Dundee St Peters The Church in Scotland

The Slow Death of the Church of Scotland – Accelerates

The Slow Death of the Church of Scotland Accelerates

 There is some really sad, but inevitable,  news coming from Dundee this week.  I have just read in The Courier that another three churches are to merge in Dundee.Broughty Ferry congregations to merge as ministers retire and worshipper numbers dwindle

The Church of Scotland congregations in Broughty Ferry – St James, St Luke and the New Kirk are to become one congregation.    Why does that matter?  It is the continuation of a trend in Dundee, and throughout Scotland of church decline – especially – but not soley in the Church of Scotland.  In 2020 after  being in Dundee as a minister for 20 years I worked out that one church per year had closed for each of those years.  It was a desperate picture of decline – and yet very few people in the church were prepared to face up to it.  Although I recall one contact at ‘121’ (the C of S administrative HQ) telling me that the C of S had no plans for growth, only ‘managed decline’.

Reasons for Decline?

This latest story sees the same pattern of denial, excuse and defeat being repeated.  The inability to grasp reality seems endemic within the Church.  The Presbytery clerk tells us his reasons for decline.  It’s the falling birthrate, the changing nature of the population in Scotland, the fact that immigrants are not likely to be Christian and if they are, not Presbyterian; and fewer youth organisations.    The solution is that the church needs ‘to change many aspects of how it is run’ and embrace digital technology in order to be more accessible to younger worshippers.

Gilcomston – Left the C of S

This is like a drowning man clutching at straws.  The birthrate in Scotland is in decline (like the church and the general culture) but that does not explain the decline in the Church of Scotland.  Less than 3% of the 50,000 babies born are baptised into the Church of Scotland.  Baptisms have declined by 70% over the past decade – births have declined 15%.      Immigrants are far more likely to be Christians than native Scots (I was told for example that there are 80 African churches in Scotland).  And the idea that it is the decline in the youth organisation which has led to the decline in the church gets it the wrong way round.  Its because the church is in such a mess that the youth organisations have declined.  That comment also exposes the weakness of the C of S – which for far too long relied on artificially inflating its numbers by counting all those who were connected with its youth organisations as part of the church – even though they seldom if ever came to church.    I recall one minister in a congregation where the attendance did well to reach 30, claiming 1,000 adherents because she was a chaplain in a local school and the Guides, Brownies and Scouts met in her hall!    There are numerous examples of this kind of exaggeration.  I think of the church that claimed over 2,000 members but if you went there on a Sunday you would be part of a ‘crowd’ of 30.

I know the three churches in Broughty Ferry that are amalgamating (ie. two of them closing and the third living off the legacy income for another decade before it closes). I recall speaking in one at a choir service – where the language of the choir beforehand indicated, not only a lack of knowledge of the Gospel, but a hostility to it.  In another I spoke to the minister who indicated that despite a nominal membership of almost 1,000, she expected to be the last minister because attendance was only 100 – 70% of whom were women over 70.  It was literally dying.  She was right.   What amazed me was the self- justification for the ministry by claiming a ‘congregation’ of several thousand.  The Church of Scotland has an outdated and quite deceiving system of claiming everyone within the bounds of the parish who are not Catholic as ‘theirs’.  The jargon of ’church without wall’’, ‘people of faith who do not attend’. ‘ministering to the whole parish’ is a form of self delusion worthy of the Father of Lies himself.

The Church is Dead – Long Live the Church!

Saddest of all is Broughty Ferry St James – who had a growing and developing church under the ministry of Alberto de Paula.   The Presbytery in their wisdom wanted to link this growing evangelical congregation with a declining liberal one.   When Alberto and the vast majority of the congregation decided that they could no longer go along with the decisions of the C of S assembly they left to form Broughty Ferry Presbyterian Church – which later on joined the Free Church and is still a living and developing church. https://broughtyferrypresbyterianchurch.org

The Clouds gather over St James’…but the Light will never be extinguished – Left the C of S

The Church of Scotland Presbytery showed their lack of reality when they refused to let St James stay in their own building and instead pretended to have the ‘old’ congregation there.  It was a petty and spiteful decision – a real example of cutting off your nose to spite your face…”if we can’t build a lively church there – we are certainly not going to let you do so”.  There was no concern for the gospel.  No concern for the glory of God.  All was church politics.  And now the chickens have come home to roost.  Doubtless St James will be sold on.  Yet another church building to be turned into a storage facility, nightclub, apartment block?   One wonders if the Presbytery would now sell the building to Broughty Ferry Presbyterian?  (If they wanted it!).

