In todays Herald there is yet again another article on the decline of the Church of Scotland….It reflects what we have been saying on this blog for years….
The full report is below….with some reflections afterwards.
QUESTIONS have been raised about how the Church of Scotland’s more liberal approach will help public engagement as a new study found less than one in five say they are affiliated to the Kirk.
The latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey has caused disquiet in some quarters as it reveals that those that say they belong to the Church of Scotland have fallen from 32% in 15 years ago to just 18% in 2017.
It also shows the numbers that say they are Roman Catholic has dipped slightly from 13%, 15 years ago to 12% last year.
But those who say they have no religion has shot up from 43% in 2003 to 56% in 2017.
Ian Montagu, senior researcher at the Scottish Centre for Social Research, said: “This year’s figures reinforce a gradual picture of overall decline in religious identity in Scotland – a decline most keenly felt by the Kirk.”
He said the four per cent of people aged 18-34 identifying with the Church of Scotland is “particularly low”. In 2002 it was 14%.
Mr Montagu added: “As attitudes in Scotland become more socially liberal on issues like same sex relationships and abortion, church leaders will no doubt be considering how to better connect to a changing society.
“It will be interesting to see what impact liberalising measures, such as the Church of Scotland’s efforts to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages, have upon these numbers in the future.”
In June, the largest Protestant church in Northern Ireland voted to sever ties with the Church of Scotland due to what it felt was the Kirk’s more liberal attitude to same-sex relationships.
The unprecedented move by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland means the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will no longer be invited to the annual meeting of the church’s General Assembly in Belfast. And the PCI will no longer accept invitations.
Survey data also reveals that in 2009, over one in three said they had attended a Church of Scotland at least once a month, but in 2017 it had dropped to one in four, according to the survey. Those who went to a Catholic church at least once a month dipped from 60% nine years ago to 52% last year.
A Catholic Church spokesman said “While it is reassuring to see Catholic figures remaining relatively constant, the decline in other Christian churches is very concerning.
“An analysis of numbers however should not ignore the significant social capital the Christian church contributes to Scottish society.”
A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said there were various surveys and reports on congregational numbers and religious affiliation and “differing interpretations of their meaning”.
She added: Our view is that we endeavour to be a Christian presence in communities and a force for good and we will continue to focus on that.
“Jesus called every Christian to be faithful to God and to make a positive difference in the world.
“That is why throughout history you have found Christians fighting injustice and inequality, being a voice for the poor and standing up for those who otherwise were alone.
“Jesus called this being a light in the darkness.
“The Church of Scotland is there to celebrate with individuals and families in the happy times but also to provide support during the difficult and sad times.
“Irrespective of the Church’s popularity, that calling remains the same and is why today you still find Christians active at all levels of society.
“Whether we are many or we are few, the church will always seek to be a force for good in society.”
The Church of Scotland backed a report in May which could lead to same-sex marriages in church.
The General Assembly backed a motion which tasked a committee with drafting church law on the issue.
Its legal questions committee was asked to report back to the annual meeting of the decision-making body in 2020.
The 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey was based on a sample of 1,237 people interviewed between July 2016 and December 2016.
1.Liberalising the Church will not save it –
“It will be interesting to see what impact liberalising measures, such as the Church of Scotland’s efforts to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages, have upon these numbers in the future.” We know what impact they will have…because the C of S has been doing this for decades and it is a primary reason of their decline. More of the same methods will results in more of the same results. Going along with the tide means that they will continue to be swept away by it.
2. The Church of Scotland is in denial –
They deny the Church of Scotland will die out….even as it is dying out. I’m up in my home area – Easter Ross – and I’ve just cycled past five redundant churches.
They cite a few success stories to negate the overall picture.
They claim influence and effect out with the gathered communities of the Church in order to justify their own existence. But if people are not gathering to worship Jesus in what sense are they the Church of Jesus Christ? Holding a crèche or a knitting jamboree is not the Gospel.
(Please note that these comments refer to the denomination as a whole and it’s structures. They do not refer to the faithful few churches and the many C of S Christians who are holding on – many of whom read this blog. You know that we pray for you and desire your prosperity and growth!)
3. The Church of Scotland (at least in its official leadership) has no idea what the Church is for –
“The Church of Scotland is there to celebrate with individuals and families in the happy times but also to provide support during the difficult and sad times.” No – that is not what the Church is for. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The Church has Jesus Christ as its head. The Church exists to proclaim the Goods News of Christ to all. The C of S has largely become a social work organisation which just reflects the values of our culture. The bottom line is that the Church of Scotland is failing because it is no longer the Church.
Listening to the Radio Scotland phone in this morning, discussing this question, was so depressing…in fact I gave up. The ignorance of the militant secularists phoning in to gloat was to be expected…but it was the religious people phoning in which really made me sad (apart from the one man advocating biblical Christianity whose analysis was spot on)….’there’s too much dogma in the church’..’we need to adapt to the times’…etc.. Old people talking about other old people as being dinosaurs! All of them spoke of religion and their religious clubs. Not one spoke of Christ and his Word. The C of S has done its job….
3. The Legalisation of SSM in the Church will be its death nail, not its Resurrection
The only reason for the Church supporting SSM is because the society has endorsed it. This is the kind of compromising attitude with the world which has always resulted in disaster for the Church. The C of S sees itself as the ‘national’ church – the spiritual voice of the culture. But the Church should be the prophetic voice to the culture, not the sanitised spiritual voice of it.
But not all churches are dying. As the society becomes darker and more secularised the opportunities for the light to shine. Just this week the Free Church officially opened its new Church in Haddington…
And this week my own Kirk Session (now itself twice the size of the original congregation I came to in 1992) has to consider how we cope with the growing numbers. Last Sunday morning was the largest we have ever had – if you want a seat with your family this Sunday downstairs you will need to come at least ten minutes early! There will be many young people….
So it’s not all decline. And it is more complex than ‘evangelical churches grow, liberal ones decline’. But one thing is sure. The Church of Scotland is is dying….Yesterday I was in the lovely Nigg Old Parish Church – once a church which saw Rev John Ross go to China and Korea as one of the founders of the now massive churches there. It is virtually dead. In the Nigg Old building there is a reminder of this statement from the grave of Thomas Hog –
“This stone shall bear witness against the parishoners of Kiltearn if they bring one ungodly minister here”.
The stones of the closed churches in Scotland are bearing witness. Ichabod.
(And its not only Scotland…after publishing this article I read this about the Church of England in todays Guardian