Dear brothers and sisters,
I hope you don’t mind me using that introduction. It’s just that today’s Sun-Herald has an exclusive headlined “Anglicans urge a broader church”, which reports that a new directive from the Sydney Anglican diocese states “When addressing your congregation, you might sometimes want to use more inclusive language that is less likely to cause distress. So, instead of always greeting your congregation as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or ‘brothers and sisters’ you might instead say, ‘good morning to you all’, ‘or good morning, friends’.” Bishop Peter Hayward, who is a good sound biblical Christian, warns that this is not some kind of ‘woke dictum’ nor a capitulation towards the current pressure on ‘gender inclusive’ language, but the SMH with its headline certainly sees it as such. I have no objection at all towards not always using the terms ‘brothers and sisters’ but I suspect for a different reason – brothers and sisters refers to Christians, and I would like to think that there are some people present who are not yet Christians. As for ‘friends’ I’m not sure that in any meaningful sense, all of the people present are my friends! Like Christ, I want to welcome enemies as well. As for ‘ladies and gentlemen’ – it’s a greeting I never use – but we won’t go there!
Personally, I think that the Sydney diocese are trying to be wise, pastoral, and helpful. I suspect that the SMH’s report leaves out a considerable amount as well. However, there is one cautionary aspect. If we think that these new guidelines will mean that the conformist, intolerant culture will leave us alone now that they consider us a ‘broader church’ – forget it! Give an inch and they take a mile. Josephine Inkpin, chair of Equal Voices, an advocacy group for LGBTQI people of faith (I wonder why they have left out the +?), triumphantly jumped on the announcement and declared that the admissions were proof that the previous guidelines were ‘deeply harmful’, and that more consultation was needed with people of diverse gender.
The point is that the progressives, especially in the Church, will never be happy until they have driven out every ‘regressive’. Because they don’t believe in the God of the Bible, they end up believing only in themselves and their ideology. And they need to be united around a common enemy – Christians who actually do believe the Bible. Of course it does not get expressed in that way. Nor do they tend to do direct confrontation – instead they operate on the cuckoo’s nest principle – where they come in and one by one remove the teachings and people who built the denomination. Then they, whether consciously or not, use what are called ‘salami tactics. As explained by the wonderful Yes Minister here.
Which brings me on to the Church of Scotland and its recent General Assembly. I’m a bit of an Assembly geek and so spent far too much time looking at both the Free Church and the Church of Scotland assemblies this year. The latter was particularly interesting and depressing – with a few bright spots.
I won’t write a full report but perhaps the following collection of my notes accurately describes the sad situation.
The Green Party at Prayer
This was an assembly which reflected the Green party at prayer. It was an assembly which continued its trajectory in denying the teaching of Christ about marriage. It was an assembly which seemed to hanker more for the day when it was considered a substitute for a Scottish Parliament, than the day when it was a radical, revolutionary Christian movement. The debacle of 2015 re SSM was confirmed only now we are told that the beliefs of all are acknowledged and respected – which is a straight out ‘untruth’. Those who believe that what Christ said about marriage cannot be compromised, are not respected – and they are only told they are so because the liberal establishment want to keep them in the Church. What they really mean is that the Salami tactics have worked, and it is now unlikely that the remaining evangelicals will ever push the exit button.
I thought Rev. Dr Grant Barclay – the Legal Questions convenor summed it up accurately when he emphasised the importance of church law. “Church law helps us to be clear about who we are, how we relate to others and how we deal well with each other…. balances protection with permission, to participate in God’s mission in the world, and welcomes what’s new whilst ensuring fairness for all. “
This is a church that has moved away from the Bible as the supreme authority, to the church lawyers as the supreme court. The Assembly were reminded by one brave minister that it was “inappropriate for the assembly to set itself against the Word of God”. That’s putting it mildly. It’s blasphemous and will result in the judgement of God and the demise of the Church. I loved Andrew Fothergill’s comment that this was making the Church relevant to the culture but irrelevant to the Scriptures.
The triumphant liberals declared that ‘there are no winners or losers in this proposal’, knowing that they had won. Others said ‘we have been dealing with this for 20 years’ time to move on’. It’s true – it took them 20 years to wear down, slice by slice, the evangelicals – but in reality, the liberals had won in 2011 – largely because they were aided and abetted by evangelicals who unwisely thought they could not manoeuvre them, or in reality just didn’t care. Some were even honoured for their part in helping the change – https://theweeflea.com/2018/06/29/evangelical-moderator-honoured-for-changing-attitudes-within-the-church-to-same-sex-relationships/
Rev Dr Amos Chewachong asked if it mattered to the C of S how decisions taken in the GA might affect relations with international matters. His comments reflected that this was Western imperialism at work. But of course the C of S liberals are more concerned about what the Scottish government, or the elites of Harvard, Yale and Oxford say, than they are about what the Africans or Asians (or even Australians) might think.
The ‘worship’ aspects of the Assembly were even more revealingly sad. For example, the communion service was based on Acts 2 – but nothing about devoting themselves to the Apostles teaching – which the Assembly roundly rejects. The notion of Scripture was the opposite of both the Confessional and even more importantly the biblical view. We were told that we have the Word of God in Scripture and the word of God within us. The Word of God in Scripture is of course whatever we determine it to be. When we believe in the Bible what we like, and leave out what we don’t like, it’s not the Bible we believe, but ourselves. The closing ceremony contained the mantra of a dead church “For the Word of God in Scripture, for the Word of God among us, for the Word of God within us, we give thanks. “It sounds lovely. And it is utterly meaningless. A recipe for confusion and spiritual disaster.
