the Church The Church in Scotland The Free Church

The Cancellation of the Church?

We live in cancel culture.  “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.”   The church is petrified of being cancelled (please note I am not talking here about having our Sunday services stopped because of Covid – but something far more serious)….we are so scared of being defriended by the world that we will do whatever we can to avoid that dreadful fate.     Let’s reflect on that this week – a week in which the General Assemblies of the Presbyterian churches in Scotland normally have their annual meeting.

It’s Assembly time.  Most years for the past 30 years  I have attended in some form or other – the Free Church Assembly and often nipped over the road to the Church of Scotland.  Sometimes these have been times of great joy – at other times, sadly more frequently, they have been times of frustration, discouragement and despair.   In particular, watching the Church of Scotland commit spiritual suicide over this past decade has been one of the most depressing experiences of my life.  ( I have written about these many times – just type ‘Church of Scotland Assembly’ or Free Church Assembly’) into the search engine here. ie A Tale of Two Assemblies

Screenshot 2020-05-19 12.15.02But this year both Assemblies have been cancelled.  What difference does that make?  In terms of the society as a whole, I don’t think it makes any difference.  The general society was not listening to us anyway  – and even if it was we appear to have very little to say!

I was encouraged to see that Rev Martin Fair from Arbroath was to be the Church of Scotland moderator.  Martin has had a full and fruitful ministry in Arbroath.  I am sorry that he will not be moderating over the full Assembly in all its splendour – although he was still installed at a special service which was broadcast on the Church of Scotland website here.

In the Free Church it was to be Neil MacMillan as the new moderator.   A deserved honour.  His church plant, Cornerstone in Edinburgh, is being accepted as a fully fledged church at this Assembly.  However the Free Church has decided not to go ahead with the appointment – because Neil is far too radical!  No – they have decided to stick with Donnie G MacDonald as the ongoing moderator and Neil will take his place in 2021 (DV)….although if Covid 19 continues without a vaccine perhaps we will have to make Donnie G Pope?    His pastoral gifts and talks to the whole church over these past months have been excellent.

Screenshot 2020-05-19 12.16.56I started reading Assembly reports – but gave up – life is too short.  Some were interesting, some were encouraging and some were depressing and somewhat unrealistic.  So instead of commenting on reports that very few will have read I thought we should consider the wider state of the church in Scotland.  Just as Covid 19 is exposing good and bad things in our culture, so I believe it is doing so within the church.  Covid 19 has put a temporary end on many things – I hope that it will cause us all to reflect on the state of the Church, repent for what we have done and where we are, and ultimately rejoice in a renewed and restored Church.

This video below is an example of how weak and irrelevant the church has become.  The Scottish Parliament has a time for reflection at which occasionally Christians are asked to speak.  Imagine what John Knox, Thomas Chalmers or Sinclair Ferguson would have made of such an opportunity at such a time of crisis.  I’m certain there would have been a call to repentance, prayer and renewed commitment to our Covenant God.  Instead we got this…..

This short video encapsulates much that is wrong with the Kirk today.

It’s unrealistic man-pleasing – “Our nation is beaming love and compassion”.  No it isn’t.  Our nation does have love and compassion.   But there is also anger, hatred, greed and bitterness.   The Church no longer dares to call the nation to repentance. Ministers are like MP’s asking questions in the UK parliament when they get their five minutes of fame – they have to mention their constituency.  One journalist told me that whenever he interviewed church leaders they spent their time telling him how great their churches are – and nothing about Christ.  Maybe they assumed he wouldn’t be interested?  They were wrong.

The Greatest Commandment

But the most breathtaking thing about this is clip is the airbrushing God out of the Greatest Commandment…and out of the Bible (and the church).  “We must love our neighbour as we love ourself – something which Jesus goes on to describe as the greatest commandment” .  The only problem is he didn’t.  Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment – and this was his answer: ”

37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39) 

The minister is not an ignorant man.  He knew what the passage said.  So why distort it?  Why misrepresent it?  Perhaps it was inadvertent?    I can understand Nicola Sturgeon leaving God out – she is not after all a Christian so we should not expect her to behave like one.  But a Christian minister should be expected to teach the Word of God, and not distort it to such an extent that any secular humanist, or any of the politicians sitting in the parliament, could have said exactly the same thing.  Therein lies the problem of the church  – we are indistinguishable from the nice middle class progressive society around us.  We have nothing to say because we are not prepared to be prophetic or to proclaim Christ – except insofar as he is a talisman for what we want to do.   Look at many of the official functions of the Church – the Bible is rarely opened, only lightly referred to and never expounded.  Jesus hardly gets a look in. I listened to a podcast called Holy Smoke today in which the Catholic commentator lamented the fact that his fellow Catholics in Washington DC never spoke about Christ but only about politics.

you think you may change the church but it is the church that changes you”. 