Hard Truths

Some may think that all of the above is a bit hard.  But what if it is true?  Maybe sometimes the truth is hard.  Should the doctor not tell you that you have cancer because its ‘a bit hard’?    I think the cruelty is in not telling the truth and letting people carry on in their delusions.   Because of Covid one is now able to look at a wider variety of services online – I decided just to choose one congregation at random (not a well known evangelical one…nor a well known liberal).   This is what I saw – and I don’t think it is atypical of many congregations.    In a building which could hold a couple of hundred I counted 18 people – 16 middle aged and elderly women, 2 men.  Because of Covid there were some exceptional items (the singing was by video, the congregation masked, and the minister wore gloves), but the rest was ‘normal’. Bible reading, prayer and then a sermon in which the fully robed minister explained in solemn, sing song tones why one of the miracles of the bible was not really a miracle, but nonetheless showed us that God was with us.  There was nothing of Christ, no balm in Gilead – nothing to get out of bed for on a Sunday morning.   Are we surprised that such churches are dying?  (Of course there are Church of Scotland’s which are not like this – where the Word is still preached and Christ is still lifted up – but the trouble is that these are the exception rather than the rule).

What about the solution offered? 

 The newspaper report contains two suggestions from the Presbytery.

  • Change the way the church is run – This is the proverbial rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. What’s the point?   Amalgamating congregations, reducing Presbyteries, re-organising committees, re-distributing staff are all relatively pointless.   Rearranging the position of the seriously ill patient on the bed, does not cause them to get better!    Can these bones live? Should be the heartfelt cry of all who care for the Church?
  • Appeal to the young worshippers –  The first question I have is ‘what young worshippers’?    The sociologist, Callum Brown predicted that by 2011 there would be no Sunday schools left in Scotland.  He was wrong – but not by much.   You can’t appeal to young worshippers if there are none.  First of all they need to be told about God – before they can worship him.  Trying to attract people to worship Christ, without their knowing Christ, is the wrong way round.
Holyrood Abbey – Left the C of S

One of the most astonishing conversations I ever had in St Peters was with an elder from a village church in Angus.  He didn’t know who I was but told me quite proudly that he belonged to a church where the minister did not teach the bible.  When I asked him why he replied, ”because it doesn’t attract the young people”.  When I then asked him how many young people were in his church – he said ‘none’.   At that time we were in a period of blessing where the congregation had grown to around 100, 80% of whom were young people who had been drawn by the preaching of the Word.   Of course there are other factors but a church that has turned away from the Word of God, other than to use it as a prop for our own thoughts, or as an historical artifact which needs to be explained away; is on the road to extinction.

But the problem is even deeper than that.  Even those churches which are more faithful to the Word, both within and outwith the C of S, have a tendency to just hold on and batten down the hatches.  There is a lack of vision, purpose, depth, love and joy.

The Presbytery Clerk actually illustrated the problem with his final comment.

“He reflected that, now in his 60s, life has been good to and for him, but the next generation must establish for itself who will shape their philosophy and beliefs.”

That’s the problem!  It’s the ‘I’m alright, Jack’ attitude combined with the laissez faire ‘anything goes’.  ‘Life’s been good to me, now find your own way’, is a million miles away from Jesus’s “I am the way, the truth and the life’; or Knox’s ‘Give me Scotland or I die’!    The next generation does not establish for itself who will shape their philosophy and beliefs – it’s this generation which passes on and shapes.  And we have done a dreadful job of it.  We have taken the riches from previous generations of the Scottish church and created a wilderness for our children!  Where there is no vision the church perishes.  May God have mercy on us!

(Added note:  I am writing about the particular situation of the Church of Scotland in Scotland.  I am aware that there are many other churches in Scotland – of many different shades – some of which are growing.  Already the C of S – in terms of actual attendance has been overtaken by these other churches – many of which are evangelical – and include immigrants and young people!)

A Repeated Conversation!

