An Important Election
Yesterday there was an important election which took place in Scotland. It was much closer than expected although the result turned out to be the same. The Scottish Episcopal Church voted to change its rules on marriage and to redefine marriage so that they can perform same-sex marriages. In one sense this is of far more significance than the other election that was taking place throughout the United Kingdom. Kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall, but the Church of God goes on forever. However not every institution that calls itself a church remains as such.
When churches turn away from the word of God, they are losing their foundations and they will soon collapse, even though the outward appearance may look the same. The church is of far more significance than any political institution, and so in this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is distressing that one of its main fruits, the Anglican Church, has at least in part, departed from the word of God, which was the foundation of that Reformation.
The decision was in one sense taken by the narrowest of margins. If just one clergyman had changed position then the motion in favour of same-sex marriage would not have passed. I have discussed many times the biblical position on marriage – summed up simply in the teaching of Jesus that marriage is between a man and a woman. For any who profess to be his followers, to turn away from that teaching, is something to be mourned and not celebrated.
“its time for the church to celebrate what is celebrated in secular society”.
Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow put it quite starkly: “its time for the church to celebrate what is celebrated in secular society”. In that one sentence he describes precisely what is wrong with what has been done. Can you imagine the apostle Paul, Calvin and Luther, Cranmer or most importantly, Jesus, saying such a thing? The Scottish Episcopal Church has decided to be guided by the zeitgeist of the secular society, rather than the word of God. In so doing it has removed itself from the teaching of the rest of the Anglican Church, from the vast majority of the rest of the Christian church, and most of all from Jesus Christ. Christ is no longer head of the Anglican Church. They may talk about the Holy Spirit having guided and spoken to them, but to my mind that comes very close to blasphemy – saying that the Spirit contradicts himself and denies what he inspired in his own word.
Compromise and Unity
It’s always interesting how this is presented as a compromise. We are told that no clergyman will be compelled to do a same sex marriage – as though this were some kind of great concession. It’s a bit like the church voting to permit slavery, and then saying, “well you don’t have to have a slave”! The fact is that this is a church of turning away from the word of Christ, and then having the nerve to say to some of its clergy, well you don’t have to!
Along with this, the victors celebrated by declaring that this was a church that had decided to stay together. They may have been somewhat premature. There are a small group of faithful Anglican churches and clergyman within the Scottish Episcopal Church who refuse to bow the knee to Baal, and who are in the process of setting up separate oversight. This is their press release:
The Scottish Anglican Network is a movement of Christians – including clergy and laity – within the Scottish Episcopal Church who are seeking to follow the teaching of Jesus Christ, and therefore to retain and restore the Bible to the heart of Anglican churches in Scotland. Today the majority of the members of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church approved an amendment to its canons in order to change its doctrine of marriage and permit same-sex weddings to be celebrated by nominated clergy in its churches. We completely disagree with this action.
As Christians, we believe that it is through Jesus Christ – and only through him – that we can truly know God, and truly know ourselves. Jesus clearly taught that marriage is a good gift from God, and is a faithful, lifelong union between one man and one woman. Though all of us fall short of his standards, not least in the area of sexual morality, we believe that following this teaching is essential to the flourishing of his forgiven people.
The Scottish Episcopal Church is today rejecting this teaching, failing to support those in our churches who are same-sex attracted but who choose to live their lives in obedience to Jesus’ teaching, misleading the church and the world, and acting in a schismatic way towards the worldwide Anglican communion today and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of which it claims to be a part.
Our fellowship with the Scottish Episcopal Church has therefore been impaired by this action, and we will now work on how this must be expressed. We will continue to trust, uphold and contend for the teaching of Jesus Christ in his church in Scotland, and to share the momentous news that he died and rose again so that anyone can come to him for forgiveness and eternal life.
We are thankful for the Anglican Primates leading the GAFCON movement who have supported us in prayer and with their wisdom. We are also grateful for their decision to consecrate a missionary bishop to provide oversight and care for churches facing circumstances like ours. We look forward to building stronger relationships with the leaders and churches of the global Anglican Communion who remain faithful to Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.
This is how to stand up to an apostate denomination when you are a member within it. Well done to our faithful Anglican brothers and sisters. There is surely a challenge here for those within the Church of Scotland who hold to the biblical teaching. If the Anglicans can set up a separate bishopric, why can’t evangelicals in the Church of Scotland not set up a separate presbytery? It’s time to rebel against those who rebel against the word of God.
Why are we interested in this?
What does this have to do with other Christians? Everything. What goes on in any branch of the church of Jesus Christ affects all of us. Rev Scott Rennie, who was the cause celebre for the same issue within the Church of Scotland clearly thinks so. He wrote the following in the Herald.
“As they meet in Synod this week, I hope they will catch the Spirit of God, which sets us free: to love and be loved. I wish my friends well, and hope they will take a step forward in recognising the blessing of marriage in the lives of all couples, including same sex couples, by amending canon law. I for one will celebrate with them. Many, like me, will be remembering them in prayer all through this week.
All great institutions much adapt and change in order to make sense of the world in which we live, and to give meaning to it. Otherwise those same institutions wither and die – in their failure to reflect the realities of our human existence. In that regard, marriage and the institutional churches have a lot in common.
Let us hope this will be a fruitful week for the Scottish Episcopal Church as it seeks to respond in its own life, to the diverse patterns of life in which God’s love and grace are revealed in Scotland today. Their progress can only encourage and give strength to their Christian sisters and brothers in other denominations.”