There were a couple of quotes that struck me from the retiring moderator – another evangelical who has served Christ and his church well.  But he I suspect inadvertently laid his finger on the pulse of what is wrong.   He spoke of the role of the moderator as being something that opens peoples hearts.  No it doesn’t.  It’s only the Holy Spirit who can open hearts – not a church leadership role, complete with the clerical robes.     Another was “you think you may change the church but it is the church that changes you”.  In that one phrase, the problem of the church in Scotland has been clearly stated.   We let the institution change, squash and frustrate us.  Evangelicals get to sit at the table – as long as we don’t put anything on the menu.  I think of the evangelical moderator who I was told should be supported because he was going to fight from within for the biblical position on marriage and sexuality – and instead ended up being honoured by a university for advancing the LGBT cause! 

It is true that Ichabod is written over the church in Scotland – not just the Church of Scotland.  Although there are individual churches within and outwith the Kirk who have a bright witness.     But overall I believe that the glory has departed.  However I don’t want to leave it there.  Let me take what the minister said to the Parliament and put it in a more biblical perspective.

Love our neighbours,

Amen to that.  But how do we love our neighbours?  By loving God first – with all our heart and soul and mind.  Then for the love of Christ we love the people.  We love our neighbours by telling them the Word of Christ.  Maybe our good works would be more effective if they were done in the power and love of Christ?

Give thanks 

The problem of being an atheist is that you have no one to give thanks to.  The Christian, being rooted and built up in Christ, is strengthened in the faith and overflows with thankfulness (Colossians 2:7).  We have so much to be thankful for – but outside of Christ, we have no one ultimately to give thanks to.  And we miss the main reason for thankfulness itself – Christ himself.   Maybe if in the church we stopped making it about ourselves and made it about Him – we might experience his presence a lot more?

Keep safe. 

‘Keep safe’ is not the message of the Gospel.  It’s a cruel message – not a compassionate one.  Why?  Because it is cruelty to ask people to do something which they cannot do.  It’s like saying to a man in a burning house ‘stay safe’.   We need a Saviour.  Who is the One who keeps us safe?  1John 5:18    “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”  Sin and Salvation and Satan are essential and necessary components of the Gospel.  And they are what our country needs to hear…there is evil…and there is deliverance from evil.

And finally…..

Defriended by Christ

I am far more scared of being defriended by Christ than I am by any of my FB friends.  ‘Oh surely not’ you say.   What a friend we have in Jesus.  He would never leave us.  Jesus does indeed call his disciples his friends but we are also told that there are those who live as enemies of Christ.  For example Phil. 3:18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  But even more interestingly Jesus says we are his friends if we do what he commands!

You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain—so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.… (John 15:14-16) 

We need to reflect on these words…is the church in Scotland, my local church, or the church wherever you are ‘a friend of Christ’?  Am I a friend of Christ?  Let’s pray the words of the Psalm that was beautifully sung at the beginning of Martin Fair’s induction. Ps 43:3-5  – Who knows but God may yet turn and restore the whole church in Scotland?


3 O send thy light forth and thy truth;
let them be guides to me,
And bring me to thine holy hill,
ev’n where thy dwellings be.
4 Then will I to God’s altar go,
to God my chiefest joy:
Yea, God, my God, thy name to praise
my harp I will employ.

5 Why art thou then cast down, my soul?
what should discourage thee?
And why with vexing thoughts art thou
disquieted in me?
Still trust in God; for him to praise
good cause I yet shall have:
He of my count’nance is the health,
my God that doth me save.

The Suicide of the Church of Scotland – A Call to Prayer for St Andrews Day


  1. There is the assumption in the “time for reflection” that loving our neighbours characterises what is happening in Scotland at this time. Then we read of your rebuke to that David, “example of how weak and irrelevant the church has become” with the claim that the antidote to this is “loving God first – with all our heart and soul and mind.”

    I recall some time ago agonising over the squabbling in the church over same sex marriage epitomised with a split in a city centre church in Glasgow and how much gloating was going on at the time at being right and others wrong among the leadership in the midst of the pain of the split. Talking to fellow dog walkers about this I mentioned the gospel of the Lord Jesus and they said they had never heard of this before and rather that what they had seen was arguments between different factions of the church and “religion”. On my way home after speaking with them, I wept and that weeping was cathartic for me. the agonising it showed, was what I was to give over to God and to have my part to play in what God is doing, not that it is my responsibility to fix everything.

    I imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to weep over Jerusalem, a city that stoned it’s prophets, and him longing to gather everyone, speaking in gentle feminine terms as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

    So for me began a journey – not finding any authority in empty platitudes about love or the equally platitudinous “the secret to joy is Jesus, Others, Yourself”. And my journey took me to contemplative Christianity in which I received a teaching that to love God and others it’s first of all necessary to love yourself. It is in receiving God’s love and loving myself that I am then able to return with God’s love towards God and to “love my neighbour as myself” and this, for me is working whereas the other two approaches resulted in frustration and burnout.

    If I try to love according to the love I can give to God out of my own human effort then I deny being a branch that is dependant on sustenance that comes from the vine. Honouring God, is first of all to let God be God and love me first, and in doing so partaking in the love of God for me and because I have done that for myself be able with the love of God (not the love of Adam) to love God and love others as myself.