The Tron – Left the C of S

You can just type in ‘Church of Scotland’, or ‘Church in Scotland’ to the search engine on this blog and you will see that for many years I have been writing about the decline of the Church of Scotland – desperately hoping that what I saw was wrong – and that my many critics would turn out to be right.  When I suggested that the church was on an inevitable trajectory which would see its slow death – (or to be honest its slow suicide, because  it was largely internal, rather than external, forces which were killing it) I was met with the usual ‘O troubler of Israel’ remarks and the defensiveness – especially from some evangelicals.  (How can I ever forget the anonymous letter from 15 ‘evangelicals’ on the Glasgow Presbytery after I wrote about their disgraceful decision to evict the Tron from manse and church building!) .  Here are a few from the past few years.

2013 – In 2013 I wrote this response to Eric Alexander’s letter saying why he was staying in the C of S (a pastoral letter which unbeknown to him was being used all over the C of S seeking to persuade evangelicals to stay in) https://theweeflea.com/2013/08/27/alexander-leaving-eric-alexander-on-leaving-the-church-of-scotland/

In 2014 we looked at the challenges facing the Church of Scotland – https://theweeflea.com/2014/10/10/the-church-in-post-referendum-scotland/

IN 2015 – Ten reasons why the Church of Scotland is in decline.

https://theweeflea.com/2015/03/20/ten-reasons-why-the-church-of-scotland-is-in-decline/

And this was for me the most revealing – https://theweeflea.com/2015/10/06/the-scottgate-tapes-a-revealing-insight-into-the-current-state-of-the-church-of-scotland/

Or this from 2016 – when the C of S permitted SSM –  https://theweeflea.com/2016/05/23/a-rubicon-has-been-crossed-the-church-of-scotland-assembly-decision-on-saturday/

What struck me with this was this statement from the clerk Rev. John Chalmers: “We had a debate which made very clear that we were not interfering with our theological definition of marriage and were not going to the place where ministers or deacons could themselves conducting same sex marriages.”.  Two years later the C of S went to that place as we all – including John – knew it would.   Is this not just straight forward deceit.  Why would we expect God to bless a church which acts like that?

2017 – Or this article on a report in The Times  July 2017 – https://theweeflea.com/2017/07/03/the-decline-of-the-church-in-scotland-the-times-report-and-response/  Once again the world offered the church its advice….“If the kirk is able to push through liberalising measures such as allowing ministers to oversee same-sex marriages ceremonies, it is possible that its appeal may broaden to younger, more socially liberal Scots”.  And once again the church listened – and accelerated its own demise.

2018 – https://theweeflea.com/2018/09/07/faith-no-more-the-continuing-decline-of-the-church-of-scotland-the-herald/

Iain Montague of the Scottish Centre for Social Research suggested that by becoming more liberal in social attitudes the Church could arrest its decline.  “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.”

Peter Kearney of the Catholic church had a good reply.  His line “Decline is most catastrophic amongst Christian denominations who have embraced secular liberalism” .  He was spot on.That’s why these three churches are ‘amalgamating’ in Dundee….

I’m not going to say ‘I told you so’.  Because I didn’t.  Christ told us so.  Anyone who reads the Scriptures intelligently knows that whilst the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, the Bride of Christ – any local (or denominational) church which turns away from Christ and his word can expect to have their ‘lampstand’ removed (Revelation 2:5).  Christ warns that lookwarm Christianity means “I will spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16).  We are told that those he loves he rebukes and disciplines so we have to be earnest and repent – then he will come in and sup with us.  It’s not about changing our organisation – it’s something much more profound.  Until the churches listen to what the Spirit says  – we will continue to decline.  The Church of Scotland is a sad and heartbreaking warning to us all.  But new light and renewed life can come.  As well as the churches in the photos above – all of which are now living and growing churches – St Catherines Argyle Church left the C of S and was turned into Chalmers Church – which is now thriving and sending Gospel workers all over Scotland….it’s not all decline!

 

 

 

 

30 comments

  1. We should not demand too much of the Kirk’s General Assembly re this tale of woe – after all , this situation seemingly requires a miracle which I doubt the members expect.

    At least , Heaven won’t suffer from overcrowding.

    1. How wrong you are! Heaven will be a number that no one can count – (Revelation 7!) – and it will consist of more than members of the C of S – or even more lowly Scots!