Scott Rennie – The Herald – 6th June
Scott Rennie, Kelvin Holdsworth, Steve Chalke and their like, seek to justify their departure from the word of God, by stating that this is something that will enable the church to grow. This is all about adapting to contemporary society, making ourselves relevant and “being led by the Spirit” into a new understanding. The irony is that Scott Rennie is right in saying that the church will wither and die, but he fails to recognise that what he and his colleagues are teaching, is the cause of that withering and dying – not the remedy for it. Whenever any church turns away from what Jesus says then it is not long before it ceases to be a church of Jesus Christ and becomes instead just a mere formal institution – with the appearance of a church but in reality it is just a secularised spirituality, dead as a dodo, and heading for the same extinction.
I want to praise and support those of our Anglican brothers and sisters who will now face immense pressure “not to divide the church”, from those who have already divided it by divorcing it from the word of God. Behind all the nice words and the desperate attempts to keep the money providing evangelical churches on board, there is a thinly disguised contempt. One man tweeted to me “You lost. Get over it. Go back to demanding slavery.” This is the kind of opposition that we have to face. We must remain faithful, gracious and courageous as we stand against the tide of this world, and its continual invasion of the church. And we must stand together….to my Anglican brothers and sisters the Free Church will stand with you….lets work together for the Lord.
I leave you with a short article from Rev. David McCarthy, of St Thomas Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. This article will appear in the July edition of the record – so this is a wee bonus preview for you. Why not subscribe to the record and ensure that you continue to get cutting-edge news of the church in Scotland today!
The Scottish Episcopal Church – A View from the Inside David McCarthy
‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.’ 1 Corinthians 16:13 NIVUK
‘Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.’ Richard John Neuhaus
The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) lays claim to being both catholic and reformed. I’ve served as church leader in it since 1988. In order to do so, one has to entertain a certain, shall we say, diversity. I’ve heard all sorts of things being espoused as compatible with Christian faith; a little bit of Buddhism, a lot of universalism and even some clergy who are in same-sex relationships.
Now the SEC has reached the point of changing its canon on marriage to remove any reference to marriage being between a woman and a man in order to introduce same-sex marriage by nominated clergy. There will be a conscience clause which will allow clergy to not conduct such ceremonies, but all will have to accept that this is one of the understandings of marriage in SEC and commit to ‘good disagreement’.
However, in changing this canon, the SEC will be departing from what the Bible teaches, the Church has practiced and what most Christians around the world still believe. Thus while reforming its teaching in marriage (and not in a good way!), any claim to being catholic will be broken, as the denomination unilaterally makes a decision to break with what has been.
My spiritual roots are Presbyterian, but the Lord lovingly led me into the SEC and it has been a wonderful privilege to serve four different congregations. But now, my heart is breaking as I watch a church which Jesus loves disobey him so wilfully, and claim that in doing so, it is the Holy Spirit that is the inspiration. It’s like the old story of the young man who goes up to the pretty girl in the youth group and declares, ‘The Lord has told me that we are to go out together!’ The girl replies, ‘Well, he hasn’t told me!’
Since 2005, evangelicals have worked hard both to be at the heart of the SEC but also to keep it orthodox in terms of marriage doctrine. Our influence has grown, but clearly this has merely been at the glossy surface level. Evangelicals have always been tolerated, though sometimes with a whiff of displeasure. The last church I served in was St Silas’, Glasgow. On one occasion an Episcopalian cleric asked me, ‘St Silage? And who exactly was St Silage?’, thus revealing his disdain and his ignorance at the same time.
Though for some we might not do church properly, we fall within the broad spread of what can be described as Anglican. The leading bishop of the church has even described evangelicals as ‘the new establishment’. When I heard him say it, I knew that something had gone very wrong. Many would say that the Church began to go off the rails when it joined the establishment in the fourth century. My sense is that the Church is at its best when we are not pandering to our society, cultures or betters. We can still be attractive and winsome, full of Grace and Truth, yet resisting the temptations to please those around us.
The SEC has long been a home for same-sex attracted people. The churches I’ve served have always been welcoming, though not affirming. When I trained in Edinburgh, perhaps one in three of the ordinands was gay. At a time when the Office of National Statistics figure for people self-identifying as LGBT in Scotland is somewhere around 1.1%, it might be surprising to know that one diocese has revealed that 25% of its clergy are gay. This perhaps reveals the internal pressure to change the canon on marriage to allow people of the same sex to be married in church by nominated clergy.
The other factor is fear. Fear that our greying congregations are in decline and that if only we can be more attractive to the world, surely they would come and enjoy the solemn beauty of our liturgy. Sadly, the evidence from North America is that the reverse is true. The decline has continued despite the introduction of this doctrinal innovation.
What are orthodox people to do? It’s not only evangelicals struggling with this. Many people from across the SEC simply cannot understand why the church is departing from Jesus’ teaching and the overarching authority of the Bible on this matter. Some are moving theologically, having declared same-sex marriage as a secondary issue. We must expect more evangelicals to do this in the near future, citing ‘missional reasons’.
Some will put up with the change, worried about their homes and incomes and looking forward to retirement. Then there are those few who will stand firm in faith as archbishops from around the world offer their practical and spiritual support. They will seek to maintain an Anglican presence in Scotland which is rooted in the Bible and Anglican tradition and which seeks to reach out, alongside our brothers and sisters in the other streams of the Church in Scotland, to the least, the last and the lost. Please pray for them.