What is the Gospel? What is the Church for? What is the good news of the kingdom? The moderator told us. Nothing to do with Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Oh no – it is ‘all the good we are doing’. We were told – foodbanks, climate change, rockets and missiles, violence against women – all of these things remind us that as a church we have work to do…to help turn the world around. These are Jesus’s manifesto issues…Likewise the faith impact forum report…. immigration, aid cuts and constitutional changes. Who knew that the Jesus who said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world’, was only being ironic?
How are we saved?
Apparently, salvation and change come through legislation and political action. There was hardly a word about sin. When I listened to the address on the Faith Impact Forum I was astounded – It spoke of a future which is just and green. Susan Brown of the Faith Impact Forum, spoke about being saved and all being set free….but this was in the sense of a just and green future – God’s love for the world in its entirety. There was talk of the Foreign Aid budget cut, Worldwide vaccine roll out and the important issues facing our communities and our nation. A great play was made of the Church not investing in fossil fuels – despite the Assembly having previously voted not to take that route. The young climate activist programme was cited as the reason. 96% of young people according to a poll are worried about the climate. A creation sensitive reframing of all we do.
Now I have no problem with the church commenting on political issues, providing they do so in the context of a wider biblical framework and do not give the impression that salvation is political. And if they show some degree of political balance. We heard about the UK government proposals re asylum but not a word on the Scottish Parliaments gender recognition act, education, or hate crime bill. Asylum is important – but so are these other issues. Why were they not spoken about? It’s almost as though they were cherry picking the low hanging fruit, the virtue signalling, nice sounding, but totally ineffective policies. And not getting to grips with the hard issues.
We were told that as a church we have a chance to play our part in seeking fulness of life for all, locally, nationally and internationally” What does fullness of life mean? The Bible tells us that fullness comes only from Christ – yet this was another address (of many) which hardly mentioned Christ.
Prayer without God
Another example of this was seen in the prayer of the moderator. Lord Wallace was a good politician, and a nice chairman, but a terrible theologian. His prayer was not addressed to God, but rather to the watching congregation. He told us that :
“We gather to wonder at the mystery of our divinity”. May we listen to the voice inside all of us that reminds us to look for all hope everywhere”. “Jesus said I have come that all people may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). But this is not what that passage says. It is a passage which talks about his sheep having abundant life, but also warning that there are those who are not his sheep and those who are false shepherds – a warning the assembly would do well to heed. Although I suspect that ‘the word within and amongst us can remove the words in Scripture that we don’t really like.
A Dying Church
The Church of Scotland is now a technologically competent, politically correct but dying church. Despite all the glossy jargonistic talk and hi tech, the reality hidden in the reports was sometimes painfully brought to the fore. There seemed to be lists of new admin staff and specialist workers. But where are the pastor/teachers? I recall commenting years ago on the decline in the Church of Scotland when the number of ministers was expected to reduce to 1200. But this Assembly heard about reducing the number of Presbyteries and cutting the number of ministers by 200 to 600. And even then, they will struggle to fill the posts. Little wonder. There is not a great deal of interest in a church which has lost its main raison d’etre – at my time of looking at the closing ceremony it had a grand viewing total of 915 views. The faith nurture forum just over 300. It’s hardly setting the heather on fire!
I thought long and hard before writing this – but have decided to do so for two reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, I care for the cause of the Gospel in my own country. Secondly, I have been writing about, and predicting, the decline of the Church of Scotland since the infamous Scott Rennie case of 2009. It gives me no pleasure to have been right on this issue- indeed precisely the opposite. But surely now, evangelicals will wake up and smell the coffee! Yes I know the outrage and the ‘you’re not nice’ or ‘wait and see – revival is just around the corner’ posts. I’ve been reading them for over a decade. But nothing changes – except things get worse – even worse than I describe them! Does that not break your heart? Don’t shoot the messenger!
If you just type in Church of Scotland to the search engine on this website, you will get plenty articles. I.e.
A Church without Christianity?
In the run up to this Assembly the journalist Stephen Daisley described the Church of Scotland as a Church without Christianity. Even mentioning that led to charges of being uncharitable and unchristian. But watching this Assembly made me suspect that this secular journalist was far nearer the truth than most Christian’s would dare to think.
This is not to say that there are no faithful Christians or congregations in the Church of Scotland. But they are getting fewer, as they are increasingly humiliated by a central Church which has little to do with Biblical Christianity – and indeed even despises it. These would be harsh and horrible words – if they were false. But if they are true (and I think the evidence of this Assembly and the previous ones which clearly showed the trajectory – demonstrate that) – then they need to be said and repentance needs to be called for. The Church of Scotland is making a mockery of Scotland’s Presbyterian and more importantly Christian, heritage. You can choose to ignore that. You can choose to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. You can choose to delight in it and how it shows your ‘denomination’ was right all along. But if you are a biblical Christian who loves the Lord and loves Scotland, the only reaction is to weep, repent and pray that God would have mercy on this Church and land. May he either renew, or raise up other faithful Christians who will seek first his kingdom,
Yours in Christ
PS. I should add that I may have got this completely wrong – but I challenge anyone to watch that Assembly and come to any other conclusion. I would love to know why….
PPS – Salami tactics does not just apply to the Church of Scotland. Other churches in Scotland and throughout the world, need to be aware…and its not just from the ‘progressives’ that we can expect this…
PPSS – I also have just read that the C of S and the Scottish Episcopal Church have just signed a new agreement – Given that they have both distanced themselves from the Bible, this is not surprising. This would be far more significant if it were two growing, rather than two dying, churches cooperating together.