      1. Your professional desideratum requires proper , old – fashioned “fear of the Lord”.

        Without it your cause looks hopeless .

        How many people today exhibit such a sacred , scared attitude ?

  2. I read this with sadness. It is quite depressing to think that the country that gave the world men like John Knox and Robert Murray McCheyne has come to this.

    I believe the rot has been setting in for years. Scotland has become, like here in Ireland, a vastly secular country and it certainly appears to be that CoS has changed to become seeker friendly rather than being faithful to the word of God.

    When they voted a few years ago to accommodate SSM I have to ask the question is CoS under the judgment of God? I can’t answer that but it does enter my mind.

    Some time after they embraced SSM PCI in their annual assembly in Fisherwick House voted to cut ties with the mother church CoS. A sad time indeed but one I wholeheartedly agree with.

    I am a recent convert to Presbyterian(ism) but not a recent convert to Jesus (1979). I left the state Church here in Ireland, Church of Ireland, for similar reasons as to where the CoS is going. While there are many Christians within the CoI sadly the particular one I belonged to was lacking in solid biblical teaching.

    Hopefully CoS can come back from where it has gone, but I fear that unless there is a miracle in their leadership I don’t think it will. Perhaps I’m wrong. Time may tell.
    Happy presbyterian Ulster.

  3. I didn’t follow the situation with st James but Do you mean once the church had left the c of s, you feel they should have been given the building for free?
    Surely if the congregation leaves the church then to expect to get the building is a bit optimistic?

    (i can’t recall how that panned out in the free church with the continuing but I would think the sentiment that the continuing should just be given the buildings would feel fairly unjust).

    dB

    1. I don’t think they should just have been given it – although given that the C of S had no further use for it (in reality) it would have been a kind thing to do – for the Gospel. But they should have been offered the opportunity to rent or buy it.

      1. Oh wow – they didn’t even let them buy it or rent it? That is very petty minded indeed. I understand better what you meant in the post now (and makes the entire post seem fair. T

  4. I applaud your drive for truth David.

    Yes, you say “I think the cruelty is in not telling the truth and letting people carry on in their delusions.” I say Amen to that.

    So if you will allow me, I shall join you on this journey of establishing truth. First of all I would like to offer context to this. You talk of the CofS being “overtaken by these other churches – many of which are evangelical.”

    Perhaps what epitomises this is the nasty split that happened in Glasgow, Scotland with what is now St George’s Tron church in Buchannan Street and the more “evangelical” Tron church in Bath Street. I went along to the church in Bath Street, the first meeting after the split to see what the fuss was all about. The church was packed. And I was astonished with the vitriol aimed at Buchannan Street. Claims that the church is dying and “we” will fill the empty church buildings. And an insensitive triumphalism about this. I couldn’t be happy as the leadership was with this.

    I found it very sad.

    And this “many” of which you speak of as evangelical – how many of the numerical growth are down to congregants leaving one church to join another and how many at there due to “new converts”? And then what of the “evangelical” church? What happens when “evangelicals” disagree on what the truth is? With 1966 Evangelical Alliance with an opening speech by Martin Lloyd Jones regarding such as a schism and calling out “evangelicals” from their denominations with John Stott disagreeing and pointing to scripture about a remnant and following events form that – is that not every bit of a nasty split as what has happened more recently in Glasgow?

    Or considering historical context with “The Great Disruption”. Forgive my use of wiki for this reference but it seems accurate. I’m sure you can let me know if it isn’t. “The Disruption of 1843 was a bitter, nationwide division which split the established Church of Scotland. It was larger than the previous historical secessions of 1733 or 1761. The evangelical element had been demanding the purification of the Church, and it attacked the patronage system, which allowed rich landowners to select the local ministers. It became a political battle between evangelicals on one side and the “Moderates” and gentry on the other. The evangelicals secured passage by the church’s General Assembly in 1834, of the “Veto Act”, asserting that, as a fundamental law of the Church, no pastor should be forced by the gentry upon a congregation contrary to the popular will, and that any nominee could be rejected by majority of the heads of families. This direct blow at the right of private patrons was challenged in the civil courts, and was decided (1838) against the evangelicals. In 1843, 450 evangelical ministers (out of 1,200 ministers in all) broke away, and formed the Free Church of Scotland.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Church_of_Scotland_(1843%E2%80%931900)

    As someone who has been a former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland – this inevitably will influence your view toward the Church of Scotland. And with an evangelical persuasion this will be the lens through which you view what is happening now. There is no criticism in this, we all have assumptions and preconceptions that we bring to any situation. And when encountering other assumptions and preconception there is inevitable discomfort, but it is how our horizons are broadened.