    I haven’t written this David with the intention of offending but rather a sharing of church experience and if there is anything unbiblical in what I have written then please do correct my error. But surely living life to the fullest that Christ came for is to have the joy of the Lord which is your strength, rather than to be frustrated and burnt out?

    As for the kind of thing we are talking about with “man pleasing” in any form – yes it does eventually lead to resentment – no-one respect a sycophant, a useful idiot or the like and anyone who acts that way loses their own dignity. There’s nothing new under the sun with this kind of thing. The book of Amos as you know if full of “away with your noise” at so called worship that has nothing to do with worship of God, and Jesus spoke with authority unlike the teachers of the Law who were motivated by being greeted in the market place and being seated in high places.

    And therefore, likely that any prophets around today will share the same fate of a contemporary form of stoning and being without honour among their own people.

    But greater is he in me than he in the world and the same is true, of course for anyone “in Christ”.

  2. Thank you so much David for your insightful and truthful blog.
    I am quite perturbed that even in times such as these, repentance is scarcely if ever preached. Oh that someone who has the public ear will preach sermons from 2Chronicles 7 vs 14 or the Book of Jonah! How about Proverbs 14 vs 34 Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people! Now there’s a verse for our MSPs!
    I do believe that God is using this time of lockdown to get His people’s attention for repentance and ‘to call sinners to repentance’ also.
    So my brother, I pray that the Lord will lay it on your heart to publish such a sermon.

  3. May I quote the words of J. C. Ryle –

    Jellyfish Christianity

    (J.C. Ryle)

    “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!” 1 John 1:7

    One plague of our age, is the widespread dislike to sound doctrine. In the place of it, the idol of the day is a kind of jellyfish Christianity — a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or sinew — without any distinct teaching about the atonement, or the work of the Spirit, or justification, or the way of peace with God — a vague, foggy, misty Christianity, of which the only watchwords seem to be, “You must be liberal and kind. You must condemn no man’s doctrinal views. You must think everybody is right — and nobody is wrong.”

  4. The problem of being an atheist is that you have no one to give thanks to

    What an really odd thing to write.
    I regularly give thanks to a myriad of people, not least my family.
    I always consider those who have grown and prepared the food I eat, I thank my friends and neighbours, I thank the blokes who collect my rubbish, and those that collect the recycling material.
    I thank the vet for caring for my pets even when we lose them.
    I always thank the clients that come for collections and those we deliver to.
    In fact, I try to be mindful of all those who deserve my thanks – and even some that probably don’t – and gratitude.

    A timely ”thank you” and a smile of appreciation are such simple things to ”give” and help to remind people of their worth.

    Oh, and I am an atheist, as I am pretty sure you know.



    1. I’m thankful that you are thankful Douglas. It is instructive to all of us. I am thankful for you.
      It is but a substitute for true thankfulness.
      But this is the heart filled with thankfulness, true thankfulness that entreats us to join in:
      My heart is filled with thankfulness

      1. Hi, Geoff.
        How are you holding up Corona -wise?

        The thing is, you believe you are a dreadful sinner and in desperate need of salvation. I don’t accept this doctrine, therefore I have no worries or feelings of guilt in this regard.

        Thanks all the same … but no thanks.

  5. ” I wept and that weeping was cathartic for me. the agonising it showed, was what I was to give over to God and to have my part to play in what God is doing, not that it is my responsibility to fix everything.”

    A very honest testimony of grace , Adam . It appears ,”to fix things” is a very masculine practice , and I have fallen into this trap on several occasions , and now into my seventh decade , still learning

    “And my journey took me to contemplative Christianity in which I received a teaching that to love God and others it’s first of all necessary to love yourself. It is in receiving God’s love and loving myself that I am then able to return with God’s love towards God and to “love my neighbour as myself”

    It seems to me however that “contemplative Christianity” is a life luxury that all would like to enjoy. I was encouraged to lead a church mission team in 1974 to a problem parish on the outskirts of one of our major cities. We were to work in the schools and in the housing scheme . It just so happened that one of our evangelistic team had a particular gift of communicating with teenagers . He was asked to take a class ( probably due to teacher shortage) for each period duration . Such was his impact of sharing Christ upon the students that ( and to the horror of the Minister and his Assistant) that the pupils were appearing up at the manse seeking to know Jesus , and the person who had spoken to them at school.

    The Ministers were horrified , flummoxed and had little idea of what to do. Each evening we had discussion , or debrief on the days or weeks happenings ,and during one such we were confronted with a lecture on “loving ourselves , before we can begin loving God.” The realisation hit me that evening that we had been foisted on that parish and the Ministers had no knowledge of what constituted biblical evangelism. Biblical evangelism is engagement with individuals , and action !

    Contemplative Christianity is a kin to pacifism in war . I have challenged myself repeatedly ,”If there is another war , what would I do ?” Time and time again the realisation of “doing nothing” could not be an option for me. I would have to do something , even if it was to bandage the enemy !

    Yes ! we love Him because He first loved us . That is never a dispute . The command is however to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation , and in sending his disciples into the world Jesus told them what they were to expect , and the world he sends them into affords little time for contemplation !

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