVUK).

    However when the inmates have taken over the Asylum and the propagators of sexual Immorality are running the so called church, and we are therefore unable to ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’ We must realise that true followers of Jesus Christ remain obligated ‘not to associate with sexually immoral people’ who profess to be Christians.
    Consequently true followers of Christ having read Titus 3:10-11 ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.’ (NIVUK) We must realise that “The Church” (THE BODY OF CHRIST) has left the Building.

    In the same way that the pop star Prince became known as “the artist formally known as Prince”. So also the liberal institution that is the C of S will become known as The Organisation Formally Known As, The Church of Scotland.

    Whatever remains within, will be burnt up as the apostate chaff that it is & Hell will not mend them.

    1 Corinthians 1:18-25. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

    ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
    20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (NIVUK)

    Thus say the lord, Come out from among them flee Sodom & don’t look back lest you also are turned into a pillar of salt.

    Enough said. Get out for Christ’s sake.

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  23. P.S. As always, Well done David “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” Also I loved & wholeheartedly concur with your comments John (John Brand).

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  24. A great article. I agree with the poster who suggests the Kirk as re-framing itself as a service organization. The writing’s been on the wall for a long time that if you want a grant, you can’t be faith-based. It’s secularism and survival of the organizational leviathan.

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  25. Late in the day , but I was prompted by NY Honours List to Torrance . David , your article is brilliant and always worth reading but my ‘hobby horse ‘ is on the Priesthood of all believers.’ . Why is it that us lay scum are not permitted to lead Communion services in C of S or Free C of S ? I attend a Free C of S but this year’s Assembly simply said that they were not minded to change the situation …..ie no scriptural back up from the Free . Jesus said ‘ do this in remembrance of me ‘ NOT get a degree and whether you believe or not …….
    Generally speaking isn’t it hypocritical to preach equality in support of SSM but then have these titles like Very Rev for being an elected by committee to serve one year and is Torrance a real man of the ordinary pleb ? I think not given his schooling etc ….and if these kind of people had an ounce of Jesus’s grace we might relate to ordinary plebs like I am proud to be .
    It might be that independent Christian fellowships are the way forward but neither Church seems to want to admit they exist .
    I know turn the other cheek !

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