    And here is my assumptions and preconceptions. I think what you say David, about the Church of Scotland can be applied more widely to the church in Scotland. I think there has been as you say “denial, excuse and defeat being repeated”. And it seems the church is 2-0 down at half time to use a football metaphor. But sadly for the church there is not a manager to come in with a pep talk because for a large part God has left the building. Jesus is waiting at the door to be let in but just as he wept over Jerusalem, he is longing to gather people just as a mother hen gathers her chicks but he’s not being allowed. Instead prophets are stoned (or told they have “issues” or “shoving things down people’s throats or the like) and are rejected.

    There’s nothing new under the sun. There is a reason why the apostle Paul encourages his congregants to have hearts and minds heavenly focussed, and not earthly focussed. Looking at the earthly representation, it often is depressing (as is the latest entry in your blog above). But with a heavenly focus “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

    I appreciate the sincerity of your post David. And yes there are many issues in the Church of Scotland, and if asked my guess would be that many minsters in the CofS would admit to that. Like I say, I wouldn’t want to be a minster. At the same time, being more “evangelical” while the application of truth may seem appealing, evangelical history shows this becoming problematic also.

    Frankly I don’t care about denominations. Truth applied without love is damaging just as lies and disrespect is damaging. The truth sets you free and love never fails but only if God is present in the midst of this.

    And I would much rather be “churchless” with Christ and a gathering of 2 or 3 with him at the centre than be in a church building with so-called “worship” with Christ being absent.

    Perhaps this is where Jesus is active, just as he was in the scriptures after there was an intention to throw him off a cliff after him preaching in a religious building and his listeners not liking what they heard!

    There’s nothing new under the sun.

    1. This misrepresents what happened at the Tron. For months before the decision was taken the matter was comprehensively discussed. In the event there was no acrimonious split: the congregation left en masse. A small number of people felt unable to go along with that decision but none of them remained in St. George’s Tron.

      There was no hype or triumphalism, rather thankfulness the Lord had allowed us to continue and indeed expand the work. This is not the view of an onlooker, I was partr of the ministry team at the Tron at that time.

      1. Bob – I respect your freedom to have your view. At the same time I know what I saw and heard at the meeting I went to and talking of filling church buildings that the CofS are not certainly smacks of triumphalism.

        The congregation leaving “en mass” is a split “acrimonious” or not with the CofS and there certainly was a lot of nastiness and hurt at the time.

        I recall having a conversation with fellow dog walkers, being troubled about this, saying what it should all be about and sharing about the gospel of Jesus with them saying that all they see is arguments.

        I remember being in tears as I walked home.

        Perhaps you have some assumptions and preconceptions with being part of the ministry team at the time Bob and your claim about misrepresentation may need to be reconsidered.

        Maybe, maybe not.

      2. Adam – that is unfair. You make a judgement based upon your feelings about one meeting and dismiss Bob’s because he is a part of the ministry team that left. One person’s triumphalism is another’s vision. I was also involved (to some extent) and saw little triumphalism and a lot of sadness and hurt. I would not expect your non-Christian dog walkers to understand – indeed it was really difficult for Christians to understand. It is almost unbelievable that the C of S, who are supposed to be about the Gospel (forgiveness etc) were determined to throw their largest evangelical church out of its own building – which they had just spent millions on – and then throw the minister and his family out of the manse. It was petty, vindictive and hateful. And yet you defend it with ‘whatabouterry’ , impressions you got from one meeting, and conversations with dog walkers!

      3. Adam, obviously as part of the ministry team I took a view along with the rest of the team. However, the decision was reached after a full discussion without unpleasantness and with genuine openness. To talk of a nasty split implies there were many who were bitter; That was not the case.
        Blessings.

      4. OK so you think there has been unfairness and judgement based on feelings about one meeting and dismission being made because of someone being a ministry team.

        Indeed one persons triumphalism can be another persons vision. But in furthering truth different opinions about something on a debatable issue doesn’t do anything to that aim.

        I hear what you say about “little triumphalism” from that you saw. Were you present at the meeting in the Tron church the Sunday after the split? There was indeed a lot of sadness and hurt, my own included as shared.

        With your point about dog walkers / Christians not understanding, would you regard Richard Tiplady, former principle of the International Christian College making the provocative claim that “existing forms of Christian worship and community do not attract outsiders (and may even repel them). There should be no offence except the cross of Christ” is an example of not understanding?

        You say “it is almost unbelievable that the C of S, who are supposed to be about the Gospel (forgiveness etc) were determined to throw their largest evangelical church out of its own building – which they had just spent millions on – and then throw the minister and his family out of the manse. It was petty, vindictive and hateful.”

        And there are minister in the CofS that won’t deny issues on it. One I heard preach about it being a case of palliative care that is the ministry there. And yes there is hindrance to the Gospel but is this unique to the CofS or is this more of a widespread issue within the church in Scotland?

        ” And yet you defend it with ‘whatabouterry’ , impressions you got from one meeting, and conversations with dog walkers!” This is your blog David, and you of course are entitled to your view. But I would point out that you just got personal, and I haven’t towards you.

        Is this conversation consistent with truth expressed in love, with the presence of Jesus faithful to the Gospel? Of two men centred on Christ able to disagree whilst still being faithful to one another and to the Lord?

        Or is symptomatic of what does “not attract outsiders” about “Christian worship and community” as claimed by Richard?

      5. Bob, your claim is that there was no hype or triumphalism. I respectfully disagree and I claim that what I witnessed with this was nasty.

        As David has said, there was a lot of difficulty at this time, and your being part of the ministry team at the time and your implying that I was an “onlooker”, with respect, does not make your account more in keeping with truth than mine and may make your perception less objective. I would point out that you have been personal in this, where I haven’t. We all have assumptions and preconceptions that inform our view and we inevitably experience discomfort when encountering other views, but it is how our horizons are broadened.

        Any view that is valid is able to challenge other views and is open to being challenged. When a view becomes defensive is when it gets personal, and then the view becomes invalid. The truth will be revealed, and justice will prevail.

        I would go to scripture and consider the difficulty between the two groups of people over resources with Abraham and Lot with Abraham saying to Lot to choose where to go. Lot choosing and Abraham going in a different direction. There is no favour towards either on who is right and who is wrong but a recognition that they were better apart than fighting over resources.

        Like I say, I think what we are discussing is symptomatic of what is problematic with the church in Scotland rather than limited to the Church of Scotland and I would point to the quote made by Richard Tiplady, former principle of the International Christian College in Glasgow as affirmation of this.

  5. I think the cruelty is in not telling the truth and letting people carry on in their delusions.

    Oh, this is so true.

    The stats on Wiki for Religion in Scotland are interesting, even if one grimaces at the words ‘Wiki’ and ‘Statistics’. 🙂
    Nevertheless, the only major religion on the increase in Scotland is Islam. No real surprise there , of course,
    However, the other figure that shows a marked increase is No Religion & Religion Not Stated ( which one could be reasonably sure a fair percentage of will likely be ‘No Religion’.)

    Which brings the topic right back to your above quote.

    Countries such as China and certain African countries not withstanding, Christianity in the ‘West’ is most definitely on the decline – quite rapidly in some places as well by the looks of it.
    Falling birth rate ( as you indicated) is also a contributing factor.

    There are several theories why this marked decline is increasing with every decade.
    I have a few of my own but then I am neither a sociologist or religious so anything I say can likely be taken with a pinch of salt.

    But perhaps one doesn’t have to be either to see what is taking place right before our eyes?

    Melvyn Tinkler pointed out in your recent video how several of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith were not even held by large swathes C of E clergy any more, who seem to have adopted a pick ‘n mix style of Christianity.

    Christianity populated by Dominic Crosssan style ministers? Who would have imagined?

    With the surge of Islam, year in year out is it too far-fetched to imagine a Western society where Islam is the dominant religion with ‘Nones’ being the only bulwark, and Christianity reduced to little more than a cultural expression?

    Ark.

  6. Thanks for your blog David. Thought I should update you on Scott McKenna, who is now Minister at St Columba C of S in Ayr – the biggest church in Ayr, (Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses, For honest men and bonny lasses.). I was pastor at Riverside Evangelical Church in Ayr from 1994 until my retirement in 2013.

    I was preaching on the first Sunday of 2020 in the church we now attend – Seagate Ev Church, Troon and mentioned the following –

    On the first week of this year two incidents impacted me in totally opposite ways – one utterly distressed me and the other inspired me

    My wife Jean was reading in the Ayrshire Post – She said here’s a photo of the New minister at St Columba’s
    I was totally shocked (I recounted the details your debate with Scott at Mayfield)
    Scott McKenna – ghastly theology
    Revd Scott McKenna, minister of Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church in Edinburgh- “Jesus did not die for our sins. No No No No. That is Ghastly theology. Don’t go there.”

    If we don’t go there we don’t go anywhere (my words)
    The second incident
    We attended Handel’s Messiah on January 2nd in Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. The Mezzo Soprano sang in the most profoundly moving rendition I have ever heard – He was despised etc

    Today I checked out St Columba’s Website to see what he was currently “preaching”.
    Here is his Welcome message.

    From the Minister
     
    St Columba Church is a large, vibrant congregation on the south side of Ayr. Our community life is marked by friendliness, hospitality, and a shared active concern for one another and the wider world. With the beginning of a new ministry, our community is excited about the future as together we embark on a new chapter.
    At its root, faith is an exploration of the inner life. The most important journey which we make in life is the inner journey. The Sacred can be encountered in numerous ways:  within the rich traditions of Christianity; along the spiritual paths of other world faiths; and, in and through the world of nature, its beauty and diversity. There is incredible beauty in this part of the world through the changing seasons and our nearness to nature.
    God is the Absolute, the Most Real, our Eternal Lover. The word ‘God’ can be unhelpful because it implies an external, supernatural ‘being’ when, we believe, the Transcendent is present in and through the material world. Within Christian spirituality, the practice of silence and stillness help us to be present to the Presence. In our weekly diets of public worship, through word, song, and periods of quiet, we seek to open ourselves to the Eternal.
    St Columba welcomes you to join us as we begin a new stage of our pilgrimage.
     
    -Revd. Dr. Scott S McKenna

    So Mark 5:26 (KJV) seems sadly true –
    [26] ………was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,

    Keep up the good work David🙏

    PS – John Chalmers is my full cousin. His son JJ is currently on Strictly Come Dancing and, as well as coming across as a really nice young man, he is doing well in the competition.

    1. “Ayr, a toon wham ne’er surpasses ” , to quote a critic of the Kirk , or at least of its Elders.

      Handel’s Water Music sounds splendid when played with ancient instruments :

  7. Thanks, David, for that update. I left one CoS 50 years ago when, as a new Christian, the minister said he did not believe in the resurrection. I tried another, but its church prayer meeting had only 1 of its 50+ elders in attendance. Then an assistant (who became a Moderator) informed me that the Bible was not God’s word – it only contained God’s word! So a pic ‘n mix people will, like Samuels sons, experience Ichabode. So today, I’d say the CoS is not a Church – it is an association of mixture – but it does contain Church.

  8. The CoS and arguably the CoE are in decline, meanwhile, the church of Christ Jesus, of which he is head, continues to grow.

    If this pandemic has accomplished anything, it has shaken to the core, the masquerade of much posed as church and Christianity.
    Let’s hope this will bring a purification and removal of dross.
    Leaving a faith of more precious and of greater value than pure gold.

  9. Good article David.
    Amazingly in the pandemic, the silence from CoS leaders is deafening. Yet as i walk around the streets (with the dog) I see dozens of rainbows in the windows. Surely a sign that people are looking for more. Death has never been closer in this generation. So the opportunity for evangelism has never been greater. Unbelievers want more than politicians can ever offer.
    The demise of the CoS is not a surprise. Christ went out of his way to warn of the dangers of being assimilated by the world.
    The growth of new churches across the country suggests that whilst the old institution may wither, the Gospel will thrive.

  10. A few observations.

    It’s easy to be despondent about declining congregations. I remember once hearing in a sermon that the congregation for the Christmas Eve service at St Paul’s Cathedral numbered 15, and that this was talked about as the end of Christianity in London and the dawning of the age of reason. Then came the Victorian revivals.

    You make a telling comment about African churches in Scotland. In Melbourne I have observed at close quarters three churches where immigrant communities (Dinka, South African and Farsi) have joined existing churches and both have benefited. It is not always easy, but churches that are prepared to be flexible with their traditions and loving in their welcome thrive. In the latter case the Anglican Church I attend ‘midwifed’ a Farsi congregation which within 10 years became a congregation of its own, busy church planting and even streaming the gospel into Iran.

    It is so sad to see churches that resist or try to mould outsiders to conform to their ways, often the last thing these churches do.

    My final observation is that I think there is a link between declining churches and declining buildings. Maintaining ancient buildings sucks the energy of a congregation and leads some churches to make very unwise decisions, like hosting rock concerts in cathedrals for example, (I love modern music, but hearing Laura Marling summoning Sophia, Goddess of Power in front of the altar of York Minster cannot be pleasing to the Lord). It’s no coincidence that many successful modern churches (Redeemer for example) rent cinemas, schools or other buildings and are freed from the pressure of replacing slate roofs and leaky pipes.

    1. The comments re buildings, fabric etc.
      The retiring Chairman of the General Trustees of the CoS told the GA that the disastrously large amount of time and money being spent on buildings was avoiding a proper focus on the Gospel. This message was received by an empty Assembly hall as the Trustees report fitted in after a discussion about hymn numbering etc on Friday morning before the close and then lunch. The clerks (executive) don’t want to talk about this in front of the Lord High Commissioner or the First Minister on a Monday or Tuesday.
      If preaching inspires people with the Gospel, they will pay for Gospel work. I accept that I don’t want liberal interpretation of the Bible, but even the latter can cause funds to flow. Advancing the Gospel (as I prefer) or in social work (as i would not prefer) needs funding and even a cursory reading of Paul letters makes this clear.
      In over 30 years in work, I had at least one and often two appraisals each year. Grim. Yet the question was always asked if my work was getting the desired outcome.
      Imagine if this had been going on over the last 50 years in the CoS?

  11. Could it be that God has given up on Scotland because Scotland has given up on Him? Is this a chicken-and-egg problem?

    To further His gospel God places His servants in His church, and if those servants are missing so is the Gospel. To me the decline of the church anywhere in the world is a two-way process where those who are aware of and know the Bible don’t bother to share it with the people they know need it. However, those people also need to be Holy Spirit-inspired to teach it well and powerfully.

    So does the church decline because God doesn’t raise up good men to preach His word, or are the ‘good men’ just too lazy to bother? There seems to be a dearth of highly-skilled Bible teachers, and no church politician seems to know how to change that. However, what this article proves is that those very church politicians have, themselves, abandoned the Bible, so the rot is in the very roots of the tree.

    Come back, David Robertson, your country needs you!

  12. The leaking roofs and rotting floors have provided the Church of Scotland with the distraction it has relied upon for years and continues to rely upon. It believes, because it needs to believe, that the problem is too many buildings. It knows full well that this is a symptom. The problem is too few people. Well attended churches can more than afford to keep the property in good order.

    At a conference for priority area churches I listened to C of S ministers say they were pleased to hear churches were closing, and that their whole congregation was committed to same sex marriage as a way of reaching out to the community. One minister turned his back on me, literally, when I suggested that his assertion that there will be no final judgement was unbiblical. The, almost, final straw was when one of them said that he was unconcerned that the seance in the local community hall attracted more of a congregation than his church did, since we were all seeking the same thing.

    The real final straw was the usual group of people who spoke to me at the end saying they agreed with me but did not want to speak up. One of them was also a C of S Minister who said he consoled himself with the thought that, while the C of S is indeed in terminal decline, it will “see me oot”.

  13. Thanks for the article. It is a tragic tale. My congregation left c of s three and a half years ago. We’ve ended up worshipping in local halls whilst the c of s sold the building to an Islamic community. It is packed with worshippers every Friday.
    In some sense it is sad that the National Kirk is dying but if you leave the Word of Life behind you embrace death.
    We all, whatever our denomination, need to take the Word to the next generation…no one else will. Most of our school children have never heard of Jesus in any meaningful way.

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